Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 122, Chapter 2054
  • Chapter Two Thousand Fifty-Four

    7th April 1971

    RAF Northolt, South Ruislip, England

    Everyone, including Stuart Davies understood the future of the Kestrel Program, and with it the entire fortunes of Hawker Siddeley were riding on this test flight. As if that wasn’t clear enough, Konteradmiral Albrecht von Richthofen, the Commander of the German Fleet Air Command and Oberst Erich Hartmann, the Chief Test Pilot for Junkers AG were both present. There had been other flights before now, but all of them had been tethered as the kinks in the control system had been worked out. It was Stuart’s hope that neither those two nor any of their staff saw any of the film footage of what had happened when things had gotten out of control in those first flights. Yes, they had solved many of the problems over the last few years, but those encountered in the construction and operation of a “Jump Jet” had proven rather unique.

    The Kestrel Program had narrowly avoided getting axed when the Government had been looking to cut costs. It had been saved when Hawker Siddeley had joined the International Consortium that included Bloch, Sud-Ouest, Arado, Fieseler and Junkers AG. Recently, they had been joined by the Lockheed Corporation of America. The Consortium was not a merging of the constituent corporations, but each of them had been able to share expertise and engineering experience. That had come with opportunities for manufacturing, the opening of markets as well as splitting the costs of development. So far, this had worked for everyone with the Mirage III, Arrow/Pfeil, Orkan/Tempest, and finally the Airbus A130 which had revolutionized Regional transport throughout the world, mostly in Europe. With the help of Lockheed, the plan was to debut the Airbus A300, which would be called the Galaxy in North America, and do the same thing on International Stage.

    Where the Kestrel came in was Junkers AG was extremely interested in the program and they already had a buyer lined up if Hawker Siddeley licensed the aircraft to them, the German High Seas Fleet’s Air Command. To the Corporate Board at Hawker Siddeley that had been mana from Heaven, the Government and the Admiralty had a rather different perspective, however. An airplane that they had rejected a few years earlier was suddenly of grave national concern. What came next was a twist that Stuart had not been cynical enough to see coming. In the end moneys talks and with aerospace manufacturing having become as important as the automotive industry over the prior decade the next round of elections had not gone well for the incumbent Party. This had less to do with the Kestrel, whose planned production run was no more than a couple hundred machines at most in England plus whatever Junkers was planning on doing, than it did with the production of the Galaxy/A300 when it started next year. The average man in the street had not been interested in saving money by those at the top if it meant less in their own pocket somewhere down the line.

    As they watched, the Kestrel transitioned from vertical to horizontal flight. The roar of the engine changed pitch as the four nozzles that vectored the thrust changed direction propelling the aircraft forward.

    “Impressive” Konteradmiral von Richthofen said, his face impassive. “I am interested in having my people review the data from when things went sideways, as it must have. You developed a whole new technology here.”

    Stuart almost cursed aloud when von Richthofen said that. He had been warned that the Konteradmiral had a background in the sciences and wouldn’t be as easily snowed as representatives from the Admiralty had been. A few minutes later, the Kestrel circled back to the airfield. Stuart just hoped that von Richthofen would not ask about fuel consumption as the plane hovered in to land. That was something that they were still trying to work out, the modified Pegasus engine guzzled fuel when conducting S/VTOL operations. Oddly, the hope was that it was a technical problem that the Engineers at Junkers would delight in. Then there was the somewhat quixotic “afterburner” used by the Kestrel. It seemed like every time the Engineers at Hawker Siddeley’s Kingston upon Thames factory went looking for a technical fix, the plane gained a bit more weight. The original thinking behind getting the Germans involved was that perhaps a new set of eyes with a different technical background needed to take a look at the Kestrel. It remained to be seen if that was a mistake or not.

    “You told my people that you are developing this as a strike interceptor” von Richthofen asked, “Does that mean that it is intended to be a Jabo?”

    German slang for Fighter-Bomber, Stuart thought to himself.

    It seemed like whenever Stuart had dealings with RAF Generals and Navy Admirals the conversation always turned to the Kestrel’s ability to deliver bombs on targets. Then the questions would start getting asked. Wouldn’t a smaller, simpler, most pointedly cheaper, plane capable of the same mission be better? They didn’t seem to get that a multi-role aircraft would need to be able to protect itself. Especially one that was made to operate were few other aircraft could.

    “That is what is intended” Stuart replied.

    “I think I will need to consult with General Schultz then” von Richthofen said, “He has some interesting ideas for 4.MID which he is putting together, and this might be suitable.”

    “Who” Stuart asked, “And what is a Mid?”

    He then received a look from von Richthofen that suggested that he might be way out of his depth here.
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    Part 122, Chapter 2055
  • Chapter Two Thousand Fifty-Five

    8th April 1971


    The reformation of the 4th Marine Infantry Division which had been deactivated following the end of the Second World War was not without controversy. They would be joining the 3rd MID as one of the primary expeditionary forces of the German Empire, while the 1st MID deployed in the Baltic and the 2nd MID would remain a Landwehr Unit in Schleswig-Holstein. With the tempo of operations actually increasing in the Pacific and this latest crisis in South America, there was actually some question as to whether or not the current Corps would be enough. Regardless, the days of them having to make do with the Heer’s castoffs was firmly over. Tilo didn’t care if he had to dig up the festering corpse of the idea that the Marines had to do everything on the cheap with second-hand equipment and drive a stake through its heart in front of a meeting of the High Command, it was something he would be perfectly happy to do.

    The 4th was the direct result of issues that Tilo had identified a few years earlier over conversations Prince Louis Ferdinand Junior who had been a part of the KM’s General Staff in Kiel at the time. It had started with talk about the obsolescent and improvised nature of the Marine Infantry’s fire support elements and how they were essentially a Corps composed entirely of Light Infantry in an era when Composite Divisions were clearly superior. Tilo had structured the 4th MID along the lines of one of Heer’s Panzer Divisions with allowances made for the amphibious nature of the Marine Divisions. The fact that he had done this with the full support of the Kaiserliche Marine wasn’t lost on anyone as Tilo had placed the 3rd and 4th MIDs to be first in line for the acquisition of Leopard II Panzers. He had also poached whatever talent he could from the Heer. Like always there were those who sought greener pastures or else were looking for some real action after having sat in garrison for ages.

    Then there was the idea that Albrecht von Richthofen had floated as an addition to the relatively small and absurdly named so as to not be confused with the far larger Fleet Command Marine Amphibious Aviation Command. The British designed Kestrel Fighter-Bombers that Junkers AG was already gearing up to produce for the Fleet Air Command. Again, this would put the Marine Infantry at the front of the line. Reier had told Tilo that elbowing their way to the front of the line was the way that the Marines had always had to do things, otherwise they didn’t get shit. Of course, the new fighter-bomber was unorthodox and composed of several unproven technologies, so the Navy was more than happy to give it to the Marines. It was always nice to have a scapegoat when things didn’t work out as planned.

    “The airplane is exactly as the Brits advertised” Albrecht said, “Far more than adequate for the mission you have in mind.”

    “I figured that it would be” Tilo said. Mostly because of the evaluation of a slightly different version of the same plane that had been flown by Junkers AG several months earlier. Of course, Albrecht wasn’t aware of that little detail unless Erich Hartmann had told him.

    “The timetable you are suggesting is ambitious” Albrecht said to Tilo as soon as he got him on the phone after his return to England. “It suggests that you think everything is going to go perfectly.”

    Due to an odd confluence of events, Tilo had been placed in command of Allied Forces in the upcoming operations in South America. He was learning that it took considerable effort to get the Commanders within the other Service Branches to come around to his way of thinking. This was especially true when they were trying to protect their various fiefdoms.

    “We have a lot more wiggle room than you realize” Tilo replied as he looked out the window of his office, slightly disgusted that he even had an office with a window to look out of.

    “How?” Albrecht asked, “The British only have a few production models and I doubt they will play nice at this time.”

    “Production models that were only built with our money and technology” Tilo calmly replied, he had spoken with Reier after Albrecht had left for England a few days earlier about how Albrecht would react to their situation. Predictably was the conclusion. Albrecht had always been one to play by the rules, everything done by the book. It was just as well that he was a Naval Officer because he never would have survived in the Marine Infantry. Albrecht would have tolerated the British dragging their heels and making excuses about for the endless delays. Tilo had looked for alternative that better suited matters on this side of the English Channel.

    “Tell your Attack Squadrons that they will be taking deliveries of new planes soon, within a few months” Tilo continued, “After my men get first whack, of course.”

    “I don’t see how with no planes” Albrecht replied, “The British…”

    “Don’t have the only production line” Tilo finished, “Now that their airplane has made its public debut, things will get a lot easier for us.”

    “Wait, what?” Albrecht asked, “What aren’t you telling me?”

    “Just tell your people to be ready” Tilo said.

    Albrecht had a reputation for keeping a cool head in a crisis and for being able to solve problems quickly. Tilo wished that he had shown that in this circumstance. If he had, he probably would have given Junkers AG the go-ahead ages before Tilo had.
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    Part 122, Chapter 2056
  • Chapter Two Thousand Fifty-Six

    17th April 1971

    Mitte, Berlin

    The hall that housed the Court of the Empress in the old Hohenzollern Palace saw frequent use, both as an exhibition hall for the Berlin-Brandenburg Museum of National History as well as more formal functions like it was today. One of the terms of the lease of the palace to the German Government had been that the House of Hohenzollern would still be allowed to use the facilities for events that the new Winter Residence was too small to host. The quarterly meeting of the Order of Louise was an example of that.

    It seemed strange to Suga that she was now here as the Royal Sovern and Grand Mistress of the Order, while Charlotte was present as the Empress Emerita and took her place as one of the Capitel now that Louis had retired. Charlotte had gently chided Suga a few times because she tended to defer to her out of habit. The trend of inducting younger members to the Order of Louise from Charlotte’s tenure had continued as well. Kurfürstin Katherine von Mischner zu Berlin said that she when had been inducted into the Order during the time of Empress Cecilie as a teenager, she had been the youngest member by several decades. Now the Order had a far wider range of ages represented. With the youngest members still being in their teens much like Katherine with the oldest having just celebrated her hundred and third birthday and had been a member of the Order in good standing under seven different Empresses. While the cap on the number of members of the Order had been lifted, the number still hovered around one hundred. There had been talk of inducting more Dames 1st and 2nd Class, but the Capitel was notoriously slow in making decisions. It seemed like every winter there were suddenly several openings in the Order to fill and funerals to attend. For probably the first time ever, the membership of the Order of Louise was skewing younger.

    There were some unintended consequences of that, and it was playing itself out with one of the two Dame Commanders of the Order, Princess Kristina, Suga’s Sister-in-Law, arriving with her month-old daughter Nina. This wasn’t the first time that this had happened, Kristina and Nina found themselves the center of attention. That was something that Kristina was not particularly comfortable with, but she tolerated it. At the next quarterly meeting, there would probably be something else to attract the attention of those present. Suga didn’t mind though, it gave her and Katherine a chance to talk at the reception before the formal meeting began.

    “It doesn’t seem that long ago that Kiki was a little girl with her brothers, asking questions and pulling my hair” Katherine said as they watched as Kristina did her best to be diplomatic, though it was obvious to both of them that Kristina wanted to grab Nina and flee.

