Below is a short story that I've finally gotten around to posting. I hope you all enjoy! Do note: The author of this alternate history story does not in any way support or endorse the Nazi regime of National Socialists in general. This is a work of fiction examining the mindset of those in such autocratic regimes.
The Best of All Possible Worlds
by Lynn Davis
"The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true."
-J. Robert Oppenheimer
Hauptbefehlsleiter Bertram Reuter stood with his arms behind his back, peering out his office’s plate glass windows as the bells of Kaiser Wilhelm Church began to toll. He gazed across the gray December sky, over the dead treetops of the Berlin Zoo below and to the city beyond. There, in the distance, stood the half-finished Volkshall—the great concrete Hall of the People—with its ever-present scaffolding that sank, year after year, into the marshy earth of the great German capital. The red banners with proud swastikas of the Nazi Party fluttered from its parapets in hopeless defiance. Even from across the city, Bertram felt the sting that every member of the Party felt watching their nation’s triumph disappear into the ground while American rocket planes screamed through the stratosphere above.
He closed the blinds and turned from the window, where light now spilled only in thin bars, and fixed his attention on the man who sat sprawled in a steel chair on the other side of Bertram’s desk. His arms lay across his chest, pale blue eyes tracking every move Bertram made. Like many of the youth born during or after the War, he radiated a haughty mood that came of being born as the Aryan masters of Europe. They had never had to scramble in the dirt for food in the dark days between the wars.
“You seem to be confused as to why you are here,” Bertram said as he sat opposite the young man in a high-backed leather chair. “Surely you had to expect that a story such as yours would make its way up the Party ladder, Oberleutnant Kneller.”
The young man sniffed and leaned forward in his chair. “I do not mean any disrespect to the Party, Hauptbefehlsleiter, but I was just rather surprised that joyous news would be received by, well, you.”
Bertram watched Kneller absentmindedly pull on the sleeve of his Luftwaffe uniform; ironed dark blue-almost-black fabric sequined with golden buttons and medals shined until they sparkled even in the dimmest of light. The Hauptbefehlsleiter, by contrast, had on a simple polyester plaid suit that looked more at home in a late night pub than an office of the Reich. The only sign he was even a member of the Party was the ubiquitous bright red armband from which Hitler’s symbol was always displayed. The contrast was obvious and Bertram smiled.
“I am afraid I am all you have at the moment,” Bertram admitted. “This is, perhaps, not the office you were expecting? Were you surprised to see a lowly Hauptbefehlsleiter, below only Gauleiter Goebbels himself?” Bertram placed his elbows on his desk, leaning forward to stare into the young man’s eyes. “Accusations such as yours, full of their dangerous ideas, are taken very seriously by my office. It was for this reason that we at Amt Rosenberg wish for you to explain yourself fully.”
Usually, Party members would be shaking on their knees after such accusations. Bertram enjoyed a nondescript office so far from the monstrous steel and glass offices on Potsdamer Platz; it caught unsuspecting deviants off guard and let him strike. Amt Rosenberg took the Nazi Party’s cultural policy very seriously, and none more so than Hauptbefehlsleiter Reuter himself.
However, rather than crying with fear, the young Oberleutnant looked more puzzled. His head cocked slightly to one side and his eyes scanned Bertram as if he were sizing him up. “No, this is not the office I was expecting, but ultimately I am not surprised to see you again, Hauptbefehlsleiter.”
Bertram’s eyes narrowed. “And why not?”
“Because we have already met.”
“I am sure we have not.” Bertram chuckled rapped his knuckles on the top of his desk. “Many may mistake me for another man. My office, and station, are discreet; it would not do me well as an agent of the Party to look so obviously so.”
The young Oberleutnant stood, anger flashing like sparks in his eyes. He was a head taller than Bertram normally, and in the small office appeared almost as a giant. “If you do not wish to hear my story, then I will leave and find someone else who will.”
Bertram nodded toward the plain door. Little did the lieutenant know, beneath the beige wood was several centimeters of solid steel as an extra precaution. “Go ahead and try to leave, if you wish. I can assure you, Oberleutnant Kneller, that you will never be heard from again if you wish to do so. I am afraid that the SS lack the…subtlety of Amt Rosenberg.” He indicated to the seat in front of his desk once more, with cracked leather and creaking arm rests. “Sit, sit, and tell your story. I can promise to hear you out, at least.”
Never taking his eyes off Bertram for a second, Kneller once again lowered himself into the seat. He smoothed out his uniform until the wrinkles disappeared and the medals stood out proudly on his chest. It was with some surprise that he looked up to see Bertram offering him a cigarette.
“To calm the nerves while you tell your…tale,” Bertram said, offering one from a pack wrapped in plastic he produced from his cavernous desk. Kneller, hesitant at first, took one and smelled it.
