The Light


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Scene Title The Light
Synopsis Seeing it is not always welcome, but necessary.
Date December 30, 1941

Warsaw, Poland

Marcus Raith is a man of his word, let that never be doubted.

But when his word involves a promise to die in a concentration camp, Nicholas Ruskin could have forgiven a certain lacking dependability.

Three weeks has been long enough to lose somewhere over ten pounds, starved to a picturesque skeletal frame, Nicholas' already lean body metabolised fat first, then muscle. The mixture of Polish and German Jews in Treblinka did little to ease the sense of hopelessness and alienation. No, he wasn't going to face immediate execution, Nicholas was going to suffer before his time had come up.

The broken spirits of the Treblinka residents make him feel all the more thankful for what little health he has left. Men and women who resemble little more than shambling corpses are pencil thin, some horrifically pregnant in that condition, and none of those states matter when the sirens sound and the death march begins up towards the brick-walled buildings up on the hill, the building that spew black smoke day in and day out, rain ash like snowflakes.

In the lice infested cabin where some hundred residents are packed shoulder-to-shoulder in confined space, Nicholas has had all the time in the world to brush up on his Polish, to feel the humiliating horror of the second World War first hand, the absolute depravity of humanity.

Stripped of his dignity, his personal possessions, and on daily inspections any sense of modesty, Nicholas finds himself in a position where the concept of Hell needs to be redefined, where man constructed something so cruel, so inhumane, that the imagination fails to keep up.

Humanity never fails to invent new and horrifying ways to murder each other.

Treblinka II Extermination Camp

Warsaw, Poland

December 30, 1941

"Snowing again, it must be Monday," is the same greeting day after day that Joshua Gersheim has offered to Nick since his internment at the camp. Jacket pulled around his matchstick-thin frame, the weathered old man looks as though he has both lost the fear of death and lost the love of life. "You holding up well? You'll need your strength for when we escape."

Therein lies Joshua's fantasy, like so many other residents of Treblinka, something to occupy the mind and ease the time spent between moments where life seems to be dwindling ever shorter. Today, though, Joshua is exceptionally talkative for the day most of the three-week residents are certain they'll go in to the brick building on the hill.

Never to emerge.

The tall and now leaner frame of Nick Ruskin looks ridiculous in a thin coat with too-short of sleeves to cover his wrists, now bony and angular. At six foot, back "home," he's not short by any means, but no giant; here, he towers over most. Though he is not quite so gaunt as the older man, he has no hope in his pale eyes, though he still offers the same humoring smile at the same joke that he has every day he's been here.

"If you say so."

That answer, in its accented Polish, isn't the same. Nick knows that having faith, that holding on to a single idea of survival can get someone through a situation as dire as this. He'd studied the Holocaust. He read the stories of survivors, one after another saying that the only reason they made it through to the end of the war was their will to live, their will to be free. Those who'd died, the survivors said, were often those who had nothing left to live for, who'd lost their faith or their hope or their loved ones and gave up. Nick knew that to take away such a hope could not only be cruel to Joshua, but ultimately fatal.

So he'd agreed that they'd get out, that the Russians are coming from the east, the Americans ready to enter the war any moment — the lie told with feigned conviction meant to inspire Joshua to keep fighting.

More than once, Nick had tried to slip the older man his ration of bread; he doesn't know how Gersheim's story ends, after all. It's very possible the other man gets out, and even though Nick has now considered, thanks to his philosophical discussion with Marcus Raith, the ramifications of changing the past, he isn't so set against stepping on butterflies that he won't try to help someone in more dire shape than him.

Nick has accepted that he's going to die.

The wail of the siren sounds like the beginning of a droning cry of some shrill beast. It was jarring at first, the blaring noise, but three weeks of the feeding call of the furnaces has come to signal to Nick the one singular meaning it could possibly have.

Death has come, this is his battle cry.

