At The End Of The Tunnel

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young-marcus_icon.gif b_nick_icon.gif

Scene Title At The End Of The Tunnel
Synopsis The light is unfortunately a train…
Date December 16, 1941

Red and white.

That's the colors of the land when viewed from the sky. Swirling white, smooth plains of white, spots of red and then dark mixed within.

From the ground, the sky is slate gray and filled with whirling snowflakes. The air is so cold that it prickles the skin, makes the pain of Nick's knife wound less, makes the ache of his twisted ankle even easier to handle. From where he lays, sunken into the snow beneath his back, Nicholas Ruskin can see the tumbles trail in the snow where he fell head over heels down the icy embankment in the forest he'd abruptly appeared in some five minutes ago.

The cold wind is keeping him awake from the prickling pain, but blood loss and hypothermia is making him tired. He'd failed, in saving Eileen from himself, in saving himself. Maybe lying here, in some God-forsaken forest in the middle of winter, lost in time, is punishment enough for his sins.

Maybe the feeling of grogginess is release.

Maybe this is what it's like to give up.

Muffled voices come later, or sooner, it's hard to tell drifting in and out of consciousness. But the presence of darkly-dressed men with guns in the dimly lit, snowy forest are jarring things that a numb Nicholas has little energy left to struggle against.

He can hear dogs barking, a truck, these men look like soldiers and he can't quite hear them from the sound of blood rushing in his ears and swimming awareness.

The bed of the truck is cold when he wakes up in it, staring out the open tailgate to a mostly plowed road. There's headlights shining in his eyes, another truck driving down the same road. It's dark now, and it smells of dogs and viscera in the back of the truck.

Razorwire and metal framework passes overhead when he regains consciousness again. Driving through a gate, the truck passes beyond a metal archway lit by spotlights. Wooden towers flank the gated entrance, dark silhouettes against a cloudy winter's night sky patrol the towers with rifles in hand. A Shephard is licking at Nick's cheek, black ears folded back.

He has no collar.

By the time Nick's world fades to black again, he finally recognizes that the men are speaking German.


Treblinka II, Extermination Camp

Warsaw, Poland

December 16, 1941


Blurred vision means wakedness, lights are too bright where they hang from the ceiling, restraints biting into cold flesh. Nicholas Ruskin has been many places before, but tied to a chair is a new experience. Rope grates against tender flesh, bandages wrapped around his knife-wound are dotted red, his shirt missing entirely and making the cold of the sparsely decorated concrete-walled building all the more palpable.

Several hanging lights shine down dully overhead, help rouse his awareness in the same way that a man standing some fifteen feet away in a black wool trenchcoat with a bolt-action rifle makes his adrenaline spike. Crew cut, young, square jaw and furrowed brows — he's a soldier alright.

The pins on his collar look like a sharply cut pair of the letter S.

The door to the hallway is open, two similarly dressed men are having a too-quiet conversation to hear.

It could be worse.

Though Nick isn't exactly sure how.

His eyes slant, trying to filter out as much of that garish light as possible while taking in the sickening and strange surroundings. He's not entirely sure how he came to be here — the last he remembers, aside from the snow and the truck, is standing on that platform, trying to decide whether to turn back west toward London or try to chase down John Logan. He doesn't remember seeing Sullivan — doesn't remember being jerked through time.

He strains to try to catch any of the words of that soft conversation, silently cursing that he doesn't know German. French, a little Polish. English. American — as he'd argue it's a different language than English. Nick drags his glance back to the soldier closer to him, his heart pounding as he raises his head and clears his throat to let the other man know he's awake.

No sense in drawing out the inevitable. And whatever ill comes to him is probably less than he deserves.

A slur of German greets Nick, not directly, but as the soldier watching him calls out down the hall. There's a riotous choir of shouting from other rooms, and one of the men discussing matters down the hall makes a sharp turn away from where he was conversing and immediately begins to take sharply clicked steps down the corridor.

On his way into the room, Nick recognizes the severity of the German officer's expression, the downward cast of his lips and furrow of his brows, the eyepatch covering where one eye is likely missing. His uniform denotes him as a man of rank — stature — even if his height leaves something to be desired.

A dismissive gesture and tone of voice comes with a snap of leather-gloved fingers, ordering the soldier that had been watching Nick out of the interrogation room. As he leaves, shutting the metal door behind himself, Nick finds himself sealed in the room along with the eyepatch laden SS officer.

"Do you speak English?" It comes with a stilted German accent, almost too thick to be anything but a parody. As the short officer tucks his hands behind his back and approaches Nick's chair, he seems to be studying his mannerisms, posture, everything.

