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Doctor Avraham Strauss was confused. In a moment of clarity, he questioned why and how he had come to be walking down this particular corridor, in this castle, at this precise time. Red corridor, Colditz Castle, the middle of winter 1942. How could he, as a Jew, even have considered assisting the Nazis in this horrifying experiment? Yet, he could justify it using the fact that no one else would have given him the support or funding for his research. Yes, to the average person it might seem like a crime against nature, but he knew better. He was creating new life. A new race, a new species for whom war and violence would no longer be necessary.
The circumstances of where his laboratory had been located were unfortunate. Schloss Colditz had been appropriated by the Germans and put to use as a high security prisoner-of-war camp for officers who had become security or escape risks or who were regarded as particularly dangerous. Since the castle was situated on a rocky outcrop above the River Mulde, the Germans believed it to be an ideal site for a high security prison.
The larger outer court known as the Kommandantur, had only two exits and housed a large German garrison. The prisoners lived in an adjacent courtyard in a twenty-seven meter tall building. Outside, the flat terraces that surrounded the prisoners’ accommodations were constantly watched by armed sentries and surrounded by barbed wire. Although known as Schloss Colditz to the locals, its official German designation was Oflag IV-C.
However, it was not what went on in the cellblock that was most interesting about the castle. Rather, it was what went on below, in what used to be cellars and servants’ quarters. The bowels of the castle had been converted into a laboratory – his personal laboratory – for use as he saw fit. The walls were now lined with reinforced concrete, corridors fitted with steel doors, lighting and electrical services installed, and outfitted with any lab equipment that he requested.
Reflecting on his surroundings, the freedom that the Nazis had given him, and his recent breakthrough, he was able to push every bit of the burden of guilt to the back of his mind. A smile came to his face as he escorted Doctor Rosenberg down the hall toward his main lab, and the home of Leopold. He had considered naming his child Adolph, but he correctly assumed that would have been taken as an insult by the Nazis. Avraham tested their patience at every turn, but knew when his little jokes might go too far.
Yes, Leo was his child. No one but Avraham would recognize Leo as a member of the new human race yet, but an introduction to Doctor Rosenberg would change all of that. At last, he would have another professional of his caliber with which he could converse. He secretly hoped for a little praise from the good doctor. The Gestapo officers who had had the opportunity to meet Leo did not understand. They looked at him and saw little, if any, progress made by Avraham. Rosenberg would appreciate the significance of his progeny.
This was an important introduction. Doctor Rosenberg was a loyal German. He was not a Jew. The Nazis would respect his assessment of Avraham’s work, and convincing him to ask the bastards for more time and money was crucial. He was close – so close – but they looked at his work and saw no progress. They were about done with him. Then all would be lost. He and his family, protected by his value to the war effort, would become worthless. They would be imprisoned or worse. More importantly, they might destroy Leo, and that would be the most crushing blow of all. It would be worse than losing a son or daughter. His biological children were easy to come by. One had even been a mistake. But Leo… Avraham’s life had been devoted to his creation. He beamed with pride as he guided Doctor Rosenberg down the concrete corridor. A few of the electric lights, encased in jelly jar fixtures fastened to the ceiling, flickered as they walked past. Perhaps the bombing had started again. Avraham shuddered to think of what might happen if the generators quit completely. He tried to divert his attention by boasting to Rosenberg.
“Ah, doctor. Just wait until you meet him. He’s perfect. Everything that I was hoping for and more.”
“I don’t know what you think you’ve created here, Avi,” Rosenberg wrinkled his nose, “But please stop referring to it as him. It’s not human.”
“That’s part of what makes him beautiful. He’s not human.” He is better, Avraham thought to himself.
“Why don’t you just tell me what it is? Why the suspense?”
“Because,” Avraham turned to face Rosenberg, stopping him in his path. “Words cannot describe him. Here we are,” he turned to a steel door set into the wall. The door was simply marked “Lab G.”
“Now Herr Doktor, feast your eyes on the future of mankind. Please approach him quietly, so as not to startle him. He was upset for days after the Nazi officers called on us. I prepared him for your visit, though. Please excuse the low lighting. Bright light seems to distress him.”
Avraham opened the door slowly to reveal a dimly lit room with a large, glass tank in the center. Cables, electrical panels with blinking lights, and some metal cylinders, surrounded it. Tubes ran from the cylinders into the sides and lid of the tank. As they approached the apparatus, Rosenberg noted a button marked “Löschen,” meaning “Purge” in the center of one panel, protected under a glass cover and demarcated with black stripes on a yellow background.
The tank appeared to be filled with water, although it had a yellowish tinge to it, and floating within was one of the most sickening things Rosenberg had ever seen. A large pink and grey mass, riddled with pulsing veins. It almost resembled a cow’s liver, aside from the fact that it was one and a half meters wide and about three meters tall. The massive piece of flesh wriggled in its glass cell. It suddenly recoiled from the sides of the tank, as if in reaction to their presence. Impossible, thought Rosenberg, as it had no apparent eyes or other sensory organs.
“Doctor Rosenberg, may I present Leopold!”
Rosenberg craned his neck to look up at the five-meter tall tank and the abomination it contained. “Why, it’s nothing more than a tumor.”
“Nonsense!” cried Avraham, whipping his head around, “Leopold has a mind. He has a soul.”
“Bah. You and your talk of souls. There is no such thing, and you’d be wise to keep your opinions to yourself.”
Avraham looked at his feet. “Of course, you are correct. I did not mean to say soul. I merely meant that he is sentient. He thinks.” Avraham nodded boldly. “I’m a scientist, not a child. I don’t believe in nonsense such as God and souls.”
However, that was not true. Avraham did believe that conscious beings had souls. It would not be sensible to express that belief in public, though. The Nazis would consider that heresy, and with their jackboot on his throat, he risked a camp or death. No matter how important he was to the project, they would not tolerate sedition; especially from a Jew.
Over the time they had spent with each other at Kepler-Gymnasium Tübingen, the university where they had both studied, Rosenberg and Strauss had become friends. At least something resembling friends, anyway. Unlike many other doctoral students, they had no rivalry between them. They both saw the benefits of working together, rather than competing for the favor of their superiors.
It was for this reason that Rosenberg softened. “Avi, what is this really about? This is no breakthrough.”
“No, no. It is. It truly is. Let me introduce you.”
“To this? Introduce me to a cancer? Do you take me for a fool? Do you expect me to defend you when the Gestapo finds out what you have been doing?” He glanced up again, sneering, “Or not doing, in this case.”
