Chapter Sixteen: An Ominous New Pact
Breaking news out of Vienna this morning as a glorious monument dedicated to the rich culture of the Austrian people was briefly under siege by members of the English commando squads in cooperation with the Bolshevik rebels, all of whom apprehended and are awaiting trial. One of the rebels, a woman who has been placed into protective custody until her trial confessed that the intention of the raid was to burn down the Museum of Natural History, in the name of the Stalin, the workers and their puppet capitalist allies.
Several high ranking officials within the party have flown to Vienna to assess the damage, reassure their Austrian brethren and to mourn for those lost to this senseless provocation. Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler shall be accompanied by Reinhard Heydrich, who made the people of Vienna this promise.
"We shall bring these terrorists to justice at long last. Soon Vienna will sleep easy that this small minority who hate our nation, our God, and the roles we are trying to forge for our children's future will be tried in a court of law and their fates decided by the Austrian people. It does not bring comfort to the families of the soldiers so pointlessly lost, but we can only hope it will bring a small measure of comfort that their sacrifice will save many lives in the future "
Meanwhile, the man who led the defense of the museum, the saviour of Vienna, Sturmfuhrer Otto Skorzeny has been summoned by the Fuhrer himself to offer his praise to Vienna favourite son. He offered no comment to the reporters.
"Savior of Vienna? Quite the title for a hometown hero."
Otto Skorzeny turned away from the words offered to him by Hoch, who sat idly in the corner. Rolling his eyes, Skorzeny He continued writing his report behind Langer's desk, occasionally sipping a strong drink.
With the raid over and Skorzeny already being hailed the hero of the Austrian people, Langer had taken off that morning. He needed to go see to his family. Understandable, he hadn't been in this sort of conflict in two decades. It probably bothered him to no end. He was primarily behind the lines between 1940 to 1942, too old to serve, though Hoch could imagine he could he wanted to. Or would if this war ever got too bad.
But the war wasn't going bad just yet. A few setbacks and the occasional surprise cause by the incompetence of the leaders high above them. So Hoch did what any good soldier would do for his commander. He lied on his behalf so he did not have to be out in the field and away from his family for too long.
So Langer and Hoch had a deal going on. Hoch would tell high command that Langer was too old for combat and in turn, Hoch's reports were written by Langer. Hoch hated the concept of desk work before he started to hate the concept of fighting on the battlefield. Russia... it seemed, drained the desire to wage war out of him. Glancing away from Skorzeny, he turned to the other man in the room. His arms bound, his mouth not gagged, yet he refused to speech.
The Commando known as Jack Churchill sat there as though expecting his death. In front of him was a plate of dinner, ham, greens potatoes, and a generous glass of Scotch. Odd that Skorzeny would feed this man after he was responsible for the death of upwards to fifty paratroopers and SS guardsmen.
"What are doing with him? Is this his last meal?" He asked Skorzeny, his voice growing amused at the thought. Churchill stiffened at the words. Turning from his paper work, Skorzeny glanced to the silent old soldier. Staring hard, the scar faced SS man shook his head curtly.
"I'm taking Churchill to a POW facility." He spoke as though he would regret his decision. "No matter how much this bastard may deserve it, I can't kill him, he reminds me too much of me."
Skorzeny went back to his paperwork, leaving Hoch staring blankly at what he had just heard. He turned back to Churchill and found that he was pushing himself forward to grab his drink. Churchill raised his glass of scotch to Skorzeny, who paid the Englishman no attention.
After seeing the Saviour of Vienna and his prisoner off, Joachim found himself back to the lower levels of the museum where the quarians too had their own mess to clean up, three new dead quarians to add to the bodies that had to be repatriated.
Admiral Zorah and Hanala were standing there over the bodies, both of them staring at the marines solemnly. It became clear to Joachim how little the quarians could suffer casualties. In Russia he was lucky if only three of his men were killed by the Russians. Still, it must have been a shock to them that two fully armoured quarians could fall to the Englishman who died at Zorah's hand.
Sighing, Joachim stood next to Hanala who glanced briefly at him, her face in a frown as she turned back to the bodies before her.
"How could he have done this?" She whispered more to herself than the Admiral and the human. Hoch did not have an answer to the question.
"They didn't have their shields activated, stupid of them." Zorah finally spoke to them as he covered the body up with the plastic sheet. Hanala bowed her head, she seemed so upset with this senseless death.
Shields were deactivated? Of course.
"Skorzeny." Was all Hoch had to say on the subject.
The two quarians looked up to the human, who held his eyes on the bodies in front of him.
"They must have been impressed by Skorzeny, then he challenged their soldiering ability by calming they relied too much on their technology." Hoch reminded the two quarians, who seem to come to a revelation. "They were just kids, What did you think would happen when they stumbled into a Commando that had killed his way through a trap, past a tank and Hertzer, shot himself out of a barracks, across a museum filled with SS men and into them?"
Hanala nodded, Zorah seemed dissatisfied with the answer. It wasn't a suit malfunction. It was a case of bad influence and even worse luck. These three boys were dead because of Skorzeny. It was as simple as that.
"It's going to be difficult explaining why these men died to a family who was kept in the dark about this expedition." Halid'Zorah rumbled lowly. He gestured over to his shoulder, adding. "What about him?"
Hanala and Joachim glanced at the one known as Shepard, still lying there in a pool of his own blood, still very much dead at the hands of Admiral Zorah. Joachim, took off his cap and turned back to Hanala, who was glaring at the body as though it could be still held responsible for the lives he had taken.
