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«After the Downfall», Harry Turtledove

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Dedication

In grateful remembrance of Dr. Jorge Petronius (1963 – 2005).

I

Berlin was falling, falling in ruin, falling in fire, falling in blood. Back when the war was new, Goring said you could call him Meyer if a single bomb ever fell on the capital of the Reich. Had anyone held the Reichsmarschall to his promise, he would have changed his name a million times by now.

Goring never said a word about shells or machine – gun bullets. Back in those triumphant days, who could have imagined Germany would go to war with Russia? Not needing to worry about Russia helped make the destruction of France as easy as it was.

And who could have imagined that, if Germany did go to war with Russia, she wouldn’t knock down the Slavic Untermenschen in six weeks or so? Who could have imagined that those Red subhumans would fight their way back from the gates of Moscow, back across their own country, across Poland, across eastern Germany, and into Berlin? Who could have imagined the war was over except for the last orgy of killing, and all the Fuhrer’s promised secret weapons hadn’t done a thing to hold off Germany’s inevitable and total defeat?

Captain Hasso Pemsel and what was left of his company crouched in the ruins of the Old Museum. The space between the Spree and the Kupfergraben was Berlin’s museum district. These days, the finest antiquities were in G Tower, next to the Tiergarten. People said the massive reinforced – concrete antiaircraft tower could hold out for a year after the rest of Berlin was lost. Maybe soon they would get the chance to find out if they were right.

A Russian submachine gun burped bullets. Behind Hasso, something shattered with a crash. It might have come through two or three thousand years, but a curator had decided it wasn’t worth taking to G Tower. Nobody would study it any more – that was for sure.

Where was the Ivan with the burp gun? Pemsel spotted motion behind a pile of rubble. He squeezed off a short burst with his Schmeisser, then ducked away to find fresh cover. A wild scream came from the direction of the heap of bricks and paving stones. It didn’t lure him into looking. The Russians were past masters at making you pay if you fell for one of their games.

Like it matters, Hasso thought. You’re going to die here any which way. Sooner or later? What difference does it make? But discipline held. So did a perverse pride.

He refused to do less than his best, even now – maybe especially now. If the Russians wanted his carcass, they’d have to pay the butcher’s bill for it.

A few meters away, his top sergeant was rolling a cigarette with weeds that might have been tobacco and a strip of paper torn from Der Panzerbar. The Armored Bear was the last German newspaper going in Berlin; even the Nazi Party’s Volkischer Beobachter had shut down.

Karl Edelsheim was good at making do. Like Hasso, he’d been in the Wehrmacht since before the war, and he was still here after almost four years on the Eastern Front. How much longer he or any of the German defenders would be here was a question Hasso declined to dwell on.

Instead, he said, “Got any more fixings? I’m out.” If you paid attention to what was right in front of you, you could forget about the bigger stuff… till you couldn’t any more.

“Sure, Captain.” Edelsheim passed him the tobacco pouch and another strip of newspaper. Hasso rolled his own, then leaned close to the Feldwebel for a light. Edelsheim blew out smoke and said, “We’re fucked, aren’t we?” He might have been talking about the weather for all the excitement or worry he showed.

“Well, now that you mention it, yes.” Hasso didn’t wail and beat his breast, either. What was the point? What was the use? “Where are we going to go? You want to throw down your Mauser and surrender to the Ivans?”

“I’d sooner make ‘em kill me clean,” Edelsheim said at once. The Russians were not in a forgiving mood. After some of the things Hasso had seen and done in the east, he knew they had their reasons. Edelsheim had fought there longer. Chances were he knew more.

Another burst of submachine – gun fire made them both flatten out. They might have been ready to die, but neither one was eager. Hasso had seen a few Waffen-SS officers, realizing Germany could not prevail, go out against the Russians looking for death, almost like Japanese suicide pilots. He didn’t feel that way. He wanted to live. He just thought his chances were lousy.

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