“American?” he asked.
“Virginian, specifically,” Bertram replied. He produced a lighter from the hip pocket of his uniform. The pockmarked side was riddled with memories of brutal fighting through what had once been Russia. “The American blockade persists, but some things slip through the cracks. Now go on, regale me with your tale that somehow landed you in my office.”
Taking a few nervous puffs, Kneller began to speak. “It began as I was flying my Valkyrie over the new settlements in Ostland,” he said. “It’s a little jet, and one of the fastest we have; perfect for patrols that rebels can’t see or even hear. There’s still a few of them, you see. Mostly mad Slavs that breed like animals in the hinterlands outside of direct SS control. If we don’t do patrols, they come down on the Aryan settlers and, well, you know.”
Bertram nodded. “I was there when they almost made it to Riga, but I do not yet see what is so extraordinary about your story.”
A dour look crossed Kneller’s face, but the young man wiped it away after a moment. “As I was saying, I was flying patrol. I do not remember exactly what happened; only that one minute the skies were practically clear, and the next I came upon a cloud bank I had never seen before. It was like…like a wave that rose from a calm sea. One minute nothing, and the next I was flying in clouds so dense I couldn’t see anything outside my cockpit.
“I felt as if I were sleeping with my eyes open. And then I woke up, and…”
Kneller paused and took a long drag of his cigarette. His puffs came out weak and shaken. His eyes darted around Bertram’s office like an animal caught in a trap. Normally Bertram would have found it amusing, but leaning across his desk he only angrily demanded, “Yes, and then what? Tell me now, Oberleutnant.”
“I still don’t fully understand it myself, Hauptbefehlsleiter, but you must believe that what I say is true.”
“What is true, then? Tell me, Oberleutnant Kneller.”
“That when I woke up, I was no longer in my cockpit at all,” Kneller admitted. “I was not even in the sky, or even in Ostland! When I woke up, I was somewhere completely different.”
Bertram crossed his arms over his chest. His first instinct was to call the boy a fool and demand he end his trickery. Yet, the way the Oberleutnant shook and how he fearfully looked at Bertram, afraid of not being believed, held the Hauptbefehlsleiter’s tongue.
“I found that I had, somehow, arrived back in Berlin, on a bench outside Potsdamer Platz,” Kneller continued. “But, you see Hauptbefehlsleiter, this was not Berlin. Not our Berlin. It was…different.”
“Different how?” Bertram leaned forward in his chair and placed his elbows on his desk, his chin shaking in anticipation.
“It was glorious, Hauptbefehlsleiter. Berlin was even greater than it is today. The Volkshall…it was complete! Buildings rose like pillars of glass around the city and flying machines with our Party’s logo buzzed around them like so many bees. Not a single American influence in sight.”
Kneller paused for a moment. His lips pursed, as if he wrestled inwardly with what he had to say. At last, he said simply, “But that wasn’t the strangest sight, Hauptbefehlsleiter Reuter.”
“Oh?” Bertram asked, his words hanging heavily in the air between them.
“No, Hauptbefehlsleiter, the strangest sight there…was that I was not alone on that bench. Sitting beside me was you.”
Bertram reared back as if he had been struck. He gripped the edge of his desk until his knuckles turned white. “Me? That is impossible! I have never seen you before in my life, and I would have remembered sitting next to such a…whelp as you in the Platz. Explain yourself now, or I will have the SS examine you, Oberleutnant.”
The young man sighed and let his head droop forward. “May I continue or not, Hauptbefehlsleiter?”
Bertram wiped his brow and sat back in his chair. He ran a hand through his thinning hair and forced his breathing to remain steady. “As Hauptbefehlsleiter of Amt Rosenburg it is my duty to hear your story. Continue.”
“Thank you. As I was saying, you were sitting beside me on the bench, Hauptbefehlsleiter. Only…you were not Hauptbefehlsleiter then. You wore the uniform of Reichsleiter, and told me it was where you truly belonged. But you told me that you knew that, in another world, a worse world, this would not be the case.
“You, Reichsleiter, told me that in that world we, the Aryans, broke the backs of the Americans in the 50s. That we ruled supreme over the face of the Earth, not the facsimile that we have now, as the Americans push past us in every field.
“You told me that this, of all worlds, was the best possible one, and that I had been drawn there, to you, for one great mission. That I was to deliver to you the instructions for a great weapon, one that could end this eternal war with the Americans and put us on top where we belong. That in my own world, this world Hauptbefehlsleiter, it would not be out of the question for you to be Reichsmarschall atop the defeated enemy!”
