Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 107, Chapter 1734
  • Continued from Thread I; https://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/threads/stupid-luck-and-happenstance.405746/ and Thread II; https://www.alternatehistory.com/fo...-happenstance-thread-ii.452138/#post-17613039

    Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Thirty-Four



    31st July 1966

    Cam Ranh, Vietnam

    After the success of Taxidiotis I and II over the previous months, everyone was expecting Taxidiotis III to continue that trend. Unfortunately, a spanner had been thrown into the works.

    While Albrecht wasn’t prone to fits of anger, there were moments when he felt like shoving his fist through the nearest wall. He was also aware that in most cases, the wall usually won when you played that game.

    “This is a goddamned disaster” Wernher von Braun said as reports continued to come in regarding what had happened just hours earlier. For once, Albrecht wasn’t inclined to disagree. Everyone involved with the Space Program expected that when on the cutting edge, sometimes you got cut. There were acceptable losses that they planned for and a certain percentage of those who went into orbit wouldn’t make it back to earth. The dangers were legion; launch accidents, mechanical failure, or any one of dozens of other things were factored in. The Engineers had tried to anticipate every eventuality and plan accordingly.

    What had happened though was just a freak accident that had occurred outside of everyone’s thinking. A training flight where a modified military transport was used to simulate a few moments of weightlessness had collided with another airplane while in the pattern to land back in Cam Ranh according to witnesses with the apparent loss of all on board. That include three of those who were scheduled to be aboard Taxidiotis III which was to launch in only a few days and an equal number of alternates. Of the original primary crew, only the Mission Commander and the Science Officer were still alive. They needed to find new First Officer/Pilot, Mission Specialist and Flight Engineer among the surviving alternates. Then they would need to get that crew up to scratch before launch. Captain Brown, the Mission Commander, was optimistic about his ability that regard, but all Albrecht could see was the almost certain hysterical reaction he was expecting when he told the Chancellor that. He also anticipated was a similar reaction if he scrubbed the launch because any delays at this point could push operations into the rainy season, which would effectively pause the entire program for several months at ruinous expense.

    “He’s a good sort” Was what Winkle Brown had said about the new First Officer, who was considered a bit young for that role and had been an alternate for a different position until just a few hours earlier. “And I’ve not met a crate that I cannot fly.”

    What Brown had left out of that was that in the past he had also discussed his ability to survive crashes at length having survived several of those as a test pilot.



    Wunsdorf-Zossen

    “I am disappointed” That was all Manfred’s father had said to him when they had spoken about what had happened. He wouldn’t say anything more than that. Aunt Marcella had been a lot more direct about it and had told him that she loved him, but he could be a completely moronic at times. Aunt Kat was silent, something that Manfred found rather ominous.

    When Manfred had visited Berlin, he had given a flip answer to Suse about the letter that she had sent and that had triggered a huge row. Something that he had forgotten about Suse was that while she was that her being physically small didn’t mean that she was the least bit afraid to impose herself against Manfred, who was easily twice as big as she was. She had gotten right up in his face and was yelling at him. Now, a few months later they were still not on speaking terms and Manfred was coming to the realization just how much he missed the regular letters that Suse had sent him. His mother had said that he needed to offer a sincere apology, but he had realized that he didn’t have the first clue as how to do that in a way that wouldn’t result in Suse giving him a swift kick to the balls.

    Then while things had had been at a low ebb for Manfred personally, it had gotten worse. Just the day before, he had watched on television as the National Side had gotten trounced in the World Cup Final in what many were already referring to as the Wembley Massacre. Manfred had been unable to believe his eyes as what was supposed to be the best team in the world devolved into what looked like a bunch of Primary School students chasing after the ball. The conclusion of the game hadn’t even been close.

    It certainly felt as if the whole world was caving in.

    Today, he was stewing in the passenger seat of one of the Iltis Utility Vehicles as they concluded the final exercise before a “Special Assignment” that Officialdom had cooked up. Everyone had learned to dread it when those at the top of the heap’s brains farted out something like that, it seldom ended well for those out on the sharp end.

    Word had gotten around that Manfred was in a foul mood and that anyone in the Squad who didn’t want to get their ass kicked had best be mindful. The fact that Jost was happy with him for once didn’t make him feel any better about matters. As he banefully watched the landscape roll by, he knew that wasn’t him. He didn’t take anger out on those around him. Still, they had been conditioned to except that shit rolls down hill and were expecting it. Manfred was just having a rotten summer so far.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1375
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Thirty-Five



    5th August 1966

    Trieste, Austria

    “Keep the men busy until you know more” That was what Arend Neumann had to say about situations like the one that Louis Junior had found himself in. Waiting for information about what was going on with the Greeks, Turks, Americans, Martians, or whoever else happened along. Not that there wasn’t plenty of work to do though. Word about him getting promoted to Kapitänleutnant had arrived with the additional boats from Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. Two more SK-Boats, two S-Boats, and three R-Boats. Three Borkum Class Landing Craft rounded out the flotilla. However, when Louis had been put in charge Laninga had let him know that this was MND’s show and they needed someone in his position to keep the boat crews in line. What that meant in practice was that Laninga was the Flotilla Captain and Louis was his XO in addition to commanding the Windhund.

    Even so, Louis had taken the time to learn the names, official and unofficial of the additional boats and had tried to get to know their crews. There was SK-15 “Jagdterrier”, SK-16 “Natter”, S-810 “Komet”, S-945 “Blitz”, R-321 “Rose”, R-360 “Zirkel” and R-489 “Galaxis”. None of the LC’s had unofficial names. He was tempted to ask about LB-932, the Landing Craft that he had commanded briefly in Korea but had thought better of it. That old tub was probably still were he had left it in Pusan. The much lower hull numbers suggested that these had spent their careers in the Baltic or the interior waterways of the German Empire.

    The S-Boats and R-Boats were left over from the Second World War and were showing their age with considerable wear visible on the boats themselves. This was in addition to the Voith Schneider Propellers that the R-Boats used was also well outside Louis’ personal experience. The maneuverability that gave them lent them almost made up for their relatively slow speed, complexity, and maintenance headaches. The anticipation that they were going to occasionally find themselves operating close to shore remained, so having the R-Boats available made the job a bit easier. Even in open waters, the weight of the R-Boats 20mm and 37mm cannons was a welcome addition to the Flotilla, as were the torpedo tubes on the S-Boats.

    Before, Louis was faced with the prospect of taking on whatever was out there with only Greek and Austrian patrol boats backing him. No one doubted that their allies had balls. The problem though was that the patrol boats were all a similar design, mostly of wood/fiberglass construction with stepped hulls. Extremely fast, lightly armed, and lacking when it came to seakeeping. If they ran across something big, they wouldn’t be able to do a whole lot and storms caused them to run for the nearest harbor. While Louis still didn’t know what the odds were, he now felt that they had been substantially improved.



    Cam Ranh, Vietnam

    Politics.

    That was what it came down to even if no one in Mission Control was willing to admit to it. At this very moment, a political conference was taking place in Caroline Islands. Among those attending were delegations from Germany, Vietnam, Japan, and the United Kingdom, all of whom had a stake in this mission going forward.

    For Ben Hirsch, his life had been saved by a dodgy bowl of Pho soup. He had been slated to be on that flight, but a group of friends had insisted that he at least come with them into Saigon to sample the cuisine because he hadn’t been interested in the nightlife, a consequence of having a girlfriend whose father had people everywhere. Hours later he had been ill to the extent that the Doctors had removed him from flight status for twenty-four hours because of a mild case of food poisoning. It certainly hadn’t felt minor at the time. Now that was starting to look like it may just have been a temporary reprieve.

    When a substantial portion of the Raumfahrer team that had trained for Taxidiotis III had been killed in the plane crash, the Alternates had been closely examined to determine who could fill which slot. Because Ben was an experienced Pilot and had been cross trained to fly the Amicitia III capsule in an emergency in what had been the unlikely event he became the mission’s Science Officer, he had been tapped to be the new First Officer. He didn’t need to tell anyone how insane that was as he had been forced to learn in days what the man who Ben had replaced had spent months learning. It felt like a pop quiz in school in a subject he hadn’t adequately prepared for. Still, he had somehow managed to get everything down.

    Now, strapped into the seat staring at the instruments, he hoped the sweat he was drenched in wouldn’t short out the medical monitoring equipment pasted to him. There was also the sinking realization that it would be a week or more before he could take a shower. Captain Brown was in the seat beside him, the others were in their seats below them. Or was it aft? He wasn’t sure. The two narrow compartments were separated by the aluminum crossbeams that their seats were bolted to and a plastic screen. As Ben progressed through the checklist, Brown spoke up.

    “Look on the bright side Hauptmann Hirsch, you got to speak to your girl today” Brown said, “If nothing else.”

    A phone call had been arranged so that Ben could talk to Kiki for a few minutes. Yes, she was worried about him. But wasn’t this what he had been working towards for years? While it was unfortunate and tragic how it had happened, he was living his dream. This instant, he was wondering how Brown could be so calm.

    As the countdown continued, Ben could hear Mission Control running through the launch status check. Fly to the moon, orbit it a few times, take pictures, fly back, Ben thought to himself. They weren’t even going to be landing on it, that would be someone else’s problem. No sooner than the thought had formed in his mind than the rocket ignited. Launch was a go.
     
    Part 107, Chapter 1736
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Thirty-Six



    7th August 1966

    Krakow, Poland

    After months of living in farm cottages, roadside inns or occasionally sleeping in her car, Zella wanted to sleep in a bed that she wouldn’t have to share with a few a few thousand new friends in place that had actual indoor plumbing. The raw footage of the documentary was complete so no one would begrudge Zella a single night of relative luxury. They were stopping in Krakow anyway because they had needed to drop the latest, and last, batch of video tapes off at the Post Office. The walk to and from the Hotel to the Post Office was surreal. The streets were nearly abandoned, and the hot, humid air had the heavy feel of a thunderstorm about to break. It made Zella happy that she was headed back to Berlin tomorrow, she was getting the impression that Poland wasn’t a great place to even visit.

    Once back in her hotel room with her hair still wet from the bath, Zella was laying on the bed staring at the ceiling musing about what she would do on a summer holiday in the coming weeks. Riding her motorcycle up into the mountains to a spa town that didn’t smell like manure and doing as little as possible for a couple weeks sounded like heaven. Perhaps she could go to the seaside instead… Zella figured that she would have the time. When she had talked with her Supervisor by phone at ARD, he had told her that right now the public was entirely consumed with Spacemen and Moon rockets, so it would probably be a while before there would be much interest in the Dairy Industry.

    Then there was pounding on the door.

    “What do you want?” Zella demanded as she threw the door open.

    “There’s something going on outside” Yuri said awkwardly as he stepped into her room and closed the door behind him.

    “And?” Zella asked.

