Where Robots Dare
The calmness of the English countryside, with the rolling hills and gentle forests in the distance alive with the twitter of songbirds, made war seem very far away. But not far from that meadow, London still bore the scars of Nazi endless bombing raids from the Battle of Britain, and now American tents lay in white rows, while soldiers drilled and trained in preparation for the coming invasion – and liberation – of Europe. Engines hummed and roared, jeeps and trucks carried personnel and equipment while hulking airplanes trundled along overhead. The invasion had yet to begin, but everyone knew it would come soon. They waited for the inevitable, with a mixture of fear and excitement. But some of the machines could think and reason. They were robots, and they had been brought together by US Government to be used as a special, expendable squad for delicate operations. Zero Deuce, a former robotic detective from the metropolis of Steele City, felt proud to be amongst their number. The four robots, an elite team nicknamed the Steel Eagles, walked into an unassuming tent at the far end of camp, ready for a briefing.
Deuce held the tent flap for his friends. He wore the uniform of a paratrooper, the dull brown coat and olive green helmet, shading his polished metal face – featureless apart for glowing eyes. Deuce served as the rifleman, and carried a modified M1 Garand on his shoulder. He held the tent flap for his friends. Model X had worked as robotic hitman before the war. Now, he served as the sniper for the Steel Eagles, with a scoped rifle set over his shoulders. His dark-tinted eyes looked at the set of maps and pictures on the corkboard in the tent. "We're going to Europe, Private Deuce," Model X said, as he walked inside.
"We are?" Deuce asked. He knew that was their destination – but it had never been said out loud before. His gears clicked in unease as he looked at the maps, showing German forests, mountains, and roads – the heart of Hitler's Nazi empire.
"About damn time." Major Tripoli led the Steel Eagles – the commanding officer with dented, gunmetal gray skin and a rigid campaign hat. The Steel Eagles had battled the Germans in North Africa and in Italy, as well as the Japanese in innumerable Pacific islands, but had yet to reach Occupied Europe. "Sit down. And listen." Major Tripoli had been created to lead Marines in the First World War. He'd fought in every conflict since and loved it. After all, he had been built for war.
The final member of the team, the newly created Score, walked past Deuce and thanked him with a curt nod. Score handled explosives and demolitions with a business-like briskness. They sat down on the four chairs and stared at the maps, as well as the two human officers who stood ready to brief them. Deuce recognized one from the newsreels. General George S. Patton had the same bulldog glare glaring out from his weathered face – a perpetual snarl. He even carried his famed ivory-handled revolvers. The other fellow wore a suit and had dark hair fused into shape with pomade. He looked like an OSS man.
The robots stood. General Patton looked them over as he snapped a lighter to life. "At ease. Have a seat."The robots sat down. "Now, you boys are technically Airborne, given the eagles on your shoulders and your nickname, but you've done work for the Office of Strategic Services on many different fronts. I heard about you taking down those electric samurai in Guadalcanal. You stopped the krauts from taking those Egyptian machines in North Africa. So when I was asked for some soldiers for this operation, I knew I wanted the toughest metal bastards to ever pull a trigger. I put in a request and here you are."
Model X released an electric click. "Meaning it's a suicide mission."
Major Tripoli's head swiveled to face Model X. "You were not given permission to speak, soldier, and you will address General Patton as 'sir,' or by God, I will—"
"That's all right, Major." The OSS man loosened his tie. "We're used to keeping things informal in the Office of Strategic Services." He held out his hand. "I'm Agent Cosmo Collins. Wild Bill Donovan assigned me to help oversee potential threats before the upcoming invasion, and I found a big one." He walked to the corkboard and pointed to a lithograph of a knight in armor, with a bristly beard and a metal hand forming a fist. "This is Gotz Von Berlichingen, a Renaissance Era German Imperial Knight and engineer. He got his hand lopped off and built another one – made of metal."
General Patton smiled. "Supposed to have invited the phrase 'kiss my ass,' as well."
"Yes." Agent Collins continued. "And he created a large number of clockwork automaton warriors – the Von Berlichingen Knights. They won several battles before he retired them, hiding them away in some location in Germany. According to our spies, the Nazis are looking for them. If they can find them, they'll activate them and send to cut off the invasion. Even if they're primitive automatons, it could prove disastrous. We believe that the castle is somewhere within the Black Forest, but we need to know the exact location." He pointed to another picture. "And we need to get there before this man." This photograph showed a Nazi officer, sporting the death's head emblem of the SS. He had a high forehead below slightly curled blonde hair, a robotic eye resembling a dark circle of glass ringed with steel, and a constant smirk. "This is Colonel Frederick Von Falken of the Waffen-SS. An expert on so-called Wunderwaffe."
"Wonder weapons," Deuce muttered.
"Exactly." General Patton glowered at Colonel Von Falken. "Say what you will about the krauts, but they are smart. You boys need to get to him, find out where he thinks the Von Berlichingen Knights are, and go there. Then you tell us and we'll get some Air Force boys to flatten it."
Score nodded slowly. He had a blued steel body and colorless glowing eyes. "So where is this kraut egghead? And how do we get to the him?"
Agent Collins' finger pointed to map of the alps. "He's taking a vacation at a placed called the Alpenhaus. It's an Alpine retreat, a country club for Nazi higher-ups. Our spies says that Colonel Von Falken will be relaxing there. Luckily, we have a way in." He moved to the next picture, showing a gorilla with its bulky body in a tuxedo. "This is Mr. Gray, a British gorilla with increased intelligence thanks to Dynamic Darwinism. He's currently an SAS commando turned spy, and has infiltrated the Nazi inner circle. You'll parachute in outside the small town of Wurmgarten, meet with Mr. Gray, and begin the infiltrate of Alpenhaus."
"I know Mr. Gray," Deuce said.
"Excellent." Model X faced Agent Collins. "What then?"
"Then?" General Patton folded his arms. "Hightail it out of there. Head to the Black Forest. The limey ape's in contact with some resistance – French and German under a woman named Rosa Ritter. I know it's a goddamn mess trusting a woman in war, but she'll be able to help you."
"I know Rosa Ritter," Deuce said. Before the war, Rosa had befriended his young creator – the inventor Philo Glass. He father had been a great German inventor – and an outspoken socialist. Rosa and Philo cared for each other, but then the Nazis came to power and she and her father had both been captured, presumably for execution. Evidently, Rosa had escaped. If she was alive, Deuce owed it to Philo to help her stay that way.
Major Tripoli adjusted the strap of his sub-gun. "Well, goddamn, private. You're turning out to be very useful on this operation." He turned back to General Patton and Agent Collins. "We're ready, sir. When do we go?"
"Soon as dusk hits," General Patton explained. "Agent Collins will make sure you've got the proper equipment for the jump." The Steel Eagles came to their feet. "We need the Normandy Invasion to be successful, boys. We need Hitler to have all his Wunderwaffe smashed to pieces before our boys enter Occupied France. I'm relying on you to make that happen. You may be robots, but you're American soldiers. That means you're the best. Now get over there and start putting some bullets into Nazi skulls."
"Sir, yes, sir!" The robots chorused together. Deuce did as well. He didn't like fighting, but he would gladly go to war to see the Third Reich defeated. General Patton saluted, the Steel Eagles did the same, and then they departed to prepare to enter Germany.
