“The Righteous Stuff” – Chapter 11October 20, 2009
The Righteous Stuff
by Jeffrey D. Waggoner
based on characters and situations in the
“Domination of the Draka” novels written by S.M. Stirling
BELL AIRCRAFT OFFICES
USAF AIRCRAFT TEST FACILITY
ROGERS DRY LAKE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Former Lieutenant General Walter Dornberger was, most days, an unpleasant man. He was not accustomed to having to demonstrate patience, and did so badly. He was even more unpleasant than usual on this day, fresh from a meeting with the Washington brass. The prison camps in England were almost better than this! Since he was put in charge of the Project two years before, his life had been nothing but red tape and committees. The Luftwaffe would never have allowed this! And with so much at stake, and the Snakes at the door! He shuffled papers at his desk, not really thinking about the upcoming meeting all, but reminiscing about the “good old days” at Peenemunde – certainly not something he could talk to anyone here about!
Except Ehricke. Krafft Ehricke, Dornberger’s former colleague from the Nazi rocket project days, walked into the office. He had a certain spring in his step that looked out of place, somehow. He casually dropped into the office chair–far more casually than he would have done a few years ago in Germany. But Germany herself was no more, just another few Domination provinces with new masters.
“Herr Dornberger? Are you ready to begin the meeting?”
“Uhh…yes, certainly, Ehricke. And for God’s sake don’t let them hear you call anyone ‘Herr,’ if you know what’s good for you! These bastards would love to lock us all away, or send us to the Snakes, if they could!”
The younger man smiled thinly. “I doubt they would send either of us anywhere, Mister Dornberger. They need us too much, I think. Still, you are correct. Tempting fate–or tempting the United States Air Force–is a game for the foolish. And we, you and I, are not foolish, are we?”
“Humpf. I suppose not. I have to tell you, though, that this Project is getting more foolish all the time! Airplanes flying into space! We could be there by now, in orbit with multistep rockets. That bastard von Braun is probably ready to launch one into orbit from Africa this very instant! Is there any reason you can see why we must continue on this insane path?”
“I doubt von Braun is that much ahead, Mister Dornberger. In fact, the latest intelligence reports, the ones I make sure we receive, indicated that the Draka were still using the last of their supply of Peenemunde engines. That certainly doesn’t indicate much in the way of progress, not with low–efficiency engines like those.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “Besides…I rather like this approach. It is too much of the “crash program,” as the Americans call it, but it is also a kind of incremental approach to long-term space travel. We could be working on one-use rockets, to be sure, but I believe that is still a dead end in the long run. The components are just too expensive and difficult to fabricate to be thrown away. In fact…” Ehricke looked out the window, past the joshua pines and scrub of the high desert, then turned to face his mentor. “I can foresee that such a plan could ultimately escalate the costs of space access beyond the reach even of this government. They might get as far as the Moon that way, but they could not sustain the costs. Not with what the newspapers are already calling the ‘Protracted Struggle’ with the Draka. Oh…I am sorry. I do not mean to state the obvious to you.”
Dornberger grunted again. “No, you are most likely correct, as usual, Ehricke. Still, I do not see how we can satisfy the kind of performance requirements the scramjet designs require. Materials simply do not exist that can withstand the heat and maintain structural integrity. And weight…it is always weight, is it not?”
Ehricke smiled thinly again. “That is correct, sir…as far as it goes. I believe our visitor will help us in that regard. May we call him in?”
“Yes, yes, by all means, bring him in!” Dornberger responded gruffly. He picked up the telephone and pressed a button. “Elsie, please send the OSS man in. Tank you!”
The thin, balding man from the OSS walked through the door carrying a slim executive briefcase. Neither of the Germans missed the fact that it was handcuffed to his left wrist, like in a bad postwar adventure film. He shook hands with both men, indicating with a nod of the head an apparently previous meeting with Ehricke, Dornberger noticed. He spoke quickly. “Gentlemen, my name is Sheridan Cavitt. I am a former US Army Counterintelligence officer. I have an offer for you. Please sit down. What I have to say will only take a few minutes, then I will answer any questions I am cleared by the OSS to answer.”
Dornberger looked quizzically at Ehricke, then scowled. “I don’t see why you should know something I don’t, but since you two seem to share a secret, let’s hear it all.”