    “You told me to keep an eye out for newsworthy items” Yuri said, “One of the men down in the bar said that Free Galicia is planning on having a demonstration this evening in violation of the curfew.”

    “Why didn’t you say so?” Zella said as she took off her dressing gown and swiftly dressed. It wasn’t until she got her shirt on that she noticed that Yuri was staring at her, completely agape.

    “Why did do that?” Yuri asked.

    “Because there is a story happening this instant and we are going to be covering it” Zella said, as she pulled on a pair of trousers. “What, you’ve never seen a naked woman before?”

    Zella had been sarcastic when she had asked that, after living with her for the last four months, Yuri had to be aware that she had a body under her clothes. The fact that his face had blushed a deep shade of scarlet answered the question that Zella had just asked as a rather emphatic “No.” She would need to find Yuri a girlfriend when she got back to Berlin or else there would be no working with him in the future.

    “You are what, twenty-one?” Zella asked with a great deal of annoyance as she found her press credentials and shoved them into the pocket of her trousers.

    “T-twenty-three” Yuri stammered, embarrassed by this whole incident.

    “Whatever” Zella muttered as she took the camera from its case, opened the door, and walked into the hallway. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t intend to film cows being milked for the rest of my career. Grab the rest and come on.”

    For lack of anything better to do, Yuri grabbed the VTR unit and followed.

    The streets that had been empty before, were suddenly crowded with people and all of them were moving in the same direction towards the Main Square in the center of town and the large freestanding clocktower that was the most prominent feature. Already, there were thousands in the Square as Zella and Yuri were pushed forward by the crowd. A young woman bumped into Zella, nearly knocking her over. “Watch it!” Zella yelled at her as she barely managed to keep ahold of the camera in her hands.

    A few minutes later, Zella and Yuri found a good vantage and plugged the cable from the VTR into the camera and started filming. The Square was just a sea of humanity as multitudes were pressed up against the barricades in front of the Cloth Hall. Looking through the view finder, she could see policemen and soldiers on the other side of the barricades. Zella spent a few minutes panning across the crowd, so that anyone watching could get an idea of just how huge it was, and more people were still coming. Red and White flags, that had a golden coat of arms composed of a crown and raven on them, were unfurled by the crowd. There was a lot of cheering when these people saw that. Turning back to getting the men behind the barricades back into the shot. There seemed to be a bit of disagreement among them, one of the policemen shoved one of the soldiers and that was swiftly broken up. Still, they still looked agitated. Something about the scene made Zella uneasy, she realized that she needed to get out of here.

    That was when the shooting started…



    8th August 1966

    Mitte, Berlin

    Maria woke up to pounding on her front door just after two in the morning. There had been an unfolding story about a new round of violence in Southern Poland. Reports about the Polish Army having to put down a riot in Krakow, open fighting in the streets and dozens left dead. She had been on the phone with the BT as the newsroom had been trying to confirm as much information as possible before they ran with the early edition. Finally, she had gone to bed just after midnight only to be awoken a couple hours later.

    Coming downstairs she saw Emil talking with two men, clearly Officers from the OKW. The look on his face suggested something was very wrong. In his hand was a plastic bag with bloodstained ARD Press Credentials inside.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1737
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Thirty-Seven



    8th August 1966

    Krakow, Poland

    In his long career as a soldier, Emil had seen death in many forms. One thing that always stuck with him was how often those who died had a look of surprise frozen on their faces. They had been planning on getting through the day, surviving the next few minutes. They had things they were looking forward to, families and friends. What never seemed to enter their thinking was that their lives would be cut short until it happened. Then their last seconds were spent surprised by the sudden end. We are all the stars of our dramas, Emil thought to himself, until we aren’t. He was seeing that expression again and again as he was led through the overflowing city morgue.

    When Emil had arranged to travel to Krakow, Maria had been in bad shape. Her relationship with Zella had been defined by their disagreements for years. The thought that the last time they had spoken had involved an argument over something trivial was something that had only existed in nightmares. As he had flown to Poland, Emil had been briefed about the situation. There were rumors that it had not been a riot that the Polish Army had put down, but a political demonstration by Free Galicia protesting the package of punitive laws that had been passed by the Government in Warsaw. Information was scarce, but Emil was hearing that the Galician Freikorps were on the move now that those who had been advocating a political solution been shoved aside in reaction to the shooting. Now, all Hell was about to break loose in Southern Poland because the Polish Army was about to find itself taking on veteran combat soldiers as opposed to Galician separatists and student demonstrators in Krakow. Many of those flocking to the Freikorps had been Emil’s men, so he knew what they were capable of.

    As Emil walked into a viewing room, he could tell that the morgue attendants had known he was coming and had tried their best. They had her laid out on a table with a sheet covering her. There was a pair of bullet wounds in the center of her chest that they couldn’t do anything about and the expression on her face wasn’t one of surprise, but the pained expression of someone who had helplessly bled out. There was one substantial problem though, she wasn’t Zella.

    “I’m afraid that there has been a mistake” Emil said, trying to hide the relief that he was feeling. Still, if Zella was still alive somewhere. Where was she?

    Then his aide spotted a tattoo on the inner arm of this girl, a black triangle with a Z notation underneath, meaning Zigeuner, and was instantly outraged. It was from the old German prison identification system that had long been abandoned, a black triangle for those deemed to have committed antisocial offenses and their ethnicity if that was regarded as a contributing factor. The Courts had declared it discriminatory under the Law and a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. It had however become a symbol of resistance and solidarity among certain communities in the years since, especially here in Poland. It was instantly clear what must have happened, and Emil just felt tired.



    Kattowitz, Silesia

    “We heard that you had died” Zella’s Supervisor said when Zella finally got him on the phone. That was after considerable difficulty convincing her Supervisor’s Secretary that she wasn’t someone pulling a prank. It was just as well that Zella had gotten through because she was running out of coins to use in the payphone that she was calling from.

    “Whoever told you that, they are wrong” Zella replied.

    “Then what happened?”

    “After the shooting started, Yuri and I barely avoided getting trampled getting out of the square” Zella said, “People were running everywhere, then the cable between the camera and VTR got detached. The last few minutes of the of video is useless.”

    “You were recording in the square as the shooting started?” Zella’s Supervisor asked.

    “Yes” Zella replied, “We got the whole thing.”

    There was an intake of breath on the other end of line.

    “I think I am love with you Marcella von Holz” Her Supervisor said deadpan, “Where are you now? Please tell me you have the tape with you?”

    “Outside a market in Kattowitz” Zella said, “When we got back to the hotel it didn’t seem to be a good idea to stick around in Krakow. We’ll be back in Berlin this evening.”

    “That isn’t good enough” The Supervisor said, “There is an airport in Kattowitz, be there in an hour, there will be tickets waiting at the gate.”

    “What about my car?” Zella asked, “And I lost my Credentials back there somewhere in that mess.”

    “No one will give a shit and we can always send someone for the car” The Supervisor said, “I want that tape in this studio early enough to be on the evening news tonight. Am I clear?”

    “Yes, Sir” Zella replied.

    “Good” Her Supervisor said before the line went dead.

    Hanging up the phone, Zella heard the coins drop.

    Looking at her car, Yuri was conked out in the passenger seat looking worse for wear and snoring. Zella didn’t imagine that she looked much better. He woke up when Zella closed the door, started the engine and an interview segment came on over the radio, Benjamin Hirst from outer space. In the movies, the radio would have been ripped out of the dashboard and thrown out of the car. Zella settled for turning it off.

    “There’s been a change of plan” Zella said to Yuri as she put the car into gear.
     
    Part 107, Chapter 1738
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Thirty-Eight



    8th August 1966

    Mitte, Berlin

    When Emil had spoken with Maria, he had reminded her of how he had gotten that scar over on his cheek. How he didn’t want to see a repeat of history. It had turned out that as he had been in Krakow, Zella had been on her way back to Berlin, still alive. She had phoned from Tegel Airport saying that she was headed for the studios of ARD with a video tape of the prior day’s event in Krakow. Without a thought, Maria had driven to the studio where she knew Zella would be and arrived just as they had started taping the segment that was going to air with the evening news. She was told that she could watch, so long as she was silent. Zella was sitting there talking to the Anchorman about what she had seen. As Maria stood there, she saw how poised her daughter was on camera though Zella looked tired and her clothes looked like she had slept in them. Maria also wanted to strangle her over what had happened. How many times had she told Zella not to make herself part of the story? And this business with that poor Gypsy girl stealing Zella’s Press Credentials and then turning up dead and getting mistaken for her. What sort of nonsense was that?

    A young man was watching just a few meters away. Maria realized that he must be Yuri Kozlov, the Cameraman who Zella said reminded her a bit of Maria’s son Walter, Zella’s little brother. Maria could see why. Both shared the same sort of thin build, the quiet intensity that came from being too into things that few others cared about, and a complete lack of worldliness that was painfully obvious.

    The Anchorman announced that the following content may be disturbing to viewers. The video that appeared on the monitors was of a vast crowd in a public square that the camera was sweeping across. Banners demanding a vote to settle the question of Galicia. There were also Galician flags being waved. Maria had only a dim awareness that this movement had existed, and she was better informed than most. For most people this was their first introduction. Then there was what happened next, Zella’s camera settled on two men, identified as the Chief of Police in Krakow and the Commanding Officer of the troops sent to restore order to the city in a heated argument. The Chief of Police shoved the Officer and then was detained by other soldiers. Then the Officer was seen shouting orders to his men who started shooting into the crowd. What had been caught on video directly contradicted what the Polish Government had said happened.

    It occurred to Maria that Zella had broken a huge story just by being at there when it had happened. It wasn’t like the last time when she had skirted ethical and legal considerations and had needed to be called an unnamed source. This was the sort of thing that reputations were built on. Maria was proud of Zella even as she still wanted to strangle her.



    Krakow, Poland

    It had turned out that Zella had left the car in Kattowitz and regardless of what her employer had said it was Emil who was going to have to retrieve it. He wasn’t looking forward to it because Zella and her co-worker had basically lived out of it for the last several months. By now the smell inside that car had probably taken on a personality of its own.

    Emil had one last thing to do before he left Krakow though. A dusk until dawn curfew had been declared throughout the city, so his car and the lorry that was following it were one of the few vehicles on the streets. Word was out that Emil was to be left alone as he conducted this errand. Leaving the city center, his party came to a location on the edge of the suburbs. Old cars, lorries and decrepit looking travel caravans were around. There was a considerable amount of garbage about as well. It was government policy to allot these people a space locally and then to bulldoze it once they had moved on. The practice had its problems though, this place looked like it had been occupied for years.

    The scene that greeted Emil though seemed downright Medieval as a group of men greeted him in the light of bonfires that had been lit as he got out of his car. Emil could also tell just by the way they walked that regardless of what the laws said, these men were armed.

    “What are you doing here?” The question was asked without affectation.

    “I’m looking for help” Emil said, “I’m sure by know you’ve heard about what happened in the city.”