    Suga had heard that Katherine’s hair was the color of fresh copper when she had been young. The children of Louis Ferdinand had found it particularly fascinating. There was far more grey than red these days, testament to the sort of life she had led. One that had started in a working-class neighborhood situated near an active railyard and ended with her in the halls of power at the highest levels. There were dark rumors about what she had done to earn her present lofty position. Freddy had told Suga that the rumors barely scratched the surface and that her jokes about having been the Royal Assassin were not far off the mark, even though no such position had ever existed.

    “I hear different things about Kristina” Suga said, “You describe a precocious little girl asking questions until the adult she was asking would get exasperated. Others describe a shy child who would hide from strangers.”

    “It’s very possible for individuals to be different things to different people” Katherine replied as if that said everything. The result was that they sat there in awkward silence for several excruciating moments.

    Suga’s dealings with Katherine in the past suggested that she was a good person to have on your side, it was just that she was extremely stubborn. Once she made up her mind, nothing could change it. However, her loyalty to the House of Hohenzollern wasn’t ever in question. In the event of an emergency, Katherine was the one tasked with getting Suga’s children to safety, much like she had with Freddy and his younger siblings, decades earlier. It was felt that sort of loyalty needed to be rewarded, the problem was that there was little that Suga could offer Katherine who was the Prefect of Berlin, basically the Princess of one of the largest and richest Principalities in the German Empire. A role that Suga suspected Kat was able to function in because she wasn’t afraid to pit different factions within the city against each other and having a reputation of being a ruthless, evil bitch worked well for her.

    “You know that we are filling the appointed positions in the Royal Court” Suga said.

    “I have no interest in being the Mistress of the Robes again” Katherine said flatly.

    “It is a good thing that I have already filled that position then” Suga replied.

    “Oh” Kat replied in a neutral tone that didn’t let Suga know what she was thinking.

    “Actually, I was looking to fill the role of Maid of the Chamber now that Marie Cecilie has become Queen of Gallica” Suga said. No one had any idea if Ria was ever going to marry, Freddy had told Suga that just who she might was a longstanding joke among his family. Still, she was out as Kammerfräulein. “I am considering that your daughter Marie Alexandra might be a good fit if you think she can grow into the role.”

    “Is that a joke?” Katherine asked.
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    Part 122, Chapter 2057
  • Chapter Two Thousand Fifty-Seven

    19th April 1971

    Krakow, Kingdom of Galicia-Ruthenia

    It was turning into one of those afternoons that made Ria want to drive a pencil into her eye. One crank, twit, or speculator after another had entered the office she used when she was conducting official business. She had found that having to sit in an uncomfortable folding chair that she had made a bit too short deliberately and speak to her across an imposing oak desk that she had found at an estate sale put them in the right frame of mind. Especially when they realized that she had grown tired of listening to them and was about to have the men from her guard lead them politely, but firmly out of the room.

    A somewhat disheveled man in his early thirties wearing a suit that had seen better days entered and was introduced as Lars Vangsgaard. Ria couldn’t help but notice that a few of her guards looked a bit mirthful as Lars had entered, as if there was an inside joke involved in his mere presence.

    “His Highness, Thor the 1st of the House of Vangsgaard, my insane father, would be extremely grateful if you might extend diplomatic recognition of his claim as Grand Duke of the Independent Duchy of Bornholm” Lars said, looking a bit embarrassed as he said it.

    “Isn’t that normally the sort of thing asked of my older brother?” Ria asked in reply.

    “It is my father’s hope that with your reputation as being an independently minded woman you would be more inclined to chart your own course in this matter. Also, at my father’s instruction I spoke to Emperor Friedrich, your brother, first” Lars said, “He told me to take it up with the Danish Government. He also said that there were many fine facilities for men like my father that I ought to consider as his next of kin, then offered to refer me to them. Then I was escorted out of the Winter Residence by what I assume were the First Foot Guard.”

    “How did you not know if it was the First Foot or not?” Ria asked. She had been looking for a diversion from the boring statecraft that she had been stuck with and talking to Lars Wangsgaard was as little as she could do, without doing nothing.

    She knew the story already and should have made the connection when she had heard Lars’ last name. During the Second World War the waters of the Baltic had become heavily contested. Bornholm’s strategic location had resulted in it coming under direct Soviet attack on several occasions. Thor Vangsgaard had organized the defense of the island and eventually decided that Copenhagen was too distant, caring little for what happened on the island. When Thor declared it independent, he had named himself as the Grand Duke and Protector of the Duchy of Bornholm. He had probably done it on a lark, but a surprisingly large number of Islanders had gone along with it. Ria knew that the people out there probably didn’t mind anything that didn’t hurt the tourist trade. Having a local eccentric basically name himself King was actually the sort of thing that drew tourists.

    “I had a bag over my head and was warned by this madwoman that if I valued my health, I would avoid coming to Berlin in the future” Lars finally replied after a few minutes of trying to think of a proper answer that wouldn’t land him in hot water.

    “We can safely assume that it wasn’t the First Foot that grabbed you” Ria said, “I also assume that your father has visited Berlin in the past and had come to be seen as a problem to be solved. The job of the woman whose voice you heard solves problems for my family. Putting a bag over someone’s head, dragging them off and threatening them is her style.”

    “This has happened before?” Lars asked, his voice full of disbelief.

    “Your family isn’t the only one with problematic members” Ria said, “Now, have a good day Herr Vangsgaard.”

    Whatever Lars might have been expecting, being allowed to leave of his own accord was not it. Ria had to admire his loyalty to his father’s mad dream, even if it struck her as being misguided.

    Washington D.C.

    The original idea for backing Chile in the current crisis that was consuming much of South America had been that it would suck the Germans into quagmire whose outcome would take years to resolve. That had worked, just their Chilean and Brazilian allies had proven to be somewhat difficult. It seemed like every single time they suffered a reverse, their respective Presidents would be on the phone with whatever high-level member of the Cabinet they could get on the line. Then President Nelson Rockefeller would get an earful. It was said that Harry Truman had kept a plaque on his desk that said simply, “The Buck Stops Here” and Nelson had learned exactly what that had meant over the last seven years.

    Presently, the issue in Argentina was that Argentinians at the direction of their German allies and even the Germans themselves had found new ways to deploy old technologies. High velocity Flak guns that were radar directed firing shells with proximity fuses was just one example. There were dozens of others. In turn, the Chileans were demanding the latest and greatest that the United States of America had to offer. The trouble was that they didn’t seem to understand that there was an export ban on weapons that had been issued to the United States Armed Forces less than ten years earlier.

    Into this, several questions were starting to get asked. Like why the Germans were deploying some advanced systems and not other? It was as if it was the result of deliberate choices. The last time Nelson had visited Langley there had been a photograph on the wall of General Dietrich Schultz, below it someone had written Something wicked this way comes.

    Nelson had a bad feeling about the exact meaning of that phrase in this context.
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    Part 122, Chapter 2058
  • Chapter Two Thousand Fifty-Eight

    21st April 1971

    Rio Gallegos, Argentina

    It was the airplanes that flew in every few days that let them know that the world had not forgotten them. Every month, a Freighter made it through the minefield outside the bay after the R-Boats from the Navy cleared the way for the heavier items that couldn’t be brought in by air. While no one in the city was starving, the realities of being in a city that was encircled were being felt as winter was closing on Patagonia. Boredom and inactivity had become huge issues, there was also the reality that the Chileans might try to take Rio Gallegos weighing on everyone. The result was that every time the Freighter left port, they took a substantial number of civilians with them and the streets had grown noticeably empty as the months had passed. Christian figured that it would eventually almost be down to the 4th Panzer Division, the Argentine Infantry Division that was tasked with defending Rio Gallegos, along with the service personnel in the Seaport and Airport.

    Christian, Maus, Moser, and Kruger made their way down the street from the City Center and Warehouse District where they had picked up the day’s rations for their Squad, some assembly required. It was mostly potatoes in burlap sacks, but there were other things. Once again, they had been stuck with rations the Navy had provided. That included the jars of unidentifiable pickled fish and vegetables that Maus was certain were being given to them because the Navy wanted to see if they would actually eat the stuff. Christian wouldn’t put it past them.

    Christian knew that Einar would be pissed when they got back and saw what the day’s meals would be. As if Einar would have done better if he had lost the coin-toss earlier that morning. Christian suspected that complaining about the food was just something to do for lack of anything better but he wished that his Assistant Squad Leader would shut his mouth already. Christian was on the verge of pulling Rank to get Einar to put a sock in it.

    The four of them were having to run this errand on foot because the diesel fuel that all the vehicles ran on was always in short supply. Unless they could convince the Brass that the day’s food run was absolutely essential, they would find out that there were still a whole lot of unpleasant tasked they could be put to even here at the edge of the world surrounded by enemies.

    “Does Lieutenant von Mischner have any plans?” Kruger asked. That was a common question that Christian got these days, everyone knew that he and Manfred went way back. The truth was that Christian didn’t know any more than anything else because Manfred was keeping his cards close to his chest these days. While the raids across lines that had been done by the 1st Platoon (Callsign Gold) of the 7th Recon’s single Infantry Company had become legendary, the Brass had given him a medal and warned him that if he continued to exceed his orders then he might find himself cashiered. It seemed that there had been a number of imitators in other outfits who had not been nearly as successful. Their rotations spent out on the lines had mostly been uneventful lately.

    “He hasn’t told me anything” Christian replied.

    “Oh” Kruger replied glumly, “If only they would fix the Football Pitch.”

    “You don’t have to be such snob” Moser said, “I’ve heard that the matches have been interesting lately. You know, because of the airplane…”

    Moser stopped talking when he got withering glares from Kruger and Maus. Several weeks earlier, a Chilean Recon Plane had plowed into the Football Pitch after eating a considerable about of Flak. Clearing the wreckage had not been a high priority and that had resulted in a considerable amount of grumbling in the Ranks. The fact that some of the men still tried to use the Pitch in that state was considered blasphemy by many in the 4th Division. Moser was the Radio Operator who had replaced Ralf when he had been promoted and assigned to work directly with Manfred. He had not exactly been a great fit, especially because he was in Ralf’s old slot.

    “That means we have three choices for this afternoon” Maus said as they rounded a corner and saw the dilapidated cinderblock house their Squad had been living in for the last few months. “School, Church, or nothing.”

    They walked in silence for a few moments.

    “There are pretty girls at the school” Kruger said.

    “That’s how they get you” Maus replied, “But it is always look but don’t touch unless you want to meet her striped majesty and have her add your balls to the collection she keeps on the shelves in her office.”

    It had become something of a joke around the whole of the Military. Any man who abused his position and molested one of the women who worked with them in any capacity was asking for a visit from the Tigress. This was especially true because a couple of the women who worked at the school were rumored to be Kurfürstin Katherine’s girls and she would take it very personally if anything happened to them. The other aspect was that the sharp-tongued little blond who they had frequently encountered over the last several months was Manfred’s girlfriend as well as being a mechanical savant. Everyone in the Division knew that if they messed with Suse Knispel, Manfred von Mischner would land on them like a ton of bricks.