"You grab his arms. I'll grab his legs." Hoch decided on the spot. "We'll take him where we're burying the rest of the commandos."
It was late before the clean-up was mostly completed, with an exception to the crater in the side of the museum, the hundreds of bullet holes and the doors damaged by Churchill's driving a truck with a Gestapo agent attached to the hood of a truck. A nice personal touch Hoch had to admit. It took a certain sort of scumbag to be a part of a secret police.
Both of them were back in their room. Both tired, both covered in Shepard's blood. With no time to change today, it felt good to finally take off his boots, or in Hanala's case, strip off his battle fatigues he wore while crossing Russia for six straight months. His thoughts went back to Hanala. She did make him a promise. Perhaps she would be up for it.
Hanala stood with her back turned to Joachim, not paying attention... or not caring that she stood there naked before him. Deciding that now was better than never, Joachim stepped forward, his hands wrapping around Hanala's soft, yet tense flesh. She gasped slightly, but quickly relaxed into him.
She turned right around, still standing no more than centimetres from him. Looking at him, she worked his own clothing off his body, piece by piece, his uniform fell, leaving himself just as naked as she. She seemed to be biting her lip, taking him in just as closely as he had been to her.
Oh yes... Hanala was not your typical woman. Looking at sex as though it was a chore to please her man... No... She seemed very up for this. They laughed slightly. This was absurd, the two of them about to do this... Still, inspecting the tight snatch between her legs... Joachim figured he would be alright with doing her...
Their lips met with much more force than what was intended. Keeping his machine hand slung low around her waist, Joachim's human hand dug into breast, earning a sudden gasp and moan into his mouth. Fingers flickered against hardened nipple, Hanala flickered out of shock, her mouth opening for a fraction of a second before her sharp teeth suddenly bit into Joachim's lower lip.
Hanala's mouth pulled back before he had a chance to cry out. Her teeth were coated in spit and human blood. Her eyes were wide as though she had completely fucked this encounter up. Joachim lowered his head, hissing as he clutched his latest wound.
First she stabbed him then she blew off his arm, now she was biting him? He would be lucky to survive a prolonged relationship with her at this rate.
"You bit me." he pointed out the obvious.
At first Hanala had the good sense to at least look apologetic for taking a good chunk our lip. Then her regret rolled away and evolved into a look of devious lust. She back away from the human until her legs found the bed, she crawled onto it, her back arched she she stared at him, her legs opening and closing, tempting, teasing him.
"Yes, I bit you, I've stabbed you and blown you up as well... So tell me, Herr Hoch? What are you going to do about it?" She whispered a low challenge to him, her chin pushed out, her words teasing and lowly with aroused arrogance.
Narrowing his eyes, his mouth forming into a smirk as he ignored the blood trickling down his chin, Joachim stepped forward as though he was going to bayonet charge the woman. She offered him a challenge? Joachim was going to make her regret her words.
Sex was quite possibly the smartest, stupidest thing they had ever done.
As it turned out, the two of them had some pretty bad allergic reactions to one another. It did not bother Hanala, who had found herself filled with Joachim's juices. The sex left her in such a drunk state that neither of them would pay any attention to just how badly quarian and human sweat reacted to each other's sweat.
It left terrible marks, like hives that could only be soothed when the two of them spent two hours in a bathtub constantly brimming to the top with hot water with any luck. They would adapt soon enough. At least he would. Between his much more resilient reaction to the allergenic reaction and his immune system that would not get quite as ill once dextro sweat was absorbed into his skin.
In the future, she would quietly order some anti-inflammatory for herself and for Joachim, Riding him... well, she found herself with very few reasons to stop the first time she tried him out. For now, she was quite intent on keeping the flare ups concealed as she idly stared at Joachim, who seemed to be fidgeting uncomfortably under his uniform as he ate, smoke and drank. His eyes would occasionally flicker up to meet hers. His thoughts were filled with the same ones she was having: Him deep inside of her, her dominating him.
Hanala shot him as sly grin as she felt herself pulse between her legs. Whether out of allergenic reaction or lust, she wasn't sure. It wasn't until two words were spoken that finally broke her stare at Joachim.
Hanala shot out of her seat like a rocket. There standing there in the doorway of the cafeteria was Jalina'Calis. Admiral to Joachim, Grandmother to Hanala. Behind her elder was Admiral Utala'Falan, her eyes staring between Joachim, Hanala and finally to Admiral Calis, who stepped out of Falan's way.
"Obersturmbannführer Hoch, I was hoping to speak to you." Falan spoke up, catching the focus of the itchy human. "Come and take a walk with me."
Resigned, Hoch nodded and stood up, glancing briefly to Hanala, offering a salute to Grandmother and joined Utala'Falan. Together the two of them left, leaving the family members to themselves. The two of them stared at each other, Grandmother stared solid while Hanala felt like she was a schoolgirl in trouble
"Grandmother?" Hanala finally found her voice. Grandmother broke her stare and stepped forward, her walk looking so painful to the grandchild.
"I was hoping to see you." She rasped at long last. "I cannot stay for long."
She stopped in front of Hanala, her eyes glanced over her granddaughter from head to toe. Slowly, her hand reached up to touch Hanala's shoulder.
"You have given yourself freely to him, I see." She observed.
