The top floor of Viking TV
THE BUILDING WAS RATHER OLD, from 1957, with plaster peeling from its corners. Its entrance was barricaded by massive concrete blocks. Behind them, surrounded by piled-up sand bags, the German Phoenix zonderkommando unit hunched up over their machine guns. The motors of armored vehicles were growling in the back yard. Sniper teams kept watch on the roof: guerrilla units had repeatedly attacked the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Education. The twenty floors of this concrete behemoth housed state television, radio stations, a dozen newspaper offices, a souvenir shop and the pretentious Thule restaurant. The corridors inside seemed to snake every which way. That and the eight elevators each leading to a particular department made losing one's way extremely easy.
The TV channel took up the five upper floors, the best and most sought-after ones. In order to get inside, any visitor had to show his or her ausweis to the security guards behind their bulletproof glass, then walk through a turnstile. From there, Viking TV workers were in charge of the visitors. To get in, you had to first press your hand to the scanner next to the sliding doors.
Opposite the elevators, a banner under the ceiling quoted Dr. Joseph Goebbels:
We always tell the truth. Well, almost.
In accordance with the Moskau Reichstag directive, the television received 20% of the budget: same as the army. And they were worth it. The Triumvirate leaders had had plenty of opportunity to convince themselves that television could be much more effective than tanks and missiles. Throughout human history, even the strongest of armies had had trouble suppressing mass uprisings. But the TV screen allowed a much harsher mind control than any amount of street patrols. TV officers' ranks began at Scharführer; even their junior correspondents enjoyed the equivalent of Generals' salaries and free luxury food parcels. Their equipment made their colleagues worm with envy: all those excellent cameras, expensive cars and high-speed Shogunet.
The marble lobby featured the bronze bust of Hans Ulrich Rudel with his illustrious bald patch: the first man in space who'd raised the Reich's flag on the Moon in 1952. His international fame, endless autograph-signing sessions and half-naked female fans who besieged the astronaut even on restroom trips had made quick work of Rudel's career. He'd drunk himself into an early retirement within a year and a half, a record time. He'd been grounded and transferred to a boring but cushy job as the head of Berlin TV.
Hans Ulrich had zealously attacked his new job which became a pleasant surprise for his superiors. He joined the Adolf Temperance Society and didn't sleep nights coming up with new ideas for talk shows, planning quiz games, and working on new stories for popular soap operas like The Woman of My Dreams. It was he who'd turned the entertainment TV into the proverbial kraken entangling the minds of billions of Aryans. A 1965 law demanded that every citizen of the Reich swore an oath to watch at least three hours of TV daily. Factory workers began installing special timers on all new televisions they produced. A number of laws had been canceled since then... but this one was still in force.
"Achtung! Newstime in ten minutes! Everybody get ready!"
Sergei glanced at his watch. He still had time before rapping out the latest news, grinning inanely into the camera. That was peanuts. Now the briefing at the TV Direktor's office in half an hour, that was a dirrefent story. All news broadcasts were pre-recorded in conveyor-belt fashion. The anchors had a list of prompts to choose from, lying in a special recess on their desk: "a temporary drawback", "decrease in radiation levels", "economic growth" and "the relative growth of the reichsmark against the yen". The list had a special set of phrases adapted to incidents of Schwarzkopf attacks: "needless cruelty", "civilian casualties" and "terrorism has no future".
The camera with a silhouette of Rudel on its side pointed at Sergei.
They may say what they want but Hans Ulrich is a genius, Sergei thought, mechanically touching his Versace tie. Much smarter than Goebbels. The Nazis didn't sleep nights trying to come up with the very best ways to promote their propaganda but achieved only the opposite: everyone was sick and tired of politics. And this alcoholic astronaut has come up with the simplest thing: if you want to control the human brain, you need to soften it up first. When all you watch is a sequence of inane entertainment played out to mindless laugh tracks, you don't think. You don't have to choose, only to react, like Pavlov's dog. Give him a beer and switch the TV to Tonight with Marlene Dietrich - and you're free to press his buttons.
Sergei wasn't afraid to admit (mentally at least) his dislike of the Triumvirate. He considered himself an intellectual; he used the Shogunet to read banned books online; he even left cautious anonymous comments supporting the Schwarzkopfs' activities. In all honesty, so did most of Viking TV workers. Passing a bottle of schnapps around after work, the journalists would curse the "invaders" political and economic dominance with the strongest of expressions. Once back in the office, however, they condemned "guerrilla terrorists" with a double zeal.
"I don't know what to do anymore," Sergei's fellow anchor Vasily Kolpakov, the Political Department's Sturmführer, had admitted to him ruefully once. "I think I've developed a reflex. I take my seat, I see the camera and my mouth just opens and starts to speak. I can't help it. The moment I see the Führer's portrait on the wall, I can't stop myself."
Every TV worker had a similar set of excuses comprised of clichés similar to those they had to use on air, "I need to feed my family", "Somebody else will take my place" and "At least we have some stability under the Krauts".
The sound of female laughter made him startle.
A manicured finger gave him a flick on the nose. "Serge darling, what's this for a beak? Did your parents lose a bet with God?"
Sergei forced a smile. Having swayed her hips one last time, Masha the makeup lady disappeared round the corner of the corridor. Wretched bitch! Saying something like that in front of everybody! Someone was bound to put two and two together. Then it would start all over again: visits from the SS Race and Settlement Office: 'How did you manage to get past us with that kind of schnozzle?' Again he'd have to submit his family tree, pass blood tests and undergo phrenological control. He'd have to grease their palms once again, too, because they were bound to discover that his maternal great-grandfather was half-Armenian. Being a non-Aryan wasn't just bad form: it was plain uncomfortable. To get any job these days, you needed a certificate from the Race Office.