    If felt like the temperature of the air dropped by a few degrees. Emil had a feeling that whenever something bad happened in Krakow, it got revisited several times over out here.

    “A girl was killed by the army and was mistaken for my own daughter” Emil said, “I think she is one of your people.”

    That got Emil a few odd looks, he even caught the words to the effect of “Why would someone like him care.” The truth was that this girl was also someone’s daughter and he felt he had a duty to make sure they knew what had happened and to have her returned to her family. The wailing that he heard come up from the back of the lorry suggested that the girl’s mother had been found, he just hoped that this was the right course of action.
     
    Part 107, Chapter 1739
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Thirty-Nine



    9th August 1966

    Piombino, Italy

    Kat had talked briefly with Maria about the broadcast of Zella on International News, the story in Krakow briefly eclipsing Lunar exploration. Maria was understandably worried about Zella, who had given her a real scare this time. Apparently, Emil and Maria had been notified of Zella’s death only to learn that it was a case of mistaken identity. As it was his nature to do the right thing as opposed to what was safe or expedient. Emil had returned the body of the girl who had died to her family as opposed to getting on the first available transport out of Poland, which would have been the sensible thing. According to Maria, he’d had a hair-raising experience dealing with armed men who were not happy about what had happened but had thanked him for what he had done anyway. Maria was also worried about how the expectations on Zella were going to markedly increase after this. As in, Zella had broken a big story and Maria figured that her employers at ARD were going to expect her to continue doing that in the future. If all that wasn’t enough, there was an event in Verdun next week that Maria and Emil were supposed to be preparing to leave for and they had not done anything yet because of this whole mess.

    Kat was just thankful that someone else was leading a complicated life for a change. When the Summer Holiday came around this year, all she had wanted to do was get out of Berlin and she didn’t care about where. Fortunately, Cosimo de’ Medici had offered to let her family use the house had he had in the ancient port city of Piombino. Though that included members of Cosimo’s family residing on the ground floor and listening devices in every room, which had been exactly what Kat had been expecting.

    Every day they took trips to the beach or went somewhere of cultural importance. Except for the trip into Florence which had turned out to be a mistake due to the incredibly hot weather the rest of it had gone well. Even Tatiana was enjoying herself despite her determination not to. The only dispute so far had come from Malcolm and Marie. Only Kat’s children could squabble over something like one being dyslexic while the other was something of a bibliophile.



    In transit, nearing Lunar orbit

    It was said that von Braun had wanted the Lunar Lander and Command Module to be one unit, but weight and fuel considerations had ended that plan. It was also rumored that their rivals in NASA had reached the same conclusions at about the same time. So, there were had needed to be two units and an entire field of technology had needed to be developed as to how to launch the two craft and link them up once they were in space.

    When the actual landing happened next year, the capsule was to link up with the Lunar Lander Module. Because this was a dress rehearsal of sorts, they had included a similar module that lacked the ability to land but was filled with cameras, radar, and other surveying equipment. The Lunar Reconnaissance Module. Doctor Kita Ayano was the Mission Specialist and she had been given the task of operating it with the assistance of the rest of the crew. That included the painstaking task of turning it on. The gyroscopically stabilized Nikon/Zeiss cameras were particularly finicky and beaming the pictures back to Earth via relay satellites had not been done to the extent that they would be attempting, especially when they went around the dark side of the Moon. Captain Brown said that they were going to see things personally that no one ever had before, it was something that they all should be excited about.

    “If it isn’t the media darling” Ayano said as Ben pulled himself into the Recon Module. The Press had glommed onto the fact that he was the youngest member of the crew, an Ace Pilot over Korea and was romantically linked with Kiki. Black Knight goes to the Dark Side of the Moon one headline had read. The result was that Ben was receiving dozens of interview requests.

    “They will forget about me soon enough” Ben said as he peered out one of the small windows. It was odd that they couldn’t see their destination though Mission Control said that they were on course and schedule. The Earth though, that was a different story, Ben had found that he could look at that for hours. From this distance it looked like a blue marble. “What I hope is that this will cause my University back home to take my application to get into the Doctoral Program for Astronomy seriously.”

    That caused Ayano to start laughing. He had grown used to the cynical Mission Specialist over the previous days, but this was the first time that he had heard her laugh.

    “Hirsch” Ayano said in a somewhat exasperated tone, “You get back home alive after this and you can name your price, not just to your University but the entire German Empire as well.”

    That was something that Ben had not thought of.

    “Is that what you are intending to do?” Ben asked.

    “I intend to cash this experience in for everything it is worth” Ayano replied, “And if you think that those other three aren’t planning on doing the same thing you are kidding yourself.”

    She gestured towards the tunnel that led to the Command Module.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1740
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Forty



    10th August 1966

    Saint Mary Bethlem Royal Hospital, London, England

    While Roger had been sectioned six months earlier the Doctors were reluctant to let him go and were moving to have it extended. At first it had been thought that the stresses of University had gotten to him, resulting in him landing in old Bedlam. Then as time wore on, they had come to a different conclusion and that had changed everything, Schizophrenia. While Roger had responded well to drugs, it was feared that he would be the type who would relapse as soon as he got out because he would stop taking them. It didn’t take a genius to understand why, the drugs left Roger feeling rotten most of the time and he had not been shy about his desire not to take them.

    So, Roger was stuck in the hospital until this impasse was resolved. During her last visit, his mother had told him that she wanted him to come home and eventually return to University so that he could eventually become a Doctor like his father had been. Roger considered that a complete farce. After the circumstances of his departure from the dormitory that he had lived in during his breakdown, he doubted that they would be too welcoming of him in the future.

    Walking through the ward after his latest session with his Doctor, Roger saw Edward reading a newspaper while seated on a chair. Everyone knew that he was Royalty and he had his own room because of that, just he insisted upon drifting around the wards as if he owned the place. The fact that he was the former King of England until he had become an embarrassment to his family and his niece was the Queen afforded him special treatment.

    “How goes the battle young Mister Barrett?” Edward asked as Roger sat down on his bed.

    “They still think I’m mental” Roger replied.

    “I find that insanity is relative” Edward said, “What if I told you that as we speak there is a German Rocketship Captained by a Scotsman circling the moon?”

    “That sounds like something from bad Science Fiction” Roger replied, wondering why Edward had chosen him to bother today.

    “Yet here it is” Edward said, showing Roger the article that he was reading. Amicitia III, composed of three modules that had been launched from Cam Ranh as part of the Taxidiotis program, was in orbit around the moon. “Amicitia means friendship in Latin, in case you were wondering.”

    Roger hadn’t been wondering at all.



    Lunar Orbit

    The insertion into orbit around the Moon had gone off without a hitch and everyone had looked out the windows transfixed by the landscape that was passing below. After a few minutes, they had needed to get to work. Even as he was helping Viktor Himmel with the checklist to start the scientific portion of this flight, but only if Vik needed the help, which he didn’t. Ben still looked out the window at the dark side of the moon that was lit up. It had taken him a moment to realize that with the Moon being in the last quarter, as seen on Earth, of course the dark side would be lit up. Fortunately, Ben had not said anything, otherwise he probably would never have heard the end of it. Captain Brown and Dieter Dohman, the Systems Engineer were already preparing for the return trip that was due to start in twelve hours. Brown had said that he would need Ben as soon as he was done meeting with Dohman, so he should enjoy the sightseeing while he could.

    “Look at this!” Vik said excitedly as he looked at the feed that he was getting through his console, data that was being fed to him through the Recon Module where Ayano was working feverishly now that they were over target.

    “What?” Ben asked.

    “Craters” Vik said with a sly smile.

    Ben tried not to be annoyed by getting pulled into a silly joke like that. Vik had not minded when Ben had been pulled from being his Alternate and had leapfrogged him in the Mission hierarchy. Instead he had been delighted that a friend was getting a chance to come on this journey. Back in Cam Ranh, he had told Ben while they were on the elevator going up to the capsule that he would be a passenger for most of the trip while at the same time Ben would get stuck with a great deal of work. That had certainly turned out to be true.

    Looking at one of the screens, Ben saw the Earth rise from behind the Lunar horizon, he had seen that through the window on the last pass. Everything that they were seeing on those screens was being recorded. “It looks like the people back home must be getting quite a show” Ben said absently.

    “I would think so” Vik said, “Not the same as being here.”

    “Certainly not” Ben said.

    “While we are here, is there anything you want to name?” Vik asked.

    “Can we do that?” Ben asked in reply.

    “One of the perks of being an explorer Benjamin” Vik answered, “Sometimes the name even sticks. We got mountains, craters, and mares. Which will it be?”

    Looking out the window, Ben saw a mare passing below.

    “How about that one?” Ben asked, “For Kristina.”

    “Your girl, the wayward Princess” Vik said, “The press will eat that one up.”

    “I don’t care” Ben replied.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1741
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Forty-One



    12th August 1966

    In transit, nearing Earth orbit

    It was “night” aboard the Command Module when Ben woke up and remembered where he was when he saw Ayano floating in her sleeping bag which was tethered to bulkhead just a few dozen centimeters away. Vik and Dohman were on the other side of her in the narrow confines of the aft cabin. Looking at the glowing numbers of the mission clock Ben saw that he would need to spell out Captain Brown and take the next watch in just a few minutes. While the outbound flight had been full of excitement the return journey had been almost boring so far. By this point, everyone just wanted to get home and feel gravity again. Breaking Lunar orbit had been easy enough. They had jettisoned to Recon Module. It was to remain in Lunar Orbit and send data back to Earth until the fuel cells ran out. Then its orbit would decay, and it would eventually crash into the surface to create one more crater on the face of the moon.

    Leaving his sleeping bag and being mindful of the battery pack that connected to the medical gear that was attached to him, Ben launched himself towards the hatch that went up to the cockpit, careful not to bump into any of the others. The “floor” between the two compartments was only a plastic screen, just enough to block out the light and some of the noise from the cockpit. During the “day” the aft space included the workstations of the other three members of the crew, but for the next few hours it would be used for sleeping.

    Brown was sitting strapped into the Pilot’s seat, the lights dimmed and the Earth shining in the distance visible through the tiny windows. He had asked Ben to spell him out so that he could get a few hours of sleep before they would need to jettison the Service Module and reorient the Capsule for reentry. All of that was automated and could have been done by Mission Control, they however preferred it if they were awake and talking to them during that process.

    “Sir” Ben said as he strapped himself into the Co-Pilot’s seat.

    “Awake early I see” Brown said.

    “Couldn’t sleep” Ben answered.

    Brown just shrugged before he resumed looking out the window at the Earth. “I will have you know that this is as good as it gets” He said, “You and the others on this mission will probably be back up here in due time, not me though.”

    Ben gave him a quizzical look.

    “Something going on?” Ben asked.

    “Age” Brown replied, “Forty-Seven is an old man in this game. I’m due to take command of a Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier in the coming weeks and all of this is supposed to be the grand finale of a long and distinguished career.”

