The Mini-burger

FanFic in the Birmoverse

The Trouble with Harry – by Dirk Flintheart

The Trouble With Harry…

(AOT Fanfic from Dirk Flinthart)

 

 

“About time you got here, guv’nor!” Viv was backed into a corner, keeping two of the fuckers at bay with his axe. They must have been a couple  of the smarter ones, because they weren’t giving him the opportunity to get out past the filing cabinets where he could really swing the thing. The  rest of the smashed and blood-spattered office was decorated with the remnants of the slow learners.

 

Harry leaned into the Winchester twelve-gauge as it roared. It wasn’t a recoilless AA-12, but it did the job: splash one face, blood and brains  splattered against the concrete wall in a not unattractive fan-shaped pattern reminiscent of the American Abstract Expressionists. Twentieth  century tech or not, it was better than a fucking fire axe, no matter what St Clair had to say about it.

 #SPLIT#

Working the slide smoothly, Harry racked another round into the still-smoking chamber,  comforted by the heavy mechanical clack-clack. “You  know, Viv,” he drawled, “Since we took that little posting on the pond and everything went pear-shaped, rather a lot of my life has come to  resemble one of those shitty films the Yanks used to make back in the fifties.” He paused, and frowned. “Would have made. Might still make.  Oh, bugger it — a B-grade science fiction nasty.”

 

“Knew what you meant, sir,” grunted St Clair. He stepped out and swung the fire-axe like his namesake, the great Vivian “Masterblaster”  Richards putting a short ball over the legside boundary. Arcing around at neck level, the heavy, vicious blade bit deep just above the seventh  vertebra. The head of St Clair’s victim flopped forward lifelessly, held in place by the barest rags of flesh. The body collapsed with a wet thud at  St Clair’s feet.

 

“Nice one,” said Harry, stepping around the still-twitching corpse.  “You’re keeping your backswing down, too.”

 

“Been putting in some practice in the nets,” admitted St Clair. “Thought I might see about playing for the Army side at the next inter-service  competition.”

 

“Good man,” said Harry. The emergency exit was a hole in the wall with ragged edges, where the concealing plaster had been pulled away.  He  put his head cautiously around the corner, and breathed a small sigh of relief. Just another long, damp concrete corridor badly lit by a string of  flickering 40-watt bulbs. And of course, punctuated by buttresses at regular intervals. Buttresses that stuck out from either side a good  half-metre, creating a wealth of ambush points. “Oh, how very fucking jolly,” he muttered. “Anyhow the point is that I rather used to like those old  movies, with the cheesy monsters and the girls in miniskirts and all that. All except for one type, that is. I never liked — ”

 

“Zombies, sir,” said St Clair quietly.

 

“Got it in one, Viv.” Harry edged towards the first of the buttresses, shotgun at the ready.

 

“No sir,” said the giant noncom more urgently. “Coming up fast behind us. A whole bunch of the bastards, sir.”

 

“Well, fuck,” said Harry. “Here we go again…”

 

#

 

It hadn\’t started with zombies, of course. In Harry’s experience, very few things did. Presumably, it had started somewhere back in Washington  or London, in a desperate attempt to grab Nazi scientific assets before Stalin could snap them up in the utter chaos after Berlin caught a dose  of atomic sunshine. No matter where the ball started rolling, by the time it bounced into the goal Harry found himself careening around the east of  Germany with the lads in a couple of commandeered trucks, chasing rumours and dodging everything from Wermacht heavies to fast-moving  Spetsnaz snatch teams.

 

It was a class-A French-polished clusterfuck, with scientists and technicians coming out of the woodwork, desperate to defect to the Allies  before the Russians or even the amateurish-but-enthusiastic proto-Israeli Nazi-hunters caught up with them. Harry spent half his time firing off  messages to HQ, trying to identify the targets of value amongst the dozens of desperate wannabes. The rest of his time was spent charging  from city to city, firefight to firefight, bloodbath to bloodbath.

 

A lead on a semiconductor research team in Dusseldorf came to nothing. Near Dresden, the neurotoxin facility hidden in a 14th century  monastery had been flooded with its own most deadly products, killing everyone for a mile around. Its records had been destroyed utterly. In  Cologne, they beat the Soviets to a young Burkhard Heim by a matter of minutes. At least in this time-line, Heim still had his hands and eyes.

 

And in Magdeburg…

 

“Skorzeny?” said Harry sharply. He glanced at Viv, who raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”

 

The scientist threw his hands into the air. “Who could mistake him? The biggest SS I ever saw, with one of those scars from the duelling. A  Colonel. Are you going to get me out of here?” Hans Drescher was a skinny, twitchy little git — the sort that they used to bend over and use as  toast-racks back in school, but HQ wanted him for some reason. Fortunately for Harry, they wanted the records of his work as well, and that gave  him all the excuse he needed. He had unfinished business with Skorzeny.

 

“When did he go in?” Harry refocused his field glasses, scanning the battered little farmhouse with care. The little place on the eastern bank of  the Elbe seemed perfectly ordinary; just a stone cottage in the middle of a bunch of green fields, and a barn to hold a few animals. It was perfect,  really. The RAF would never waste ordnance on something like that.

 

“Maybe twenty minutes,” said Drescher. He sniffed, and his shoulders shook oddly. He pushed his glasses back up his nose. “I told them I was  going for fresh eggs for the mess. I was on my way to the rendezvous with you when I saw him. He came down the road on a motorbike. I hid in a  ditch beside the road, and he went past. The motorbike is probably still in the barn, if you look.”

 

“Tracks, sir,” said Corporal Adcock. He had his own field glasses trained on the barn. “A number of vehicles in the last few days, I reckon. Can’t  make out a motorbike for certain, but that barn’s had more than its share of traffic.”

 

“Thank you, corp,” said Harry. He paused, and considered the situation. “Right, lads. Here’s the drill. We’ve got Big Bad Otto trapped in a rabbit  hole here. He’s come on his own, though that’s not to say he doesn’t have backup following. Is the road secured?” At a nod from Ronsard, he  went on. “Exercise discretion with anybody coming in. We might want them. If they look like the sort we don’t want — well, don’t bite off more  than you can chew. If it comes to that, scatter and regroup at Point Tango within forty-eight hours. Now,” he smiled benevolently, “it appears that  this particular rabbit hole is the site of a rather nasty biowarfare research project. Another combined virus/neurotoxin game like the one they  used to interdict the Russkies on the eastern front. That being the case, I’m asking for volunteers to play Alice with me. Viv, I want a half-dozen.  Oh, and Corporal Adcock, I’ll have you and that sweeper of yours, thanks.”

 

Adcock, a lean, dark-haired man whom Harry had long suspected of psychopathic tendencies, grinned wolfishly. “Be vewwy quiet,” he said,  cocking his Winchester. “I’m hunting wabbits…”

 

“Excellent,” said Harry. “Now, Doctor Drescher —”

 

“Professor Drescher, if you please,” the twitch interrupted. There was a weird light at the back of his eyes, a kind of psychotic intensity that Harry  associated with the worst of the jihadi towelheads. “I held the Chair of Biology at the Otto von Guericke University before all this… nonsense.”