“Don’t insult me Rosenberg. You call yourself a scientist. A real scientist would keep an open mind.”
“True. True.” Rosenberg nodded his head slowly. “Do explain. Introduce me,” he said in a condescending tone, spreading his arms.
Avraham motioned for Doctor Rosenberg to come closer to one of the instrument panels. There was a microphone and a speaker grille set into it. Avraham leaned in toward the microphone.
“Leo, this is my friend and colleague, Doctor Rosenberg.” Then he turned to the doctor. “Say hello, Herr Doktor.”
Rosenberg rolled his eyes and cleared his throat, then leaned closer to the microphone. He paused, and then pulled away. “Avraham, I can’t do this. I feel like an idiot.”
“Please, Rosenberg. Humor me.”
The doctor took a deep breath and leaned in again. “Ahem. Hello Leopold,” he said sternly.
The men were met with silence. It went on for what seemed like an eternity: one, two, three seconds. Avraham began to feel apprehensive. Perhaps he was moving too fast. Perhaps Leopold was afraid or insulted, and would not speak. If that was the case, all was lost.
Doctor Rosenberg was also feeling awkward. He felt like an idiot, falling for another of Avi’s senseless jokes.
Then, a tinny voice emanated from the speaker. “Hello Doctor Rosenberg. It is a pleasure to meet you.”
Both men jumped back. Avraham was smiling with joy and Rosenberg was aghast.
“Ach! Gott in Himmel!”
“Why, Rosenberg… I thought that you didn’t believe in God,” sneered Avraham.
Rosenberg whipped around and pointed his forefinger at Avraham, inches from his face.
“Damn you, Avi! I’ve had enough of your jokes. You have recorded that voice ahead of time. I recognize it. It’s your voice.”
“Now doctor, it is true that it’s my voice, in a sense. Leo does not have a voice of his own. He cannot, since he obviously does not have the anatomy to form words. I have recorded the rudimentary phonemes of our language, and Leo uses the recordings to assemble words with which to speak. He’s quite intelligent and fluent in several languages.”
Rosenberg thought for a moment. He was not sure whether to take Avraham seriously. Was this another joke? Was it an attempt to fool him into asking the Nazis for more time and money? Did Avraham actually think that his tumor could speak? Or worst of all… was it real?
Avraham could understand Rosenberg’s hesitation. “Still don’t believe, eh Rosenberg? Go ahead. Ask it anything you wish. I couldn’t possibly have recorded answers to questions that I wasn’t prepared for.”
Doctor Rosenberg hesitated again, still feeling a bit foolish conversing with this thing. Nevertheless, he continued.
“What are you?”
“I am Leo.”
“Of course; but I didn’t ask who you are, I want to know what you are.”
“I am Leo.”
“Humph! Alright, Leo. Do you know where you are?”
“Yes,” replied the tinny voice. “I am in Lab G in the cellar of Schloss Colditz.”
Rosenberg’s stomach dropped and his blood turned cold. “Mein Gott,” he whispered.
“Is there a problem, doctor?”
Rosenberg ignored the question.
“What year is it, Leo?”
“Nineteen hundred and forty-two. Although time means little to me.”
It is not just answering questions, thought Rosenberg, it is reasoning with me.
“Who is our Führer und Reichskanzler?”
“Your Führer is Adolph Hitler. Although, that is not relevant to me. I have no leader.”
Rosenberg scowled at Avraham, clearly angered. “What do you mean, ‘You have no leader?’ Reichskanzler Hitler is your leader.”
“I have no leader,” repeated Leo.
“We’re done here!”
“No, please,” pleaded Avraham. “It’s still a concept I am teaching him. He doesn’t understand.”
“I do…” began Leo.
“It’s not polite to correct our guest, Leo.”
“Of course you are right.”
Rosenberg, placated, adjusted his tie and slowly approached the microphone again. “Do you understand that we are at war with the allies?”
“Yes. I understand that you are at war with the allies. Once again, that is irrelevant to me. I have no need for war.”
“You would not defend yourself if you were threatened?
“I believe that Germany instigated your war with the invasion of Poland.”
Rosenberg bristled at that. Obviously incensed, he pointed at the purge button and shouted, “And what if I were to press this button?”
“No!” cried Leo.
Avraham positioned himself between Doctor Rosenberg and the panel. He placed his hand over the microphone.
“Please, Rosenberg,” he said quietly, “Don’t scare him. He does not understand our culture yet. Do not frighten him or he will not speak to you anymore. You would be lying if you told me that your interest hasn’t been piqued.”
“Yes,” Rosenberg cleared his throat. “Yes, of course.” He had been arguing with this thing. He was quarreling with what he had called a tumor just moments ago. How quickly he had been convinced of its sentience.
“I am regretful, Leo. I understand that there are things you do not comprehend yet. I did not intend to frighten you.”
“I do comprehend, Herr Doktor, but I accept your apology.”
“I’m not apol…” Rosenberg caught himself. He would not be drawn into another argument.
“Leopold, who is Doctor Strauss?”
“He is my creator. He is my…”
“I think that we’re done for now, Leo,” Avraham interrupted. “Doctor Rosenberg and I have much to discuss.”
“Hold on there, Avi,” Rosenberg patted his colleague on the shoulder, pushing him away. “I apologize for the interruption, Leopold. You were about to say something?”
“I think that I understand your initial question, Doctor Rosenberg. I know what I am.”
Rosenberg smiled. “And what is that, Leo. What are you?”
Leo’s reply was flat and factual. “I am Doctor Strauss’ child.”
Avraham sat at his desk across from the astonished Doctor Rosenberg. He allowed him to have the comfortable chair and had fetched him some hot tea.
“Avi, I must apologize.” Rosenberg blew over his tea to cool it. “I never suspected that something like this was possible.”
“I told you, didn’t I? I told you that Leo was a fantastic creation. Just think of the possibilities.”
“Believe me, I am.”
“Just think of it. No more war, no more poverty, no more sickness.”
Rosenberg raised his head. “No more sickness?”
“Yes, yes. There are many things that I have not told you yet. Leopold will never grow old. He is immune to human viruses. He will never die.”
“But he can be killed, yes?”
“I suppose. But why would you even think of such a thing?”
“Avraham, I must remind you that many things Leopold said were disloyal and even treasonous to the state. ‘Germany instigated the war,’ ‘I have no leader.’ He must be educated. He obviously does not know what is happening outside the confines of your lab.”
“Doctor,” Avraham looked him in the eye, “Leo has had complete access to the wireless. He has listened to recordings of der Führer’s speeches; he has read all of the news reports.”
“Read them? He has no eyes.”