Chickenwire-fenced wooden doors to the barracks burst open, followed by the sweep of bolt action rifles through the cabin. A sharp, barked order in German is call out, followed by a list of numbers and names by a man reading off of a typed list. A young German soldier no older than sixteen is grabbing people by the arms, calling out names and dragging people into the packed earth yard cursted over with fresh snow. It happens once every day, men and women gathered to be marched up to the building on the hill, the ones who will never return.

This is the first — and last — time that they would call the name Nicholas York with the crystal clarity of a firing squad's muzzle report. The young soldier hurries in, past Gersheim and in towards Nicholas, knowing him by his youthful face and general health. He hadn't come from Auschwitz or one of the other concentration camps. No one knew why he was quite so healthy, or who he was.

That's why someone asked.

But that's neither here, nor now. As the soldier grabs at Nick's wrist, his snarled order to stand is simple enough. But Nick knows where this goes, knows this is where the long march ends. It's not a noble end, if a historic one.

Resignation. His short life has been one that feels like a life time — the past three weeks have felt like years. Nick's weary eyes flicker with only a little fear and mostly acceptance, though he does take this moment to turn to Joshua.

"Znoszą," he tells the other man.


Nick lifts his chin. He will not scream, nor cry, nor beg. Logan called him weak on the train, but he plans to die like a man, with whatever dignity he has left in the shred of a life he has lived.

Led out into the cold, snow-filled yard beyond the cabin, Nick and twenty other men and women of ages that vary from young teenagers to the shakily elderly stand in the bitter cold. From their fenced windows, the other camp prisoners watch as the guards begin to strip them of jackets, dogs beyond high fences acing in slow territorial paths while sharpshooters in towers watch from their windy perches. One young man breaks away from the group the moment that they try to take his coat, and he gets nine steps before the crack of a rifle sounds and he drops to the ground unmoving.

One of the men in charge of this group of now nineteen instructs the prisoners to take off their shoes, throwing them into a pile already heaped four feet high, stacked full of newly cobbled and well-worn footwear. It is without their shoes that they will begin the next step of this final journey.

One rifle-armed camp guard leads the way, opening a chain gate and trudging up a snow-crusted hill dusted with sand for traction. At the back, three more men shout slurs and invectives to urge the captives onwards. They are going to the showers, to clean, baths they are told.

No one ever comes back from them.

One question they'd asked, Nick and his mates, back in school — why didn't anyone try to fight?

Some had, their teacher explained, but they were killed. Fighting back was about as pointless as escaping.

And yet

Nick doesn't believe he deserves happiness, but now that he's seen hell, he isn't afraid of dying. What he is afraid of is dying a torturously slow death, the kind of death where nails are torn off hands and embedded in the walls, the kind of death that makes one wish for a swift shotgun blast to the head.

He doesn't have to die clawing at a door that won't open, choking on poison. He will die, of that he's sure, but maybe… just maybe, he can take out one fucking Nazi with him.

And while he kills the German, he can pretend it's Marcus Raith whose head he's blowing out with a rifle.

Without a word, he suddenly surges forward — he's weary and he's malnourished, but he has adrenaline and surprise on his side as he reaches for the rifle of the guard leading them to their demise, his fist aiming for the man's temple from behind. If he gets the gun, he'll shoot the guard and turn on the other three behind them — if he has the chance.

Ultimately, he doesn't.

The sucker-punch drops the first of the guards down to one knee, pain lances up Nick's arm from the force of the blow, even as like supplicant cattle the others just back up and let the Nazi soldiers close in to finish the job. That being the liberal application of a rifle butt to the back of Nick's head, the strike causing his vision to blossom with stars, head to swim and weak legs to give out as he collapses down onto his knees in the snow, then falls forward to receive a faceful.

Unfortunately conscious, Nick can hear the muffled sound of the guards arguing and bickering, some of the prisoners yelling back and shouts exchanged. Frantic ars grab Nick's, lever him up with bony appendages. Three men it's taken to lift Nick up to his feet, all of them headed to the gas chamber. But there's that hope they have, that slim hope that however long they can prolong their remaining lives, maybe there is a slim flicker of hope.

