A lot of you reading won’t be very familiar with Adolf Hitler. If you are, he’ll likely just be some old warlord trampling through your history books, no more present or real today than Genghis Khan or Napoleon. This is natural, and perhaps in some ways necessary. If every tragedy or atrocity remained fresh in the world’s memory forever, the weight of history would crush us all. But I can tell you now, such forgetfulness did not seem possible when I was young.
I met the man once. It was no great encounter. A diversion during a tour of the Greater Reich1.
He seemed so small. I had been hearing his speeches on the radio for years—like fire in broadcast form. Everything I had ever read of the man spoke of this great Wagnerian hero. But here he was, reeking of barbiturates, hands trembling by his sides, coddled by aides and doctors2. Stripped bare of his pomp and loudspeakers, the man was a ghost of his own persona3.
My minders had me turn a rose-bulb blue for him. A paltry trick to be sure, but more appropriate for an audience with the Führer.
“A true testament to our strength and vigour.”
Even if that meant anything, he didn’t sound convinced. I can imagine why. I was a knobby-kneed ten year old girl, with frizzy brown hair that devoured combs and an awfully Jewish nose. I have to assume questions were raised about my ancestry.
“Pure German going back five generations, sir,” my father told the SS officer who took me away.
Maybe so—I was no more or less a mongrel than all other human beings—but still, I was never going to grace a propaganda poster. I was a tool—a scalpel whose edge Auschwitz and Dachau honed sharp.
I spent most of my life in the camps cooped up in the commandant’s quarters, trying to play or study under the wary eye of their wife or whoever else they set to watch me. I would try describing these women, but their features flow together in memory. Sometimes they wear my mother’s face, or even Mary Gillespie’s4.
Two or three times a day, guards would escort me to the camp’s clinic, where soldiers lay waiting for my touch. These were not the breaks and scrapes of everyday life I had made my bread and butter in Danzig, but the carnage of war. Bullet-shredded flesh, lungs rotted by mustard gas, eyes burnt out by flashbangs and ears blasted deaf by the endless chitter of gunfire.
But normalcy hadn’t completely abandoned me. Soldiers and guards still dropped things on their toes or came to me with coughs and colds. Men at Dachau would pay me penny-candy to rid them of the clap. The only things war cannot kill are common misfortune and carelessness.
All these I mended while men with white coats and clipboards slowly figured out what I had already told them. I feel like Allison Kinsey would have sympathised if I had ever told her of this.
Then there was what they had me do to the prisoners.
At first, I suspect those poor souls thought me a saviour. The Angel of Danzig’s legend had spread far throughout Poland and beyond by that point. Not only that, but those prisoners who were destined to meet me often received special treatment. Their barracks were kept free of filth and vermin, they were well fed, and were spared both hard labour and the harshest cruelty of the guards.
Disease, malnutrition, and injury would have tainted the results.
I remember the first boy I killed. He was a Polack, with curly brown hair and a port-wine stain on his shoulder. I’m not sure if I wish I knew his name. They laid him out on the examination bed, and the supervising physician pulled out a needle, its tip wet like a wasp’s stinger.
“Now this injection is to keep you safe from typhus.”
The boy looked at me, standing silent in the corner. “Couldn’t the Angel do that?”
The doctor was quick with an explanation. “Yes, she could. But she also wants people to be safe when she isn’t around. You can help her.”
The boy nodded, as if he had a choice.
And so, the doctor injected the boy right in the heart. The phenol made him gasp and shudder, and soon he was still.
I moved towards him, but the doctor held a hand up. “Not yet, dear.” He pulled out a stopwatch, and clicked.
For five minutes, we stood there and let nature do what it does to unpreserved meat.
After what felt like hours, there was a click.
“Alright, resuscitate him.”
That part was easy. Just restarting his heart and sparking his neurons.
He screamed like a newborn. No, less than that. It was a cry of animal suffering. His eyes darted around the room, uncomprehending. He was making noises I had never heard from a person.
The doctor strode over then and started poking and prodding the child, taking notes with one deft hand as he examined our handiwork. “Subject appears to suffer significant cognitive impairment after five minutes without oxygen flow to brain.”
