Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 124, Chapter 2095
  • Chapter Two Thousand Ninety-Five



    9th October 1971

    Over the Andes Mountains

    The Tiger E accelerated smoothly as it cruised over the Andes mountains. Occasionally, there was the bump of turbulence. As the mountains pushed wind aloft. Here it was quiet, and he could think without having to be bothered with anyone else’s problems at that moment.

    It had been a few days earlier when it had occurred to Reinaldo that he needed to start considering his exit plan. Things were definitely going badly for Chile, the scuttlebutt that he had been hearing was that President Allende had reached out to his Argentine counterpart to begin peace talks, the same way that every other war in South America had ended over the last few decades and had been told to piss off. President Juan Martínez of Argentina knew that he had a chance to settle the various border disputes between the two countries for keeps and the wasn’t going to end until he got everything he wanted. The joke that had flown around the mess table that morning had been that the peace terms from Argentina would include Allende giving Martínez a blowjob on International Television. When he had heard that, Reinaldo had realized that it was coming in a metaphorical sense and the other men in his Squadron had no idea that it wouldn’t just be El Presidente wearing knee pads. They would be as well.

    Reinaldo had absolutely no desire to stick around for that.

    Still, Reinaldo knew that he couldn’t just pull stakes and leave. Going over the hill wouldn’t go over well with the mood the Chileans seemed to be in. They would probably shoot him as a deserter if he tried. So, he was flying a ground attack mission that had been deemed critical at a time when he knew he should have turned north and made for Bolivia.

    With the current advance of the German Army having hit the Pacific Coast, their Commanders must have discovered that they had gone down a blind alley. But if they could punch through the mountains in one place, they could surely do it elsewhere. Intelligence said that the forces in question were redeploying north up the Argentine Route 40 and the job of Reinaldo’s Squadron was to slow them down. Rolling his plane into a steep dive, Reinaldo would see what he could do about that. One of the key advantages of flying a Tiger was that it was fast enough that no one could hear you coming before you bombed them into oblivion. Keeping the sun to his back, Reinaldo lined up with the road. Like shooting fish in a barrel…



    Federal Route 40 near La Amarga, Neuquén Province, Argentina

    The Argentinians loved the sight of Ferdinand whenever the old Flakpanther rolled by. The sight of the old, repurposed Panther hull with the oscillating turret and radar array installed. The image of Ferdinand the Bull from the old pacifist tale that had been turned into a cartoon painted on the hull was in stark contrast to the twin 30mm revolving-chamber autocannons in the turret. Whenever they entered a town, the crew could always see the people laughing about the story of the bull who had preferred to sit in the shade of a cork tree and smell flowers as opposed to butting heads with the other young bulls. Through a series of events involving a bee sting and false impressions, Ferdinand finds himself in a bullfight. Only to outrage the Matador and delight the crowd with his passive nature, “winning” the fight in the process.

    The truth was that Ferdinand had been painted there long before two of the three members of the crew had even been born and the reason for it had long been forgotten. Paul, the youngest, had become the gunner because that was where the opening for a new crewman had been when he had been assigned to the 91st Air Defense Battalion. He had known little about radar or autocannons at the moment that Vit, Ferdinand’s Commander had thrown the manual at him and told him he had the trip across the Atlantic to Argentina to learn. Aust, the driver had just smirked. He later learned that Aust and Vit went way back, and he would remain the odd one out until they got past it.

    Today though, all three of them found themselves in a strange situation. Their Flakpanzer Platoon had been sent to provide air defense or fire support for the Japanese Expeditionary Division depending on exactly what shit the Japanese soldiers got themselves into. It was a somewhat daunting task they found themselves in. Not because the Japanese were bad soldiers, far from it, they just didn’t let things like impossible odds or certain death get in the way of them getting into a fight. There had already been a few hairy situations that they had found themselves in so far in this campaign.

    Looking out the top hatch of the turret, Paul could see them on either side of Ferdinand. Their kit was kept as light as possible, with them taking pride in the fact that they had the smallest logistical chain of any Army in the world. Rice, raisins, and whatever was unlucky enough to find itself in the stewpot were what they said sustained them. Even their rifles, which had clearly been influenced by the Mauser G44, had been designed to suit their ideas about rapid movement in warfare.

    “We just got reports of enemy aircraft in this sector” The Lieutenant’s voice over the radio, “Keep an eye on the horizon and I had better not catch any of you sleeping.”

    “You heard the man Paul” Vit yelled over the intercom despite him sitting less than a meter behind Paul.

    “Sure thing, David” Paul said as he was flipping the switches to turn on the targeting radar. He knew that Vit hated it when people called him by his proper name, so it was what he did whenever Vit annoyed him. The search radar started scanning the horizon and they waited for a moment.

    “We got contacts on bearing…” Vit started to say, but Paul ignored him. He could see the targets on the gunner’s repeater screen and was already turning the turret in that direction.

    In the corner of Paul’s eye, he could see that the Japanese had noticed that the turret was moving, and they were looking skyward as they shouldered their rifles. If they were a German unit, they would have already been running for whatever cover they could find on either side of the road. Unbelievable.

