Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Twenty-Three
21st June 1973
Operations Command of the Armed Forces, Near Potsdam, Germany
It was with great annoyance that Malcolm put aside the book he had been reading, a biography of Ernest Shackleton that had been published a year earlier. Everyone assumed that he was reading it and rereading it, but the truth was that he was slowly, painstakingly reading each page, so he didn’t miss anything as he tended to do if he attempted to read too fast. It was the best he could do considering his circumstances, living in a world that didn’t seem to have a great need of explorers, not anymore. One of the computers was acting up again and Malcolm started hitting it on spot marked on the side in permanent marker until it stopped making weird noises. It was hard not to be annoyed with what his life had come to.
Cartographers and navigators had strived for centuries to map the world until there were few corners of the globe that were uncharted. Malcolm remembered school trips to a museum every year where there was an old map that was from the days when such a drawing would involve the imagination of the artist just as much as any actual cartography. Jerusalem was at the center of the world, with the Mediterranean Sea and Europe oddly shaped. Germany had been on the edge of what had been labeled Terra Incognita. There were drawings animals that were equal parts mythology and reality, with unicorns, dragons, and griffins living alongside lions, giraffes, and elephants. Malcolm’s teacher at time had pointed out to him that the artist had no way of knowing if any of those creatures were real or not. At that moment, Malcolm had envied the time in which the artist had lived. A big open world that no one even knew the shape of, which had a lot of “Terra Incognita” to venture off into.
That didn’t mean that Malcolm hadn’t tried. This was despite him being drawn into Computer Science, which was exactly the opposite of what he wanted to be doing. Ultimately it had been watching the Space Program unfolding on television had proven to be his undoing. He had seen that actual exploration was going on and wanted in on it. It was only later in retrospect that he had realized just how stupid that he had been. The Luftwaffe Reserves which were the mainstay of the Berlin’s Air Defense were always happy to tell someone like Malcolm exactly what he wanted to hear. It was only upon reading the fine print that one might learn that they were not bound by any promises that they might make to a perspective sucker/recruit. This had come at a particularly low point for Malcolm, his girlfriend Cora had grown increasingly fed up with what she saw as his lack of ambition.
Things had gotten totally unraveled after he had stupidly put his name down on the dotted line. The Luftwaffe didn’t have a pressing need for pilots, so they only accepted the best recruits for flight training. Malcolm’s Superiors somehow learned of his dyslexia though he had not breathed a word about it and that was a deal breaker as far as pilot training was concerned. They were more than happy to point him towards other rewarding career paths though, because of course they were. The most galling part was that Cora had dumped him shortly after that anyway.
Now, months later, Malcolm was a Fähnrich theoretically in charge of an Intelligence and Analysis section within the Operations Command Center on the outskirts of Potsdam. It sounded interesting, but what it involved was keeping the half dozen Radio Technicians who monitored observation satellites on task. His assistant, Oberfunker Micha Oberst, better known as Rook, had a reputation for using the satellites in ways that no one had ever intended, which couldn’t exactly be called innovative either.
The first night that Malcolm had been in the bunker, he had caught Rook and Stitch ogling a woman in a swimsuit laying on an isolated beach halfway around the world. He had failed to see what the big deal was. Rook had told him that in America the people were a bunch of prudes who frowned on nudity. In the months since, the two sharp-eyed Technicians had proven that they had memorized the locations of certain beaches on the California coast and rivers where they were most likely to get an eyeful. The two of them saw the bodies of American women as some sort of forbidden fruit and Malcolm wished that they would stop it before they got caught. This was exactly the sort of thing that everyone throughout all the shifts in the bunker and beyond would be snickering about for weeks.
Of course, Malcolm had a way out if the boredom and inactivity got too much for him. The Fallschirmjäger were always looking for warm bodies with University educations who were interested in becoming Platoon Leaders. The thing was that Malcolm had a better understanding than most of what that would involve. It was basically suicide, not just because jumping out of airplanes was inherently dangerous, but because his mother would kill him if he did that. Especially after what Tatiana had been up to over the last few years. She apparently liked the idea that he was cooling his heels in a bunker five stories underground as a Reserve Officer babysitting six adult sized children.
Sitting back in his chair, he resumed reading his book. Even as he did that, he noticed that Stitch kept glancing his direction. He knew that meant that Rook and Stitch were up to something that they didn’t want Malcolm to know about. Normally that made this no different than any other day, but Malcolm was not in the mood to deal whatever trouble those two were cooking up.