The Emporer of the last day (Excerpt from Eagles Hunt Wolves)
The U.S.S.R. / 68° 18m N, 161° 38m E
It was a land of ghosts. Three-hundred thousand prisoners; Germans, Romanians, Spanish, Italian and Russian Cossacks had been forced-marched to this desolate region. Those that died from exposure and dysentery had been left where they fell. Those that survived had dug. They had tunneled deep with picks, shovels and at times, their bare hands. Then the engineering divisions had arrived with dynamite and heavy equipment. The earth had gradually evolved into the facility situated over a thousand miles from the East Siberian Sea and four days hop-scotching by aircraft from the ‘New Life’ collective farms near the town of Anyuysk.
Valery Yvetchenko, Commissar first rank of the NKGB, craned his neck from the Lisunov transport aircraft as it began its final descent, buffeted by arctic winds. The aeroplane made a gut-wrenching lurch toward the makeshift airstrip carved out of the tundra. Below, an immense fire billowed across the land, dancing in the midnight sun. In his diplomatic pouch was a scrawled directive in red crayon from the fist of Stalin himself, margined with doodles of wolves, instructing him to take the first available flight. A ministry car then whisked him from his warm, comfortable dacha on the outskirts of Moscow to a freezing airport and a long series of turbulent flights to a backwater where a compass point meant nothing.
He remembered idly the potent schnapps and coffee he had enjoyed along the Tiergartenstrasse in Berlin. But that was another age ago. He needed a fortifying shot of something now. Rising stiffly, Yvetchenko felt his knees grind and his spine gradually untwist. He nodded his thanks to the flight crew and descended the rickety steps where a man was waiting.
“Welcome to our Ministry of Electromagnetic Studies, Comrade Commissar Yvetchenko, I am honoured. Good flight?”
Dressed in heavy winter fatigues, the man had still found the desire to wear an impressive platter-sized peak cap. He held it firmly down with one hand as it skittered in the Lisunov’s downdraft.
“Adequate, Comrade Kravchenko. Adequate.” Yvetchenko replied.
Yvetchenko eyed the sled with its prancing, wrestling snow dogs uneasily; he’d hoped for a government car with comfortable upholstery, something less feral.
“It’s the best way to traverse this region, Comrade Commissar.” Said Kravchenko.
Marko Kravchenko was now Komandarm for the Secretariat for People’s Affairs, the newly formed MGB. Behind his back, his nickname was Lazarus.
From the canvas folds of the sled, Kravchenko produced a heavy fur coat and hat. He handed them to Yvetchenko. Once Yvetchenko was suitably bundled, Kravchenko had donned his own fur hat. The sled driver, in native Seal-furs saluted, his Mongol eyes staring flatly ahead. With a series of whistles and cracks of the reins, the driver expertly drove the team of dogs. The sled sluiced across the tundra under the power of their sturdy legs.
The fire that had darkened the sky drew closer to them. It was a pyre. Stacks of frozen corpses in flimsy prison fatigues lay neatly in rows as Russian soldiers fed the blaze. The fire spewed thick, meaty smoke across the oblast.
“Disposal team, Commissar.” Said Kravchenko, “They’ve had to use aviation fuel to keep it going.”
“And for girding themselves.” Said Yvetchenko.
The soldiers staggered about in the perpetual arctic daylight. One or two kept shooting into the pyre, the memory muscle of their fingers fixed on the triggers of their automatic machine guns.
“Beria had been insistent, Comrade Commissar. Once the underground facility was complete, the labourers were to be liquidated.” Said Kravchenko.
The hiss of flamethrowers and the smell of roasted flesh assailed him. He stared at the sun that glided along the horizon, its baleful, orange glare casting solemn judgement.
Marko Kravchenko was used to ghosts. His wife Sonja and son Oleg inhabited the nether world of his peripheral vision. He accepted their presence, neither seeking it or longing for it. It just was. Like Coleridge’s mariner, they were the albatross around his neck; a fitting punishment from Stalin for his failings as a model soviet soldier. This far north played tricks with the senses. The mind seemed to over-wind itself to the point where anything and everything appeared real.
Including the ghosts of his wife and son.
The sled passed the pyre and slalomed toward the small dome that rose from the ground.
“Kagonovich has found something interesting, Comrade Commissar,” said Kravchenko.
“Everything Kagonovich finds is interesting,” said Yvetchenko.
“This really is, Comrade Commissar.” replied Kravchenko.
Outside the entrance of the concrete dome stood a man draped in an oversized lab coat, a crazy shock of black pomaded hair, shaved at the sides; a polar seneschal with a clipboard and earnest blue eyes.
“Comrade Commissar, Yvetchenko, welcome.” he said.
“Comrade Scientist, Kagonovich.” replied Yvetchenko.
“Good flight, I trust? If you will follow me.”
Kagonovich walked with the assurance of a man above politics. They descended into the facility.
