Herman felt cheated. When the blond, blue-eyed teenager, Gunther Thals, dressed in a neatly creased light brown uniform, finished his speech, Herman's face had turned a bright crimson and his knuckles, white. Gunther had described the joys and challenges of belonging to the rapidly growing and wildly popular Hitler Youth group, the Hitler Jugend. Herman stared at his secondary school classmates as everyone in the classroom applauded. He lived in a rural village far from big city life. The schools were small, typically providing no more than a sixth grade education, sufficient for the coal mining life awaiting most young villagers, while guaranteeing an opportunity to a few students who would have the privilege to move to the big city for a proper secondary education and a promising new life. It was 1937 and the nationalistic fervor which had swept up the country was in full bloom, even in the tiny village of Grőssenstadt, a suburb of Essen, seated in the coal-rich, industrial Ruhr valley of Germany. Herman despised the miner's life. Each and every evening he had witnessed his father trudge home, hunched over and exhausted, covered in soot from head to toe. It was a ritual, a miserable ritual. Mother would yell at him for not taking his boots off, yell at him to wash up and that supper was getting cold, and then she would sit at the kitchen table lit by a single bulb dangling from the center of the cracked plaster ceiling, waiting. He vowed to do anything with his life but be a miner. His grandfather had coughed himself to death at the age of 39. His father was nearly as old, and had the same wheeze—black lung, and everyone knew what it meant. Herman felt cheated. He could only look forward to a life of misery, a short life leading ultimately to an excruciating, consumptive death. That wretched existence was to start at the end of this school term when those not smart enough marched into the dusty sorting huts in the mines. Herman refused to see himself pulling out stones by hand from the crushed coal as it rolled by on endless conveyor belts.
When the applause finally died down, Gunther passed out sheets of paper. He went on to remind the class that as of earlier this year membership in the Hitler Youth organization was mandatory. Herman couldn't believe his ears. His ticket out of Grőssenstadt was being passed his way at this very moment!
Two years later Poland was invaded, marking the official start of World War II. Within the following year the German military machine moved briskly, expanding its rule without significant opposition and with successful campaigns as far east and west as Norway and France. Countries along the eastern front and Italy allied themselves with Germany, accelerating the march of fascism. Opposition from Britain and its allies was limited and of no real significance. It was a glorious time for Germany and Herman was overjoyed to be a part of it. Having moved out of his hometown to join the Youth in Essen, he found himself leading patrols in support of internal propaganda efforts. His company was also trained in warfare practices, a particularly exciting turn of events.
All was not rosy. His father died in a mining accident and shortly after, his mother went missing. Exactly what happened to her, he never found out. The war started to become grim at about the time the Allies began pushing through France and Italy, and the Russians decided it was in their interest to join the campaign. Herman's company of enthusiastic Youth was called up to the Essen fire brigades as well as help in recovery efforts following Allied bombing runs. After scrabbling through brick, mortar and human remains, Herman began to think that things weren't marching along as he had imagined. When his company was called up to active duty as part of the Waffen SS Panzer Division, he trained with other fifteen and sixteen year-olds to drive tanks and blow stuff up. Most of his comrades found this development most appealing, since this was a chance to actually do something positive for the Fatherland. This was an opportunity to be a real soldier, a chance to be a hero.
Several months later, the shine had worn off. The panzer corps moved farther north to defend against invading British and Canadian forces at the Battle of Normandy. Although the Youth panzer corps had distinguished themselves on the battlefield and had earned a reputation for ferocity and fanaticism, these achievements came with a price. Gunther was one of the first killed. Herman took Gunther's death to heart, and as more and more of his young comrades suffered the same fate, his spirit waned. A severe depression set in as the war continued in a steadily descending spiral of destruction and chaos. By late 1944 his Youth group was disbanded and reassigned to various parts of the country. Herman was one of the lucky ones. He was sent to Auschwitz to perform guard duty. It was then that he felt the full brunt of disillusionment. It was winter and no amount of heavy clothing blocked out the devastating scene of human suffering and death. Each day he heard the cries, smelled burning flesh, and stared at sunken eyes that looked through and beyond him. There was no escape for the prisoners here and, ironically, no escape for him as well. A few months later, the Allies marched into the camp, and the dream ended.
