A Shift in Priorities - Sequel

Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.
(Edgar Allan Poe)

He had – stealthily – traced a delivery. Three children, two girls and a boy, shuttled to Daressalam and Bagamoyo – and turned over to… Well, that was the difficult part. It was impossible to ascertain who had been the final customers. It smelled madly like upper crust, real upper crust, those who once had studied in Germany, the crème de la crème in administration, justice, media, medicine… He could prove nothing, of course, not without forensics, house searches and the usual apparatus.

Hermann Kizwete knew this number was far too big for him. He needed help. He had already tried to contact Anton Mbwesi, but the dude was out and about, it seemed. Without the star reporter he wouldn’t be able to unravel the case. Only Mbwesi had the stamina to get facts published which would compromise merited members of the establishment. – His own outfit couldn’t be trusted; the highest police officers belonged to the group in question. Hence, he had to keep still until Mbwesi returned from his errant.

Mbwesi might still decide this was too big for him as well. Sudden death was an imminent threat in this affair. The perpetrators, if exposed, would lose everything. – But he, Hermann, wouldn’t give up easily. This repugnant crime had to be brought to light. He was raking his brains how to accomplish that – without being killed…
The merit of all things lies in their difficulty.
(Alexandre Dumas)

Germany was… a great place when it came to earning money. He couldn’t complain, really. The family at home was now living in a neat house – and dad had a small moped. – But for the rest: it was like a bad dream. In the Ukraine, in Odessa, he had been regarded a respectable mason coming from Bulgaria – and been treated accordingly. Here in Germany, people had immediately identified him as gypsy – and were treating him accordingly ever since.

They were firmly believing gypsies were scroungers and crooks. And nothing would change their mind. Punka Nikolov had tried, many times. It was pointless. You were pigeonholed – and never had a chance to get out of the box. Well, he wasn’t alone, and during work you were among your sort, most of the time. And after work, you quickly learnt to stay away from the Germans – and any other non-gypsies. Yeah, the Germans weren’t the only ones who didn’t like gypsies…

Okay, he had long paid the agency that had facilitated his changeover from Odessa to Cologne. That meant although he was sending most money home, he was retaining enough to lead a decent life – in principle. Cologne was an empty shell, populated by foreigners and Germans sent here. The utilities were functional – had never gone out of order actually. The gypsy quarter had formed in the north, beyond the great rail line, in the vicinity that once had been known as Agnesviertel.

You got visits by the police quite frequently. They were looking for stolen goods. Now, what was theft in an empty town, where the former inhabitants were dead and gone? – It was chicanery, no doubt. But at least those cops were not shooting people arbitrarily. They would beat you with their rubber truncheons – and arrest you for a day or two; that was all. However, this new force, which had raided the Albanian quarter recently, they were killing folks. Hell, when would they crack down on the Agnesviertel?
In one respect at least the Martians are a happy people, they have no lawyers.
(Edgar Rice Burroughs)

Slightly vexed, Rudolf Luwele of Luwele, Kabinga & Hamzi Solicitors put down the telephone. This had been Max Sikuku himself, the nabob. But what had he really wanted? Rudolf scrutinised the notes he had written down. Heine Sikuku, the patron’s youngest offspring and leading member of the environmental movement Nature’s Hands, had been arrested at Boënde in Zentralkongo yesterday – for the attempt of poisoning a group of woodsmen. That was the clear part. The lad deserved a lesson. Okay… But he shouldn’t be flung into jail. Okay…

Anyhow! He would have to travel to Boënde. But first he should call the public prosecutor over there. The guy should reside at Mbandaka. He summoned Hertha, his secretary.
“My dear, call the Mbandaka district prosecution office and get me the responsible prosecutor for the case of Heine Sikuku, who has been arrested at Boënde yesterday. And start preparing my journey to Mbandaka and Boënde. But don’t book anything yet. Let me first talk to the man.”

It took Hertha almost half an hour to get a certain Oberstaatsanwalt N’Tingit on the line. Yes, this was a serious case, the young man and his accomplices had tried to poison the workers of a company called Torotal Limited. And the poison – pyrrolizidine alkaloids – was not at all innocuous, but could cause severe damage to an individual’s health. It didn’t engender just the shits, but serious liver injury – and even cancer. This was a crime that had to be atoned for.

The perpetrators had been put into pretrial imprisonment, and there was no prospect of releasing them on bail. Yes, of course, Rudolf was welcome to come along. Yes, the jail was at Boënde. And the judge to judicialise the case was residing at Boënde as well. – Good grief! What was that? What had happened? Nature’s Hands had become famous – or infamous, depending on one’s perception – for their gippy tummy stunts against wood clearing enterprises. Had they – by chance – got hold of the wrong stuff? Or had someone laid a snare?