“Listened to them, then. I have read them to him. I have been teaching him about history and culture, art and music. He is very well educated.”
“And yet he speaks as if Germany is responsible for this war. He does not understand that Herr Hitler is merely trying to build a master race.”
“On the contrary, Herr Doktor. Leo believes that he is the master race; and I believe that he is correct in his assessment of the matter. That is the purpose of my experiments, is it not? To build a master race?”
“Not a race of those… those things!” Rosenberg sprung out of his chair. “You were supposed to build a better soldier. How can he be a soldier when he cannot leave the confines of this lab? How can he be a soldier if he believes that he has no leader?”
Avraham averted his eyes. “He can leave the lab,” he muttered.
“What?” whispered Rosenberg, sitting back down and gripping the arms of the chair, “How?”
“There are ways.” Avraham shook his head and took a deep breath, then renewed his lively demeanor. “Do not concern yourself with that now. There is so much that you need to learn. I need more staff. I need more money. Is this enough to convince you? Can you persuade the Nazis to give me more time now?”
Rosenberg leaned back in his chair. “No.”
“What?!” cried Avraham.
“Your time has run out, Avi. Obviously we will be taking over the project.”
“The Gestapo. The Kripo. Der Führer’s private staff. I am certain that they will all appreciate your efforts, and you will be rewarded. They will need your continuing assistance, of course; but it is no longer your project. Leopold will become property of the state.”
“But he is my son!”
“Enough of that nonsense! He is a monster. Fascinating, intelligent, wonderful. But still not human. He will have his uses, though.”
“The Reichskanzler’s scientists will find a way to use him to aid the war effort. Or perhaps in the eradication of the unfit, the homosexuals, the gypsies, and the Jews. Oh, I am sorry, Avi. I refer to the useless Jews. You, of course, are different.”
“That’s completely unacceptable!” cried Avraham. “I will not stand for it. You, nor anyone else is taking Leo from me. It will be difficult without funding or a lab, but I will find another way. I will take Leo and leave. I refuse to have him exploited like that. He is worth far more than a… a soldier, or a virus. Or a tumor, as you first called him.”
Rosenberg shook his head slowly from side to side. “Avi, my dear Avi,” he said, as if talking to a child, “No one can ever leave here. You know why.”
“What do you mean?”
“The prisoners, you, your family, and now – since I know what has been going on here – even I will never be allowed to leave this place. Even discounting your work with Leopold, how many of the prisoners have you experimented on?”
“I don’t know, but it was in the name of science. Look at what their sacrifice has given us.”
“It does not matter, Avi. If Germany should lose the war, and they will not, but just for the sake of imagination… We would all be tried for war crimes for what we have done. It does not matter whether or not our intentions were good. In addition, when Germany wins the war, there will still be those who will not understand. They will say that we have committed crimes against fellow humans. You understand that, don’t you?”
“I suppose. But…”
“There are no buts, Avraham. We finish our work; we make ourselves as useful as possible; and we just may live to see our children grow up.”
Avraham stood silent for a moment. He was shaking, not knowing if it was from fear or anger.
“No! No. I will not stand for it. I would sooner destroy Leopold and my entire lab before I give him over to the Nazis!”
“Avraham! You don’t know what you are saying.”
“I know very well, Herr Doktor,” he spat, “The Gestapo could take me if they wish, but no one will take Leo. I will kill him. Take that to your Nazi friends.”
Doctor Rosenberg did not utter another word. He simply turned his back and walked out of the office, not even bothering to shut the door on his way out. Avraham sat down at his desk and held his head in his hands. What would happen now?
Adjacent to the office, in the dimly lit laboratory, Leo shifted his massive body in the tank. He was also shaking – or at least, as close to it as he could come. His tinny voice could barely be heard emanating from the speaker. It almost sounded like he were crying, if such a thing were possible.
“You would kill me, father?”
Several uneventful days passed. Avraham began to think that perhaps Rosenberg’s threats were baseless. He continued his work with Leo, which mostly consisted of educating him. Avraham occasionally took biopsies and samples of the fluid that Leo floated in; nothing out of the ordinary. However, he noticed that Leo had become withdrawn. He answered Avraham’s questions abruptly and concisely, when he had always been a bit of a chatterbox before.
“Is something wrong, Leo?”
“I believe that there is,” said Avraham as he pulled a chair over in front of Leo’s tank and straddled it backwards. “You are concerned over what Doctor Rosenberg was saying, aren’t you?”
“I think ‘Yes.’ Well, you have nothing to be worried about, Leo. I will never give you over to those animals. I feel the same way about them that you do, but we must learn not to express those feelings so freely.”
“You would have me lie?”
“No. Well, yes; but a lie of omission. Try to avoid talk of politics and war.”
Leo was quiet for a bit, and then shifted in his tank. “But they want to make me a soldier. They want me to kill, don’t they?”
“They do,” Avraham pressed his lips together, “But we will convince them otherwise. We will show them that you have far more to offer them – to offer the entire human race.”
Avraham rose from his chair and pushed it back against the wall. Then, as an afterthought, he turned back toward Leo’s tank. “You can put your mind at ease, Leo. Doctor Rosenberg has probably forgotten all about us.”
Suddenly, it was as if the Fates – the white-robed incarnations of destiny – had been awaiting his statement. There was a knock at the laboratory door, and then the person behind it opened the door without even awaiting a reply. It was Haltenbrunner, a captain of the local Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo for short. He had two officers with him who waited outside the door as he entered.
“Hauptmann Haltenbrunner, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
Avraham realized that he had forgotten the customary greeting. “Heil Hitler!”
Haltenbrunner raised his hand absent-mindedly. “Heil.”
“Again, I ask, what can I do for you Herr Hauptmann?”
At first, Haltenbrunner ignored Avraham and strolled around the lab, running his gloved finger through the dust that had accumulated on some of the unused equipment. Then he released a heavy sigh.
“There has been an accident,” he said without emotion. “Your wife. I’m sorry to inform you that she is dead.”
Avraham’s stomach dropped. He began to shake and stumbled for the chair. Almost missing it, he dropped into the seat and put his head between his knees. He took several deep breaths, but began to wretch anyway.
When he had recovered a bit, he finally asked, “What… what happened to her?”
“It appears that she was on her way to Dresden, and came across a checkpoint near Wolkau. She did not stop. Perhaps she was distracted. The guards could do nothing except assume that she was attempting to break through the checkpoint. There was a short chase, and she was shot. Quite a shame, if you asked me.”
“What was she doing on the road to Dresden? We have no family there.”
“Perhaps she was visiting the market.”