Hanala's head shot right up at nearly the speed of a mass relay. How did she know? She was wearing makeup to cover the blotchy skin, she took a long bath and rinsed herself down with antiseptic to cover up the smell of sex the two of them had on each other. Grandmother was just talking, yes, that was it. Trying to get her to spill the secrets.
"What? No!" Hanala's voice instantly betrayed her attempt to casually shrug off the observation.. "Of course not, that's...
Her Grandmother merely smirks. Hanala knew she knew. There was no point disrespecting her with further lies and denials.
"Okay, yes... yes, I have." She spoke, her hands wringing as she awaited further judgement from her elder.
Judgement that came in a soft chuckle.
"You should have known since you were a small child that you just cannot fool me." Grandmother tsked, still smiling with pride as she added. "I approve of it."
Happy that at least one member of her family seemed okay with her decision, Hanala stepped forward, her hands wrapping around her elder in order to hug her carefully, as though Jalina'Calis was made of delicate glass.
"Is there.. Is there something you need?" She finally got out as she released her hold on her Grandmother.
"No and yes, there is much I need from you." Was Grandmother's cryptic response. "For now... I just wanted to see my granddaughter. I have... so much to tell you. Walk with me?"
Hanala smiled and nodded. Together, the two of them stepped slowly out of the cafeteria and into the museum. There was no direction Grandmother seemed interested in going, so at an idle pace, Hanala escorted her in the direction that Joachim and Admiral Falan had headed off too. It was silent for a good long while before Grandmother found her voice.
"Despite what you had thought since you were a child, I was not blind to the way you were unfairly treated."
Hanala looked up to her Grandmother, whose head was bowed as though deep in her own mind. What was this about? As far as she knew, Grandmother was a saint to her.
"I knew of the bullying, the bias held against you. How your brother was preferred by other over you." She continued, her voice low with a regret Hanala never heard before. "I listened to the words they used, called you selfish, called you so many names, some even felt you had no right to be born."
Hanala remained quiet. She would not devote her time to thinking about the years of torment inflicted by ignorant children and judgmental adults. Finally Grandmother looked up to her, her dull eyes wide behind her face plate.
"I did nothing, I told your parents not to complain, to let you take such abuse." She admitted, growing strained at the words she spoke. "They wanted you to conform, to be just like Rael at first. Being Rael, has its advantages, this you and I know."
The granddaughter nodded her head. Rael's way was an easier path. Rael could sacrifice in a way that made Hanala sick to her stomach.
"I rallied against such thoughts of conformity." She admitted. "I managed to convince both your parents to let you grow on your own. Allowing you to see the freedoms quarians could have and the unfortunate downside to the path our people have taken."
Hanala blinked as the words sunk in. So all of the harassment she took as a child. The nicknames, the disapproval at her apparent freedoms to do anything she wanted...
"I did so because I wanted you to be strong in a way your brother could and will never be." She pressed on, her words stinging as they spoke of Rael. "I wanted to give you a lesson that quariankind has forgotten. The strength in individuality. For half a century we have been forcing the concept of unity on our people. With good reason too, we cannot scatter in the wind. But survival should not always be our one desire in this life. I wanted you to take the traits that have been forgotten by most of our people and use them when the time was right."
And that time was her accident over Earth, crashing her ship into an icy hell, only to be rescued by Hoch.
"Had it been another quarian that crashed, you would have died rather than be captured by the humans. You did the opposite the once the fighting cleared down. You could have easily broken out of these people's custody at any point and hid until we found you." She listed off. "You instead built a foundation of trust between humans and quarians. In turn, Hoch showed eventual compassion. A rare trait in this galaxy."
Hanala could only snort.
"Compassion through fear." Hanala mumbled, feeling foolish. "I threatened him that you would have glassed the whole planet."
The two women stared at each other before descending into a fit of laughter.
"Maybe so," Grandmother finally spoke again. "But the initial fear broke into trust, eventually you two came to depend on one another. Would a man who feared you and your threats fight, bleed and nearly die for you as you led him across a desert and into that dreadnought? Would he still love you even after you lied to him and was the cause to his horrific amputation?"
Hanala froze, her mouth agape at the suggestion? Hoch.. Feeling in such a way? Grandmother clearly did not know Hoch that well. She still doubted he was capable of feeling that just yet.
"I know love. A feeling that transcends all species." Grandmother broke through her doubts, a small smile on her face. "That man is much too defensive to ever admit it so freely, but I can see it, and not just in him."
Hanala fought the urge to blush. Grandmother merely reached over and patted her granddaughter's arm.
"Your Mother and Father will be arriving this evening. They will soon dissuade you from this path you have taken with Joachim'Hoch. Perhaps not your father, but your mother for certain." Grandmother continued, her voice growing faint. "You must follow your heart and be strong should you choose him. They will be only the first in a long line of people who will look down on this. Human and quarian alike."
Footsteps interrupted the two of them. It was Hoch and Admiral Falan, speaking lowly to each other. Grandmother gave the two a slight smile barely visible behind her mask before she turned back to face her grandchild. Slowly her fragile hands grazed against Hanala's cheek.
"I wish I could say more," She spoke again, her voice filled to the brim with a strange regret. "I wish that I could have been a better Grandmother to you. I should have protected you like you deserved. I'm sorry."
It was in that moment Hanala finally understood why her confession was happening.
She was searching for absolution.
Grandmother was dying.