Night gave their entrance cover, hiding the black-painted cargo plane as it zoomed low over a forest region of the Rhineland. The aircraft buzzed low to avoid radar, nearly sweeping the top of the shadowed, pointed trees as it zoomed along. Deuce and the Steel Eagles sat in the back, checking their equipment and weapons for the final time. Score worked on one of his detonators, pressing it down and listening to the click. Model X sharpened a combat knife. Then the light in the plane flicked green. Major Tripoli came to his feet and gave them a nod. The robots formed a line, the door opened, and they went through. Deuce hopped out second to last, right before Score. He plunged into darkness, falling from the plane and hurtling down toward the trees and a small clearing. Wind slashed at his metal features. Deuce tugged the ripcord and the parachute blossomed behind him, the straps biting into his arms. His legs swayed as he descended with agonizing slowness. Finally, his boots hit the grass, he rolled over and the jump had ended. Deuce cut his parachute free and stood.
The other Steel Eagles did the same. Major Tripoli swept the woods with his gun. "Report," he ordered. Shadows filled the forest, but warm yellow light shone in the distance – the small town of Wurmgarten, where Mr. Gray waited.
Deuce withdrew his rifle. "I am in a state of wellness."
"I have been covered in grass." Model X stood up, brushing grass and dirt from his uniform.
"I'm ready to start blowing things up," Score said. "Let's get going."
"Outstanding." Major Tripoli pointed to Wurmgarten. "You boys make me proud to be an American machine. Now follow me, close formation and keep it quiet. We'll hide until we spot Mr. Gray, and then meet him for the next part of the operation. Let's go."
They started to Wurmgarten, crouching low and moving past the trees with practiced speed. They soon reached the winding cobblestone road which led into the picturesque German town. Wurmgarten had a single street flanked by charming little cabins, a statue of some long-forgotten Prussian general on horseback in the center of the street, and not much else. The Steele Eagles stayed to the shadows, moving past in the edge of the street and sticking to the alleys when they could. Deuce scanned the street with his optical sensors. A tavern rested in the center of Wurmgarten, the yellow lights providing the only glow in the darkness. Nobody else stayed out this late.
The Steel Eagles reached the midpoint of the town – where the small tavern overlooking the statue of the mounted general. They paused before the inn. Major Tripoli looked back and forth and motioned with his fist, making a hand gesture telling them to press on. Crouched low, the four robots crossed in front of the tavern when the door slammed open and an Nazi robot in a long, black trench coat stepped outside. His eyes settled on the American machines. He emerged just as Deuce crossed before the door. Deuce froze and turned to look at him. For a second, they exchanged a glance. Deuce recognized the other robot.
The Steel Eagles had encountered him before. He had been built by Nazi scientists as proof of Aryan superiority in engineering, christened Arminius, after the Germanic chieftain, and led elite companies of combat robots – Robojaegers – throughout the Third Reich. They had even rescued Mussolini during the campaign in Italy. Arminius had the tall bearing of a warlord, with a smooth face fused into a peaked cap marked with a swastika. His red eyes glowed out malevolently, fixed on Deuce. A scar crossed his cheek, left by a bullet and making the metal white. The Steel Eagles had given him that scar. He carried an electrified combat sword in a hilt on his belt, and he withdrew a long-barreled pistol without a second's hesitation. Pure bad luck had put the Steel Eagles in his path, and now Arminius would make them pay.
Major Tripoli grabbed Deuce's shoulder. "Suppressing fire!" he roared, as Arminius's long-barreled pistol blazed away and more Nazi soldiers – human and robot – boiled out of the bar. Major Tripoli fired his Thompson one- handed, spitting lead in the direction of the tavern. Model X cracked away with his sniper rifle. They moved back, firing together, but the Nazis would overwhelm soon. Luckily, Score was prepared. He pulled a grenade, popped the pin, and let it fly. The grenade exploded before the bar. The sound flooded Deuce's auditory sensors and stopped the Nazi firing. It gave the Steel Eagles time.
Model X dashed to the statue's plinth and slid down. Deuce, Major Tripoli, and Score followed him. They crouched behind the statue and readied their weapons. "Bad luck." Deuce leveled his rifle at the tavern. "Just bad luck." A Robojaeger – its red eyes glaring from the darkness under its rounded German army helmet – attempted to charge their position. Deuce shot the robot first, punching a round through its skull and chest as he fired the rifle. The Garand unloaded and then ejected its clip with the familiar ping. Deuce ducked down to reload while Major Tripoli and Score fired back with their sub-guns. They laid down a decent level of fire, but that didn't daunt the Germans.
Arminius charged out of the tavern, leading a score of Robojaegers. A few dropped under Major Tripoli and Score's salvo, but more rushed across and swarmed the statue. Arminius roared out the orders, his electric voice crackling as the lead flew. Bullets tore into the Prussian general. A shot shattered his saber and another gouged his face. Stone fragments rained down, falling on top of Deuce and the Steel Eagles as they reloaded.
"We're gonna be overwhelmed!" Score cried.
"The Hell with that, soldier," Major Tripoli replied. "Just more the kraut bastards to kill!" He unleashed another burst with the Thompson as the Robojaegers reached the statue.
Another rumbling piece of machine gunfire joined in, slashing into the Robojaegers from the flank. These bullets shredded the Nazi machines, ripping apart limbs and tearing through bodies. It seemed to have no end, a rattling, fusillade that made all of Wurmgarten echo. The Robojaegers didn't get a chance to fire back. They dropped onto the cobblestones, smashed to pieces. Arminius continued the charge, a sword bursting with lighting held in one hand, and then the gunshots danced around him and he ran back to the cover of the tavern. His footsteps seemed to drag even as he ran. He hated to let the Steel Eagles go.
The rumble of gunfire fell silent. German voices came from the tavern. Deuce had learned German since he became a soldier and he knew they were afraid to emerge. Apart from their whispers, all of Wurmgarten stayed quiet, and then their rescuer spoke. "I say." A posh British accent came from the alley across the street. "You Americans do know how to make an entrance." Deuce recognized the voice. He turned to see Mr. Gray emerge. "You better come over before the Huns recover their nerve." Mr. Gray's massive form appeared in the alley, a Bren gun held in his thick, shaggy arms. Major Tripoli nodded to his soldiers and they hurried across the street. They raced to the safety of the alley, running into the shadows as a few stray rifle shots echoed behind them. Mr. Gray ushered them in and they turned the corner and hid from view.
Mr. Gray had the same dark, furry bulk that Deuce remembered, along with the silver stud on his forehead that gave him advanced intelligence. He sported a khaki SAS commando's uniform, along with a red beret. Deuce paused to shake his hand. "It is good to see, Mr. Gray. We were nearly overwhelmed." A civilian truck rested at the end of the alley, with a canvas covering to hide them from view. "Thank you for your arrival."
"Oh, think nothing of it, Mr. Deuce." Mr. Gray pointed to the back of the truck. "Hop in now and we'll get moving. The Alpenhaus is accessible only by funicular and it takes rather a long time to get up. We'd best start early." He paused to salute Major Tripoli. "I know old Zero Deuce, but this is the first time I've had the pleasure of working with the rest of you." A smile crossed his gray face. "I suppose I should say 'Wahai Mohammed,' as the paratroopers do."