Unlike their military superiors, the Youth escaped punishment for war crimes. Most of these teenage soldiers were released and allowed to go back to their families and start the process of social recovery. But some Youth could never go back. There was nothing to which he could return. He made his way to Hamburg and signed onto the crew of a Norse freighter, which ironically was bound to the United States. He met Ludwig Mueller onboard the ship. Ludwig was in his twenties, but using his unusual youthful appearance had convinced authorities he was a homeless teenager in search of a fresh start. In actual fact, nothing was further from the truth. Ludwig was an active member of the Thule Society, a secret organization within the Nazi SS which had maintained a profound influence on Hitler and provided the spiritual core for the Aryan movement. While on board the freighter, Herman made good friends with Ludwig, and, over the weeks of travel across the North Atlantic, he learned a great deal about the mystical Thule organization.
The central belief system of the Thulists revolved about the previous existence of a city called Ultima Thule, located on Hyperborea, a small island continent more popularly known as Atlantis. Everyone knew about Atlantis, and that it was a utopia, a place of technological and social wonder, which unfortunately suffered a cataclysmic event removing it from the face of the Earth many eons ago. Ludwig was happy to enlighten Herman with details not generally known to the public. For example, the origin of the people of Hyperborea was the star called Aldebaran, a red giant sixty-eight light-years from Earth located in the constellation Taurus. A long time ago, the Aldebarans, who lived on one of two inhabited planets, were forced to leave as their sun expanded and began to threaten their homeworld. They migrated to our solar system and settled on a world they called Mallona, located between Mars and Jupiter. This is the same planet the Romans called Phaeton, which now exists as a collection of asteroids. Before Mallona was destroyed the Aldebarans relocated to Mars and eventually, as Mars gradually became inhospitable, to Earth. In ancient times they came to be known as Sumerians, and were treated as gods. According to the Thulists, these people were the first Aryans. They were tall, blond and blue-eyed. They were, and according to Ludwig, remain as the superior human race. Many living in Germany today are the result of cross-breeding with these Aryans. After the demise of Hyperborea, the Aryans migrated north and south and, through a system of hidden tunnels at the poles, found refuge within the hollow bowels of the Earth where they continue to thrive today. Ludwig pointed out that those with Aryan blood running in their veins could, with proper training, commune with their ancestral kin using the power of Vril, a channeling technique relying on psychic forces. And it is through these contacts that the greater mission of the Nazi movement was made clear to its leaders—paving the way for a superior race to establish itself as the dominant force in the world, emotionless, without pity, subjugating the lower castes and destroying all who oppose.
Ludwig's natural charm and charisma swept up the younger Herman into a world of mysteries and great promise. Over the two week voyage they became fast friends, with Ludwig playing the role of priestly sage and Herman, the devoted acolyte. Herman greedily consumed the secret knowledge. He was fascinated by the histories surrounding the Aryan civilization, which ultimately, shaped a new found purpose to his life. The age of the superman was to be the age of the new world order. He saw the recent defeat at the hands of the Allies as nothing but a temporary setback, which could have been part of a greater plan, revealed to those who communed with the Aryan master race living beneath his very feet.
Ludwig pointed out that his task within the Thule Society had been to unearth evidence of the Aldebaran, or Aryan presence in order to bolster the Nazi world movement with tangible proof. In fact, in 1935 Heinrich Himmler had established the Ahnenerbe Society whose sole purpose was to conduct research to provide scientifically undisputable evidence of Aryan superiority. Missions had been launched to find Atlantis and to study the physical characteristics of the peoples of Asia, in particular those in Tibet, for links to the Master race. Ludwig stressed to Hermann that the key to Nazi revival and re-establishing Germany as the seat of the Fourth Reich was the discovery of a significant artifact which would provide incontrovertible proof of the Aryan civilization and its superiority, and act as the symbol or talisman to draw new recruits. As the voyage to America came to a close, Ludwig had successfully persuaded the impressionable eighteen year-old of the truth behind the Nazi movement and the glory of what was to come. Herman vowed to learn all about America, the country responsible for the destruction of his homeland. His first step was to integrate himself into its culture. Ludwig and he had struck a deep and lasting friendship, bound by love of the fatherland and a greater mission—to see its rebirth as the rightful leader of the world, heralding in a new world order of Aryan supermen.