Hanala nearly lost control, her lip quivered as she fought back the mist in her eyes. Grandmother took notice as the revelation became clear to her. Shushing her nearly crying grandchild, Jalina dried Hanala's eyes, only furthering to serve as a breaking point for the young woman.
"No it's... thank you." Hanala finally managed to get out, her voice choked full of tears. "I... I always felt out of place, like a child with a captain's rank. After the crash... I'm a lot stronger than I thought I could ever be. I think it's all owed to you."
Grandmother tapped her helmet against Hanala's forehead. Her hands clutching her sides, they both turned their heads and found the Admiral and the Lieutenant Colonel came closer and closer to the two family members. Wishing that she did not do it, Hanala pulled back, her head bowed in an unnecessary shame. Grandmother turned briefly to Falan and nodded. She pulled back and held Hanala's hand briefly.
"I love you, child." She finally spoke. "I will see again. Though hopefully not too soon.."
With that said, Grandmother turned away and was lead out by Admiral Falan, leaving Hanala staring blankly after her. She wanted to do something, anything to stop her, to buy her elder more time for her own selfish reasons... But it was wrong. Everyone followed their own paths in their lives. Grandmothers choose hers. Hanala would respect it. No matter how much it had hurt, no matter much of a betrayal it felt.
A hand touched against the base of her spine. It was Hoch, his mouth twisted into a look of empathy for her. He did not need words to know what was going on. Hanala. Turned around and carefully buried her face into Joachim's chest. She could feel his arms -machine and human wrap around her carefully. She did not have any words to say. Joachim did not have any words to comfort her. She did not need them.
Instead, Hanala simply cried.
Hanala needed some time to herself. He could not blame. Within days of his loss, she too found herself having to grieve for a woman who, by all rights, deserved to be grieved for. Hanala's grandmother loved her.
By contrast after seeing Hanala so broken up for this development, Joachim had decided once and for all that his mother probably lost all concept of what love meant prior to his birth. The sort of love he had seen between the two of them just did not exist when it came to the family he had. Again, even with an impending death in Hanala's family, Joachim found himself envious.
In order to combat those feelings, Joachim decided to do one of the tasks the quarian Admiral Falan needed of him. As a part of his assignment, Halid'Zorah needed to see Berlin for himself. To do so, Joachim provided Halid with a spare uniform he had held onto during his time in the Allgemeine SS. The black uniform did wonders for the man. It blended in the alien features.
"Admiral, you nearly fit in. You forgot the glasses though."
Zorah huffed slightly and pulled out the sunglasses he was provided by Hoch. They were much darker that the face plate he wore, it worked to hide those bright pupils of his,
Thank you for doing this, Herr Hoch" Zorah spoke as he fixed his cap. "This won't be forgotten."
"Herr Admiral... are you ready to go? We'll have to take the back way out of here."
The two men turned and found Standing there with a slight limp in his stance was Heinrich Fuhrmann, his face somewhat nervous as he addressed the admirals. Hoch smiled slightly. He knew the kid was tough.
""Fuhrmann, I see you're up and about." He greeted the soldier kindly. "You did not bother to visit?"
Fuhrmann nodded, he still looked somewhat in pain. Being shot twice was bound to keep him like this for some time. Still, better this state than dead.
"Yes, Herr Obersturmbannführer... Sorry for not, you know, checking in." He spoke again with a bit more enthusiasm. "I'm here to help the...um, quarian Admiral."
Heinrich gestured to Zorah as he continued to work over the uniform. Joachim nodded, his hand clamping on the young man's shoulder. Fuhrmann flinched as he stared at the machine arm. Hoch pulled his arm back from the surprised Heer soldier. Its very presence still felt like a source of great shame to him.
"It appears that we were both wounded pretty bad..." Joachim admitted, trailing off briefly before changing the subject by adding. "Just take him to where he needs to go and get him back here. We're all taking a risk by having him roaming the Fatherland."
Fuhrmann nodded his head and offered a salute, which Hoch returned.
"I understand Herr Hoch, I'll bring him back an-"
Hoch held his hand up.
"Once you take him to where he needs to go, you want to go see your family?" Hoch guessed properly, earning a nod from the Unteroffizier. "I'll sign whatever leave you would like to have. Not too long though..."
He paused and slowly smiled as an awful idea came to mind.
"You know you should bring along Helena Langer." He suggested, withholding his desire to smirk. "I think she would like the trip."
As Fuhrmann nodded and agreed with the idea, Hoch smirked. That should give Gerald something to take his mind off Hanala and him for a while.
Smiling without realizing the hell Hoch was about to put him through, Fuhrmann and the quarian dressed as an SS officer left his sight, travelling in the opposite direction as he would. Happy that at least Fuhrmann was feeling better, Joachim went the opposite direction. He would go and see to Hanala. She needed the company, the support. He would be there just as she was for him.
At least that had been the plan before a voice suddenly spoke out to him.
The voice froze his very soul. He had never met the man before, but Langer had and had spoken in great detail about the man's presence felt like the monster from out of Bram Stokers Dracula story. His voice unnaturally monotone. Like he was too busy analyzing every detail about a person's personality that he was too busy to develop one of his own.
It was Heydrich's chief Technocrat himself. Hoch cleared his throat and turned to face the expressionless human calculator.
"Eichmann." He greeted. "I trust you are fine?"
Sturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann inclined his head most generously. His dark eyes burned into Hoch's.
"I am." Eichmann returned quite simply. "I was just coming to tell you that Reichsführer Himmler and General Heydrich are here. Their outside inspecting the damage... Would you care to meet your leaders?"
