Chapter Eight: Musings

...

Aliens.

It sounded like something out of the old H.G Wells novels he read as a younger man, before the Fuhrer had them burned and replaced with Jew hating literature, published by that brute, Streicher. Quarians, a race the young SS officer professed to be capable of ending their existence, but was instead holding a branch of peace between Germany and this off world power.

It sounded like a noble endeavour. The thing was, he did not trust the brown shirt mob and especially not the SS to do this. It wasn't the Wehrmacht that betrayed every promise it made to the western powers. It wasn't the Wehrmacht who pushed for war against Russia so prematurely, a war that was not ready to be waged just yet.

In his own opinion, he wasn't sure if this alien people ought to be making deals with that repulsive, scrawny chicken farmer, Himmler. The aliens should be making deals with the only competent form of government Germany had in actuality. The Wehrmacht itself.

But, that would not happen... the fantasy of a Wehrmacht seizure of power was full of uncertainties. One simply did not wage a civil war in the midst of a war of survival.

Not without good reason.

So, for the time being, he would continue to obey the demands of the party. He was a good soldier who served the Fatherland faithfully since 1892 -fifty years of following orders for those in charge. It was not that he did not believe in the same sort of destiny that the Fuhrer had decreed... He too eagerly sought for the continued strength and growth of his beloved Fatherland, as did any decent, upright citizen of his great nation.

What bothered him was the way that the Fuhrer had ordered him to wage war, looked at the war. Not just as a struggle of ideology, which he had no problem fighting for. It was the matter of genetic superiority that left a bad taste in his mouth.

Make no mistake about it. He had no love for Russians and the Commissioners leading them to their deaths and he especially had no love for the Jews who occupied his nation for so many years; But to have them simply rounded up, their property taken without so much as compensation and then deporting them to settlements out east? It all seemed... off.

Ultimately it really wasn't in his best interest, nor did he have the power to do something about government policy. His occupation was war, not dealing with the Jews and the Communists spreading disease across his beloved Germany. Again, in the end, he was simply following orders.

Following orders...

If they lost the war, it was more than likely most who made that claim would meet their ends at the end of a hangman's noose or by firing squad.

"Opa! Father's here!"

Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt looked up from his cigarette and to the source of the excited call to find little Barbara wrapped around her father's, his son's leg. There was a friendly smile on Hans Gerd von Rundstedt's mouth as he shooed his child off with a kiss on her forehead.

"Father, I see your new secretary is doing an admirable job." Hans spoke stepping towards his father, adding. "As I understand it, you haven't been much fun as of late."

The father stood briefly and shook his son's hand, gesturing for Hans to join him on his couch. He inhaled his cigarette and found that his son was staring at him, as though he was disapproving of his habit.

"Might I remind you, you just had a heart attack, father, should you really be smoking?" Hans chastised as he leaned into his seat. "The Fuhrer does have a point about how unhealthy it is."

The Fuhrer. To hell with him and his overzealous standards. Gerd took one last drag before stubbing his cigarette out violently, the action earning an odd looking from his son.

"Father, is something troubling you?" Hans asked delicately. "Mother says you haven't been sleeping well lately."

The Field Marshal looked up to his son wearily. Hans was much too sensitive for his own good. He was the first in the long line of Rundstedt's that chose an academic career over officer training academy, breaking traditional commitments to the state that had existed since the first days of Fredrick the Great.

Still... at least now he was willing to serve, albeit behind the lines in Berlin and he would have two sons who would carry on the tradition once they were old enough to carry a gun, a sword and command enough respect to lead men into the future battlefields.

Gerd would be a proud ancestor, watching over them. So long as they made their name in the Heer and not serving to lick some bohemian corporal and his lackey's boots.

"The SS are keeping a secret and I'm trying to determine where I stand about it." Rundstedt finally grumbled.

Hans frowned at the remark.

"The SS keep a lot of secrets, Father. None of them decent in the slightest." Hans's sage response rung true in the older man's mind. "What makes this one needed to stress you out?"

The elder Rundstedt leaned into his seat.

"Because it could change everything we know. What I tell you does not leave this room."

As Hans nodded and swore his secrecy, Rundstedt sighed. This secret was going to be the death of him.

...

...

Vallhallan Threshold Cluster en route to Earth

"Completely unacceptable Admiral Jarva, how could she be so... so reckless! The humans are not ready to meet us."

"It was an accident, Vaerhit. An accident you cannot simply accuse her of without a basis. Besides, this meeting was bound to happen. We agreed on it seven years ago, remember?"