    Still, the school was place where they could talk to a pretty girl from home. At the same time, they would have educational opportunity and personal improvement pushed on them the entire time they were there. Several members of their Company had completed their Secondary Education here over the last several months. Christian had heard jokes about how if this siege dragged on long enough then there was a good chance some of them would probably earn advanced Degrees as well.

    The Church was holding social functions, mostly showing old movies from the silent era. Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Charlie Chaplin being the most popular. The Bishop though had made sure that the entertainment included a substantial amount of sermonizing before the films started, earning him the nickname Father Spaßverderber throughout the Division.
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    Part 122, Chapter 2059
  • Chapter Two Thousand Fifty-Nine

    1st May 1971

    Over rural Argentina, near Córdoba

    A lifetime had given Manfred von Richthofen a bit of perspective over matters he was mostly past. Mostly it revolved around how silly the games young people played were. Sitting in his seat, he observed how Emil Holz’s girl Zella and Yuri, the Cameraman, who was accompanying her were attempting to act as if they were just co-workers. Manfred knew that they had been all over the World over the last few years and if there were any chemistry between them, nature would eventually run its course. Of course, sometimes it took a while to get there. Käte would have laughed at what was going on here. She would have said that if it was obvious to the likes of Manfred, then it must be to everyone else. It would have made sitting in the tight confines of the Dorner Private Jet that Manfred owned for this extended flight to Argentina uncomfortable if he couldn’t see the humor in the situation. The two of them were with Manfred so that they could film this trip for the people back home.

    This was meant to be an inspection tour of sorts. Manfred had retired decades earlier to manage his estate, but because he was regarded as being one of the Luftwaffe’s greatest heroes, he was asked to visit units in the field. It was something that he was honored to do. Especially because the one of units he was going to be paying a visit to was Jasta 11 of JG 1, his old unit, the same one that still regarded their Commanding Officer as having an “acting” role in the absence of the Rittmeister, meaning Manfred himself as if he might one day return. Every time the Squadron received a new type of fighter plane, they made a point of painting one of their planes in the crimson and white livery of his plane when he had led the Squadron. It was entirely for public consumption and Manfred knew that once the publicity was over, they painted it the colors of the rest of the Squadron. Still, it was a nice gesture that helped ground Jasta 11 and JG 1 in their shared history.

    As the jet entered the pattern and landed, Manfred saw the jets from Jasta 11 parked on the flight line. Beside them were planes panted a mixture of white, black, and red. He recognized them as being from Schlasta 5, part of SKG 18. He had heard about the rivalry between Jasta 11 and the Jabos. The pilots of his old Squadron had no idea that the two Squadrons had a shared history that went all the way back to the First World War, pre-dating the Luftwaffe. Schlasta 5 had been a part of the air armada that had flown against the Soviets over Poland in the 20’s and JG 1 had escorted them during that air offensive. Manfred knew that he would need to spend some time talking with the members of the Fighter-Bomber Pilots. They had acquitted themselves well in this conflict so far.

    Los Angeles, California

    After a year of riding with Wilkinson, Ritchie was getting used to having Big Mike Washington as a partner. One of the few Black Officers in the Division. Ritchie had heard that there had been a bit of snickering in Personnel over this. The big Black guy and the little Mexican guy stuck in the same car for an extended period of time all day. What was the worst that could happen?

    He wasn’t just called Big Mike because his son was Little Mike, though that much was true. He was also called that because he was built like a Linebacker, something that he had in fact been when he had played Football for UCLA a decade earlier. Later on, with little prospect of advancing on to the NFL and Degree in Physical Education, Mike had gone for the one employer in LA who would not turn him away because of the color of his skin, only caring about his ability to break heads. Him being six-six and somewhere in the ballpark of three hundred pounds made him someone who no suspect with an ounce of sanity would tangle with, that much was certain.

    The truth was that unless Mike had his blood up, he was fairly easygoing generally. Word was that he was still a Police Officer 3 after ten years because he liked being in Patrol and wasn’t interested in moving higher in the ranks. He also hated driving, which meant that Ritchie often found himself behind the wheel. That was a key difference between Mike and Wilkinson. Wilkinson didn’t trust anyone driving and pointedly said as much on several occasions. That was why Ritchie had only driven the squad car a handful of times over the prior year. One of the unwritten rules was that the man in the passenger seat was the one sent in to get food while they were on shift. That was something that suited Mike fine. He was picky about just where they got food from and apparently one of his prior partners had messed up the order often, one of the few things that truly aggravated Mike.

    As Mike climbed into the passenger seat, Ritchie felt the car’s suspension react to him sitting down. The smell of the fried-egg sandwiches and fresh coffee filled the car.

    “You sure you don’t want anything to eat?” Mike asked.

    “Quite sure” Ritchie replied.

    Mike just shrugged. He ate enough for both of them.

    “What stupidity you think we’ll be seeing to today?” Ritchie asked.

    “Midday on a weekend?” Mike asked in reply, “Jack and shit if I were to guess. We won’t even have the neighborhood kids playing hooky today.”

    “No” Ritchie said, “Just their parents, drunk and disorderly.”

    Mike was silent for a few minutes after Ritchie said that. If there was anything the whole of the Department hated, it was so-called adults acting worse than children.
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    Part 122, Chapter 2060
  • Chapter Two Thousand Sixty

    10th May 1971

    Mitte, Berlin

    The fireworks were exploding right overhead and neither Nina nor Rauchbier liked the noise as they were sitting on the deck of the ML Meta a few hundred meters away from the barge that was moored on the bank of the River Spree. If Kiki had known that she would have a frightened dog cowering under her chair and a baby howling in displeasure, she would have made sure they were home before the fireworks began. It was a sour note to end what had been a wonderful week on. Ben glanced over his shoulder, a look of concern on his face. It was merely the latest of those which she had been getting since he had returned from Argentina. With that, Kiki carried Nina into the pilot house, which was somewhat protected from the noise and sat down on one of the bench seats. Rauchbier followed her into the pilot house before disappearing down into the aft cabin, presumably to hide under the bed.

    Kiki had had the Meta taken out of storage so that the Motor Barge could join the Flotilla composed of dozens of small craft including the Royal Barge that had been specially constructed for the prior week’s events, though Freddy was talking about having it be a regular thing. After all, Germany had been linked by rivers and canals long before the existence of railroads and the highway network. Most of the Flotilla was composed of Motor Barges similar to the Meta along with a handful of Cabin Cruisers and other types of craft which ran on the rivers. A few of the Kaiserliche Marine’s Riverine Fleet and a pair of Patrol Boats of the Federal Police had been along as security.

    A week earlier, on Monday the 3rd, the Flotilla had departed Berlin cruising down the Spree and Havel to the Oder-Havel Canal. From there they had proceeded north to Stettin, the west on the Baltic visiting coastal cities along the way. Then they had transited the Wilhelm Canal, with a stop in Hamburg. Finally, the Flotilla had proceeded up the Elbe River to Berlin, arriving just in time for the fireworks display that was the Grand Finale of the National Centenary celebration that had started on the 18th of January. It had been a week of dodgy weather, questionable taste by those greeting them at the various stops, and finally the problems associated having a number of boats in different states of repair and piloting abilities. Many of the boats and barges that had started the journey had been left behind by necessity, though there had been no guarantees at the start that everyone accompanying them would make it to the end. Kiki had even found herself pressed into service as a Physician a few times. It felt like this week had been the first time that Kiki had enjoyed herself in what had felt like an eternity.

    Kiki had always found the pace of life on the rivers and canals restful. Even the Flotilla had moved at a moderate speed, not really pressed to go anywhere quickly and that had been extremely welcome. Unfortunately, that was coming to an end and in a few hours, Kiki would be returning to Plänterwald and her life would resume with all the stresses, the issues with photographers knowing exactly where she was trying to get a photograph of her with Nina, and the problems with her career still hanging over her.

    To think, it had been less than a year ago that her worst problems had been Zella’s at times impulsive nature and her younger sisters going to her cottage in order to hide from their responsibilities. That was the thought that struck her as she tried to get Nina to calm down. Now, she had delighted in how the rocking of the Meta as it plied the rivers helped Nina sleep, unless there were fireworks exploding just a few hundred meters over their heads.

    “There’s nothing to be afraid of” Kiki said softly as she held her daughter close, feeling a bit ridiculous because she knew that Nina couldn’t understand. As another of the shells exploded in the sky sending showers of brightly colored sparks earthward.

    Looking across the water, Kiki spotted Nella and Nan sitting in front of the pilot house of the royal barge. The two girls were staring up into the sky while munching on what looked like popcorn, their faces lit up by the fireworks. They had stopped coming around as much after Nina was born. A bit too much grownup responsibility on display for them if Kiki had to guess. They had always come to Kiki in order to do fun things outside the view of Charlotte, even if she made them do their studies and was a terrible cook, they still had a lot of fun. She had realized that she missed that but knew better than to directly invite Nella and Nan around. Kiki remembered how they had occasionally overstayed their welcome in the past.

    Minutes later, as the fireworks display reached its conclusion Kiki finally got Nina to calm down, though she suspected that it was more exhaustion and relief that the loud noise from the fireworks were over. Climbing down the ladder to the saloon, Kiki realized that she still had months of leave ahead of her. If she wanted to, she could spend the summer on the Meta. The Black Sea, the South of France, or any number of other places were within reach. Ben would need to be talked into it, but it would be a comfortable way to learn to be a family. With that, the engine of the Meta turned over and she got underway, bound for her mooring which was just a short walk from home. She could get used to having someone else to do the piloting as well now that she was thinking about it.
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    Part 122, Chapter 2061
  • Chapter Two Thousand Sixty-One

    15th May 1971

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Visiting his mother on Saturday afternoons since Nina had been born was something that Ben did to keep the peace even if Kiki always found some excuse not to come. She had no objections and Nadine, Ben’s mother, always was delighted to see Nina.

    “Kiki sends her regards” Ben said, “But she is arranging for work to be done on the Meta today.”

    “You don’t need to make excuses for her Benjamin” Nadine replied as she lifted Nina from the carrier and cradled Nina in her arms, “I know that there are a lot of things she would sooner do before coming here.”

    “Well, she does love that boat” Ben said a bit awkwardly.

    “You remember your Oma, yes” Nadine said to Nina pointedly ignoring Ben. “I perfectly understand the reasons why your Momma loves to escape the pressures of her life on a boat when she can because that is her thing. Just like your Poppa flies his jet plane.”

    “That is not quite the same thing” Ben said, “A Motor Barge like the Meta has a ninety-four-kilowatt diesel engine pushing thirty odd tons of boat. She was never intended to set any speed records. And I’ve never seen you with anything like that.”

    “You are sitting in the middle of it” Nadine replied, as if that were something which Ben was supposed to have known.

    Looking around the parlor, Ben wondered what she was getting at.

    “This house was built to order” Nadine said, “At the time it was built, the University was offering incentives for Professors like your father to move here and work on the Humboldt Campus. This house was built exactly how I wanted it. The neighbors have left a bit to be desired at times, but things have worked out well for us.”

    Ben had realized long ago that his mother saw things in term of pluses and minuses. Living in this house and his father’s Professorship were in the plus column, especially if this house was as his mother described it. Living across the alley from Katherine von Mischner and having Kiki catch Ben’s eye were probably in the minus column. Her first granddaughter, Nina seemed to have balanced all that at out to a degree.