English, Polish, French — his Polish isn't good enough to come off as natural, even if the accent is good, unless Nick wants to come off as having the vocabulary of an eight-year-old, Nick knows. Nonetheless, he quickly tries to decide which is the safest in this scenario, but the pain and confusion clouding his mind leads him to the simplest answer, if a few moments slow in coming:

"Yeah," he breathes out, blue eyes wary and guarded as he peers into the one-eyed man's face. Nick's jaw tenses after the word, as if waiting for a blow to strike out for daring to answer in the affirmative, or perhaps for the delay. The soldier probably thought he was deaf or mute or both for a moment. "Where'm I?" is muttered next: Nick is hoping the answer isn't as dire as he fears it will be. And of course the question he can't ask but he really wants to know is 'when' am I?'

"Doesn't much matter," sounds much less German than it did a moment ago. "By the time it would matter, you'll probably already be dead. You came at a pretty convenient time, Mister York. I'd been considering leaving the country, thanks to the inability to plug a security hole I left open. Now, I have a name, face and body to present to the Fuhrer."

Wringing his gloved hands behind himself, the eye-patch wearing officer moves to a table near Nick where his personal effects are laid out. Wallet with a 2010 ID, perscription drugs, a cell phone, too many things that don't belong in Nazi Germany is relatively obvious.

"You're a time-traveller," sounds so matter-of-fact, and when the officer turns his attention back to Nick, he's smiling. "My superiors back home would probably pin a medal on me so large that the OSS would need to melt down all the gold in America. But unfortunately for you and I, there's no way I'd get you out of Poland in time to extract any information from you. This leaves me with plan B, covering up my tracks with yours."

Tilting his head to the side, the officer's pale and cyclopean stare levels squarely on Nick. "I do have some questions though, if you'll entertain them before I throw you to the wolves?"

Blue eyes follow the soldier to the table, and Nick visibly winces at the assortment of his possessions. "I'm not," he says with a shake of his head. "I mean, obviously I am but I'm not the one who can do it. Someone else did it."

Clearly — or he would have scrunched his nose and eyes like Hiro minutes ago and gotten himself the fuck out of dodge.

His eyes narrow as he brings them back up to the soldier's face, brows deepening in a scowl as he considers the man's words. "You're tellin' me you're gonna throw me to the wolves, and yet you want me to answer your questions? I'm not sure where the bloody incentive is in that, buddy." It's probably not the smartest thing to smartmouth a Nazi while one is tied up to a chair with a knife wound, but Nick has a death wish, and this might just be the man to grant it.

"Getting to confide in someone before you're send into Treblinka might be nice, someone who understands things. Differences?" One of the officer's brows raise as he moves to take a seat on the corner of the table. "Solace is important when you're facing execution, and this isn't likely to be a quick one. The only problem I have with our arrangement is that I can't ask you the quick and dirty questions that would help me in the long run…"

Lifting one hand to his forehead, he exhales a sigh. "Does America enter the war? How long does the Reich last? Mostly because I can't trust the quality and truth of your answers since you're here under duress. Really that just makes you not very valuable to me."

Huffing out a breath, the officer folds his hands in his lap. "But, why not. Let's start with names. I'm Marcus Raith, you're Nick York. I take it you're British, which works well from the angle of you being a spy I'll be painting up one side of you and down the other…"

Marcus' jaw tenses as he twists to reach behind himself, picks up the cell phone and then waggles it in the air in front of Nick. "We can start with show and tell. What is this, what does it do, why do you have it?"

Nick squints, trying to read between the lines of the man's words, but one word stands out above all of them.

Raith.

It's not a common name. Not at all. And one thing Nick has learned in New York is there are no bloody coincidences.

"Raith," he breathes. "I know a Raith. In my time. In 2010. He's a friend of mine." That might be stretching the truth just a tad, but there's some understanding between the two. At least on Raith's side. Nick doesn't understand very much of anything, and is all too aware of that fact for his own comfort.

"I'm willing to bet your his grandfather or something. I saved his bloody arse not long ago," again, a bit of a stretch. "— and you're gonna throw me to the fuckin' wolves? Why the fuck am I going to answer your questions?"

He's angry at himself and he's angry at John Logan, and here's a target to hurl his vitriol at. "I'll answer one. The fucking Nazis fall. The country splits in two. Hitler kills himself. Nice company you keep, asshole."

"See, this is the same problem with torture. The victim could be saying anything under duress." Marcus pockets the cell phone, huffing out a breathy sigh as he slides off of the table. "I'm actually here because I agree that the Fuhrer and his ilk are psychopaths. God knows I'm up to my eyeballs in them. They think I'm a turncoat from America, but the inverse is true. I work for OSS, not really spying on the Nazis but their research."

Marcus kicks up a brow, watching Nick thoughtfully. "See, they're starting to get wise that there's someone spilling state secrets. Secrets about things like time travelers or tissue regenerators. You know, secrets meant to be kept."