"Thanks for the assistance, Mr. Gray. Now start up the truck and let's evac." Major Tripoli returned the salute and hurried into the back. The other Steel Eagles did the same. Mr. Gray got into the front, hit the engine, and the truck rumbled off down the alley. He took a dirt road into the forest, made a few quick turns, and then reached the main road. Arminius would never be able to find them in time. They rolled down the road, passing the shadowed trees and the occasional farm or cabin. Up above, the Alps loomed like fallen clouds, white-capped and massive. Somewhere up above, the Alpenhaus waited, along with Colonel Von Falken.
The Steel Eagles settled into the back as the truck rumbled along. It rolled through the forest, nearing the foot of the foremost mountain. Score reloaded with submachine gun with mechanical precision. "This operation's fouled up from the get-go. Bumping into a kraut patrol – led by Arminius, no less – it's a bad sign. He'll tell all his friends and every Nazi from Hitler on down will be looking for three busted-old American robots and one sleek new prototypes."
Major Tripoli released a mechanical snort. "Shut up, Score. I was killing Germans before your blueprints had been drawn up. They're not going to bother a bunch of vacationing Nazi generals in Alpenhause with news of our little skirmish. When the brass is relaxing, they don't want to be disturbed."
"And Mr. Gray no doubt has a clever plan to get us into Alpenhaus," Model X said.
"I do indeed." Mr. Gray looked back from the cabin. "I have already infiltrated the upper crust of the Nazi leadership. Quite a dull bunch, really. To them, I am Signor Grigio, an ape taken from Ethiopia during the Italian conquest now serving as an agent of fascist Italy. They are quite fond of me." He revealed another toothy smile. "You gentlemen will be my robot servants." He jabbed a thick thumb at the center of the truck, where a crate rested between the feet of the Steel Eagles. "You'll find the proper clothes in there, along with suitcases to stow your firearms and equipment. Simply try to act servile and Italian and we should have no problems."
Model X popped open the crate. White tuxedos rested inside, neatly folded. "I was wrong about Mr. Gray having a clever plan to get us into Alpenhaus," he explained. "He instead has a very foolish plan."
"I gotta dress up like a penguin?" Score asked.
"Don't complain, soldier." Major Tripoli grabbed a white tuxedo and tucked it's over. "We've fought krauts and Japs in deserts, snow, and island hells. You can manage in it a tuxedo." He turned to Deuce. "Besides, we'll do whatever it takes to make sure the war is won and fascism is defeated. Ain't that right, Private Deuce?"
Deuce nodded. "That is correct." He reached for his own tuxedo. "Whatever it takes."
The Steel Eagles dressed quickly, putting on the tuxedos and stowing their weapons in Mr. Gray assorted suitcases. The truck rolled on, speeding through the night and nearing the distant mountains. Deuce adjusted the buttons on his tuxedo, and then slid his cummerbund around his waist. He thought about Rosa Ritter – the bright young woman who had spent hours talking to Philo. She had to be somewhere in the woods, toting a weapon and avoiding Nazi patrols. Maybe Deuce would be able to help her, and his young creator, as well as bringing down the Third Reich. That was worth dressing up for. He tucked his automatic into his tuxedo jacket and waited until they reached the destination. The Steel Eagles had a long ride ahead of them.
They reached the entrance to the funicular a little before dawn. Mr. Gray pulled the truck over a small clearing and made sure everyone had dressed properly and prepared. He changed from his SAS khakis to a pinstriped suit and used a charcoal pencil to draw a small moustache on his wrinkled face. He changed his bearing completely, practiced a few words in exaggerated Italian, and then produced a parasol for Deuce to hold. "Signor Grigio has sensitive skin," Mr. Gray explained. "He'll need to you follow him, shading him from the sun's hurtful rays." That gave Deuce an excuse to tag along. "Now, let's go." Mr. Gray motioned for the other Steel Eagles to follow him and they walked from the clearing.
A small road led to the funicular entrance, a spidery steel gazebo surrounded a square cart decorated with stained glass and swastika banners. Nazi guards checked Mr. Gray's papers while the Steel Eagles waited in the morning sun. Score fidgeted slightly, and Major Tripoli put his hand to steady the younger robot. Then the Nazi guards finished their inspection and motioned for them to ride the funicular. Mr. Gray led them aboard. They sat down on the benches in the funicular, one of the guards pulled a lever, and the little box began its ascent into the mountains. The Steel Eagles sat quietly and waited as the carriage crawled its way up the rails, creaking and groaning as the world around it grew brighter and white. Deuce could detect the air growing clearer and colder. His gears creaked, matching the sounds of the funicular. This was the heart of Nazi Germany – the belly of the fascist beast. They couldn't afford to be discovered here.
"Don't worry," Model X told him. "Focus on the job. Forget everything else, and we'll be fine." His comforting words didn't exactly help, but Deuce thanked him with a nod as they continued rumbling upwards.
The funicular finally came to a stop at a wooden docking platform. The automated doors rolled open and Mr. Gray motioned for the Steel Eagles to join him. They walked out and entered Alpenhaus. It looked like a carnival mixed with a Nuremburg rally – banners emblazoned with swastikas and Nazi eagles covered the quaint alpine wooden chalets with their pointed roofs, which flanked the main street. Large statues of Adolf Hitler, Himmler, and other Nazi higher-ups stood in the center of the walkway, staring beneficently off into the distance at the far away peaks of the Alps. White snow shone in the sunlight, along with squares of green grass. Outdoor tables and fire pits offered places to relax in the morning sunlight, while the largest structure served as a fully fledged casino, with rows of gambling tables and spinning roulette wheels visible behind the wide windows.
All of Alpenhaus swarmed with vacationing members of the Nazi elite. Many sported full uniforms, complete with gaudy death's heads and lightning bolt runes. Others wore lederhosen, while their women sported traditional German peasant women's garb. Deuce felt his gears click as he looked them over. Mr. Gray wasted no time in approaching the casino, motioning for the Steel Eagles to follow. They didn't have time to waste.
The door of the casino slid open as Mr. Gray and the robots approached. Colonel Frederick Von Falken emerged. Deuce recognized him from his mechanical eye. He looked exactly as he had in the picture in the briefing, with the same crisp uniform and pleasant, knowing smile. "Signor Grigio!" He strolled out, his hand extended. "I am so glad you could accept my invitation. Welcome to Alpenhaus – playground of the Reich!" Mr. Gray shook his hand. "The gambling chalet maintains several rooms for visiting dignitaries. Please, be our guest."
Mr. Gray sniffed the air. "I am used to the palaces of Rome, Herr Colonel." They both spoke the same perfect German. Deuce managed to keep up and understand everything. "But I suppose this will suffice." He turned to Major Tripoli, Score, and Model X. "Find some rooms for me and stow my luggage." Major Tripoli remained still. He didn't want to separate his squad. "Hurry, you metal fools – chop-chop." Mr. Gray clapped his hands. That stirred Major Tripoli and the others. They hurried into the chalet, leaving Deuce behind – holding his parasol over Mr. Gray. "How I long for the genius of German engineering, Herr Colonel," Mr. Gray said, with a grunted simian sigh. "Your people do seem to have a history of such works." He was hinting at the Von Berlichingen Knights.