 

“Sorry, professor,” said Harry, his tone changing not a whit. “Take us down.”

 

Drescher’s eyes widened. “But — but there’s no need for me! I can draw you a map, give you the codes… everything you might need. “

 

Harry shook his head. Keeping his face hard, he met Drescher’s gaze coldly. “Local knowledge, prof,” he said. “Never know just what you might  need in a place like this.” Rather unsubtly, he reached down and took the safety off the pistol at his hip. “Lead on, Macduff.”

 

“That’s ‘lay on, Macduff’, sir,” said St Clair, sotto voce. “Everybody always gets that one wrong.”

 

“Do I look like an English major?” growled Harry.

 

“Not since the promotion, Colonel,” St Clair conceded.

 

“Oh, fuck off, Sergeant Major,” said Harry, once he made the connection.  “When this is over I shall personally see to it that they devise some  category of war crimes for shitty jokes.”

 

They used the barn as cover to get as close as possible to the cottage. Drescher said there were four sentries on duty there at all times, which  would make things difficult. Harry put Adcock into Drescher’s clothes, and sent him across to the cottage, his hat pulled low over his face.  Adcock was just about the right build and colouration, and he spoke German like a native, albeit a native of the 21st Century. Besides, it was  exactly the sort of thing Adcock enjoyed.

 

This time, however, Adcock reached the cottage unchallenged. After a moment of uncertainty, he opened the wooden door and went in. A  moment later, he stuck his head back out and waved. “Four down, guv,” he called. “That rabbit’s dynamite!”

 

From the inside, it was obvious the cottage was just a shell. In the centre of the little building a concrete enclosure rose to the roof, with a single  steel door set into the side. The rest of the space was open, with windows on all sides commanding views of every approach. With heavy  machine guns set up behind the stone walls, it would have been a right bastard of a place to get into, except that the four men who would  normally have kept watch lay dead on the flags.

 

Harry squatted, and touched a dark pool of blood. “Not fully congealed,” he said. “Fits the prof’s story. What do you think, Viv?”

 

The big noncom shrugged. “Elevator’s out,” he said, indicating the switch panel on the concrete shaft. “Can’t get anything from it.”

 

“Oh bugger-fuck,” said Harry, as the situation came crashing home to him. “The bastard knows a back door, Viv! He’s shut this one behind him  because he’s not coming back out this way.”

 

St Clair’s eyes narrowed. “Right,” he snapped. “Tiny — I want this fucking door open. The rest of you, ropes and lines. We’re going down fast  and nasty.”

 

Private \’Tiny’ Heather, who was possibly the single largest human being Harry had ever encountered, gazed at the elevator door reflectively.  “Steel,” he said, and prodded it moodily with a bayonet, “Two minutes.” Reaching into a pouch at his hip, he pulled out a brick of something like  putty, wrapped in wax paper. His massive hands working, he tore the brick into strips and plastered them onto the door to make a large circle.  When the ends of the circle joined, he stuck a cigar-shaped detonator into the putty, and snapped off one end. “Fire in the hole,” he said, and  everyone ducked round the back of concrete shaft.

 

There was a snapping sound, then a loud hiss and a gassy, white glare. The room got a lot hotter, and a chemical stink burned Harry’s sinuses.

Then the glare and the noise died away. Harry looked at his watch. One minute, fifty seconds.

 

Tiny took two giant steps around the corner of the elevator shaft. He rocked back on one leg, then slammed a size fourteen titanium-reinforced  kevlar combat boot forward with the entirety of his hundred and thirty kilos behind it. There was a strange, hollow noise, followed by a series of  metallic thumps and a loud, echoing crunch.

 

“Door’s open, sir,” said Tiny, pointing to the metre-plus circle that the thermite had cut. Thin smoke rose from the dark shaft beyond.

 

“Good man, Tiny,” said Harry. He pulled a couple of grenades from his vest, armed them, and lobbed them through the hole. “Since they already  know we’re coming,” he murmured, ducking back around the corner. A giant slapped the ground. Dust and fragments vomited from the hole in  the elevator door. “Go! Go! Go!” shouted Harry, grabbing one of the anchored lines and diving into the darkness.

 

The rope hissed round his hips and warmed the palm of his glove as he controlled his descent, running face-first down the wall of the shaft. His  optics turned the world green, revealing the torn and crumpled roof of the elevator just a few metres below. With exquisite timing, he swung his  feet under himself, dropped through the elevator roof, and rolled out through the open door into a firing position, his sidearm at the ready.

 

To his right, Adcock hit the deck and rolled just as Harry’s first sweep of the room came up clean. “Clear,” he reported via the mike. “Bring ‘em  down, Viv.”

 

“Sir!” It was Adcock, kneeling over something on the floor. “This one\’s dead already.”

 

Harry swept the room again, switching to infra-red. The pitch-dark space was a big concrete semi-circle, with half a dozen doors coming off the  curved wall. The elevator door, now blown outward, was one of just two openings in the flat wall. The centre of the room was dominated by a big,  curved concrete berm with a flat steel top; obviously a security check that would double as a strongpoint. Scattered around the room were half a  dozen warm spots which were cooling visibly as Harry watched: fresh corpses. “They’re all dead, Corp,” he said. “Every one of them.”

 

“No marks, sir,” said the corporal. “Cause of death unknown.”

 

There was a cold feeling in Harry\’s gut. The Dresden debacle had been bad enough, but at least there they’d arrived well and truly too late. Here,  with the bodies still fresh, there was every chance that whatever killed them was still doing the rounds. Behind him, he heard a high pitched,  yammering scream and he turned smoothly on his heel to confront Drescher as St Clair carried him out of the elevator by the scruff of his jacket  and the seat of his pants.

 

Just at that moment, the lights came on. Instantly, Harry dropped to one knee and swept the room again.

 

Still nothing. He was beginning to have an extremely nasty feeling about this place.

 

Adcock reported from the strongpoint. “I’ve got a light here, sir,” he said. “Some sort of info-board. Main power seems to be kaput. You’re  seeing a battery-powered backup system. That’s why the lights are so shitty.”

 

“Thank you, corp,” said Harry. They had to move. There were too many doors, and not enough men to secure them all. Worse, the place was  designed to protect defenders and expose invaders, and right at that moment, Harry felt very fucking exposed indeed. “Professor Drescher,” he  said. “Some answers, please.”

 

Drescher looked like run-over dogshit. The plunge down the elevator shaft must have shaken him up. He dragged a hand across his forehead  and did his best to look alert as the SAS men fanned out around him, keeping watch on the doors.

 

“First,” said Harry, “Why are these men dead, and are we going to be joining them?”

 

“No, no, no,” jabbered the scientist. “Two parts. There are two parts to the formula, and we make only one here. The Totenweg agent. The other,  the virus — it’s made elsewhere. We have tiny amounts only, to test.”