Smirking at the illusion of choice being offered by Heydrich's organizer, Joachim nodded and followed the man out to greet the Reichsführer and the Butcher of Prague.
The tension was palpable.
It was near midnight when the doors to the offices of the administer of the museum opened. Joining the room with the likes of Himmler, Heydrich and Eichmann, Langer and Hoch was the quarian delegation, each of them in their suits. One of which was Admiral Alaan'Jarva vas Rayya -Hanala's father.
Said father of the young woman he was sleeping with did his best to avert his eyes from Joachim. Hoch was not certain if that was a good or bad thing.
The SS men and the quarians stared at each other for a long moment. Himmler looked absolutely fascinated by them, as though his proclamation of the quarian people being Aryan brothers had come true. Heydrich was the realist, he stood there, inspecting them as though they were not potential allies, but as enemies.
"I am Admiral Alaan'Jarva vas Rayya. This is Admiral Habva'Vaerhit." Alaan spoke, breaking the silence at long last. "We are two voices out of the five member Admiralty board that leads our people. I will apologize on behalf on the other members. Our fleet is large and must be micromanaged carefully."
Alaan bowed his head as a sign of respect. The two humans they addressed were both clearly wearing the translators Hoch had provided them. They could understand the friendly body language of Admiral Jarva.. Himmler glanced to the staring Heydrich and stepped forward.
"I am Heinrich Himmler, this is Reinhard Heydrich. On behalf of the Fuhrer and my countrymen, we welcome you to the embrace of our Reich." The Reichsführer greeted, returning the bow with one of his own, his face lighting up to a smile. "We are only too happy to finally meet you and your people after so many weeks of reports and preparation."
Himmler, still smiling at the quarians, turned his attention to Langer and Hoch, both of whom stood to the side with the ever quiet Eichmann.
"Langer, why don't you stay with us." Himmler invited the older man. He turned to Hoch and added. "Herr Hoch, thank you for your services. We shall see to it that you are returned to your unit. I am certain that you will be only too happy to return to the field."
Eichmann and Heydrich both smirked as they watched the colour in Hoch's face vanish quickly at the expression. He turned to Langer who also was shocked by the suggestion clearly whispered into Himmler's ear by Heydrich and Eichmann. Hoch exhaled... well shit... So much for a good job... it was back off to Russia with him.
The door opened. Hoch turned and found Hanala was standing in the doorway. No longer was she up. Her composure was back and she was dressed in her black and purple body suit. Her eyes glanced from her father to the ashen faced Hoch.
"Hanala." Langer suddenly greeted, surprising all of the occupants of the room. "Did you hear the good news? Your liaison is heading back to Russia. I am certain Reichsführer Himmler and General Heydrich would like your opinion on the matter."
Hanala froze. In her short time on earth, she knew exactly what being sent back to the front lines in Russia meant. Looking close to losing her temper, she swallowed her rage and turned to the stocky Himmler.
"With all due respect Herr Reichsführer, Joachim Hoch was named my liaison. Under my command." Hanala spoke up as she closed the door behind her. "I believe it would be wise if he remained as my assistant. I will need his assistance in adjusting."
Heydrich's smirk turned into a frown, he stepped past Himmler and the quarians and gestured to the silent Eichmann.
"I am certain my friend Adolf Eichmann could do a much better job serving your interests... Fraulein?"
Alaan'Jarva moved forward, catching Himmler's attention.
"Herr Himmler. This is my daughter, Hanala'Jarva." Alaan spoke as he glanced to the silent Hoch and joined Hanala's side, his arm wrapping protectively around the woman. "As a personal request, I would feel most comfortable if Joachim'Hoch continued his services to your Reich as an aid to her."
Langer cleared his throat.
"Besides... What is your policy on letting disabled soldiers fight on the front line?" He asked.
Before Hoch could react, Langer grabbed his machine arm and rolled up the sleeve and pulled the leather glove off, revealing the three digit piece of machinery now serving as his limb. Eichmann, for the first time in quite possibly his entire life, stared at it with fascination. Himmler too stared at it, shocked and disgusted.
"British Grenade, Herr Reichsführer." Hoch quickly lied.
Readjusting his spectacles and glancing to Heydrich, Himmler turned back. His face turning into fatherly concern for Joachim.
"My God, Hoch..."He whispered lowly. "Very well... As a gesture of friendship, I shall keep you on. Thank you again for your services."
With those words spoken, it was clear that it was time for Hoch to leave. Gesturing to Hanala to follow him and shooting both Alaan'Jarva and Langer a look of gratitude for their defense the two of them left.
"That was close... Thank you, Hanala.." He whispered as he led Hanala out of the room and back into the hallway. "Eichmann will be inching his way into this group undoubtedly. Skorzeny told me a while back. He's not a man you want in your corner. You need to watch out for him and Heydrich."
Though Hanala nodded, it was clear to Hoch that she did not understand the power struggles within the SS. He would have to teach her that the SS upper echelon was Darwinian by design. She did not know just how close he was to being shipped back to Russia and never seeing her again. Hanala stopped walking, with the hall empty, she turned and took both of his hands.
"So... where too first?" Hanala spoke again, "We can travel anywhere that is safe. I do not know where to start. Do you?"
Joachim thought about it for a moment. Here he had a babysitting job and it looked as though it would be a long term one. Where would he like to go? Where would he take Hanala? Somewhere quiet in Denmark? Italy? Perhaps sate her thirst of spilling blood by taking her back to Poland or France?
