5

“You are a Dane, are you not?”

Chris was tied firmly to a beam pillar in front of a crackling fireplace. The Gestapo official peered at Chris from several angles before asking his question.

“Danish by ancestry. What of it?” Chris shrugged under his bonds.

The Nazi clucked. “Oh nothing in particular. It is just that I never cease to be amazed when I find specimens of clearly superior stock fighting against their own divine heritage.”

Chris lifted an eyebrow. “Do you interrogate a lot of prisoners?”

“Oh yes, very many.”

“Well, then you must be amazed all the time.”

The Gestapo man blinked, then smiled sourly. He stepped back to light a cigarette, and Chris noticed that his hands were trembling.

“But doesn’t your very blood cry out when you find yourself working with, going into battle alongside, racial scum, mongrels…”

Chris laughed. He turned his head and regarded the Nazi icily.

“Why are you even here?” he asked.

“I—what do you mean?” The fellow blinked again. “See here now, I am in charge of interrogation of—”

“You’re in charge of a jail detail,” Chris sneered. “The priests of the Aesir run everything, now. The mystics in the SS control the Reich. Hitler’s a tottering old syphyllitic they won’t let out of Berchtesgaden. And you old-fashioned Nazis are barely tolerated anymore.”

The officer sucked at his cigarette. “What do you mean by that remark?”

“I mean that all that racial clap trap was just window dressing. An excuse to set up the death camps. But the SS would’ve been just as happy to use Aryans in them, if that was the only way to—to…

“Yes?” The Gestapo man stepped forward. “To do what? If the purpose of the camps was not the elimination of impure stock, then what, smart man? What?”

There was a brittle, high-pitched edge to the man’s laughter. “You do not know, do you? Even Loki did not tell you!”

Chris could have sworn that there was disappointment in the officer’s eyes… as if he had hoped to learn something from Chris, and was let down to find out that his prisoner was as much in the dark as he was.

No, I wasted a question, and Loki did not tell me about the reason for the camps. Chris looked at the other man’s trembling hands—hands that had, no doubt, wreaked more hell on broken bodies and spirits than bore contemplating—all, apparently, in a cause that was no longer even relevant to the winning side.

“Poor obsolete National Socialist,” Chris said. “Your dreams, mad as they were, were human ones. How does it feel to have it all taken over by aliens? To watch it all change beyond recognition?”

The Gestapo man reddened. Fumbling, he picked up a truncheon from a table near the wall and smacked it into his gloved left hand.

“I will change something else beyond recognition,” he growled menacingly. “And if I am obsolete, at least I am still allowed the pleasure of my craft.”

He approached, smiling with a thin film on his lips. Chris braced himself as the arm swung back, raising the bludgeon high. But at that moment the leather curtains parted and a large shadow fell across the rug. The Gestapo officer paled and snapped to attention.

The red-bearded Aesir named Thor nodded briefly as he shrugged out of his furred cloak. “You may go,” he rumbled.

Chris did not even look at the Nazi as the interrogator tried to meet his eye. Chris watched the coals in the fireplace until the curtains swished again and he was alone with the alien.

Thor sat down, cross-legged, on a thick rug and spent a few minutes joining Chris in contemplation of the flickering flames. When he used his hammer to prod the logs, heat brought out fine, glowing designs in the massive iron head.

“Fro sends word from Vineland… from the sea thou callest Labrador. There has been a slaughter of many brave men.”

Thor looked up.

“Those cowards’ tools—’submarines’—did much harm to our fleet. But in the end, Fro’s tempests were masterful. The landing is secured”

Chris controlled the sinking feeling in his stomach. This was expected. Worse was to come, this winter.

Thor shook his head. “This is a bad war. Where is the honor, when thousands die unable even to show valor?”

Chris had more experience than most Americans in holding conversation with gods. Still, he took a chance, speaking without permission.

“I agree, Great One. But you can’t blame us for that.”

Thor’s eyes glittered as he inspected Chris. “No, brave worm. I do not blame you. That you have used your flame weapons as little as you have speaks well for the pride of thy leaders. Or perhaps they know what our wrath would be, if they were so cowardly as to use them wantonly.”

I never should have been allowed on this mission. I know too much, Chris realized. Loki had been the one to overrule High Command and insist that Chris come along. But that made him the only one here who knew the real reason the H-bombs had been kept leashed.

Dust from atom blasts, and soot from burning cities—those were what allied High Command feared, far more than radiation or Nazi retaliation. Already, from limited use of nuclear weapons so far, the weather had chilled measurably.

And the Aesir were so much stronger in winter! Scientists verified Loki’s story, that careless use of the Allied nuclear advantage would lead to catastophe, no matter how badly they seared the other side.

“We too prefer a more personal approach,” Chris said, hoping to keep the Aesir believing his own explanation. “No man wishes to be killed by powers beyond his understanding, impossible to resist or fight back against.”

Thor’s rumble, Chris realized, was a low laughter. “Well said, worm. Thou dost chastize as Freyr does, with words that reap, even as they sow.”

The Aes leaned forward a little. “You would earn merit in my eyes, small one, if you told me how to find the Brother of Lies.”

Those gray eyes were like cold clouds, and Chris felt his sense of reality begin to waver as he looked into them. It took a powerful effort of will to tear his gaze away. Shutting his eyes, he spoke with a dry mouth.

“I… don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The rumbling changed tone, deepening a little. Chris felt a rough touch and opened his eyes to see that Thor was brushing his cheek with the leather-bound haft of the great war hammer.

“Loki, youngling. Tell me where the Trickster may be found, and you may yet escape your doom, you may even find a place by my side. In the world to come, there will be no greater place for a man.”

This time Chris steeled himself to meet the hypnotic pools. Thor’s eyes seemed to reach out for his soul, as a magnet might call to native iron. Chris fought back with the savage heat of hatred.

“Not… for all the Valkyries in your fucking, alien pantheon,” he whispered, half breathless. “I’d rather run with wolves.”

The smile vanished. Thor blinked, and for a moment Chris thought he saw the Aesir’s image waver just a little, as if… as if Chris were looking through a man-shaped fold in space.

“Courage will not save thee from the wages of disrespect, worm,” the shape warned, and solidified again into a fur-clad giant.

All at once, Chris was glad to have known O’Leary.

“Don’t you dig it yet, daddyo? I don’t fucking believe in you! Wherever you’re from, baby, they probably kicked you out!

“You Aesir may be mean enough to wreck our world, but everything about you screams that you’re the dregs, man. Leaky squares. Probably burned out papa’s stolen saucer just gettin’ here!”

He shook his head. “I just refuse to believe in you, man.”

The icy gray eyes blinked once. Then Thor’s surprised expression faded into a deathly cool smile. “I did not ken your other insults. But for calling me a man, you shall die as you seem to wish, before the morning sun.”

He stood up and placed a hand on Chris’s shoulder, as if emparting a friendly benediction, but even the casual power of that touch felt vicelike.

“I only add this, little one. We Aesir have come invited, and we arrived not in ships—even ships between the stars—but instead upon the wings of Death itself. This much, this boon of knowledge I grant thee, in honor of your defiance.”

Then, in a swirl of furs and displaced air, the creature was gone, leaving Chris alone again to watch the coals flicker slowly and turn into ashes.

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