The boy stared at me. I don’t know if he still recognized me, or if he simply was looking to the only person who wasn’t hurting him.
The doctor eventually pulled away from the boy, seeming to disregard him as soon as he wasn’t looking at him.
“Doctor, should I… turn him off?”
“Hmm? Oh, right, yes. Do try to preserve the brain, we’ll need it for autopsy.”
“Preserve” I thought was an odd word to use, after what we had done to him.
As gently as possible, I took the little boy’s hand. A few moments later, he was asleep. It seemed less cruel that way. Like a boat on a dark shore, I pushed him out onto a deep, black sea.
They had me infect Jews with typhus, or turn their women’s ovum cancerous. They poisoned, electrocuted, and drowned people, then had made me bring them back so they could give their testimony. Children were beaten in front of their mothers and fathers, while I kept them in states of chemical ecstasy. Autopsies were replaced by a brush of my hand.
I let myself sleep for a long time. It was the only way I could cope. Every experiment—every touch—reminded me how pointless it all was. The truth was imprinted on every poor soul’s cells.
I first encountered another superhuman at Auschwitz. I had known for a long time that there were others like me, of course. The whole Wehrmacht was terrified of meeting the Crimson Comet, who they said could shrug off tank-fire like rain on his shoulders. As for our lot, we had Hel5 and Baldr: the man who couldn’t die6. But they were always distant, absent figures. And their deeds always seemed so far removed from mine. So much more noble.
He wasn’t one to start with. They had scheduled me for an experiment involving… I want to say fertility7, and my subject was already strapped into the chair when I stepped into the clinic.
The old man was gagged, but I still heard his scream batter against the mouth guard when he caught sight of me. I had a new legend by then. The Angel of Danzig had become the Angel of Death.
The man thrashed and tried to tear his way free, but the metal chair and the leather-straps held tight. The guards on either side whipped him with the butts of their guns. They weren’t supposed to treat my “patients” so roughly, but guards at Auschwitz either crumbled, or more commonly, made cruelty a habit. Like smoking.
I held out a hand, walking towards the man. “It’s—it’ll be alright.” I don’t know why I still lied to them.
As I drew closer, I noticed something in the man’s eyes. They were wide, staring, but not at me. Like there was someone standing behind me…
I felt a cold wind whip at my back. The man was trying to say something I couldn’t make out. Though looking back, I think I can guess.
“There’s a man—”
A giant soap-bubble appeared in front of the man’s face. At least, that’s what it looked like. Once the guards were done shouting and swearing, they gawked and batted at the orb with something between awe and bemusement. One of them glanced in my direction.
The bubble slammed into the soldier, grinding his head against the wall till only a red stain was left. His comrade was luckier, only being shoved into the wall cabinets.
I was running for the door by then, but I tripped, my face slamming against something curved. A bubble had formed around me. And it was shrinking.
I scrambled around to face my captor. He was still strapped into the chair, still gagged. He couldn’t or hadn’t figured out a way to free himself. All he could do was lash out.
I was screaming, crying, imagining myself reduced to a slurry of broken bone and meat. I begged for my life, the way so many like him had begged me.
The man could’ve been a grandfather. How many of his family had passed through my hands? Or been consigned to the gas and the fire?
And odd look played on his face. Angry, but sad. Considering.
I think it was mercy. It was not something I had much experience with back then.
There was a bang, and the old Jew jerked forward. There was a hole in his head.
The bubble popped out from under me, sending me sprawled onto the ground. The surviving guard was breathing heavily, his still raised in front of him.
“The hell was that?”
I didn’t answer. For the first time in my life, I had faced death.
And I knew I deserved it.
In the dark, dead time between night and morning, Eliza Winter sat alone in her office, reading over her latest attempt at a letter. A ball of rejected drafts lay in the wastepaper basket. She didn’t know why she was bothering with tidiness at this point, but it was a reflex.
The healer set the paper down, smoothed it out, and sighed. It didn’t say nearly enough. But then, what could?
She slipped the latter inside an envelope, sealing it with the one of the Institute’s wax pebbles. The ones with the little finches Lawrence had custom made. Eliza used to enjoy them. Now, they just seemed pompous.
She had to move quickly.