    “I didn’t know that” Ben replied.

    “There are a lot of things like that” Nadine said, “You are like your father in that regard, he doesn’t always pay attention until it gets directly pointed out to him. Albert thought that I would just be setting up the interior, not working with the Architect. Now, what is Kristina really doing today.”

    “She is at a boatyard getting an appraisal on having the electrical and water systems of the Meta updated as well as having some new items installed, air conditioning, a proper refrigerator, solar panels, and navigation radar. She thinks they would be useful if we are taking this extended holiday that she wants to take this summer.”

    “Just what does she have in mind?”

    “A grand tour of the canals of Europe” Ben replied, “In July and August.”

    “I think that sounds like a wonderful idea” Nadine said as she rocked Nina who was enraptured with her earrings, something that Ben knew might end badly. “While this one is still little you ought to do that sort of thing every chance you get.”

    Ben was surprised his mother said that. He also knew that Kiki had more than one reason for wanting to take this holiday. Over the week that they had spent with the Royal Flotilla several issues had revealed themselves. Ben and Kiki had shared the master’s cabin with Nina. That would have been fine except Kiki had her three-man security detail, Fianna Dunn, one of Nina’s Nannies, Steffi Bader, Kiki’s Personal Secretary along. There had also been a Pilot from Kaiserliche Marine aboard so that Kiki didn’t have to take on that role by herself.

    That had made for a crowded journey on a boat the size of the Meta and had severely taxed the systems that Kiki was having upgraded, it had only worked because the bunk bed arrangement in the forward cabin. Twenty meters in length and four and a quarter in width seemed like a lot until there were eight people, a baby, and a dog aboard. As much as Kiki hated to admit it, she was probably going to have to get a bigger boat in the near future.

    The difficulty with that was that Kiki had explored the history of Meta and as Ben discovered, it went back further and was far more interesting than he had realized. Originally constructed in Hamburg 1910, the Meta had been built to haul cargo. Where the galley, saloon, bathroom, and forward cabin now were, had been an open topped hold. The aft cabin and the wheelhouse were part of the original design, which was a surprising detail. Kiki had documents detailing that and photographs of the Meta as she had originally appeared. Including one which showed the forward area loaded down with bags of what were probably grain as the barge was entering one of the locks of the old Ludwig Canal, near the area where Kiki was talking about going this summer on the recently completed Albrecht Canal that had replaced it.

    According to Kiki, the Meta had been sold off after she was no longer competitive as a cargo barge in 1947 and rebuilt to convert her to her present use. It occurred to Ben that would be the issue with any new boat, the lack of history. It needed to be like the house he was presently sitting in, built exactly how Kiki wanted it so that she could create some history of her own.
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    Part 123, Chapter 2062
  • Chapter Two Thousand Sixty-Two

    25th May 1971

    Spandau, Berlin

    There were times when Kiki really wished that Ben had a bit more discretion, or at least understood the extent that his mother was a gossip. The latest about whatever Kiki was doing was especially juicy among Nadine’s circle of friends. They were mostly the wives of University Professors and Kiki suspected that one would have to go to the Reichstag or the Order of Louise to find a more connected crowd. Even as she had that thought, she realized that there was probably considerable overlap among those three groups. Well, Ben had told Nadine that she was in the market for a new, larger boat that would better suit her needs and word had traveled fast.

    Suddenly, she was receiving bids from shipyards all over Germany who were willing to build to suit Kiki’s exact needs. Looking at the brochures they were sending her, she had the dimensions and faculties of the new Barge taking shape in her mind. She even had ideas for the perfect name, Ben had suggested Asclepius, but in her thinking Epione or Aglaia would be better. Then Kiki had realized that even thinking about it felt like if she were betraying the Meta somehow. It was strange how the Kiki had learned that the old Barge had its own personality and character over the decade she had owned it.

    Kiki had come to Spandau to see how the work on the Meta was progressing. She was having many of her systems upgraded, something that have proven sorely needed after the last trip they had been on. The various storage tanks and fuel bunker may have even been part of the original construction of the Meta sixty years earlier and the boiler that provided hot water and was a part of the heating system had been dying a slow death for the last few years. Those were finally being replaced as well as the refrigerator and freezer, neither of which had ever really worked. There were also a host of other things needing to be done. The Meta was sitting on supports in the drydock, her hull was being sand blasted so that it could be repainted with a coat of special paint that would prevent rusting and fouling. She could see that the upper parts of the boat were a hive of activity as well.

    All the hatches were open, and Kiki was glad that she had made a point of going through every storage space to be certain that anything of hers had been removed. There was work going on in the wheelhouse where marine radar was being installed, it was a small set geared mostly for avoiding collisions. She remembered the first trip on the Meta to Prague and back just after she had returned from Korea. There had been times of low visibility and dark nights where she had pressed on, not really caring about the risks involved. Now that Nina was going to be aboard that was out of the question. If it was necessary for the Meta to be traveling in adverse conditions, Kiki wanted to be able to see them in advance as opposed to reacting when she came upon them.

    The solar panels were a new thing. Kiki had read about how they would help recharge the batteries and Ben had told her about how he was familiar with them because this version had been developed by the Space Program. While she liked the idea that the technology had helped Ben get to the moon and back. The practical reality was that here on Earth it would mean that the marine diesel aboard the Meta would not need to be run as much in neutral to recharge the batteries if there was no power available while the Meta was moored.

    “Here to check on your boat Ma’am?” The Owner of the Boatyard, Kiki couldn’t remember his name, asked as he handed Kiki a paper cup. “I can assure you that she is in good hands.”

    Taking a sip from the cup, Kiki could taste the acidic flavor of military grade sludge coffee. Generous amounts of whitener and sugar did little to hide its nature. The Yard Owner had given it to her as a courtesy, it was obvious to her that he was hoping that she would be a repeat customer and would direct business from the rest of her family to him in the future. Still, the coffee was welcome on in an afternoon that was on the cool, wet side of things.

    “Thank you” Kiki replied, “For the coffee. As for the rest. I just wanted to check on the Meta, see what was being done.”

    “I understand” The Yard Owner said, “I’ve spent a lot of years on the water, so I’ve a good idea how people get attached.”

    Of course, Kiki had had the Yard Owner and the men who worked for him vetted before she had agreed to let them work on the Meta. Supposedly, he had been in the Pacific with Admiral von Schmidt aboard one of the Destroyers and had taken part in many of the key battles. The Boatyard had been an investment that had paid off handsomely as the traffic on the rivers, lakes, and canals that surrounded Berlin had increased, both recreational and commercial.

    “One thing I am curious about though” The Yard Owner said, “Me along with most of the guys who work for me are former Navy. We noticed something particular about the galley.”

    “And that would be?” Kiki asked.

    “The tile floor, the light fixtures, and the surface of the table, it is not just for meals, is it?”

    “You know that I am a Surgeon with a specialty in Emergency Medicine?” Kiki asked in reply, “I’m sure you know what the Officer’s Wardroom is used for on Naval vessels while in General Quarters.”

    “You would have something like that aboard your own boat?” The Yard Owner asked in disbelief.

    “Of course, I would” Kiki replied.
    Part 123, Chapter 2063
  • Chapter Two Thousand Sixty-Three

    1st June 1971

    Los Angeles, California

    Crossing over the Los Angeles River on the famous 6th Street Viaduct before it ran into Whittier. Ritchie looked out the window at the river which trickled through the concrete lined trench. They were stuck in traffic due to construction somewhere up ahead.

    A couple weeks earlier, Ritchie had noticed that the afternoons had started to feel hot. Just a small taste of what was ahead over the long dry summer season in Los Angeles. Today was no exception as Ritchie felt sweat running down his sides and soaking into his shirt under his vest. Big Mike had mentioned something about how the heat made folks crazy, it was one the things that defined Los Angeles. That and the smog that hung over the Basin if Ritchie had ever offered his perspective.

    It was days like today that made Ritchie wish that the squad cars had regular radios so that he could listen to the Dodgers game that was happening just a few miles away as opposed to hearing all about Mike’s difficulty in arranging a family vacation this summer. He didn’t care that they were playing the Expos. Huck Spooner would have thrown a fit over the matter. “What did the Canadians from the land of Ice Hockey and maple sirup know about Baseball?” Ritchie imagined Huck saying, “Jack and shit, that’s what” Huck would have concluded. For all Ritchie knew, Huck was saying exactly that, but far out of Ritchie’s hearing in Upstate New York where he was with the 82nd Airborne in a cushy billet as a Senior Noncom. Regardless, Los Angeles was playing Montreal at Dodgers Stadium today.

    “Clair then says that come Hell or high water, she’s getting out of this city in August” Mike said, “With or without me. So, I asked her just where she intends to go, and she says that she wants to visit her sister in Oakland. You believe that shit? Oakland.”

    “What’s the big deal about Oakland?” Ritchie asked as the car inched ahead.

    “You ever been there?” Mike asked in reply, “It’s basically South-Central with fog, and my sister-in-law can’t go outside because a house might fall on her.”

    “A Wizard of Oz reference to describe your wife’s sister” Ritchie said, “That’s laying it on a bit thick, you think.”

    “You don’t know the half of it” Mike replied, “When me and Clair got hitched, she said that Clair would divorce my sorry ass within a year. Do I need to point out that was twelve years ago?”

    “Playing the Devil’s Advocate here, what if you stay in Los Angeles? No wife or kids for a couple weeks?” Ritchie asked, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

    “What would I eat?” Mike asked in reply, “And who would clean up house?”

    Ritchie was starting to understand Clair’s often harsh dealings with her husband. It took a great deal of effort to get Mike moving in the right direction and he apparently preferred to loaf around the house when he wasn’t at work, much to his wife’s apparent aggravation.

    It was at that moment that the radio crackled to life. “All units, reports of a disturbance at Theodor Roosevelt High School, please respond” Dispatch said with a noticeable lack of urgency. Mike told dispatch that they were close, just passing over the 101, and could be on the scene in minutes.

    “Trouble in a high school” Mike said, “Probably the boys stealing the girl’s clothes while they were in the showers after gym class or something equally stupid.”

    “You did that when you were in High School?” Ritchie asked.

    Mike just gave Ritchie a sly grin. The Football Players got away with bloody murder, especially if they were a winning team like Mike said his had been. “And you didn’t?” He asked.

    “I wasn’t into sports” Ritchie replied as he turned on the siren to try to get some of the traffic to move out of the way. “And I dropped out of school in the Tenth Grade because some of the Hats from Robbery-Homicide Division were looking to hurt me bad, ended up getting a Good Enough Diploma when I was working for Uncle Sam.”

    There were a lot of stories around the Division about how Ritchie had gone from being a Barrio Rat who members of the Hat Squad had been looking to stomp to death to his present position. Everyone seemed to know about how he had been in the US Special Forces and the Airborne. He had just not gone out of his way to confirm or deny any of those stories until what he had just said to Mike. As the cars moved out of the way, Ritchie gunned the engine making it across the series of overpasses until they came to a Flagger who jumped out of the way as the squad car rushed past.