In a place like Treblinka, hope was important — necessary.

When Nick finally loses consciousness, feels his head swim and sink, the world goes dark around him.

It doesn't get light again.

Two Hours Later

The freezing cold air stings exposed skin the moment the car door opens to the desolate lot where the Treblinka II Extermination Camp resides. A polished black shoe touches down into the snow, black slacks pressed, a trim yellow line running down the side. Lifting up his scarf to his his long and narrow nose from the cold, the wiry man stepping out of the car narrows blue eyes behind thick glasses, squinting at the building.

Three SS officers are already on site, opening the rear door of the auto and escorting a heavily bundled and rail thin man with clean shaved face and skull-cropped hair. His blue eyes are cold and lonesome, set against the snowy forests where Treblinka crests smooth peaks like a blister.

"Herr Volken," one of the SS officers directs to the old, thin man in glasses. "«We apologize for now being prepared for your visit, no one told us that— »" Cut off by a wave of one gloved hand, the SS Officer is silenced by Kazimir Volken's withering stare. Good that it be just a baleful look and not anything more.

"«I am looking for a British spy who was mistakenly mixed among the Jews here,»" Kazimir demands of the SS officers, «by the name of Nicholas York.»" One whisper thin eyebrow raises on thew gaunt old man's face. "«Which bunk is he in, he is to be extracted back to Berlin immediately.»"

Worry flashes across the faces of all of the SS officers, their posture stiffening and expression faltering. The man who has accompanied Kaizmir, dressed not like an officer of the Reich at all but merely a warmly bundled civilian watches their shock and their horror. "«He… He was sent to the gas chamber two hours ago, they're— »" Kazimir lunges like a wild, scrapyard dog, gloved fingers curling into the collar of the SS officer's jacket as he leans in towards him, blue eyes narrowed and tall, thin frame like some overbearing skeleton in thick winter attire.

Where is he now?»"

Sickness hasn't set in. The vermin hasn't set in. Hunger has, yes, and mortifying fear at being out of his own country and become the property of the Germans, but in the scheme of things, those are only feelings, and Francois can cope with feelings. Gripping blankets around his shoulders, his stare is baleful and mouth set into a thin line as he watches Kazimir deal with the officers. There's a keenness in his demeanor, one that watches this interaction between the scientists and the soldiers.

Seeing their shock, and their horror, and knowing a degree of black satisfaction. He doesn't understand German, but he understands the tones of their voices, a couple of keywords.

Take me to him. If he is dead, so are you.»" Kazimir's shrill response comes with a spittle-flinging gnash of his teeth, lips curling back as though he were a dog. The SS officers recoil from the higher-ranking officer, immediately begin ploughing a path with heavy, trodding steps through the snow towards the open gates of the central yard between the cabins where prisoners are kept. Keeping up the rear, Kazimir's private retinue of soldiers are there strictly to ensure that Francois Allegre does not flee into the snowy Poland countryside — that would be a decided tragedy.

Paraded through the plaza of the concentration camp, Kazimir and Francois are watched through mesh-barred windows by the dirty faces of the detainees, their matchstick thin bodies and gaunt faces a foreshadowing of the future that Francois Allegre has to come, between intermittant ''scientific'' experiements at the hands of Project Icarus' team.

It isn't to any of the barracks that Kazimir and Francois are lead however, or even to the brick building on the hill where the gas chambers collect the dead like a jar of honey would flies. It is out the back gate of the camp, through flurries of biting snow, down a long length of train tracks towards a cleared away portion of the tracks where metal grating has been laid out and bare, frostbitten bodies are being heaped atop one another, ready to be burned.

"«Grim, no?»"

Francois doesn't talk much, in these situations. He'd learned not to after the first time he'd been dragged kicking and clawing and cursing upon his arrest, and spent the last of his energy healing his face back to something more workable when a broken jaw was all he'd gotten in return for his efforts. But he speaks now, gentle French, moving as obediently as if he wanted to be there. And maybe, in a sense, he does, watching Kazimir more than the gruesome display around them.

