Vampires, werewolves, ghouls, zombies -- none of these are as scary as plain, old, ordinary zealots.

CATHEDRAL OF LIGHTS, 1938
by Douglas Kolacki ©2020

SS Hauptsturmfûhrer Rudolf Hoess waited at the top of the execution trench, watching the patch of scorched black ground down at the bottom. He checked his wristwatch. One minute remained until six o'clock, the sun touching the western horizon. He forgot how cold it was for October in this year of 1938--the fifth year of what Glock called The Founding Generation--until a gust of wind nearly snatched off his cap and blew stray leaves across the compound.

The west wall of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp led off to his left and behind him. Just inside that lay the electric fence, then the array of barracks that fanned out across Custody Zone One from the entrance on the other end of the camp. Straightening his cap, he took a last glance around to ensure the rules had been kept: prisoners shut in the barracks, no patrolling guards or dogs within fifty meters, and three SS riflemen, no more, at the trench's entrance ramp. A dog was barking somewhere now, but Hoess did not see it. He knew, however, that the men in the guard towers along the wall were watching, all who could get a view.

Thirty seconds.

Hoess kept his face impassive, but his pulse raced as it had done seventeen days ago, six days ago, and now tonight.

The camp siren announced the final ten seconds with a howl.

Hoess' reflexes kicked in and he jerked back a step. He'd meant not to, in fact set his mind not to, but he caught himself doing it every time. As camp adjutant, he was supposed to set an example, and he felt the riflemen's eyes upon him at that moment.

The low thrumming sound came first, vibrating the ground under his boots. Then the light erupted out of the trench and shot into the sky. It was like the Cathedral of Lights, or Lichtdom, of the anti-aircraft searchlights that ringed the night rallies. It was a clean light, a light that would burn away any filth or decay that came too close. It had scorched the ground under it solid black. People had mentioned seeing it all the way from Birkenwerder, ten kilometers to the south. And Hoess, he regarded the holy light in the way he normally regarded only the Fûhrer.

The Lichtdom lit the trench lightning-bright for three seconds, during which four silhouettes formed within it. Then the light vanished, leaving Hoess' eyes swimming, and the silhouettes became men--three uniformed and at rigid attention, the fourth stooped over in an orange jumpsuit, bald and overweight, clasping shackled hands, unkempt as the others were clean-cut, slovenly as the others were fit.

Hoess walked down into the trench, followed at a distance by the riflemen. He never got over the fact that the visitors seemed to think nothing of that unbelievable blast of light. It would be like standing in the midst of a volcanic eruption and giving no more thought to it than brushing sparks off your shoulder.

The man in the lead stepped forward. His uniform retained every detail of the previous visits: black, collar showing the twin oak leaves of an Oberfûhrer, silver braided shoulderboard. He'd identified himself as SS, but while his combination cap bore the Nazi eagle, it lacked the death's head. The red and black swastika design on his armband had not changed over the years and probably never would, even in the thousandth year of the Reich. There was no telling how far ahead these men lived; it may have been fifty years or five hundred. Glock, the Oberfûhrer, was the only one who spoke, and thus far he had not divulged the year.

The other two each held one of the prisoner's arms. They wore gray uniforms with the SS emblem on the collars, although their death's-heads were also missing.

Glock raised his right hand. "Heil Hitler."

So he had remembered, again. Hoess had been playing a little game with himself: would the visitor slip this time and pronounce the name of his own Fûhrer instead? Perhaps a descendant of Goering, or Hess? Secretly he always hoped to hear "Heil Himmler," so he could rush to tell the SS head that, in addition to daughter Gudrun, he might well father a son.

Hoess stopped in front of the Oberfûhrer and returned the salute. "Good to see you again, Herr Glock."

Glock clasped the commandant's hand, then placed his arms by his sides. They remained there, never moving as he spoke, for the ten-minute duration of the visit. His boots remained fixed at the precise forty-five degree angle of a soldier at attention. More than once Hoess got a nagging urge to chide him, it's all right to relax, friend. The man was too tight.

"Our Fûhrer," Glock said, "is considering your suggestion of transporting three Jewish men to our own time as live exhibits for our citizens. You can expect an answer on it soon."

Hoess nodded. "We have marked out seven, should you be interested. Sterilized of course. They have the right sort of appearance--"

"Downward sloping noses, that sort of thing?"

"I'm sure you're familiar with Der Sturmer, Julius Streicher's magazine. Personally I find it distasteful, but those men could well be cover models for what Streicher puts in there."

"Ah, Herr Hoess!" Glock laughed, an easy laugh out of place with his cut-granite appearance. It caught Hoess by surprise. "You are every bit as zealous as I have read of you."

Well, well. Loosening up at last? Perhaps his tongue could loosen as well. Himmler had directed Hoess to note every detail of Glock's appearance, to pay close attention to every word he said, to try to coax anything from him no matter how trivial. How did these time travelers do it? Thank God, Hoess thought--or would have, in his more religiously receptive boyhood--that they wear our uniform. Having witnessed their arrival and departure twice, he still could not quite bring himself to believe it. They stepped out of thin air. They could not have hidden themselves in the trench walls, nor were there any trick doors or compartments--the camp commandant had had the whole area thoroughly inspected. It simply could not be done.