    Turning into the side streets, Ritchie saw the masonry facade of the vast building that was the main building of the High School as he pulled into the parking lot. Looking for an open parking spot, Ritchie saw that this High School was different from the one he had attended out in the San Fernando Valley.

    “There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot going on” Mike said looking at the front doors of the High School, “We’ll need to go in there and find the Principle, the Dean of Students, anyone who might know what’s going on, or if this is real.”

    “You mean it might be a hoax?” Ritchie asked.

    “These are teenagers, so yes it might be a hoax” Mike said, “That said though, if I find out that this was a crank call, I’m shoving my foot up someone’s…”

    Before Mike could complete the sentence, Ritchie heard a pair of loud clanks on the driver’s side fender and the windshield exploded into a thousand tiny fragments.
    Part 123, Chapter 2064
  • Chapter Two Thousand Sixty-Four

    1st June 1971

    Los Angeles, California

    They had unexpectedly come under fire in the parking lot.

    Crawling out of the car on the passenger side, Ritchie and Mike had found themselves sheltering behind the car as number of bullets had struck the driver’s side and the rest of the windows shattered. It had stopped after a minute, something that had not been a great development because whoever had done the shooting had gone back into the building. Even as Ritchie could hear the sirens of additional police cars approaching and Mike radioing in their situation, he could hear gun fire from inside the building. A detached part of his mind noted that it sounded like a one of the carbines that the U.S. Army had used until a decade ago when they had been replaced. With that he had wrenched open the trunk of the squad car and pulled his Stoner rifle out of its case and started shoving the magazines into the front and side pockets of his vest. Like it or not, they had a job to do.

    “So that is why you wear that?” Mike asked.

    “Just one reason” Ritchie replied as he started walking towards the front doors of the School. As big as he was, this was a situation where Mike was incredibly vulnerable. The vest that Ritchie was wearing could easily stop a bullet from a carbine. Mike had no such protection. “I need you to hang back, try to keep under cover as much as possible.”

    Mike just gave Ritchie a narrow-eyed glare, he wasn’t wired to do that sort of thing but would because that was what he had been trained to do.

    Later, when the investigation pieced together the timeline, they made the events in Roosevelt High School seem almost sanitized. All neat and tidy, the scene that greeted Ritchie and Mike was anything but that. It was pure chaos as they had to force their way through a vast crowd of students who were fleeing whatever it was that was going on.

    Like every High School that Ritchie had ever been in, the School Administration was the first thing that greeted any visitor when they entered. They found that it had been reduced to charnel pit. The items that one expected to find in any office, strewn about the floor. Papers, pencils, the shards from a coffee mug that had fallen. Ritchie noticed those details first, the things that were supposed to be there. Then there were the people, splattered blood, the brass cartridges thrown about. All mixed together. It was shortly after that, that they had found themselves rushed by students in the hallway. To Ritchie’s astonishment many of them were trying to tell him what was going on and who it was who was doing the shooting. This was even as he could hear shots being fired somewhere ahead and the screams that followed.

    “THE DOORS ARE THAT WAY!” Mike bellowed, pointing in the direction of the school entrance. Ritchie knew that most of these students were the sort who might have individually been a pain in the ass to them on any given day as they cut class and got themselves into trouble out in the neighborhood. At the moment though, Mike and Ritchie were adults in positions of authority. They didn’t argue for once, they just headed for the entrance en masse, dragging Ritchie and Mike with them in the wrong direction.

    Ritchie was sorely tempted to use the butt of his rifle as he pushed against the crowd. By the wall of lockers, he ran across a girl who had gotten knocked down and was in danger of getting trampled. After helping her to her feet he pushed on, following the sound of gunfire. After a time, the crowds of students thinned out, they saw those who were hiding and a number of bodies of those who were unlucky enough to be caught in the open or hadn’t found a good enough hiding place. They pointed the students they found to the nearest emergency exit. Ritchie figured that anyone setting off the fire alarm was the least of their worries at the moment.

    As the minutes dragged on, the initial rush adrenaline wore off and he became aware that someone was calling for him on his radio. It wasn’t dispatch, but the Watch Commander demanding a status update. It wasn’t an easy conversation. He’d followed the sound of shooting down hallways, through classrooms, up and flights of stairs, and even into a few open areas. All he could tell was that this place was huge, and he didn’t have the first clue as to where he was. He wasn’t in the mood for bullshit. He had told the Watch Commander that he didn’t have the first clue as to where he was, but he was close to the shooter and would end it if he got the chance. Mike heard this and smiled.

    “Still a Green Beret Valenzuela” Mike said.

    “Always” Ritchie replied as they advanced down another hallway.

    It was silent here, and Ritchie could hear the sound of footsteps ahead. A middle-aged man wearing a suit and tie stepped out from around a corner and nearly got himself shot by Mike and Ritchie. Ritchie could see that he was carrying a handful of examination papers, a teacher who had been caught up in this mess.

    “The building is being evacuated Sir” Ritchie said, “Head for the nearest exit.”

    The teacher looked like he was about to say something, but he was hit by three bullets. Mike was cursing as Ritchie stepped ahead. He took quick aim and fired a quick burst in the direction that the fire had come from. A moment later, they found a fresh blood leading trail away from where the shooter had been that led to a stairwell where he had collapsed.

    “You got him” Mike said as he kicked the carbine out of the shooter’s hands before flipping him over and handcuffing him. It was at that moment that the shooter started moaning about how he was dying.

    “No, you aren’t dying” Ritchie said to him, Ritchie knew full well that he had only clipped him. “You are getting the best of care and after what we’ve seen this afternoon, that will be right up until they strap you into San Quentin’s gas chamber.”

    Mike gave Ritchie a look that suggested he might have taken it a little too far. He didn’t care.
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    Part 123, Chapter 2066
  • Chapter Two Thousand Sixty-Six

    7th June 1971

    Plänterwald, Berlin

    The signs on the quay either said Mooring by Permit Only and, Warning, High Security Zone, No Trespassing which meant that the ML Meta was one of the few craft that moored here when she wasn’t across the river, stored in a marina as she had often been over the years. Kiki was thinking about this as she helped Gregor Kirchhoff tie the Meta up to the quay just a stone’s throw from her front door. They had gone to Spandau to retrieve her that morning and Kiki had enjoyed the trip back. She had always found the task of piloting the Meta cathartic, even when she needed to bring her security and Gregor along.

    While the rest of the world was looking at recent events in Los Angeles in voyeuristic horror, Kiki only cared about how she was getting her boat back today. Charlotte had asked her about what had happened, mostly because Kiki had visited Los Angeles last year when she had toured America with Benjamin. Of course, she had no insights about what had happened beyond what she had heard on the news. A student who had been expelled from the school a few days earlier had returned and shot up the place in a fit of mindless, incoherent rage that had left ten dead and dozens more injured.

    Charlotte, being a Social Worker, had pointed out that there was no way that it was as simple as the American Press was making it sound. Kiki wasn’t so sure. She had seen that form of homicidal rage before in the form of Mithras and his Jacobin followers. The chilling part was that the police had never caught whoever had perpetrated a massacre in Mitte similar to the one that had just happened Los Angeles four years ago. All evidence pointed to it having been one of the Jacobins who had done it, but the trail had gone cold due to the well-executed plan of the perpetrator.

    The only conclusion was that for the good of society, some people needed to be locked away from it. The Americans being Americans, they were not satisfied with merely locking someone up. Governor Nixon of California had already announced that he and Attorney General of the State of California were pushing for the maximum penalty under the Law. In this case that would be Death, a practice that Kiki considered completely barbaric. The only aspect of the case that Kiki found remotely interesting was that she recognized that Richard Valenzuela, someone she considered a friend, had been involved somehow.

    Retrieving the Meta was something that had proven to be a bit thornier than she had realized because she had inadvertently stepped into the middle of a fairly major political issue. Recently, an article about the Meta had run in a boating magazine, afterwards Kiki had been contacted by two groups with competing philosophies. One was a group of boating enthusiasts who felt that the inland waterways should be opened to more than just commerce. The current regulatory regime was too onerous and created too high a bar for entry. They had been trying to get the Government to create a system in Germany along the lines of what already existed, and worked, in France and the Low Countries. The other was composed of Government Officials from a host of Ministries. Finance, Interior, Economics and Energy, Labor, Environment, just to name the major ones. It was the Government’s position that if it floated and had an engine, it needed to be duly registered, the owner/operator should be licensed and be able to produce the necessary paperwork when asked.

    Kiki felt that both sides were correct in turns. She also understood that were far larger questions tied up in the debate. The waterways were a part of the commons. The canals with the locks, dams, and aqueducts that linked together the naturally formed were all maintained at taxpayer expense. So, who had the right to use them? Looking out across the waters of the Spree, Kiki could see a pair of tugboats pushing and towing a number of unpowered barges hauling mounds of something covered in tarps up the river. A Péniche that looked like it was running entirely on ballast was going in the opposite direction. Both were examples of commercial use of the river. There were also a handful of Speedboats or Motor Barges plying the water at any given time. How many of them were being operated by someone breaking the rules for a bit of fun or an escape from everyday life? Kiki remembered that that had been her mindset when she had bought the Meta, the rules had not even been a consideration for her. Fortunately, she hadn’t got caught on that odd trip up the Rhine to the Danube and Prague. Only later had she gotten things straightened out, but she had resources that ordinary people did not have. That was why she had been able to gain certification very swiftly, something that would have taken years for most, if they could have managed it at all.

    At that moment, a motorboat came around the bend and Kiki saw that there were men aboard pointing telephoto camera lenses at her. Since the Government was so keen on regulating just who was on the waterways, they could start with them, Kiki thought to herself as she made sure to keep the bulk of the Meta between herself and them.

    “Friends of yours Ma’am?” Gregor asked when he saw what Kiki was doing and getting a withering look in return. He had been a pilot driving one of the tugs that ran the barges up and down the rivers for years before he had been referred to Kiki a few months earlier to help her with the Meta and presumably the larger barge that would replace her in the near future. It was clear that he didn’t care who Kiki was, often finding the hoops she had to jump through as a Princess to be a form of dark comedy.

    It was one of the reasons she liked working with Gregor.
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    Part 123, Chapter 2067
  • Chapter Two Thousand Sixty-Seven

    20th June 1971


    Sitting in what had been his father’s office in the Summer Residence still felt uncomfortable for Freddy. It was like wearing someone else’s suit of well-worn clothes. They just didn’t fit right, and you were reminded of it constantly. He’d had the desk replaced and new artwork on the walls, but there were still aspects of the room that could not be changed that were constant reminders of the presence of Freddy’s father.

    Freddy’s father had warned him that while his sisters were mostly apolitical, it was a term that held a lot of different meanings. A hurricane could also be considered apolitical, which was cold comfort if your house happened to be in the path of the storm.

    These days, Ria was the Queen of Galicia-Ruthenia and most of the trouble she was caused was within the borders of that Kingdom. There was the widespread, and somewhat ironic, belief that Ria was a lesbian, Ria keeping her hair cut short and her preference for men’s suits tailored to fit her didn’t help matters. There was also Rea’s wholehearted embrace of the many ethnicities who lived within Galicia. For those reasons she had emerged as a controversial figure.