"I never agreed to anything. Even if I did go along with this, that was before the fascists lost their minds and started fighting their entire damn planet! This was a mistake. They will be lucky to survive the next year."

Admiral Alaan'Jarva vas Rayya rubbed the bridge of his thin nose. Habva'Vaerhit was a difficult man. He could not fault his trepidation. Uplifting a species was a huge gamble. On one hand, they needed to get their home world, but they needed to do it smart. There had already been two offensives against the get in the span of thirty five years, but failed. They had at best one more chance before they were reduced to what the council planned for them. Vagrants, roaming the vast empty space.

On the other hand, they had to worry about making sure that they did not turn the humans into the next krogan. Unleashing them on the galaxy to fight one menace only to have them turn around and nearly destroy those who made them.

"Then we still go to Earth." Alaan returned, earning a scowl from Habva. "We can intervene; force a fascist victory or at least a stalemate. We need their survival for our plans to work."

Admiral Utala'Falan vas Idenna stood from her seat and sat down next to Alaan.

"First, Alaan. I'm more than certain Hanala is fine." Admiral Falan spoke reassuringly, her hand patting his forearm. "She's a tough, smart young woman. If she crashed, then I'm certain she's evading the humans. If they spotted her... I'm just as certain she won't give our secrets up."

Alaan nodded gratefully, grateful for her assurances and just as glad that Falan could see reason.

"Secondly, I'm in an agreement with you." She continued her tone less reassuring and more formal. "We have to salvage the situation for the fascists. We agreed, with an exception to Admiral Vaerhit, who dissented, and Admiral Zorah, who has only just joined the board, that the fascists were the most politically mouldable of the three factions. The Capitalists are divided and bicker amongst each other, eventually they would use us, the Communists are quasi cultists, and their leadership has purged resistance out of their army and terrorized their countrymen into complete submission."

Falan gestured to the youngest and newest member of the board. Admiral Halid'Zorah vas Hyleon, who sat there, looking very out of place. Unlike the other sitting around him, at the age of thirty two, Admiral Zorah was first generation ship born with a child on the way.

"What say you Admiral Zorah?" Alaan spoke kindly to him. "Surely you have an opinion."

Zorah cleared his throat.

"I can appreciate the strength they show, Admiral Jarva. I'm also impressed by how rapidly they have developed without our help." Halid spoke up for the first time officially to him colleagues. "The Capitalists have a unique strength as well, but they lack the same... convictions and discipline as the fascists. The capitalists will be useful in the future, but not now."

"Admirals, this is Captain Kalas'Balive vas Rayya. We are preparing for relay jump in half an hour."

Admiral Falan stood up and straightened out her uniform.

"I think we can adjourn on that note until we get some updates."

With that the Admirals that gathered with an exception to Admiral Jalina'Calis vas Kareon, who was halfway to Earth by now stood and departed, leaving Alaan still sitting in the meeting room, silently praying on behalf of his missing daughter. Glancing up, he found Halid'Zorah still standing there looking like he needed to talk.

"Admiral Zorah, How can I be of assistance?" He spoke, gesturing to the young admiral to join him.

"I have been reading into what history our intelligence gatherers have put together." 'Zorah spoke stepping forward. "Alaan, does our support really have to go to these... National Socialists? Their government is centered on racism and blood superiority."

Zorah took a breath and exhaled.

"It's just... I'm worry what the rest of the galaxy will think once they learn of what we've done." He explained himself, sounding resign to the decision made before he had any say to it. "We've unleashed the geth on this galaxy. I'm just worried the humans may not be much better."

Alaan leaned into his seat.

"Behind the veneer, The National Socialists aren't as unified as they look." Alaan said, looking up to Zorah. "I cannot order you to do it, but when we get there. I need someone to find any cracks. Rifts we can... exploit."

Halid nodded, it was a silent gesture that he would take charge of the operation. Giving Alaan one final bow of his head, the younger admiral departed, leaving Alaan alone, alone with his worries for his only child.

...

...

"Really, I'll be fine, Joachim. What you did to me when we first met hurt much more. Honest."

Hanala ducked her head as a slight blush hit her cheek all thanks to how closely the human was staring at her, His arm was around her shoulders in an attempt help walk her back to the Afrika Korps headquarters. She didn't need his help. The stim-bandages would keep the wound clean and help heal much quicker than the primitive medical supplies Joachim had offered to her. Not that she was ungrateful.

Xen left an hour ago. Hanala needed some time to gather her senses, between the painkillers and the pain shooting through her. Hoch had him drag the unconscious enemy lieutenant back to the headquarters after Hoch taught Martus how to say "We captured him" in his language...