The man sat back with his briefcase on his knees. “In August of 1947 I was sent to New Mexico, to a desert location not far from where the White Sands missile testing field is today. As you might imagine, the Army took a dim view of anything that might be construed as a breach of security, probably more so then than even now. The Nazis–sorry gentlemen–were not likely to infiltrate directly. Neither were the Japanese. The Draka…that’s where the problem always lies for us. A properly trained Draka agent is, by definition, impossible to detect, once he is here, so I was given the job of investigating possible avenues of Draka agent insertion.
“The place in the desert where I was sent was too far from anywhere for an over-the-border insertion. The ‘official story’ I was given was that a Draka spy plane crashed in a canyon in the desert. When I arrived, about sixteen hours after the crash, I found something completely different.”
“Aliens.” Dornberger said it with no expression at all, looking straight ahead, his eyes not focused on anything visible.
“Yes, Mr. Dornberger. Aliens. You do not seem surprised.”
“I am not.” He glanced at Ehricke, who nodded slightly. “ I have heard stories, here. And the Reich was aware of alien landings for many years. We had no proof, of course, only the words of ‘reliable’ individuals. Some of those men, if not all, died under SS interrogation. The SS never wanted to believe there was anyone they couldn’t control, you know.” He waved his hands dismissively. “Unfortunately, Hitler, while he was alive, put those reports in with his crazy superstitions, making it impossible for anyone else to verify what was true after his death.”
The OSS man placed the briefcase on Dornberger’s desk, unlocked the handcuff and then carefully unlocked the case. He drew out two glossy photos and handed one to each man. “This aerial view of the crash site was taken about six hours after the crash. We were notified about ninety minutes after we believe the crash occurred, and we had Army representatives at the site within sixty minutes. We did not expect to find evidence of alien activity, but the cover of a crashed Draka spy plane proved very effective. We had the area sealed off within another hour.”
Ehricke squinted at the photo, turned it ninety degrees. “It seems that the vehicle, if that is what it is, was found to be at least somewhat intact.”
“True. It was only about twenty feet long, and nearly featureless on the outside. It landed at a shallow angle, and left a groove in the earth over three hundred feet long. We believe it was still partially under control when it crashed, or we would have been digging up pieces with a stick and a spoon.”
Cavitt handed each man another photo. “This closeup shows you the vehicle in place, before it was moved to a secure hangar at White Sands. You can see evidence of the explosion in the aft portion of the vehicle, a blast which apparently woke the ranchers for a radius of at least twenty miles. We still do not know what caused that explosion.”
“And the occupants…there were occupants?”
Cavitt brought out a third photo. “Yes. Three of them. All dead of course, with evidence, so far as our coroner could tell, of severe body trauma. We believe the blast altered the vector of the vehicle so radically as to overstress the inertia damping mechanism.”
Ehricke sat up straight, eyebrows raised. “Inertia damping? Have you discovered how this was done?”
“No, Mr. Ehricke. Settle down. We haven’t been able to find out much about the propulsion system, inertia damping, or what we believe to be an artificial gravity device. All what our scientists call ‘solid-state,’ with no moving parts, or any parts, for that matter, that we can identify as electronic components. However…”
Finally, Cavitt brought out a thin piece of silvery material about six inches square. “This is a piece of the vehicle’s hull. We believe it to be primarily a ceramic material, with fibers that seem to be composed of pure carbon running through it. The silver coating is still beyond us—we do not yet know how it was deposited on the surface. We would like your people to analyze it, as well.”
“How did you remove it from the vehicle?” Dornberger turned the scrap over and over, tilting it in the light, as if he could analyze it with his eyes.
“It was found along the crash track. It seems to be the same material as the intact part of the hull.”
“What about the aliens?” asked Ehricke.
“Odd–very odd. The creatures had no digestive system, no reproductive system, and a very simple pulmonary system. One of our scientists, who is well–known for his wild speculations, believes they were ‘engineered’ as pilots of this reconnaissance craft. He thinks they were alive only by a very liberal interpretation of what life is. This scientist–a Dr. Asimov–has coined the term ‘biological robots.’ He thinks the actual aliens perhaps were in an orbiting craft, controlling this vehicle, or at least sending instructions. We still have no idea if there was a radio, or any other form of information transmission. For all we know, they communicated by telepathy.”
Dornberger snorted derisively. “Now you sound like the Fürher, you know. Always with the crazy talk about telepathy. And this alien business is not much easier to believe. It is much like Hitler’s Ice Moon theory. Why are you bringing this to us? Are we not security risks of the highest order? We are not even employees of your government.”