    Paul heard the tone as the targeting radar locked on the lead contact and the computer made several calculations to find the targeting solution as the contact closed rapidly with them. When a green light lit up the scope, Paul pulled the trigger and the two 30mm cannons fired a burst skyward. 1400 rounds per minute moving at 1100 meters per second, the shells raced towards where the airplane would be. If the shells didn’t hit it directly then the proximity fuses would seriously ruin its Pilot’s Day. Paul was dimly aware of the sound of the explosion as the supersonic fighter plane was turned into an expanding fireball, he was already focused on the next contact.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2096
  • Chapter Two Thousand Ninety-Six



    11th October 1971

    Mitte, Berlin

    “They do realize that these movies are fiction?” Helene asked in exasperation.

    “Normally you would think so, Ma’am” Her Aide replied, “But these men are not known for being the brightest sort even if they don’t have something setting them off.”

    “Yes, I get that” Helene said, “These books and movies were intended as satire.”

    “The Nationalists are not known for their keen sense of humor” The Aide said, “Their idea of funny is usually along the lines of fart or ethnic jokes.”

    Helene could feel a stress headache coming on just listening to the latest news about a protest outside a television studio that had turned violent in Potsdam. It seemed that one of the major networks had adapted the speculative fiction books that she had read years earlier at the insistence of her friend Judita which had depicted the rise of a disturbing version of Germany that has risen after a defeat at the hands of the Triple Entente, eventually being led by a madman named Martin Seiler. What follows is grotesque kaleidoscope of human misery where every available means is used to kill those Seiler and his cadre view as of the enemy until it was being done on an industrial scale. Jews, Homosexuals, Gypsies, Freemasons, Communists, Slavs, the disabled, anyone who disagrees with Martin Seiler… The final book had featured Seiler in a bunker under the streets of Mitte as the Russians were overrunning the city deluded about the state of the war, thinking he was winning because he had been liquidating those that he considered the real enemy by the millions in the midst of a war.

    Later, after Seiler blows his brains out and the victorious Allies are dividing Germany up, even as they are making moves against each other clearly setting up what will be the next war, Seiler’s henchmen start getting put on trial. They get paraded through the courtroom and laughably try to place all the blame on Martin Seiler, that they were just following orders. The Judges were not impressed by that, and the comment gets made that the need to obey orders doesn’t negate the conscience. Most of them get hung like common criminals in the end.

    The trouble was that these were men, mostly members of the Royalist and Nationalist Parties but several Industrialists and Military Officers as well, who had names and families who took exception to how they were being depicted. After they had exhausted legal avenues and had been unable to stop production they had resorted to protests outside the studio where production had taken place and those had turned violent. As the Minister of the Interior, Helene found herself having to contend the aftermath and was very much aware that most of the groups in question really didn’t like her. As a woman with a career and the leader of political Party that they felt was repackaged Communism, she was basically everything they hated in the world. The detail that she was the daughter of the Kurfürst of Silesia somewhat muted their outspoken dislike of her, but not by as much she would have liked.

    With Manny still in South America, probably taking as many stupid risks as his father had thirty years earlier, Helene had enough to worry about. Especially because Suse Rosa was incredibly tight lipped about the state of her relationship with Manny. God help her, but this was one of those times when Helene wished that Suse was more like Gerta. The last thing she needed right now was a bunch of blowhards upset that an author and a television studio had made them look like easily led fools in a work of fiction.

    “Potsdam has a Criminal Court, yes?” Helene asked.

    “Yes, Ma’am” Her Aide replied, “But I was thinking that…”

    “Whatever your idea is, forget about it” Helene said, “This is hardly a matter for us to get involved in. Brandenburg is among the States that doesn’t like how heavy-handed the BII and the Federal Police can be at times. I think that this is one of those times when we should listen.”

    “Yes, Ma’am” The Aide replied.



    Near Los Quenes, Romeral, Chile

    The idea was preposterous.

    That the President of Chile had contacted their own Government through back channels and the BND had confirmed that the communication was legitimate. Supposedly, Salvador Allende had realized that one man was the single biggest obstacle to peace. Allende had offered to serve him up on a platter because while he wanted him gone, he preferred a dead martyr to a living threat so he couldn’t arrange it himself. Instead, he had turned to the BND through intermediaries. The shadowy Hunter/Killer teams were occupied elsewhere, but they had heard about the raids that Manny had conducted during the siege of Rio Gallegos, and they had asked him if he would volunteer to take the mission. They even let him pick his own team.

    The rub was the team in question was less than thrilled about being volunteered for this. They had not even been informed of the details until just hours before they departed from Córdoba. Einar had made a point of reminding him that the first rule of being in any Army since the dawn of time was to never volunteer.

    Manny understood the perspective of the Estonian Stabsgefreiter, he knew that Einar Tann was a good gunner with a reputation of being unflappable, and they would need every bit of firepower at their disposal if things got hairy and they wanted to get out alive. The selection of Christian was easy enough. The two of them went back to Basic Training. Ralf was an easy selection; he was a maestro with radio equipment. The fifth member of the team, Rook, wasn’t even going to be leaving Berlin but could still provide them with intelligence. If they made it out alive, Manny figured that he ought to have Einar fire some shots over Rook’s head so that he felt he was a part of the action.

    As the helicopter flew through the narrow passages through the Andes Mountains, Manny thought about how he had been asked if he had any moral qualms about shooting an unsuspecting man far from the front lines. Manny had told them that if it got him home one day sooner after spending more than a year in South America, he would happily shoot a dozen.