    Ben hadn’t thought about that. If he were to suffer another bout of insanity and volunteered for another Taxidiotis mission it wouldn’t be with Eric “Winkle” Brown. There would be a different Commander, possibly the entire mission would be different as well.

    “I saw the roster for Taxidiotis IV” Ben said, “Oberstlieutenant Sieglinde Grimmelshausen is the Commander of the Prime crew.”

    “That ought to be interesting” Brown said, “Sigi in an interesting woman, very aristocratic bearing.”

    As well she should, Ben thought to himself considering what Kiki had told him about Sigi being her father’s half-sister. It seemed that Wilhelm the 3rd had gotten around, so she was just one of several. Louis Ferdinand had quietly guided her career, making sure that she had every opportunity starting out in life.

    “I also saw who her First Officer and Systems Operator are going to be” Ben said, “Yuri Gagarin and Alexei Leonov. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the skills of our Russian partners in the ESA. But Leonov though? His idea of fixing things is hitting it with a hammer, if that doesn’t work, find a bigger hammer.”

    “How do you know this?” Brown asked.

    “I saw it play itself out in Peenemünde” Ben replied, “To fix computer, I hit with six-hundred-gram hammer, now I try five-kilogram sledgehammer. It will work.”

    Ben said that last part in a bad imitation of a Russian accent.

    “Leonov did that?” Brown asked in disbelief.

    “There was already smoke pouring out of the computer before he got the hammer” Ben said, “Still, it did happen.”

    “You know that we can hear every word you Gentlemen are saying?” A voice said coming out of one of the speakers, the same voice that Ben had been hearing since he had started training for this mission months earlier. Albrecht von Richthofen.

    “A sledgehammer might not be good to fix computers” A voice with an actual Russian accent said, “But for fixing a smartass, perfect.”

    “So, you heard that Alexei?” Ben asked.

    Brown just chuckled at what had just happened. He might have warned Ben that Mission Control was listening in, but clearly thought that it was a lot more fun not to have done so.

    “Good night Hauptmann” Brown said, “I’ll leave you with your Russian friend, I’m sure you have a great deal to discuss.”

    With that Brown unbuckled himself from the Pilot’s seat and swung himself through the hatch in one movement. Ben envied the grace with which he had done that. Whenever Ben tried to maneuver himself around the capsule, he felt like he was clumsy and always needed to grab things to keep under control.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1742
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Forty-two



    13th August 1966

    Pohnpei Island, Caroline Islands

    When Suga’s father had arrived on the island, she had fallen right into her accustomed role within the Japanese Court. It was something that both Freddy and Kiki had poked fun at her about. There was no malice in that, just the observation of how these things were ingrained into all of them. Kiki had dozens of stories about the absurd number of unwritten rules and expectations that she had been forced to follow as the daughter of Kira Kirillovna. Freddy had said he went through something similar, except for him it was as the Crown Prince, so there had been no lifting of them like there had been for Kiki after her mother had passed away.

    As they had been talking, Suga had realized that Kiki’s entire life, her career, military service, and even her choice of swimwear on this trip were in rebellion against her mother’s dictates. Much of that would have been completely scandalous just a generation earlier. Louis Ferdinand chose to ignore the more risqué aspects of what Kiki was doing, focusing instead on her following through on her ambition to become an Emergency Surgeon. Only Charlotte had commented, saying that if Kiki had the body to wear something like that and wasn’t embarrassed then more power to her. The beach that the Imperial family was using was closed off from prying eyes, so it really didn’t matter. Ben Hirsch naming a Lunar “sea” on the far side of the moon for Kiki had come as a surprise, though not a welcome one. It had renewed speculation by the press about the extent of their involvement at a time when Kiki’s hope was that she could do her Medical Internship quietly over the coming months.

    The conference had adjourned with the agreement that they would hold more conferences in the future. Considering some of the thorny issues that had been discussed, that was quite a good outcome. Afterwards, Suga couldn’t help but noticing that none of the delegations seemed to be in a rush to get anywhere. The reason why quickly became apparent, all anyone would have to do was look at the nearest television set to see why. Amicitia III was due to splash down in the Central Pacific and when the crew was picked up, they would be brought here after routine medical checks as had been planned months earlier. It seemed like everyone in the Eastern Pacific Region had an interest in the mission of Taxidiotis III. The Australians were perfectly happy to claim Captain Brown as a native son even if he was from Scotland. Doctor Kita was from Japan. The mission itself had been launched from Vietnam and the launch facility in Cam Ranh employed people from pretty much everywhere. At that very moment, dozens of ships and aircraft were converging on the patch of ocean where the splashdown was estimated to take place.

    The thing that surprised Suga the most was her own parents when it came to Mirai. They had always been distant to Suga, now they were doting grandparents and she was having a hard time squaring those two things. It was also at odds with certain assumptions that Suga herself had made about how they would receive her daughter.



    Pacific Ocean, East of the Mariana Islands

    After a week spent with floating in space in microgravity, gravity had reasserted itself in a hurry as Amicitia III had plunged into the atmosphere. Ben had heard that reentry was the most harrowing part of the entire journey. Waltz Center in Peenemünde had wished them luck as they had passed over Europe on their way towards the Central Pacific. It had been then that Ben had the intrusive thought that it was the Thomas Kolman Waltz Research and Training Center, named for the first Raumfahrer who had died in orbit. The exact cause of his death was still unknown, it had been the botched reentry that had seen to that. Baikonur and Cam Ranh had checked in briefly right before they entered reentry blackout. Three minutes cut off from communication by an envelope of ionized air around the capsule.

    “We’re in for quite a ride” Captain Brown said with a slight smile as the noise from outside the capsule grew louder and Ben wondered if Winkle really felt the confidence that he projected, or it was all a show that he put on for the benefit of others. Thinking back to the War Academy at University, Ben remembered what Major Armbruster said that the real meaning leadership was to be was found in the moment when others were frozen in fear, you were the one who moved forward and the others would follow for lack of better ideas. That was exactly what Brown was doing at that moment, though they were all strapped into what was about to become a meteor.

    Ben watched the altimeter spiraled down and could see the glow in the corner of his eye through the window. He would have preferred to be piloting his own airplane, being the passenger really was the pits. Then the noise died down followed by the shriek of wind, then came a loud thud as the drogue chutes deployed and the shriek gradually lowered in pitch. Then the main parachutes deployed, and Ben could see the white and orange synth-silk canopies through the window.

    “Welcome home, Amicitia” A voice said over the radio, “This is SMS Boelcke, do you copy.”

    “This is Amicitia” Ben said into the microphone, “Happy to be home, over.”

    A minute later the window was covered in water as the capsule hit the water and the flotation devices deployed.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1743
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Forty-Three



    15th August 1966

    Kreuzberg, Berlin

    The early morning hours were mostly good ones for Gang Ji, even on Mondays. He typically worked over the weekend, so he didn’t understand the complaints of people who hated this day of the week. For Ji it was just another day where he tended to wake up before the sun came over the horizon and walked to the store from his apartment. Han Suk wouldn’t be in until later in the morning, so all Ji had to do was open the store and mind the counter until Sun got in. That usually happened just as the morning multitudes who made up the morning commute arrived looking for food and drink before they started their day.

    That usually meant that Ji had a couple hours to get the store ready. Today, there was a bit of a commotion out front as he entered through the back door. A lorry from the company that delivered the day’s newspapers had just pulled up. The driver was cussing at the crowd that had gathered in front of the market, telling them to wait their turn and let him do his job. It wasn’t until he got the hand-truck loaded with stacks of newspapers that Ji saw what the deal was. TO THE MOON AND BACK! the headline for the Berliner Tageblatt read in massive print. The rest of the newspapers followed a similar theme. There were photographs of the Raumfahrers and announcements about what was upcoming in the Taxidiotis Program. The tabloids echoed the serious newspapers but speculated on the personal lives of the men and women involved with the Program to a much larger extent.

    By the time Han Suk got to the market all the newspapers had been sold along with whatever else the customers had bought while they were there. Whatever else was going on, Suk liked profits and the truck pulling up to deliver the next editions of the papers was welcome indeed. When noon rolled around, Ji left the store and headed for the Trade School that he had been attending. That evening he would return to the market and help Soo-Jin and Bora close the store, then escort Soo-Jin with Suk to the bank to drop off the day’s proceeds.

    The term “Trade School” was a bit of a misnomer these days because while Ji had originally intended to study heating and cooling systems, he had swiftly moved into electronics when Fürstin had pointed out that was where the future was. Computer Science followed. The reasons behind that was obvious to Ji when he looked at the daily papers with the Space Program dominating headlines. Not just Germany, but the entire world needed Engineers, in this country they were making a concerted effort to produce them.



    17th August 1966

    Pohnpei Island, Caroline Islands

    After a few days aboard the SMS Boelcke being subjected to every medical test imaginable plus a few that Ben suspected that the Doctors had made up on the spot, the crew of Amicitia III were flown to Pohnpei. Emperor Louis Ferdinand was present, as well as a few other Emperors, Prime Ministers and Presidents. All of whom had been interested in meeting with them. Still, there was only one meeting that Ben had been interested in setting up and he had gotten it just a few hours before the crew were to be presented with Polaris Medals from the ESA, or whatever they were calling it these days now that apparently they were taking people from just about everywhere who made the cut. A bronze disk with Polaris represented on one side, the date on the other and only issued to those who had been into outer space. There were also a handful of medals that they would get from member nations, the fact that Ben was up for a PLM seemed astonishing. Captain Brown was to get a star device for his Polaris Medal and there was talk that the Queen of England was going to Knight him.

    The car that brought Ben from the hotel in Kolonia pulled up to the villa in pouring down rain and he was escorted through the building. Entering an office, Ben immediately that it wasn’t who he had wanted to see today. Louis Ferdinand was looking out the screened window into the forest outside, a deep overhang preventing rain from getting into the room.

    “Kristina isn’t here” Louis said, “After you named that mare on the moon after her, the jackals from the tabloids swarmed her. You know what happens when she gets too much attention.”

    “She disappears” Ben answered.

    “Yes” Louis replied, “That is why I sent her elsewhere in these islands, to give her a bit of space and put her time to constructive use.”

    “If you could tell me where?” Ben asked, “I would like to see her.”

    “I’m sure you would” Louis said, “Just in a few weeks she is supposed to start her Medical Internship in Anhalt, the last thing she needs is to have it become a circus because of you and a misguided romantic gesture.”

    “I had to though” Ben replied, “I wanted her to be a part of this.”

    “By turning her life upside down?” Louis asked, “Give me one good reason why you thought that was a good idea?”

    “I did it because I love her” Ben said. That was the truth, it just sounded very clumsy to his ears though.

    “Then you understand just how private she is” Louis replied.

