Glancing at his watch to check the time, George tried to keep the film canister balanced on his knees steady. Not a simple task with the way the plane shuddered from turbulence but he managed. In block letters he wrote on the label: Yellowfin Raid 19:30-20:30 23 February 1945. Stowing that canister safely away he ensured that the fresh reel was ready in his camera. There was little chance of more action tonight but he wanted to be prepared in case anything did occur. Taking his place by the window once more George looked out through the viewfinder.
It was an striking image. The bombers trailing along behind his plane silhouetted against the glow of the firestorm consuming Pforzheim. Such a shame that this footage would never see the light of day. Maybe a few brief clips would make their way into training movies but it was on the morbid side for the news reels. Still to George it seemed like something that needed to be recorded. Even if he might be the only one to ever see it.
George had never dropped a bomb, only filmed others doing it. A nasty business but a necessary one for winning the war. All the same he took the time to utter a short prayer for any poor soul caught in Pforzheim tonight. Even if they were Germans in the end they were still people and, from the great column of smoke rising into the sky, they would need all the prayers they could get. Eventually enough bombs would be dropped to break what was left of Germany's industry and spirit. Then George could finally go home and get on with his life. Until then he would keep on doing his job the best he could.
A tap on George's shoulder gave him a start. Turning he saw one of his fellow crew members, Miles, wearing a grim look on his face. With the noise of the engines masking his footsteps Miles had managed to sneak right up without George noticing.
“You'll want to keep a sharp eye out for fighters,” Miles shouted over the din. “Major Swales just confirmed that one managed to knock out a few of his engines before we started the run.”
“Christ, they going to make it?” George asked. Swales was the master bomber tonight. It was incredible that he had led the raid in a damaged plane.
“Doesn't sound good. Major is going to trying to keep them aloft long enough that they can bail out over France, better chance of survival.” Miles shook his head and muttered something that George did not quite catch. He added Major Swales and his crew onto his impromptu prayers.
Before either of them could speak again George saw the strangest thing. There was a flicker of light across Miles's face, the man looking towards the window in confusion. Just as George went to look for himself a blinding flash split the gloom of the night. Reflexively shutting his eyes George could hear Miles stumble back, cursing the whole while. The plane shuddered and began to list to the side, the floor no longer level. Forcing one eye open again George pressed it against the eyepiece of his camera. What he saw he could scarcely believe, much less explain.
Outside there was light, burning white hot light tinged blue around the edges. A great sphere hanging in the air towards the rear of the formation, with little bolts of blue lighting arcing off it towards the surrounding planes. Then it moved. Fast as the eye could follow it swept across their rear. The bombers that were directly in its path simply disappeared, consumed. Others were caught in the web of energy that twisted around the sphere, wings and fuselage catching fire as they began to fall from the sky. It was painful to behold but George did his best to keep the camera focused on that blinding light. He was forced to grab hold of the wall as the plane continued listing.
This is it, George realized. I'm about to die. Watching that sphere sweep back and forth he could not even think to pray, just follow along its path of destruction. Closer and closer until it was almost upon them.
Then it was gone. The night rushed back in to fill the void where the light had been, leaving only the fires of the doomed planes to break the darkness. Falling back from the window George clutched the eye he had watched through the camera with. After images, scars of what he had seen, still haunted his vision. Looking around with his good eye he realized that Miles had disappeared. More importantly the plane had righted itself.
As soon as he could force himself to his feet George made his way forward to the cockpit. Miles had taken over there, with their pilot James sitting off to the side blinking and staring at his hand. Watching James move his hand back and forth George realized that he too must have been partially blinded by the light.
“What the bloody hell was that? Lighting?” Miles asked, gripping white knuckled to the stick.
“No, that was something else. Heaven help us, that was something else.” That was all George could think to say. He honestly did not have the slightest idea what he had just witnessed. A new German weapon? That seemed unlikely. Some freak weather incident, previously unknown? Or perhaps it was the wrath of God himself, striking them down for their sins. If it was the last George could only imagine what was happening to the Germans at this moment.
The three sat there in silence, only breaking it to confirm that they were still in the air over the radio. Keeping track of the confirmations coming in George realized how badly they had been hit. There had been over three hundred planes on the mission, less than a third had checked in. This was a disaster the likes of which had not been seen for years.