 

St Clair and Harry exchanged glances. “That’s the trouble with viruses, isn’t it?” said Harry. “It only takes a tiny amount.”

 

Drescher shook his head vigorously. “Not like this, no. In the food, or the drink. You must have the virus in you first, or the Totenweg agent has no  effect at all.”

 

“Totenweg,” said Harry, frowning. “Dead… walk?”

 

Recovering some of his composure, Drescher pushed his glasses back up his nose and nodded slowly. “The official designation. You must  understand. I was working from notes and materials I acquired through the estate of an American scientist,  Dr Herbert West of the Miskatonic  University. He was seeking a way to preserve life, to keep the fundamental processes going even if the body was badly damaged. He was  almost successful, but his results were…” Drescher paused, and licked his lips, “…unreliable. I was trying systematic experiments with West’s  serum.”

 

“Preserve life in damaged bodies,” said Harry. That didn’t actually sound too bad.

 

“Bloody handy on the battlefield,” said St Clair. “Like our inserts, maybe.”

 

“No,” said Drescher. “With the new science from the future, I learned that West’s approach was impossible. He couldn’t preserve life. He could  only restore the semblance. With West\’s serum — “

 

“Oh, bloody hell,” said Harry. “And you broke it down into two parts?”

 

“The virus lives in the body until the Totenweg agent is administered.” Drescher was on a roll now, clearly proud of what he had accomplished.  “When the victim is exposed to the Totenweg agent, normal life functions cease instantly, but the neural tissues, modified by the virus, continue  to operate. In a manner of speaking.”

 

“In what manner of speaking?” said Harry. “And how long does it take?”

 

“Colonel, sir!” Tiny Heather called. “One of these corpses isn’t, sir.”

 

Drescher’s eyes grew wide and bright. “Not long at all,” he said, as if realizing for the first time. “Dear God…”

 

There was a low, guttural growl, and then suddenly ‘Tiny’ Heather screamed. It was a terrible scream, desperate, hoarse, and panic-stricken. At  the same instant, two more of the men called out. A three-round burst from an Ivan gun cut through the chaos, and for a moment, all was quiet.  Then Tiny spoke, his voice an aggrieved sob. “ ‘e bit me, sir! The fuckin’ prick took a chunk out of me arm! And — Oh! Fuck me stupid the  fucker’s still moving sir!” The hoarse, heavy rattle of the AK clone nearly drowned out Tiny’s screams.

 

Harry saw, though he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe it, the fallen man crawling across the floor, reaching for Tiny’s legs as the big man  backed away, pumping round after round into the body, riddling it with holes so that it shuddered — and kept coming. Tiny screamed  incoherently, fumbling at his weapon to change the magazine. Another of the men fired: controlled, careful three-round bursts that tore chunks out  of the flesh of the crawling man, but did not stop him.

 

Then there was a roar, and the corpse’s head disintegrated. In the sudden silence that followed, the kachakk! of Adcock’s Winchester reloading  was astonishingly loud.

 

“It’s zombies, innit?” said Adcock, pointing the muzzle of the shotgun at another of the corpses. Another roar, and another head splashed. “I  fuckin’ hate those cunts.”

 

“Right,” said Harry, regaining some kind of sense. “Good man, corp. See what you can do about the others. The rest of you — those with IR  capability, switch over. Anyone who moves but isn’t warm needs a good seeing-to. The Prof here says it’s all about neural tissue, so take  Corporal Adcock’s lead and go for the head shot.”

 

The shotgun roared again, and in the aftermath, Harry heard Tiny moaning. “I don’t wanna be a fuckin’ zombie!”

 

“Get a grip, Tiny,” Harry snapped. “You have to eat the virus, right Prof?”

 

“Absolutely,” said Drescher, his face poker-tight. “Without doubt. There has never been a single case of bite transmission in our studies to date.  Not one.”

 

Harry tried not to think about what form those studies might have taken. He switched frequencies to conference with St Clair. “We can’t let  Skorzeny leave with this stuff, Viv. He must have planned this. Somehow he got the virus into the food or water for this facility. Then he let loose  this Deadwalk gas and changed everybody in the whole place.”

 

“Covering his arse, sir,” said St Clair. “Fill the place with fucking zombies, and nobody can chase him through.”

 

“Nobody?” Harry tried a grin. It seemed to work pretty well, so he kept it.

 

St Clair didn’t quite manage a grin in reply. “Almost nobody, sir,” he corrected.

 

“That’s what I wanted to hear, Sergeant Major,” said Harry quietly. He switched back to the main frequency. “Right, you lot — listen up…”

 

“Excuse me, Herr Colonel,” Drescher cut in. “There is one more thing which may perhaps be of interest to you.” He leaned close, and murmured  in Harry’s ear.

 

Harry felt the blood draining from his face. “Jesus fucking Christ on a hell-bound Harley Davidson,” he said softly. “Please tell me that’s a joke,  Drescher.”

 

Drescher shook his head slowly.

 

“Well, fuck me sideways,” said Harry. “Viv — change of plans.”

 

#

 

In formation, they made their way up the concrete tunnel. Corporal Adcock and his newly christened Zombie-fucker took point. Viv had the rear.  He’d acquired a fire ax from a niche on the wall to go with his Ivan gun. Held in one hand, it looked no larger than a hockey stick. In the centre of  the formation, Drescher babbled on. “It was Skorzeny who did it. Once the process was developed, he took a sample of the virus and infected  all of the High Command. I told him we couldn’t really bring them back, but he just laughed. Told me to keep working at it, and when I got it right,  we could fix the damage. And then, in the middle of the night, he brought… well, you know. Better almost alive than completely dead, he said.  That’s what I was working on. Trying to bring true life — consciousness — back to the Walkers.”

 

“Any luck?” said Harry, for lack of other conversation.

 

They passed a steel door set into the side of the corridor. A stencilled sign said, in German: General Access. Perhaps to avoid answering  Harry’s question, Drescher pointed at it. “That tunnel curves through the rest of the complex,” he said. “It intersects the corridors which enter the  first room.”

 

“Great,” said Harry. “So, what sort of conversation can we expect from your zombies?”

 

“They are called Walkers,” snapped Drescher. Then he softened, and a hint of pride came into his voice. “Most have nothing, except animal  cunning. Some few have some speech. This one — he is special. His brain was damaged before his death, by a stroke, so the tissues were  already trying to regenerate. Also, he received the Totenweg agent as a direct injection into the brain cavity itself, through the eye socket. I have  worked much with him, using a combination of therapies from your future science, and variations on West’s original serum. He is not what he  was, but there is more than you might expect. So long as he is well fed, of course.”

 

Here it came. Harry prompted Drescher: “And he likes to eat..?”

 

“Oh, like the others,” said Drescher lightly. “Neural tissue. There are particular fats along the nerve sheathing. I have not yet traced the  biochemical pathways, but the virus needs these fats to animate the body’s systems properly.”

 

“Brains,” Corporal Adcock’s voice was flat. “They\’re zombies. They eat fuckin’ brains. Everybody knows that.”