    As the helicopter set down in a clearing and they jumped out and headed cautiously towards the tree line. Only a minute later they could hear the sound of the helicopter’s engine fading in the distance. Just like that, the real mission had begun.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2097
  • Chapter Two Thousand Ninety-Seven



    13th October 1971

    Moscow, Russia

    The first snowfall of winter always brought about a bit of contemplation. Her life continued to be complicated by other people’s ideas about just who she was. She had talked to Kat and Aunt Marcella about it, more like vented to her adopted family who happened to be the only people aside from Fyodor and Alexei who truly knew her. Aunt Marcella had told her to go parading stark naked around Red Square if she really wanted to solve that problem, much to Gia’s total mortification and Kat found that hilarious. The alternative was to ignore other people’s expectations and get on with her life.

    In years past it wouldn’t have been as serious an issue. Gia would have stayed in her house near Lake Baikal until the end of autumn only returning with first snow. This year though, she had needed to return earlier because her son, Alexei, had been starting school and she had created a scene when she had dropped him off there on his first day. Despite her best efforts to keep it lowkey, a handful of photographers had shown up and then there had been the teachers, other parents, and children… It had been a mess.

    Her husband, Fyodor, was happy to have her back early. He had been unable to come with them to Siberia this year because he had been needed to lead the observer mission in Santiago as the Russian Military was extremely keen to keep tabs on what their German and American counterparts were up to. The war between Argentina and Chile was a bit of a proxy war between those two powers, though the Germans had decided to get involved directly. Fyodor had come home to Moscow after all nonessential staff in the Russian Embassy in Santiago had been evacuated. His cover was of someone who wasn’t essential by any stretch of the imagination, so if he had stuck around, it would have drawn the wrong sort of scrutiny. Anya had said that she was coming home for the holidays this year. But Anya being Anya and with the demanding job she had in Berlin, Gia knew that she couldn’t be sure until Anya stepped off the train in Moscow.

    On the other hand, Gia was finally making progress in improving housing standards in Russia. For years, she had fought a somewhat lonely battle against corruption and officialdom as the consequences of poor city planning had piled up in the major cities of Russia. Then everything had changed this month when a Romantic Comedy reached the theaters that made fun of those things as well as the profound lack of imagination by Russian Architects in the Post-War Era. The entire plot revolved around a man who goes out drinking with his friends on New Year’s Eve. Through a series of mishaps, he ends up on a plane to Saint Petersburg and upon arriving, mistakenly thinking he was still in Moscow catches a cab to a nearly identical address and an apartment almost exactly like his own with his key even working in the door. Hijinks ensue.

    The people who Gia had battled for years could ignore public protests and even the condemnation by the Church for their exploitive treatment of the poor. However, it had turned out that being made fun of was not something that they could stand. If Gia had known about that, she would have tried it ages ago.



    Near Curicó, Maule, Chile

    It was near sunset when Christian made it back to the bivouac outside the city. Something about the plan had bothered Manny and he had wanted to get to learn to few things before the time came for them execute it. The trouble was that they couldn’t just walk into Curicó and take a look.

    Manny was two meters tall and stood out like a sore thumb pretty much everywhere in South America. Everyone joked that Einar was a Viking despite him being from the sort of place that the Norse would have raided way back when. Come to think of it, that may well have a great deal as to why Einar looked the part. Despite having lived in South America for a year, Ralf only knew enough Spanish to pick a fight and if you looked in the dictionary under German Soldier, it would probably have a picture of someone looked exactly like him. That left Christian, he looked the part and so long as he kept his mouth shut no one would figure that he wasn’t just some passerby.

    That morning, Christian had left wearing purloined civilian clothes. Now, hours later he was walking back, and he had seen far more than any of them had anticipated. Approaching cautiously, he found himself staring down the barrel of Einar’s MG64. The light machinegun could spit out bullets so fast that it would cut you in half before you even knew it was being fired.

    “Password?” Einar asked.

    “Fuck off” Christian replied. He had been on his feet all day and didn’t feel like messing with that sort of shit.

    “Close enough” Einar said as Christian shoved past him. Finding Manny dozing in the shade of the trees of the wooded area they had been hiding in.

    “You were right to be worried” Christian said, “I walked past the gates of the town garrison and saw men from the 3rd Mountain Division guarding the place.”

    “Any idea of their numbers?” Manny asked.

    “At least a Regiment” Christian answered, “The shitters seldom lie.”

    It was something that had been discovered during the Soviet War that Jost had made sure they knew. That most military units tried to conceal their exact numbers. For various reasons they might want the enemy to think that there were fewer or greater numbers present. One of the things that was seldom thought about though was that all the men would need to take a dump eventually and no one wanted to set up a latrine if they didn’t have to. So, one of the best ways to estimate the size of an enemy force was to try to get a look at those very facilities.

    Manny had figured that it was all too neat. The instant he took the shot, the four of them would become loose ends. If they tried to flee afterwards, a Regiment of elite Mountain Troops were perfect for running them down and intelligence had said they were not supposed to be anywhere near here. Manny had spoken to General Schultz about this exact situation.

    “Any idea about what we are going to do now?” Christian asked.

    “There’s an American term” Manny said, “Calling an audible.”

    “A what?”
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2098
  • Chapter Two Thousand Ninety-Eight



    14th October 1971

    Near Curicó, Maule, Chile

    It was a strange thing that the Brass had asked Hauptmann Adam “Spark” Graner for. As the Squadron was conducting the latest mission, the bombing of a bridge over the Tinguiririca River near San Fernando. On the way out he was to jettison a drop tank that had been provided to him by the BND at a location that would be marked by a satellite navigation point that would only be up for a few minutes. It was strange to be selected to be a part of this sort of cloak and dagger nonsense, but he was willing to roll with it because it would be one more interesting story to tell when he finally got rotated back to Berlin in only a few days more days.