Colonel Von Falken nodded. "Walk with me, Signor Grigio, and you shall see some true examples of German engineering. Wunderwaffe, we call them." He started down the road, motioning for Mr. Gray and Deuce to follow. They matched his striding pace as he led them to a ledge jutting off from the main plateau. A small runway rested there, along with a sleek, triangular aircraft. "This is just one of them. Have a look at the Horten Valkryrie, a jet-powered flying wing." Colonel Von Falken grinned as he clasped his hands. "Is it not magnificent?"
"Such an aircraft will fly?" Mr. Gray asked.
"Oh, it certainly will." Colonel Von Falken seemed like child showing off new toys to a neighbor. "This is just the prototype and yet it can cross the country in record time. Imagine a fleet of them, zooming over England in a lethal bombing raid." He snapped his fingers. "We will reduce London to rubble almost instantly. They will have to dig that old bulldog Churchill out of his hole, eh?" He laughed. "And that is not all."
"There is more?" Mr. Gray asked. "Il Duce will be most pleased."
"The Aryan is blessed with ample intelligence and imagination," Colonel Von Falken explained. "There is no limit to what we can create. Come inside the chalet and I will show you something else." He extended his hand. "This way please, Signor Grigio." He led them to the chalet, walking quickly. Mr. Gray glanced at Deuce and gave him a comforting nod. Clearly, Colonel Von Falken suspected nothing. They followed Colonel Von Falken into the gambling chalet, and walked past the round tables where Nazis played cards, drank beer from massive steins decorated with swastikas and images of Hitler's face, and laughed at profane jokes.
They soon arrived in a quiet back room. Colonel Von Falken sat down at a small table, where a set of blueprints waited. "This is the Nashorn Kaiser – the rhinoceros king." Colonel Von Falken flipped through the books, showing the images of a Panzer tank. This tank stood on four thick struts, each ended in treads. It seemed to be a quadruped vehicle. A smaller tank stood next to it for scale. It was like a cat standing next to a tiger. "These will be like battleships on land. Great machines of iron and steel, rolling across the countryside."
Mr. Gray folded his furry hands. "Most impressive."
"Oh, they certainly are." Colonel Von Falken tapped the picture. "Imagine a fleet of such titans rolling into Russia. Stalin will wet his bed when he sees them coming." He slammed his fist down on the table. "The Soviets will be crushed. The Slavs will weep when we return to the battlefield with the Nashorn Kaisers, and then we will have our victory in the east. I imagine we will purge the Russian lands of the lower races, slaughtering them all and rolling our Panzers over their bones." He leaned back in his seat. "Would you care for a cigarette, Signor Grigio?"
"Thank you, but I do not smoke." Mr. Gray reclined in his seat. Deuce stood behind him, clutching the parasol. "Your people have a history with engineering, do they not? I heard of one particular engineer – Gotz Von Berlichingen, I believe? The fellow had a metal hand and—"
"Yes, yes, yes." Colonel Von Falken dismissed Mr. Gray's question with a wave of his hand. "Tell me, Signor Grigio, do you wish to gamble?" He pointed to the door of the backroom. "I am in the mood to play at cards. Let's get a table and play a few hands while we talk. I find that it spins the wheels of the mind and leads to much more satisfying conversation."
"Of course, Herr Colonel," Mr. Gray agreed. "Mussolini insisted I learn every game of chance." He stood up and gestured to the door. "After you." Colonel Von Falken returned his smile and headed outside. Deuce gave Mr. Gray a glare with his optical sensors. Mr. Gray simply shrugged. They would have to play Colonel Von Falken's game if they were to get the information about the Von Berlichingen Knights. They followed him outside and back into the gambling hall. A robotic servant in lederhosen led them to an unoccupied table, where a deck of cards and a round container of poker chips rested. Mr. Gray and Colonel Von Falken sat down, facing each other across the felt.
Colonel Von Falken began to shuffle the cards, moving them expertly. "I'm afraid we have need of a third player to really make it interesting. Tell me, Signor Grigrio, is your robot intelligent enough to play cards? Perhaps he can join in?"
Deuce turned to Mr. Gray. "Sir?" he asked.
"Sit down." Mr. Gray patted the chair next to him. "We'll deal you a hand."
The cards flew from Colonel Von Falken's hands. Deuce took five of the cards and examined them. His gears creaked and he couldn't focus on the complexities of the game. Did he have a winning hand? Or was he about to lose? Colonel Von Falken glanced at him. "I regard robots very highly, you know. After the Aryan, and perhaps the educated animal like yourself, I consider them the highest form of intelligent life. In fact, I place them above the other, lesser races of man – such as the Negro, the Slav, and the Jew. Do you wish to know why I think that?" He addressed Deuce.
"I would wish to know," Deuce agreed, trying to keep his voice neutral.
"Because they know their place." Colonel Von Falken examined his cards. "Ah – a wretched hand. I fold." He set them down, leaving Mr. Gray and Deuce in the game. "Surely, you wish me to elucidate about this rather unique personal philosophy of mine, do you not?"
"Please," Deuce said.
Mr. Gray let out a chortle. "My servant is a simple machine, Colonel Von Falken. You have no need to—"
"He knows his place." Colonel Von Falken smiled over his cards. "That is the difference between the robot and the subhuman. The Negro walks about with his head held high. The Slav dresses himself in finery and strolls into town. The Jew stalks through dinner parties, weaving webs with his intricate speech. They do not know their place. That is why they betrayed the Fatherland in the past and while they must be destroyed." He motioned to Mr. Gray. "It is your game, gentlemen. Will you play?"
Deuce set down his cards. Mr. Gray did the same – and won. "Well, there's a bit of luck," Mr. Gray said. Colonel Von Falken began to deal again. "You are completely right, Herr Colonel. In the matter of race as well as the matter of cards." He smiled as more cards piled in front of him. "And the racial superiorly of your people is proved by the intelligence you have shown in your history, such as—"
"Do you agree with me?" Colonel Von Falken ignored Mr. Gray and stared at Deuce.
"Herr Colonel?" Deuce asked.
"Do you agree with me? And my sentiments regarding the subhuman races?"
"Really, Herr Colonel, is this necessary?" Mr. Gray asked. "My robot is—"
"Shut up, ape." Colonel Von Falken's smile never faded. "Tell me, robot, do you agree that the subhuman races do not know their place and must be wiped out?" He let the question hang in the air. Deuce thought of Philo – a Jew and his creator, as well as his numerous other friends who fell into the categories that Colonel Von Falken hated.
But he couldn't blow his cover. He would do whatever it took to complete the mission. "I completely agree," he said. "The subhuman races must be wiped out."
"Wonderful!" Colonel Von Falken looked at his cards. "I call." They put their cards down and Colonel Von Falken grinned. "Ah – and I win. What a marvelous stroke of luck." He looked at Mr. Gray. "You were asking about Gotz Von Berlichingen? Now he is an interesting fellow. Did you know that some of our archaeologist uncovered his clockwork knights in a place near the village of Rotterberg, in the Black Forest?" He smiled as he dealt the cards again. "It proves those mystic fools in the Ahnenerbe are good for something, eh?"
"Indeed," Mr. Gray agreed. Now they had the information they needed. They had to get out of Alpenhaus and make it to Rotterberg as soon as possible. Mr. Gray made a yawn. "I'm dreadfully sorry, Herr Colonel, but I am a little tired from my journey. Perhaps I could retire to my chambers for a quick sleep. I must arrange my bed into a nest, as the gorillas in Africa do, you see, and that may take a while." He set down his cards. "Then we can return to cards or whatever diversion you'd like."
