Under the Hooked Cross – 4: Orientation

Previous instalments: 1 2 3

Under the Hooked CrossMacFadyen darted around the hydroponics pod with an agility that made Silversmith dizzy. It took a conscious effort not watch him. Any sudden head movements set his inner ear spinning.

“It’ll take you a few days to get used to having centrifuges on the walls and incubators on the ceiling,” said MacFadyen, “but it’s the only chance you’ll get to do acrobatics in your lab.”

MacFadyen’s face was pale and his blue jumpsuit looked baggy, showing the weight he’d lost. Whatever toll six months on the Dancing Penguin had taken, he wasn’t short of energy. He was to leave with the shuttle and was looking forward to getting home to Edinburgh. He’d confessed a longing for Scotch whisky, though Silversmith heard that sort of nostalgia often enough on the ground in Peenemunde. Germany led the world in aeronautics and engineering, but the British were ahead in biology so British biologists were welcome at Peenemünde as long as Prime Minister Mosely took his orders from Berlin.

MacFadyen pushed himself toward the door, then stopped and pointed at a red button behind a panel of glass. “Emergency drill?”

“Clear the pod with the problem, hit the emergency button to seal all the pods, sit on my hands while the duty officer does the roll call, then do what he tells me.”

MacFadyen smiled at Silversmith’s mechanical tone. “Sorry. The book says I have to ask, just in case you haven’t been through it a hundred times in training. Come on, last bit of the tour and I’ll leave you in peace.” MacFadyen propelled himself into the corridor that joined the pods. He swung himself off a rung to send himself flying down the middle. Silversmith wondered how long it had taken to perfect the trick.

The short corridor led to the pod that doubled as a mess and briefing room. Henkel was gazing at the photographs on the wall while the man he was replacing described them. Silversmith suspected that the look on Henkel’s face was as much a mask to hide his nausea as it was genuine reverence. The inevitable portrait of Heydrich dominated, but it was the fresco of spaceflight photographs that really caught Silversmith’s attention. Hanna Reitsch climbing out of her Valkyrie capsule after her three pioneering orbits, Adler II’s lunar module in the Sea of Tranquility, the first shuttle launch from the Reich’s spaceport in the Belgian Congo. In spite of himself, Silversmith couldn’t help but think of the immense achievement of having such a collection at all, let alone of having it in orbit a mere three decades after Von Braun’s first A-4 rocket touched the edge of space in 1942.

Next week: Disorientation

Full story available from Amazon in Kindle format.

Author notes


Cover by Manda Benson

These other stories by DJ Cockburn available online: Steel in the Morning, Newgate Jig, The Endocrine Tyranny, Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo, Foreclosure, Cassandra’s Cargo and Mars One.

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Posted in Under the Hooked Cross

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