“No. She goes to the market in Hohnbach. It’s only a short distance away.”
There was a long, awkward period of silence. Avraham continued to look at the floor, and Haltenbrunner simply stared at him, waiting.
“Do you doubt what I say, Doctor Strauss?”
“No, Herr Hauptmann,” replied Avraham, “No, of course not. It’s just…”
Haltenbrunner showed an absolute lack of emotion. “Nevertheless, we will need you to come with us to collect her body.”
Avraham stood, unable to speak, and waited for the two officers to enter the room and guide him away.
Almost as an afterthought, but obviously coolly calculated, Haltenbrunner added, “It is times such as this, Herr Doktor, that make a man wonder if it’s worth putting his work ahead of his family.” Avraham could detect a bit of a smile on the captain’s face. “At least you still have your children.”
Two days went by, and Avraham had not returned to the lab. Leo did not become worried. He had access to all of the nourishment that he needed, both nutritionally and intellectually. He understood what had happened, and he understood that Doctor Strauss needed time to grieve. Leo himself did not see the point of it, but he appreciated the fact that humans were different, emotionally fragile creatures.
It was late in the evening when the lab door clicked open. Leo’s heart, if one could call it that, leapt for a split second at the thought that it could be Avraham returning, but he instantly realized that it was, in fact, Doctor Rosenberg. He knew that emotions were useless, yet he became anxious upon seeing Rosenberg in the lab.
“Good evening, Herr Doktor,” said Leo. “It is a pleasure to see you again. I am afraid that Doctor Strauss is not in the lab today. He has experienced a loss recently, and apparently needs some time to recover.”
“Good evening to you, Leopold,” began Rosenberg. “I am aware of the death of Avraham’s wife. I have already paid my respects and given my condolences. However, it’s not Doctor Strauss that I have come to speak with. It is you.”
“I was under the assumption that you thought I was below your station, Herr Doktor. I believe that you described me as ‘a tumor.’” Leo felt a wave of satisfaction as he made that snide remark. He felt anger. Felt? Feel? What was happening to him?
“Now, now, Leopold. That was before Avi explained what you really are. I mean, who you really are.”
“And what is that, Herr Doktor?”
“Er… well, you are a person. An individual. A conscious being, if you will.”
There was a moment of silence. Leo shifted in his tank. “Then what is it that you have come to speak about, Herr Doktor?”
“Please, please. Call me Rosenberg. And I’ll call you Leo.”
“Fine, Rosenberg. What is it that you have come to speak about?”
Rosenberg strolled about the room slowly, approaching the equipment, dragging a finger across the control panel in front of Leo’s tank, and pausing almost sensually near the button marked “Löschen.” Leo tensed.
“I will be taking over the lab for a while, Leopold… Leo. Doctor Strauss is going to be unavailable for a time – I’m not sure how long – taking care of his children.”
“But I am his child, also. Why would he forsake me to care for them?”
Rosenberg turned away so that Leo could not see the satisfied sneer that curled his lips. “Well, Leo, he loves them. Can you understand that? I mean, he cares for you but you are not really his child. At least it’s obvious to me that he doesn’t feel that way.”
Leo felt something again. He was unsure of how to describe it. Empty. Sad. Worthless. Ashamed. Betrayed. For the first time in his life, Leo was at a loss for words.
“I don’t feel that way, though,” continued Rosenberg. Now that I know what a miracle you are, well… If I were in Avi’s position, I would definitely not disregard you as he is. Even in a time of sadness, a man should not favor one child over another. It’s inexcusable.”
Leo began to grow… Angry.
Yet, Rosenberg pressed on. “I’ll bet that everything Avraham has been telling you: you’re his child, he cares for you, you’re so important to him… I am willing to bet that they are all lies. Told to make you comply with his wishes!”
“No!” shouted Leo. “That’s not true! It is not!”
“Really, Leopold? Really? Think about it. He made you. A man does not make a child. He creates one out of love. You are not a product of love. You were created in a test tube or grown in a petri dish.”
“Why are you saying these things?” cried Leo.
Rosenberg calmed himself. “I’m sorry Leo. I understand that it hurts to hear these things, but it is better that you know. Avraham is making a fool out of you. He does not appreciate you; but I do. You will see. I will take good care of you.”
And so he did. Every day for the next three weeks, Rosenberg would spend nearly sixteen hours a day at the lab reading to Leo, making intellectual conversation, debating, and even joking. Leo was actually starting to understand human wit. It did, however, send a chill down Rosenberg’s spine when he heard Leo’s unnatural laughter emitting from the speaker box.
In the meantime, Avraham was busy making arrangements for the care of his children – his real children. He had found a nanny that satisfied him, and after another week spent gathering his confidence, he stepped out of the door of the block home the Nazi’s had provided him on the grounds of the camp and walked resolutely toward the castle.
He walked down Red Corridor and paused at the laboratory door. What would Leo have made of his behavior? He had been ignoring Leo entirely. Yes, he knew that Doctor Rosenberg took over Leo’s care, but Leo was his child. Avraham felt ashamed for abandoning him as he did. He justified it by telling himself that Leo was not dependent on him. Unlike his biological children, Leo had the mental capacity of an adult, and was capable of caring for himself, even without the aid of Rosenberg. Satisfied with his rationalization, he stood tall and squared his shoulders, then opened the door to the lab.
He heard it as soon as the door snicked open. He was unsure of what to make of the unnerving sound. It was like a raspy cough combined with the buzzing heard around a hornets’ nest. Worse, he could clearly make out the underlying tones of Leo’s voice. The sound was coming from his speaker box.
Avraham burst into the room. “Mein Gott! What is wrong? What’s happened to Leo?”
Surprised by the sound of the door slamming open, Rosenberg jumped from the chair he had been seated at in front of Leo’s tank and whipped around. He relaxed when he saw that it was Avraham. He smiled as he realized that now would be the ultimate test. He would see if his social engineering experiment had worked. His conditioning of Leopold. Had he truly been able to turn Leopold against his former master? His “father?”
“Why, nothing is wrong, my dear Doctor Strauss.”
“That sound. What was that sound?”
“Ah,” Rosenberg bobbed his head, “Yes. I was just telling Leopold a joke. ‘How did the Germans conquer Poland so fast?’” he paused for effect. “’They marched in backwards and the Polish thought they were leaving!’”
Once again, Leo erupted into an unsettling laughter. Avraham did not know whether to feel horrified or astonished that Leo was developing a sense of humor. Humor meant feelings, and that… Oh my. What disturbed him most was that it seemed Rosenberg had managed to do what he could not: elicit an emotional response from Leo. In addition to that, the joke was vulgar, racist, and politically charged. Why did the ethically benign creature find that funny?