The star was setting over the smoking city of Tripoli. Creating a haze that smelled of fossil fuel and dead blood. It was still hard to believe what they had just gone through actually happened. It was even harder to believe just how many lives she had taken in the space of three hours.

"I don't recall throwing a grenade at you." Joachim spoke next to her. His arms abrupt let go of her and allowed her to stumble in place.

Hanala nearly cried out as the pain caught her off guard. She was tired, hungry and very thirsty despite being naturally attune to this arid environment. She would have drank from her canteen had it not been for the shrapnel damage it absorbed. Hanala sighed, she would have asked Hoch for his had it not been for her fear of contaminated consumables.

She groaned as Hoch continued to walk, purposely ignoring the pain that was shooting through her body.

"Okay, okay... I wasn't being honest." Hanala finally mumbled, admitting her handicap. "Come back... I need your help."

Joachim paused and turned back, his face contorted into a look of annoying satisfaction. Hanala soon found the humans arm around her shoulders. Her own arm gripped him as together they moved at an elcors pace. They passed by a dozen desert troops, armed and taking twice as many commonwealth prisoners of war back to the closest detainee center they could fine.

"I got no help from you when you stabbed me." Joachim mused, smirking as a truck with a large red cross past by them, followed by a troop carrier.

Hanala rolled her eyes.

"Yes... and you tried to choke the life out of me, you kicked in my ribs and not only did you also nearly tear out one of my suit sterilized O2 rebreather, you used me as a shield against Xen and Galas." She listed off one by one, watching as Hoch looked somewhat guilty.

Deciding that things between them were not worth damaging over a terrible first encounter, Hanala glanced around the battle scarred city. All of this seemed so futile, all the death and destruction seemed like such a waste. She could not exactly blame Hoch and the fascists, nor even the capitalists. She had only the faintest idea what this conflict was about; she wasn't in a position to judge.

"I imagine this city was beautiful before the war hit it." Hanala pondered, smiling slightly as she gestured around. "This would be a perfect place to place a quarian settlement here."

Hanala watched Joachim's face scrunched up at the remark.

"A settlement?"

She nodded. It was against all explicated orders to speak of future goals involving the humans just yet. But considering they were here by Hanala's deception, she might as well tell Joachim one of the reasons they stood in this city.

"Yes. A permanent residence for quarians here on Earth." She decided to admit to him. "We have to make our presence known one day soon. Its best we do so by showing we are not much different then you. First contact revelation can be quite stressful. We must convey of intentions for peace."

"Peace..." Hoch repeated, looking close to laugh at the remark. "Just don't shoot at you or strafe you. Otherwise you'll shoot back or blow up some poor bastard's engine when he's diving at three hundred kilometers an hour."

Hanala scowled and slapped the colonel's arm. She was trying to forget the lives she had taken. Here he was reminding her as though it had been a badge of honour. It must have been a human thing, relishing in their ability to kill. Before she could question it the sound of an engine approached them, slowing down. It was tan toned open top vehicle. It slowed down and came to a full stop. Only one man stepped out.

Rommel.

The man known as the Desert Fox (Whatever the hell that was) approached them in a brisk pace. Hoch did not tighten into a state of attention. He maintained his arm around her and stared wearily at the General who had stopped in front of the two battle weary people. His frown curved slightly a ghost of a smile for them.

"I've received several reports about an unlisted squad assisting the main line, and then helped recapture the Italian position." Rommel finally spoke. "On top of that, your man brought me a mostly intact lieutenant for questioning."

Patting Joachim's shoulder, Rommel turned and went back to his vehicle.

"You have impressed me, enough to listen to your intentions." He added before stepping back inside his vehicle. "For now, I must inspect the lines. You and your squad are guests. There should be a few rooms to spare at the headquarters."

Nodding his head, Rommel and his entourage of officers drove off past them, leaving Hanala quietly happy that their mission could finally start soon.

...

...

"Mind repeating that?"

"Operation Rage is set for March 1st. I want you and your team to make the hit."

Lieutenant Commander Alexander Ferguson slid the confidential command papers across the desk.

They were taken by large calloused hands. One of which, pulled back to stroke his large non-regulation full beard, curly and dark with speckles of grey touching against it. The only reason he was allowed to be so grizzled was to hide the massive chunk taken out of his face from an exploding potato masher back in '40, holding the Germans back from the Dunkirk evacuations.

He recuperated and after being discharged from the army, signed on with the newly formed SAS, which was much less focused on Lieutenant Lachlan Angus Shepard's appearance and much more impressed with his ability to kill Jerries.