Well, he was going to find out. Yes, Hertha could now start booking the trains and the hotel. – 1,600 klicks, roundabout, and an express train only to Bangi; it was quite a journey. Why must people always do silly things in the middle of nowhere?
An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.
(Victor Hugo)

There was no change; the situation was calm and stable. Werner Becker yawned. Things were going slow indeed on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Neither resettlement of the Caribbean nor incorporation of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia seemed to get anywhere. The US armed forces had secured New Foundland, the Bermudas and the islands of the Caribbean – except those few occupied by Venezuela. That was keeping them pretty much occupied – and fairly overstretched, even five years after the pest...

The civilian side was unable to move, that appeared to be the main problem. The US population had stopped increasing in number since immigration had been prohibited after the Great War. That might explain their inability to fill the voids torn by mishap, climate and plague. – Oh, there were multiple attempts to colonise the islands, mainly undertaken by various religious groups, but they all lacked punch. A broad national effort was nowhere in sight.

Well, there was no external threat worth the name. Venezuela was a nuisance, but no veritable threat to the US. Red Albion was gone, leaving behind only disparate bits and pieces – Québec and Cascadia – where once had been British Canada. Mexico had been gelded by the pest. And the South American countries were downright innocuous. – The COMECON – Germany primarily – wasn’t interested in the Americas, except for obtaining certain agricultural products and natural resources. This was uncontroversial, as US stake holders were earning in the process. Russia and China were interlocked in a power struggle, which was also involving Japan.

Hence, the US could be considered safe on all sides. That allowed them to go slow. Even the space race didn’t capture them. They had developed and deployed Ares missiles as carriers for nuclear warheads, but shooting men into outer space didn’t occur. They had said they would do it – yet had failed to tag a date to the promise. – Okay, it wasn’t bad for Germany that the US was no threat at all. However, it was dull… He yawned again.
The more you say, the less people remember.
(François Fénelon)

James Jeremiah “Jerry” Wadsworth also had read the FSO dossier on Musa G’Norebbe. Yes, the man had fought against US forces, and he had – as president of Venezuela – directed a policy hostile to the US. However, did this make him a terrorist? He had been trained and led by German officers for many years – and the German military was known to hate terrorists, franctireurs and other irregulars. Hence, Wadsworth had decided to approach G’Norebbe for an honourable soldier.

Well, it seemed to have worked – to some extent. It had been quite a constructive meeting, this introductory reception. G’Norebbe was proud of his past – and evidently liked to chat about his adventures. Wadsworth had never been a soldier, but he was accustomed to handle professionals of all kinds. Learning more about G’Norebbe’s perspective was important. It could enable Wadsworth to defuse the situation. Official Washington was very much interested in maintaining good relations with the WAU, not only because big business wanted it.

Isolationism was fine and dandy, but it didn’t mean to immure the nation. Abstaining from political adventures abroad was certainly wise. And economic protectionism was an ancient US tradition. Yet, doings and dealings with foreign countries were important for keeping pace with the aliens. One had gained access to the huge Chinese market – and the WAU was considered the entry point into the African market, because of the common language – and the huge number of former US citizens living here.

Yeah, these former US citizens were a problem. Almost all of them had no positive memory of the place where they had spent childhood and youth. G’Norebbe, on the other hand, did not bear a grudge against the former enemies he had fought in the Caribbean, he had said. He obviously resented being treated snootily. That, it seemed, had been Chris Herter’s main mistake. – Middle Africans, like G’Norebbe, had to be handled with utter care, Wadsworth had already been told in the State Department. As a matter of fact they were believing to be entirely equal to white persons…

Okay, perhaps he had found access to G’Norebbe – and would be able to cultivate this delicate little plant. There was no real reason for disaffection. It all had been rag and hot air. And fulsome pride…
As I grow older, I regret to say that a destable habit of thinking seems to be getting hold of me.
(Henry Rider Haggard)

As the slap-headed Ami had eventually departed, Musa G’Norebbe heaved a sigh of relief. What a frothy windbag! But at least the guy didn’t behave as if he had the monopoly on being right. And he seemed to be no fierce white suprematist, but rather a jovial Yankee of the self-made man variety. Well, his dossier called him the scion of ancient New England grandees; so, scratch out the self-made man bunkum – and perhaps the joviality as well…

Yeah, it was obvious: the Amis were trying hard to restore good relations. – Indeed, the buggers had changed beyond recognition. Back in the days they never would have sent someone like Wadsworth, but rather a knuckle-duster like Admiral Bagley. But good old Dave Bagley was dead; he had deceased last year. It was sad. – Herter, Wadsworth’s predecessor, had at least shown some spine, even though he was a perfect idiot. – What a pity; a bonny little conflict would have been cool…

Damn, he was a soldier, not a garrulous politician. In Caracas, as president, he had fortunately enough been able to direct a policy of expansion – and confrontation with the US. That had been neat. Here in the WAU, there was no enemy at the gates. Ala Ka Kuma was submissive. Portuguese Guinea was a non-entity. And tackling Middle Africa was unthinkable. – It was a dull business, ruling in Deygbo.