If Hoess could get Glock to reveal any useful intelligence about the Reich's future in Europe--say, how to persuade Britain to align with them, or when they would regain the territories lost under the Treaty of Versailles--Himmler might appoint him second in command of the SS. Or Hitler might do so himself. The dictator, in fact, may well have approved this project for that very reason.

Hoess clasped his hands behind his back, cocked his head, and turned his attention to the manacled prisoner. Fiftyish, moon-shaped face and hair receded to whitening patches on the sides of his head. The man's jaw hung slack, eyes lidded, and he might have collapsed if not held up by his guards.

"What is his crime?" Hoess asked.

"He abducted, raped, and murdered a young woman."

Hoess studied the prisoner. Keeping his eyes on the man, he said: "Herr Glock? I'm still not sure I understand why you bring these here for us to execute. It must be far less trouble to do it yourselves."

"Ah, Herr Hoess. You may blame our Fûhrer for that. The year he officially pronounced all of Europe Judenrein, he determined to change the direction of the Reich. That is why our uniforms do not have the skull as yours do. It is a time of well-earned, long fought-for peace for the Reich's international citizenry. We wish to be associated with goodwill and benevolence, not executions. Such is the legacy you bestowed upon us, and the entire German nation is grateful."

Hoess took note of the long fought-for and international citizenry.

"When a deviant, therefore, commits such an unspeakable atrocity against one of our citizens, punishing him is not a simple matter. Such men attempt to drag death and violence into our peaceful age, both by their crimes and by forcing us to deal with them accordingly. You of the Founding Generation, however, are equipped both morally and by physical means to accomplish what justice demands. And traveling this way is actually quite easy for us.

"But the channel between our two ages is notoriously fragile. We have to traverse it regularly, keep it in use, or it would collapse. It was really by sheer chance that we discovered it. And if we ever lost it, there would be little hope of recovery. Which brings us to..." He stopped.

"Yes?" Hoess kept his voice casual. "Is there another reason?"

Glock's lips were tight, his eyes faraway. Then he snapped his gaze back onto Hoess. "Your question, of course, is perfectly legitimate. To answer it fully, however..." Glock broke forth a smile, a beaming display of perfect teeth that underscored his claims of harmony under the future swastika. He leaned closer and lowered his voice. "May I trust you to keep this between us? For the time being at least?"

"I give you my word as an officer, I will not even tell Reischfûhrer Himmler."

Glock nodded. "I mentioned that most of mankind is now Judenrein. There is a reason why the convicts we've brought you thus far have been mere non-Jewish antisocials, like this one. It has been a long history and an immeasurable toil for our people, especially for you of the Founding Generation. But because you did not shrink from taking the full measures demanded by critical times, lawlessness has ebbed in our age, violence is almost unheard of...and our goal, at long last, lies within sight."

"You're certain of this?"

"I would not dare state it if I wasn't. It won't be the next prisoner we bring you, or the next one after that, but our information assures us it's in the foreseeable future. Herr Hoess," his voice fell to a near whisper, "we wish the Founding Generation to have the honor of erasing the very last Jew from the face of the earth."

Hoess kept an impassive face, but inside a sense of rapture swelled up, a joy like when Hedwig agreed to marry him, when each of his four children was born. Could this really be true?

Oberfûhrer Glock turned his gaze upon the dazed prisoner. His look was hard. "Now as to the victim. She was a Nordic girl of twenty-two. Blond hair, university student, promising future. I have been authorized to show you a picture." He held up a photograph--a color photograph--of a young woman sitting at a table, smiling at the camera. Her hair was cut shorter than Hoess was accustomed to seeing, just covering her ears, and she wore a white and pink top without sleeves. It was obvious she had lived in a different Germany.

"And this animal," Glock jerked his head toward the prisoner, "saw fit to rob her of her liberty, her dignity, and finally her life."

Hoess let his nose wrinkle up, for the criminal even smelled sour, slumped between his guards, jaw hanging slack. Glock pocketed the photograph. "Herr Hauptsturmfûhrer? I would appreciate if we delayed this no longer."

The prisoner mumbled under his breath. Hoess understood; the trip had knocked him senseless, unlike his keepers who were used to it. Glock had said previously that most citizens in the new Germany passed their lives in complete ignorance of this code of time travel cracked by the future Reich. Better that way. Some antisocials of Hoess' own time, whom Himmler had ordered shot, panicked and screamed for mercy, sometimes even reciting frantic prayers.

The execution post stood on charred earth before the trench's bullet-stop. The scorched area seemed to expand with every visit; it had now reached the planks that boarded up each side of the trench, blackening the one or two lowest ones. The Commandant had it measured after each visit. Glock's men bound the prisoner to the post. Upon Glock's nod to Hoess--only then--did the adjutant wave the three riflemen forward. They trotted up, holding their weapons, boots tramping the earth.