    The drop tank itself looked normal enough. A streamlined cylinder that was fin stabilized, made of nonstrategic materials, mostly fiberglass, and painted grey. After a year of war, it was said that the countryside was littered with the damned things. This one was somehow special though. As it was attached to the belly hardpoint of Spark’s Orkan and filled, the mechanics noticed that it held slightly less fuel than normal. Spark told them not to worry about it, the entire time though he had the intrusive thought running through his mind that the spooks had put God only knows what in there and it might come as a total surprise to him if it went boom unexpectedly.

    After the usual wild ride through the Andes mountains, Spark led a flight of four planes through the valleys and dropped their bombs at the selected target. Maintaining speed, he watched as the kilometers ticked down and they released the drop tank the same way they would a bomb run before turning back to Córdoba.

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

    The smell of aviation kerosene was giving Christian a headache as he and Ralf helped Manny cut open the drop tank. The day before when Manny had mentioned calling an audible, he’d had no what that meant. Apparently, the original plan to pop a Chilean General who had become an obstacle to peace and lethal threat to President Allende once the shooting stopped with a single long distance rifle shot was out. Manny figured that the presence of the troops from the 3rd Mountain was a part of the plan that Allende had not told their side about, the bit where he parades their well-ventilated corpses to the press and public as justice for the death of his dear old fiend Augusto at the hands of the dastardly Germans. Afterwards, he would quietly make sure that General Pinochet took the vast majority of the blame for how the conflict had turned sour for them over the last few months.

    Manny had decided that they needed a different plan and that involved this drop tank that the Luftwaffe had decided it didn’t need anymore. Eventually, Manny pulled a package out of the tank and had a smile on his face as he as he put it under his arm. “I can’t believe that this worked” He said.

    “What is that?” Christian asked.

    “Later” Manny replied as he started walking back towards where Einar was watching the nearby road.



    Montreux, Switzerland

    Classes that revolved around etiquette were the absolute worst. This went way beyond minding your manners, it was more like a lifestyle choice, and it was a choice that Marie Alexandra wouldn’t have never made for herself. The instructor had asked a question about an awkward social situation, one that she didn’t care to answer.

    “I don’t know” Marie replied.

    “Surely you have a better answer than that?” The middle-aged woman who was the instructor for class and was conducting today’s lecture asked.

    “She deserves to get punched in the face” Marie said, “Happy?”

    That earned Marie a sour look, she had been getting a lot of those over the last month and figured that she would continue to get them until she left for the Christmas Holiday. The trouble was that she would only have served half her sentence at that point and would have to come back. The other girls in the class tittered like they always did whenever Marie said something they thought was outrageous. It proved what they knew. The girls who made up the mostly Anglo-French class wouldn’t last five minutes outside the carefully controlled environment they lived in, the term hothouse flowers came instantly to mind.

    “A Lady does not settle a minor dispute that way, Alexandra” The instructor said flatly.

    That much was correct, Marie thought to herself, normally there was a lot screaming involved, along with scratching, kicking, and even biting.

    “While Fraulein Blackwood seems intent on entertaining us with her witticisms just remember that it is all for show” The instructor said to the class, “She is a long way from home, and it is understandable that she might be defensive.”

    Speaking of people who deserved to be punched in the face. Marie thought to herself. The instructor had just shifted the entire context of her words, making her an object of pity. It was very noticeable that here she was Alexandra Blackwood. The school had omitted that she was the daughter of Katherine von Mischner, a woman ruling over a City-State Principality simply didn’t seem to enter their thinking and the forename of Marie was a childish affectation that she was being encouraged to put behind her.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2099
  • Chapter Two Thousand Ninety-Nine



    15th October 1971

    Curicó, Maule, Chile

    “There are two truths that are working for us here” Manny said when he had explained the new plan to the others. “The first is that every South American city of any size seems to have been built around a local garrison and the second is that there is one thing that no General can resist. Chewing out a subordinate with an audience”

    The original plan had been to shoot the General north of the city as he passed through on his inspection tour. That plan was toast as soon as they had spotted the Chilean Army’s 3rd Mountain Division. The new plan that Manny had come up with was better in that it killed two birds with one stone, and it revolved around the strange package that had arrived the day before. The item inside had been what looked at first like a video camera, the thing was it was no video camera.

    Manny still intended to “shoot” the General, just not with a rifle. The item in question fired a laser beam, which Christian had thought was a joke at first. Until Manny explained that the laser wasn’t the weapon, it guided the weapon that had been dropped from somewhere high overhead. Still, that sounded like something from science fiction. Apparently, it wasn’t an accident that they had not heard of this before, few outside of Wunsdorf had.

    That was why they had worked their way to the wire at the edge of the airfield that housed the local garrison and were watching as a Packard Limousine stopped and a man who you tell was an asshole just by the way he walked got out after the door was opened for him and he started berating another man.

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    The Second World War had shown the value of high-flying recon planes that could loiter over the area and observe what was happening on any given battlefield. The recon plane in question looked like a large pencil with almost comically long wings. The fuel and engines were in wing mounted pods to reduce volume inside the fuselage. While orbiting satellites had cut into their mission somewhat, they still provided a valuable service. There was also one more secretive mission that they had perfected in recent years involving technology that no one else in the world had and the High Command was interested in keeping it that way. However, a high value target had presented itself and a field test was in order.