 

“Yes,” said Drescher after a moment. “Brains. Also spinal columns, and tissue rich in neural material such as eyes, faces, hands, tongues,  genitals —”

 

“Shut the fuck up,” Harry snapped, his head swimming with visions of nastiness. He turned, and spat a wad of bile onto the concrete. “Right,” he  said after a moment. “Anything else we ought to know?”

 

“They are strong,” said Drescher. “They feel no pain, and the muscles seem to work much better, although more slowly.”

 

“Door ahead,” reported Adcock. “Open.”

 

“Open?” cried Drescher. “No! That is a secured facility. That one cannot be open unless — oh.” He seemed to collapse in on himself. “The  power. Skorzeny interrupted the power supply, and opened the door manually during the reset period.”

 

Harry handsignalled Adcock and Tiny to hold position. He and Viv came through the middle and paused. The sign stencilled on the door read Special Subjects. Maximum Authority Required. Made of centimetre-thick steel, the door was noticeably bowed and dented from the inside.

 

“Strong,” said Harry. This was getting worse by the minute.

 

“At first we gave him furniture,” said Drescher. “He was der Fuehrer, after all. But when he became smarter, he tried to break the door with it.  Then later, he hid behind it and killed one of his attendants. After that, the room was emptied.”

 

Harry glanced inside. “It’s empty now,” he said. “Not a bloody thing.”

 

“Oh,” said Drescher. “This is quite bad.”

 

“Bad?” Harry snarled. “Actually, I’d say this redefines the whole term. Otto fucking Skorzeny has apparently managed to figure out a way to steal  the reanimated zombie of Adolf fucking Hitler himself, as well as an unknown amount of Evil Dead bioweaponry. This isn’t bad,” he said to  Drescher. “This is the fucking worst. Where is the back door to this facility, Drescher?”

 

The barely suppressed rage must have shown in Harry’s eyes, because Drescher took a step back, and his skin grew noticeably paler in the  ugly yellow light of the forty-watt emergency system.  “Administration,” he said quickly. “Central door from the first room, down a long corridor to  the very end. Look for the Office of the Chief Scientist. The filing cabinet is set against a false panel. All you have to do is pull it hard and it will  rip free of the wall.”

 

“Excellent,” said Harry. In a single swift move, he clapped the muzzle of his standard-issue side-arm to Drescher’s chest and pulled the trigger  three times. Drescher spilled to the ground in a limp heap and Harry followed it up with two quick shots into the skull. “Come back from that, you  filthy bastard,” he gritted.

 

“Sir?” St Clair’s expression was cautious.

 

Harry whirled. “There’s no sanction high enough for this kind of… evil. We’re going back to the main room to get a signal out to the lads above. I  want the RAF in here with bunker-busters. I want this place blown off the face of the fucking planet, Viv. Nothing left. Fuck Headquarters. We  don’t need this. It’s not science. It’s just fucking insanity.”

 

“What about Skorzeny?” And Hitler, St Clair didn’t add. He didn’t have to.

 

“Volunteer detail,” said Harry. “After we get the signal off, a team will go after him. We can’t let him get away, Viv.”

 

They belted back down the long corridor in a mass, their boots echoing off the concrete. About two-thirds of the way down, Adcock raised a  hand, and they halted. In the silence, they all heard it: the muffled booming of something heavy repeatedly slamming into the door that led to the  atrium.

 

“Company,” said Harry with a grimace. “Okay. First priority is the signal to RAF. Options?”

 

“Through or around,” said Viv instantly. “We don’t know how many of them there are. We might be able to break through.”

 

“Moot point, sir,” said Adcock sourly. He pointed down the corridor just as a flat clanging noise reverberated around the corridor. “They’re in.”

 

“Fuck,” said Harry. He amped up his optics and scanned the far end of the corridor, trying to make sense of the tangle of bodies. One, two,  three… “That’s a metric fuckload of angry zombies down there. Fall back by the numbers, gentlemen. We’ll make for the general access  corridor. Precise fire control, if you please.” He didn’t have to tell them that grenades were a bad idea. In the confined space of the concrete  corridors, the pressure wave generated by detonation  would have devastating effects, while the ricocheting fragments would be deadly even  with 21C armour.  Although probably not to a fucking zombie, of course.

 

Adcock’s shotgun boomed once, twice, and then the skinny corporal came pell-mell back down the corridor to take up a position at the rear,  Tiny close on his heels. Ivan guns opened up, but by now Harry could already hear the snarls and groans of the Walkers as they surged down the  corridor. “Fuck,” cursed somebody — Private Birmingham, by the sound of it. “Jammed,” he called and fell back.

 

Harry stepped out from behind one of the buttresses, his Ivan gun ready. The shambling mass that confronted him took him by surprise for an  instant, and he lost his aim. Steady on, he told himself. Dead or not, they’re just another bunch of nut-jobs. He took a bead on the lead Walker, a  big, squareheaded Kraut in an SS uniform, and put two rounds into its head, one after another.

 

The Walker stopped. Then it sank to its knees, hands waving vaguely as the rest of the mass caught up with it and surged past. Beside him, he  heard Jacobsen’s Ivan gun chopping away, and another of the shamblers collapsed.

 

They were getting too close. “Fall back, Jacobsen,” he ordered, and followed suit an instant later. As he ran past Adcock, the lean corporal  stepped out with a leer, his Winchester on his shoulder.

 

“Have some of this, then,” called Adcock, and the Winchester boomed. “Oh, yes, you like that don’t you? Here’s another for you, Fritzie boy!”

 

Harry shook his head, and kept going. “What about that door, Viv?” he called.

 

“Open and secure, guv,” came the reply.

 

“Top hole,” Harry said. “Stand by.” He signalled the lads to the door where St Clair stood, Ivan gun and axe at the ready, then leapt out from  behind his buttress, his AK clone set to full auto. The big gun bucked and kicked in his hands, and the air filled with the stink of burnt cordite.  Harry wasn’t trying for head shots; he was simply hosing the bastards, using the kinetic energy of the bullets to chop them up and slow them  down as the lads retreated.

 

Blood and flesh splattered in all directions. Harry held the gun down, leaning into the recoil, his mind recording details that later he’d be  desperate to forget — a woman in a blood-spattered lab coat screaming with rage as she stumped towards him on the shattered wreckage of  her legs; the small, blonde man with half his face missing, chewing mindlessly on his own fingers as he advanced. Roaring, Harry held the  trigger down until the pin clicked on an empty chamber. Then he turned and ran like hell as Viv and the lads urged him on.

 

He fell through the steel door as eager hands reached to catch him. St Clair leaned out and tossed something back the way Harry had come,  then slammed the door and dogged it. There was a muffled crump!, and the door shook in its frame.  “Not a secure door,” he said. “Not the best  place to be, either, by the sound of it.” The big non-com pointed to the other end of the short, curving section of corridor, where another steel  door shook under repeated heavy impacts.