Alberto had always preferred the night. Dreams were quieter than waking thoughts. Easier to get some reading done. And to wish they had a bloody television.
There was a knock on his bedroom door. The lack of lights behind it was a dead giveaway. “You might as well come in, Eliza.”
She did. “Evening, Alberto.”
“Oh, so we’re using people names tonight?”
“I suppose we are. Could I sit down?”
Alberto reached from his chair to pat his bed, hiccupping, “Might as well.”
Already drunk. That would make things easier.
As she sat down, Eliza asked, “What are you reading?”
Alberto looked at his book and jerked backwards, like he had forgotten he was holding it. “Oh, this? Odd John. It’s this book about a trumped up little superman telling us how great he is.” He chuckled. “It’s like finding a road-map for Bertie’s mind!”
Eliza nodded. “Yes, I remember Laurie suggesting that for my English class8. I thought it was a touch racy.”
“No shit, the kid sleeps with his mum.” Alberto threw his head back, his eyes closed. “What are you doing here, El? You been thinking about what I said.”
“I have.” Silence. “Alberto, have you been… manipulating us somehow?”
Eliza tensed her muscles, waiting for the esper to try and make a break for the door.
Instead, all he did was sigh. “Shit. I knew you’d figure it out sometime. Surprised it took ya this long, honestly.”
“You—you admit it?”
“Why not? Not like I was going to convince you otherwise. Hell, you’re the only person here I couldn’t convince otherwise.”
“Pass me the wine.”
Almost automatically, Eliza obeyed. The psychic swigged from the bottle hard.
“Not at first. Bertie used to find the whole idea of me terrible. What I can do. That’s why he got poor old Hugo to get with Fran when Chen scarpered.” He frowned. “Old bastard was fine using me to get them in line, but he wasn’t going to have another of me in the world…”
Eliza’s eyes narrowed. “Let me guess, you weren’t happy about that.”
Alberto tilted his head at her. “What? You talkin’ about Ophelia? She was Bertie’s idea.” He shrugged. “I didn’t feel like arguing.”
“But you said—”
A cold, pale smile. “You can’t say Lawrence hasn’t gotten a bit wacky in his old age.” He went on. “I mean, first he just needed me to make Hugo and Fran think they were alright going to bed together—give or take bamboozling a customs agent or a reluctant parent.” He laughed again. “But then he got it into his head the kids needed to go forth and multiply. It wasn’t just them I needed to fiddle with! Mary was fine with the whole thing back when she thought it was all just consenting adults doin’ it for science or whatever. But kids…” A gulp. “That took some doing.”
Eliza just sat there, listening. Alberto was destroying what was left of her life like he was down the pub complaining about his boss.
“I’ll tell ya, it isn’t always easy. So many kids running around, so many reasons for them to pissed off. And Fletcher and Cormey! Everyone else I got to ease into it, but them—Therese was never Boudica or anything, but put it this way, she wasn’t always such a lush.” Alberto sighed. “Chen was always hard to bend. Maybe it was an alchemy thing, I don’t know.” A sad smile. “Fran used to be too, when we were little. Before we domesticated her. Davey-boy’s been getting harder since his eyes changed…”
Eliza finally spoke, “And what about me?”
Alberto snorted. “You’re not getting off that easy, El. I wasn’t lying when I said you were impervious to me. Even if you weren’t, do you think I was hiding under Mengele’s lab coat?”
And with that, the last strand of hope inside Eliza snapped.
“So, it’s all out in the open. If it’s any comfort, this whole shitshow will be over soon. Maybe I should’ve taken the Americans’—”
Eliza clapped her hand over Alberto’s mouth. The psychic thrashed, tried to pry the healer off of him, but his limbs were heavier than lead and riddled with twitching worms.
Eliza watched the panic in his eyes fade to drowsiness. He probably believed this was death, she thought.
Once he was under, she picked up the wine bottle, drank deep, and left Alberto to his dreams.
I should have killed him.
Before we go on, I must talk about one of my greatest sins as an educator—such that I was.
It was not long after Chen’s return, but before Adam Sinclair, before the end. I was in my office doing something the centuries have discarded from memory, when Hugo, Fran, and Mary came barging through my door.