No... Not yet anyways.
"With your permission, Kiel." He spoke finally to the woman's, whose curiosity softened into understanding. "I should go home... bury my mother."
Hanala nodded. Quietly, the two of them headed back to their room.
A knock on the door woke him from his doctor prescribed afternoon rest. He tried his best to ignore it but again it happened, then again and again.
Grumbling to himself about heart attacks and people in need of a good lesson in manners, Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt opened his eyes and sat up. His eyes narrowed as they fell to the door. Who in the hell was calling at... Rundstedt checked his watch. Four in the evening. Sighing that he had no excuse, he pulled on his shoes and marched to the door.
"Who the hell is it now." he grumbled as he opened up and found himself not happy with what he saw.
Standing there was a formally dress Her NCO, he was tall, slightly hunched and probably wounded. Still he came to attention at the sight of the Field Marshall. Rundstedt returned the salute and took a good long look at the face. He was a boy giant. He had seen this boy before. In Vienna, his little granddaughter hit him.
He was.. He was that clever, arrogant, angst addled SS officer's adjutant. The one named Hoch.
"You." he growled lowly as though the Heer soldier personally betrayed him. "Is he here?"
The soldier's eyes went wide as he shook his head.
"Umm, no...Uh, Herr Generalfeldmarschall Rundstedt." The NCO stupidly stuttered out like a retarded child. "I-I... I brought someone else who wanted to um.. Wanted to meet you."
The NCO stepped out of the way. Standing there on the walkway to the staff car was an SS officer... but it wasn't an SS officer... for starters, he wasn't human. He was unnaturally pale, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, his legs were wrong... as wrong as the alien that he encountered in Vienna...
Oh God... The secret the SS was keeping had decided to visit him.
"You're one of... them." He whispered, unable to believe that this being decided to come to his home. The alien nodded his head politely and stepped forward, his expression forming into a careful smile.
"I am Admiral Halid'Zorah. I apologize for the uniform, Herr Generalfeldmarschall and my abrupt visit." The alien spoke to him in a strangely accent, yet clear German, leaving the Junker in shocker. "I don't have long and you and I have much to discuss."
Staring between the human and the alien that had addressed himself as an Admiral, Gerd von Rundstedt nodded speechless as he stepped out of the way, allowing the two of them to enter his home. He did not realize at the time that the conversation they would have would change his life, his fate and the fate of Germany forever.
The quietness of the Libyan Desert was broken up as a lone vehicle came to the stop over the valley. The doors opened and out came three Afrika Korps soldiers, brandishing submachine guns, all them heading in different directions to set up a perimeter. Next an officer came, Ordonnanzoffizier Leutnant Alfred-Ingemar Berndt. His small eyes like the soldiers before him scanned for unknown threats. Feeling the area was safe enough, Berndt turned back to the car and opened the backdoor and came to attention as the man staring at his reports turned his focus up to his subordinate.
"We're clear, Herr General." Berndt announced, stepping out of the Desert Fox's way as he stood up from his seat, his expression unreadable as he stepped out onto the North African sand and dirt.
Rommel pushed past his orderly and pulled his cap over his head, his hands moving to straighten out his jacket. He had been summoned. Summoned for a meeting with the SS in his field of operation, for Christ's sake, he thought he had been pretty clear that the SS did not get to play their goddamned games in his theatre. He knew it was a mistake to let one of them roam free in his desert. They would come by plane apparently, which explained why he stood in a flatland such as these.
Well, at least they would have a quick means to leave once he tore these arrogant pion's a new asshole for treating him as though he was their whipping boy.
"Herr General, with all due respect, we're in the middle of nowhere. There is no strategic importance to this valley."
Naturally, Rommel kept everyone in the dark about this meeting. He did not want to be seen consorting with the fanatics as much as he possibly could.
"That's why we're here." He grumbled as he leaned against his car to find himself a cigarette. "Go and tend to the sentries, I would like some time to myself."
Brendt reluctantly nodded, exchanged salutes with his superior officer and followed the footsteps of the patrolling Afrika Korps sentries. his departure left Rommel alone with his thoughts.
To be honest, he was glad to have gotten away from the command quarters. He had been in talks with Italian civilian, political and military leaders about the exploitation of Libyan oil once the English siege was broken and it was safe to resume marching across the nation again. The Italians wanted the oil to themselves, naturally. Greedy, small minded bastards, the whole lot of them, Kesselring was among them, he had to keep Rommel from screaming at the idiots.
Of course, no mention that an alien survey team had found it. He had simply chalked it up as a location discovered by a poor North African local who was untimely blown up by those bastard New Zealanders. New Zealanders were decent enough scapegoat when it came to that lie. Their sectors were always fired the most artillery. All that practice on their sheep, Rommel reckoned.
As he thought about the torture of dealing with oil reserves and Italians, a peculiar hum caught his attention, high in the sky above. He turned his head up. A small blip got closer and closer. At first Rommel was certain a Lancaster had decided to make him into a fine misty, but no. The blip turned into something much, much different. It looked like a boat... with rockets and small wings.
It came lower and lower until it landed a dozen meters from the General of the Afrika Korps.
The cigarette in Rommel mouth fell to the desert sand.
The side of the flying vehicle opened and out stepped four of... them. The quarians, the race he was just made aware of. Three of them took up a defensive position around the craft, their rifles raised threateningly at the General.