With the plane heading back towards the safety of France George returned to his camera, carefully packing away the film inside. He was certain that it would be of great interest in the coming days as they tried to discover what had caused this calamity. With that done he collapsed against the wall and began to pray once more. He prayed for the dead and prayed for the living but mostly he prayed for himself.
A lone figure stood on top of a rise, watching the storm of light tear through the bombers far above. From her eyes blue lightning, matching that in the sky, poured forth to form a halo around her head. Wherever she moved her gaze the sphere of destruction followed, darting around the flight of bombers and leaving devastation in its wake. Looking towards the furthest planes she willed the sphere to move but it would not. They were hardly more than specks in the darkness of the night, barely visible even with her vision. It would seem she had finally reached her limit. Her halo of light blinked out of existence taking the sphere with it. All that was left now were the few trails of fire falling towards the ground. Motionless the blonde woman stood there watching until the last had faded from view.
Her name was Klaudia Hoch. She was twenty-three years old and had learned that morning that she was a widow. Taking a step she stumbled, catching onto the trunk of a great old oak to support herself. Not trusting her legs to carry her at the moment Klaudia clung to it. Half of her wanted to scream at the sky in rage, the other half to fall down and weep. Caught in the middle all she could do was keep on leaning against the tree in silence.
What is wrong with me?
What would Leon have made of her, if he could see her now? More than likely her husband would have complimented her on her aim, a dark joke meant to bring a smile back to her face. Or maybe he would have stood there horrified. He had been a member of a bomber crew himself after all and even if the British had been his foes would he have approved of hundreds of planes being torn from the sky in under a minute? Whenever he had spoken to Klaudia about flying he had always made it sound like such a noble endeavour, knights of the sky charging back and forth in honourable combat. Even the bombing had sounded righteous in its own way. She knew much better now.
On the day of Leon's last mission Klaudia had begged him not to go. She had just felt that something terrible might happen. As always he had swept her off her feet, cradling her in his strong arms as he promised that he would come back. It had been reassuring. Every time he went on a mission he had made the same promise, that even if he had to walk back to Germany he would return to her, and every time he had kept it. Klaudia had stretched up to kiss him and after that blissful moment he had gone. Good as his word he had come back. Though this time with a piece of shrapnel through the back of his skull. No more did he laugh and smile and make her feel that she was the centre of the world. Instead Leon sat in a chair staring blankly ahead, unmoving save for the trails of saliva that would drip from his lips.
It had taken a terrible toll on Klaudia to see her husband in such a condition. Leon had been everything to her. She had planned her life around him and her marriage to him. After the war they were going to get a big house out in the countryside. They would fill it with laughter and many German children who would give them many grandchildren. There they would grow old together watching Germany take its rightful place at the helm of Europe and the world. Even with Leon so terribly injured so long as he still lived Klaudia held on to the hope that one day he could recover, that one day he would come back to her and she could start living again. Without fail she had spent at least an hour of every day sitting by Leon's side, whispering to him as she tried to coax him back to her.
A terrible thought occurred to Klaudia, drawing her from her reminiscing. How many planes had she struck from the skies just now? Surely it had been over a hundred, though by how much she could not tell. For each plane how many men were on a crew, five, six? That made for at least five or six hundred dead at the very least. How many of those men had wives that they had promised to return to? How many widows had she just created? As a feeling of nausea came over her Klaudia tried to fight it off. Those men's deaths had been quick. They had died in instants, not been left to waste away to nothingness in front of those that they loved. It was merciful in its own way. Every man she killed tonight could not go on to bomb another city, drop fire onto the defenceless, go home and kiss their wives...
Letting out a tortured cry Klaudia felt the trunk of the oak tree shatter within her grip. Her fingers had dug so deep into the wood that it could no longer support itself. Taken aback she held up her hands. Not so much as a single scratch. The top of the mighty old tree came crashing down as Klaudia stood there untouched.
I agreed to this, didn't I? To become a goddess of vengeance for Leon and Germany?