“Hey, hey, hey! I thought we knocked here!”
It was Hugo who started, breathless, “It’s David.” He swallowed. “I mean Maelstrom—”
Françoise rolled her eyes. That pretty much knocked all the steam out of poor Hugo. Mary picked up for him:
“Maelstrom’s… having an episode.”
“What exactly is an ‘episode’?” I asked.
“David’s in the vegetable garden,” Fran said. “He’s screaming and blowing things up.” She paused, like she had to psyche herself up to keep talking. “He won’t let any of us near him. Won’t let me near him.” She sounded wounded.
“We were hoping you could calm him down a bit,” Mary said. “Preferably before Lawrence catches wind of this. I don’t think his reaction would be… helpful.”
Mary really was too good for us.
I could see why they asked me. David’s parents weren’t always reliable sources of comfort. Françoise was in many ways still a child herself. Or at least still learning how to be a person. As for Hugo, guilt and black moods kept him distant. So that just left me. Auntie Żywie.
In my ugliest, bitterest moods, I sometimes thought that made me more of a mother to David than anyone else.
I arrived in my garden to find David stomping around naked in the allotment. His eyes, still Barthe blue then, were blazing white. Storm clouds swirled over his head, while tears sizzled down his cheeks before freezing solid.
All around the boy, my pumpkins, melons and artichokes snapped and hissed, trying to launch themselves at him with their whipping, thrashing roots. Before they could even get close, they burst, their pulpy flesh and juices spraying over the grass. Our cow was mooing in fright.
“Shut up, Bessy!”
I hadn’t seen David this angry in years, but it wasn’t a great surprise. The boy was like a kinked hose. Years and years of bottled up rage and need. Usually it just trickled out in tears and night-terrors, but sometimes he erupted like a geyser. Not unlike his mother.
I approached him without fear. Even if I thought David could bring himself to hurt me, his powers couldn’t touch the water in my body9 “David, David, honey. What’s the matter.”
He swung around to face me. Somehow, his eyes managed to burn even brighter. “Liar!”
I stopped. “…What?”
“You lied to us!” He had his fists balled at his sides, and his teeth clenched like he was trying to keep something from escaping his throat. Then he screamed and made another cantaloupe explode.
“Lying about what, little one?”
He looked me right in the air. It was like being glared at by stars. “Your power works on you.”
All the times I had imagined someone saying that should have prepared me. “I—I—”
“Allie told me! She’s been doing stuff to herself for ages! Stuff she got from you!”
That woke up the doctor in me, and at least for that moment, she was stronger than the worst of me. I grabbed David by the shoulders, almost shaking him. “What’s she done? Is she alright?”
He threw his hands off me. “You just never wanted to have a baby, didn’t you?”
I think my face had all the answer he needed. His shoulders slumped slightly. The ice in his eyes melted. “Why didn’t you just tell Lawrence?”
I threw my arms around him, lifting him off his feet and weeping into his shoulder. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
“Why didn’t you wanna make a baby? You’d be good at it.”
“David. I—people like me don’t deserve to be mothers. I’ve done… bad things to children10.”
“When?” David asked me. “You’re nice.”
“I—please. You can’t tell anyone about this.”
I felt him nodding against my cheek. “Okay.”
I had no doubt he would keep my secret. David had his father’s kindness. And he was used to keeping secrets. From new students, from inspectors, from the few outsiders Lawrence ever deigned to let into his presence. He kept secrets from Lawrence, too. And he kept himself a secret from everyone.
I had put yet another burden on David’s shoulders. I had failed him. Just like every other adult in his life.
“You alright, mate?”
Except for one.
I turned to face Hugo, still holding David.
“He feeling better?”
“I am, yeah,” David said quietly. “Me and Miri sorta had a fight.”
Hugo took the boy gently from my arms. I suppose that was one advantage of his present state: his father didn’t have to worry about melting his clothes.
“You want to talk about it?”
Hugo didn’t press. “That’s alright. You wanna go get dressed?” He smiled. “Maybe we can find something to eat?”
“That’d be nice.”
Hugo looked at me. “You’re a lifesaver, Żywie.”
“It’s no problem.”