    “Rook, we are nearing waypoint omicron” Oxcart, the pilot, said into the radio. “Are we to proceed?”

    “Oxcart, Gold Three is in position” Rook said, “Mission is a go.”

    Oxcart heard that. This Gold Three must have massive balls to be so deep in enemy territory and play the role of forward air controller. Better him than me, Oxcart thought to himself as he flipped the switch to arm the heavily modified AS500 that was in an unused camera bay.

    As soon as they reached the waypoint, the bomb automatically fell free of the plane and started the twenty-three-kilometer fall to earth. It swiftly accelerated past the speed of sound in the cold, thin air. The two fuses on the nose and tail armed automatically as the aircraft that had dropped it passed out of range. Passing through layers of clouds, it was buffeted by turbulence and would have been knocked off course, except the seeker in the nose fed the fins correcting information. Then it “saw” the thing it was designed to seek. A single point of bright infrared light…

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    Manny understood Generals, he had three of them in his family, his father, Aunt Katherine, and Uncle Stefan. When he had studied Augusto Pinochet, he had seen the same sort of arrogance that all three of them were certainly capable of. So, when he learned about the presence of a contingent of the 3rd Mountain Division, he had seen an opportunity within the crisis. Namely that this Regiment was somewhere that it wasn’t supposed to be and when General Pinochet questioned the Commanding Officer, he would probably get a vague comment about Presidential orders. If the CO were in on Allende’s plans in any way, he couldn’t exactly tell the truth, now could he.

    Manny looked through the scope of the Laser Designator watching the two men. Pinochet was ripping the Officer, who Manny assumed held a Rank that was equivalent to Oberst, a new asshole as the men around him stood at attention, looking uncomfortable. He had the laser aimed right at the hood of the General’s car. With Pinochet just a few meters away, it wouldn’t matter if the shot hit him directly or not. Manny remembered a phrase the Green Beret had used to describe situations like this when he had trained with them in Upstate New York. Horseshoes and hand grenades. He heard Ralf tell him that the shot was incoming but was focused on the task at hand. When Tilo had told him about this technology and how it was part of the contingency plan, he had hardly been able to believe it. Still, there he was.

    Manny only caught a glimpse of it, a black streak that crossed his field of vision so fast that it was gone before his mind even had time to register it. He released his breath the same way that he would have with a rifle shot out of long habit. The limousine and the men around it who were standing around it on the tarmac vanished in the same instant.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2100
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred



    23rd October 1971

    Tempelhof

    Douglas had given Sophie one of the old cameras that he was no longer using and today, he was walking her through the process of developing the negatives and using them to make photographs. Kat had told her that the camera was one of the ones that he had carried with him during the Second World War and that she needed to take good care of it. Sophie had understood, and she had taken care of it despite it looking like it was pretty beat up long before she had taken possession of it.

    The image of Cheshire sitting on the windowsill of Sophie’s bedroom appeared as if by magic as Douglas developed the photographs that Sophie had taken over the prior weeks. She seldom had enough money available for a new roll of film and getting Douglas to help her develop the rolls she had was rarer still, so every photograph she took was a moment that was precious for her somehow. There were other photographs, like those from the roll she had shot at camp over the Summer Holiday. That included a silly one of her and Ziska on a skiff during the summer before. Then there was one of Darya scolding Fleur who looked up at her in the way that most dogs did when they stared at you intently though they couldn’t understand a word you said. The little dog had grown too old to do much more than sleep most of the day, but still found the energy to raid the garbage if the opportunity presented itself.

    Douglas clipped the photograph on the line to dry as they moved on to the next one. This one featured Malcolm juggling three apples in the kitchen to show off his learning to have done that. Only a few minutes later Petia had chased the two of them out of the kitchen and they had eaten the apples in the back garden. “I think that Kat will want a copy this one” Doug said, “Interesting how Malcolm has become a more frequent subject of yours since you came back from camp this year.”

    “He has been around more is all” Sophie said, grateful for the dim red light of the darkroom made it difficult for Douglas to see her reaction to him saying that.

    Douglas chuckled as he moved on to the next photograph, another picture of Cheshire. This time he was staring intently at the goldfish in Tatiana’s bedroom. Seconds later, Tatiana had chased both Cheshire and Sophie out of the room.

    “This one is also good” Douglas said.

    “Thank you” Sophie replied.

    Then they moved on to the next roll of film.



    Washington D.C.

    “The fragments of steel found on the scene are consistent with alloys produced by Krupp Works in Essen” The expert giving the briefing said as a chart with chemical compositions came up on the screen from the overhead projector, “Also soil samples showed traces of a mixture of RDX, TNT, and powdered aluminum which is consistent with general purpose bombs used by German Luftwaffe. The blast radius suggests that it was a Five-Hundred-Kilogram Aerodynamic Explosive Bomb or AS500, similar to those that the Luftwaffe has been dropping on Chile for months.”

    A new picture appeared on the screen, this one of schematics of the bomb in question. There was also a chart comparing it to the Mark 83 in American use.

    “You are saying that the Germans dropped a bomb on General Pinochet?” Nelson Rockefeller asked, “Without the witnesses on the ground ever seeing the plane that dropped it?”

    “That is the current working theory” The expert replied, “There are some in the Chilean Military who are convinced that it was an inside job with a powerful car bomb, but we find that unlikely though.”

    “You mean to say that it would hard to place a thousand-pound bomb in someone’s car without them noticing?” Rockefeller asked.