    Freddy remembered seeing the reaction by many of the more conservative elements of society to news reports of Ria’s efforts to reach out to groups who had been historically marginalized, Jews and Gypsies most notably. She had explained to Freddy how both those groups had been key in the fight to gain independence from Poland. Their appreciation for the freedoms granted to them by the State Constitution of Galicia-Ruthenia made them among her closest allies. There were also vast numbers of ethnic Germans, Poles, and Russians living there. Freddy had no idea how Ria was able to keep all of them pulling in the same direction. Freddy’s understanding was that Krakow was sort of an odd place to be these days.

    Victoria had taken to her role as the Consort of the Crown Prince of Bavaria like a duck to water. Frequently seen in public functions alongside her father-in-law. Recently, it was announced that she was expecting her second child with Prince Franz of Bavaria and the hidebound people of Bavaria were delighted. No one had caught on to the fact that her Courtly appointed friend and companion Anna Muller was Vicky’s real romantic partner this whole time. Freddy just hoped that Vicky, Anna, and Franz could keep that charade until historians pondered it a century or so from now.

    Antonia and Annett were probably going to cause some major headaches in the coming years. For the moment though, they were more interested in what they would be doing over the Summer Holiday than any other consideration.

    Finally, there was Freddy’s oldest sister Kristina, Princess Royal of Germany and currently on Maternity Leave from the Medical Service. Recently, Kiki had found another way to cause trouble that had amazed both Freddy and his father when they had last talked earlier that day. It seemed that Kiki’s interest in boating had led her to become involved with the movement to open up Germany’s rivers and canal system for more recreational use. And while no one was talking eliminating the licensing or skill requirements, Kiki had mentioned that there needed to be a better way to go about doing that. The movement was also pushing for the restoration of historical canal systems that had been abandoned or had fallen into disuse. There were communities along those parts of the system who saw expanded recreational use as economic salvation because they had been bypassed by commercial use, becoming victims of the economy of scale. The barges that were pushed or towed up the rivers only stopped in places where it made economic sense.

    The it was the same economics also drove the shipping companies’ interest in not having competing river traffic to contend with. They were concerned that congestion might cause expensive delays. Kiki had nodded in agreement, she understood that much. Then Freddy had mentioned some things that she had not considered. While the infrastructure of the canal system was owned by the State, the majority shareholders in most of the large shipping companies were names she might be familiar with such as Hohenzollern, Wittelsbach, Württemberg, Zähringen, among others.

    In shipping, the margins were often slight. At the same time, there existed the opportunity to have big payoffs for those able to play the long game. Many of the companies had existed in some form since the canals had been established far further back than most people realized. Few had been better positioned to be institutional investors than the various Royal Houses of the German States.

    Into this was the fragmented structure that was a relic of how what had become the German Empire had been a collection of dozens of independent nations just a century earlier. It was something that had bedeviled Lawmakers to no end, how everything from formal treaties to gentlemen’s agreements from centuries earlier often that had the backing of the Law, not to mention the absurdly detailed leasing agreements that were commonplace before the modern era. As a Lawyer, Freddy had specialized in Contract Law, it was an evergreen field if there ever was one. What Freddy had tried to explain to Kiki was that many of her ideas for reforming the system might even require a special act in the Reichstag and the resulting debate could open a can of worms that no one wanted to deal with.
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    Part 123, Chapter 2068
  • Chapter Two Thousand Sixty-Eight

    27th June 1971

    Los Angeles, California

    “You have a nicer grill than I do” Mike said as he had insisted this cookout occur at Ritchie’s house. “Besides that, you might get lost in the Baldwin hills again.”

    The incident that Mike was referring to had occurred when Mike’s wife Clair had invited Ritchie and Lucia to their place in Crenshaw for a dinner party. To get to know just who their respective husbands worked with every day. It had been far from the portions of the city that Ritchie was familiar with and first he had gotten lost. Then he had to walk in embarrassingly late seeing that the food was already on the table, and that everyone was waiting on them.

    Today was something of a celebration of life going back to some semblance of normality after weeks of Ritchie and Big Mike being in the spotlight. The Department had pulled them off the street and Ritchie had found himself working in the warehouse where seized firearms were stored until their value as evidence had passed. Then rifles and shotguns were cut in half through the receiver while handguns were placed in a hydraulic press and crushed flat. Then they were sent off to the foundry. Among them had been an M2 50 cal. Machinegun and the U.S. Army was particularly interested in learning just how it had ended up in the house of a drug dealer in West Hollywood. The thinking had been that because Ritchie was former Special Forces and was a Sergeant in the California Guard, he would know how to talk to the Army Investigators. Little did they know that Ritchie had spent his entire career in the Army trying to avoid the attention of the Criminal Investigation Division. The thinking was that if you were even talking to them, you were already sort of fucked. Finding himself walking two surly Warrant Officers through the investigation that RHD had conducted had not been a fun experience.

    In the background the events at Roosevelt Highschool continued to rumble on. Unknown to Ritchie, he had caught one of the bullets fired at his squad car as it had pulled into the parking lot. The Panzerweste had absorbed the hit, probably saving him from serious injury. Mike had seen it but had not said anything to Ritchie at the time, half amazed that he had walked away from that and was grabbing his rifle from the trunk of the car. The Department Brass had pointedly asked Ritchie a lot of questions about the matter.

    Just how had he come to be wearing a nonissue piece of kit, and while it was permissible for an Officer to wear a bulletproof vest, one that was normally issued to the Police in a foreign country wasn’t what they had had in mind. The German company that had made it was extremely interested in what had happened and had asked the Department for the after-action report, photographs, and had even sent Ritchie a new Flak vest. Jokes had flown around the Department about how if someone were crazy enough to shoot him, they would just make him mad. Bill Wilkinson had once told him how reputations tend to build up over time. There were worse things than being known for being tough as nails. There was also talk about how he had put three shots from a Stoner Rifle into the shooter and the perp had somehow lived. The Captain in his Precinct had told Ritchie that he was disappointed, and that he clearly needed more time on the range. Ritchie had just shrugged that off. It was clearly said in jest, and he was actually glad that he didn’t have a death on his conscience.

    Lucia had looked at the whole situation in wry amusement. She was a bit put out that he had been in a dangerous situation but accepted that it was a part of his job. Both of them had spent the summers of their childhood working on the farms of Central Valley where serious injuries were a part of life. Lucia knew that with the Police, injury was the exception, not the rule. She had also observed that if they ever had a girl, they would probably need to name her Cristina after this. This wasn’t the first time that she had dropped a hint like that. With things going so well, perhaps it was time to withdraw the Goalie. Watching Mike’s kids, the unholy terrors that they were run around the house made clear the implications of that. Just the thought made Ritchie want something stronger than the beer that he and Mike were drinking on the back porch as Mike worked the barbecue.

    “So, the kids are going to Oakland to stay with their aunt, while me and Clair go on our second honeymoon” Mike was saying, “Santa Catalina at a four-star resort.”

    “For real?” Ritchie asked.

    “I understand that it is romantic, and it being out on an island the kids won’t be calling every five minutes.”

    “Being a hero has worked out for you” Ritchie said.

    “I’d say that there is plenty of that going around” Mike said, “I understand that you had the Governor on the phone?”

    “Yeah” Ritchie replied, “He wanted to know if I needed anything.”

    Both Ritchie and Mike had been credited with saving possibly hundreds of lives and bringing the perp to Justice. Word was that they were up for the prestigious Medal of Valor at the next presentation ceremony in a few months. It was the sort of thing that caught people’s attention.

    “You know that Nixon is running for President next year?” Mike asked, “He may have been offering you a golden ticket, thought of that.”

    “I don’t know why he would” Ritchie replied.

    “Demographics” Mike said, “That’s why. The Republicans are making a big play for the Peckerwood vote and having a hero with your name and complexion at his side would go a long way towards helping him lock up the Latino vote in California and Texas to counter that.”

    “Suddenly you are an expert on politics?” Ritchie asked.

    “Comes with the territory” Mike replied, “And do you know what happens to those who a sitting President owes a favor to?”

    Ritchie had not thought of any of that.
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    Part 123, Chapter 2069
  • Chapter Two Thousand Sixty-Nine

    5th July 1971


    The city of Kiel just after the annual weeklong People’s festival felt like a balloon with a small puncture letting the air slowly escape. Kiki and Ben had arrived here with no fanfare after spending the prior weeks at Hohenzollern Castle. Because Ben was going to be teaching Air Combat Tactics that autumn, an Aide had been appointed to assist him and that was something that Ben was still trying to get used to. Bram meant well and earnestly tried to do his best, but at the age of sixteen he had almost never set foot outside of Ballenstedt where his grandfather had insisted upon him receiving a military education. So, everything was a new experience for the boy. Music, literature, food, you name it, Bram had never experienced it outside of the narrow confines of his education. Suddenly finding himself in the center of Berlin was an entirely new education and Ben had a few doubts as to if he would survive the experience, especially when he learned the hard way about Kiki’s preferences regarding Mexican Cuisine.

    There was also the aspect of Ben now being a Markgraf as well as the Consort of the Princess of Hohenzollern that Ben had not considered, and the selection had been of someone who was felt to be a good match for a man of his station. Bram was the grandson of the Duke of Anhalt. It seemed that Duke Joachim had not been pleased with Bram’s mother, who had divorced years earlier and causing something of a scandal. That had been when Bram’s grandfather had taken firm control over his life.

    Still, Bram was good at keeping Ben’s schedule straight and probably for the first time ever, Ben’s dress uniform didn’t look like it had been ironed by a gorilla. All the little bits of military etiquette that Ben had never needed to worry too much about as a Reserve Officer had suddenly become a huge deal in his new role, Bram had lived and breathed that stuff since about the time he could walk. That had been useful. He also wasn’t overawed by the presence of Kiki as some people were.

    The trouble was that the presence of Bram was one more person in the ever-growing Staff that surrounded Ben and Kiki. While that presented no problems on land, the Meta was too small to accommodate so many people. Ben remembered how the Meta had seemed huge when it had just been Kiki living on the barge when it was moored behind the Imperial War Museum. He had learned how small it truly was when it had been packed full of people and every berth had someone sleeping in it. Kiki said that the bench seat in the wheelhouse could be slept on, but whoever was up there had better get used to the idea of not having any privacy.

    Ben had come to understand Kiki’s love for boating. On the canals and rivers, one was forced to slow down. Everything moved at its own rhythm from the seasons to the waterways themselves and it wasn’t the frenetic pace that defined modern life. Kiki had hoped that she would achieve the same sort of thing in her cottage in Plänterwald, but the world had not allowed her to do that yet, it seemed. The alternative that Kiki mentioned involved pulling up the drawbridge at Hohenzollern Castle and only lowering it for those she knew wouldn’t have expectations of her.

    That was why they were in Kiel at the HDW Shipyards. To look at a hull of a barge similar to the one that would become the ML Epione when it was completed next year. Or would it be the SMS Epione? The Medical Service was talking about having it be considered an Auxiliary Hospital Ship, a use that similar barges were put to historically. Kiki was less than thrilled with the Medical Service elbowing its way into what she considered her personal affairs. However, her brother had pointed out that it was a purely symbolic action and when, not if, she got involved in a disaster of some sort, it would cut through a lot of the red tape she might otherwise encounter.