I watched them walk back towards the house. The New Human Institute was a spider web of tragedies, and one of them was that Hugo so rarely let himself be a father. That we didn’t let him. He was the only one of us that didn’t ask anything of David.
That wasn’t what I was thinking about then, though. I was wondering how much he had heard.
I never found out.
“You were so loud when you were born. Hungry for life. I don’t know how we managed to keep you so quiet.”
Eliza brushed David’s hair, the sleeping child twitching at the touch. She knew she was being foolish. She ought to be putting as many miles between her and the Institute as she could before sunup. But she couldn’t leave without saying goodbye…
“I wish I could take you. Just a week ago I would’ve worried about you crying, or trying to stop me. But now, I think you wouldn’t leave unless we could take everyone. You’re strong, David. I’m glad you’ve finally realizing that.”
She leaned down and kissed him on the forehead. “You’re clean. Your father made sure of that.”
The healer looked around the dormitory. So many children. So many children she had mended, taught, and cared for. So many children she had hurt. Lawrence was right about one thing. These kids deserved the world. They deserved more than this farm, more than some old man’s fantasies.
“I love you. I love you all.”
When Eliza opened the door to leave, she found Artume standing on the steps.
“Oh, hi Żywie.”
Eliza froze. How could she have forgotten Artume? “Uh, good morning Artume. What brings you to the dorm.”
The girl shrugged. “Saw you come down here, thought something was up.” She bent sideways, trying to look past her teacher. “Is everyone alright in there?”
Eliza looked at Artume. She was so small, her blonde hair still so child-bright. She was also just starting to show.
“I am so sorry, Sheilah.”
Eliza put her hand under the girl’s chin, catching her with the other when she fell asleep.
As she carried Sheilah to her hammock, she considered ridding the child of the pregnancy. It was early enough that it would take minimum fuss. She would feel no pain. Terminations were something she had much practise with from the camps.
No, she decided. Eliza had already taken away too many of her choices. And no doubt Lawrence would have had her go through it again.
As I finally left the dormitory, I found my eyes lingering on Allison Kinsey. Strange, strange little girl. All that knowledge, and yet none of it made her any less a child. With the bio-mods she copied off me, she might have been the closest thing to a daughter I will ever have.
I should’ve taken her. Far away from the Institute; far away from any other super.
I was twelve when Josef Mengele arrived at Auschwitz. My handlers had me meet him and his wife at the camp gates11. As soon as he saw me, he took my hand and kissed it.
“I’ve been very much looking forward to working with you, Miss Winter.”
I have no doubt he had. As I gathered over the months and years to come, Mengele’s assignment to Auschwitz12was something of a reward for the doctor. He was both a war-hero, and more importantly, a good Nazi.
Nobody took to Auschwitz like Mengele did. The atmosphere of ash and death drove most either into slumbers like mine, or warped them, made them crueler to the point of irrationality. In a rare few, it awoke bravery and kindness.
Mengele, though, always wore at least a faint smile. He sung and whistled while he worked, and was always asking for extra duties. He was like a fish permitted to swim for the first time.
He was also a terrible scientist. The experiments I had participated in before had been cruel, and often performed without full rigour, but they always at least had a clear point. To measure my talents, or to better figure out how to kill and rend. Mengele was more like a little boy tearing a fly to pieces. He destroyed because the pieces amused him more than the whole. That was his great contribution to Nazi science. He provided thousands of samples to other researchers in the Reich. Calling him a butcher is more appropriate than some realize.
After his arrival, Mengele rarely let me out of his sight. He would talk to me like you would to a baby or a dog:
“What about this, Eliza?”
“Have you ever wondered, Eliza…”
“I think little Eva and her brother would react well to the drops, don’t you Eliza?”
Sometimes, Mengele even took me to the ramp.
The ramp was where the trains disgorged our victims. Jews, Roma, Slavs, and everyone else my people despised were herded out of the carriages, so the SS could decide who would immediately be destroyed, and who would be put to work fuelling the machine that would kill them. Children, the sick, and the very old were almost always disposed of quickly.
Even among the most callous, it was considered a stressful, trying duty. Not so for Mengele. He volunteered for the job.
