Book One
BEFORE TODAY.
Peenemünde
Northern Germany
1945

They were still at Peenemünde, burning the pile of papers, when that last act of attrition, a V1 doodlebug rocket, was hurled at London, launched from the belly of a Heinkel bomber over the North Sea, .

The few scientists left at Peenemünde, seven of them, knew nothing of this. Nor did they appreciate that for all their efforts to turn the tide of the war back in Germany's favour, no more rockets could be launched because there was no more fuel; the supply had simply dried up.

In truth, their attention was elsewhere. It was directed towards the sounds of gunfire from the Polish border only a few miles to the east.

When they saw the first flashes of exploding shells spark across the sky no more than twenty miles from their position, many of them decided to leave the testing site and make their way to Berlin, to the safety of the capital.

They knew the War was over.

If they were to surrender, then it was the Americans to whom they must turn. The Russians were to be avoided at all costs, they were barbarians who would exact a most cruel revenge.

The sky flash visions and nightmare sounds of battle from the east meant the Red Army was getting closer. Peenemünde must be abandoned to its own fate, the rocket test pads and launch structures weren't important any longer.

Before they departed in the last truck, they piled up the secret files they had taken from General Walter Dornberger's offices, doused the paper stack in petrol and set fire to it. Dornberger, the head of the rocket section, had long since left the site and was already surrendering to the Americans with his brightest aide, the twenty one year old Werner Von Braun.

The papers this young group of scientists were burning were not the secret technical data that they had meticulously prepared and worked on these past few years. That had already been taken by the senior officers as insurance for their safety in the hands of the Americans. The turncoats of war had turned, loyalty no more than a commodity on the open market like beans or a bar of chocolate.

These documents actually related to the foreign work imported to Peenemünde. The Poles, the Czechs, the other Slavs..... and the Jews. It was a slave force, transported in its thousands to this god-forsaken northern peninsula. This place which was a technical triumph for the Germans, became a death curse for its workers.

'Get the truck started!' said the senior administrator, a man in his early twenties called Grob Mitzer.

One of the others, the most junior of the scientists, rushed over to the truck and started the engine. He watched the remainder of the group through the side window. They all stood around the blazing fire, some still throwing piles of documents on the pyre, others mesmerized by the leaping flames that were the final reminder of their failure.

'Damn the politicians!' said Mitzer.

'Damn Hitler!' said the scientist, Heinrich Spiedal, next to him.

'No. It wasn't him, Heinrich. He did what was right for Germany. It was the others. Those who were not equal to him who let him down. The politicians and the Generals. The clever arses. That fat pig Goering and his kind. Those bastards let him down.'

'He's right, Heinrich. They let him down.' It was Albert Goodenache who now joined the discussion. 'Christ, they're all running for cover now. Did you hear that Martin Boorman was seen just over the border with Russian soldiers?'

'When?' asked Spiedal.

'The other day. You remember that group of nurses that came through on their way to Rostock?'

Spiedal nodded.

'One of them saw him. Some General's daughter. She'd met him before.'

'She said it was Boorman?'

'So she said. And he wasn't even under guard. Just sat in the back of some staff car on his way east.'

'I don't believe it.'

'I'm just telling you what she said.'

'The big wigs are O.K. All looking after themselves. But what do we do now?'

'Start again,' said the administrator. That was Grob Mitzer's duty and his strength. At twenty one he was the architect of order amongst the unbridled enthusiasm of the young rocket scientists. His nature was to close one file and immediately open another. 'As we did after the Great War. Like the Fuhrer said, this is a thousand year war, that's all. Never forget'

A sudden burst of gunfire in the distance brought them back to reality.

'Time to go,' said Mitzer. He turned and shouted at the others. 'Come on, everybody. Into the truck. Before it's too late. Albert, Heinrich, get in the front with me.'

The group, startled by the ferocity of the latest explosions, moved towards the truck, their faces lit up by the blazing fire and the redness of the erupting sky.