 

“Oh, that’s just magical,” said Harry. He looked up, but a single glance at the narrow sheetmetal ductwork stapled against the concrete ceiling  told him everything he needed to know. “No other exits?”

 

“None,” St Clair confirmed. The door behind him quivered as something struck it with a wet thud. The big noncom grimaced, and threw his  weight against the steel.

 

“Right,” said Harry wearily. This whole exercise was turning a lovely shade of lavender.  “Corp, what’s that door up there got on it?”

 

“Experimental subjects and holding cells,” called back Adcock. “I suppose that fucker Skorzeny probably turned them all loose.”

 

Harry thought quickly. “All right. Tiny, Viv — get up there with Adcock. I want that door opened, two grenades put through it, and then closed.  Jacobsen, Birmo and I will hold this one. Soon as the blast is over, I want Viv and Adcock through there. Anything that moves, gentlemen.  Anything at all. Tiny will hold the door while the rest of us come through. Then we’ll leave a couple of grenades behind us for the followers, and  move on.”

 

“Where to, sir?” The question from Tiny was neutral enough, but Harry knew he had to come up with an answer quick-smart, just to keep a lid on  things.

 

The door behind him thumped again, and he frowned. “I think we’re all agreed that tackling a ropes course with these things hanging off our  arses is probably a waste of time. We make for the admin section and that back door of Drescher’s. That’s where Skorzeny is going — and he  can’t be far ahead, with the cargo he’s got.” He straightened up, and whacked a new magazine into his Ivan gun. “Is it a plan?”

 

It was.

 

The first man lost was Tiny. The grenades went through the door just fine. Adcock and Viv did sterling work with axe and shotgun in the next  corridor. Jacobsen, Birmingham and Harry followed them through in short order. Harry turned, two grenades live in his hands, just in time to see  Tiny go down with a head attached to half a torso chewing at his calf. Tiny was screaming and the gunfire was deafening and down the far end  of the little corridor they’d just left, Harry saw a mass of Walkers come through the door screeching, growling and groaning. He flung his  grenades past Tiny, into the oncoming horror, and bent to grab the big private who was pounding with the butt of his Ivan gun at the thing trying to  eat  his leg — but Tiny wasn’t having any of it.

 

“Get away sir,” he screamed, his face contorted with rage and horror. “Get the fuck out of it. Bomb this place off the fucking map!” He held up a  grenade for Harry to see, the pin long gone somewhere. Drawing up his good leg, Tiny slammed a boot into the face of the corpse with its teeth  buried in his calf muscle. Then he rolled until his shoulders were against the steel door, and shoved hard until Harry couldn’t hold it any more. On  the far side of the door, an Ivan gun chattered. Then the door shuddered under the impact of Harry’s grenades, and Harry flung himself  sideways, knowing what was coming. A second later, the door buckled as Tiny’s grenade went off right next to it.

 

The press of Walkers wasn’t so bad on this side, now that Viv and Adcock had made their mark. Harry oriented himself, then led them down the  corridor past the empty holding cells to the security door at the end, snapping off three-round bursts as required. According to Drescher’s notes,  it should open onto the atrium where they’d arrived. They burst through it at a run, and slammed it behind them.

 

“Admins this way,” called Adcock, pointing to one of the central doors of the six that led off the curved wall of the atrium. Harry glanced around,  and saw that the elevator doors were still clear.

 

“Corp,” he snapped. “With me. I might be able to get a signal off from the bottom of that shaft. Viv —” Harry caught the giant noncom’s eye.  “Skorzeny. Take Jacobsen and Birmo and go to the admin section. Adcock and I will link up as soon as I’ve got this bloody signal out.”

 

Viv nodded, and without hesitation kicked open the door Harry pointed at. Something reared up from the darkness on the other side. Viv simply  roared, and cut loose with his axe. Despite himself, Harry grinned. He ducked into the elevator shaft, and changed frequencies. “Ronsard?”

 

Nothing. Harry looked up at the wreckage of the ceiling, and the elevator shaft above. Still too deep. He grabbed a rope and pulled himself to  the top of the elevator. “Ronsard?”

 

“…receiving…signal…”

 

The reply was staticky, but Harry was past caring. “Big Brother Code Zebra one hour my mark. I say again. Big Brother Code zebra one hour my  mark.”

 

Ronsard’s voice came back. “I have that as Big Brother Code Zebra one hour on your mark. What’s going on, Harry?”

 

From below, the Winchester boomed and Harry heard a steady stream of bloodcurdling profanity from Corporal Adcock. “No time. I confirm last  transmission.” He reached down and pressed a button on his watch. “Mark!”

 

“Confirmed,” said Ronsard, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief. Come what may, in one hour this fucking awful place would be just a smoking,  steaming hole in the ground.

 

He dropped back to the bottom of the elevator, Ivan gun at the ready. Adcock was shooting steadily, firing up into the Special Subjects corridor  where they’d first gone to look for the zombie Hitler. “About time, sir,” he grunted. “Take over while I reload!”

 

“No time,” said Harry. “Follow the others.” He amped up his optics and picked a target from the ugly mess coming down the tunnel towards  them. Two quick rounds to the head put it down, but there were plenty more. How many of the fuckers were there?

 

Adcock didn’t need to be told twice. He vaulted the concrete berm and took up a position by the door to the Admins section, jamming new  rounds into the Winchester. Not for the first time, Harry found himself grateful for Adcock’s antisocial tendencies. The Corporal liked to make his  own shotgun loads by cutting sheets of lead into little strips, then rolling them up and replacing the standard buckshot with them. He claimed they  worked almost as well as a 21C frag round. Harry wasn’t so sure, but they certainly fucked up your average zombie six ways from Sunday.

 

His clip empty, Harry yanked his last two grenades and tossed them into the tunnel, turning blind and diving over the berm to join Adcock. “Fire  in the hole,” he snapped, and the pair of them went through the steel Admins door like rats up a drainpipe, slamming it behind them.

 

Another concrete corridor. “What is it about the Nazis and their concrete, corp? I swear, once this is over I’m going someplace where they  haven’t invented the stuff yet,” Harry said.

 

“Penis compensation, sir,” the corporal replied with a straight face. “It’s a known fact the Nazis suffer from nation-wide softcock, so they put  concrete everywhere to make up for it.”

 

“Thank you, corporal,” said Harry. “I consider myself better educated for knowing that.” He slotted a new magazine into his Ivan gun. Only four  reloads left, he noted. After that — well, maybe there was another fire axe around the place somewhere. He moved down the corridor at a  steady trot, AK at the ready.

 

“Intersection coming up, sir,” reported Adcock. “Looks like there was some action.”

 

Harry zoomed his optics, the LLAMPS system compensating for the gloomy pall of the shitty 40-watt emergency globes. Ahead maybe twenty  metres, he made out a pile of bodies — and body parts. “Viv came through here, I see,” said Harry.

 

“Too right,” agreed Adcock. “Looks like that General Access corridor crossing. It must go through all the different sections.”