He would lean down and whisper in my ear:
“So, who do we pick?”
I would look at the huddled, frightened, doomed people, the fathers trying to hold back tears as their families were led to the crematoria, the mothers clutching their children, and then I would choose.
I felt like God. I also understood why God does not walk amongst us.
Many of the children who lingered in the camps did so because of Mengele. They were the subjects of his own private kingdom. He had a kindergarten established for them in the barracks, even a playground. He would visit them with his pockets bulging with sweets, fuss over their health and the particulars of their lives, and a few hours later take a knife to them.
I found it baffling at the time. Less so in the years to come.
The man had a fascination with twins. On a certain level, it made sense. In a world without ethics at least, identical twins are nature’s control group. Even fraternal twins share a fetal environment. But for Mengele, I think there was something more to it.
Once, he had me create him conjoined twins. Perfectly healthy children—sometimes of not even of the same sex—fused head-to-head or at the pelvis, down to their very blood vessels. It was gruesome, but at less so then when he did it himself. Another night, he had me stop the hearts of fourteen pairs of twins, and he stayed awake till dawn dissecting.
In some solipsistic way, I think he saw me as an extension of himself. His imagination made physical, maybe. But he used my power less than you might think. One of his most common experiments was injecting the children’s eyes with whatever chemicals he fancied, trying to turn them blue13. The children went blind, more often than not. I didn’t know why he didn’t have me do it. Even back then I could change pigmentation as I pleased14.
What confused me even more was why he would do such a thing. I even asked him as much.
“It’s a simple idea, Eliza,” he explained patiently. “If we can figure how to control eye and hair colour, and increase the incidence of multiple births among our women”—Fertility was yet another of his bugbears—“that’ll mean a lot more Aryan babies.”
“But blue eyes don’t see any better than brown ones.”
Mengele’s smile dimmed. “It’s a sign of superiority.”
“So if we did manage to turn a gypsy’s15eyes blue, would they be more Aryan?”
He chuckled at that. “Of course not.”
It was like a drunk wizard’s logic. Eye-colour could mean nothing and everything at the same time. The entire Nazi-logic was like that. I knew what DNA was while Rosalind Franklin was still a university student. I knew a Jew and a German could be more similar to each other than their own neighbour. I could have told Mengele and his ilk exactly why some men were born brilliant, and others stupid. Why some were strong, and others sickly. I could have ensured every one of our children was born healthy. While they killed and burned cripples, I could have made them walk!
But I said nothing. If Mengele had taught me one thing, it was that our masters did not value the truth. They didn’t even value skill, if it disagreed with them. Auschwitz and its brothers had rendered down plenty of brilliant men and women who did. And their families.
Reading this, you might wonder how Lawrence ever managed to win me over on his “stirpiculture” given what I had seen of eugenics. But the Nazis bred only for homogeneity, for a banal sameness of features, while destroying anything that did not match it. Lawrence promised to only add to the beauty of the world, taking nothing from it. And maybe those babies were beautiful. But he did not keep his second promise.
It had to end eventually, the camps. All fires burn themselves out eventually, or are drowned by the rain. By 1945, the Red Army was marching across Poland. Rumour had it the Anglos had lent them the Crimson Comet himself, and some strange, terrible magic that pulled the gold out of people’s teeth.
The killings sped up. Mostly I think out of a desire to destroy the evidence, but also I think as one last spasm of hate. Perhaps even just to feel like it had accomplished something. Me and Mengele were bundled into a truck bound for another concentration camp in Gross-Rosen. He brought with him two boxes of child-parts and the only records of his experiments to be spared the fire. His wife and son were in another truck. I feel this says something about the man.
I remember the bumps in the road. Mengele clutching his briefcase to his chest like his newborn. I think it was the first time I had ever seen him scared.
“They say we’re on the ropes.” He forced a smile. It looked strange on him. “Bah. We’ll go abroad, regroup. You and me? We’ll keep on going.”
I wondered if Josef thought I would be following him forever. He may have been one of the Reich’s favoured sadists, but there were plenty of those, and only one of me.
There were screams from the front of the cabin. Mine and Mengele’s joined them, as something shot out of his mouth and pinged and whizzed around the truck-bed. We swerved, topped over. For a few seconds, the world spun around us.