    How many times had he been warned about that by Kiki herself? Ben had no idea.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    After Ben left, Louis opened the louvered door to the next room off his office. “Did you hear all that?” He asked, “Because it is something that I’m not going to do for you again. I even took the blame this time.”

    Kiki was seated on the floor with her back to the wall, her knees pulled up to her chest. “I heard enough” She replied.

    “I know that this whole thing is scary for you” Louis said, “But you cannot avoid that boy forever.”

    Kiki sat in silence.

    “We need to figure out what we are going to do” Louis said, “Because the status quo is unfair to everyone including you, but especially Benjamin.”
     
    Part 107, Chapter 1744
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Forty-Four



    24th August 1966

    Piombino, Italy

    “As near as I can tell without speaking to the apple, it sounds like the apple panicked” Tatiana heard her mother say into the telephone, using the strange code talk that probably wasn’t fooling anyone. It was a reminder of how they had needed to remember that they were undoubtedly being spied on during what was supposed to be a family holiday. Tatiana felt like it was a massive invasion of her privacy while Malcolm didn’t care and Marie thought it was funny to read Charlotte’s Web aloud in the room where they had found a microphone that they had been told to leave alone.

    With the Emperor back in Potsdam he was now just a phone call away. That was a reminder that the Summer Holiday was waning and in a few days they would be boarding a train that would take them back to Berlin. Then another academic term would begin. It had been nice over the holiday, having her mother completely for a change. Often it felt like if Tatiana’s mother had a different family entirely and her actual children were something of a nuisance at times. There was also this Fürstin garbage. The Emperor had not done any of them any favors when he had done that and there was no way he had not known what he was doing. Tatiana knew that her mother absolutely hated what that had done to her and her family, but she had to be gracious as always. Now Louis Ferdinand was back, having issues with one of his manic daughters being reclusive at times and Tatiana wanted to throw the phone out of the nearest window.

    The house they were staying had a balcony that overlooked the harbor. Their host had returned from Rome a day earlier and he was smoking a cigar out there. Opening the door, Tatiana looked at him and said, “Your house is awful, there are bugs everywhere.”

    Cosimo de’ Medici just looked at her amusedly.

    “Your mother understands the game” Cosimo said, “If she were not staying here then the SIM would be bothering you just as much, only they would be even more visibly intrusive.”

    “I hate it” Tatiana said, “What she is. Why can’t she be normal?”

    “Normality is overrated” Cosimo replied, “And for a woman like your mother, normal wouldn’t have served her well in this life.”

    “I don’t want that kind of life.”

    Cosimo just laughed. “Life doesn’t give you choices child, it’s a bastard that way” He said, “It serves you up as much as you can handle and then adds more until it either breaks you or else you learn to play the game.”

    “The game fucking sucks” Tatiana said sharply with as much venom as she could put into her words.

    “You sounded exactly like your mother when you said that” Cosimo replied, much to Tatiana’s complete embarrassment.



    Jena

    Kiki’s return to Jena was just long enough to sleep in her own bed and to try to reorient herself before she left for Laupheim. The problem was that life kept throwing disorienting things in her path. Ben had apologized for missing her on Pohnpei when they had spoken on the phone. She doubted that he suspected the truth. That she had gotten frightened when she had learned that he was coming to her father’s villa on the island and had hid. Perhaps going back to Laupheim was a good thing, she couldn’t run from things there the way she seemed to in the rest of her life. She certainly felt like running at that very moment as she learned what Vicky had been doing over the summer.

    She had fallen asleep shortly after getting home the afternoon before and had slept through the night, only waking up about sunrise. She had come downstairs with her head full of fog and feeling slightly unwell.

    That morning over breakfast, Kiki listened to Vicky as she told her all about Anna, a young woman she had met at the pottery class. She had taken the class to get to know the instructor but had met Anna instead and the previous weeks had been so incredibly wonderful. Vicky was still in the throes of first meeting someone and while not in love, she was clearly in lust. That was hardly a surprise considering how Vicky had lived for the first two decades of her life. Kiki remembered with some embarrassment how she had not seen that in herself before she had acted on it. With her being in medicine, she understood that people existed on several different levels and that intellect only being a veneer much of the time. Strip that away and people were just big dumb animals, acting on fear and impulses. There were parts of the brain that interacted with different systems in the body in ways that were not entirely understood. It seemed absurd to Kiki how often there was absolutely no thought involved in some of the most momentous decisions that people made. So, Kiki sat there with a cup of tea in her hand, hearing all about Anna and she really wanted tape her sister’s mouth shut.

    “Of course, Anna is excited to meet you” Vicky said.

    “I don’t care” Kiki replied. All she wanted to do was crawl back into bed and sleep until her body no longer thought it was on the other side of the globe.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1745
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Forty-Five



    26th August 1966

    In transit, near Frankfurt

    Looking out the window of the train, Emil had plenty of time to consider the events of the prior days as he made his way home. He had been extended an invitation to attend a dedication of a monument to the fallen in the Battle of Verdun on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle’s conclusion. Traveling with Maria, Zella and Walter, Emil had been astonished to find that a forest had grown on the battlefield that he remembered as a moonscape pocked with shell holes. A far sourer discovery was the reunion of those who had fought in that battle and just how few remained after five decades. Emil had told this to Piers Sjostedt who just looked at him with a serine expression on his face and said that it was the nature of things. Their generation was passing into history.

    There was also the battlefield itself. The Meuse Heights including Souville Hill were now part of a larger National Historic Park with signs reminding visitors to remain on the paved paths because there was still unexploded ordnance around as well as being respectful of the dead. If Emil hadn’t felt like he was walking on ghosts before, learning that the old battlefield was considered a vast graveyard by the French State certainly would have driven that home. Seeing the monument to the hundreds of men forever entombed within the bunker complex that made up Fort Souville was a reminder of how real the ghosts that haunted Emil were. They all had names and families that had missed them after Emil had caused the chain reaction explosion that had neutralized the fort. Unlike them, he had gone home afterwards.

    The village of Verdun itself was much how Emil remembered it, just the people there had a completely distorted picture of what had happened decades earlier. They remembered Emil as a hero of sorts. The concept wouldn’t really be articulated within popular discourse until decades later during the Second World War when the Japanese were looking to bow out of the conflict, and they had decided that the German Empire was an honorable enemy who they could negotiate with. That was how the people of Verdun still regarded him. This was because Emil and some of his men had guarded a church full of women and children convinced that they were going to get ravaged by the bloody Boche because he had wanted to secure the cooperation of the Parrish Priest.

    The town had remained occupied until the war had ended, but whoever had followed when Emil had moved on had not seen fit to damage the good will of the civilian population. Years later it would be held up as an example to follow when what were called “Spanish Rules” were formally adopted by the entire German Military because someone in the OKW realized that heavy handed treatment of civilians created more problems than it had ever solved in a rare moment of bureaucratic clarity.

    Zella and Walt had kept hearing about how their father had proven himself to be a good man caught up in what the French regarded as a terrible situation. It was understandable that Zella had a lot of questions while Walt just took it at face value. That was the difference in nature between Emil’s two adult children. He had done his best to tell Zella what had really happened, and she had told him that he needed to take more credit, whatever that meant.



    Vis Island, Croatia

    The radio signal from a merchantman had been four R’s, meaning that an armed raider was operating in vicinity of Vis off the coast of Croatia. Ominously, the signal had been cut off before the operator could send additional information.

    Louis and his small flotilla had been out on patrol in the Central Adriatic when they had received word from Trieste about the presence of the raider. They had proceeded south and east at flank speed but had only found wreckage south of Vis. The detachment of men from the Croatian Navy on the island had been apologetic when Louis had questioned them about what had happened. Most of them had been recruited locally and all they had was a handful of old rifles and pistols that looked like they were left over from the First World War. The only boat they had was an old Revenue Cutter with a British Maxim Pom-Pom One-Pounder, adequate for taking on smugglers operating in the region or enforcing fishing quotas but not for what they had witnessed. According to them, they had seen a freighter attack another and the deep concussions they had heard were of something far larger than they could handle.

    Louis understood that meant that he was dealing with at least one Q-Ship of unknown capabilities who was bold enough to operate within sight of Vis. He also knew better than to accuse the men from the Croatian Navy of cowardice, they had done their jobs by reporting what had happened and not committed suicide in a futile act of bravery. He saw the looks of envy that that they gave the Windhund and the other more modern units of the flotilla. He figured that a bit of military aid would go a long way with these people and would need to fire off a message to that effect to Wunsdorf when he returned to Trieste.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1746
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Forty-Six



    28th August 1966

    Jena

    Meeting Anna was awkward. It wasn’t helped by her feeling of being unwell revealing itself to be cramps arriving slightly earlier than anticipated, something made her even less interested in being sociable than normal. That meant that Kiki was feeling peevish before Anna even entered the picture.

    Kiki had always known that Vicky would meet someone eventually, but that was only in the abstract. Having a Sunday lunch with her was completely different. Sure, Kiki had known several women in the Medical Service whose tastes mirrored Vicky’s, the difference was that she was Kiki’s little sister and as far as Kiki knew she had relatively little experience of being in a relationship. That meant that Vicky was vulnerable to being taken advantage of and the risk of exposure meant that she could be painted into a corner with absurd ease.

    Was Anna the sort who might do that to Vicky? And if she were, what would Kiki do about it? The problems that Anna represented were astonishingly complex. If things didn’t work out things could get ugly, as in Tante Kat getting called in or having to find shovels and quicklime quickly in the early morning hours in the worst-case scenario. Vicky seemed blissfully unaware of any of that as she introduced Anna, a Research Assistant at the University, mid-twenties with sandy hair and brown eyes, she had the whole waifish academic thing down. Vicky had told Kiki that they were dear friends, but it was clear as day to Kiki that Anna was after far more than that. Was what she wanted a relationship, or just a fling? It made a huge difference and Kiki wasn’t sure how to figure out what Anna’s intentions were with giving offence. Kiki also found it strange to be on the other side of that equation. By the end of the meal, Kiki was inclined to strangle her unless she learned the full truth.

    “Victoria said that you were a Doctorial Student” Anna said.

    “Actually, I am Interning in Emergency Medicine” Kiki replied, “As a SA in the FSR.”

    “FSR?” Anna asked, a bit bewildered.

    “Parachute, Search and Rescue” Kiki said flatly, “You know Special Forces, Military, the Medical Service’s Jager Corps.”

    “Be nice Kiki” Vicky said, “She isn’t a part of that world.”

    “You are in the Medical Service then?” Anna asked.

    “Yes” Kiki replied, “And I came up though it, I’ll not have anyone assuming I got where I am through family connections or wealth…”

    Then Kiki noticed that Vicky was making a slashing gesture across her throat. The meaning was obvious, cut it out.

    “Do you understand who we are?” Kiki asked, “I don’t care about your friendship with Vicky, if you become a threat to us it will end badly for you.”