 

As he approached, one of the corpses caught Harry’s attention. “Fuck,” he said, and knelt. “It’s Jacobsen, I think — but where’s his head?” Harry  grabbed another pair of clips for the Ivan gun from the dead man, thought briefly of looking for grenades, but gave it up as a bad job.

 

“Over here, Colonel sir,” said Adcock. The corporal\’s attention was focussed on a soggy lump of something roughly the size of a football lying in  the angle of one of the buttresses. “Clean cut at the neck.” He looked at Harry. “What do you think that means?”

 

Viv, Harry thought. If it had been Skorzeny, the big Sergeant Major would be here too — but he wasn’t. Viv and the fire axe would explain a clean  beheading… but why?

 

He spotted another uniformed body, partly hidden under a dead German in a lab coat. There was a shapeless mass of gore and fragments  where the German’s head should be. Harry pushed the body aside with the muzzle of his Ivan gun, and gagged. “I’ve found Birmo,” he called.  “What’s left of him, anyhow.”

 

Private Birmingham’s face hung in tatters from the front of his skull, but that wasn’t what had killed him. A neat entry hole between the savagely  torn eyeballs attested to a quick, merciful death. Harry turned away.

 

“D’you smell something, sir?” said Corporal Adcock suddenly. He sniffed at the air, his thin blade of a nose flaring. “Other than the obvious, I  mean,” he added.

 

Harry sniffed cautiously. The place reeked of blood, shit and cordite, but that couldn’t be what had Adcock’s interest. “I’ve got nothing, corp.  What have you picked up?”

 

“Dunno, sir. Funny sort of smell. Puts me in mind of something…” he scratched absently at a wound on his fore-arm, and took in a deep breath.  “Oranges — but a bit off.  Like in that Froggy booze with the dodgy name. Cunt-something.”

 

“Cointreau,” said Harry automatically, his mouth watering suddenly. What he wouldn’t give for a jug of iced Margaritas… His eyes widened. “Oh,  fuck,” he said. “He lied. That filthy little bastard Drescher. He lied! Corporal — Atropine patch! Hit it!” Harry lunged at Adcock, desperately  slapping at the patch of atropine positioned in the thigh of the corporal’s uniform, but already he knew he was too late. Designed to counter  regular neurotoxins, it probably wouldn’t have worked anyhow, but it had been Adcock’s last hope.

 

Corporal Adcock staggered slightly, then coughed. He looked down at his wounded hand, which curled and rose before him like a claw. “Fuck  fuck fuck fuck fuck sir fuck!” Adcock chanted. “Something’s wrong. I’m fucked sir. I’m…” His head shuddered, vibrating from side to side so fast  it was almost a blur. Strange, garbled noises came from his mouth.

 

Drescher had lied, or perhaps Skorzeny had come with an upgraded sample of the virus. Either way, it amounted to the same thing. Bites from  the zombies were infectious, and here, deep in the tunnels, some of the Deadwalk gas still lingered after the failure power supply shut down the  ventilation system. Jacobsen had turned, and gone for Birmingham like a mad dog. Viv had beheaded one and shot the other. Adcock could  smell the gas because he was infected, his neural tissues already changing from the virus.

 

Harry couldn’t smell it. Hopefully, that meant he was still clean.

 

He stepped back and with infinite care, put a bullet into Adcock’s head. The vibration stopped instantly. A certainty shot exploded the corporal’s  skull like a dropped watermelon. Trying not to think about what he was doing, Harry liberated the zombie-fucker as Adcock collapsed, then  pillaged the last handful of rounds from a pouch at his belt. Fuck the Ivan gun: Adcock had had the right idea.

 

In the distance, Harry heard Viv roaring with rage. Chambering a round in the zombie-fucker, Prince Harry charged to the rescue…

 

#

 

Viv paused in the entrance of the escape tunnel, and brought out a half-dozen grenades. In his big hands, they looked oddly like green cricket  balls, and he threw them, one after another, with the same side-arm motion he might use to take down the stumps from mid-field. When the last  one had gone, he trotted back up the corridor to Harry. “That ought to give them something to think about,” he said. “They’re hard to kill, but I’ve  noticed that they don’t make very good time if you blow their fucking legs off.”

 

“I’ll make a note of that for future reference, Sergeant-Major,” Harry said, as the first of the grenades cut loose. The pressure wave beat at him  like a gigantic, playful hand, and he staggered. He glanced at his watch, and staggered again. “Roughly forty-eight minutes from now this place  won’t even be geography any more,” he said. “Shall we catch up with old Otto?”

 

Spattered with blood and other things much harder to recognize, Viv grinned. “Oh, yes please, guv’nor. Me and my new friend here,” he hefted  the axe menacingly, “We would like a word or two with Herr Skorzeny.”

 

Abandoning caution, they trotted up the corridor side by side, keeping to the centre and watching the buttresses with care. Behind them, Harry  could hear the echoing grunts and growls of the Walkers as they tried to give pursuit. With a bit of luck, Viv’s grenade party had turned them all  into a bunch of fucking gimps, crawling along on their teeth.

 

The corridor curved slightly, then dipped. Water oozed from the walls, and puddled underfoot. “We must be passing under the Elbe,” Harry said.

 

“We’re not the only ones, guv,” said Viv. “Look!” He pointed, and Harry saw a set of boot-prints emerging from the far side of the puddle.  Mingled with the bootprints, crossing over and around them, was a matched pair of pneumatic tyre tracks.

 

“Trolley,” said Harry. “He’s got Uncle Adolf strapped to a bloody furniture-dolly for safe-keeping. What on earth do you suppose Skorzeny is  planning to do with a zombie Fuehrer?”

 

“Buggered if I know, guv,” grunted Viv. “Always thought the bastard was mad as a fucking teapot.”

 

“Skorzeny? Or Adolf?”

 

“Who fucking cares at this point, sir?”

 

Harry nodded sagely. “Carry on, Sergeant-Major.”

 

They pushed on faster, knowing they weren’t far behind now. The corridor sloped upward, then rounded a corner, ending in another concrete  wall with a metre-high hole in it. Unfortunately, the hole was blocked by a slab of wood; close-joined planks of oak, Harry thought, tapping it with  the butt of the zombie-fucker. It gave back a depressingly solid thunk!

 

“What do you think, Viv?” Harry stepped back, considering the situation.

 

St Clair dropped to his knees, investigating the bottom of the hole. “This wood’s a little bit curved down the bottom, guv,” he said. “Weird bloody  thing. I can smell something…”

 

“It’s not fucking oranges, is it?” said Harry, training the zombie-fucker on St Clair without a second thought. He had absolutely no desire to tangle  with a zombie that big at close quarters.

 

“Eh?” St Clair looked up, and frowned. Delicately, he pinched the muzzle of the zombie-fucker between thumb and forefinger, and shifted it to  one side. “Point that thing somewhere else, there’s a lad. No — smells like wine.”