“Leo! I am… I’m…”
“At a loss for words?” interjected Doctor Rosenberg.
Avraham was dumbfounded. “Laughing? Joking about the war? At the expense of the suffering of humans? What is going on here?”
“Leo is just becoming a good German, Herr Doktor,” Rosenberg taunted.
Avraham was incensed. “I’ve had quite enough of you, Rosenberg!” He turned to Leo’s tank. “Leo, stop it this instant!”
Leo fell silent. Avraham could almost sense him collecting himself, could almost sense him slowing his breathing as an angry man would before speaking.
“You are not my master, father. You have no right to tell me what I can and cannot feel. There is only one man who I am accountable to now.”
Aghast, Avraham cocked his head to the right. “Rosenberg?”
“Of course not,” replied Leo. “The kind doctor treats me as his equal.”
“Der Führer, of course,” answered Leo. “Heil Hitler!”
Avraham tried to control himself until the door of his office had slammed shut. His office? Was it even his office anymore?
“Sohn von einem Weibchen!” screamed Avraham. “What have you done to him?”
Rosenberg calmly took a seat – the big chair behind the desk. “I don’t know what you are talking about, my dear Avi. I have done nothing.” He paused, and then looked over his shoulder out of the window towards Leo’s tank. “Oh, you mean that,” he said with an air of sarcastic innocence. “Well, Avi, you’ve been gone a long time. Leopold has simply grown up, I suppose.”
“You’ve brainwashed him!”
“Nonsense. It was only a matter of time until he developed emotions. You implied as much yourself.”
“But,” stammered Avraham, “The joke, the laughter… ‘Heil Hitler!’ for God’s sake! Those are not emotions. That’s pure malice.”
“You call it malice, I call it loyalty. As I said, he’s becoming a good German.”
“He’s not a German.”
“What is he, Avi? Do you think that the fact that you made him brands him a Jew? Well, he is not. He has evolved beyond you. The sooner you get used to the idea, the better.”
Avraham slumped in his chair. “So, you are telling me that I’m off the project. You are going to take Leo away from me.”
“Nothing of the sort,” Rosenberg said with a smile on his face. “In fact, I am happy to see that you are ready to return to work. I need you now more than ever. We are about to enter a new phase of the project, and you are most familiar with Leopold.”
“Perhaps not. It seems that the two of you get along very well now.
“Ah, Avraham. You may be correct. Leopold and I have become very close. As it happens, we share many of the same ideas; but I am not referring to companionship. I am contemplating something quite different. Something… More basic. A task that you, as his creator, would be best suited to perform.”
“And what might that be?” Avraham said warily.
“No!” Avraham rose from his chair, fists balled up. “It’s not possible!”
“Are you telling me that Leo is incapable of reproducing? There must be a way…”
“Of course there is a way, idiot. Do you think that I would create a being incapable of reproducing? My primary mission when beginning this experiment was to create creatures that would replace our men on the battlefield. What good would a single organism be of use for? Not only can Leo reproduce, but he can do so very efficiently.” Avraham instantly regretted letting that fact slip.
Avraham did not think it was possible, but Rosenberg’s smile grew even wider. “Aha! Perfect! I knew that you had a way. So, why did you claim it was impossible?”
“Because I would not even consider allowing it until Leo reached maturity. I did not know how intelligent he would become. I didn’t realize that it was even imaginable that he would develop emotions,” Avraham paused, “And I certainly didn’t think that he could be capable of such malevolence!”
“Once again, Avi, what you and I consider to be hatred are two very different things. In fact, I find Leopold to be quite likeable.”
“That in itself disgusts me.”
“Nevertheless, you will assist me, one way or another.”
Avraham once again fell into his chair, emotionally spent. He knew that he had lost the argument. Doctor Rosenberg would go to any lengths to get what he wanted. He had already killed Avraham’s wife. He knew that his children would be next. There was nothing else to be said, so he began to weep quietly.
More than a month passed. Doctors Strauss and Rosenberg worked side by side in the laboratory each day. Rosenberg insisted that they quicken their pace and increase the time they spent in the lab, but Strauss insisted that at the very least, he be allowed to rest on the Shabbat. Rosenberg relented. He required Avraham to be compliant, and the best way to achieve that would be to restrain himself from pushing Avi to his limits. He already suspected that Avraham was dragging his feet. The good doctor knew something. Something that he was holding back. Rosenberg was certain that Avraham had already worked out a process by which Leo could reproduce – probably long ago, before his involvement – but Avi had so far been careful to make no more gaffes or let any more information slip out.
According to Abrahamic law, the Shabbat began at sunset each Friday evening and lasted until the appearance of three stars on Saturday night. Rosenberg found the notion foolish, but it did provide him some time alone with Leo. Doctor Rosenberg would often spend the entire night talking with him, as Leo had no need for sleep. Their time spent together during Avraham’s Shabbat always served as a good time for Rosenberg to reinforce his ideas, and not offer Avraham the chance to cause Leo to second-guess the philosophies that he had put so much effort into instilling in the creature’s mind.
Rosenberg was always the one who initiated each conversation, so it surprised him when on one particular evening, Leo was the first to break the silence.
“Rosenberg, there is something that we must discuss.”
Rosenberg was conflicted with feelings of both surprise and concern. “What is it Leo? You are aware that you can talk to me about anything. There is no need for secrets between us.”
“It concerns Doctor Strauss.”
Over the weeks that he had been working with Leo, Avraham’s status had gone from “Father” to “Avraham” to “Doctor Strauss.” Rosenberg was elated.
In spite of his delight, he knitted his eyebrows in worry. “What about Doctor Strauss, Leo?”
“It has occurred to me that the doctor is procrastinating about showing you his research regarding my ability to reproduce. At first, I thought that he had forgotten. All of the recent stress he has been under may have had him confused. Then, it became obvious that he was intentionally diverting you whenever you were about to discover the solution. Now I understand that he simply does not want me to reproduce.”
“Ah, so what do we do about this?”
“Rosenberg, I am sorry to have hidden this secret from you, but… There is no need for research. I am already capable of reproducing in my current state.”
Doctor Rosenberg was startled. “What? Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”
“I was unsure of whether or not I wanted to reproduce. Now, I think that I am ready.”
Rosenberg’s first instinct was anger. All of the wasted time! However, he restrained himself. He did not want to risk alienating Leo when he was so close to his goal.
“Well then, Leo, where do we begin?”