Colonel Von Falken let out a slight laugh. "You are tired so soon? You would have made a poor wild beast, Signor Grigio. Some hunter would have certainly shot you. Perhaps I would go on safari and be the one to blow your head off!" He laughed at his joke. Mr. Gray smiled politely. "But please, stay and play one more hand. For my sake."
"How can I refuse?" Mr. Gray sat down.
They stayed and played the next hand in silence. Colonel Von Falken dealt the cards, and then a servant robot approached him. It leaned over and whispered something into Colonel Von Falken's ear. His remaining organic eye stayed focused on Mr. Gray and slowly swiveled to face Deuce. Then he stood up. "You must excuse me. Duty calls." He gave them a polite bow and hurried away. Deuce and Mr. Gray remained at the table. They couldn't get up and leave – or Colonel Von Falken would look for them upon his return. They couldn't talk either, or some of the other Nazi gamblers might overhear. Instead, Mr. Gray gave Deuce's shoulder a quick pat. That was all he could manage. Then Colonel Von Falken returned, his luger drawn. Arminius walked alongside him. They aimed their guns at Deuce and Mr. Gray. Deuce's gears groaned. They had been discovered.
"Signor Grigio." Colonel Von Falken's good humor remained. "Herr Arminius has just told me a very interesting story about your robots." He shouted an order in German. Several other Robojaegers hurried into the casino, moving to the stairs leading to the upper story hotel. "They are going to get your friends. Your robotic servants, Signor Grigior." Colonel Von Falken pointed to the door. "Now, will you please come with me? And keep your hands at your side. I have no need to start a panic."
"You're both going to die," Arminius snarled.
Mr. Gray and Signor Grigio stood slowly, their hands at their sides. "I'm afraid this must be a bit of a misunderstanding, Herr Colonel. If I offended you in some way, I heartily apologize. I must say that I am a rather pampered pet of Il Duce, and he will not stand—"
"Outside, Signor." Colonel Von Falken leaned closer. "Or 'mister,' I should say." He moved behind them, jabbing his luger into Mr. Gray's back as he switched into English. "Your accent partially gave you away. I spent a great deal of time in Italy, keeping those lazy wops in line. Your accent didn't sound entirely correct, but I that could be just because you are a gorilla and not a man." He prodded Mr. Gray, forcing him outside. Arminius did the same with Deuce. They walked past the casino and out into the lobby. "But it was your robot who truly gave you away. I know all varieties of robots, including those used by the Italians. Yours is unique. He demonstrated far too much intelligence for a simple servant, and even a bit of insolence when I questioned him." He grinned at Deuce. "You didn't know your place."
They walked through the lobby and out into the street. More Robojaegers surrounded them, rifles and submachine guns at the ready. Colonel Von Falken and Arminius prodded Deuce and Mr. Gray to stand between them. The Robojaegers pointed dozens of guns in their direction. Mr. Gray put his hands in the pockets of his coat. "Well, old fellow." He dropped the Italian accent completely. "I suppose I can drop the ruse as well."
"You might as well," Colonel Von Falken agreed. "It will go easier for you. I am going to hand you over to some individuals I know in the Gestapo. Very brutal men. Beasts, really – and not like you." He leaned over and patted Mr. Gray's silky fur. "They are going to torture you, Mr. Gray. Afterwards, they may have you stuffed. Perhaps I'll keep you in my hall."
"I hope I gather dust and cause you to cough, sir," Mr. Gray replied.
Arminius reached to the hilt of his sword. "And you, Private Deuce, I will dismantle. I'll break you down into pieces and melt you into scrap. I will forge swords from you." He leaned closer. "What do you say to that?"
Deuce turned around and stared at him. They hadn't had time to search him and he still carried his automatic in the tuxedo's interior pocket. "I have a simple question, Arminius." Deuce spoke English as well. "You sent your men to capture my allies. But the Steel Eagles were sitting in Mr. Gray's hotel room, ready to fight. Do you really think a few of your Robojaegers could subdue and stop my friends without a shot being fired? Or do you think it more likely that my friends silently destroyed all of your robots and are currently about to attack?"
Colonel Von Falken and Arminius exchanged a glance. They both raised their voices, when the front window over the gambling chalet shattered. A Robojaeger flew out, hurled through the grass, over the pointed roof, and down onto the cobblestone street. A combat knife had been slammed straight into the Robojaeger's skull. The robot struck the ground and rolled slightly – and then a burst of automatic fire from Major Tripoli's Thompson blared out from the upper floor. Major Tripoli leapt through the window, his tommy gun roaring and spitting lead into the ranks of the Robojaegers. Score and Model X followed, charging out of the window and leaping down while their guns thundered. Model X's sniper rifle blasted through a Robojaeger's skull and Score tossed a lit stick of dynamite at the front of the chalet. They landed as the dynamite exploded, shattering the entrance and covering the lobby in dust and debris to provide cover for their escape.
With a roar, Mr. Gray drove a furry fist into Colonel Von Falken's face. His heavy knuckles slammed against Colonel Von Falken's nose, knocking him straight to the ground. Arminius released an electric roar and swung his crackling sword down at Deuce. The blade hummed through the air and banged against Deuce's shoulder. Electricity crackled through Deuce, but he pulled his automatic and pumped three shots into Arminius's chest. Arminius stumbled back, his sword clattering on the ground. He raised his pistol to shoot Deuce, when Mr. Gray grabbed a rifle from a fallen Robojaeger and smashed the butt into Arminius's head. Splinters flew as Arminius dropped. Mr. Gray tossed down the rifle, grabbed a submachine gun, and started to run.
The Steel Eagles dashed after them, racing down the street as panic ran through Alpenhaus. Nazi guards poured out of the buildings, going for their guns as their private getaway turned into a battlefield. Score hurled back a few grenades, buying the Steel Eagles more time. Major Tripoli ran alongside Mr. Gray. "I take it the mission is compromised, Mr. Gray?" he asked. "We've been discovered and now all of Alpenhaus is on high alert?"
Mr. Gray fired his submachine gun over his shoulder. "Couldn't be helped, Major. Pure bad luck." He pointed ahead, at the Hotten Valkrie flying wing. "But I think our fortunes may be soon to experience a rapid change. The Von Berlichingen knights are in the Black Forest. That prototype Nazi flying wing can provide ample transport."
"Only way to travel," Score added.
Model X slung his sniper rifle over his shoulder and went for his twin automatics. He fired them at the Robojaegers ahead of the Steel Eagles, gunning down three enemy machines in a rapid burst. "You can fly that aircraft, Mr. Gray?
"I spent some time with the RAF, old fellow," Mr. Gray explained. "How hard can it be?"
They hurried to the flying wing. Mr. Gray fired his submachine gun with one hand, blasting into the attacking Robojaegers. Major Tripoli carried Deuce's rifle, and a belt of equipment. He handed it over as Mr. Gray bounded up onto the flying wing and wrenched the cockpit open. Four seats rested inside, along with a place for the pilot. Deuce took the rifle and aimed at the approaching Robojaegers. Colonel Von Falken and Arminius hurried after the main force of Nazi robots, both shouting orders and trying to bring order to the chaos of Alpenhaus. More of Score's timed explosives ripped to life, smashing aside a few Robojaegers. Chunks of smoldering machinery fell onto the snow. Deuce turned his rifle on the Robojaegers and fired until the clipped ejected with its usual ping. Deuce moved to reload, and then reached to his belt. His rifle grenade waited. He snapped the bulbous green grenade onto the Garand's barrel and dropped to a kneeling position. Major Tripoli noticed and nodded.