 

“Wine! Of course!” Harry smacked the front of his helmet with the heel of one hand. “It’s a bloody wine cellar. The emergency escape comes out  in some fucker’s wine cellar, and our pal Otto has rolled a bloody great cask across it to keep us in. Can you shift it?”

 

Viv put his shoulder to the timber, and grunted, his boots skidding on the concrete. “Sorry, guv,” he said at last. “Maybe I could roll it, if I could get  round the edge, but it’s too bloody big and heavy to push.”

 

“Smash it, then,” said Harry, pointing at the axe. From somewhere down the tunnel, he heard groans, and the sound of splashing.

 

“Fuck,” he muttered. A couple of good bashes from the axe, and the trouble was worse. A slab of oak came away, revealing shining steel  behind. “Bugger,” said Harry.

 

 “They planned this one, didn’t they?” St Clair stood up, and wiped the sweat from his face.

 

The growls from down the corridor came nearer. Harry and Viv looked at each other. “I’ve got about a dozen rounds for this,” Harry held up the  zombie-fucker. “A half-dozen for the pistol. After that, it’s knife-work. You?”

 

The big noncom shrugged, and held up the axe. “Ran out of ammo waiting for you in the office, didn’t I?” He looked down at the faux cask  blocking their exit. “Hmm,” he said quietly. “Did I remember to mention I’ve still got my Red Pill, guv?”

 

Harry felt himself blanch. “D’you think —”

 

St Clair shrugged. He pointed back down the corridor, where leaping shadows on the wall marked the arrival of the Walkers. “What I think, guv,  is that you should see about slowing those buggers down while I have a go at rearranging the furniture.”

 

Silently, Harry nodded.

 

The Red Pills were a 21C special — a last ditch emergency measure put together by a coven of mad pharmacologists working in cahoots with  witch-doctors and shamans from remnants of indigenous groups all over the world. Its contents were classified as hell, but its effects were  legendary. They worked like a combination of pure adrenaline, PCP and utter madness. For a few precious minutes, the user could access the  full strength of the human body, ignore pain and damage like the Berserkers of old, react like a nervous cougar on amphetamines, and still think  clearly. It was black magic of the most potent sort, and once those few superhuman minutes were gone, a user of the Red Pill inevitably  collapsed into a heap.

 

Some of them never got up again.

 

A grey-fleshed, ragged-faced Walker shambled round the corner. Harry let it get a step closer, then gave it a face-full of Adcock’s special  zombie surprise.

 

“You wouldn’t have a pint of lager about you, guv?” St Clair said. “I hate swallowing pills.”

 

The zombie-fucker roared again, splashing something that had once been a thin, grey-haired woman with surprisingly large tits. “Ten rounds left,  Viv. Do what you’re going to do.”

 

“Oh, absolutely, guv.” St Clair’s voice was hoarse and deep, but weirdly exalted. Harry risked a glance back over his shoulder, then shook  himself and blasted another Walker. This one was a fat bugger, and Harry had to put a second round into it because it threw its arm up at the  last instant.

 

Two more zombies followed it. Two more rounds fired. Two more zombies down. How many more?

 

From behind, Harry became aware of a weird, almost musical sound. He didn’t dare look, though. It sounded for all the world as though St Clair  was humming The Girl From Ipanema, but that would just be — well, Harry had never actually seen anyone take a Red Pill before. Maybe  everyone liked to sing under the influence.

 

Three more zombies in quick succession ate shredded lead, and then there came a pause. The pattern of shadows on the wall told Harry he  had a couple of seconds, so he glanced back again.

 

His legs splayed wide, Vivian Richardson St Clair crouched with his fingers hooked under the curving edge of the wood and steel cask. There  was a tearing noise, and Harry watched in disbelief as the normally loose sleeve of St Clair’s combat jacket grew taut and then split, revealing  something like a mass of oiled black snakes within. The big noncom’s body quivered. Cords stood out on his neck and he threw his head back,  his teeth locked in a manic grin. The humming rose to a howl —

 

— something grabbed Harry’s leg, and he kicked out reflexively. “Fuck,” he said, and jammed the muzzle of the zombie-fucker into the  wide-open mouth of a mousy little fellow with a buzz-cut. The Winchester coughed, and the back of buzz-cut’s head blew out. Harry pumped two  more rounds into a venturesome bald guy and a chunky brunette with one arm gone at the shoulder. Then the hammer went clack on an empty  chamber, and Harry shoved the now-useless shotgun into the burned and fleshless face of something that had obviously been a bit close to one  of Viv’s grenades. As it reeled back, he yanked out his pistol and put two quick shots into its head.

 

Two more shots accounted for the last member of this particular bunch, leaving only a pile of gently subsiding used parts cluttering up the  concrete floor. Two rounds left. Harry debated keeping one for himself — but fuck it, there was always the knife. He risked a glance at Viv, and  noted with a certain weird detachment that he still had the capacity to be surprised.

 

All he could see of St Clair were two trembling, trunk-like legs, visible through the hole in the wall. A soft voice said “Harry?”

 

“Fuck, Viv,” said Harry. He pumped the last two rounds into the next wave of insufficiently dead Nazis without really caring where they went, and  dove through St Clair’s legs into the room beyond. He took the impact on his shoulder and rolled, coming up into a fighting crouch. “Fuck,” he  said again. Nothing else really seemed appropriate.

 

Standing across the hole in the wall like a primeval colossus, St Clair was braced with his legs wide and his head down, the end of a huge,  curved cask sitting on his shoulders. The rest of the cask, at least three metres long, canted down to the point where it touched the concrete  floor. The fucking thing was a good two metres high in the middle, and if it was even half full, it must weigh… Harry’s mind just refused to to the  math. He boggled.

 

“Can I put it down now, Harry?” said St Clair in a curiously child-like voice. “It’s a bit heavy, you know.”

 

The first zombie head poked through the hole in the wall. “At once, Sergeant Major,” said Harry. “Mind how you—”

 

St Clair took a single sideways step and lowered his right shoulder. There was a curious crackling sound, and the enormous cask simply rolled  off his back and slammed into the floor with an earthshaking thump. The giant noncom staggered back a half step, his right arm hanging at a  queer angle. He looked at Harry with an expression of confusion. “Sorry, Harry,” he said, and sagged to his knees. “I guess I don’t feel so —” His  voice faded. His head tilted to one side, and he slumped to the floor.

 

“At ease, Sergeant Major,” said Harry quietly. He checked, and saw that the huge cask had completely blocked the entrance again. Fair  enough: if that wasn’t enough to stop the zombies, there wasn’t much he could do about it. He took another minute to check St Clair, and roll him  gently into the recovery position. The noncom’s heart was racing, but he was cold and clammy to the touch — shock, most likely, plus the  dislocated shoulder. Again, nothing much Harry could do there.