Cavitt smiled thinly. “Your government, now, as well, sir. I suggest that you should remember that if you wish to remain in this pleasant office, doing this work. A few words and you could be one of many places less desirable. This is not a threat, just a reminder.”
Ehricke was turning the scrap of metal over and over in his hands. “Mr. Cavitt, the question remains: what do you expect from us? We have expert metallurgists, it is true, but I cannot imagine telling them this material is from outer space! What kind of…cover story… should we be using? I assure you the truth is not the best response!”
“For once, the Draka are a help to us. God knows there are enough times I curse them, but we can use them to our advantage this time. We can even continue to use the “cover story” we used on the crash. This is a piece of a destroyed Draka spy aircraft, or missile, or something that was shot down. I am sure you gentlemen can provide a suitable background. Please document it and make sure I am made aware of it. I will leave you all the instructions you need to be able to contact me without raising undue suspicion.” He leaned back in his chair. “I know how you are hampered by the lack of suitable airframe materials for your high-performance aircraft. We do know that this material–whatever it is–should be lighter, tougher and more resistant to atmospheric heating than any metal currently in use in aircraft construction.”
Dornberger still looked doubtful. “Again, I must ask: why did you come to us? We are not the only engineers working on such projects for the Government. I would expect Donovan especially would consider us a security risk. We are not the most “American” people you could contact, you know.”
“First, I know that your company is considering a merger with North American Aviation. This would give your company the largest aircraft research and development staff in the world. Second, your superiors in the company understand our motives, and we understand theirs. Third…you are the best, the best designers in America, and perhaps in the world. I certainly hope you are better than von Braun!”
“We are better than that traitorous bastard, by far!” Ehricke was almost out of his chair. “We are not only smarter, but much more dedicated to the Cause! Have no fear, sir, we will be able to discover–“
“Calm down, Ehricke, calm down! I must apologize for my colleague, Mr. Cavitt. He gets a little upset when young Wernher’s name is mentioned. I think he had a bit of hero worship, back in Germany. He followed von Braun around quite a lot, you know. It slowed his promotions, as well. All that was probably dashed to bits when we had to run for our lives so that von Braun’s Aryan supermen could not kill us.” Dornberger remembered the flames, the explosions, the destruction of the underground factories and the launching fields on the North Sea, how he and less than fifty others escaped with the Draka Security Directorate at their heels. I will exact my revenge someday, von Braun. Do not forget it.
“I’m sorry, gentlemen. No offense meant, I assure you. Anyway, here is all the data we have on the material.” He drew a thin folder from the briefcase. “In the file you will also find the information you will need to contact me. Please do so only when necessary. I have no information you have do not possess, at this time. Should I acquire more, I will certainly make it available to you.” Cavitt rose, shook hands with both men, and quickly slipped out the door without even a goodbye.
The two Germans took their seats and both gazed at the small scrap of material, both lost in thought. Ehricke spoke first.
“Walter, I had no idea there were other alien landings, or any, for that matter. It is most disconcerting.” He paused, seeming to have difficulty finding the words. “While I always hoped there would be other races, life out in the universe…I never really thought we would have any proof of their existence. I suppose I thought we would have to go to find them.”
Dornberger chuckled, his mood lightening for the first time in many days. “You are young, and idealistic. In Germany your head was filled with the glory of the Reich! Who could challenge us, on Earth or in Heaven!” His face fell suddenly. “Of course, the Draka could challenge us, and did, and now Germany is no more! We were fools, Ehricke, in so very many ways! We were our own worst enemy, but now, by the grace of whatever gods there may be, we–you and I, and the others–have a second chance! I feel so much better than I have for days, perhaps weeks!”
He turned to the window. “Look out there! Thousands of technicians, engineers, pilots, and the inevitable bureaucrats, and all engaged in a search for the same thing! Not just to fly higher and faster, but to do so for the glory of this country, this idea of a country founded by free men, dedicated to freedom! By 1943 I thought I would never live to see a day such as this. I knew the Draka would overwhelm us then, and I was sure I would end my life with a tattoo on my neck! Instead, we are building craft that will take us to the stars!”
He turned back to face his subordinate. “But we will not even reach Arizona, if we do not get started right away! Go, Ehricke, and see the metallurgical staff!”
“Yes, sir! Immediately, Herr General!” Ehricke scurried out.
Dornberger turned to the window again, not seeing the silver delta shapes on the flight line beyond. “He never offered to show the craft to us,” he said softly to himself. “He does not trust us, no matter what he says. No one will, ever again.”