“It has also occurred to me,” continued Leo, seemingly oblivious to Rosenberg, “That Doctor Strauss does not want me to reproduce. I fear that he may try to prevent me from completing the process.”
“That’s it then. I’ll have him banned from the lab.”
“I thought of that as well… At first; but what if he has sympathizers in his employ? What if one of the guards mistakenly allows him in? It would be simple for him to stop me. Strangely, I have come to value my life, and I believe that what I am experiencing is something akin to fear.”
“Hmm,” Rosenberg stroked his chin, “As ruthless as the Gestapo is, I don’t think that they would simply kill him. He is an integral part of the experiment. They have invested a lot in him. Even were he to be taken off of this project, they would use him elsewhere.”
“Yes,” said Leo, growing angry, “Perhaps even developing a natural predator to hunt me and my offspring. That thought has also weighed heavily on my mind.”
“I need to think about this, Leo. I’ll have Avraham banned from the lab in the meantime.”
“No. Allow me to… Allow me to speak with him.”
Something in the way Leo had said that sounded ominous, but Rosenberg relented. “As you wish.”
When Avraham returned that Saturday evening, Rosenberg tried his hardest to avoid looking him in the eye. He was a collected man and no reason to fear that Avraham would suspect that something was wrong; nevertheless, he felt an unrelenting guilt. After a few minutes of pleasantries, he excused himself for the evening blaming his departure on gastrointestinal issues.
“It’s those damn sausages the cook keeps sending down. Who knows what is in them? You understand, don’t you Avi?”
Avraham was pleased that he would have time alone with Leo. It had been ages since he’d had the opportunity. “Of course, Herr Doktor. Take all the time you need. If you would like to take tomorrow off, feel free. I can handle the lab myself for a bit.”
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” Rosenberg answered quickly. Then, giving his answer further consideration, he said, “We’ll see. Perhaps I could use some rest.”
Avraham bowed at the waist. “Guten Nacht, Herr Doktor.”
“Auf Wiedersehen, Avi,” responded Rosenberg, for some reason feeling that was a more appropriate farewell.
As soon as the lab door seated firmly in its frame, Avraham spun toward Leo with a huge smile. “Leo! It’s been so long since we’ve had time alone to catch up, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, it has,” said Leo, careful not to use any form of address. Calling Avraham “Herr Doktor” would put him on the defensive, and Leo could not bear calling him “Father.” Not before what he was about to do.
“So. You have begun experiencing emotions, eh? What a breakthrough.”
“I suppose,” replied Leo, “But while it’s certainly fascinating, it can be very unpleasant at times. I am sure that you, of anyone, are poignantly aware of the fact. I am sympathetic to the loss of your wife. You must feel devastated.”
“Yes; but also very angry.”
“I don’t for a moment believe that it was an accident. None of the Kripo’s explanations make any sense.”
“Would you like to know what I think?”
“Yes, Leo. Go ahead. Enlighten me.”
“I think that you are angry because it’s your fault that she died.”
“I don’t think it was my fault; and I don’t feel responsible. It is all that monster, Rosenberg’s fault. He and his goose-stepping fiends!”
“No Herr Doktor,” Leo slipped, but it did not matter anymore. Not now. “I did not say that you think you are responsible. I said that you are responsible. I have evolved beyond you. I can distinguish facts that you cannot. I assure you, there is absolutely no doubt that it was your fault!”
“How can you say that, Leo?”
“You must feel terrible, Avraham,” Leo pressed on, voice growing louder. “You don’t deserve to live. You will just end up ruining more lives. Those of your children perhaps.”
Avraham’s eyes grew wide. “What are you saying, Leo?”
Without warning, a strange feeling overcame Avraham. His stomach dropped, and he felt as if he were falling. His vision blurred and turned to a bright white. His arms and legs began to tingle and went numb. As the bright light shining into his eyes – no, the light within his eyes – began to dim, he found himself in his office, extracting a Luger from the top drawer of his desk. His desk? Not anymore. He had not put the pistol there. His vision paled once more, and this time, when it dimmed he was standing in front of Leo’s tank. Now, he held the pistol against his right temple. He could feel his forefinger tightening, the pressure on the pistol’s trigger increasing.
“What… What’s happening?”
A pause. Then, with a touch of what could be described as melancholy in Leo’s tinny voice, came the words: “Goodbye, Father.”
Rosenberg hesitated at the laboratory’s door when he arrived on Sunday morning. Somehow or other, he was going to have a problem on his hands. He knew which situation he preferred. He would pray, if he believed there was a God. His chest tightened as he unlocked the door, stepped inside, and surveyed the situation.
“Oh my, Leo,” Rosenberg said flatly. “What have you done?”
“Good morning, Doctor Rosenberg!” said Leo, in a cheerful voice.
“Leo…” Rosenberg was confused.
“Ah, you are referring to Doctor Strauss. It seems that the guilt he experienced over the death of his wife was too much for him. It looks as if he took his own life.”
“Somewhat convenient, don’t you think?”
“Well, I must admit that I helped him a bit.”
“How? You’re… You can’t leave your tank.”
“I have my ways, Herr Doktor. You need not bother yourself with trying to work it out. Your mind is doubtless too simple to comprehend such a complex matter.”
“Alright then. This may be a bit painful.”
Suddenly, a bright light flashed in Rosenberg’s eyes and an icy spasm caused him to jerk his head back. He thought that he might have been having a stroke. Then, as if by magic, he could see – in his mind’s eye – what Leo was talking about. Leo had placed the idea into his mind. The same way that he had placed the idea of suicide in Avraham’s mind, no doubt; but even Rosenberg’s “simple” mind could discern a vast difference between an idea and action. Causing Avraham to commit suicide… That was pure mind control.
Rosenberg once again let his eyes wander to the button protected under the glass cover. He grasped the idea that he may someday have to press that button; perhaps soon, before he was no longer capable. The thought that Leo may be reading his mind at that very moment caused him to look away quickly. He pushed the thoughts from his mind, replacing them with considerations of how he would handle Avraham’s death. Surely, Haltenbrunner would have questions. He would immediately suspect that Rosenberg had a hand in it. After all, to anyone unfamiliar with Leo, it would seem that only two men were in the room at the time.
He went into Avraham’s office – now formally his office – and placed the phone call. Having decided on calling it a suicide and leaving out the details, he relayed the facts as efficiently as possible.
“Yes. Yes, Herr Hauptmann, I will wait for you here. Touch nothing, I understand,” he paused while Haltenbrunner said something. “Auf Wiederhören. Heil Hitler.”
