A Shift in Priorities - Sequel

Dream strange things and make them look like truth.
(Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Was it over? Had the menace passed off? Josef Dembitzer couldn’t make sense of the disparate signals. The Germans seemed to be quite relaxed – but they had been easygoing all the time. The Russians, on the other hand, were still in emergency mode – like the rest of Europe. The phone calls between the hospital ship at Stavanger and the chancellery in Berlin were intercepted, of course. But Ramsauer hadn’t given the all-clear signal yet. He had only said that the known seats of infection had run dry.

Might there be others? Hidden in the Norwegian fjords? The Norwegians, that was evident, had no clue. The Swedes were still tensed up, frenziedly monitoring the border for potential refugees from Norway. The Danes – after coming upon that ghost ship – had gone wholly catatonic. – What was the truth? Well, there was no counteragent. Once the pest struck densely populated areas, doomsday fair would be declared open. That meant one couldn’t lean back yet.

These Middle Africans, might they be the key to ransom? This Professor von Misuku had a reputation like growling thunder. He was the one who had found all the antidotes up to this point. He and his staff might mean the difference indeed. If Dembitzer got it right, they had already come up with something, but the final breakthrough was still lacking. Hope? Perhaps… Dembitzer had interviewed the domestic experts. Well, their explanations had not been very helpful.

And in the meantime, the economy was going haywire. Even if doomsday should be cancelled, one would end up as debt slaves of the German capitalists…
Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.
(Saint Augustine)

The drill team had found water. Not under Isidis Regio, but under Syrtis Major, deep down in the ancient lava ducts. The stuff was even available in liquid form, though in minimal quantity only. The scientists were now excitedly babbling about finding life on Mars – or rather inside it, but that was just wishful thinking – thought Sigmund Jähn. Yes, there had been open water on this planet – many millions of years ago. That was obvious.

But had there ever been life? If so, nothing, absolutely nothing, was left of it. This was a dead world. The scientists might find remnants – fossils, if that term also applied to extinct monads and other slimy gubbins – but nothing alive. The Syrtis Major water, at any rate, was sterile.

The dinghies were back from the moons. These were just boulders; asteroids caught long time ago. Of course, the boffins were ecstatic, as always, and praising the samples gathered. Yes, wonderful scientific elaborations might be written – later at home – about the clobber, but in real life it was useless waste.

Okay, sojourn on the Red Planet was due to end the day after tomorrow. Flying back to Earth could be anticipated to be as uneventful as the outbound flight. But that was all right. Excitement was good for leisure activities, as kosmonaut you’d rather have it the boring way. Excitement in space usually meant nothing good. Hence, let’s safely snore home…
The light dove, cleaving the air in her free flight, and feeling its resistance, might imagine that its flight would be still easier in empty space.
(Immanuel Kant)

Ucan Halı enhancement was progressing according to plan. So far, one had lost only two uzaylılar. That was exceedingly acceptable. The emergency preparations for the pest case had not been allowed to have a negative effect on parts delivery. But somehow, interest in the space station had waned. – It was the German announcement to build Arx and a whole fleet of NPP craft. In the light of this development, Ucan Halı suddenly looked stale.

Yeah, and Gürsel Paşa was ill. One had to be apprehensive of the worst. That was bad; ĺstanbul was a snakepit even in normal times, but now the snakes had turned into formidable wyverns. Wernher von Braun was glad to be at Ras Fartak. But Ferik Amiral Demirci Bey had suddenly become very agitated – and had harum-scarum taken a flight to the capital.

Anadol Çelik had finally begun constructing their steel plant. It was a major logistic achievement, von Braun had to concede, to transfer all this equipment to the end of the world – without encumbering supply for Ucan Halı. It meant, however, that completion of Ateş Kuşu, the OŞU NPP ship, was still far away in time. That was, under the present circumstances, regrettable.