Sergei knew quite a few people who had sunk all the way to the gutter, living in one of the Arbeitslagers - barracks for forced migrant labor employed for the Reichskommissariat's needs. The statute of Moskau forbade all Aryans to do menial work like sewage cleaning, railtrack laying or even the selling of fruit at village markets. A special agreement with the Nippon koku allowed the importation of millions of Chinese slaves who didn't cost anything and worked 24/7 for a bowl of rice. This was the kind of life awaiting all non-Aryans.
Oh, no. He'd rather become a brothel supervisor. Anything but the arbeitslager.
He switched on the mike. The countdown had already begun on the plasma screen. Three, two, one...
"Dear Damen und Herren, welcome back to Viking TV! Let me begin with our headlines. The Reich's cities are being consumed by a wave of renaming. The citizens of Veliky Novgorod demand their metropolis be returned its 9th century Swedish name of Holmgard. This event is supposed to coincide with the building of the temple of Loki - the Scandinavian god of fire - in the city's main square. Yesterday the population of Krasnoyarsk sent a petition to the ruler of the Nippon koku, asking his official permission to be called City of Fragrant Chrysanthemums. A sushi festival held for the Reich tourists by the new Shichō - that's Mayor to the rest of us - of Uradziosutoku has been a resounding success. The guests received balls of rice topped with slices of grayling, dogfish and omul[i]. Abdullo von Zimmerblut, the Führer of the Reichskommissariat Turkestan, finished Friday prayers in the Ashgabat mosque by issuing a statement threatening the pig farms of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine with airstrikes. Meanwhile in the Crimea, Prussian colonists have celebrated the beginning of the holiday season with fireworks, simultaneously tripling their rent for the holiday makers. Apparently, this is how they start every summer season which is why last year tourists chose to ignore this traditional holiday destination. The new Oberkommandant of Moskau has pronounced traffic jams part of our national heritage, officially refusing to do anything about them. In Hollywood, Japanese producers have begun shooting Episode 57 of their blockbuster Godzilla. This time the giant sea monster is about to head off to Greenland to destroy an Eskimo village, the last place it hasn't yet been to. Stay with us! After the commercial break, my colleague Fräulein Irina Nosov will continue with tonight's news."
A commercial began, showing a very happy, very fat housewife in a frilly dress who looked like a native of Bavaria, Russland and Ukraine all rolled into one.
"When I make my wurstsalat," she chirped, "I always use Eva Braun, the only mayonnaise which offers my food the taste of the Reich's victories. Low radiation levels, only the best artificial coloring, and lots of safe anti-cholesterol additives. Eva Braun: the eggs that taste like those your Wehrmacht granddad stole from the poor old village lady!"
It was followed back-to-back by an ad for the Benito pizza chain. Its cooks had topped international rankings with their "Duce pizza": tomatoes, mozzarella and a cooked carrot fashioned as Pinocchio's nose. In Moskau, pizza and sushi were in close competition. The ad was nothing new: shots of steaming pastry and deliciously runny cheese followed by the promise of a twenty-minute delivery time.
The closing shot showed an actor impersonating Benito Mussolini, with bulging eyes and a tightly pursed mouth.
"Benito pizza!" he shook his fist at the camera. "Immortal like the Reich!"
Irina began reading the news, her voice ringing with enthusiasm. She'd only been working for a couple of months. Normally, new workers gave it their all.
Funny people, these Italians, Sergei thought. They make even a dictatorship look like a circus show. While all we have is the labored drama and haughty airs. Why is our regime even trying to fight the Resistance when it's perfectly clear that the Forest Brotherhood can't be defeated? Why can't they admit that every empire needs an enemy, otherwise it reduces itself to a street sausage vendor? The kind of affairs happening in the 1940s! Those were the days! Bolshies, Semitic plutocrats, Wall Street tycoons... We consciously decided to stop blaming the Semites while they had always been humanity's perfect scape goat. As were the Bolshies - another dream trademark. So convenient to blame our problems on.
The news edition was over. Sergei scooped his papers up from the desk. The weather forecast began.
"Have you got your radiation meters on?" the slim, tall blonde weather girl asked cheerfully. "Well, you shouldn't have! Today we expect radiation levels to drop considerably. It might have something to do with the activation of two new sarcophagi around the nuclear power stations in Voronezh and Kostroma. The temperature is ninety degrees which is quite normal for December. Enjoy the sun!"
Between the global warming and radiation leaks, Sergei thought, the inhabitants of Moskau wouldn't know what to do with snow if it jumped on them. What kinds of times are these? We wear shorts in December; air conditioners sell like hot cakes. The Reich's plant breeders promise everyone to start banana plantations. That would officially make us what we've been for quite some time: a run-of-the-mill banana republic.
He heard footsteps and rose. Two officers in gray business suits were walking toward him, followed by the news Oberst, pale and buttoning up his suit jacket as he walked.
"Sergei Kolychev?" one of the strangers asked, a seven-foot giant.
He nodded, feeling his insides turn to ice. The Gestapo. Did that mean they already could read human thoughts?
"We need to ask you a question concerning one of your ex-colleagues."
Sergei was confronted with a small picture. A pencil sketch.