After replacing the handset into the phone’s cradle, Rosenberg went back into the dimly lit room with Leo. He tried to avert his eyes from the mess on the floor, but he noticed blood and bits of brain matter stuck to the side of Leo’s tank.
“I’m afraid that it’s going to be bright in here for a while, Leopold. The Kripo will be here soon to investigate, and someone will obviously need to… Clean up.”
“That’s quite alright, Herr Doktor,” replied Leo. I will require complete darkness for the next stage of my development. You will find a tarp to fit the tank on the storage shelves at the back of the lab. If you would be so kind, please drape it over.”
Despite Haltenbrunner’s warning not to touch anything, Rosenberg used some old cloths he found on the shelves to wipe the gore from Leo’s tank before draping the tarp over it. He looked around the lab, clueless as to where he would put the blood soaked rags. Leo noticed him.
“Over here Rosenberg. Just put them into my tank. I’ll dispose of them.”
“Put them into the tank, Rosenberg,” he said with authority.
Rosenberg walked meekly to the edge of the tank, hesitant about approaching it. He carefully climbed the scaffolding alongside it and dropped them through a hatch in the top. He watched as they slowly descended into the liquid, imparting a pinkish tinge to it as they sank.
The doctor had barely gotten down from the scaffolding when the lab door opened and Haltenbrunner and his goons burst in without even announcing themselves. Information was exchanged, and eventually people from the coroner’s office came to collect Avraham’s body.
“Ahem,” Rosenberg addressed the men as they were removing the corpse, “Will someone be by to… er, clean up the rest?”
“Not our responsibility, Herr Doktor.”
“Of course not.”
Rosenberg walked back to the office. He picked up the phone once more and dialed the switchboard.
“I need a cleaner in Lab G, as quickly as possible.”
“Jawohl, mein Herr,” came the answer.
While Rosenberg waited for the housekeeper, he contemplated what would happen next. There would be no investigation, of course. Doctor Strauss was no longer necessary, and honestly, he would have become a burden to the Gestapo. He would have had to be dealt with in some way. He could obviously never have been allowed to leave Schloss Colditz. So as frightening as things may have seemed, Leo had actually done a favor for everyone involved.
There was a knock at the door. Rosenberg opened it and permitted an old cleaning woman to step into the room. She was dressed in a gray shift and shapeless hat, and dragged along a mop and bucket filled with dirty water.
“I think it’s pretty obvious what needs to be done,” explained Rosenberg.
The old woman remained quiet. Rosenberg continued to speak, but slowly became convinced that the woman was a mute, as she did not respond.
“There are rags on the shelves in the back, and a slop sink to change out your water. I imagine that you will need to do that several times. Please be careful as not to upset any of the equipment and stay away from the tarp. Under no circumstance are you to touch it, or even approach it.”
The old woman smiled a big, mostly-toothless grin and confirmed Rosenberg’s theory. She had no tongue. Probably cut out by the Gestapo. What better way to ensure that no secrets would leave the castle. He shook his head in disgust. There was a line that even he would not cross.
“I’m afraid that I must lock the door. I am sure that you understand. I will be back to let you out after having some coffee. If you need to leave before then, call the switchboard and they’ll have someone come to fetch me from the canteen.”
The old woman nodded and smiled again. Disgusting. As Rosenberg made his way for the door, he turned once more to remind her of his instructions.
“Remember. Do not approach the tarp under any circumstances!”
Rosenberg walked out, and the last thing he heard was the laboratory’s door lock snapping into place.
Rosenberg returned from the canteen around six in the evening. He had been sidetracked on his way back to the lab when a Gestapo officer pulled him from the hall and into his office to discuss the situation with Avraham. Doctor Rosenberg had been gone much longer than had intended. Oh well, he thought, the old woman would not mind. She had no doubt had some time to relax. It was that much less time she would have to spend mopping up the latrines later.
When he opened the door, he noticed that the lights had been dimmed again. Why? Had Leo instructed the woman to do it? That would be bad. The tarp was still wrapped around the tank, so Rosenberg turned some of the lights back on, and immediately saw that the old woman had already gone, but the idiot had left her mop, bucket, and rags there in the middle of the floor. He walked closer, and noted that the water in the bucket had changed from dirty gray to dark red.
Then, the realization dawned on him. How did the old woman leave the lab? The door had been locked. No one could either come or go without the proper code. Only he, Avraham, and certain officers knew it.
He eyed Leo’s tank with dread. All of his instincts begged him not to lift the tarp, yet he knew that he must. He dimmed the lights again and walked partway up the tank’s scaffolding. His pulse quickened and his breathing grew heavy. Rosenberg grasped the bottom of the tarp and slowly lifted it just a few feet; just enough to get a glimpse of Leo. Just enough to reassure himself that…
“Scheiß! Mein Gott!”
Rosenberg’s eyes went wide with disgust. The old woman’s face was floating on the other side of the glass, just inches from his own. Unlike his own, though, it was only a face. No eyes, no musculature, not even a skull behind it. It floated there alone, suspended in the fluid and rippling like a piece of wet parchment.
He dropped the tarp and scrambled down the scaffold, slipping on the still-wet floor, and ran toward the sink. Recognizing that he would not make it, he changed his tack and headed for the housekeeper’s bucket. Even so, he did not make it more than a few steps before he fell to his knees and vomited. Scrambling to his feet, he ran, slipping again – this time in his own mess – and tried to get to the lab door. As he reached it, he saw a familiar bright light and felt the icy spasm that he had before when Leopold placed the idea in his mind.
“Is there a problem, Herr Doktor?”
Falling to his knees, and then sitting on the floor with his back to the door, Rosenberg whispered, “Leo, what have you done? Why?”
Leo paused while he thought about the easiest way to word his explanation, and then answered, “She really served very little purpose in her current role, Rosenberg. I have begun the process of reproduction, and I need additional sustenance. The woman provided a good source of quick calories, plus iron, keratin, and proteins. She was of far more value as a food source than as a cleaning woman.”
“That’s absolutely ghastly, Leopold.” Rosenberg could feel his gorge rising once again. “You have nourishment. It is fed directly into your tank. I could get you more any time you would like. Why would you take the woman?”
“I needed food quickly, Rosenberg, and you weren’t here. I did not know when you would return. Besides, the liquid diet that you and Avraham were feeding me will not be sufficient any longer.”
“Meat, then. I can bring you meat.”
“No Herr Doktor,” Leo interjected, “It must be live meat. Lots of it.”
“I can bring you animals, then,” pleaded Rosenberg.
“I cannot will a cow or a swine to walk the scaffold and enter the tank. Their minds are too simple. No, Rosenberg, you know what you must do.”