    “Yes” The expert replied.

    “And are we to believe that the Germans now have invisible airplanes?”

    The expert looked a bit flustered by that one.

    “We don’t believe that Sir, not for an instant” The expert said, “But the only plane in the region was a high-altitude reconnaissance plane flying at over seventy-five thousand feet. We find that to be an unlikely means of delivery.”

    “Exactly how unlikely?” Rockefeller asked.

    “I don’t know” The expert said, “The odds of dropping a single bomb from an airplane flying that high and hitting a car in the middle of a city that happened to have a high value target standing near it? That would be like teeing off from the top floor of the Empire State building and getting a hole in one.”

    “Do I need to remind you just who we are dealing with here?” Rockefeller asked.

    “But as I was saying, it is very unlikely that…” The expert said before trailing off as he realized he was getting a venomous look from the President of the United States.

    “I don’t care how unlikely it was, I only care about how it might have been done” Rockefeller said coldly.

    “Yes, uhm… I’ll get my team right on that, Sir” The expert said as he gathered his things and prepared to leave in a hurry.

    Rockefeller watched with great annoyance as the expert fled. Was this really the foremost expert in the field or was he the one who just happened to return their calls? Rockefeller didn’t know. It was a reminder that on his last day in office, Harry Truman was said to have been positively giddy as he had walked out of the Whitehouse for the last time. Rockefeller understood exactly what Truman must have been thinking as he left. That was the exact moment that Rockefeller discovered he couldn’t finish this term fast enough. The Republican Party was asking if he was going to run for the third term, in gelled in his thinking at that moment that they could all get fucked as far as he was concerned.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2101
  • Chapter Two Thousand One-Hundred One



    5th November 1971

    Los Angeles, California

    When Big Mike walked into the Ralph’s on West 3rd in Wilshire with Ritchie, he figured that he might as well take advantage of the situation and went to the bakery to get a few boxes of donuts, which would be enough for everyone back at the station. Lucia had called Ritchie just after they had completed rollcall and said that they needed to talk, immediately. That sort of thing seldom meant that great news was going to be conveyed.

    Walking back up to the registers, Mike saw that Ritchie and Lucia were talking off to the side. Lucia was looking a bit worse for wear, green around the gills as it were, and Ritchie was carrying himself about the same way he did when they were about to break up a barfight at a biker hangout. He didn’t need to hear the conversation to have an idea as to what it was probably about because he had been in the same place Ritchie was right that moment a few times himself. It meant that Ritchie wouldn’t be able to have anything nice in his house for next couple decades, a shame too, Ritchie’s place in Eagle Rock was one of the places he escaped to when he couldn’t stand the chaos of his own household. So much for that, Mike thought to himself as he put down the boxes down on the counter.

    “Will that be all, Sir” The clerk asked as he rang up the purchase, while his words respectful, his tone was not. It was the sort of thing that Mike had grown used to. Police were not loved by everyone. It was just a part of the job.

    “Yes” Mike said as he handed the clerk a five-dollar bill.

    While the clerk was fishing around the till for the change, Mike surveyed the scene. The store was filled mostly with bored housewives picking up a few odds and ends because it was something to do midmorning after the kids had been sent off to school. The clerks were from the surrounding neighborhoods and seemed like the sort who tolerated their customers because it was what they needed to do to pay the rent. He’d read a book recently that talked about always looking for what seemed out of place, of course in a Los Angeles grocery store that sort of had a fluid definition. The clerk finally handed Mike his change that he took his sweet time counting back to him.

    That was when a man who must have been in his early twenties slouched in through the automatic doors at the front of the store. He had a ballcap low over his face like if he didn’t want to be seen and his clothes looked like he had slept in them. He took one look at Mike’s uniform and bolted for the Out Door.

    Cursing under his breath, Mike started to give chase. Ritchie must have noticed what was happening because he was after the man in an instant, Lucia staring agape, having no idea what was going on. Just before the man reached the door, Ritchie intercepted him, and he stupidly took a swing at Ritchie. Stupid move, Mike thought to himself. Uncle Sam had spent a lot of time and money training him to take on far worse than the likes of some random hood.

    Ritchie sidestepped the punch before grabbing the man’s arm and twisting it up behind him. Momentum carried the two right into a plate glass window that shuttered but didn’t break, the man’s ballcap fell to the floor as his face was pressed against the glass. That was when the man started yelling as Ritchie was slapping handcuffs onto him and the other people in the store were all staring at what had just happened.

    “This is brutality man!” The man yelled as Ritchie pulled him away from the window, “I wasn’t doing nothing wrong.”

    Years earlier, Mike’s mother had warned him to never use double negatives when he spoke. She said that anyone who heard that would automatically assume that he was stupid. Hearing what the man had just said, Mike saw the truth of that for what must have been the millionth time.

    “Then why did you run the instant you saw us?” Ritchie asked, “That wasn’t the least bit suspicious.”

    The man was silent for a few seconds, clearly not having thought that through.

    “That’s the fucking asshole I told you about the other day!” Lucia yelled, “The one who’s been shoplifting from us!”

    Lucia then switched to Spanish, calling the man all sorts of nasty names. With his hands cuffed behind him, the man would be helpless if Lucia decided to get even, and she was clearly moving in that direction. Mike had a great deal of experience and understood what would happen if he tangled with a Mexican woman a third his size. It wasn’t a fight he could win.

