The sudden, electric buzz of his cell door unlocking assaulted the doctor's ears as he lay on the bare metal cot, instinctively recoiling from the noise. He raised a scrap of his coat to shield his eyes from the light flooding the chamber. A shadow of a person entered, the face obscured by the blinding lamps hanging in the hallway outside. He backed his way to a corner, desperate to avoid the blows that he knew were about to resume. He trembled as the door closed, restoring the darkness. Several seconds passed. It was not until a full minute had gone by without violence that he dared to uncover his eyes.
Standing over him was a trim, blond-haired man, his uniform cap tucked under his arm, along with a large manila envelope. The man's smile was natural, and yet still somehow ill-suited for his hard face.
"Hello, Dr. Geissler. My name is Major Maxim Chernikov. I'm here to remove you from these premises."
The doctor began to sit up. Chernikov's smile upset him. He shrank further still back into the corner.
The major laughed. "Oh, not to take you out and have you shot, of course. They wouldn't send me to do a mundane task like that. I'm a great admirer of your work, by the way. I'd offer to shake your hand, but, you know." He motioned to the doctor's raggedly bandaged right hand. It was missing three fingers.
Geissler brought his right arm closer to this body, cradling his ruined hand. "I cannot give you what you want," his voice quavering as he trembled. "The critical portions-"
"Are in the laboratory, yes, I am familiar. So you have repeatedly informed my men. You must forgive them, they are merely brutes of little imagination. But they have their uses. For instance, they have convinced me that you are telling the truth."
Chernikov tossed the manila folder onto the cot. Geissler startled, jumping out of his seat away from the parcel. The major laughed again.
"Relax, you're going to be fine. And that's because you're going to answer a different set of questions. Questions of my own, doctor. No, don't fret, I promise you'll know the answers to these ones, or the outcome will be very quick and clean."
Chernikov suddenly pulled his sidearm, unholstering and drawing in one fluid movement as he pointed his pistol at Dr. Geissler's forehead.
"Tell me Doctor, who agreed with Socrates that the soul must possess multiple parts?"
The Russian cocked the hammer of his pistol, hand steady. The smile was gone now.
The doctor struggled to find his voice. "G-….G-Glaucon!"
Chernikov's pistol remained fixed in place; Geissler imagined that he could feel the barrel boring into his forehead.
"Which culture never developed the concept of a human soul?"
The doctor was frozen with fear. "Th-th-the P-Pirahã tribe of the Maici River, why-"
"Three hun and how many po?"
Geissler stared, uncomprehending and terrified.
"How many po, you subhuman Nazi filth?" Chernikov's voice stayed steady.
"Seven! There are seven!" the doctor pleaded. Chernikov kept the pistol pointed at Geissler's head. One second. Two seconds. He lowered his weapon. His smile returned, the gun back to his holster while the doctor quietly wept, apparently still capable of being relieved to be alive.
"Good. Your wits are still about you. No signs of concussion. I left very specific instructions on that account. We're going to need your mind intact."
Chernikov rapped smartly on the cell door three times. It opened promptly. A uniformed adjutant handed the Major a radio handset.
"Oh, come now Doctor. We're on the verge of a great discovery. If you're lucky, we might even allow your name to remain in the history books. Open that envelope, now."
The doctor tried to regain a measure of composure. He pulled the envelope closer. Chernikov began speaking Russian into the radio set.
He opened it, shaking the envelope to disgorge its contents. Out tumbled photographs of Liesel and the children. His eyes went wide.
Chernikov paid no attention to the doctor as he continued his conversation. A scratchy, monotone voice spoke at length from the handset, occasionally pausing to allow Chernikov to speak briefly. Geissler studied the photograph; the street sign outside of the house was clearly visible. Ashbury Lane. They had been discovered.
The Major rapped three times more on the door, his conversation now over. The adjutant reappeared, this time with two additional guards. The doctor had not seen these ones previously.
"There's one more item in that envelope, Doctor. You'll want to see this one, it will be comforting to you."
The doctor finally looked Chernikov in the eye. The Russian looked confident, unconcerned. He peered into the envelope, spotting something tucked in the bottom. He fished it out with his good hand.
"I collected that myself, as a favor. I thought you may like a reminder. Many men in my battalion liked to carry these around."
Doctor Geissler held the lock of jet-black hair, tied with a scrap of white lace that he instantly recognized from Liesel's wedding dress.
"She won't miss it, of course. They tell me she was sleeping quite soundly. My men were in and out before anyone woke up, it seems. They're very good at that."
The doctor took the full measure of Chernikov's words. He had imagined his own life to be forfeit once he had come to this place; it was only a matter of time, he had thought. As far as Liesel knew, he had been dead since 1945; a necessary condition of his arrangement with the Foundation. Death seemed a formality, a settling of accounts long outstanding. But he had never imagined that the Foundation would be compromised to the point of exposing his family. The full extent of the damage was becoming more clear. His thoughts branched out again past his own impending demise.
"I trust we have your full, unhesitating cooperation now, Doctor?"
Geissler placed his feet on the floor, and slowly, agonizingly stood up on bruised and bleeding legs. He closed three stumps and an intact ring finger around the lock of his wife's hair, clenching it in his fist, fresh blood seeping out of the wounds on his hand and already starting to drip.
Chernikov beckoned the guards into the cell. "Clean this one up, get him some clothes. Feed him while you're at it."
The two guards made their way to the Doctor, beginning to ease him out of the cell, in a strangely gentle manner. Chernikov donned his cap, and started down the hall ahead of the party.
"We're headed back to Site-7, Doctor. There's much to do."
The GRU-P official disappeared around the corner. The guards eased the doctor into a wheelchair, waiting outside his cell. The doctor made a note to himself to properly thank Major Chernikov when he had the chance. He had thought that he wished for death before this visit. But he knew now that he was mistaken. There was something to live for after all.
Doctor Geissler's swollen black eyes and cornea abrasions made his expression unreadable to any of the attending guards and medics. His newly kindled hatred went unnoticed.