His foot steps even pick up some pace, as if to try and separate himself from the men crowding around him, to keep step with the Nazi he follows. "«This is the Europe your Fuhrer is creating, Volken. The waste of your research. Have you seen it up close until now?»" is toned as polite enquiry.

Swallowing tensely, Kazimir looks out on the rack to see the bloated silhouette of a pregnant woman mixed in among the other corpses. Jaw set, Kazimir tucks his mouth down behind his scarf, then looks expectantly to the SS officers who climb up along the rail tracks and begin moving bodies from the heap, until Nicholas Ruskin's pale and bloodied form is uncovered partly. There is a split in his scalp, one where a rifle blod to the head rendered him unconscious.

He's young, not as unhealthy as the rest of the prisoners, good stock. Kazimir looks askance to Francois, and while he tries to hide his revulsion, tries to hide his disgust with what he sees, the pragmatism of a scientist will always color his decisions.

Pragmatism that would inspire him to write journal entries about this very day, years from now, entries that one of the few people close enough to be considered his family would eventually come to possess and find. Once Nicholas is revealed, Francois' needn't even be instructed on what is expected of him next.

Blankets fall in a heap, coat of brown wool over prison-wear left as his protection against the cold as Francois unhesitantingly moves forward towards the man rendered unconscious and so close to dying of exposure, along with all the other abuse he's been there. Laying a hand on Nick's cheek, another across his forehead, Francois exchanges energy for healing warmth as fast as it will carry. The French word for 'miracle' is the same as the one in English.

A small, musical hum buzzes in Francois' throat, uneasy, the kind that comes with rhymes that a mother might sing to her child, but it never adopts syllables. It wavers a little, becoming tuneless when Francois' throat closes, but he continues what's important. His nails are still clean, like chips of glass at the end of long surgeon's fingers.

He isn't doing this for Kazimir. And he won't be able to do this for everyone. The realisation of that is beginning to weigh on narrow shoulders already.

This is only the fourth time Kazimir has seen Francois work his gift on someone else, mystified by its inversion of his own horrible curse. Jealousy is painted across Kazimir's face as he watches color begin to return to Nicholas, even as it starts to bleed out of Francois. All of the poison in Nick's lungs were minimized by the shallow respiration of his unconscious body, perhaps there's enough — just enough of that spark of life left to bring animation back to his form.

When Nick Ruskin's eyes jerk open, cold is the first sensation he feels, cold on the outside, even if there is a mercurial warmth on the inside. His eyes open to the gray of clouded skies, and the smooth color of Francois Allegre's eyes as the thin Frenchman is hunched over Nick's prone, unclothed form.

In seventy years time, this might even be a welcome development.

Kazimir is hardly focused on the lazarus resurrection, however, his blue eyes are set out to look at the others laid out on the grates. The bodies of those not fortunate enough to have survived the gas chamber. Though in many ways, fortune is subjective. Throat tight and words stolen by the way his own government's work is shown to him, there is humility in Kazimir Volken's eyes for the first time in a very, very long time.

The cold breath of air hurts those lungs, and Nick coughs weakly, even as strength returns to his body as he is healed — lungs, skull, arm. It takes those blue eyes a moment to make sense of his surroundings — staring up, he could believe this is heaven. Staring into the face of Francois is more confusing. Angelic of face, perhaps, he's just a bit too mundane and too real to be celestial. And finally his eyes drop to the pile of bodies from which he's pulled.

Hell, then.

His teeth begin to chatter and he gives a shake of his head, confused, even as he tries to pull away, getting his feet under him and crouching like a frightened animal. "«Why… just let me die»" he mutters in Polish in a raw voice.

Like German, like English, Polish eludes Francois. One day, he will collect at least a basic, passable (unless you are Polish) understanding of the language, along with Spanish, Russian, Italian. He will become academic through necessity, although right now, he's simply a med student turned terrorist turned Holocaust victim. But he does under the more significant word in that phrase, hand drifting off Nick's forehead to lay on his chest, over his heart, as if to will it to beat better, but then Nick is moving, regaining his faculties, and Francois is backing a step.