Major Tripoli raised his voice. "Hold your fire, boys. Let the krauts get close." The Steel Eagles stopped shooting. The main body of Robojaegers charged for the flying wing, running in a tight formation toward to the protruding ledge. Major Tripoli gave Deuce a thumbs-up. "Fire at will." Deuce fired the rifle grenade. It rushed from the rifle's barrel and crashed into the Robojaegers. The rifle grenade had been specially designed by American scientists and it unleashed fire and lighting in the same blast. Electricity tore into the Robojaegers, stopping them in their tracks making their electric eyes shatter. They hit the ground as burned husks. Major Tripoli patted Deuce's shoulder. "Outstanding." Deuce looked at the wrecked robots and didn't feel the same way.
The propellers on the flying wing roared to life. "Come aboard, boys!" Mr. Gray called. "Time to fly, I believe." Model X grabbed Deuce's shoulder and hauled him up. They hurried to the side of the flying wing and scrambled into the back. The cockpit slammed shut, encasing them in the bubble dome of glass. Mr. Gray's furry fingers pushed on the throttle and the flying wing hummed down the short runway. Robojaegers and Nazi soldiers fired at it from the ledge. Arminius unloaded his pistol, blasting at the direction of the flying wing as it rolled to the end of the runway. Then the flying wing shot off into the sky, dropped slightly, and flew.
The flying wing swung to the side, zooming past the cabins and chalets of Alpenhaus, before ducking down and speeding above the mountains. Mr. Gray gritted his teeth as he pushed on the throttle. The Steel Eagles settled uneasily into their seats. They had managed to escape – but they were still deep in enemy territory, with their cover blown and Colonel Von Falken out for blood.
For a few seconds, they flew in silence. "What is Colonel Von Falken like?" Model X sudden asked.
Deuce glanced at him. "He is a cruel and evil man. And very intelligent."
"Typical Nazi," Major Tripoli replied. He turned to Mr. Gray. "But we know about the objective now, at least?"
"Indeed," Mr. Gray agreed. "The Von Berlichingen Knights reside in a castle near Rotterberg. I'm flying there now." His fingers moved to the dials near the controls. "I can also send a radio transmission to our partisan friends. They can meet us there."
"Sounds like the mission is on track, then," Score said.
"I never doubted it for a minute," Major Tripoli replied. He turned to Deuce. "Whatever it takes."
"Whatever it takes," Deuce agreed. He settled into his seat. The flying wing sped over the forest below, the tops of the trees forming a dark green blur. Rotterberg rested somewhere ahead of them, along with the Von Berlichingen Knights and their main objective. Arminius and Colonel Von Falken would be on their tail, probably heading to the same place. It would end at the Von Berlichingen Castle, and Deuce hoped that he was strong enough to help the Steel Eagles achieve victory. He settled into his seat and waited as the Nazi flying wing hummed along.
Landing proved difficult – but not impossible. Mr. Gray merely lowered the airplane in a small meadow before a copse of trees and plowed into the earth. By the time the flying wing came to a halt, they had smashed a few trees, torn deep grooves in the grass, shattered both propellers, and bent the edges of the flying wing. It wouldn't fly again. The Steel Eagles and Mr. Gray, still wearing the remnants of their tuxedoes and suits under their belts of ammunition and the straps of their guns, clambered out and headed into the Black Forest. They moved quickly, walking double-time through the clustered trees as they neared the castle outside Rotterberg. Mr. Gray hopped up into the trees, swinging from branch to branch before plopping down and joining his friends. They passed through the forest and reached their destination in the early afternoon.
The castle appeared liked a ghost between the trees, a crumbling gray structure with high walls and parapets around an arched gate, the barbican vanished, the bridge fallen, and the moat free of water. Thick greenery made the archway the only entrance. Moss clung to the gray walls of the castle, making the structure look almost like some absurd natural landmark. The partisans sat outside, a dozen weary men and women in rumpled coats, fedoras, and flat caps armed with stolen weapons. Deuce broke into a slight run and reached the entrance. He spotted Rosa Ritter instantly.
She had changed since Deuce had last seen her, talking amiably to a nervous Philo in a World's Fair viewing gallery. She still had the auburn curls, the pleasant face, and elfin ears – but her eyes had grown deep set and tired. She had seen horrible things. She leaned on a rifle and carried a pair of pistols and a combat knife in her belt. "Mr. Deuce?" Rosa perked up when Deuce appeared. "Philo's robot. I didn't know you were in Allied Armed Forces?"
Major Tripoli walked out of the woods after Deuce. "He's not alone, ma'am. We're the Steel Eagles, US Airborne, and this is Mr. Gray, an SAS commando." He held out his hand. "We're here to help."
Rosa gave Major Tripoli a tired smile. "I appreciate it. Come inside and you can see those who really need help." She motioned to the archway. Deuce and the Steel Eagles followed her inside. "I don't know if I need to ask about the fine clothes – the tuxedos and such. Were you coming from a formal ball or something?" They walked past the archway, exchanged nods with the other partisans as they headed into the ancient stone courtyard.
"It's a long story," Model X replied.
"Well," Rosa said. "We certainly haven't had any formal balls here."
She pointed to a collection of ragged men, women, and children, huddled together around a few fires on the stone floor. They looked miserable – scarecrow people in tattered, cast-off clothes. Deuce's eyes drifted over the refugees. "Who are they?" he asked. The question seemed almost pointless – pathetic compared to the suffering that these people had endured. About two score of them huddled together, shivering in the cold. A bearded partisan warmed up soup and ladled it out into wooden bowls, and they ate hungrily. The Steel Eagles removed their helmets as they looked at them. Mr. Gray let out a slight whimper.
"These are prisoners, that we found in a few camps," Rosa explained. "Some are political. Some are Jews, Gypsies, or homosexuals. All are victims of the Third Reich." She turned back to Major Tripoli. "We moved them here and they are resting before we move further into the forest. We found some your clockwork knights as well – they are downstairs."
"Resting?" Major Tripoli asked. "Ma'am, we're going to use your radio to call in the Allied high command and get the Air Force to blast the castle to pieces. Those clockwork Von Berlichingen Knights need to be destroyed before the Allied invasion. Those are my orders and they need to be carried out. The krauts know that we know and we've got to level the castle and get a move on before they get here."
"You should have told us this, Mr. Gray," Rosa said.
Mr. Gray sighed. "I did not know you had refugees with you, madam. I apologize."
Then Model X called from the battlements. He had sprang up there, taking his rifle with him. "Tripoli!" he called. "Trouble is rapidly arriving. A great deal of dust is coming through the forest." He used a pair of binoculars to scan the tree line. "I can see trees crashing down as well. Leaves flying through the air. There appears to be a large machine, rapidly approaching. It is heavily armed and of an immense size."
"You will refer to me as 'major' or 'sir.' Private X," Major Tripoli said. "And what kind of kraut machine is coming here now?"