Brushing an errant lock of dark hair back into place, Marcus begins circling Nick's chair. "Your death will help cover up my hole in security, ensure that the Reich never questions my loyalty when you turn up as a spy mistaken for a Jew, sent to the gas chamber before anyone could get anything out of you."

One of Marcus' shoulders rise slowly. "Really, though, you'd be helping human progress if you did a little genuine explaining. Alright, fine, let's make it an under-handed toss. Why are you back here?"

Nick's jaw tenses, his brain spinning, trying to come up with lies that might keep him alive. It's actually surprising to him to find he cares, but the part of his mind that never stops thinking knows it's just animal nature, a base instinct to continue to breathe, to perpetuate the species. Adrenaline rushes through his body, cold in his veins, hot in his face.

"I don't know," he finally mutters, the words honest and unhappy about it. "I don't know who put me here, or why, but I know someone's screwing up time. Getting people to go back and change shit. I got offered the chance to change somethin', and I took it. But someone else came after me to try an' set it right, so… someone must be watchin'. You do this — you do this, and someone's watching it somehow. In 2010, we know about these 'secrets.' People who can set fires with their mind or read thoughts. You don't think one of 'em might be able to do that? Killing me — it ain't going to cover up your little security gap if someone in your Reich can just peer into your eyes and see you're lying through your teeth when you claim that I'm some fuckin' spy."

He lifts his chin to narrow his gaze at Marcus'. "I might be able to help you somehow, rather than you throwing me in the gas chamber. If someone's lookin' for me, maybe we can give you a lift to the future. That's one place ol' Adolf and his boys prob'ly can't find you, mate."

A lift to the future.

One of Marcus' brows lift slowly, tongue pressed against the side of his cheek. But then, he laughs, laughs a dreary and bitter laugh. "It's not the Fuhrer I'm afraid of," Marcus admits as he comes full circle around to the front of Nick's chair. "I'm here because I'm trying to give the States the advantage on the Super Men, on what Germany's trying to develop here. If they're the first country to figure out how to make people like me, out of ordinary soldiers?" Marcus lifts one gloved hand into the air, conjuring a tiny globe of semi-opaque jade colored light, which then flickers away like a guttering candle.

"The balance of power throughout Europe will be crushed. They're far along, Mister York, further than the OSS thought when they put me here two years ago. But it isn't the Fuhrer I'm afraid of. It's the man I work for." Cyclopean stare levels on Nick, and Marcus' dark brows furrow tensely. "I appreciate the offer, but I can't just wait around for your future-friends to come rescue you. Because I figure… if they knew what trouble you're in, if they really can travel time?"

Marcus' smile spreads to a thin line. "They'd already have come to save you. So now, it comes down to my ass versus yours, and the scales are tipped to one side, and it isn't in your favor."

Did Avi Epstein warn that there'd be days like this?

He should have.

Nick never read Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder, and he didn't think much about what butterflies he might crush when he went back to change his own life — but not because he wasn't bright enough to realize that every step in the past would have far-reaching ramifications. He simply couldn't see Eileen's life being worse for want of him. But the wheels turn and he looks aghast at the one-eyed man, shaking his head.

"Look, mate, you can't do this. The Allies won the war, without you tossing me to the wolves. I don't fuckin' care about my own life, all right, but you don't wanna … if you give the yanks this research this early on…" Blue eyes grow wide, and he shakes his head again, trying to envision a world where the US can breed an army of √úbermensch as early as the 1940s. He doesn't know about Project Icarus, doesn't know about formulas and synthetic abilities, but he can see where the world he lives in, in 2010, is headed, and to back that sort of technology up fifty years or more —

If he could go back — or forward, rather — in time, Nick would tell Samuel Sullivan no, if there were a replay on that moment — was it only earlier today? Yesterday? Such terms have lost all meaning.

"The Allies win anyway," he repeats. "The US enters the war. It ends in April, 1945. There's no reason to do this."

April 1945.

One of Marcus' brows slowly raise, gloved hands wringing behind his back as he moves over to where a wooden chair rests beside the table where Nick's possessions are scattered. Taking a hold of the back of the chair, he drags the legs across the floor with a scuffing sound, eventually folding himself down into a seated position, hunched forward with hands clasped together, arms resting on his knees.

"Who's to say I don't win the war for the Allies? Maybe whatever intelligence I give, whatever work I do, is critical to getting the US into the war. Maybe it's the edge they need to know what the Reich has in store. Maybe your death saves millions of lives?" Sure, it's altruistic, and Marcus doesn't believe a word of it, but it makes for good conjecture.

"You'd be one of those unsung heroes," the one-eyed man adds with a quirk of one brow up. "Think of it as a service, for Queen an' Country or whatever you limey fucks need to sleep at night."