    “We got him Lucia” Mike said, drawing her attention as Ritchie took the man out to the squad car. “And this time, he isn’t coming back.”

    “Oh” Lucia replied, “I guess so.”

    “Show’s over!” Mike yelled as he collected the boxes from the check stand, and everyone went back to their business.

    Walking out to the car, Ritchie had put the man in the backseat and was waiting behind the wheel. “What am I supposed to do with all this?” Ritchie asked as Mike sat down.

    “Don’t know” Mike answered, one thing he didn’t do was give out free advice because you got what you paid for. “Donut?”

    “Nah” Ritchie replied, “If I ate those, I’d end up looking like you.”

    Real funny, Mike thought to himself as he heard snickering from the back seat. He slammed his fist against the cage that separated the front from back. “No one asked you!” He yelled as the man yelped in response.
     
    Part 124, Chapter 2102
  • Chapter Two Thousand One-Hundred Two



    13th November 1971

    Spandau, Berlin

    It smelled like hot metal and dust in this massive building as Ben walked with Kiki as they were being led in by the owner of the boatyard. Even on a Saturday this place was a hive of activity as men worked on boats of various shapes and sizes. Mostly, it was to prepare them for storage out of the water. Dwarfing almost every other boat in the building though was the one that they had come to see.

    The Epione’s hull had been completed at the HDW Shipyards in Kiel the week before and she had been towed up the rivers to Spandau. Kiki had wanted to come and see the boat as soon as she arrived and was acting a bit like a child on Christmas as they had driven across town that morning. It was a side of Kiki that Ben very seldom got to see, and it was actually a nice change from how she had been lately.

    The word stir crazy came to mind as Kiki had grown bored. The idea was that she would have months to bond with Nina but after years of an extremely active life, Kiki had found doing little more than caring for an infant was sort of driving her nuts. Just the fact that she had volunteered to work for her father’s charitable foundation a couple days a week was proof of that. Though with this year having been oddly quiet when it came to natural or manmade disasters, there just wasn’t a whole lot of call for the services that the foundation provided. That was why Kiki was on the phone for most of the day talking to those with high social standing and would be flattered to speak with the Princess Royal even if she were hitting them up for money. For Kiki it was particularly taxing because she couldn’t stand those people. Her actual friends led busy lives, so Kiki seldom got to see them. Zella was off on various assignments. Kiki had been a huge help to Aurora though. Aurora was planning on getting married next spring and the public relations firm she worked for consumed most of her time so having Kiki help was a godsend. That and most of the vendors became a lot more agreeable when they discovered that they were dealing Kiki who had resources that Ben was only marginally aware of even if he was married to her. Something about having been born a Princess, being shrewd with money, and having a somewhat false reputation for being totally ruthless worked for Kiki sometimes.

    Stepping onto the unfinished metal deck, Ben saw that there was a handful of workers working on what would become the galley and saloon, the wide windows that defined the space had not yet been installed. The cooler and freezer were just steel boxes that had been bolted to the deck. Looking down a narrow slot where the forward staircase would eventually go, Ben could see the hallway leading to the master’s cabin in the bow and the entrances to the staterooms on the starboard side.

    “I got something to show you Ma’am” The Owner of the boatyard said as they made their way aft. “The Captain’s quarters are being finished along with the wheelhouse at the moment, but your workspace is progressing nicely.”

    They were led down a narrow hallway, the aft stairs had been installed, those led down to the crew quarters and the engine room. A short ladder went up to the wheelhouse, it was going to be the same size and shape as the one on the Meta. Nothing more was needed. There was an open door through which Ben saw men installing wood paneling in a tiny stateroom, presumably the Captain’s quarters. Going further aft, Ben saw that the hallway ended in a door leading out onto the aft deck. To his left though was a room which had a white tile floor and stainless-steel walls, a glass partition separated it from a space just big enough to hold a desk.

    “The rest of the equipment in waiting to be installed and there is a team of experts who are coming to take care of that” The Owner of the boatyard said, “I was asked if you wanted to oversee that personally.

    “I would love that” Kiki replied.

    When Ben had seen the plans, he had no idea if what Kiki had asked for would be feasible and apparently it was. Her idea was to bring her Medical Practice with her no matter where she went. Unlike the improvised setup she had played with aboard the Meta, this was a dedicated space for exactly that purpose.

    “Is there anything else we should see today?” Ben asked, feeling a bit useless.

    “Perhaps this” The Owner of the boatyard said as he opened the door to the aft deck.

    The deck itself had not been installed yet, just the steel support beams were in place. The machinery that would make the Epione function was in the process of being installed. The tanks that would hold water and the fuel bunker, various pumps, generators, and the water heaters. Finally, the engine itself, a marine diesel that seemed almost comically small compared with the rest of the boat.

    Ben knew that this wasn’t all of it. There were additional water tanks that served other purposes in different parts of the boat along with the batteries for the electrical system. An auxiliary power unit was up in the bow along with what he had been told were maneuvering thrusters, whatever those were.
     
    Part 124, Chapter 2103
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Three



    28th November 1971

    Moscow, Russia

    “This song does not make sense Theologically” Patriarch Platon III said, looking more cross than usual. He had adopted the name of his predecessor Platon II when he had ascended to the Patriarchy. It was said that he hoped to play a similar role in Russian society as Platon Levshin had two centuries earlier when he had come to personify the Age of Enlightenment within the Church. Apparently, that included listening to a Rock & Roll song by a musician who had gone into farming in a rural part of California rather than playing the role of Rockstar.