Kneller reached into his uniform and, before Bertram could stop him, produced a plain manila envelope that had Bertram’s name clearly written on the side. “When I woke up, back in my Valkyrie, this was in my uniform. After I told my superior upon returning, they sent me immediately to you. It is destiny, I feel it.”
The young man rose from his seat then, perspiration clear on his head and a smile on his face. His voice had steadily risen as each part of his tale unfolded with scarcely-concealed glee. Bertram himself stood, but with a stony silence as he accepted the envelope and placed it on his desk.
“What now?” Kneller asked, almost out of breath in his excitement. He stood tall in the small office, gazing past Bertram and across the Berlin Zoo to the Volkshall far in the distance. “Together, Hauptbefehlsleiter, we can make this world better. You told me yourself. All you need is to read the envelope.”
Bertram plucked the lit cigarette from where Kneller had left it, burning, on the edge of the desk and ground it firmly into a golden ashtray in front of him. “So your displeasure in speaking to me, that was…an act? It was me you wished to see all along?”
Kneller nodded. “I knew that if I acted so interested in a lower official I would be suspicious, Herr Reuter, and so I played dumb. I hope that can be forgiven, now that you know the truth.”
Bertram nodded in return. “Yes, I do know the truth now.” He sighed and crossed his arms in front of his chest and looked the young man in his soft blue eyes. “And I could forgive you for that lie, were it the only one you made. It is clear now, that not only do you suffer from gross delusions, but these have manifested into a desire to assassinate Reichsmarschall Göring himself with my help. I can only speculate the true reason you came to me, but it will be the last bad decision you make.”
Almost immediately, Kneller’s face fell. “But Hauptbefehlsleiter, that’s not—“
Bertram cut him off by pressing a small button built into the underside of his desk. The door burst open behind Kneller seconds later, and two black-clad SS men came in and grabbed the young Oberleutnant in their iron grasp. Without a word or even a glance to Bertram they marched their new prisoner out, whose voice failed him as he could only stare in hopelessness and betrayal while he was led away.
The door shut once more, Bertram let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding and sagged in his suit. He was getting far too old to be acting as an interrogator. When he was younger, perhaps…
He shook his head. No, that wasn’t what bothered him. It was the young man’s conviction, and his vision of himself. How could a pilot from the East possibly known about him? And the letter… Bertram picked it up and looked it over. To his growing dread, it was indeed written in his own distinctive handwriting, down to the way he crossed his t. No man he had never met could have reproduced it so faithfully.
Did that mean Kneller was telling the truth? That the secrets to a better world, a world of Reichsmarschall Reuter, were in a letter that he himself, in another world, had written? He reached for the envelope and his hands caressed it, feeling the weight of it between his fingers as he held it out in front of him. The seal on it had not been broken; no one would have read it before him.
Long seconds passed as Bertram balanced the weight of the envelope with his devotion to the Party. He felt as if he were Atlas, the entire world resting upon him in the moments it took to reach into his pocket and produce his lighter. He could not bear it any longer and let it drop on his desk. He turned his back on it, and instead looked out the window behind his desk, through the gaps between the blinds as if he were a prisoner staring out of his cell.
Down below, the Berlin Zoo hummed with weekday activity. Bertram could see the tops of the animal cages, and for a moment he envied them. Stuck in their carefully-crafted environments since the day they were born, they did not know of a world that was different, one that they could not survive in once outside their cages. And yet, he wondered, did they too dream of a different world? The best of all possible worlds?
Bertram faced the envelope once more. It was clear what he had to do, but even still his hand trembled as he pulled the lighter from his pocket. It was that lighter, the one he had ripped from the dead fingers of a Soviet infantryman, that ultimately made his decision choice clear. The Soviets had refused to accept their world as the best of all possible worlds and look where it had gotten them. Who was he to question the world that he and his Party had crafted so carefully for decades? Bertram’s thumb flicked over the lighter and his heart at last began to calm itself.
The envelope burned easily, and by the time Bertram dropped it into a metal wastebasket beside his desk, the contents were mostly ash. In a few minutes, there would be nothing left to recover. As the embers began to die, Bertram turned to look out the window once more, hand still clutching the lighter.
Outside, the sun began to dip low in the sky. Electric lights across the city flickered to life in an orange glow that ate away at the dark sky. Soon the people of Berlin would retire and get ready for a new day within their glorious world. It was not a perfect world, but the Party made no claims to be. As long as one followed the Party, obeyed, and did their duty they would rise above their station. Perhaps, one day, he would bear the title Reichsleiter, but perhaps not. Such was the world they lived in.
Bertram considered this as he inhaled the smell of burnt paper from the last remains of the envelope. It, and Kneller himself, would soon be gone, and Bertram would be free once more. With a small smile, Bertram placed his arms behind his back and continued to gaze outside the window until his next interrogation could begin.