If the Grand Vizier should die indeed, the pack would be thoroughly reshuffled. He, as an expatriate, could shrug his shoulders and leave – should things go awry. But for the Turks presently in charge it might get tough when a new faction seized power. Such a reshufflement could throw the current projects off the tracks – and the Ottoman Empire was already behind.
Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.
(T. S. Eliot)

Was it over? – Heine said: no it wasn’t. They hadn’t found a cure yet. The current outbreak seemed to have been contained. But it might happen again, any time. Without a counteragent the danger wouldn’t go away. – That was no good news. Max Sikuku was irritated. That festering sore, England, was still there. And the Snowpushers were refusing to restore the blockade. Well, it was, he had heard, Chancellor Strauß who refused; the other Snowpushers might in fact be quick to reinstate the blockade.

Okay, it meant Emil Muramba ought to remain sick – and Seppel Mobutu acting chancellor. Well, Seppel was making a good job, really. For a socialist, he was extremely straightforward, almost like a decent businessman. He seemed to be one of those organisational geniuses. – Anyway, Max had tasked Hermann Kizwete with keeping an eye on Seppel’s activities. You never knew… And you never should implicitly trust a follower of Karl Marx. Socialist dreams were not compatible to the givens of the real world.

One wasn’t in lockdown; business was flourishing as per usual. Hence, there was no real need to worry. Even the trains to and from Germany were rolling – and had never stopped. One could rest assured and keep calmly working. That was good. – But a peculiar taste remained nevertheless, a feeling of precariousness. Prosperity on call, because that quaint man in Berlin refused to cooperate. – Would they find a cure? Heine said yes, it was only a matter of time.

One had to find the triggers that caused the human body to produce the substances which kept the bacillus from multiplying. It might take weeks – or years… But Professor Misuku and Doktor Schabunde wouldn’t rest until they had found them. – Okay, Max had already increased the annual donation of Sikuku Enterprises to Duala University; perhaps the money could be of help…
The advertisement is the most truthful part of a newspaper.
(Thomas Jefferson)

The Feuerdrache was on the way back home. They had found water on Mars, a little bit of it at least, but no life. The boffins were already calculating whether the total amount water hidden below ground might allow establishment of a permanent settlement. Helga von Tschirschwitz had seen the figures. Yes, it would be possible, provided the subsoil humidity wasn’t restricted to Syrtis Major. Yeah, but it wasn’t attractive to colonise Mars. A small research outfit certainly should be sustainable; but for colonisation, Arx was going to offer far better conditions.

For the journos, however, the old stories about Mars seemed to be alive still – although there assuredly were no channels and no Martians, not even microbes, on Mars. They were now babbling excitedly about colonising the Red Planet. That was counterproductive. One was bent on establishing Arx; Mars was not on the RRA list of extraterrestrial settlements. Director Kammler had tasked her to kill the rubbish.

That was easier said than done, as Helga had quickly found out. Jupiter was far away, really far away. Mars was much closer – and now within easy reach, just a fortnight trip for an NPP ship. Whoever travelled to Jupiter would be there for the rest of his life, by all probability. But Mars was quite close. Work on Mars, retire on Earth. It was very attractive to speculate in this vain. Even tourists might travel to Mars, rich tourists of course.

And it was a nice distraction from the perpetual pest waffle, which had no news value anyway – as nothing seemed to be happening lately. Therefore, the hacks wouldn’t drop the Mars theme. On the contrary, they were pushing it. It was irksome. Well, and the chancellor might eventually read the scribblings. Who could tell what he would make of it? Kammler would go ballistic, if he should be tasked with establishing a Martian colony as well…
Life is an effort that deserves a better cause.
(Karl Kraus)

In the Mediterranean countries the pest threat had caused boundless panic. Nine years ago, one had helplessly watched the French tragedy unfold. Italy had only by a hair escaped disaster. In fact, rabid Swiss resistance against the surge of refugees had broken the tide long enough to save the country. In Spain, one had seen the French cover melt away quicker than one had been able to shift forces to the Pyrenees. Only the timely arrival of the antidote had prevented the worst.

This time, the situation was even worse – in principle. A considerable part of the workforce, mainly young and able-bodied men, tarried in Germany. They would be hit early on – without that one could do anything. And, could one really deny compatriots refuge? Diplomatic pressure was producing zero results. Germany was a country without government. Strauß might be doing strange things, but he clearly wasn’t ruling like an ordinary head of government.