Despite the wound, Lachlan was still a bear of a man. Standing in at 6'9, 20 stone. He spent the better part of 1941 in the desert, harassing the Italians until Rommel showed up with his men and started beating them back to Egypt and Tunis.

"Austria... and how do you suppose on getting us into Austria, Ferguson?" The Commando rumbled, leaning into his seat and looking incredulously up to the intelligence officer.

"February 27th," Ferguson explained as he leaned onto desk. "The RAF is planning a raid on Kiel. Jerries will undoubtedly scramble everything to support the city. You will come in on high flying Jerry marked transports and drop fifty kilometers outside of Vienna. Austria doesn't maintain a huge military presence outside their city. Love the Nazis they do. Move fast and meet several members of Vienna's local resistance cell, the O5."

Shepard did not like this in the slightest, Ferguson could not blame him, but with war came messy assignments, and this one was going to be an exceptionally dirty spy, hit and attack assignment.

"Extradition?"

"Switzerland." Ferguson spoke, earning a pointed stare from Lachlan. "We'll fly in a transport plane with identification from Brazil, carrying several bankers. Favours owed to us for overlooking their fascist sympathies. They'll break you out and bring you right here."

Reaching into his pocket, Shepard pulled out his pipe and idly played with it.

"Eight hundred kilometers of dodging Jerries isn't exactly what I consider safe for neither my men nor I." Shepard grumbled, closing the report. "We're commandos, yes. We kill Germans dead, most definitely. But we're not fucking miracle workers... With all due respect, Sir."

Ferguson leaned back into his seat and allowed the Scot to light his pipe.

"The amount of scientists roaming this Museum is worrisome." He pressed on, trying to convince the man. "Rocket scientists, nuclear specialists... We need to take this risk Shepard."

Shepard nodded finally.

"Until then, I suppose."

A knock on the door caught their attention. Alex smiled slightly. He was here. Ignoring the stare of the Scotsmen, Ferguson pushed himself off the desk and headed to the door.

"I trust you will not protest a commanding officer for this mission." Spoke Ferguson as he opened the door and gestured for the man to join them.

With a nod, a man stepped through the doorway, wearing a beret and a funny little unassuming pencil moustache under his nose, his uniform was rumpled and well-worn from the many conflicts he saw. From the battlefields of France to waging a training resistance fighters and waging war in Norway. In his belt was a broadsword forged in Scotland. A broadsword famed for actually being used to kill Jerries up close.

"Lieutenant Lachlan Shepard, I would like to introduce you to your new CO for your assignment." Ferguson introduced, gesturing to the unassuming small man next to him. "Lieutenant Colonel Jack Churchill."

Shepard stood up and saluted. Suddenly an assault deep behind enemy lines looked much better with 'Mad Jack' Churchill leading the way.

...

...

To be honest, it was probably for the best that Rommel told them to find quarters and spend the night in the relative silence of the evening. The English and their allies decided against further bombardment against the city. There were four hundred POW's taken from the assault. The last thing they wanted now was to kill them. They would hold back their attacks until the morning when the transports ships took them to the Stalag's scattered across Europe.

For now, Joachim was happy to get out of his uniform and to have a lukewarm bath. Something he was going to utilize before a sudden knock on the door.

Ignoring his state he turned back and moved to answer the door. He opened it, finding none other than Hanala'Jarva standing there, still in full battlegear, except her goggles, which were pushed back up onto her Stahlhelm. Her eyes widened at the sight of him, her cheeks changed colors.

Hoch could only grin.

"Care for some company?"

Hands gripping the doorway, Joachim leaned in, very aware of the quarians discomfort by him shirtless and the way his eyes watched hers travel over him.

"Another evening visit?" Joachim mused, fighting the smirk on his face and in his voice from showing. "If I didn't know better, I would think something is on your mind."

Snapping her eyes up from off his abdomen, Hanala scowled and turned to leave, only to feel Joachim's hand wrap around her bicep. She stopped moving and turned back to the somewhat taller human, who was now offering her an apologetic smile.

"Alright, alright, come on in." He allowed, letting go of her and stepping out of the doorway. "I'll pretend you're here on official business and not just to check me out while I get undressed."

Shaking her head in clear denial, Hanala limped inside the room, unslinging her rifle and resting it against the door. She took a seat on the nearest chair and begun working her gear off, dropping it haphazardly on the floor. Her Stahlhelm came off, and the ties in her hair vanished, fully revealing her femininity once more.

Hoch averted his eyes as the light fatigues came off, leaving her in a somewhat grimy undershirt. Showing off just how curvy the woman was.