    “KIKI!” Vicky yelled appalled that it had escalated so quickly. Anna didn’t seem too concerned that Kiki had just threatened her.

    “I’m not stupid” Anna said, “Speculation about your love life with that fighter pilot is all over the trashy tabloids which can’t be avoided in the market. I know you are trying to protect your sister, but do you even know who she is? Does she even need your protection?”

    At least Anna was asking the right questions in response to Kiki. She also didn’t seem too surprised by Kiki’s apparent hostility. It all made Kiki just feel exhausted, what she would give to live in a world where she didn’t have to think about these things. Vicky was free to just be open about these matters and Kiki wouldn’t have to sus out if a woman she was involved with might go running to the same trashy tabloids that Anna herself had mentioned.



    Trieste, Austria

    It all came to a head when the flotilla returned to port and found the USS Victor Blue tied up to the pier near the SS O’Brian. The Blue was a common sight in the North Sea as she was one of the US Navy’s premiere Sub Hunters, tracking the KM’s Submarine Fleet as they made their way in and out of the Atlantic. The mere presence of the Blue was an escalation and the existence of the Q-Ship suggested that there was a State Actor involved. Louis needed to figure out where the Americans stood before he started a war with a nuclear power by accident.

    Taking a launch, Louis gunned the outboard motor as he sped away from the pier where the flotilla was busily resupplying after their last patrol. The Marines were not thrilled with him going alone, but he didn’t have time to get the authorizations from the MND to read any of them in. They could get a call about an armed raider any minute, then the hunt would be on again.

    “It’s been a minute Kapitänleutnant” Smith said as Louis entered the same wardroom where they had last spoken years earlier, just after Korea. “Is it von Spree or von Preussen?” There were four men around the table already. Smith himself, a man who was unmistakably a Naval Officer and three men who looked like they came from central casting as Intelligence ghouls. To readily identify them, Louis assigned them the appropriate names for their vocation, Larry, Moe, and Curly.

    “That was business” Louis replied, “Admiral Hase needed someone to run his errands who the Shore Patrol wouldn’t molest. I had to pick a name though, for obvious reasons.”

    “Odd choice of words” Smith said as he gestured to the empty chair.

    “It sounds like the Shore Patrol are the same everywhere” The Naval Officer said amusedly, before getting up to shake Louis’ hand. “Commander Carter by the way, Herr Kaleu.”

    It was an informal address, slang really, used for Louis’ Rank throughout the KM. Commander Carter, the Captain of the Blue, taking the time to learn that suggested there was more to him than met the eye. Someone who Louis needed to be careful not to underestimate.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1747
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Forty-Seven



    2nd September 1966

    Jena

    With Kiki having finally left for Laupheim, Vicky let out a breath that she didn’t realize that she had been holding. While the house felt empty with her gone, the tension that Kiki had brought home with her had been suffocating and Vicky couldn’t think of how introducing her to Anna could have gone worse. With lectures starting at the University, Anna had been terribly busy. They had not had the chance to talk about any of that until this afternoon when she had invited Anna over for tea. Now Vicky was wondering how to start the conversation. There was the obvious thing first.

    “Sorry about Kiki” Vicky said, “She mostly has two speeds with new people, shy and wrecking ball. You got the latter.”

    “I actually like her” Anna replied, “She was trying to protect her little sister, worried that I might break your heart.”

    “She was being awful” Vicky said, “I’m sure you noticed that she made a few threats, take those seriously because her involvement in the FSR isn’t a joke.”

    Anna just shrugged and smiled. “Kiki also didn’t say one word objecting to us” She said, “Did you notice that?”

    Vicky sat there blinking for a moment, she hadn’t noticed that.

    “You are so lucky” Anna said, “You have this big wonderful family that apparently accepts you.”

    Anna had said that she was an only child and her parents had rejected her when she had told them that she was a lesbian. To her Vicky had an embarrassment of riches in more ways than one, family most of all.

    “I don’t know about that” Vicky said, “Rea and I haven’t been on speaking terms for some time.”

    Then seeing the questioning look on Anna’s face, “Marie Cecilie” Vicky quickly added, Rea’s real name.

    “That is your twin sister?” Anna asked, “That must be odd.”

    “It is just how it is” Vicky replied, “Even now it feels like she’s a part of me, it has always been that way.”

    “That still sounds odd” Anna said.

    “My brothers are all trying to live up to family expectations each in their own way” Vicky said changing the subject, “I’m sure that you have seen what that looks like in the magazines you saw.”

    “I get the impression that being a girl involved lower expectations”

    “Look pretty, get married, and regularly pop out babies” Vicky said, “Care to guess why we mostly have rejected that so far?”

    “Mostly?” Anna asked.

    “Antonia, my youngest sister and Annett, my father’s ward are still children so who knows what they are going to do” Vicky said, “They are adorable though.”

    Anna smiled at that before she leaned over and kissed her deeply, leaving Vicky surprised. They had gotten to know each other over the summer when they were in the same pottery class and had been on a few dates, thoughts of intimacy hadn’t occurred to her during that time. She had been mostly concerned with trying to figure out how to be in a relationship with another person.

    “They aren’t the only ones who are adorable” Anna said when she saw the expression on Vicky’s face.



    Trieste, Austria

    Kapitän Ingo Laninga had not been pleased to discover that Louis had ordered the three SK-Boats into the dockyard and was working to fit them with 533mm torpedo tubes. They had been shipped from Kiel after Louis had called in a few favors. The SK-Boats had been designed to be quickly adapted to different missions and that included having the mounting brackets for the torpedo tubes already in place, the tubes needed only to be installed. Because the mission was supposed to be anti-smuggling, the need for packing a punch against heavier units was not felt to be needed. That had changed in a hurry. The crews of their respective boats were connecting the plumbing that delivered the compressed air and setting up the wiring for the controls. It just involved taking the boats out of commission for a few days and the use of a crane. The Austrians were happy to help, Louis suspected that their version of the MND was coming on board in the process but that was the cost of doing business.

    “Mind telling me what is going on?” Laninga asked once Louis was in his office.

    “The Americans reached out” Louis replied, “Giving me a bigger picture.”

    “Meaning what exactly?”

    “It seems that one of their own has been facilitating every shitshow around the globe for at least the last decade” Louis said, “Mexico, Arabia, Sino-Korean War, the rest. Violent anarchy for fun and profits. It also seems that he has been selling tons of munitions to the Turks who are out for revenge after what the Greeks did to them the last time. The issue it seems is that the Turks plan is to start a crusade against the Greeks, they just need to provoke the Greeks into being the ones who fire the first shot. Which is why we have that Q-Ship lurking around. To get the Greeks to stop and board every ship they suspect may be coming from Turkish ports.”

    “What does any of that have to do with torpedoes?” Laninga asked.

    “We need to find that Q-Ship and end this before the Greeks do something stupid” Louis replied, “Even if that involves sinking it.”

    Laninga was silent for a moment and Louis could see the wheels turning. The Intelligence Officer knew that he lost nothing if Louis was getting this wrong, if Louis was right and was successful on the other hand… That was a different story.

    Unfortunately, Laninga would probably blow his stack when he learned exactly what favors Louis had called in.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1748
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Forty-Eight



    6th September 1966

    Potsdam

    The men assigned to be in his daughter’s security details tended to be selected because they were tight lipped. That included to Louis Ferdinand at times. Katherine, who had set the system up when the girls were younger, said that it because there were some things that as their father, he was happier not knowing. There were other things that needed to be factored in, like Kristina’s habit of ditching her security detail when they became inconvenient or Marie Cecilie treating them like labor when she was on one of her crusades.

    That was why Louis had been a bit surprised when a file containing every detail about the life of Anna Gertrud Muller was placed on his desk and told that it was in relation to Victoria when he had returned from the Carolines. Age twenty-four, born in Brunswick. Currently a Research Assistant at the Friedrich-Schiller University of Jena, working towards a Doctorate in Humanities. The file said that she was estranged from her parents, but if she was involved with Victoria in the manner that was being suggested it wasn’t hard to figure out why.

    It had been the monthly briefing regarding the activity of the KSK that had brought it to a head that was conducted by Katherine. It seemed that Anna had arrived for tea on Friday afternoon and had not left the house until Sunday morning. The girl’s security details were far more comfortable telling Katherine when one of the girls had taken on a lover and she did her best to gently tell Louis in a way which wouldn’t upset him too much. While Louis was thankful for Katherine’s efforts, he was aware of how the world had changed radically over his lifetime. Certain things didn’t carry the same stigma that they would have a couple generations earlier. He also knew that the day would come when Victoria would meet someone and had discussed it at length with Charlotte. She had told him that he could either accept it, or else lose his daughter if he didn’t.

    That had made it an amazingly simple choice indeed.

    Louis worried that introducing himself to Anna would frighten her though. He remembered his introduction to Benjamin Hirsch, that could have gone better.



    Cam Ranh, Vietnam

    Sheets of rain were hammering the concrete pad that the assembly center was built on now that the rainy season had arrived. Albrecht made his way past the vast stainless-steel fuel tank assembly that was being filled with nitrogen ahead of its installation as part of the Main stage of Taxidiotis IV. The five massive Aggregate 30 engines were already in place and the much smaller A31 engines with their outsized bell nozzles were still in their shipping crates waiting until they could take their place in the Second stage.

    Albrecht would be leaving Cam Ranh as soon as Taxidiotis IV and V were done early next year, having been told that he was to return to Kiel ahead of receiving orders to take command of the SMS Lilienthal II. He had a pleasant meeting with Wernher von Braun for a change, the Professor was pleased that Albrecht was moving on and that the the plans beyond the Taxidiotis Program had gotten preliminary approval by the ESA, tentatively called Stella domum. Wernher had this idea that they could use the same trick the Russians used in strapping booster rockets to the Main stage of a Taxidiotis rocket to lift ever heavier payloads. Albrecht wished him and whoever took his place for that project luck, they were going to need it.

    Tonight, Albrecht was flying out to spend the next few weeks on leave. The last time they had talked, Ilse had mentioned that Nikolaus was excited that he was coming home. Albrecht hadn’t known it at the time, but he had figured prominently in the news coverage of Taxidiotis III and had become something of a hero again. It seemed that the boy couldn’t wait to show off his heroic father who really was a Raumfahrer to his friends.



    Trieste, Austria

    The thinking in Wunsdorf was that Louis Junior was young, handsome, and doing exciting things. To get the 533mm torpedo tubes to Trieste quickly, he had agreed to do a television special for the Kaiserliche Marine. It was hardly a surprise that Kapitän Laninga got every bit as angry as Louis had predicted he would. Even now he was fuming as a yellow Volkswagen Camper Microbus with the logo for ARD's Berlin affiliate painted on the sides pulled up to the warehouse that Laninga used as an office when he was in the shipyard. They both could see it out the windows.

    “This is supposed to be a convert mission” Laninga said, “A television crew is hardly covert.”

