Tuesday, March 9, 2010

DBTL 72A: The Six Million Złoty Man, Act I

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where the Holocaust and World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth. To avoid a European nuclear arms race, the four nations join together in September 1946 to create the Atomic Control Commission, tasked with maintaining a global monopoly on nuclear weapons . . .

"Lublin, I can't hold her, she's breaking up, she's breaking --"


Enoch Powell.


A man barely alive.

"We can rebuild him," Dr. Mengele assured Director-General Clarke. "We can make him better than he was. Better . . . stronger . . . faster . . . "

Marching to Pretoria

Pretoria, South Africa
16 September 1966

Colonel Enoch Powell of the League of Nations Atomic Control Commission strode down the gangway from the exit hatch of the BOAC jetliner with some satisfaction. While he didn't actually feel a physical need to stretch his bionic legs, the ten-hour flight from London to Pretoria had been uncomfortable, particularly to a man who had once traveled similar distances in a matter of minutes. It was a shame that suborbital ballistic flights couldn't be made commercially profitable. Colonel Powell felt, as he frequently did, that if only he could devote enough of his time and technical skills to the problem, he could provide the solution.

Unfortunately for the commercial aviation field, he had more important matters to deal with.

Powell stood in queue with what patience he could muster while South African Customs processed the other members of his flight. Had he wished, he could have bypassed the customs check, but that would have required him to identify himself as an ACC agent, and his current mission involved traveling incognito. When at last his turn came, he was pleased by how thoroughly the customs men searched his carry-on baggage. Powell hated to see sloppy work of any sort, and besides, there was nothing the least bit incriminating in his bags. All his secrets were concealed within his own body.

After another wait to pick up the rest of his baggage, Powell left the airport and motioned to one of the taxis waiting outside. The driver helped him stow his bags in the boot, then opened the door for him. Once he was behind the wheel, the driver said, "Where to, sir?" From his English, Powell judged that the man's parents had immigrated from Suffolk, though the driver himself had most likely been born in South Africa.

"Carrington's," Powell answered curtly. "Do you know the way?"

"Yessir," said the driver. Powell resisted the temptation to provide directions anyway. If the driver took a wrong turn, deliberately or otherwise, Powell would let him know.

However, there proved to be no need. The driver took the optimal route from the airport to Carrington's Hotel, and Powell gave him a suitably calculated tip as he picked up his bags and left the taxi. It had always struck Powell as absurd that one should provide extra money to someone simply for doing their job, but it was customery, and Powell was wise enough to follow the local customs wherever he went. Besides, it was his job to blend in, and tipping the help the average amount would reduce his visibility.

The bellhops at Carrington's received equally calculated tips, and no doubt forgot him as soon as he was in his room. After unpacking, he had the front desk call him another taxi. This time the driver spoke with an Afrikaans accent. Powell fought down the urge to give him directions in that language.

Once again the driver took him to his destination by the optimal route; Powell was becoming favorably impressed with the honesty displayed by these South African taxi drivers. He actually considered tipping the man extra for a moment before reason reasserted itself.

The main campus of the University of Pretoria was located east of the city's center, and it was there that Powell went to see Dr. Werner Schwietzke. The physicist was in his office when Powell arrived.

"Herr Dr. Schwietzke?" Powell said, though he recognized the man from his dossier.

"I am he," Schwietzke answered in German. "And you are?"

"My name is Powell, Herr Doktor, Enoch Powell."

The scientist nodded in recognition. "Of course, the rocket pilot. What can I do for you, Herr Powell?"

"I've come to ask you about some of the work you've been doing recently for the South African government," said Powell.

"I don't know what you mean," said the physicist, though Powell could tell that he did. "I am an academic. I do not work for the government."

"Come, come, Herr Doctor Professor, we both know that you have been employed for the past ten years building atomic bombs for South African." Now Powell produced his ACC identification.

A lesser man would have begun to wilt at this point, but Schwietzke was made of sterner stuff. "If we were really building atom bombs, you wouldn't be standing here talking to me. You'd be raining your ballistic missiles on our country."

"The Commission has changed, Herr Doktor," said Powell. "Ever since the Los Alamos crisis, it has been ACC policy to avoid taking military action against centers of unauthorized atomic research." Powell himself privately disagreed with the policy, but there was no need to inform Schwietzke of that. "These days we prefer to use more . . . indirect means to accomplish our goals."

Schwietzke began to tense himself. "Meaning assassination?"

"Meaning persuasion. Bribery. Arm-twisting. In your case, your past unfortunate association with the Röhm regime in Germany would be forgotten, and you would be allowed to return to Europe."

The scientist began to glare at Powell. "I have neither need nor wish to return to Europe. The South Africans are indifferent to the slanders about the Fatherland that have been spread by the Jewish press."

"I daresay they are," said Powell. "Very well, Herr Doctor Professor, I shall take up no more of your time. Good day, sir." Leaving Schwietzke's office, Powell walked out of the campus building and took up a position behind it. He had no trouble deducing which of the windows looked out from Schwietzke's office, and he used his ocular prosthetic to magnify the view until he could clearly make out the scientist's face. As he had suspected from the office's layout, Schwietzke had his face towards the window while talking on the phone. Powell was able to read the German's lips to get his side of the conversation.

"-- don't know how much he knows. Yes, quite definitely, he showed me his identification card. I don't know. Perhaps. How should I know? Very well, I should be there within the hour. Goodbye."

Within minutes, Schwietzke was out the door and walking across to the building's car park. He got into one of the parked vehicles (a dark blue 1961 Ford Enterprise, Powell noted) and drove off. Powell followed.

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