“The interrogations – have they yielded anything?” asked Yvetchenko.
“Nothing of any importance, Comrade Commissar.” replied Kravchenko.
Yvetchenko noted his MGB subordinate was deliberately keeping his voice level.
Kagonovich produced a small packet of cigarettes, Russian front-line weed; it was an acquired taste. Yvetchenko and Kravchenko took a light from Kagonovich’s lighter. It was silver with an eagle and swastika,
“Spoils of war,” said the scientist.
Their boots echoed along the metal floors.
“The soldier’s barracks are situated at the rear along with the construction billets. This section is completely off limits. Top secret.” Said Kagonovich.
“Under Stalin’s orders, everything was stripped down and shipped to here.” said Kravchenko.
“The remains found outside in the pit?” asked Yvetchenko.
“They are rumoured to be Hitler’s, we sent them to Moscow.” said Kagonovich.
Yvetchenko had heard all the myths. Stalin was obsessed.
Clangs and thumps from Kagonovich’s scientific team in the bowels of the facility bounced along the corridor.
“So, Comrade Scientist, Kagonovich, Kommandarm Kravchenko - what is so important?” asked Yvetchenko.
“One of the sappers checking for booby traps had hit off a pressure switch by accident in Hitler’s quarters. It revealed, of all things, a hidden chamber. If you will follow me.”
The facility was a warren of sodium lit corridors. Kagonovich’s bulb-like head bobbed between shadow and light.
Comrade scientist Vasily Kagonovich wasn’t one for celebration, but this morning was an exception. Thousands of man hours and round-the-clock toil in hazardous conditions had borne fruit.
The chamber, imbedded under the deep, unforgiving permafrost had been completed. As an archaeologist assembles a few ancient strewn bones, Kagonovich’s team had re-built the chamber discovered beneath the Berlin bunker; they knew the basic shape, it had been a case of just trying to make the pieces fit.
Immense generators several floors below, vibrated through the prediluvian bedrock, giving the metal floor the sensation of a moving ship.
“The barometers started to glow two days ago, and haven’t diminished since.” Said Kagonovich. His glasses, fashioned in Western tortoise shell, masked his lab-rat eyes.
At the end of the corridor, they came to a thick metallic door. Standing sentinel, stood two heavily armed guards.
The atmosphere in the room was palpable. Rows of desks and monitoring equipment were manned by grim-faced scientists and technicians. They stared at their equipment is if it was toxic to the touch.
“The clocks begun whirling like windmills an hour ago.” said a technician. The name card on his desk read Kornilov. His skin was blanched like the rest of them from bad food, cigarettes and living in a subterranean complex. Another press-ganged citizen for the revolution. He lit another cigarette.
At the end of the room, was a thick metallic pressure door with a wheel lock. It was open.
“Under the Reichskanzlerei, we found seven, forty-kilowatt-generators; all destroyed. In this room though, what they were attached to, is now something to behold, Comrades.” said Kagonovich.
Inside stood two of Kagonovich’s colleagues with clip boards and two film cameras on tripods.
“The walls of this chamber are extremely dense - twenty-six feet thick. The metal is of Japanese manufacture; twice as strong as battleship armour. The chamber had been booby-trapped. It was sheer luck the rest of the explosives hadn’t detonated. Whatever the krauts were doing before their surrender, they were doing it in a panic.”
Yvetchenko looked at the dials and gauges along a panelled work station. All were twitching out of synch like a St Vitus’s dance.
“Did the krauts leave anything by way of paperwork? Notes?”
“No. All burned in the pit.” replied Kagonovich.
Yvetchenko peered over his glasses. He removed his calf-skin gloves and ran a thick uneven finger along the control panels,
“That is unfortunate. Have you annotated your theories?” he asked.
“Yes, Comrade Commissar.” replied Kagonovich.
“Well, that’s a start.”
Kagonovich walked to the banks of dials and gauges and pointed with a battered wooden clipboard,
“The overhead coils are creating an electro-magnetic wave which is measured on these dials and, here, the compasses are now fixed at a north-north-west direction, they settled on this position early this morning.”
“What are those?” he asked. The emergency lighting glinted off his wire frame glasses as he peeled them onto his neckless head.
Three levers, each the height of a man, stood at various angles, they were vibrating lightly.
“They’re a mystery, we tried manoeuvring them, but now we cannot.” Replied Kagonovich.
“A year of construction and no answer? And those?” asked Yvetchenko.
Kravchenko followed his gaze.
“Rails, standard German gauge,” replied Kagonovich. “We have re-wired thousands of copper coils to them.”
“Was it a power station of some sort - generator?” suggested Kravchenko.
“Not exactly, but I do have a theory,” said Kagonovich.
Both men paused and looked at the scientist. Kagonovich, knowing too well that Yvetchenko was a direct line to Stalin, produced his crumpled packet of cigarettes and lit another one. The toxic tobacco drifted around him,
“Escape,” he exhaled.