Deuce and Mr. Gray exchanged a glance. "It is called the Nashorn Kaiser," Deuce explained. "An immense armored vehicle. A prototype and part of the Nazi wunderwaffe program." His gears hummed. "We cannot leave these refugees here. Or order an air strike while they are in the area."
Major Tripoli turned his optical sensors on Deuce. "Whatever it takes to get the job done, soldier. That's what you agreed to and—"
"Whatever it takes," Deuce replied. He glanced at Rosa. "But not this. I was not created to aid in the harm of innocent people. I cannot take part in it." He faced the Steel Eagles and Mr. Gray, his gears creaking as he spoke. "The Nazi regime is built on the hatred of those they consider subhuman. Our defense must be the opposite. We must not feel the same hatred that they feel. We must never forget why we fight and that the innocent must be protected. That is why I joined the OSS. That is why I became a Steel Eagle." He removed his helmet. "We should not call in an air strike. We should fight the Nashorn Kaiser and give the refugees a chance to escape. Then we will leave. Then we will call in the air strike. That is my wish."
Score sat down on a chunk of fallen stone and fiddled with detonators. "We can make a decent defense, sir," he suggested. "This place may be old, but it was built to take sieges. The krauts won't be expecting much and—"
"I did not give you permission to speak, private," Major Tripoli said. Score fell silent. Major Tripoli turned back to Deuce. "Private Deuce, your insistence in battling some Nazi super weapon on behalf of a few non-American citizens is dubious at best. You may put our entire objective in jeopardy." Deuce stared at him, saying nothing. "But goddamn, if I don't want to agree with you – if only to make sure the flyboys don't have all the fun when it comes to killing krauts." He raised his voice. "Listen up, Steel Eagles – we're gonna stop them here. Follow my plan for the defense and let's give old Hitler a black eye and blast his wunderwaffe to scrap." Deuce's gears hummed with pride.
Mr. Gray patted Deuce's shoulder. "Well said, old boy." Model X hopped down from the battlements and Score and Rosa hurried over as well, along with her partisans. They clustered together and made their plans, while the Nashorn-Kaiser drew ever closer. They didn't have long to prepare, so they made their plan quickly, and then scrambled to their positions. Then they waited, and then the Nashorn Kaiser arrived.
Deuce stood a little past the gate, his rifle at the ready. He faced the Nashorn-Kaiser alone. It rumbled through the trees, smashing them aside and grinding bark under its four treads. The body of the tank resembled a battleship, all of unpainted gray steel decorated with Iron Crosses. A small command area rested on the top, where Colonel Von Falken and Arminius stared down at the castle, surrounded by Robojaeger pilots and crew. The Nashorn-Kaiser had a few side-guns, but they didn't fire. It appeared to be more mobile fortress than assault vehicle. Deuce stood his place and waited until the Nashorn Kaiser came to a halt. A large hatch on the front creaked open, like a mouth preparing to devour. A gangplank slammed down, falling into the dirt. Colonel Von Falken shouted something, but Deuce couldn't hear it over the groan of machinery.
A full squad of Robojaegers emerged. They sported the woodland camouflage of German paratroopers and carried high-powered, automatic rifles. The Robojaegers stared at the American robot before them for a few seconds, before the rifle in Deuce's hand thundered. He punched four bullets into the foremost Robojaeger, smashing the robot apart and casting sparks and chunks of metal in the air, then turned to the next target and fired until the empty clip ejected with the usual ping. Deuce darted back, reloading and firing as he ran. The Robojaegers followed him, racing for the archway. They cared only for following Deuce, and pounded heedless over the compact dirt and the ancient mossy stone. Deuce reached the archway and turned to face them.
"Now!" he cried. It was time to spring the trap.
Model X, wielding his pistols, and Major Tripoli, with his submachine gun, stood up from their hiding place in the dirt and fallen leaves in the moat. They opened fire into the flanks of the Nazi robots. They barrage destroyed the German advanced. Rosa and her partisans fired from behind the archway, catching the Robojaegers in a lethal crossfire. Machines danced, sparked, and exploded as lead tore through them. Machinery smoldered as it flew through the air. Deuce gave them every shot with his rifle, blazing away and unloading into the mass of the enemy.
The roar of a heavy cannon blared over the clatter of small arms. The shell tore into the ground beside Deuce, knocking him off his feet and sending him flying. He smashed hard into the dirt, one of his optical sensors cracking on the stone. He rolled over and stared into the dust. Tank treads whined. A Panzer tank emerged, disgorged from the innards of the Nashorn Panzer. The Panzer rolled closer, the machine gun in its turret unleashing a hail of rattling lead. The partisans fell back. Rosa paused to help Deuce. "Come on, Mr. Deuce – I won't let Philo's prize creation be destroyed by a Panzer." She pulled him back past the archway.
The tank rolled in, its turret swiveling to follow them. Major Tripoli ducked back into the moat. "Gray!" he roared. "Take out that Panzer!" Mr. Gray dangled down from up the archway, his furry limbs holding him in place. At Mr. Gray's command, he dropped onto the back of the Panzer as it rolled inside, and got to work.
Mr. Gray used one of his prehensile feet to force the panel on the top of the tank open. His muscled fingers worked quickly, the metal straining as it tore it free. From up above the Nashorn Kaiser, Arminius spotted Mr. Gray and shouted orders to his robots on the ground. They ran to the tank, trying to force the gorilla away. Deuce didn't let them. He pulled away from Rosa, ran to the side of the tank, and sent a rifle grenade whistling into the ranks of the attacking Robojaegers. The blast destroyed them, scattering chunks of machinery through the air. Deuce ducked back and nodded to Mr. Gray, who finally wrenched up the hatch – then down a handful of grenades and leapt away. The grenades exploded, touching off the tanks ammunition and causing the entire vehicle to vanish in a ball of fire, smoke, and steel. Mr. Gray landed next to Deuce and they hurried back together, running from the smoldering wreck of the tank. Major Tripoli and Model X followed them, hurrying past the wrecked tank and its plumes of smoke to join the others inside the castle.
Major Tripoli swiftly reloaded his Thompson. "Good work with the Panzer, Mr. Gray. Before this, I thought your kind were completely worthless and you just proved me wrong."
"My kind?" Mr. Gray asked. "Gorillas?"
"Brits." Major Tripoli pointed back to the Nashorn Kaiser. "Looks like those guns on the side ain't just for show. They won't give us a full barrage for fear of damaged the Von Berlichingen Knights, but it looks like they're gonna try. Take cover!" He darted behind a chunk of rubble, and the others followed. Deuce took Rosa's hand and helped her hide behind the pile of rock. The guns on the side of the Nashorn Kaiser thundered. One shot smashed into the side of the castle, unleashing a spray of rocks and causing a tower to collapse. Dust rose in a thick shower and then the Nashorn Kaiser advanced. It rolled straight for the castle.
The treads smashed into the stone wall and broke through. Part of the wall collapsed, the dust rising in a thick mass around the front of the massive armored vehicle. The Nashorn Kaiser could simply roll in and crush them all. Deuce stood, readying his rifle as the Nashorn Kaiser rumbled closer. He glanced to the entrance of the castle, where the refugees hid with the Von Berlichingen Knights. They couldn't let the Nazis get any further.