    “This isn’t supposed to air until after whatever happens out in the Adriatic happens” Louis said, “Besides that, ARD said that they sent their best people, so we’ll come out of this looking good.”

    That was when the door of the Microbus swung open and a young man who looked to be the sort who would be a boy until the day he died got out. He looked completely out of place in a Naval Shipyard. Then Zella got out of the driver’s seat and was talking at the boy and Louis had a sinking feeling that Laninga was going to blow his stack again.

    “How is that not going to be trouble?” Laninga growled. Louis didn’t have an answer to that question that the Kapitän would accept.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1749
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Forty-Nine



    9th September 1966

    In transit, over the North Atlantic

    There were several Special Forces Teams on this plane as it flew out of Fort Drum bound for points unknown, which was typical. The mission’s details were need to know and right now apparently, they didn’t need to know anything. They had been told that they needed to be on their best behavior, just they hadn’t been told why or where they were going. Again, that was typical. Something to do with international cooperation in the form of being observers, whatever that meant according to the rumors. Which was a euphemism for wherever they were going, odds are they were not going to find much enjoyment in it. Parker had an even bigger stick up his ass than usual and some of the things he had said suggested that this whole thing was political in nature. Still, it had to be far better than the recently concluded military exercise that they had been involved in that had taken place in the big empty part of the map known as rural Nevada. Ritchie had found that it embodied the old joke about being where men are men and sheep are nervous. Hot, dusty, and hundred-degree heat during the daytime. There had also been issues with waking up and finding that one had acquired a sleeping companion during the night in the form of a rattlesnake. Not the best way to spend the summer and they had barely had a week of downtime before being loaded onto this airplane.

    Ritchie was sitting in his seat trying to ignore the turbulence that he had always hated. This being a transport plane all the seats faced inwards, so all there was to see was Huck Spooner’s ugly face because he was sitting directly across from him. Earlier, Huck hadn’t been amused when Ritchie had suggested that they were going to Greenland to conduct physicals on polar bears. That cut a little too close to home, because with their luck it could totally happen. They’d had a lot of experiences where they had gotten on an airplane and found themselves in exactly that sort of situation over the last few years.

    Eventually, Ritchie fell asleep, only waking when the plane touched down.

    “No talking, among yourselves or to anyone else” Parker said walking through the cabin as the ramp at the back of the plane dropped open, “Got that.”

    Outside, it was a cool night and the feel of the air was humid, like if there was a lake nearby and there was a strange, almost intangible, smell that suggested that they were far from home. There wasn’t a whole lot of detail to see though. Ritchie could see that they were on a military base because he thought he saw what looked like a jeep driving on the opposite side of the runway but little else as they were shoved into the back of a waiting truck that had the universal cloth covering over the back. Minutes later, the truck stopped, they wearily climbed out and were ordered to fall in like recruits. Out of long habit they did with no thought, there was a bit of grumbling, however. Mostly because all any of them wanted was a few hours of uninterrupted sleep in a bed that wasn’t moving.

    “This is going to be home for the next few weeks” Parker said, and something about the way that he seemed guarded caused the hair on the back Ritchie’s neck to stand on end. What wasn’t Parker telling them?

    That was when a skinny black and white dog ran up to them as a bizarrely comic counterpoint to the mood of the Green Beret soldiers. Ritchie recognized the sort, not particularly bright but loved everyone he met instantly. As they waited, the dog was sniffing at their boots, his whip-like tail wagging.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    “Rauchbier!” Kiki called sharply.

    Why couldn’t have the Americans arranged their arrival for a more civilized hour? Kiki thought to herself as Rauchbier ran back to her side.

    She had picked Rauchbier up on her way back to Laupheim, as the former mascot of the 5th Helicopter Wing he was welcome in pretty much any military installation run by the FSR. He had spent the summer ferreting with Rolf in the Hohenzollern Province which was about as fun as it got for him. There was also a bit of a business aspect to it as Rolf was trying to develop a Swabian Windhund and had asked Kiki if Rauchbier could contribute as it were. Kiki was certain that Rauchbier probably hadn’t minded that one bit either.

    Upon arriving in Laupheim, Kiki had been told that the refresher training was just to make sure that she wouldn’t be baggage to whatever FSR teams she worked with in the future. Her reputation made that somewhat academic, but she had still needed to check certain boxes before she could start in Anhalt. Now, she had been pulled away from all of that because it was felt that the best thing that she could be doing was diplomacy. In the interest of world peace, the equivalent of a Platoon of American soldiers from one of their elite Special Forces Groups had arrived in Laupheim to train with the KSK. It was noticeable that Judenbach wasn’t interested in hosting them. Finally, because Kiki had encountered them in China and the United States, she was selected to be their Liaison while they were here.

    When she saw that pompous ass Jamison Parker step off the plane, she knew that whatever reward she got for doing this had better be worth it.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1750
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty



    11th September 1966

    Tegel, Berlin

    Sitting in the cockpit of Black Knight III waiting for the Crew Chief to tell him when to turn on the fire control computer that had been dodgy lately, Ben considered what had and hadn’t changed. He was still in the Luftwaffe Reserve as a Hauptmann, though he had brought some additional prestige to the 18th Fast Attack Wing, which was a Landwehr Unit operating out of the City-State of Berlin. Before the Sino-Korean War, they had been regarded as little more than a club for bored Students and Businessmen playing at being Fighter Pilots. After Korea they were regarded as a force to be reckoned with, now with one of their own had volunteered for the Space Program, passed the rigorous training to become a Raumfahrer and orbited the Moon.

    When Ben arrived back in Tegel he was greeted as a hero and had gotten the first Pour le Mérite in the 18th SKG. Wim however had a slightly different perspective. He had told Ben that his involvement in the Taxidiotis Program was brave but stupid. What else could be said about sitting atop a hundred and twenty-meter-tall pile of explosives and lighting it off. It was hardly a surprise that Ben had made into orbit, he would have ended up there anyway even if the launch had failed. With how cynical and risk adverse Wim was, there were times when Ben wondered exactly why he had become a Reserve Officer in the Luftwaffe.

    Beyond that, Ben still trying to process everything that had happened over the previous weeks. He had been a part of a team that had made history when they had orbited the Moon. Commentators had mentioned that they had been the first people to lay eyes on the far side of the moon and soon a man would set foot there. They said that these were the first steps in a new era of discovery. All Ben knew was that the Professors who he couldn’t get to return his calls before he had left for Cam Ranh, were now behaving very differently. Every single one of his applications to enter Doctorial Programs in various Universities had been approved so he could pick and choose where he went next. That was far more cynical of an outcome than even Wim was prepared to imagine, so he hadn’t mentioned it to him.

    The last time Ben had talked to Kiki she had said that she was going to be in Laupheim for the next few weeks refresher training in the FSR and getting various recertifications. He was going to be free next weekend, perhaps he ought to go there. He hadn’t seen her in person since he had gotten back to Earth.



    Trieste, Austria

    Louis was looking at the deck of the Windhund and it was so clean that he could eat off it. Normally, he wouldn’t complain about this sort of extremely rare occurrence, but this was entirely because of Zella. She had told the crews of the boats that she needed stock footage of them going about their duties of maintaining the boats and if that turned into a competition over who could keep her attention as Zella and Yuri had worked their way up and down the pier.

    After a couple days of that, even the Landing Craft that that were a part of the flotilla were sparkling in the sunlight. The one exception was LB-222 whose engine was out, and the men were rebuilding it. It was fortunate that the LC used a MAN diesel engine that was commonly used in lorries all over the world. That made parts easy to find, but that didn’t resolve all the panels being removed and the rest of the LC being a greasy mess. Zella had found plenty to film there as well. The rub for Louis had been when she had asked him why the flotilla needed the slow, wallowing tubs in the first place. He had to explain the role they played in the flotilla’s logistics and if he needed the Marines who were presently guarding the pier for an operation in the coming months then they would prove invaluable.

    Naturally, that led to Zella having a lot of questions about future operations and Louis had just shrugged, telling her that he cannot answer questions like that. Still, all the Navies of the world thrived on scuttlebutt, so Zella had still found out about the Q-Ship that they were going to resume hunting in a few days and was angling to come along. The entire purpose of having Zella and Yuri in Trieste was so that she could get film of him in action.

    “What are we going to do about her?” Louis asked Borchardt.

    “So long as she keeps the men pulling in the right direction and shows no favoritism to any of them, then you don’t need to do a damned thing” Borchardt replied.

    “Marcella wants in on the hunt when we leave” Louis said, “You know as well as I do how much trouble she could cause.”

    “I would suggest that you ditch her then” Borchardt said, “Except if you pass up on her filming something that the Navy wants filmed, then you’ll be lucky if they send you back Wilhelm Station for the rest of your career.”

    Louis had been afraid that those would be the choices he was stuck with.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1751
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty-One



    12th September 1966

    Charlottenburg, Berlin

    Suse had been warned about lectures before nine o’clock in the morning. Still, she had signed up for this one because she wanted to get through Post-Secondary Education as quickly as possible and get on with her life. Hopefully freeing herself from her embarrassing family entanglements in the process.

    The lecture at the Technical University’s Main Campus might have been one of the most boring subjects imaginable, Introduction to Materials Science. With the Space Program being all the rage, the lecture was focusing on the work of Belgian Engineer Karel Bossart, how it played a key role in the ongoing Programs of the ESA and the properties of stainless steel. The way that it was being presented was rather dry, especially considering the nature of it. Not that Suse minded, presently a bit of boring was good because it allowed her to decompress a bit. The summer had been a little too eventful and not in a good way. After she had broken up with Manfred, though whether they were ever together in the first place was debatable, she had spent the summer in Prague with her family.

    That was when the trouble started.

    Her brother, Alois, had told all his friends at the Culinary Academy he attended that his older, unattached sister was coming to town and the description that he had given them of her was extremely problematic. It was the very thing most likely to anger Suse and Alois had thought was funny since they had been children, the idea of her being a cuddly little elf. That had been reflected in the gifts that Suse had received as a group of feckless boys had tried and failed badly to get her to go on a date with one of them.

    Then Suse’s mother had opened her mouth in one of her rather embarrassing conversations. There were times that she was certain that her mother just liked pressing buttons to see if anything went off in a fun way. Suse had no idea how the conversation had gotten around to the topic, but her mother had asked if all of Manfred was as big as the rest of him. It had taken entirely too long for her to realize what her mother was getting at, so Suse had been left sputtering and red-faced as she had tried to explain that their relationship hadn’t progressed to that point. Inadvertently revealing several other aspects about herself in the process that her mother found incredibly amusing. Months earlier Kat had been worried by the fact that Suse was her mother’s daughter. It had been during that conversation with her mother that she had come to understand why. And the most grating part was that she had turned down the opportunity to go with Jo to the East Frisian Islands because that had seemed entirely too pedestrian at the time.