Klaudia had not been the one to speak those words though. It had been Sankt. She could still remember first meeting the General. His doctors had come to run tests on the patients at the hospital where Leon was and she had been caught up in their net. Out of all the people they had tested that day only she had been chosen, as something had marked her as particularly special. That was when Sankt had started to outline his vision to her. It had sounded entirely mad to Klaudia at first. He spoke of ubermensch and of powers beyond reckoning. How she could become a goddess of vengeance. After all of it she had agreed. Not so much because she had believed in anything that he was saying but, well, Klaudia really was not sure why she had gone with him. A sense of duty to her country or just to see if he was telling the truth perhaps. Or maybe she had gone simply to get away from Dresden and Leon's living corpse for a time. In the end it did not matter as she followed Sankt to his camp in the middle of nowhere and, as it had turned out, left her husband to die.
What had come next was mostly boredom at first. Sitting around and waiting while Sankt ran his experiments, trying and failing to perfect the process. By the time he had achieved success the project had been reduced to a fraction of its original size. Klaudia remembered seeing the first panzermensch, as Sankt called them, men transformed into living weapons. Then it was her turn. The process had been longer and more painful for her but the power she had gained much greater, or so Sankt had claimed. Thus she had become the first living Battleship. Two others had joined her later and none of them had been given much of a chance to explore their full strength. Sankt had been too concerned with maintaining secrecy. Instead they had all been tested in other ways with Klaudia always undergoing the most dangerous trials.
This was all Sankt's fault, Klaudia decided as she began to walk back towards where her escort was hopefully still waiting. Had he not been so concerned with holding them back until they were 'ready' then Klaudia might have been able to prevent the attack on Dresden. If he had never found her in the first place then she might have at least died alongside Leon. Whatever might have happened all of those deaths could be placed at Sankt's feet. The great pillar of smoke rising from Pforzheim caught Klaudia's attention for a moment as she trudged along. She considered making her way to the city but dismissed the notion. The last thing they needed right now was another weapon showing up, too late to protect them. Besides, she was unsure if she could manage the sight of charred corpses again.
Following the trail of destruction she had left earlier, shattered tree limbs and gouged earth under the snow, Klaudia realized that while she was unharmed her uniform had not been so lucky. Both of her shoes were missing, torn off during her run or disintegrated from the force of her footfalls. Across the heavy canvas of her shirt and pants there were many other rents and tears. That brought on a sigh. Not even her own clothes were safe from her. Even with all her exposed skin the chill of winter barely touched her.
Thankfully the truck was where she had left it, the two men that Sankt had sent along as escorts for her standing outside. By now she had made up her mind that it would be best to return to the camp. What she would do afterwards was still a mystery. Klaudia's sight and hearing were not as incredibly improved as her strength but she could still hear the men's conversation before they were aware that she was there.
“This is great, just perfect,” The first man was pacing back and forth as he ranted. “Her little outburst in Dresden could be kept under wraps but that? No one is going to miss that little display. The General is going to have us hanged.”
“Relax,” The other was leaning against the hood of the truck. “He'll understand that if we didn't do what the crazy bitch wanted she would have killed us and gotten someone else. You heard him before we left, he knew she was hysterical.”
Klaudia could feel her anger starting to spark up again and smothered it the best that she could. While she was fairly sure that you only needed one man to drive a truck she had no idea how to drive one herself and the camp was far enough away that walking was not an option. Taking a deep breath to calm herself she stepped out onto the road where the men could see her. They both gave a start at the sight of her. She walked right up to them, forcing them to crane their necks up to meet her gaze. Then she just stood there, silent, watching.
“Take me back to the camp.” Klaudia ordered after a minute or so. Staring up at her both men appeared relieved that she left it at that.
While they got back into the cab Klaudia climbed into the covered rear. Trying to stretch herself out the best she could on the wooden floor, the benches being too narrow to accommodate her, Klaudia listened to the engine rumble to life. What the men had said echoed through her mind. Sankt. When she had heard about the bombing of Dresden she had gone to him to confirm it. At first he had just brushed it off, saying that it was not nearly as bad as people were saying. Only after Klaudia had pulled him from his chair and left him dangling a few feet from the ground had he finally, after a great deal of additional shouting, agreed to let her go see the city for herself. She needed to have another conversation with the man.
Tired, hungry and uncomfortable; rest escaped Klaudia as they drove along. A plan began to form in her mind at least. Return to the camp, eat, sleep and see what the good General had to say for himself. Perhaps not in that order though. Another urge became clear to her, one that filled her with equal amounts of satisfaction and disgust. She had been forced to drink from a bitter cup and part of her wished nothing more than to see that everyone else drank from the same.