When it stopped, the truck was upside down. I could hear the wheels still spinning, the engine sputtering.
Mengele was dead, his neck snapped and his head bent to the side. It was almost comical. If it had happened to anyone else, I’m sure he would have thought so.
Before I could process this, the side turned ceiling tore open. A giant was staring down at me.
I screamed, cowering in his shadow against the night. He was clad in red, his shoulders powdered with snowflakes, with one wing sprouting from his back. I knew him immediately. The terror of the Reich. The stormer of France. The Crimson Comet.
He watched me for some time as I whimpered and tried to shrink ever further into the corner. But there was no anger in those solid features. No hate. Eventually, my fear ran out of fuel. All that was left was a quiet ache. I didn’t even resist when he lifted me out of the truck.
He left Mengele where he lay.
The Comet carried me through the snow to a group of Red Army soldiers, the red on their shoulders standing out against the dull green of their uniforms. I shrieked at the sight of them, and they pointed their guns at me. A raised hand from the Comet lowered them again.
“Lawrence, I think this is the girl we’re looking for.”
The soldiers parted for a broad man in a SS officer’s coat, though his beard was redder than I’d ever seen on a German. At his side was a Chinese boy, about my age. I’d never seen an Asian up close before. I hope it didn’t show too much.
“G’day,” the boy said. “Sorry about the toss-about.”
The man said, “Could you please set her down, Comet?”
I didn’t speak English. I had no idea what either of them were saying, but the Comet lowered me to my feet.
Then, the man knelt, pulling off his gloves. His hands were crisscrossed with little white scars. Slowly, gently, he folded them around mine.
“I know what you are,” he said in German. “What you can do.” He squeezed my hands. “Hands that heal. It’s like something from the Bible.”
Lawrence had to have been told that my powers worked by touch. He was so sincere, once.
“I can’t believe you did such things of your own free will. Someone born to heal wouldn’t think of it. Come with us. You can use your hands for what they were clearly made for.”
Herbert Lawrence gave me my life back. One day, I had to steal it back.
Eliza strapped the last of the babies into the back of the ute. There weren’t enough car-seats for all of them, so she’d have to hold Reverb’s still nameless daughter between her knees. At least Ophelia was practically indestructible. At least she could keep them all asleep for the time being.
It had been Therese Fletcher’s shift in the nursery. She didn’t put up much resistance, God bless her. Whatever happened, Eliza hoped she and Cormey wouldn’t go down with the ship.
She could do this, she told herself as she climbed into the driver’s seat. She had connections. Movers and shakers she had healed over the years, Timothy Valour, maybe even Ralph Rivers if it came down to it. Hell, the new queen still owed her a favour and a half for fixing up her father16. She even had money. Her salary was surprisingly generous for someone who rarely ever left the farm.
She could do this. She had to do this.
Eliza looked behind her. The babies were still sound asleep. There was a crack in the night. Soon tomorrow would spill out across the sky.
“I’ll come back,” she said to herself. “I don’t know what will happen then, but I will come back.”
And so, Eliza Winter left the Institute, and Żywie, far behind.