In the Hungarian Kingdom the threat of 1956 had been felt to a much lesser degree. One had still been far away from the calamity when the antidote had stopped its advance. But today, hundreds of thousands of Hungarians – well, millions – were working in Germany. That made the situation much more volatile. Calling the boys – and girls, indeed – home had been tried, to no avail. German money had proven stronger than the call of King Otto’s government.

Being forced to watch without being capable of influencing the course of events was nerve-racking and extremely frustrating. It was obvious that Germany was ruling the continent, but in Germany nobody was ruling.
Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.
(Lewis Carroll)

Professor Fuchs had tasked him to design the little sun for Arx. Karl Heinz Beckurts had been involved in the Phönix experiment, therefore he knew all the basics. Arx was going to be a quadruple torus orbiting the moon Europa. The little sun was required to be stationary above Arx, illuminating the agricultural sectors and the photovoltaic panels. That made it relatively easy: the field generators could be installed on the station and be powered by its reactors.

There was a more than sufficient amount of hydrogen available in the Jupiter system, said the Hammer data. Hence, the generators could also be kept reasonably small. The whole affair was definitely straightforward and easily manageable. Yet, it provided Beckurts a seat in the planning staff for Arx. And that was really interesting.

An ocean liner was a canoe compared to Arx. But the steel folks – Krupp, Röchling, Königshütte, Klönne, Thyssen, Klöckner – were dead sure to be able to supply all stuff in time – and stowable onboard the NPP craft. The electro folks were much less sanguine. One would require enormous amounts of electric cabling – and copper had to be imported from Africa, South America, South East Asia – and even the US.

Well, money was no consideration, but availability might be… Was it certain that the border closures would be lifted in time? If one had to rely on Middle Africa alone, the construction progress might get a little bit hamstrung…
To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death.
(Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley)

The boss was up and about again, still shaky on his pins, but walking without crutches. In bed, however, he seemed to have developed an idea how to tackle the SK problem. The team was now busy executing his errands. Eckhart Zombe – Ekki – had been tasked to prepare blood samples. That was a dangerous job; you had to wear a protective suit. The samples would then be used for testing the concoctions produced by the other team members.

It was a complex operation. You had to induce the human body to turn out the substances required to neuter RV. Clara had these substances, but nobody else hereabouts. You could, of course, use Clara’s serum. But you needed quite a lot of it for a single cure – and Clara’s capacity was definitely finite. Thanks to Konrad’s efforts – well, and his dream – one had at least identified the substances.

Now, it was up to the boss to deliver the coup the grâce to SK. Ekki didn’t doubt he could do it. It was about time. Winter here in Norway was depressing. On some days, it wouldn’t get light at all. And even on a bright day, you had only six hours of daylight. And it was damn cold – although the Norwegians asserted Stavanger had a really mild climate. – The samples were ready. Carefully, Ekki left the room and sealed the door. A German nurse sanitised his suit.

All right, work done. He peeled out of the suit and went upstairs. A cigarette was what he wanted now. The other team members were still toiling. Through the window, Felix signalled he should try to catch some sleep. This was going to take a lot of time.
The acorn of ambition often grows into an oak from which men hang.
(Henry Rider Haggard)

Okay, the situation in Europe appeared to be stable. The pest run seemed not to come off this time. That meant the borders should be opened again soon – at least in the Americas. Jeremy Dreaming Fox was well aware that a final cure was not at hand, but that the acute peril of a disaster had obviously been avoided. The Europeans might remain tense for while, but the Americans ought to return to business as usual.

It was about time. The Opaque Woodlands were on the brink of bankruptcy. It was not a problem of the inner structure, but one would be unable to buy abroad. The country had no industry to speak of; one was forced to buy elsewhere. One didn’t need much, yet getting along with nothing whatsoever wasn’t possible.

Well, even that was contentious. The Peruvians – the numerous Inca faction, to be precise – dreamt of autarchy. But Tawantinsuyu had been a stone age culture. And while back to the roots certainly was something all Indians could agree upon, it mustn’t mean back to Stone Age. Yes, the Europeans had brought immeasurable harm – but also technology and – later – science. You couldn’t undo that; you had to live with it.