Score poked his head out of the tunnel. "I'm gonna need more time!" he called.
Model X turned to Deuce. "We will buy you more time." He patted the rope on his belt. "Let's go destroy some Nazis." They scrambled to the side as Model X readied the rope, with the grappling hook on its end. He spun it around and let it fly. The grappling hook soared up through the air and landed on the railing surrounding the top of the Nashorn Kaiser. Model X tugged the rope, and then started to climb. Deuce, Major Tripoli, and Mr. Gray followed. They hurried their way up the rope, swaying in the air as the Nashorn Kaiser continued its rumbling advance. Cries in German came up from above. Deuce looked up as Model X reached the end of the rope. The Robojaegers had to be waiting – but Model X was ready.
He lunged out, grabbed the first Robojaeger, and stabbed a combat knife into the robot's skull as he hauled himself up. Then he pulled the Robojaeger close to him as a metal shield, raised his automatic, and opened fire. Deuce, Major Tripoli, and Mr. Gray hopped up next and joined in.
Their bullets swept across the deck of the Nashorn Kaiser, blasting apart the robots manning the controls. Major Tripoli vaulted into a sandbagged machine gun post at the far end, mowed down the robots inside, and picked up the heavy, mounted gun to unload on the remaining robots in his path. Mr. Gray leapt into a cluster of Robojaegers, grabbing one robot and using it as a club to smash the others off the deck. Deuce gunned down robots with his rifle, and then went for his automatic. He gunned down the Robojaegers as they fired back. Bullets rushed past him and Deuce dove for cover behind a stack of crates. He holstered his automatic and started to reload his rifle – when a dark blur vaulted over the cover with an electrified sword.
Arminius stabbed like a champion duelist, attempting to impale Deuce. The blade zoomed for Deuce. He raised his rifle, blocking the blade before it reached his face. The edge of the sword caught the Garand. Deuce came to his feet and gripped the rifle like a club while he reached for his combat knife. That was all he had. He swatted Arminius with the rifle butt. It connected with Arminius's chest – only for the electrified sword to slash against Deuce's belly.
Electricity coursed through Deuce's gears. He gasped and stumbled back, the rifle falling to the ground. "You are a fool." Arminius moved closer, jabbing at the air with his sword – toying with Deuce. "The mastery of every weapon is ingrained into my very being, as is my superiority. I was created by the greatest scientists of the Aryan race. You were built by a subhuman. It is no wonder that I am superior." He stabbed at Deuce again, stabbing his shoulder.
"An incorrect assessment." Deuce gripped his combat knife and launched himself at Arminius. He bashed a fist into Arminius's chin, knocking him back against the railing. His combat knife slammed into Arminius's chest, but the elite Nazi robot slashed him against with the electrified blade. It bit deeply, shocking Deuce, and froze him in place. Arminius prepared for another blow – Deuce's combat knife still projecting from his chest. He readied the sword, only for a sniper's bullet to thunder into his back. Arminius released a groan. Model X approached, working the bolt on his rifle and firing again. The shot spilled some of Arminius's gears.
Model X moved closer, firing at Arminius and striking him again. "Deuce! Remove yourself!" Model X worked the bolt on his rifle with ease. Deuce ducked down and hurried to join him. Arminius spun to face them and drew his pistol, as a roar of automatic fire came from the side. The bullets tore into Deuce and Model X, knocking them both down.
Colonel Von Falken approached them, carrying a high-tech German assault rifle. "The sturmgewher." He raised the gun, covering them both. "Another Wunderwaffe, which will win us the war." He stood over Deuce and Model X, kicking away the sniper rifle, and then jammed the muzzle of his gun into Deuce's face. "These will arm our elite troops, letting them overwhelm the Allied forces. That is how we will win, Mr. Deuce. The sheer genius of our weapons will—"
"That is not correct," Deuce said.
"No? You lie on an immensely powerful military machine, with a state-of-the-art firearm pointed at you. German factories continue to churn out such miracle weapons, even as they are pounded by Allied bombing raids. Our advanced weapons will give us a victory and—"
Deuce glared up at Colonel Von Falken. "Incorrect. Do you want to know why?"
"Why?" Colonel Von Falken demanded.
"Because you believed your own propaganda and declared war on the entire world," Deuce explained. "And because you are controlled by nothing but hate. That is why free men and machines will never rest until you are defeated. No matter how advanced your inventions are."
Colonel Von Falken's smile shifted into a scowl. "Metal swine. You will—" The clank of armor made him pause. He looked past the railing. Deuce twisted his head and looked as well. The armored forms of the Von Berlichingen Knights – clockwork, armored forms on automaton horses – rode straight for the Nashorn Kaiser in a great column. They carried broadswords and lances, and galloping straight up the gangplank and into the Nashorn Kaiser. Several Robojaegers tried to stop them, only for their heads to be lopped off by swinging broadswords and stabbing lances. The column charged straight into the Nashron-Kaiser.
"You will fight us with so few knights?" Count Von Falken asked.
"Each one of them is completely packed with explosives," Deuce explained. "Everything our demolitionist brought. They are all going to explode and blast this entire machine to pieces." He sat up and gripped Model X's hand. "Your prototype is going to vanish, thanks to a little bit of Allied ingenuity. Goodbye, Herr Colonel." He helped up Model X and they ran for the railing. Mr. Gray and Major Tripoli hurried to the edge as well.
"Nein!" Colonel Von Falken cried, all of his elocution vanishing. "Nein! Nein! Nein!" Deuce and his friends vaulted over the railing. They fell down, tumbling past the bulk of the Nashorn Kaiser, and then crashed onto the ground. Behind them, a series of explosions ripped through the innards of the Nashorn Kaiser. Fire emerged from the gangplank in a thick cloud. The upper deck collapsed under the blast. Deuce rolled over and watched as bits of metal rained down. The Nashorn Kaiser had been destroyed – the German advance stopped. Now, the refugees could escape and the bombing raid could be called in. Deuce's gears clicked with relief. Fire and explosions echoed in his auditory sensors, and he would need to get repairs as soon as he made it back to England. Still, his gears hummed with pleasure. They had done what was need to gain victory.
Within the hour, Deuce and his friends stood on the hills overlooking Rotterberg. Rosa and her partisans helped the refugees make their way down the forested trail. They had more hiding places through the forest, and then they could take them to France and meet the Allies once the invasion truly began. At the moment, they stopped and looked down at the castle. Model X paused his limping and stared down as well. The Steel Eagles turned and waited. Mr. Gray, a bandage white against his dark fur, let out a low moan. A fleet of bombers zoomed over them and reached the castle. The payload came down, raining onto the castle and exploding. The blasts destroyed the castle, the parapets and towers collapsing in a dusty heap. The remains of the Nashorn Kaiser went up in the blast as well. Now, the Nazis would not be able to use the Von Berlichingen knights ever again.
Major Tripoli paused beside Deuce. "Damn fine operation." He put his hands on his hips. "Mission accomplished, I'd say. I think you're due for a promotion, Private Deuce. God knows that you deserve it." Deuce didn't reply. Major Tripoli paused. "This war will end. I promise you that. More missions like these, more battles, and the world will be free of tyranny."
"I hope that is the case," Deuce agreed. He stared at the remains of the castle and the rising cloud of smoke, then resumed his march. The Steel Eagles followed the limping column of refugees into the hills.