    Trieste, Austria

    The VW Microbus was still parked next to the warehouse a short distance from the pier. Louis could see the power cord that ran to it that Laninga was complaining about snaking out of the building. Zella had said that the Microbus had been built specially for them by VW’s Sonder-Kfz Division to provide her and Yuri a place to work and sleep while they were in the field. All the windows and the back doors had been left open, that was to be expected because it had never really cooled down the night before. Yuri was sound asleep on the backseat that had folded down into a bed and Louis assumed that Zella was up in the tent like structure that was from where a section of the roof had hinged upwards. The remainder of the interior was a working space with televisions bolted to the wall, video players set up on a table just below and a pair of stools, one laying on its side. There were boxes containing tapes and cases for video equipment crammed in everywhere.

    “Anyone awake?” Louis called out.

    He heard movement up top and Zella’s bare feet appeared before she dropped down through a hatch in the ceiling. She was wearing red and white striped men’s pajamas, sort of an odd choice.

    “What do you want Louis?” Zella asked as she sat down in the open side door. It was extremely clear that she had not wanted to get out of bed.

    “To tell you that Wunsdorf got back to me about your request to accompany us the next time the flotilla goes out” Louis said, “They told me that it was entirely at my discretion.”

    “Oh” Zella said, clearly not thrilled about that.

    “You need to understand that being on the boats of the flotilla can be dangerous even at the best of times. If there is any action protection is scant and the accommodation will make what you currently enjoy seem luxurious” Louis said, “Most of all though, you have to be prepared to do what you are told and cannot be seen as undermining the chain of command.”

    “I know how the military works” Zella replied, “I’ve a lifetime of experience.”

    “Do you also understand the sort of presumptions that the crews have made about you?” Louis asked.

    “Also speaking of other things that I’ve dealt with my entire life” Zella said.

    “They think you are my woman” Louis said flatly.

    Zella just laughed at that. “Speaking of presumptuous” She said, “You are my best friend’s little brother.”

    “Perhaps it would be better for everyone if you stayed here” Louis said, disliking her attitude. “Your Cameraman seems perfectly capable.”

    The instant Louis said that, he saw anger lite up in Zella’s eyes. “Don’t you dare” She said coldly.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1752
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty-Two



    16th September 1966

    Rural Serbia, Near Priština

    The Dragoons of the 7th Recon Battalion had a mission that was frequently at odds with the rest of the 4th Panzer Division. There was considerable irony in that the Panzer Dragoons had the reputation of being the heaviest of Heavy Infantry while the 7th was at the opposite end of the scale in needing to have the lightest footprint possible. They were tasked with ranging far afield from the main column, mapping out the enemy strong points and relaying that information back to headquarters. When Manfred’s squad had been shoved onto a train for Italy, they had been told that was exactly what they would be doing, sort of. The Officer who had briefed him before they had boarded the helicopter that had taken them to here, wherever here even was, had been BND. Instead of a rifle, Manfred had been told that the weapon of choice on this mission was a camera with a telephoto lens and a radio that he was only to use in the direst of situations. Avoid contact with anyone, gather information, take photographs, return to the landing zone at the prearranged time and most of all, don’t get caught. Those seemed like simple enough orders. However, nothing was ever as simple as orders made it sound as Manfred had learned repeatedly over the course of his brief career.

    A few days earlier his squad had been dropped into an area that recon flights had deemed to be abandoned via helicopter. What they found was that the area wasn’t so much abandoned as destroyed and left for the forest to reclaim. Burnt out houses with the bones of the occupants still inside mostly. Whoever these people had been, no one had been left to rebuild or bury the remains. It had been Christian who had pointed out that the fires that had left those houses ruins looked to have occurred at around the time of the last Greco-Turkish War.

    What had followed was the pattern of moving by night and hiding within an observation point during the day. A couple things had quickly become apparent. There were very few civilians in the area, most of the vehicles they saw were military in nature and all of them were moving in the same direction. Even Manfred could see from his narrow perspective that an army was massing nearby.

    It had been a few hours later that they had heard gunshots.

    It was one of those things that Manfred had understood in his bones from the instant they heard those shots. That if they investigated, they were not going to like what they found. It was in the form of fresh corpses dumped like garbage in the ditch alongside the road, they looked to be old men, women, and children. As per his orders Manfred took pictures before moving on. By the time they made it back to the landing zone, Manfred had far more questions than answers about what was going on. He just hoped that someone in Wunsdorf could see the big picture of whatever was happening here.



    Tempelhof, Berlin

    The back garden was visible out the window of Kat’s office and she found herself watching the birds as they flitted about the trees. Jo had a birdfeeder hanging outside her window and that attracted them. There was work needing to be done, the general plans for the KSK in the event of a new Greco-Turkish War. At issue was if the Serbians and their Greek allies carried out their plan to exterminate the Albanians, something that seemed inevitable at this point. Instead, Kat was thinking to more pleasant, domestic considerations. Things she had the power to effect.

    Kat’s life had fallen into a routine of the sort that she had once not thought possible. The vacation to Italy had been a wonderful diversion. Tatiana had been in a huff during the last week. Eventually she had complained to Malcolm about how Cosimo de’ Medici had told her that she sounded the same as Kat and he had told Douglas. Kat had told Douglas that he shouldn’t find that funny, though it was. When she got the chance Kat would need to thank Cosimo for saying that. These days it seemed like Tat was being a complete bitch most of the time and Aunt Marcella had told Kat that it was about time that the shoe was on the other foot. That was why Kat was dreading what was coming with Marie, at the age of ten she was showing signs of rapidly approaching maturity.

    Those were things that Kat had to keep in mind when Suse returned from Prague. It seemed that over the summer holiday Gerta had been her usual impulsive self and had gleefully needled Suse over her apparent prudishness. That was typical of Gerta. It was hard to tell what she really thought about Suse, but it seemed like if she expected her daughter to be like her. While Kat was aware of a lot of things that Suse did that reminded her of Gerta, the situation that Suse had described sounded like Gerta’s behavior had been particularly mortifying this time. It had been a bit of a surprise that Suse had asked Kat if she could continue to stay at her house even though she was going to University. When Kat had told her that she was welcome to stay if she needed to so long as she was going to school or had a job, Suse had asked why her mother couldn’t be like Kat. It was strange how Tatiana chaffed under Kat’s rules while Suse seemed to prefer the structure to her mother’s chaotic household.
     
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    Part 107, Chapter 1753
  • Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty-Three



    18th September 1966

    Laupheim, Württemberg

    After spending a few days getting accustomed to the differences between how they did things differently here. They were regarded as professionals and expected to police themselves. There were the obvious details like the option of beer with every meal, far better food than he was used to and oddly, dinner for lunch. The thing that most surprised Ritchie though was the presence of the women who made up almost a quarter of those assigned to Laupheim, not the least of whom was their Liaison, Stabsarzt/Hauptmann Prinzessin Kristina von Preussen herself.

    None of that gave a stated reason as to why Ritchie was here though.

    Disturbingly, the Germans seemed to know as much about their equipment as they did. Ritchie had eventually asked and had been told that the Kommando Spezialkräfte had been trained to fight the US Army in general and the 1st SFG specifically without further explanation. Kristina had also mentioned several other outfits who Ritchie had never heard of. Spetsnaz? Gesundheit. What that amounted to was being told that much of their gear was inadequate if they were going to play a cooperative role in the coming weeks. In Ritchie’s opinion they did not have to look so smug as they had explained how each new piece of equipment worked. Then Sunday came.

    Apparently, it was a tradition of the German Special Forces going back to when the SKA, the precursor of the KSK, had been a single independent Airborne Regiment in Judenbach. Every Sunday they had a formal meal that went beyond the usual “Evening Bread” where they would have a toast in memory of their fallen and to the health of the Kaiser. As a courtesy to the 1st Special Forces Group being present, they drank to the heath of President Rockefeller as well. During the Second World War, the SKA had enjoyed stunning successes against the Russians and Japanese, but that suffered staggering numbers of casualties as well. It was tradition that went with a history that the Green Beret who had been sent to Laupheim learned in the hurry because they were expected to honor it while they were here.

    For them that involved Class A uniforms and Ritchie certainly felt out of place as he entered the Mess Hall, though the lack of reaction to his presence shouldn’t have been a surprise. Every German Service branch had a unique dress uniform and colors denoting specialties were a part of that uniform. The first day after their arrival, they had gotten a lot of strange looks and there was something about their appearance that many of the Germans found amusing. Kristina eventually explained that the green berets that gave the 1st SFG its name was similar in color to one worn as part of the uniform of regular German Infantry. The only real difference was the pin that was typically worn on it that Division or Specialty. Looking around after that, Ritchie had realized that he was surrounded by Mountain Troops, Paratroopers and Dragoon Infantry. All of whom marked themselves as being different, the elite with the colors of the beret they wore. Kristina wore a blue beret with a Medical Services pin on it and an FSR patch on her tunic, two things that seemed to be a big deal here. The Dragoons wore black, the Paratroopers wore burgundy and the Mountain Troops wore an odd visored cap. A few of the men Ritchie had seen wore a blue beret with a white band, he had asked Kristina who they were, and she said Seelöwen as if that meant anything to him. Marine Infantry, she had said a minute later, and he understood what that meant. When he had told Huck about that, Huck said that he thought that the Germans were smarter than to keep that sort of trash around.

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    Because Kiki had volunteered to join the FSR and be posted to an Army Helicopter Wing, she was required to wear the dark blue tunic of the Heer to formal events and probably would for the remainder of her career. Doctor Holz had joked that it was because the stink of that would never come off her. Not that Kiki minded though, she thought that it looked better than the light blue worn by the Medical Service. The Pour le Mérite that she was wearing tonight had raised a lot of questions among the Americans, as had the gold and white sash from the Order of St. Henry. They had instantly recognized the US Army Commendation Medal though and the question became how she had gotten it.

    Ben was threatening to come up here sometime in the coming weeks and Kiki looked at that with a mixture of amusement and terror. Amusement because Kiki didn’t think he was aware of the sort of reception that he would get in Laupheim and terror because she still hadn’t figured out how she was going to respond to his naming a part of the Moon after her. She still wondered what he had been thinking. In the weeks since the Press had learned of it and it had prompted a new round of speculation about their relationship, which was all too predictable.

    Then there was the latest insult to Kiki’s dignity, her security detail was to be expanded and she was expressly forbidden from abandoning them by her father. There was trouble in the Balkans again and everyone remembered what had happened the last time there had been a war when Kiki’s mother had been shot and Kiki’s nose had been badly broken in the resulting chaos.

    As the toasts were concluded everyone began their meal. Kiki just took sips of wine and delighted in being ignored. Specialist 2nd Class Valenzuela was talking with Major Parker and Kiki couldn’t help but hear Parker’s next words. “They seem nice but do not forget for an instant that these are the same people who killed Sergeant Casey.” That was entirely unexpected.
     
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