That was why he appreciated working with the Middle Africans. These guys weren’t struggling with their past. German rule had been a boon. And the Askaris had won the war – at least in Africa. Yeah, and they weren’t white, which made them acceptable even to the most obdurate Peruvians, although, to be honest, these Negroes were behaving like whites.

The Opaque Woodlands were designed to become ‘the’ Indian nation. That meant one had to treasure Indian traditions. But it couldn’t mean one should go back in time.
I prefer the wicked rather than the foolish. The wicked sometimes rest.
(Alexandre Dumas)

Still no fleeing Èluósī rén to kill off, no Case Amok, naught. Field Marshal Dang Gangjun was deeply disappointed. The affair in Europe seemed to come to nothing. A pity… Well, one cannot have everything. And it was wintertime; all activities along the border had come to a deadlock – more or less. Perhaps he should go on leave. A fortnight in the south should be all right. How long hadn’t he been down there? Ten years? Or more?

It would be nice to see the progress made since then. Guangdong still was the industrial heartland of China, although all other provinces were striving to make up leeway. The Little Man from Sichuan was seeing to it. Yeah, economic improvement was important. Only a wealthy state could support the armed forces appropriately, said the Little Man.

Dang wouldn’t argue, but he remembered well the time in the Dalingshan Mountains. There had been no wealthy taxpayers to support his army, but the outfit had flourished nevertheless. The wisdoms of the Little Man were rather European minted. The traditional Chinese ways had been different. Well, it didn’t matter.

The bloke was doing a fine job – under the circumstances. He wasn’t Chiang Zhongzheng, still Dang’s favourite, but he was working hard to make the Great Qing strong. If you couldn’t avoid treading the paths of the aliens, you could at least try to beat them on their own pitch. The order of things had to be restored. China was the sublime centre to which the rest of the world had to bow.
The world is becoming like a lunatic asylum run by lunatics.
(David Lloyd George)

The Danes had sunk a trawler off Iceland – a vessel evidently returning from the British Isles. That was good news – and bad news. The good thing was that the Danes obviously were looking out for squalls. The bad thing was that looters manifestly were undeterred by the pest. – You had Iceland and the Faroe Islands, run by Denmark, and Norway. If the Nyemtsi weren’t prepared to restore the blockade, couldn’t the Scandinavians guard their shores?

It wouldn’t work – was the straight answer. The Norwegians hadn’t the means to control their shoreline – it spread out along a straight line of 2,650 kilometres length, which was already vast, but in fact had a total length of more than 83,500 kilometres. And the islands couldn’t stop all ship traffic – except for the case of total evacuation. And once a vessel was on the high seas it could go wherever its captain wanted it to go.

The presumed fabulous riches of the British Isles might also attract people from Spain and Portugal – or even Africa and the Americas. It was a hopeless case. Except for the Germans to resume the blockade. – Or could one cauterise the British Isles? But the Nyemtsi were on Ireland; they would object. Great Britain alone? With small nukes? – It wouldn’t work, said the experts. The treasures would be still there, perhaps radiating a little bit, but physically all right.

Proklyatye! How could one save Russia from this menace? – Would it help if one had Strauß assassinated? The other Nyemtsi seemed to be quite reasonable. They could be trusted to resume the blockade of the British Isles. Yeah, it might work…
Proklyatye! How could one save Russia from this menace? – Would it help if one had Strauß assassinated? The other Nyemtsi seemed to be quite reasonable. They could be trusted to resume the blockade of the British Isles. Yeah, it might work…
Oh boy, prepare a new World War, with nukes this time...
A dog has the soul of a philosopher.

The Feuerdrache was due to come down the day after tomorrow. Hammerhorst was getting ready for the event. Although the site was huge, everything had to be secured. That was the kickback of using NPP ships. You had to sit out all these nasty pony nukes. They weren’t strong, but nuclear explosions nevertheless – with heat, blast and radiation. Well, and the bus might come down slightly displaced; you never knew.

Jochen Zeislitz had reacted by relocating pilot training. One was practising emergency bailout on the open sea. The Celtic Sea was quite okay for this manoeuvre, which had a very low probability to ever happen in this form anyway. At least the sea was fairly calm and the wind almost warm. The Kaiserliche Marine had detached a small attack carrier, SMS Werner Voß, for the purpose.

