By Curtis C. Chen
"Welcome back, sir," said the gargoyle as Michael stepped through the security gate. He nodded at the creature, not meeting its bottomless gaze, and retrieved his keys from the stone dish.
Michael walked to the memorial wall. The flags were as he remembered—USA on the left, CIA on the right—but the field of black stars floating above the white marble had multiplied. He now counted more than a hundred stars, each one representing a company employee who had died in the line of service.
He stepped closer and looked at the Book of Honor, framed in steel and glass below the starfield. Less than half the gold sigils painted in the book's pages had names written next to them, either in English or Runic.
Is your name in here, Linda? Are you one of these stars?
"Michael," said a gravelly voice behind him. "How've you been?"
Robert Denford didn't look like he'd aged a single day since Michael left the agency. The two men shook hands coolly. "Still suck at golf. You?"
"Took up bowling," Denford said. "Let's go to the archives."
Michael followed Denford into an elevator. Denford pushed a button.
"I hear you made director," Michael said as the doors closed.
Denford shrugged. "War is good for business."
Denford opened a portal before the elevator reached the basement. There was no way to tell where this archive was; CIA had secret underground caches all over the world.
The two men walked down a long aisle of bookshelves that looked as if they had grown right out of the rough-hewn rock walls. Michael watched Denford pull one shelf out from the wall and unfold it into an impossible space. They stepped inside, and Denford parted another set of shelves. Michael saw labels reading MONGOLIA and TIBET on his way into a closet walled by what looked like multicolored curtains, but were actually floor-to-ceiling file volumes.
"Curtain files?" Michael looked around in awe. "Nobody's used these since the 1940s."
"World War II." Denford tugged a cloth line, and the material poured into his hand and became a hardbound book. "This is why we're here."
Michael read the cover. "Hitler's daughter? You're joking, right?"
"The old man wants complete discretion. That's why I called you."
"I'm retired," Michael said. "You can get someone more expert to tell you, authoritatively, that this is a crock. Something the Third Reich made up to scare the Allies as a last resort."
"So you've heard the stories."
"Yeah. Nazis raping Romani and Jewish prisoners, trying to breed their supernatural powers into the master race. It didn't work."
Denford held up a modern file folder, bordered in red-and-white eyes-only logograms. "There's evidence that it did."
"If you actually had convincing proof, you'd be talking to the JIC."
"You're right," Denford said. "It's promising, but not convincing. We need someone to run it down. Quietly. The old man trusts you."
"And no one would suspect an elderly college professor."
Denford smiled. "Everybody fights."
Michael took the file. "Nobody wins."
Photo: CIA memorial wall, date unknown (2004?)