Home > Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1)(4)

Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1)(4)
Ryan Graudin

Britain was the sole great power that did not collaborate or stand by. It was also the first of the great powers to fall. Its planes and pluck could not stop Operation Sea Lion. After the National Socialists hung their flags over the stones of a broken Parliament, Hitler bided his time, solidifying his hold on the conquered countries as he kept his calculating gaze to the east.

The Soviet Union was fracturing under the stress of itself. Stalin’s naysayers rose out of the woodwork, decrying his alliance with the Germans. Entire regions of the country splintered off into rebellions. By the time the Führer finally broke his nonaggression pact in 1942, Stalin’s armies were too diminished from within to fight a two-front war. The National Socialists and Italians beat down the Soviets’ European border while Japanese soldiers edged their way into Siberia.

Once Hitler was assured of the Soviets’ defeat, he turned his sights back on his Italian allies (whose newly acquired territories happened to be in Europe and Africa). After using his spies to assassinate the Italian leader, Mussolini, and blaming the murder on Italian partisans, Hitler moved his armies into Italy and its territories to “stabilize the region.”

They never left.

The red lands of Europe and Africa were claimed as Lebensraum, living space for the Aryan people. Their native populations were reduced to second-class citizens; any who resisted were shipped off to labor camps. Jews, Romani, Slavs, and all others the Führer considered to be Untermenschen were rounded up. Taken to camps of a different kind.

Crimson wasn’t the only color on Henryka’s operations map. Two distinct empires made up the Axis: the Third Reich and Japan, which helmed the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Führer and Emperor Hirohito had halved the Asian continent like a Christmas pie, straight down the Seventieth Meridian. Henryka had chosen an ominous gray to color the Emperor’s territory.

At the top of the map, hanging in the high north, there was no color at all. Just a vast white stretch of winter lands, where echoes of Stalin’s army lived on. Too fractured, too underresourced, and too cold for the Axis forces to bother with.

For over a decade these colors stayed the same. Settling in, deeper, dye strong. (Though according to the resistance’s intelligence, Hitler’s ambitions for the National Socialists and the Aryan race were on a global scale. It didn’t matter that he’d signed nonaggression pacts with the Americas or that he was sworn allies with Emperor Hirohito. Intrigue and political backstabbing were Hitler’s specialty. Besides, why else would the Reich’s hundreds of labor camps be dedicated to churning out war materials?)

But as Yael stared at the map this time, she wasn’t looking at colors or the lack of them. She was not counting the coded operative pins that dotted the Reich’s major cities—Germania, London, Cairo, Rome, Baghdad, Paris.

Yael was looking at the road ahead.

The Axis Tour.

The long-distance race had started its life as a Hitler Youth activity, training for boys who wanted to join the Kradschützen motorcycle troop. It was so popular it evolved into a race. Once the war was won, Joseph Goebbels—the Reich’s propaganda minister—decided to televise the competition, to show off the two Axis empires’ conquered territories, commemorate their victory, and promote their alliance. Teenagers from the Hitler Youth and the Great Japan Sincerity Association competed every year, racing their motorcycles from capital to capital. A journey that captured the attention of the Axis’s entire population for the better part of a month.

Henryka had marked the tour’s path as a dotted black line that spanned three continents in a crooked U. Yael traced the path with her forefinger. Starting in Germania, down the boot that was once Italy, across the sea, along the Sahara’s sands, through the Middle East’s rugged mountains, into the jungles of Indochina, up to the port of Shanghai, over another sea, all the way to Tokyo. It was 20,780 kilometers divided into nine legs, traveled by twenty racers all fighting for victory via the lowest cumulative time.

This was the journey she had to take. This was the race she had to win.

The basement door swung open to reveal Henryka, wide-eyed, cradling armfuls of documents.

“Yael?” The older woman always greeted Yael with a question mark when she wore sleeves. There were, Henryka sometimes complained, too many faces in Yael’s repertoire for her to keep track of. (To be fair, the faces looked very similar: oval shaped, light hair, bright eyes, long nose, straight white teeth. Yael often had trouble keeping all the aliases straight herself. They were almost, awfully, interchangeable.)

Yael’s finger dropped away from Tokyo. She dropped Mina’s face at the same time, letting Fräulein Jager’s soft features slough away. There was a new face in her mind, just as Aryan but sharper. Yael sculpted it in practiced seconds. The process of stretching skin, shifting bone, and warping cartilage was always painful, but it was quick: snap, snap, snap. New pieces, new girl.

Henryka watched Yael’s transformation through strands of brittle, home-bleached frizz, a scowl growing on her face. “Where have you been?”

Here we go. Yael could feel the rant whipping up in the woman’s tiny body. It almost made her smile—Henryka still fussing over her like some sort of ugly duckling, even after years of the girl’s own scrappy survival and Vlad’s intense operative training.

“You were due here over a quarter of an hour ago! Kasper has been waiting with the truck, and I’ve been half out of my mind with worry! I was five minutes away from notifying Reiniger and sending out a search party! He could have canceled the mission altogether! So much depends on you.”

This lecture held too much truth for Yael to smile at.

“I’m sorry, Henryka.” She paused, trying to think of what else to say that wouldn’t add another worry line to the woman’s aging skin. “I am.”

Henryka’s anger wilted in a heart’s space. Ten seconds of yelling seemed to be all she had the energy for. Yael wondered how long she’d been awake. Stretches of sleepless days weren’t rare for the older woman, who spent most of them in this hidden office—coordinating drops for operatives and decoding messages from cells all across the Axis territories. This place and this indomitable Polish woman were the brain stem of the resistance. Collecting information, dispersing it through the many nerve endings, causing movement.

Henryka’s workload had been especially heavy lately, with the upcoming Axis Tour. She had to make sure the world was ready for what was about to happen if Yael completed her mission: a complete uprising. Operation Valkyrie reborn.

Henryka moved over to her desk, tucking the new documents into the avalanche of manila folders. In the far corner, behind the mass of files and a worn typewriter, a television whined out high, grainy frequencies. Its black-and-white pictures flickered strange light off the peeling ceiling paint. Henryka paused to watch it. Old footage was playing, a montage of last year’s Axis Tour. Short clips of motorcycles filmed from the roadside were interspersed with shots of the racers’ official times being recorded on the checkpoint cities’ chalkboards. But the real meat of the coverage were the interviews conducted at each checkpoint. Conversations with the racers who’d clawed their way to the top of this list. There were a slew of Mein Kampf–quoting German boys, proud and puffed. There were glossy-haired Japanese boys, serious and honor-heavy.

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