1. Contrary to what decades of movies and video games might have told you, Hitler took neither magic nor superhumans seriously. From what I’ve read, that was mostly Rosenberg and Himmler.↩
2. I sometimes wonder why they didn’t have me heal him. Paranoia, maybe, or perhaps they didn’t truly understand the breadth of my power. I’m eternally grateful they didn’t, though. I have enough to live with.↩
3. And that was before I even read his book.↩
4. Poor Mary.↩
5. I don’t think we ever pinned down what Hela’s powers were exactly. The hot theory is something like the St. George ultra-roar, although I personally find the psychic wail more convincing. Either way, it didn’t save her at Berlin.↩
6. At least until he became the first superhuman on record to be executed for war-crimes. They had to use a mortar shell for it to stick.↩
7. A safe bet. The only thing fascists think about as much as killing is breeding or stopping other folks from doing it.↩
8. Looking back, maybe the fact John and his friends went on to slaughter a whole island and then blew up should have been a warning sign.↩
9. No power can affect me directly. It’s certainly made the odd assassination attempt interesting.↩
10. I’ve thought a lot about motherhood over the years. Back then, I avoided it out of guilt. But guilt settles eventually, like dust. You either die—physically or in every other way that counts—or learn to live with it. Once I did, I found I still didn’t want children of my own very much. Great thing about immortality, I can change my mind whenever I want. But until then, I am content being every generation’s aunt.↩
11. Apparently I was Rolf Mengele’s godmother. I am still not sure how I feel about that.↩
12. More specifically Auschwitz-Birkenau, the sub-camp where Mengele was chief-physician. Over 90% of Auschwitz’ victims passed through there.↩
13. Mengele in general had a thing for eyes. A lot of poor heterochromatic bastards had theirs mailed to Berlin because of him.↩
14. That sort of cosmetic job has raised the clinic a lot of money.↩
15. I apologize for the slur, but it’s what I said.↩
16. It’s how I got me and Hugo declared British subjects. Surprisingly, the black boy had a harder time of it than the former assistant to Nazi doctors.↩
7 thoughts on “Chapter Thirty-Eight: By These Hands…”
So, I’m not usually the sort who leaves author’s notes like this, but I thought I would ask you Good Readers if you thought Eliza did the right thing in this chapter. Not the Nazi stuff, I’m sure we can agree that’s a bit dodgy, but things like taking the babies with her, leaving David, choosing to not terminate Artume’s pregnancy, not confronting Lawrence directly, that sort of thing. Very interested in your opinions, thank you all for reading.
Well honestly, while this probably wasn’t the ideal way to do this, I’m just glad someone’s taking the iniativd to get some of those kids out of there.
Although I kinda wish she had taken the older kids with her, I imagine that’s harder to keep on the down-low. Hopefully they can get out on their own.
I agree, killing Tiresias would be the smart play, he’s too powerful a threat that could hunt her down and bring her back, and besides a key part in keeping things running smoothly. Taking the babies is probably the right call though, saving at least some of the kids, and having proof of Lawrence’s misdeeds, is a good thing.
Well, to do the right thing, she has to make sure her actions don’t backfire and make things worse for those left behind, or at least take action to help them.
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I don’t think she had much of a choice regarding Tiresias, actually. If she’d been the sort of person who was likely to kill him then he presumably would have, as a precog, seen it coming and acted to curtail those branches of the future — which most likely would have meant she wouldn’t have been able to escape at all. That said, I am glad she is escaping and taking those whom she thinks she can — but I am mostly only still reading this (it is well written, but coming from a history of my own traumas it is a lot heavier in impact than I am usually hoping to find myself reading) so that I can be reassured that Lawrence and Tiresias recieve their comeuppance. I’m honestly not certain which of the two is worse. Eliza’s past makes it pretty understandable why she would let herself be persuaded by and generally follow along with Lawrence — she was forced to do horrible things, she probably saw him as her saviour from that, and she was still a child when she fell into his influence. But Lawrence’s cult of new human idolatry is certainly twisted, even beyond its perverseness: for someone who talks so much about how supers are and need to be better than their predecessors, he doesn’t seem to percieve the hypocrisy of himself, one of their “predecessors,” making all of their decisions for them and deciding what their future “culture” should be. And yet, I generally feel that Tiresias’ active mental manipulation is worse. It empowers Lawrence. So much hinges on it. And he has options that Eliza didn’t. Eliza could give Lawrence “cancer until he stops,” but Tiresias could simply nudge Lawrence’s mind the way he has instead been nudging everyone else’s and prevented things from going full on cult to begin with. At the very least, he could have easily prevented Lawrence’s breeding program from involving children by nudging Lawrence’s thoughts. Lawrence may be the origin point and leader of this cult, but it’s existence and functionality hinge entirely on Tiresias’ contribution, and so I think I despise him quite a bit more than any of the other adults involved.
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Lawrence’s fundamental problem (at least as I see it, I’m only the editor) is the same as Valour and the DDHA. On a fundamental level he doesn’t see supers as people the same as him. For him it manifests as fetishism (in the broader sense, it’s not directly sexual) rather than fear as it does for Valour, but the end result is ultimately similar.