Chapter no 95

Quantum Radio

Kato looked down, inspecting the SD service dress uniform one last time. It was fine. His German was the problem. He needed to say as little as possible. One mispronounced word could sink the entire operation.

He pulled the door handle with a snap, stepped into the hall, and quickly jerked it closed.

The closest of the two Gestapo officers turned to him. “What did—” “I need to make a report.”

The Gestapo officer frowned. “Should we guard the door?” Kato saw an opportunity there.

He nodded once. “Yes. No one in or out.” The guard nodded slowly.

“Including you two,” Kato said.

Before they could say another word, he spun and marched away, the boots pounding on the wood floor.

Ten minutes later, he was scanning his counterpart’s wrist badge at the SD building Nora had identified. As he walked in, he kept his eyes fixed ahead, staring impassively, as though he had walked this route a thousand times.

Beyond the guard desk, there was a touchscreen wall directory. He didn’t dare stop or interact with it—he couldn’t give any indication that he didn’t know the building’s layout. Out of the corner of his eye, he scanned the listing and identified the one he found most promising: “observation area” in subbasement two.

In the elevator, he pressed “U2” but it wouldn’t light up. The car didn’t move. He swiped his wristband on the magnetic reader and hit the button again. This time it lit up, and the elevator dropped.

It opened onto a room with concrete walls, beady lights above, and a floor-to-ceiling glass security divider. Several armed SD soldiers stood

behind the glass, watching. Upon seeing him, they made no reaction.

Kato strode to the card reader by the glass door, held his breath, and scanned the wristband. The door popped open, and Kato strode past the armed guards and through an unlocked door, into a small reception area with a wide wooden desk. A rotund SD soldier sat there, staring at the screen, smiling as though he was watching a video. When he realized Kato was standing before him, he ripped off his headphones, stood straight up and raised a salute.

“Sieg Heil!”

Kato returned the salute. “Sieg Heil. I need to speak with the Pax agent, Nora Brown.”

The man glanced down at his screen, “You are not on the schedule, Herr Sturmbannführer.”

As a student of military history, Kato had studied the Nazis extensively. One thing he knew from that research was that the Third Reich fostered a respect for authority—almost to a point of unquestioning adherence to orders from above. He could use that. In fact, his rank was perhaps the only thing that might save him in this high-risk mission.

“Scharführer, listen closely. The schedules are made by Sturmbannführers.” He held his hand straight out to the door that led out of the room. “Take me to her. Right now.”

The color drained from the man’s face. He scurried around the desk and swiped his wristband at the door. He almost stumbled as he waddled down the corridor.

He opened the cell door, and when he lingered, Kato shouted, “Dismissed.”

Inside, Kato saw what, at first glance, looked like a carbon copy of Nora. She stood in the middle of the ten-by-ten cell. It had a narrow bunk, a metal toilet and sink, and a stack of books by the bed. Where Nora’s eyes

were bright and kind, this woman stared back with unbridled rage.

For a moment, Kato thought she was going to rush him. Her posture was that of a feral animal ready to pounce. Instead, she spoke in a voice that was slightly rougher than Nora’s.

“Have you come to execute me, Sturmbannführer?”

Kato answered in German-accented English. “Only to ask you some questions.”

“I know how the SD asks its questions. Let’s skip to the execution.”

“This isn’t what you think it is.”

“Says a man who lies for a living.”

“Come with me. It is very important. Time is of the essence.” Kato stepped closer and spoke more quietly. “I know you don’t wish to be underground. Here, or at home—permanently. Let’s see if we can prevent that.”

For a split second, her eyes flashed in shock, but she quickly regained her composure.

Kato stepped out of the cell and held an arm out. “I do not wish to talk here. Please. Accompany me.”

The woman clenched her teeth and marched out of the cell.

At the guard desk, the man rose. “Herr Sturmbannführer, are you…” “I will be conducting this interrogation off-site.”

The man reached for the phone.

“Halt.” Kato’s word was like a whip hitting the man. “This is an active operation. Time is of the essence. As is secrecy.”

“But it has to be cleared.”

am clearing it. If I have to remind you of my rank one more time, Scharführer, it will be the last time. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Herr Sturmbannführer.”

“Hand me those restraints and the key.”

Kato handcuffed Nora’s counterpart and connected the cuffs to another cuff on his left hand. The three-foot tether between them might draw attention, but he didn’t see a way to avoid it.

As they rode the elevator and marched out of the building, Kato mentally prepared to be caught for removing her from the site without authorization. But no one said a word.

On the walking path outside, the woman said, “Where are you taking me?”

“Somewhere we can talk.” “About?”

“I can’t say right now.” “Why not?”

“You’ll see. And when you do, it’s important that you don’t say a word.

Do you understand?”

“Believe me, not talking to you is something I fully intend to do.”

In the power plant, Kato and his prisoner drew a few stares and frowns, but no one stopped him. No one questioned a high-ranking SD officer escorting someone in plain clothes.

At his room, the two Gestapo officers were leaning against the wall by the door. They stood up straight at the sight of him and scowled when they saw Nora.

“Herr Sturmbannführer…”

“I’ll be interrogating the prisoner here. Maintain your post. No one in. Or out.”

Before they could ask another question, he swiped his wrist at the door lock, ushered Nora inside, and slammed the door shut.

The passage to Nora’s room was open, and she was standing at the threshold. She had recently taken her wig off and washed the makeup off her face. Without the hair and makeup, Nora looked like an almost exact copy of her counterpart, who gawked at her for a long moment, then shuffled away from Kato until the tether pulled tight.

“What is this… you’re replacing me?”

Kato dropped the German accent and returned to his natural voice. “It’s not what you think.”

“Where’s Maria?” he asked Nora.

“It’s almost time. She had to go to her room to get ready.” Nora glanced around at the room. “Can we talk here?”

“Yes,” Kato said. “After what happened—and what we said before—I don’t think they’re watching. Or listening. Must be a privacy thing for visitors. I imagine it would cause a major issue if they surveilled VIPs in their rooms.”

“Makes sense,” Nora said.

“What’s happening here?” her counterpart asked, voice quivering. “Where’s Ty?” Kato asked.

“Still with Penny,” Nora replied.

Kato stepped to the closet and opened it, revealing a wadded-up pile of white bedsheets. He pulled them off. His counterpart sat against the back wall, unnaturally pale, wearing only his underwear.

Nora’s counterpart staggered back, head whipping between Kato, his counterpart, and Nora.

“What is this? Some SD mind trick?” “We need your help,” Kato said.

“With what?”

“Stopping the missile launch.” “Who are you?”

“I know this is going to be difficult to hear,” Kato said, “but we are from another Earth. Another world in the multiverse.”

The woman grimaced, and Kato thought for a second she was going to laugh. Her lips trembled as her body began shaking, and her eyes rolled back in her head.

Kato placed his hands on her arms and felt the strength leaving her body. “Is she having a seizure?” he asked Nora.

“I don’t know.”

The woman collapsed to the floor, lurched forward, opened her mouth, and emptied the contents of her stomach on the floor.

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