One of the men with the clip-boards cleared his throat.
“Be honest, Comrade Scientist Kagonovich, tell them your first thoughts when you saw the chamber first?”
“You are?” asked Kravchenko,
“Golikov, Comrade Komandarm.”
To Kravchenko, the diminutive Golikov looked like a well-fed goat with a pudding bowl haircut.
Vanya Kagonovich swallowed dryly. It could have been an honest request or, in the presence of senior Soviet intelligence officers, a denunciation.
“An ‘event’; the krauts could have manipulated matter, altered the wall’s atomic structure in some way; shot something through it. Escape.”
“An escape vehicle?” asked Yvetchenko.
“For one passenger, maybe?” continued Kravchenko,
“The wrecked generators weren’t hooked up to the climatic or electrical functions of the bunker,” said Kagonovich. He lit his next cigarette from the butt of the last one, “Flat out they could have powered those tubes overhead; if we knew what they were for.”
Yvetchenko looked around the chamber.
“Your report indicated a circle. Circle eight feet in circumference?” said Yvetchenko.
“Yes. It only appeared on one wall. Carbonised. Moscow stated the results were inconclusive.” Replied Kagonovich.
The long metal tubes overhead sparked and hissed, long fingers of energy reached from point-to-point and slithered up into the chamber’s ceiling.
“Now that’s the end of the tour, Comrades. If you’ll excuse me, we will begin our broadcast.”
Yvetchenko and Kravchenko were guided out by Kagonovich’s clip board.
Golikov studied the ceiling in a bovine manner before returning to his camera, with methodical sweeps, he filmed the lightning storm above his head. The other cameraman watched the wheel-lock door like a drowning submariner.
Outside the chamber, the film was being transmitted via an immense communications hub sending the signal directly to the headquarters of the Ministry in Moscow.
Outside the chamber, Kravchenko listened to the scientist. Kagonovich’s voice crackling through the speakers.
“Is Moscow receiving this?” Kravchenko asked technician Kornilov.
“Yes.” replied Kornilov.
Kravchenko studied the room, the clocks once set to local and Moscow time were now moving at rapid speed in the same direction. Counter-clockwise.
“Let’s hope Comrade Scientist Kagonovich knows what he’s doing.” he said.
“The man’s a fool, Comrade.” said Kornilov.
Inside the chamber, Kagonovich studied the dials and gauges. They swung back and forth intensely, now in perfect co-ordination. The chamber’s vibrations increased. A sudden tremor knocked him and the film crew off their feet. One of the cameras teetered on its tripod, before Golikov found his feet and steadied it. The other cameraman began to take slow steps towards to door. His camera lay fallen and splayed.
“This is incredible, comrades, incredible. The levers are moving independently, it’s my assumption that some form of connection is being formed.” said Kagonovich. He noticed the microphone was shaking in his hands.
The locomotive-looking levers juddered for a second then waved like fingers before settling into fixed positions.
Outside the chamber his voice was lost in a shrill static blast.
“Communications have just gone down. We’ve lost the link to Moscow.” said Kornilov.
Kravchenko swallowed slowly.
“Can that thing there be shut down?” he asked.
“We don’t know how to – its Kagonovich’s bloody toy.” muttered Kornilov. He ran a nicotine-stained hand over his stubbled chin. His eyes were almost pink from lack of sunlight. His unkempt grey hair stood out at jagged angles in places,
“I’m going for a drink. I think we’re all fucked. He’s killed us all.” he said.
Chairs overturned as the technicians began to flee. There was nowhere to go.
Commissar Yvetchenko was nowhere to be seen. No doubt he was racing for his plane. He’d die of exposure before he’d get to it.
The only sound in the room now was the humming of the clocks.
Kravchenko went to the pressure door of the chamber.
It was sealed from the inside. He began pounding on it.
“Marko.” said a voice.
He closed his eyes and pressed his head aginst the cold metal door. The wraith hung close, her breath in his ear. His Sonja.
He turned to look at her. Her smile was warm, inviting.
“Marko.” She whispered.
She was as cold as the metal against his forehead.
“Come home, Marko. Come home to us.” she breathed.
Kagonovich jotted down everything on the clip-board. Golikov unclipped the reels and the two men placed everything into a heavy leaden box. They opened a chute a few feet away from the pressure door and slid it in. They closed the chute and locked it.
One moment, the chamber was a vibrating drum, the sonic shrieks deafening. The two cameramen found a corner and wedged themselves into it. Bolts of electrical energy skipped across every part of the chamber, creating an uneven web of light.
The next moment, an artillery shell, several metres long appeared between the glowing railway sleepers. On the far wall appeared a perfect black carbon circle.
“Jesus Christ.” said Kagonovich.
The artillery shell detonated.
The blast plumed up through the stratosphere, hurtling metal, earth and rock and the land became silent.