Rommel turned back and found that Berndt was running full out to him, his pistol drawn and the three sentries not far behind. Without any fear in them, they stood in front of him, their weapons aiming right back at the aliens. Rommel sighed at the reaction and stepped past his protesting orderly. The fourth quarian who was not armed stepped past her soldiers as well. The two of them continued walking towards each other, ignoring the protests of each races. It wasn't before long that the two of them were no more than a few feet from each other.
They froze their movement and stood there quietly. Rommel searched for the right words to say to this one.
"I know that you can understand me, my men will hold their fire." He spoke to the alien, not sure if his words would get through. "I was briefly in contact with one of your kind, who in turn temporarily provided me with a translation device, an earpiece to be exact."
The alien tilted her head, her hand slid into one of her exotic suits pocket and pulled out the familiar cylindrical device and offered it to him. Giving the alien a brief look, he took it and did as he did last time, placed it just inside his ear. The device hissed and crackled to life as it had before.
"Thank you." He first spoke, "I am Erwin Rommel, Commander of the Afrika Korps. "
The alien bowed her head to the General.
"I have read the report on you submitted by former Captain Hanala'Jarva." The strange wobbly tone came into focus. "I am Captain Daer'Halios vas Kareon. It's an honour to meet someone so highly regarded."
Rommel nodded his head respectfully back to the quarian, The Captain turned back to the craft, her hand gesturing to it. Rommel turned back to his own men and gestured for them to lower their arms at the quarians. They did so reluctantly. In turn, the armed aliens also dropped their guard.
"General, I have brought along a few people who wanted to journey to this desert for a short while." The Captain spoke again, turning properly back to him. "They too have read the reports on you. Come."
Taking a nervous breath, Rommel stepped past the quarian guard with the Captain. Clanging inside the ship caught his attention, popping from out of sight were two more quarians, women by the look of it. One was hunched slightly, the other holding her up.
They stopped at the edge and seemed to look as though they were struggling to get the hunched over one off. Glancing to the fidgeting Captain, Rommel pushed past her and stood in front of the two quarians, who stared on him. Without words, he extended his hand out to the hunched over woman. She looked up and breathing heavily, the woman took his hand with her strange alien one. She felt so... brittle. It was clear now that she wasn't wounded. She was old, much older than he or anyone else here. Taking that fact in consideration, Rommel gingerly aided the elder off the small gap between the ship and the surface of the desert.
He ignored the watchful stare of the woman next to elder as she too stepped off the side of the ship. With the old woman now safely on the ground, Rommel turned his attention to the second woman, whose hands were latched together as she held her eyes on him.
"I am Admiral Utala'Falan, this is Admiral Jalina'Calis." The woman introduced, her voice soft with an edge of authority planted into her tone. "Admiral Calis is the reason we stand here on your planet."
Rommel turned back to the elder, who was staring off at the rocky desert plains before her, her eyes behind the plate glass wide with a strange wonder. Like was standing in the Garden of Eden itself. Rommel's lips quirked and he turned back to the younger Admiral.
Admirals… He was speaking to an authority amongst these quarians, someone of military background. A common ground set between him and these two women. That was good to know for Rommel. If he was handed a politician, he was not sure what he would do. Probably say something and inadvertently start a war. Ignoring his musings, he watched as the older woman stepped past the two of them at a slow hobble, her movement looked painful to the General.
He turned back to the Admiral named Falan, who did not know what to do. Silently, he gave the Admiral a nod before he followed the old Woman, catching up to her quickly.
The older woman broke her empty stare and glanced to Rommel. His arm was now at his side being offered to the quarian. Calis nodded her head and reached out, taking the offering. Together the two off them walked, Rommel felt as though he was a Hitler Youth, escorting old women across a busy street.
They passed by his men who parted respectfully to their superior officer and very much curious about what this woman was.. The woman remained wordless for a little longer. She seemed focus on breathing. For his part, Rommel slowed his pace down to a snail's pace. She needed her time.
"I wanted to see this land for myself." Calis rasped, glancing up to Rommel, who seemed somewhat amused by her curiosity.
"There is not much here for a hundred miles." Rommel informed the elder respectfully. "The war wages to the north. There is nothing but empty land here."
Admiral Calis shook her head.
"I did not come to this land to fight your enemies as my Granddaughter did, Herr General." Jalina reassured Rommel with an amusement in her tone. "I just wanted to see this land. For the first time... for the last time."
Fraulein Hanala'Jarva was this Admiral's granddaughter? Rommel was happy to hear that she did not want to fight. He had heard the stories of Hoch's little squad defending Tripoli. He would not have been the least bit surprised if the woman had killed more Englishmen than Hoch during the action.
"I'm dying." The old quarian whispered, humoured at such a grim concept was evident to Rommel.
"Aren't we all?" Rommel jested, earning a soft wheezing laugh from the quarian.
The two of them stood on the ridge overlooking the valley. Jalina started to push herself down, but was stopped and instead helped by Rommel. Together the two of them sat down on the edge, watching as the Sun slowly set over the desert.
"I felt my death coming for some time." She continued, her voice speaking matter of factually to him. "Some think such a feeling is stupid. I did until I felt it coming. I wanted to hold out until... until I stood on the land that will house my race until we are strong again."