    Looking at the cavernous hull, Ben was sure that this represented a huge change. At thirty-eight and a half meters in length and a touch over five meters in width, the Epione would easily be twice the size of the Meta. Where this hull would be left open to haul moderately sized cargo, the Epione would be subdivided into cabins, have a full galley, and living spaces.

    “We can change the plans and build to suit your needs, if you have any changes that you want made” The Representative from HDW said, as they looked down from the gantry at the small army of workers completing the superstructure, the wheelhouse and crew accommodation, on the far aft end of the hull. After a decade with the Meta, Kiki had a lot of ideas about things that could be improved upon and had discussed them at length with the Architects when she had been taking bids from the various builders. Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft had been the ones who had been most receptive to Kiki’s suggestions and that had won them the job. Ben doubted that Kiki would request any further changes now that she had settled on that. Still, it was good that they were asking.
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    Part 123, Chapter 2070
  • Chapter Two Thousand Seventy

    10th July 1971

    Montreux, Switzerland

    This wasn’t her idea, and Marie Alexandra would prefer spending her time elsewhere. Anywhere not so far from home in the early morning hours for starters. Her mother said that it was a good idea considering the sort of role she was thinking of taking on, just it would involve spending a year away from home. In that time, Sophie would probably get into everything and leave her room in a shambles.

    “You love acting Marie” Kat told her as the train pulled into Montreux. “Consider this your new role, that of a fifteen-year-old girl who has a lot to learn about the world and her elders are trying to give her a grounding in some areas where she clearly comes up lacking.”

    Marie gave her mother a sour look in reply.

    “At least you could try not to be a little shrew for a couple hours this afternoon and listen to what the Head Mistress has to say” Kat said, “You might find some of the things they teach interesting, and it is not like this will be in exclusion to your regular studies.”

    “Skills needed to maintain upstanding home lives and social graces, to attract a proper husband?” Marie asked, “That’s right there in the literature. What year is this again?”

    “Some of their practices are admittedly dated” Kat replied, “But do I need to remind you that the Imperial Court once served a similar function, to the point where your Aunt Helene compared it to a cattle market. You are the one so keen on taking a key role in the Court of the Empress, which is why we are here.”

    The last thing that Marie wanted was a reminder that her choices were the entire reason she was here. Her parents had made it clear that if she accepted Princess Suga’s offer to be the new Kammerfräulein then there were certain things that should be expected, this weekend’s trip to Switzerland for example. It had involved the overnight ride on the train over the Alps, so there had not been a whole to see. In a few hours, they would board the train going back the other way, so the whole weekend would be shot. That would in turn ruin the whole week. Marie wondered if it was too late to tell Suga that she was no longer interested, especially if her offer involved spoiling her weekends and holidays.

    “You didn’t do anything like this” Marie said.

    Her mother gave Marie the smile she always gave her when she said something that she didn’t understand the full implications of.

    “I was someone who no one dared to disobey” Kat said, “That is something that you cannot do, and I wouldn’t want for you even if you could. I am afraid that you are going to have to learn to lead by example.”

    “I don’t recall the others having to do something like this” Marie said.

    “The expectations for Tat and Jo are far lower than you, I did the best I could with them, but they made different choices so it was never really an issue” Kat said, “You might recall that Kiki spent a year in Japan under the tutelage of Maeda Natsumi.”

    The expression on her face when she heard about that must have given her away because of what her mother said next.

    “Finding yourself under Mistress Natsumi would not be the same as when she visits” Kat said, “She is a harsh taskmaster with little tolerance to human frailty. It would make a Swiss finishing school seem like a Summer Holiday by comparison.”

    “Oh” Marie said with a pout as the brakes brought the train to a stop and they began the process of finding their way out to the platform. Marie knew that the next few hours were going to be terrible, but the look on her mother’s face suggested that complaining would be dealt with harshly.

    Plänterwald, Berlin

    As extraordinary as it seemed, once everything had been loaded onto the Meta, it looked as if she were sitting lower in the water. At least that was what it looked like as the sun rose over the eastern horizon. They had not even left the mooring yet before Rauchbier jumped into the river and needed to be fished out. In every trip that he had ever been on Rauchbier did that at least once, so it was a good thing that he had gotten it out of his system early. Gram von Guericke had been the one who had grabbed Rauchbier out of the water and had acted as if he had been the one who had done something wrong.

    Kiki took a bit of pity on the boy because everything was so new for him. Gram had never heard rock music before he had walked in on Kiki listening to the Moondogs on the radio while she was working on preparations for the Meta to leave Berlin bound first for Prague up the Elbe where she was planning on visiting her brother Michael. Then they were planning on turning around and going back down to Magdeburg to the famous water bridge that led into the Midland Canal. Then there had been his reaction to spicy food, something that he had seldom encountered while attending one of the Prussian academies.

    Before that though, they were traversing the Elbe-Havel Canal then the locks would drop them down to the level of the Elbe River. As the Meta pulled away from the mooring, Kiki saw that her father, along with Charlotte, Nella and Nan were there to see them off. Freddy and his family were living in Potsdam for the summer, and they had said they were going have them as guests for lunch when they reached the other side of Berlin in a few hours. As Kiki had forgotten how much she enjoyed this as she opened the throttle and the Meta surged forward. She glanced out out the windows and saw as Ben and Fianna were watching the urban landscape. Kiki turned on a course up the river for the moth of the Britz Canal, which led directly to the Teltow Canal and eventually to the River Havel. Gregor was watching from the bench seat, ready to step in if he felt that Kiki was in over her head. That had not proven necessary though. In a bit he would spell her out and she would join the others on the aft deck. It was nice to finally be leaving.
    Part 123, Chapter 2071
  • Chapter Two Thousand Seventy-One

    12th July 1971

    Elbe River, Near Aken

    It was late at night and Kiki had just put Nina back into her crib. She was getting noticeably heavier, and Fianna had told Kiki that she would start getting her teeth in soon, then they would all be in for a rough time. Presently, Nina was starting to sleep for more than a few hours at a time. Waking up to take care of Nina’s needs wasn’t something that Kiki was having to do as much. Ben had fallen back asleep while Kiki had been caring for Nina, it would his turn next time. Rauchbier had taken to sleeping under Nina’s crib, not that there was much room on the floor of the tiny cabin aft of the wheelhouse. As far as Kiki was concerned, Rauchbier was exactly where he needed to be. His whiplike tail beat the floor a few times as Kiki patted his head, but he swiftly fell back asleep.

    The cabin was dominated by the bed that Ben and Kiki shared and unlike the rest of the barge, there was a head and standup shower that they didn’t have to share. There were advantages to being the “Master and Commander” of the ship as it were. Stepping up the ladder, really a short flight of stairs to the Wheelhouse, Kiki saw that Aaron, one of the members of her security detail was sleeping on the bench seat. It wasn’t the most comfortable bed, but the thinking was that any intruder would need to get through whichever of her security detail were there that night and good luck with that.

    Stepping down into galley, Kiki saw that curtain that she had installed that separated the galley from the saloon had been closed. Fianna and Steffi, Kiki’s long suffering Personal Secretary, were sleeping in the saloon. Gregor, Bram, as well as Ulf and Wendel, the other two members of her security detail were sharing the forward cabin which had four bunks that were set at an odd angle as they were in the bow section. As Kiki put water on to boil as quietly as she could, she thought about how the next time she took a trip like this it would be on a much larger boat and conditions would be far less crowded.

    The Meta was presently moored on the bank of the Elbe and in the dim light of the galley, Kiki could the running lights on a passing barge going down the river through one of the bay windows. While it was recommended for boats to tie up for the night, time was lost profits and many mariners on the river would press on through the night unless truly poor visibility or bad weather caused them to stop. It was a reminder of what her brother had explained to her in Potsdam a couple days earlier about how shipping on the waterways existed in a legally grey area that had been carved out over the centuries by the ruling houses of Germany. It was to their advantage to leave things as they were, and she was threatening to upset the applecart.

    That wasn’t the only thing on Kiki’s mind though.

    This stretch of the Elbe, between Magdeburg and Wittenberg, did not bring back fond memories for Kiki. It had been here that she had finally snapped after being overcome by the trauma she had endured in Korea. It had been somewhere along here that in a fit of panic, she had thought she had seen something move on the bank and had started shooting at it. It had been that incident that had prompted her to seek help.

    There had been some questions raised by that incident when she had explained it to General von Lettow-Vorbeck. Like where her security detail had been? Kiki had guiltily admitted to having dismissed them. At that time, and many times since, Kiki had just wanted to be alone, and the presence of her security quickly became an aggravation when she was in that sort of mood. So, it had just been Kiki and her cat Hera on that trip up the Elbe. The elderly General had listened to her at a time when she had needed it the most. When she had served as his Aide, before the FSR and Korea, they had talked about things like what she had been up to during the day. Mostly it had been about her tribulations as a glorified tour guide in the War Museum and he had seldom asked much more of her. She occasionally missed having Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck to talk to. He had never judged her and had been nearly impossible to surprise, seemingly having seen or heard everything over his nearly century long life. He had been one of the few who had told her that it had been a good thing that she had gotten back together with Ben. Everyone else was worried that they had too much history, both good and bad, by that point.

    Unknown to both of them at the time, it hadn’t just been shadows that Kiki had been shooting at. Years later, in police interrogations it had been learned that there had been three members of the Jacobin Club out there on the bank and Kiki had probably foiled whatever they’d had planned for her that night. While that didn’t exactly justify her actions, she no longer felt as if that were the most foolish thing that she had ever done. It had been nice to scratch one of her regrets off the list.

    Pulling the canister of herbal tea from the cupboard, Kiki knew it would help her sleep.
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    Part 123, Chapter 2072
  • Chapter Two Thousand Seventy-Two

    14th July 1971


    After spending most of the previous day in Dresden, the ML Meta was moored on a pontoon pier in the river as the Princess made a point of stopping in this tiny village on the frontier between Saxony and Bohemia and being seen doing so. This wasn’t the first time she had made a stop like this either. There were members of the Press who were following her progress and everywhere she stopped they would shadow her on the streets. Taking note of what she was doing and who she talked to. Yet Bram had seen how she had become withdrawn as soon as she stepped back aboard the Meta, and no one was looking. She clearly hated what she was doing, and it was ruining her holiday.

    So why was she doing it?

    It was something Bram simply didn’t understand, and it was just one more thing that he added to the list of things about the people he had found himself among. There were the three men from the Foot Guard who barely hid the disdain that they had for the Princess. It seemed that the year before, four of their own had died in unfortunate circumstances and they blamed for what had happened. Gregor, the Meta’s Helmsman had told Bram that it had actually been the Chilian Airforce to blame. Then there was Steffi, she was a decade older than Bram and like all Berliners he had met, she was fast talking and somewhat manic. He typically avoided Steffi, but that was difficult to do on a boat. Fianna, the Irish woman was nice mentioning that one of her sons was Bram’s age. When Bram had asked where he was, she had said with his father back in Ireland. That had been when he had first learned of the notion of what was dubbed “Irish divorce” where two people who remain legally married lead separate lives and never see each other.