Although not before picking his blanket up off the ground, whipping it free of the dirt its collected, and offering it out for Nick to take. It's probably a bad day, when a prisoner of the Germans is taking pity on you.

Guns are leveled at both Francois and Nicholas from the German officers scattered around in the snow. Sudden movements make them nervous, even more so when a man just resurrected someone who was dead in their eyes. But when bolt-action rifles are loaded with clack-snap percussion, Kazimir raises one gloved hand to them to order them to stand down.

His shoes crunch in the snow as he slowly approaches, blue eyes focused through thick glasses on Nicholas, then askance to Francois, then over to one of the soldiers. "«Give him your jacket,»" he demands of one of the SS officers, then waves to another, "«Fetch him clothing. Now.»" Salutes and steps come as the soldiers break away, one towards Nicholas and one away.

With Francois blanket offered and the officer removing his greatcoat to offer out, it won't be a great help against the biting cold, but it will be a start.

"Mister York," Kazimir states in accented English, "my name is Kazimir Volken, I have come to take you to Berlin. You will comply, or measures further than what you have already been made to endure will be taken." He's an imperious bastard, as cold as the snow, as sharp as the wind; vicious looking in the way a falcon is. "Do you understand?"

The young man who looks so much older than his years — and yet, has not yet been born in the chronology of this world — stares at Volken with weary and wary eyes. They flick left and right and back again, taking in the two men before him before reaching out with a trembling hand for the blanket and the coat. He swallows and nods a tacit thanks. It is difficult for him to pull the jacket on; his hands are numb and cannot feel the cloth.

At Kazimir's words that he will have to endure worse than he already has, his upper lip lifts in a half-sneer, half-smirk. "Yeah, I understand," he says tersely. No sir. No thank you. This man is making demands of him and threatening him with something worse than death — there are no delusions of grandeur, no illusions of a kind savior.

The purpose behind this excursion, beyond a keen interest in forcing Kazimir to see the world he is helping create, does elude Francois. Pity is exchanged with puzzlement, briefly, then a kind of regret for the fate of Englishman. "«What is he for?»" Francois enquires, even as he steps back— slowly— from Nick, arms wrapped around his own torso. The shadows in his eyesockets are darker than before, fatigue obvious in a shock of pale that drains warmth from his skin and focus from his eyes.

"«The intelligence division to pick apart, I need to know what he knows.»" Kazimir's blue eyes angle back to Nick, then up and over to the SS officers before settling back down on the wiry young man. "I have an auto waiting," he explains with a gesture down the hill and back towards the camp. "You will be given fresh clothes before we leave and food once we arrive in Berlin by train. You will comply with our instructions or you will be shot."

Kazimir looks back to Francois, purposefully trying not to see the heap of bodies left behind in his periphery. "«Are you well enough to walk?»" He asks this of the man who was not gassed, it doesn't matter to him if Nick can walk, someone will carry him. A flicker — a glimmer — of compassion for Francois, if only in the need to make sure his favorite tool stays polished, is afforded to the Frenchman.

Nick's eyes continue to move from one man to the other. His brain feels fuzzy — if no longer in pain, he's just a bit off, and waffling between pretending to know nothing — which he knows is probably futile — and telling them the truth — which is ridiculous, but then he just got healed by the frenchman.

Despite the fact that he just told Francois to let him die, the nasty instinct for self-preservation rears its head again.

"«All your intelligence division will find I know is how this war ends and any number of things that happen between now and the year 2010,»" he suddenly offers in a rush of air and fluent French. "«I'm not the spy that Raith says I am. I don't know why I'm here or how I got here. I'm … I'm not like him»," Nick adds, nodding toward Francois, "«and I can't make light like Raith can. I'm not an Übermensch, but I know people who are. In 2010. Someone special like that — someone with a power, they dropped me here. I just don't know why.»"