"'Cause it didn't 'appen that way!" Nick says. "Maybe you do win the war for the Allies anyway. But in my history — which I'm pretty sure didn't include me bein' back here, it didn't happen that way, and we won. You don't know what you could be undoing!" He recognizes the irony that he's echoing Logan's sentiments back on the train — though in this case, he actually cares about what he might be undoing, since it affects the entire world.

He simply didn't care about Logan's or his futures, and what undoing them might have caused.

"Bloody time travelling wankers," he mutters, hands twitching in their restraints — he'd love a cigarette just about now.

"Listen, mate. I don't fuckin' care about being a hero and I don't even fuckin' care if you kill me. Go ahead. But…" he veers off, unsure of how to complete that sentiment. How can he convince this man to take the fall he's intended to take? Self-preservation is a human instinct — even Nick exhibits the trait now and then. "… do you have kids?"

"I have a son," comes without missing a beat, and while Marcus leans back, he reaches inside of his jacket removing not some touching photograph but instead a metal cigarette case. Sliding it open, Marcus grabs one of the rolled paper cigarettes from within, then snaps it shut. "I haven't seen him since he was born, might not see him until…" Marcus offers a look up to Nick as he rises from his chair, "maybe April of '45?"

Sure, it's a teasing jab.

"If you're trying to convince me of what would my son think of me, you're barking up the wrong tree." Moving away from Nick's chair, Marcus heads to the table where his personal possessions are laid out. The lighter is taken, turned around in one gloved hand, then tested tentatively. When it performs as expected, Marcus crooks his lips into a smirk and palms it, walking back over to Nick.

"I swore an oath to do what was necessary to defend my nation when I joined the OSS. That means doing terrible things, in the interest of long-term benefits. You wouldn't understand," he opines, offering up the cigarette towards Nick within leaning distance. "Well, maybe you would."

"Hardly. I ain't gonna waste my time on that. You seem like an asshole. I don't think you'd care what your kid thinks of you," Nick mutters. He's a dead man anyway — might as well say it like it is. Still, he leans forward to take the cigarette in his mouth a bit awkwardly, then mouths around it to continue on this thread he's trying to follow, trying to spin for Raith.

"Nope. What I was gonna tell you's that — I donno how many kids you got or are gonna have, but doin' this, undoing what happened already might undo them." The web he's spinning is not a strong one, he knows, but it's all he has. "Like I said, I know a Raith. Jensen, his name is. Not a bad guy. Shit taste in beer. Pretty sure he's related to you, though. I don't fuckin' believe in coincidences, so I don't think this one's one either. What's your kid's name?"

Nick's plastic lighter makes a click before a tongue of flame licks up over the end of the unfiltered cigarette, settng the tip alight with a glow of orange ember and a puff of smoke. Marcus watches the Brit carefully after relinquishing the lighter and quelling the flame. "I don't much care about what hasn't happened yet, Mister York. I don't think you really understand that."

Tucking the lighter into the pocket of his jacket, Marcus cants his head to the side. "My son's name is Roy. He's going to grow up in a country that isn't afraid of Commies or Nazis, no Stalin, no Hitler. He's going to grow up in an America that I make sure is free."

But with that, Marcus is turning to the door, boots clomping noisily over the concrete floor. "You can have peace of mind that your death will contribute to a brighter future for everyone."

Nick's eyes narrow and he takes a deep drag of the cigarette to get it to catch, breathing in the tar and nicotine and holding it in his mouth longer than necessary, before exhaling it through his nose in exasperation.

It's time for a last-ditch effort.

"Roy — " Roy Raith? Really? Nick shakes his head. Minus ten points right there. "Jensen's mentioned an uncle named Ray, but Jensen's a junior. Must be Ray's brother whose his father, Jensen Senior. You get what I'm saying, Raith? You don't get killed for this security breach you're talking about. You're risking the future to cover up something that isn't the end of the fucking world. But your choices now? Throwing me to the wolves so you can go be a fuckin' glory hound and make supermen with super powers so your country can be the strongest power of the world…"

Nick shakes his head, and the cigarette drops to the ground after knocking its ash on his pants. "Now who does that fucking sound like, Raith? You're no better'n the Fuhrer, asshole."

Pausing by the door, Marcus hesitates with his knuckles near the surface. He turns, looking over his shoulder to Nick, brows furrowed. "You're right, I don't get killed. Because you die in my place," he says with a faint smile. "Thank you, by the way, Uncle Sam appreciates your sacrifice for the greater good."

"Ich werde getan," Marcus barks at the door as he raps his knuckles against the metal frame. There's a shuffling outside and the door opens with a creak of its hinges. Without looking back at the condemned, the spy treads through the doorway, murmuring something in German to the attending guard, then flicks one last look in at Nick before the door swings shut with a resounding clang of metal.

It almost sounds like a nail being driven into a coffin.

In many ways, it is.


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