The wunderwaffe slowed to a crawl, finally coming to a stuttering, lurching halt, the engine of the modified landkreuzer disintegrating, leaving behind a trail of oily shards of metal for several meters. The hatch popped open, and a pale form pulled himself free, sucking air in. Hauptmann Meinhard Muller, last of the Panzerabteilung, looked around at what should - if the calculations had been correct - should have been Berlin.
It was a graveyard of greatness. The skeletal frames of flying wings lay beached in neat rows where their pilots had touched down and abandoned them. Great walkers lay on their side or in roost positions, some turned over with their legs dangling comically in the air, their operators crushed and trapped beneath them. Along the shore of the river a massive unterzeeboat had rolled over on its side, covering the shore with a black film of oil. Over and beyond the wunderwaffe were more sane vehicles - trucks and tanks, bicycles and motorcycles, great mounds of horse skeletons stripped of meat and covered with flies, the frames of zeppelins and Junkers and Messerschmitts. Everywhere and on all of it, Meinhard could see the swastikas, the emblems and designations of the armed forces. Piled high and spread out across the landscape, the great ruined war gear of the Reich.
"Willkommen," a voice with an Austrian accent called to him, and Muller turned around to see a man not ten yards away, clambering on a path that wended past two great trucks stamped with deaths-heads. He recognized the uniform of the SS that the man was wearing, right down to the bright red sash around his arm, though curiously he wore no insignia of rank and had obviously been unshaven for days.
"Hello?" Muller replied.
"You are new, yes? We heard you arrive!" The SS man said. He was thin, Manfred saw, with a gray pallor to his skin, dark hair starting to thin, and red-rimmed eyes.
"I have just arrived, yes." Muller said slowly as he exited the tank, dropping easily to the ground - and almost tripping as his boot crushed through a child's skull. "But where am I, exactly? I was told they were sending me to Berlin - for the final battle."
The SS man smiled. "The final battle, yes. You are in Berlin, hauptmann - the New Berlin! The staging ground for the Reich. But you must be tired from your journey, yes. Come with me."
The SS man turned to walk back down the path, and somewhat reluctantly Muller followed. The thought flashed through his mind briefly that this could be a trap - some deception of the Russians as they encircled the city to capture forces intent on its liberation - but as he followed the SS man with the strange accent, new thoughts quickly pushed the suspicion from his mind. The path took him past weapons and vehicles that Muller had never even seen - or heard of. There were great rockets, teetering at alarming angles, some over a dozen meters tall, and the leering, crude forms of giant metal men, their hands no more than crude clamps. Laying in a row along one bend were sixteen corpses, each of whom had had their arm, and part of their head surgically removed, replaced with steel limbs and rusted skull-caps, some with steel teeth and glass eyes that seemed to stare at Muller as he hurried past.
It was the dragon that caused Muller to stop in his tracks, though, and the SS man had to backtrack a ways.
The great reptile lay stretched out upon the ground, its wings - its wingspan must have put a Messerschmitt to shame - were shredded, and fifty-caliber holes had been chewed into the heavy scales on its sides. A blackened tongue lolled from the evil, gaping mouth, where the ivory teeth had already been harvested. It was a thing of madness, a Wagnerian nightmare in desiccated, reptilian reality - and on its pale belly was tattooed its Luftwaffe designation.
"Come alone, hauptmann," the SS man said, plucking at his sleeve. "You have seen nothing, as of yet."
"Is this hell?" Muller asked, still staring black swastika-rune on its belly. "How can such things be?"
"If this is hell," the SS man said, "then it is one where we are masters. You will soon learn that many things you thought impossible - the things of myth and propaganda, scientifiction and mad rumor - are concrete fact. That our science and our faith have been rewarded with marvels. It is a challenge, I know. I too had to see it with my own eyes, and did not first understand. But you must know you are a part of the great work we do here. You have left behind the world that you know, your Berlin burns, her women raped by the Russians or whoring themselves out to the Americans for safety, the Fuhrer in his bunker...it is too late for that world. Far, far too late. The old Reich is dead. Now, hauptmann, you have been called to serve the Final Reich..."