    For lack of anything better to do while the Princess and the Markgraf were touring the village, Bram was walking down the bank watching the dog as it ran ahead of him. This was what he had been tasked to do by Markgraf von Hirsch, taking Rauchbier out for a run so that the whippet wouldn’t get stir crazy later that afternoon when they resumed their journey up the river.

    It had rained the night before, Bram remembered he had woken to the sound of it drumming on the roof of the barge a few times. So, the river was running high and was full of silt. The Meta’s slow journey had been even slower that morning as the boat had fought against the current. That had probably been what had prompted stopping for a couple hours.

    Bram could see the white tip of Rauchbier’s tail as he found something interesting in the brush to explore. He was typical of the dogs Bram had grown up with, always following his nose wherever it took him. Then Rauchbier went totally still, before darting forward in a blur of motion. Bram saw him intersect with something grey that was moving just as fast. An instant later, Rauchbier padded back to Bram carrying a still twitching rabbit. This wasn’t the first time that he had seen something like that. Bram had gone hunting many times on his grandfather’s land, so he made a point of praising Rauchbier for a job well done even as he wondered what to do with the rabbit.

    A few minutes later, Rauchbier got a second rabbit and Bram realized that the first had not been a fluke and he had gotten this one the instant it had come out of its barrow. Bram recognized that Princess Kristina’s dog was a trained hunter in addition to the tags on his collar that identified him as an FSR Service Animal. Not that it was surprising. Despite her tendency to be dramatic, Bram understood that many of the choices that the Princess made had practicality as their as their primary motivation. Oddly, that made her current course of actions make even less sense.

    When Rauchbier ran down a fourth rabbit, Bram called it a day. While he doubted the people around here would shed too many tears over the demise of rabbits whose borrows could damage the riverbank, they wouldn’t take kindly to an outsider like him just taking them. “I was wondering what we were having for supper” Fianna said as soon as she saw the rabbits and heard Bram’s explanation about where they had come from. “Stew it is.” That wasn’t what Bram had in mind and minutes later he found himself cleaning them on the back deck with Gregor. The Helmsman seemed to find it amusing that Bram had inadvertently did something he thought was right. Gregor had apparently piloted landing craft with Kiki’s brother Louis in Korea. Over there you didn’t pass up the opportunity for a freshly cooked meal, so this was a good lesson for Bram to learn.

    Bram had a question or two about that; Like just who was Kiki? Gregor had looked amused when Bram had asked that, as if it were something so obvious that he should know it already.

    A short time later, the Princess and the Markgraf came back with their security detail. Kristina disappeared into the aft cabin with her baby and Rauchbier as Fianna continued to work on supper and talking to the Markgraf about what he had seen in the village.
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    Part 123, Chapter 2073
  • Chapter Two Thousand Seventy-Three

    16th July 1971

    Prague, Bohemia

    Ben had told Kiki that she needed to maintain her composure, that it had been a mistake made out of nativity rather than any malice. Ripping Bram apart would not change anything, he hadn’t gotten caught and they had eaten the evidence. Still, he had inadvertently risked Rauchbier. Kiki would have found anything happening to her dog to be completely unforgivable. Fianna had told Kiki that the last thing they wanted to do was discourage a boy showing a bit of initiative and snaring a rabbit or two on the Landlord’s land was time honored tradition where she came from. Especially the part about not getting caught.

    Bram had not helped his case any by producing a card that said that he was a Chevalier at Jagdschloss Glienicke, permitting him to hunt on all Crown Lands providing he was doing it in season and observing local custom. Technically, it had not been poaching, but that would have been a bit late for Rauchbier if a local Game Warden had shown up. Kiki had been rather put out when she saw that the card had been signed by her father. Kiki’s rather strong position towards using the position of her birth to get out of sticky situations had come across as she had made it clear to Bram that he had not gotten permission so that made his card a worthless piece of laminated paper. Perhaps she had been a bit too forceful, but experience had taught Kiki letting a subordinate off easy when they messed up didn’t help matters in the long run and Ben had been forced to agree. Fortunately, being on a boat meant that there was no shortage of tasks needing to be done, many of them unpleasant.

    That was all well and good, except they ran right into the ultimate example of everything that neither Kiki nor Ben felt might not be the greatest example for anyone who should happen to fall into his orbit. This was in the form of clouds of powder smoke from cannons and flintlock muskets. In the fields north of Prague on the bank of the Vltava River were thousands of men in period dress reenacting a battle. Kiki just wasn’t sure as to which one, judging by the costumes and weapons it looked to have something to do with the Napoleonic Wars. The Meta was signaled to moor at a spot on the bank with other barges, Kiki noticed a platform with a film crew on it filming the “battle” as the set pieces played their assigned roles. The last thing that the film makers wanted was to have a relatively modern craft such as a Motor Barge like the Meta to come chugging across the background and ruining the shot.

    Over the last few years Michael had been doing things like this with the Bohemian Ministry of Culture as a part of his drive to be seen as a Renaissance Man, an enlightened athlete or something. While he wasn’t the sharpest tool knife in the drawer, there were plenty of people around him to help with his quest. Mostly it had been in the form of historical interpretation, films, and television in this context. It had created a whole new industry in Bohemia and Michael had been having a whole lot of fun doing it. To Kiki’s complete surprise, Michael had been doing more than just encouraging films to be made, he had a number of acting credits to his name as well. Mostly they were in the form of bit roles like “Officer riding horse in background #3” but he had played the Heavy as a German Mercenary in a scene in the latest Three Musketeers film that was mostly a well-choreographed brawl. It was debatable if what Michael had been doing could actually be considered acting, basically he had played himself. Then he had taken staring actors out drinking and they all agreed that he was a blast to work with. Kiki wondered if that had involved actual explosives.

    Kiki and Ben sat on the aft deck of the Meta and watched the actors in their red and blue uniforms march around the fields. There were a lot of challenges in filming wide shots of armies in the field. A battle in the Napoleonic Period might have had a hundred thousand or more men on either side. Finding that many extras would be a real challenge. That was one of the things that Michael had going for him when it came to enticing filmmakers to come to Bohemia. There was no shortage of warm bodies perfectly happy to help make their vision a reality. This was entirely due to the Ministry of Culture’s promotion of a rather slanted version of Bohemian history. One that was far more heroic and triumphant than reality would suggest, and the Bohemians regardless of ethnicity embraced it whole-heartedly. The resulting narrative was a bit problematic. Kiki had pointed out to Michael that it cast many of their ancestors as villains at best. He had just shrugged and told Kiki that everyone was a bloodthirsty tyrant back in the day, that was how they got where they were and why the history books remember their names. Besides that, Michael pointed out, the favorite villains for the Bohemian films to depict were the Austrian Habsburgs and they were actually Swiss. Kiki had no idea if that was true or not. It did make her think that perhaps it was a good thing that Michael lived in an era where he could distract himself with culture and sport. He would have been a bit too good at playing the role of Warrior-King.
    Part 123, Chapter 2074
  • Chapter Two Thousand Seventy-Four

    17th July 1971

    Vienna, Austria

    Nella and Nan had wanted to come with Charlotte because Vienna was a sort of magical place in their imaginations. A sort of fairytale city. However, as much as Charlotte would have joyfully explored the city of her birth with her daughters this was not meant to be a pleasurable holiday. Her older sister Adelheid was suffering from failing health and their older brother Otto was more interested in keeping up appearances than the actual crisis that Adelheid’s problems represented. That was why Charlotte had been asked in her capacity as a Social Worker to come to Vienna to see if she couldn’t talk Otto into being sensible for once and not for the first time, Charlotte wished that their father had not died a decade earlier.

    As the last Emperor, Charles I had been forced by his circumstances to be pragmatic in order to save what was left of his family’s fortunes after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Otto had rather different perspective. He had grown bitter over what he saw as a lost inheritance and what he saw as the external meddlers who had been happy to allow Austria-Hungary to break apart through inaction at best. He pointed to how the German Empire had absorbed Bohemia, Slovakia, and now Galicia-Ruthenia. Which were all former Provinces of Austria-Hungary.

    Though Otto had never said anything to Charlotte, she was certain that if he had had any say in the matter at the time, he would have forbidden her marriage to Louis Ferdinand. Otto was rather outspoken about how Louis’ grandfather, Wilhelm II, had been at the forefront of those he personally considered responsible for the misfortune that had overtaken their family following the end of the First World War. The odd thing was that it was true, Wilhelm II had been everything his detractors claimed he was, and he had profited handsomely off the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Yet that was leaving out some important details, Wilhelm had not been acting alone and there had been reasons why he had not acted to save his former allies. Germany had its own internal problems similar to Austria-Hungary, in the form of revolution and famine. There was also the separate peace that their father had attempted to negotiate with the Triple Entente when he had assumed the throne at the end of 1916, a betrayal that the Germans would have eventually acted upon had it not been forgotten in the rush of events that led up to the White Peace at the end of 1917 and Treaty of Paris a year later that formally ended the war. That peace had come too late for Germany’s allies, both the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Ottoman Empire had collapsed in the months that followed. By the time Charlotte had been born, the Habsburg Empire was just a memory.

    Years later, after Charlotte had married Louis, she would learn the Wilhelm had not forgotten, not for an instant. News of Austria-Hungary’s demise had supposedly been met with restrained jubilation and private gloating. That was actually a shocking level of restraint by Wilhelm. If Charlotte had to guess, that was entirely because it was late in his reign, and he had lacked the energy to have it be a public spectacle by that point. Not that Otto needed to know that. It would just drive his desire to further drag out the tricky negotiations for what had been dubbed the European Project in an entirely foolish effort to diminish the Germany.


    “Why?” Ingrid asked intently.

    Manfred had no idea if she understood that was a question much less understand the answer. Still, it made her unique among his children and grandchildren. Beyond the first few words that all children learned with their parent’s encouragement there was always a word that caught their fancy. Memorably, Helene’s had been “No” followed by “Mine.” With Albrecht, Sonje, and Caecilia it had been the other way around. Oddly, Lothar had become obsessed by his own name, repeating in constantly.

    Ingrid’s word of choice was “Why?” and Manfred wondered if it said something about her nature. Earlier that day, he had heard in the news that Jacob von Schmidt had died, though after all these years few had been aware that he was even still alive. He had never known the Grand Admiral personally, knowing him only by reputation. He knew that Jacob had been a singular genius of the sort that only came along perhaps once in a generation. Manfred knew that Jacob could have made himself obscenely wealthy. Instead, he had joined the Navy and had served the Empire to the best of his abilities. It was something that Manfred found respectable. As often happened, when Manfred heard about the passing of one of his generation, he tended to read up on them.

    Supposedly, Jacob had spoken German, Latin, and Hebrew by the time he was the age of four, having memorized the Torah. That was an extraordinary accomplishment. The question that Manfred was left wondering was at what point did his family know what he was? Were there small differences? Seeing Ingrid this afternoon, Manfred wondered if it was a small difference like asking “Why?” where other children might say “No!”

    Then Ingrid walked over to Rust who was laying in his favorite spot by the window and asked the dog “Why?” before snuggling up to him. Rust was tolerant of her, having Ingrid around him since she had learned to walk. Manfred still knew to keep a close eye on them. It was a reminder that Ingrid was an ordinary little girl even if her life up until now had not been ordinary.
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