Okay, the Amis wanted to bottle out. Cowards! But all right, he would give word to invite them to tenders again. After all, their offers used to be quite attractive. The economy was going to be relieved; they had been dreading excessive Middle African or COMECON prices. – And one of these days, he would invite Wadsworth to a barbecue…
I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.
(Bertrand Russell)

Boënde on the River Tschwapa was an arcadian place; a snug small rural town surrounded by fields and plantations. However, Hertha had prepared a memo for Rudolf Luwele: Boënde had been a pivotal point in Belgian King Leopold II’s daylight robbery of the Kongo colony. A major rubber plantation had been close by. Many a hand must have been hewed off here in these days…

Rudolf had arrived at noon. The hotel was… all right for such a backwater place. Well, it could have been much worse. – The police station was a basic structure. He could already see the three inmates; they were kept in a fenced open yard. There were two Wachtmeisters on duty. Yes, Oberstaatsanwalt N’Tingit had premonished them. He was free to talk with the boys – as long as he liked. Supper was served at seventeen hundred; did he want to partake?

Heine Sikuku and his chums Dieter and Hans-Jürgen were truly repentant. They couldn’t explain how the poison had come into the food of the woodsmen. It had been the standard blend of herbs and ingredients, the same as they always used to mix in. Pyrrolizidine? Never heard of… No, there had been nobody else around. Yes, they had put together the laxative themselves… word of honour…

The pieces of evidence had all been delivered to the district prosecution office, said the Wachtmeisters. Yes, he would have to travel to Mbandaka to examine them. Fudge! He had passed through Mbandaka on arrival. – Oh, he could take a boat, that was the traditional way of travelling hereabouts. A journey on the Tschwapa was gorgeous. And the fishermen were great storytellers. It took only one day to navigate to Mbandaka…

That was monkey business, of course. The trial was going to take place here. N’Tingit would have to bring the evidence along. – No, he’d better use the time and interview the Torotal workers. That should be better than boating on the river. And one or another inhabitant might have seen or noticed something.
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All the people like us are we, and everyone else is they.
(Rudyard Kipling)

Yeah, the Ardayda had agreed to keep the peace. The promise had been that they would be integrated into the national armed forces. But the armed forces were long in coming, it seemed. Nothing had happened yet. Dhuxul had decided he had waited long enough. He would go north. The Emirate of Egypt, current owner of the realm, was said to form units made up from indigenes. That might offer opportunities. He was young and healthy, possessed ample combat experience – and was ready to start from rock bottom.

The Aardoonka and the Ilaah Ilmaha had never agreed to the truce. In the end, they had been attacked and butchered by the united fighters of the clans. The survivors had fled to Abyssinia or Kenya. Well, Abyssinia meant the lands of the Ogaadeen, who were just another Somali clan – and weren’t affable to the outcasts either. Living there must be joyless… Kenya was in uproar with everybody fighting anybody else, one heard. That might offer better chances for seasoned terrorists, but wasn’t what Dhuxul wanted.

No, he was loath the precarious life. Being a soldier might mean submission, sure, but it also would mean three meals a day – and clean clothes. The Egyptians were no infidels. And they were keen to establish a lasting presence in what once had been French and British Somalia, he had heard. Hence, they should be eager to recruit and promote indigenes, just to add more legitimacy to their claims. He might even be allowed to learn reading and writing…
The great object of life is sensation – to feel that we exist, even though in pain.
(Lord Byron)

Good grief! The torturers knew no sympathy. He was still reconvalescent! They should be easy on him, but they weren’t. Jochen Zeislitz cursed under his panting breath. First, Otto, the gym whiz, had softened him up. Now, Jürgen, the outdoor freak, was about to wear his lungs out. And Mannie, the centrifuge bogey, was already priming his instruments…

Yeah, he was back to the rack. According to Director Kammler the test, when he had ridden the Hammer, had been an outstanding success. And he hadn’t suffered any lasting damage, had he? Acceleration had been a trifle too powerful, but that could easily be corrected. – There was no reason to go slow. Upgrading the Hammer was proceeding well. Hence, the pilot had to be ready as well.

And what the big boss said, Bruno Bredigkeit would implement with any mercy. Bruno’s minions, Otto, Jürgen, Mannie, and Fritz, the pilot instructor, were nothing but conscience-proof executors. Only Knut, the masseur, Abwehr-Achim, his bodyguard, and the old general were showing faint signs of compassion – sometimes...

Were there more Hammer pilots being trained clandestinely? Jochen thought so. It would be downright stupid not to have backups. For the moon landing programme, several crews were always trained simultaneously. For the Hammer, the same approach should apply. Keeping the guys behind the blinds would be a typical Kammler stunt: Jochen was going to be the man presented to public and politicians – as long as he was able to perform. Should he fail, however, another jockey would suddenly be let out of the box.

It was okay. He didn’t intend to quit. He had been lucky to survive the rough ride, true. But hadn’t that been due to his hard training? Therefore, Jürgen was right perhaps: he should get a move on.