"How are you?" He finally asked as she ran her hand over her wound. Hanala looked up and smiled almost sweetly in his opinion.

Odd...

"Fine, the wound is healing nicely." Hanala informed her ambassador, much more animated then before. "I'll probably take an injection of pain suppressors before I turn in tonight."

Joachim nodded.

"That's good to hear, but I meant how are you doing?" He admitted, making Hanala pause. He added, "It's not easy taking your first life. Even if it's not your species I imagine."

The quarian ship captain bowed her head in agreement.

"It's... difficult." She admitted softly. "But I am at peace with it for now. Maybe when we're back in Vienna, then I will start digesting it. I was never the soldier type. I surprised mother and father when I told them my desire to command a ship."

Hanala stood up and painfully maneuverer herself within arm's length of the only half SS officer. Her hand reached out and tentatively grabbed his left wrist, turning his arm over. Her eyes fell to his tattooed runes on his skin. Her free hand allowed her long digits to gently graze the inked skin.

What is it for?" She breathed, holding her eyes on it. "That Major did not seem impressed with it."

Joachim glanced at the tattoo the unmistakable mark of a man serving in the Waffen SS.

"Blood group identification in case I'm injured." He explained just as soft as she had been touching him. "Runic for B Negative..."

Joachim trailed off as the strange clumsy looking, but firm fingers touched against his bare skin, They slid past his arms and onto his body, it wasn't long before they found themselves touching a lumpy, discoloured section of skin just under his last rib. Her head tilted as she looked at it curiously.

"And that?" She breathed, finally looking up into his blue eyes. He glanced down and laughed slightly.

"A Pole got lucky during the siege of Warsaw. Put me in the hospital for almost a month." He admitted, his voice sheepish as she arched an eyebrow at him.

Hanala chewed her lip; her hands now pressed against his chest with much more daring. They felt strange... harder than a woman's hands should be. Eventually the hand touched against a new patch of rough patch of heavy scar tissue, this time however it was wrapped around his waist. Hanala once again looked up at him, asking for answers with her bright eyes.

"French tank hit my Hanomag. Eight dead." Hoch recalled, wincing as the fingers dug deep into his side. "Got lucky to take some hot steel."

The captain nodded, she stepped closer to him. She was breathing much shallower as she pushed her hands behind him, grazing against his spine, moving lower and lower until they found yet another scar. Long with craters embedded in the flesh.

"Let me guess." She mused, her voice filled with good humour, "the Russians after you fought off a thousand of them?"

Hoch shook his head.

"No. I got that one from my father."

Hanala blinked. She snapped her near amorous affection away from him as she stared wide eyed up to the human who had so casually about child abuse.

"I was six." Joachim admitted his tone neutral as he turned away from the quarian to find his undershirt. "He hit my mother, so I hit him back. A half an hour session with an alder branch and a lit cigarette was his reaction. Bastard."

With the shirt back on, Joachim took a seat, leaving Hanala standing and gaping in the disgust.

"Keelah... I'm sorry, to think the way you spoke of him made me assume that you-"

"Liked him?" Joachim finished for her, his voice high and incredulous. "He was my Father. I respected his title, yes. He was murdered by the frogs, of course I was angry. It did not mean I loved him by any stretch of the imagination."

He paused and dropped his attitude.

"Judging from your reaction. I don't suppose corporal punishment is in your parents vocabulary." Joachim added, gesturing to the look of permanent disgust on her face.

Hanala shook her head and limped over, taking a seat on the bed next to him.

"No, Father never liked to discipline. Mother, on the other hand..." Hanala trailed off, Joachim watched as she seemed to smile at the thought before adding, "well you just don't anger my mother. She doesn't need to hit someone in order to make even grown men become submissive."

She paused and looked him over briefly before adding.

"Though... I suppose if Father saw me now, cooperating."

"Fraternizing." Hoch cut in, correcting her.

"Cooperating..." Hanala repeated once more in order to shoot down any implications Hoch could make. "He might reconsider his position on child rearing."

Together they sat there in an awkward silence. They had nothing to say to one another. That was fine with Joachim; it gave him time to chastise himself for revealing much too personal information to the woman, whom he had just bloody met less than a month ago. Talking about his bastard of a father and a useless woman like his mother. Stupid of hi-

Hanala leaned in, her lips pressing against the edge of his briefly before pulling back, her head bowed.

"Thank you for saving my life back there... T-Thank you for everything, really." She murmured; suddenly shy by her own actions.

Hanala stood up, gathering her things and departed before the human could say a single word, leaving Hoch a very confused man.

Women, it seemed, were unpredictable regardless of where they came from.