The freighter arrived in Philadelphia and made its way up the Shuykill river and then along the Susquehanna to a small town called Pittston to pick up coal. With their earnings in their pockets, the two disembarked, skirted the lax immigration controls at the docks, and found themselves looking for employment. In a quirk of fate, which was only fully understood by Herman, the two found jobs with a local business looking for unskilled labor at the Knox Coal Mining Company.
The group agreed that it was time to call the police. Hedda used her cell phone to call 911. The dispatcher assured her that a squad car was on the way. Ben waved them to follow, choosing a tree-lined trail along the river which would eventually lead back to the office building. Adam joined Ben at the front with Hedda and Linda taking up the rear.
A few minutes into the hike Adam broke the silence. "Ben, you did say that you could explain what I saw back at your place."
Ben held back a low-lying tree branch. "I think so. But you'll need an open mind."
Adam simply grunted as he ducked beneath the branch.
"As far as I can tell, it's all about instinct. Remember how I told you that extraordinary artifacts were consistently lost, somehow misplaced, destroyed or stolen?"
"Yeah, and …?"
"It's our subconscious mind at work." After waiting for a response from Adam, and getting no more than a dull stare, Ben continued. "The subconscious mind. It would appear that there is something in our biochemistry that cannot accept certain facts. When confronted with hard evidence, we dismiss it, ignore it, and ultimately, we forget about it."
"Hard evidence? What kind of hard evidence?"
"Well an example might be evidence of intelligent life existing on Earth before we think it should have. I'm not just talking about lost civilizations. Specifically, I'm talking about anything that goes beyond that. For example, if I were to claim your artifact is of extraterrestrial origin, what is your first reaction?"
Adam thought about the analysis he and George conducted. Clearly, the technology was beyond even present day standards. It was a given that the artifact appeared to come from a time before man could possibly have existed. A feeling of disbelief and an overwhelming emotional compulsion to come up with an alternative explanation were high on his list. Perhaps it would be easier to avoid thinking too much about it.
"I definitely would have a hard time accepting that explanation."
"That's my point. When we begin thinking about the ramifications of such an object, both scientifically and sociologically, I am convinced that the shock to our brain kicks it into action making it work feverishly to deflect our attention, to suggest countless other interpretations, however unlikely. We know that the brain is capable of blocking thought when it comes to trauma, playing a kind of protective role … probably something we picked up through evolution to help us cope with horrific events. It's a kind of survival mechanism."
"Do you have any proof this is happening? I mean, it's only a little medallion."
"Well, Adam, in a sense, you are the proof. You discovered an artifact that falls into the category I've just described."
"But I had it in my possession for years …"
Adam's voice faded away as he thought about the discovery so many years ago, and then the recent developments.
Ben picked up the thread. "And you've lost it just recently. And, what compelled you to come to this mine?"
Adam quickly related the major events responsible, starting with the lab analysis, the visit to Ben's place, and ending with Hedda, her artifact and the chase leading here. They were about a hundred feet from the three-story colliery north of the office when Adam's cell phone rang.
The conversation was whispered, but intense, and ended with a shrug. The group halted before a small stand of trees that lay between them and an open field leading to the colliery
"I can't believe it. That was George, the fellow who ran the analyses on my medallion. He was calling from a Scranton police station. It appears the police discovered his prints on the remains of a lecture bottle of butane, the very bottle identified as the reason for the explosion at the lab. George was adamant that no such bottle had been present in the lab. He can't explain it. There's no way that he could have done such a thing on purpose, just no way."
Ben quietly replied, "No way, indeed."
"There's more. Apparently, the police are looking for person of interest. I guess George mentioned I was there as well." In the silence that followed, Adam added, "Which means they're looking for me."
Herman's eyes fluttered open. He swung his head forward, snapping his mouth shut. He kicked away the chair he was using as a footstool. Footsteps scraping gravel approached the backdoor. Still peeved by the poor performance of his henchmen earlier in the day, he had, in fact, been considering corrective action. However, all would be forgiven if they returned with the artifacts. The door creaked open and two figures outlined by the early evening sun at their backs entered the office.