Jochen was using the opportunity to get a familiarisation on the Dornier 114, a nimble naval multirole combat aircraft. It was nice to train on and with a carrier, an experience he had been missing hitherto, being a Luftwaffe fosterling gone rocket man. The pilot aspirants were enjoying the sojourn as well, even the wet phases. Yeah, sometimes the job had its bloom sides…
Nothing is so unequal as equality.
(Pliny the Elder)

Indeed, Congress had approved the construction of a second NPP ship. Had it been the German announcement to build nine of the beasts? Or rather the fact that – although the situation in Norway seemed under control – a cure for the pest was still missing? Perhaps a blurry blend of both motives – plus the impression that the ailing economy could take a massive extra boost.

USS Hydra would, however, have to wait until USS Hercules had cleared the construction site. When erecting the steel plant, one had planned for a single ship to be built only. US Steel could not issue a second pusher plate to another location. – Thus, one was currently examining whether Hercules could be moved on. If it was possible to shunt complete bridges, why not a semi-finished spaceship?

Jack Muller of US Steel was in charge of the evaluation. He said he was sure it could be done; it was just straightforward engineering. But he had not yet come up with the final figures. The move would slow down construction of Hercules though; one might lose a quarter of a year – or even more. That was unfortunate, yet not an issue. One would only forfeit some of the time won by speeding up Hercules – and still complete it ahead of the original schedule.

Harvey Allen, the civilian head of the Hercules project, was still in Washington, cultivating relations with the legislators and the media. Lieutenant General John D. Ryan, his military deputy, was in charge at Rebel Creek. Parts kept arriving at an impressive pace; the Central Pacific Railroad was working wonders. Ryan was apprehensive of the backlog that was rapidly forming.

One – well, in fact the contractors – needed more engineers and workers. Ryan was badgering their representatives to act at short notice. Once the backlog was busting the warehouses, it would be too late. All gain in time hitherto achieved – and anticipated for the future – might be jeopardised. But, of course, the contractors had calculated their offers on the basis of the current workforce. They were reluctant to hire more staff without a renegotiation of the contracts.

That didn’t look good. He had already phoned Allen. Revising the contracts might derail the whole project. One had to find a quick solution.
There is an intelligent way to eat a live frog – I just don’t know what it is.
(Sun Tzu)

Eureka! One had found a way to stimulate production of the growth retardant in any average human body. It was, however, a protracted process – and it didn’t work with persons already infected. But it didn’t have the effect of a normal immunisation; the standard body didn’t lastingly produce the stuff. – One could use it nevertheless once an outbreak was reported. After about one week of ingestion of the drugs, the population of the threatened area would be safe from the pest – for about another ten days.

The good thing was that the process could be repeated, after a period of dormancy lasting about three weeks – and that it was effective against all variants hitherto known. The drawback was the costs, which were going to be quite substantial. But that didn’t matter, said the Norwegian authorities. One was glad to have a counteragent, even if handling was a bit on the awkward side. It wasn’t complicated to produce; even the domestic pharmaceutical industry could do it.

The boss had been awarded the Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of Saint Olav. Professor Ramsauer was now Commander with Star of that order. And the team members – and the Germans of Professor Ramsauer’s staff – had been made Knights 1st Class. The Danes had already announced that the boss would be awarded their Order of the Elephant – and the Swedes were ready to put on him the Royal Order of the Seraphim.

The best thing, however, was travelling home. Once all the medals had been turned over, one was going to board the train to Duala. – Had the peril of the pest been overcome? Not entirely, people could still die from it. But an epidemic now could effectively be averted. The boss had done it again…
We survive on adversity and perish in ease and comfort.

It seemed the Nyemtsi – or rather their Chernozhopy underlings – had come up with a cure for the pest. One only had the word for it; practical proof was missing. The outbreak in Norway had petered out several days – almost two weeks – before the advent of the panacea had been announced. So, one could believe it – or not. Generál Pavel Anatolyevich Sudoplatov had decided – for himself – to believe the story. His experts were divided over the issue. And Kántsler Andropov – still trembling in panic – didn’t believe it at all.