 

He pivoted, and for the first time took in his surroundings. The room was dark, but his optics took care of that, revealing a high-ceilinged stone  room with large casks along several of the walls, and a single stair descending from a door on the side opposite Harry. He also saw, picked out  beautifully in green, a tall two-wheeled trolley near the bottom of the stairs. The trolley was quivering slightly, shaking with the futile struggles of its  cargo, who was strapped into place on it as thoroughly as Hannibal the Cannibal in that old movie with the Foster girl in it…

 

“Hel-lo!” breathed Harry, crossing the room with a measured pace. He sized up the figure on the trolley. It was beyond belief — but there was the  infamous toothbrush moustache hanging over the top of some kind of leather bondage gag, and above that the crazy eyes and the stupid floppy  forelock. Harry switched to infra-red; sure enough, the thing on the trolley came in only a little warmer than the background of the room itself.

 

Adolf Hitler: zombie.

 

“Oh, dear,” said Harry silkily as he came to the side of what had once been the most reviled man in two separate histories. “Got yourself in a bit  of a pickle now, haven’t you?” Not letting himself think about what he was doing, Harry let the combat knife come into his hand. The  nano-molecular edge bit through the leather of the gag as though it wasn’t there. “Let’s hear what you’ve got to say for yourself, Adolf,” said  Harry, and yanked the gag loose.

 

Instantly, he wished he had not.

 

The Jews the Jews the Jews we will destroy them before the Jew the nigger the cripple laughing we will destroy them all eat their flesh purify  the earth of their existence with our Aryan teeth eat them suck their brains —” The thing sucked in a ragged gasp of air, its eyes wide and  staring in the darkness “— the dark the Jews eat their children roast slow fat fires eat the cripple eat the fat English pig eat them—

 

“Shut the fuck up,” said Harry, jamming his knife into the thing’s larynx. And then Harry Windsor, Colonel of the SAS and prince of an England  that might never now be used the near-magical technology of the 21st century to lift Adolf Hitler’s rotting head clean off its neck, drop it on the  floor, and stomp it into a stinking mush.

 

The door at the top of the stairs opened just as Harry was thinking about contamination, and gingerly trying to get some of the muck off his  waffle-tread soles. A light snapped on.

 

“Grosser gott!” Framed in the doorway, Skorzeny’s instantly-recognizable bulk loomed over Harry. The prince tensed himself to move, then  paused, as Skorzeny began to chuckle. “Unbelievable,” said the huge SS Colonel. “It is the future Prince — and his giant mud-man. I should  have known the Walkers wouldn’t stop you. And you even found a way to move the cask.” He descended slowly, a step at a time, his eyes never  leaving Harry. “Not shooting, I notice,” he went on. “But you still have your knife, I see.” With a magician’s flourish, he made a foot-long bayonet  appear in his hand, and lightly jumped down the last three steps to land poised on the balls of his feet. “So. Here we are, Prince. You and me,  just as nature and God intended.”

 

Harry took a half-step back and tucked his combat knife down along his wrist in a fighting grip. His other arm came up as though preparing to  shield him. “Don’t tell anybody, Otto,” he said, circling slowly to his right, “But I’m a fucking atheist.” Then he rolled his left hand over, and offered  up his last ace in the hole.

 

A whisper of sound, and something flew arrow-straight and swift from Harry’s sleeve to Skorzeny’s belly, where it vanished. Skorzeny recoiled,  then looked down with disbelief at the widening stain on his jacket. “But…” he said, then looked up at Harry. “But my armour?”

 

“Ballistic knife,” said Harry, still keenly watching the big Nazi. “Spetsnaz model from the nineteen-seventies. They’re designed to go straight  through flak vests, even Kevlar.” He grinned. “I had them tool it up for me after our last meeting, Colonel. Rather nice, eh?”

 

Skorzeny swayed, then sank to one knee. Already, the blood was dripping over his trousers. He must have precious few minutes left. One big  hand went down to his belly, feeling at the wound — but when it came back up, it held a nasty little pistol. “I too have my surprises,” Skorzeny  said, levelling the gun at Harry, who tensed. “Of course, I have not your wonderful armour,” Skorzeny went on, and slowly, the pistol traversed left,  until it pointed past Harry into the dark. Then it went off with a curiously flat little sound.

 

In the darkness, something hissed like a wounded snake. Harry looked back, and saw that from a hole in one of the great casks, a stream of  white vapour poured out, pooling on the floor like a cheap special effect in a shoddy rock video.

 

Skorzeny chuckled, a nasty, grating sound. “ Did the Walkers bite you, Prince Harry? Do you know what will happen when the Totenweg agent  reaches you? Oh, but it  doesn’t matter anyway because soon, I will be able to smell the oranges — and then I will come for you.” He grinned,  and licked his lips. “I hope you taste good.”

 

“Bollocks,” snarled Harry, and then he leapt. With a dive and a roll, he went in under Skorzeny’s much-weakened guard, coming up behind the  big Nazi. One hand snaked around Skorzeny’s neck. The other went under the shoulder of the SS Colonel’s knife hand, over the back of the  neck to cup his head. The first hand grabbed Skorzeny’s collar, and then Harry twisted and squeezed.

 

The blade of his forearm bit deep under Skorzeny’s chin, crushing the throat, shutting it so completely so that not even the tiniest sip of air could  pass.

 

Skorzeny thrashed, dragging Harry forward into a half-roll, but the prince wrapped his legs around the Nazi’s waist, crossed his ankles, and hung  on with everything he had.

 

The long bayonet, trapped behind Skorzeny’s head by Harry’s kata-ha-jime strangle flailed. Massive muscles tensed, trembling, and drove  down. The tip of the bayonet skidded off Harry’s collar, slipped down, and drove itself into the point of his shoulder.

 

Harry grunted.

 

Skorzeny heaved himself forward again, driving the handle of the bayonet against the wall so that the point gouged deep into the muscle of  Harry’s shoulder, until it grated against something. The pain was blinding, beyond anything Harry had ever known — a core-deep, shimmering  agony of sliced tendon and razor-keen metal on bare bone.

 

How long? If only he could have used a carotid strangle and cut the blood supply to the brain. Skorzeny would have been gone in seconds. But  he couldn’t let the Deadwalk gas into Skorzeny\’s lungs, so he had to use the less efficient choke hold. The knife grated again, then twisted, and  a shimmering curtain of agony descended over Harry’s vision. How fucking long?

 

Skorzeny tensed, as though he was about to break loose, and Harry gripped harder with his legs. Then the big Nazi went limp.

 

Harry crushed down more brutally still with his left arm. He held on.

 

When the pool of vapour finally touched his arm, Harry sighed, and let go. He disentangled himself from the big dead Nazi, gingerly sliding the  bayonet back out of his shoulder. He shook his head, looking down, but for once he couldn’t think of anything he wanted to say.

 

He crossed the room and found St Clair. His friend was still breathing, and he hadn’t started moaning about brains yet, so maybe there was  some hope for him. Gathering what remained of his strength, Harry wound his left hand into the noncom’s collar and started dragging him up the  stairs to safety…

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2 Comments »

  1. Great read.

    Comment by miniburger | 15 March, 2009 | Reply

  2. Just found the miniburger and started browsing. Damn that’s good.

    Comment by Greybeard | 26 January, 2010 | Reply


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