The hopeful tone in her voice forced the ever rational Rommel not to mention how this thought was going to be plagued with many issues. This land was occupied by two warring, uncompromising enemies, colonized by another nation and home to a million or so Arabs who would not simply move because the quarians showed up. All these issues, they were not for a dying woman to hear. She would have a replacement and other admirals who would deal with the logistics. Rommel would grant this elder her right to dream of a home for her displaced race.
Jalina's hands moved up to her mask and without warning, the mask hissed and came off. Rommel stared at the pace face, her eyes dulled unlike her granddaughters. He could see every line, every wrinkle, and every age spot. Smiling, the old woman turned away and took in a breath of air.
"Well you haven't chosen the best of times to make a home here on Earth." Rommel spoke up again "Our planet is engulfed by conflict."
Unperturbed the admission, Jalina slightly shrugged
"For ten years I fought the growing geth threat. I did what I could to stem the geth extermination policies. I have lost much. My parents, my siblings, my husband. I could not save more than 17 million out of billions beyond billions of fellow quarians." Jalina explained, not paying mind to the horrified expression on Rommel's face. "In the forty seven years of exile, I lost most of my children to the geth as well."
Rommel could not find words for such loss. How could these geth commit such horrors on the quarian? How could any race do that? He could not begin to imagine losing everyone. Losing Manfred, losing Lucie. Terrible, absolutely appallingly unthinkable.
"I know war, General;" Admiral Calis pressed on to the stunned General. "For a long time that was all I could think of... but now the quarian people are battered and nearly broken. Just as the other races have been secretly wishing for since we first entered the galactic scene, we were much too clever for the other races. They saw a chance to break us and they took it."
"Regardless, we need a home, far away from the galaxy that shunned us." She concluded before Rommel could ask about these other races. "As for your war, it will end and peace will come back soon... I can feel it."
Rommel wished he had the same optimism as she.
"Here." Was his clearly astute guess, gesturing to the desert before them. Calis nodded her head.
"With your people's permission, yes." Admiral Calis rasped out once more. "I have been naïve about this. I have thought that your people would simply drop everything in order to shelter us, to help us. I see now that life is complicated here. In some cases, more so than our own situation, some feel it is best we simply leave this place."
Calis looked disgusted for thinking such a thought.
"We need to stay." She spoke, stronger than before. "We need to be friends. The chaos of your species could be tamed and mellowed by us, our arrogance that led to the creation of artificial life could be humbled by your people's act of compassion. Two races with interweave destinies...
She trailed off and laughed weakly at her own words.
"A thought, just another childish naïve dream of mine," She spoke, her voice now rueful. "Silly... But worth fighting for, worth... what little life I have left in me."
She trailed off and turned from the human keeping his eye on her. His hand reached over and tentatively took hers. He could see it now, how much this place really meant to her, what it could mean for her people. It would be difficult to settle in, difficult to be accepted and not be feared initially. But it could get better, it could mean a second chance to a race apparently traveling the stars for nearly fifty years.
Rommel reached into his jacket to find a cigarette. He paused and retracted his hand. She did not need to choke on cigarette smoke now.
"Do you know what this desert means to me?" He breathed, searching for the right words to convey.
The old Admiral fell out of her musings and turned back to face Rommel, who was still studying her carefully. Jalina'Calis offered no guess to his remark. Rommel turned away and stared ahead to the barren land that stood before him.
"Nothing at all, Admiral, this desert? It means absolutely nothing to me, It never had." He admitted m his voice distasteful at the thought. "It is simply a place to conduct war for as long as possible against an enemy I hold no personal qualms against. There is little strategic purpose for controlling this land. This war happening here is a war waged solely because it can be waged. Not because it has to be."
He turned back to the elderly quarian who stared at him expectantly.
"To you it's different." He pressed on, silently tugging off his officer cap. "This land to you means salvation of the last of your species. A new home, I can respect that."
Running his hand through his thinning hair, he exhaled slowly.
"You will die, tonight possibly." Rommel conceded to the Admiral. "But before you do, I want you to know that you've given me a tangible reason to fight here. You'll have an advocate in me, even if you do not get to see it."
Jalina's dull eyes lit up, her face struggled to form a smile at the promise made by the human. A promise he would keep. He would beat the English into submission for them. He would beat the inevitable American invasion into submission on the quarians behalf. For the first time in this war, he had a reason to wage war without it stinking of politics.
"Thank you." The old woman managed to get out, her voice sounding tired and very heavy.
She turned away and before Rommel could realize it, her posture changed, no longer rigid, she seemed to slump, as if she wanted to lie down. Rommel closed his eyes. He knew what this was. Carefully, his arm wrapped around the dying woman. Her head leaned against his shoulder as she fought for her last breaths.
"It will be nice, Herr Rommel." She whispered faintly. "Finally being allowed to rest, for seventy years I have served my race. It would be nice... to sleep, to see my ancestors my family... I think our two races will get along."
Rommel nodded his head, agreeing with her sentiment.
"My name is Erwin." He returned, his voice hard to carry as he watched her faintly smile.
"Er-Erwin." She exhaled, her voice sounding so joyous. "Th-The human... Hoch is seeing my granddaughter, Hanala...My proof ... my proof."
Jalina'Calis' voice trailed off. Rommel closed his eyes and exhaled as she did. Her eyes were distant. Gone was the life she held for ninety years in them. She was finally with her gods... ancestors. Rommel held her close as he stared off to the setting sun, treating the passed on quarian as though she was still sitting there with him.
As he had promised to her, he had a reason to take this desert.
He would not break his promise.