'That's near Swinoujscie,' shouted one of the group to no-one in particular. 'They must have crossed the border.'

'Come on, come on,' urged Mitzer. 'Let's get going.'

He followed the group of hurrying scientists and stood behind them as they climbed into the back of the truck, an unmarked grey Army vehicle which had been used for transporting the work force to the site from their wooden slatted huts the other side of the sand dunes. There were no seats, only a slatted wooden floor on which the scientists stood, holding themselves upright on the bowed metal cross members that were supports for a canvas tarpaulin that had long since been lost.

When the last of the group had climbed on, Mitzer swung the tailgate up and locked it into position with a metal latch.

'Hang on tight,' he shouted. 'It's going to be a bumpy ride.' He ran round to the front and opened the driver's door, startling the young scientist he had sent on ahead to start the engine. Albert Goodenache and Heinrich Spiedal sat jammed together on the passenger side of the short wooden bench seat that stretched across the cab. 'In the back. Join the others. I'll drive. I know the way,' he shouted at the driver.

The man started to protest, but Mitzer cut him short, reached up and pulled him out of the cab. He sprawled in the wet mud. As he started to pick himself up there was a piercing, shrilling sound followed by a booming explosion from what seemed only a few hundred metres away.

'Hurry up, or you'll get us all killed,' yelled Mitzer, putting his hand out to help the fallen scientist. 'Come on, come on.'

The scientist scrambled through the mud to the rear of the truck as Mitzer climbed into the cab and slammed the door.

The engine screamed as he poured on the power, but nothing happened.

'Damn and shit!' cried Mitzer.

'What's wrong?' asked a frightened Albert Goodenache.

'We're too heavy. Too much mud. Too much bloody mud.'

Mitzer took his foot off the accelerator, swung the door open and climbed out into the mud. He rushed round to the rear of the truck.

'Everybody out,' he shouted as he unlatched the tailgate and swung it down. 'It's too heavy in the mud. You'll have to push to get it going.'. The scientists stood there; they were men of reason and considered logic, not an instinctive breed by nature. 'Come on, get out. Do you want us all killed?' He climbed up onto the back and started to push them out; some jumped, most fell into the mud. He leapt down amongst them and started to help them to their feet. 'Push, damn you. Get behind and push. Come on, we only need to get out of this mud then we'll be on our way. Hurry, Hurry!'

He rushed back to the cab and jumped in, put the truck back into gear and gently fed power to the engine.

'Shall we help?' shouted Heinrich Spiedal.

'No, stay where you are,' replied Mitzer.

'But....'

'Do as you're bloody told,' he ordered, then leant out of the cab and shouted back at the group. 'Push, damn you, push, push, push for everything you're worth.'

The shrilling distant sound came again, low to start with, then building in its intensity until it exploded on the sand dunes near the experimental rocket launch tracks. As the shell deafened them, so the truck, having been rocked backwards and forwards by the small group, finally broke loose of its slippery hold and shot forward. The pushers collapsed as they lost their grip.

Another shell exploded nearby.

'Stop!' shouted Heinrich Spiedal. 'Wait for the others.'

Mitzer kept his foot rammed to the floor, not wanting to lose momentum, not wanting to be clawed back into the wet soft earth under the vehicle.

Thirty metres on he drove onto the road and safety.

He stopped the truck to wait for the others.

At that moment Albert Goodenache saw the silhouette of a Russian soldier lift into view across the sand dunes. Before he could shout a warning, the soldier opened fire on the small group.

Mitzer heard the scientists calling, screaming for him to wait as they scrambled out of the mud. He also heard a bullet ricochet off one of the metal crossbars at the rear.

He put his foot down and drove away. The shouts of those left behind disappeared as the sounds of war enveloped them.

The three of them never looked back at Peenemünde, the place that was to have been their shrine. The two scientists said nothing. Like Mitzer, they had not been prepared to help their comrades. They had nothing to say. They couldn't face their own cowardice.