One of Glock's men held a coil of rope. He handed one end to his companion, but before they began securing the prisoner, he shook his head, straightened up and opened his eyes. Then his face blanched and his eyes sprang wide.

"Glock?" He gaped at the Oberfûhrer. "What the--where are we? What's with all the Nazi stuff?" He sputtered out a laugh.

Hoess pricked up his ears. The man was speaking in English. Hoess knew that tongue, having taught it to himself as a prison inmate under the Weimar Republic.

"Hey buddy! SS man!" the convict babbled at Hoess. "I don't know what he's told you, but he guards me on Death Row- . . ."

Glock's men moved to seize the prisoner, but he wriggled away, surprisingly quick for a man of his weight. He ran past the riflemen who were raising their weapons, threw himself against the wall, and scrambled up. A shot roared and dust puffed from the boards near his leg. More shots followed, but now he had cleared the wall and vanished.

Hoess cursed. His men and Glock's men stormed up out of the trench. Glock himself remained still and expressionless, arms folded. The prisoner's shouts floated back to them in the dusk. "Help! Help!" The wailing continued as Oberfûhrer and Hauptsturmfûhrer jogged up to ground level.

"That guy, he doesn't like how we get appeals, and hearings"--a gasp for breath--"he says our lawyers tie up the system for years, we never get executed! I've heard him talking. He can only travel here, it won't work anywhere else, he thinks it's some kinda sign! It's all fake! You guys lost the war--"

More shots banged out somewhere across the camp. The voice ceased.

Hoess and Glock ran between wall and barracks buildings. They found their men gathered around the prisoner, who was sprawled on a strip of gravel running alongside the fence and outer wall. The air smelled of gunpowder. Two other guards stood over the stilled corpse, their dogs sniffing around him. In front of him a white sign stood like an impromptu grave marker:

NEUTRALE ZONE

ES WIRD OHNE ANRUF SOFORT SCHARF GESCHOSSEN

"'Neutral Zone. Shots will fire immediately without warning,'" Glock recited. "Contemptible swine. Like Marinus van der Lubbe, who infiltrated our land to burn the Reichstag, except this criminal here destroyed a person, not a building. Doubtless he meant to wreak much more harm. And an American--should it be any surprise? We've dealt with them, too, as founder Hitler intended. In any case, he only managed to spare himself an electrocution. I believe that fence is charged with 11,000 volts?"

Hoess only watched. "Herr Glock...I understood what he said."

"Yes, you speak his language, I've read of that too."

"What did he mean, you guarded him on Death Row?"

"That is the prison where we held him. There is a cell block specially for those we bring here. It is small, only four cells. The ones we brought before him were held in the same place."

Hoess looked at the Oberfûhrer as if seeing him for the first time. He motioned to the guards, who moved in closer around Glock and his men. "I want to know," he said, "exactly what he meant by us 'losing the war.'"

Glock's face remained even. "He never tired of saying that, even now. Evidently he wanted to keep reminding us of our shaming in 1918, even after I pointed out how long ago that was." A moment passed. "Herr Hoess? Is something wrong?"

Hoess still studied him. There was nothing to read in his face; his eyes were perfectly earnest. So Hoess scrutinized everything else, the black uniform, the cap and shoulderboards, perhaps one button too many on the shirt, or a Sturmbann cuffband which a man of Glock's rank would not wear--anything that might betray a ruse.

But even as Hoess searched, his resolve ebbed. He'd already done this, of course. He'd done it every visit. And what if he did spot some discrepancy? These people lived many years ahead, of course there would be differences. And one thing was for certain: they had power, enough to materialize out of nowhere in a flash brighter than artillery fire.

What else could they do?

"Herr Hoess?" Glock's voice brought him back to the moment. "With your duties here, you must have seen it all and heard it all." A hint of a smile teased at the Oberfûhrer's mouth.

"Yes." Hoess spoke slowly. "Indeed I have."

The guards backed away from the visitors. The riflemen lifted the prisoner, one by his shoulders, another by his feet, and the third wherever he could get. Perhaps they still hoped for the ounce of brandy, three cigarettes, and one bratwurst awarded for each execution. He was to be buried outside the camp; that was part of the arrangement. But first they would strip him of his orange jumpsuit, shoes and undergarments and send them to scientists in Munich who would dissect and test them for any hint of a clue, anything at all that might shed light on this distant Reich. They had done this with the other two condemned men as well.

The visitors returned to the trench and disappeared in a second blast of light. It turned night into day for three seconds before leaving only the cold wind, and a wider patch of charred earth.

x x x

A tough decision to include this one. Well written and very sci-fi, it had quite a bit going for it. Subject matter and content arued against it strongly, though. Finally I deided to post it as our October offering because it deals with the most horrifying scenario imaginable. Did I make a mistake? Tell me on our BBS. - GM

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