Well, should one now stop the operation to kill Strauß? Obviously, the Nemetsky Kántsler had done the right thing: sent a bunch of doctors to fight the disease – instead of digging trench lines and erecting wire fences. That Chernozhopa – Misuku – was the international grandmaster of pest fighting. If someone should indeed be apt to find a counteragent against the plague, it was him. That was why Sudoplatov had opted for believing. – Assassinating Strauß under these circumstances was not a good idea.

Of course, the operation had been designed with diligence. One would make it look as if Dutschke and his followers were the perpetrators. These accursed socialists were good for any iniquity. – But with the pest neutered, what good could come from killing Strauß? Sudoplatov had counselled to abort the mission. Yet, the Kántsler’s decision was still pending.
It will sometimes be necessary to use falsehood for the benefit of those who need such a mode of treatment.

How had the man – or his staff? – figured it out? Hermann Kizwete felt caught. He knew how the police force was working. They shouldn’t have detected that he was canvassing Seppel Mobutu; not with the standard police operating principles. Had Mobutu employed the SS – the Staatsschutz? The spooks could be trusted to find out such intricacies.

Anyway, they had not only unmasked him; they evidently also knew about his collection of material on the child rapists. Yeah, secret service folks would easily penetrate his modest shielding. No private matters were safe from them. – What had arrived on his desk, however, was an offer. Mobutu wanted Hermann to work for him.

He could have the rapists to eat for breakfast. They were unimportant for Mobutu. He, Hermann, might even become police minister in a future Mobutu government. Spying on his current boss and the MALU was what Mobutu wanted from him.

Was the offer serious? Perhaps half of it… If he did what Mobutu wanted, he might be allowed to dismantle the rapists. Or rather Mobutu would do, freeing the people from dreadful rightist criminals. Anything else was fancy. He might even be thrown to the sharks, once he had done his bit.

So, what should he do? Confide in Sikuku? The man was a politician, like Mobutu. He might come from smoke to smother. – But perhaps the game might also be played the other way round…
Nature has no goal in view, and final causes are only human imaginings.
(Baruch Spinoza)

Back on Earth! And in Mars bug quarantine… Of course, what else? But at least there was normal gravity and a nice green landscape you could look at. Sigmund Jähn was working out in a rowing machine. Okay, the journey had been short; acceleration and braking both had produced gravity almost without cease. Hence, the body should be quite all right, but a good workout wouldn’t do any harm.

The danger of a pest epidemic appeared to have been overcome – without any major fracas. That was reassuring. The chancellor seemed to know what he was doing. One could expect space conquest to continue at a high pace. The hulls of the Four Sisters – Antje, Bertha, Carla and Dora – were already recognisable as future spaceships; clones of the Feuerdrache that they were.

What would be the next mission? Venus? Mercury? The Feuerdrache could land on Venus… But it should be a hellish place, certainly much worse than cold and thin-aired Mars. Well, one was going to see. As humble jockey you had no say in these affairs anyway. The captain was opposed to long journeys, that was known. Too much time to be spent doing nothing; short forays were preferable.

What about Raumkolonie? The Ivans had massively upgraded their station. The Turks were currently building a big wheel. Only Raumkolonie was still old, small and smelly. – But that would mean boredom without end – at least for the pilots. Venus, though, would be a real challenge…
Every light is not the sun.
(Alexander the Great)

The real Phönix was going to be a huge widget. It would have to be a generation ship, which meant half of the crew had to be female. There had to be a delivery room, a nursery, a kindergarten and a school. And that wasn’t all; there would have to be stables and fish tanks, patches and greenhouses, and… you name it… Accordingly, you would have to train people who could operate all these facilities.

Bruno Bredigkeit had been tasked to develop the training structure. It was not so that you hired a nurse – and then tried to make her a kosmonette. No, you trained a kosmonette – and then had her specialise as a nurse. Only physicians were different; they came as medical doctors and then were turned into space faring doctors. This was not going to be just a weekend trip to Mars; this was a purpose in life. Even the scientists had to be trained kosmonauts.

The failure rate could empirically be appraised to be ninety-five percent. To achieve a crew of five hundred, you had to start with 10,000, at least… That meant, it all had to begin with constructing buildings and hiring instructors. And all this in parallel to establishing Arx… What a mess! What a challenge! Bruno was thrilled.