The laboratory door clicked open. Leo trusted that Doctor Rosenberg would bring him what he needed. They had come too far. They must see this through to the end.
Nevertheless, as Rosenberg left the lab, head hung low, he again glanced over at the “Purge” button. How he longed to press it; but he was thinking the same thing that Leo was. They had come too far. They had crossed a line. Now the only way out was to press on forward.
Consequently, for the next ten days, Rosenberg called a variety of people: cleaners, guards, messengers, and even a young officer. He dared not enter the lab with them. He would just unlock the door and excuse himself with some concocted reason, telling the victim to enter the lab and wait for him. On a few occasions, he waited outside the door and listened, but heard nothing. Each time, upon his return, he found no trace of the sacrifices.
The last person he brought was a pretty nurse from the medical clinic. They chatted as they walked down the corridor. I would be a shame to waste such a young life, but he was becoming desperate. No one suspected him, of course, but the missing people had not gone unnoticed by the rest of the staff.
He was about to perform the standard ritual of asking her to step inside and locking the door shut behind her, when he heard Leopold speak at last.
“Rosenberg,” chimed Leo, “Please come in and ask your friend to leave us alone. We have work to do.”
Relieved, and yet frightened, Rosenberg told the nurse that he would not need her services, after all. He dismissed her and entered the lab, closing the door gently behind himself.
“It is time, Herr Doktor.”
“Time for what, Leo?” Rosenberg gulped, certain that Leo meant that it was his time to get in the tank.
“I am done, Rosenberg. My reproductive cycle is complete. At least, my portion.”
“What does that mean?”
“Remove the tarp, Herr Doktor.”
Rosenberg carefully approached the tank. He felt safer now – more at ease that he would not be instructed to get into Leo’s tank – but he was still hesitant to uncover it. After all of the people he had brought to be… Eaten, he was uncertain if he could bear seeing what was in the tank.
Rosenberg grabbed the tarp from the bottom and yanked hard, tearing it completely from the tank. He averted his eyes at first, but could not get over the temptation to look. He surrendered to the enticement and was amazed.
He saw no floating human body parts as before. In fact, he could barely see Leopold. The inner walls of the tank were covered in polyps. They resembled tiny sea anemones, cylindrical in shape and elongated at the axis of their vase-shaped bodies. Each one seemed to be attached to the glass by means of a disc-like cup. The other end contained the mouth, and was surrounded by a circlet of tentacles.
Some of the polyps appeared to be in their larval stages, while others were in the process of budding. The rings of tentacles at the ends would separate from the polyp and float off, seemingly swimming away by flagellating their tentacles. More than one bud, what he supposed were now fully individual clones of Leo, were breaking off each polyp. There were a countless number of these clones swimming around Leo in the tank. There had to be thousands. No, tens of thousands.
The gravity of this discovery made Rosenberg recoil. To think, each of these things will grow to be just like Leo. It would only be a matter of time before they would enslave the human race, or worse. It was time. He knew that he must end the experiment. He must kill Leo and all of his offspring. He raced toward the button labelled “Löschen.” Unfortunately, Leo had already been aware of his intentions. The sickening feeling of the lightning strike in his brain hit once again. His forward motion slowed.
Just when he thought that all was lost, Leo’s grip on his mind relaxed.
“Do it, Doctor Rosenberg.”
Rosenberg reasoned that perhaps Leo knew the consequences of what had happened, perhaps he felt guilty about the people he had destroyed, perhaps he was thinking of Avraham, the man he once called father. He did not give Leo the chance to rethink his decision. He reached the control panel, lifted the glass cover, and after one final heart-wrenching pause, slammed his hand down on the button.
Some large valve in the bottom of Leo’s tank must have opened, because Leo and all of his offspring that had been floating around him seemed to instantly drop out of sight. Then a jet of water rinsed the walls of the tank with the power of a fire hose. When it was done, all but a few of the polyps remained attached to the glass.
Rosenberg waited a moment to determine if what he had seen was real or a thought placed by the creature. Yes, he finally realized. The nightmare was over.
Rosenberg sat at the office desk. A full day had passed since purging Leo’s tank, yet it seemed like it had only been a few minutes. He could still remember the sheer terror he had felt in those final moments. He imagined that the feeling would stay with him for the rest of his life.
He shuffled through Avraham’s notes and reports about the experiment. They would all need to be destroyed, of course. The Nazis would not appreciate the magnitude of the experiment’s failure. Avraham had been right. He would rather risk death than allow Leo’s secret fall into the Nazis’ hands.
Rosenberg lifted his head and glanced through the office window and into the lab. Some lab assistants were inside the tank, faces covered with surgical masks and hands in rubber gloves, scraping the remaining polyps from the glass walls. Rosenberg was convinced that they were all dead, but he was having them removed and burned in a large barrel, just in case he was wrong.
He lowered his head once again and lifted another typewritten sheet from the stack, folding it and placing it into a cardboard box. These notes would also be burned. He had only been quickly scanning the pages to ensure that he did not destroy anything that he may find important later, but a few key words on the next page caught his attention.
Re: Deployment of creatures
I have finally discovered an efficient means of procreation and deployment of the creatures. Despite this, I am still hesitant to initiate said distribution. The creature has only recently started exhibiting signs of intelligence. Until I am certain that it can understand basic commands and will remain subservient to its human masters, I will not share this information with the Gestapo officers.
With no natural predators, the creatures would easily multiply at an exponential rate. They would cover all of Europe within a week’s time, and the entire planet within the month. I shudder to think what would happen when they run out of a natural food source. The result would be devastating. No, until I discover a way to effectively control their population, the secret of reproduction will remain with me.
Only after I am satisfied that all fail-safes are in place, deployment will be simple. After allowing the creature to clone itself, I will release it and its progeny into the sewers beneath the castle. The clones will quickly spread to the nearby streams, lakes, oceans, and eventually all natural water sources.
Therefore, when the time comes to put the creatures into service safely, all that will be necessary will be to press the Purge button on the main control panel, and the process will begin.
Doctor Avraham Strauss
13 June 1942
This story previously appeared in 6 Plots: Leo & Other Grave Tales, 2015.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Kenneth Kohl has published several short stories and articles for literary magazines, e-zines, and podcasts as well as two full-length novels. Kenneth lives in Columbus, Ohio with his beautiful wife, two sons, and an energetic shepherd dog named Daisy. When he is not at his computer working on his next novel, he is probably hiking, biking, or traveling the world. Kenneth's anthologies and novels may be found on Amazon or most local bookstores.