Maybe they'll just take it as insanity induced by a near-death experience.

It would be terribly convenient, if Francois had been exposed to time travel before now, like he's so well-acquainted with it soon.


"«Perhaps I did not heal him all the way,»" the Frenchman offers, pity lacing through his tired voice as his brow crinkles, another look roving over Nick that it otherwise dismissive. "«His mind must have been affected more than I could handle at the time. And yes, I can walk. Just— do not ask me to run.»"

"«Make light?»" One of Kazimir's brows slowly begins to rise, and blue eyes offer a look back to Francois, then back to Nicholas. "«I believe… once your mind settles, you and I may have several more things to discuss. But, in more comfortable surroundings, and with you fully clothed and well fed.»"

Motioning to his men, one moves to either side of Nick and hoist him to his bare, frostbitten feet by the elbows, ensuring that jacket and blanket are keeping him as covered as they can. "You'll have plenty of time to tell me all about Marcus and his… light, and whatever else seems to make sense once you get your bearings about you." Kazimir motions with his chin to his guards. "«Take him to the auto»," in clipped German, and then, as he turns back to the camp workers.

"«These…»" He motions to the bodies, "«These ones you will bury, and give markers to.»" There's a tension in his posture when he makes that demand, blue eyes avoiding Francois out of guilt all the while.

"«Sir, the ground is frozen, we— »"

Then you will dig. Harder.»" Kazimir's words are strained through his teeth, turning slowly to watch Nick being escorted away.

They think he's insane. Nick watches, brow furrowed as he listens to them speak, but now that the adrenaline of the moment is fading, he simply feels cold and numb once more. If they don't believe him — he is no worse off than he was a few moments ago. That odd optimism is bolstered when Kazimir actually shows humanity in the orders he gives to the guards.

As Nick is escorted, he casts a glance to the bodies in the snow, his countrymen if not his compatriots, at least on one side of his family tree. They deserve the dignity of a true burial; they didn't deserve to die at all, and yet here they are.

And here he is — juxtaposing death wish with self-preservation time and time again, and time and time again, somehow managing to survive.

Dante Aligieri was right. There are multiple levels to hell, and Nick Ruskin continues to find new ones.

There is a cynical, soft snort from Francois at the order to break the icy ground and bury these men who were already stripped of their dignity. But he isn't about to object. It just absolves nothing. His stare fixes on Volken's profile before ultimately breaking away, preparing to be escorted back towards the vehicle, dropped back into the crowd of men that look much like him with their close cropped hair, shapeless uniforms, bruises and fear. One of many.

It's a long way from Warsaw, Poland to Berlin, Germany. Longer still between 1941 and 2010, a division of years that some people born in this year didn't live to see the end of. Especially not those born here, and especially not those here now. It's a shorter march down to the autos waiting outside of the camp, one for Kazimir and Francois and two of his SS officers, the other for Nicholas and the remainder of his personal retinue.

On the way out from the prison camp, its two massive facilities serve as monumentrs in Nicholas' mind to the horrors and atrocities of the second World War.

From June 1941 to October 1943, roughly 850,000 people were killed at the Treblinka facility, more than 800,000 of whom were Jews, but including several thousand Romani people and those mistakenly apprehended by the Nazi party.

Nicholas York — Nick Ruskin — was not among them. Nor did he ever arrive in Berlin, having disappeared from thin air inside of the auto that had been transporting him. Nick's disappearance was later blamed on treachery within the ranks of the SS, an investigation into which was later led by Marcus Raith, who managed to keep the secret of his superhuman ability for only three more weeks before being confronted by Volken on Nicholas' intelligence.

Nicholas York was never found and the objects he had left behidn in Berlin were summarily lost to the passage of time, or to the machinations of the individual who plucked him out of where he did not belong in the timestream.

The Treblinka camp was closed in 1943 after a revolt during which a few Germans were killed and a small number of prisoners escaped.

The memory it left behind in the people of that era and those who have visited its remains since, has never been forgotten.

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