    Gia was a bit amazed that he had made this selection, normally it felt like if the higher ranks of the Russian Orthodox Church rivaled their counterparts in Rome when it came to ignoring Popular Culture. Instead, they normally spent their days in time honored fashion, plotting on how to one up the Archbishop of Constantinople. Gia had given up trying to figure out what drove these men to such bizarre extremes when they were supposed to be equals within the Church. There was also her own role within it. Normally, it would have been minimal considering her gender, but there were a lot of people who believed that she had a direct line to God and somewhere along the way she had become a confidant and observer within the offices of the Patriarch of Moscow. Basically, Gia was popular with the public, and they hoped that some of that rubbed off on them.

    The song in question had come out almost two years earlier. It was fairly typical of what had been coming out of America over the last few years. A driving bassline played while a fuzzed-out guitar played a riff that sounded like an airhorn. The whole thing was clearly Gospel inspired, which explained Platon’s interest. Mostly it was intended to be sung and clapped along with.

    “It is intended to convey the ecstatic feeling that comes from belief” Gia replied,

    “Yes, I get that part” Platon said, “But this third verse is where it gets problematic. Do you know what I mean?”

    Gia was afraid he would say something like that and wondered how to answer the question safely. The verse came around followed by a guitar solo before the song reverted back to the chorus and fading out.

    “The man who wrote the song is Jewish” Gia replied, “That verse is meant to be a bit of a tongue in cheek take on the way that he sees Christians conducting themselves and the sort of things they say to him.”

    “So, he is subverting the song with one line that most people will not even pick up on?” Platon asked, “And making fun of people who won’t look past the superficial.”

    Gia wasn’t sure how to answer that question. Platon certainly found it amusing and Gia didn’t understand what was so funny.



    Near Los Grutas, Rio Negro Province, Argentina

    There was a distant “CLANG!” as the rifle bullet hit the steel plate that was hanging on its stand around twelve hundred meters away. Behind him, Manny could hear cheers as the men who had bet on him hitting the targets were delighted of course but by now even those who had bet against him were cheering him on. He worked the bolt, ejecting the spent cartridge and chambering a fresh one. It had grown more challenging as the targets had grown progressively distant. Past a thousand meters he had to have a feel for the wind which could push the bullet is several different directions before it hit the target.

    It seemed a bit anticlimactic for Manny to be using his rifle for this after he had taken it across the Andes for a different purpose that could not have been more profound just a few weeks earlier. Still, it was a use that he was well suited to put it to.

    Once Manny had the ten-power Zeiss scope dialed in, he could hit targets out to the theoretical limits of the rifle itself. With the standard loading of a Thorwald Magnum cartridge that was an extremely long way indeed.

    Looking at the next target, Manny used the subtensions that were a part of the reticle of his scope to estimate the distance to the target. He knew that all the round steel plates were half a meter in width, and it made the mathematics simple. Adjusting the turret on his scope, Manny took aim before letting out a breath and holding it. Even with the rifle resting on a sandbag, recognized a slight movement it the reticle that was from his heartbeat. Squeezing the trigger, Manny felt the seer break, an instant later his shoulder absorbed the recoil.

    And he missed.

    “You had the distance” Christian, who was acting as his spotter and was watching through a telescope mounted on a tripod, said. “But were a few centimeters off the left side.”

    Manny chambered a fresh cartridge, corrected his aim, and fired. This time there was a distant “CLANG!”

    “I should have hit that last one with the first shot” Manny said aloud and Martzel heard him.

    “Most men couldn’t see that far much less hit a target at that distance” Martzel said, and he was all smiles as he went back to the crowd of observers. If Manny had to guess, Martzel had just cleaned up on the side bets. The terms had been that Manny could hit twenty targets placed at random intervals out to fifteen hundred meters with no more than five shots per target. He’d exceeded that by a considerable margin.

    Manny and his team had been sent to Martzel Iberia’s Casa on the Rio Negro for R&R after they had completed the mission debrief. The Coronel said that he was proud to have them as his guests after they had sent the devil Pinchot back to the Inferno. Manny had not thought that anyone outside of the High Command back in Wunsdorf and General Schultz’s Staff were aware of their involvement. Martzel had said that they would talk later, but first there was the shooting demonstration.

    The men in the crowd were major property owners here in Patagonia and this was Manny’s introduction to them. Martzel had arranged this demonstration because they needed to be suitably impressed by Manny himself, not by his family connections.
     
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    Part 125, Chapter 2103
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Three



    6th December 1971

    Tempelhof

    Feeling like a total idiot, Sophie stomped up the stairs and slammed the door of her bedroom, not that it helped her feel any better. Slamming the door just served to draw more attention to herself. The worst part was that Katherine had not only known for months, but she had also been completely understanding of what was going on with Sophie’s about face with Malcolm. Deciding that he was a villain right up there with Stalin or Mithras.

    That had happened when Malcolm had come home today and asked if his girlfriend Cora could be his guest to Christmas dinner this year. Sophie had overheard this and was instantly eaten up by jealousy. While she had done her level best to keep from reacting outwardly, she had sat there feeling sick to her stomach and wishing that she could blast Malcolm into atoms.

    “You have a crush on Malcolm because you saw his intelligence and how he is always kind to you” Katherine said, “That is perfectly understandable. Malcolm was able to see what was going on and I told him to let it run its course. No matter what else happens, try to learn from this experience.”

    That had caused Sophie to stomp up the stairs and slam the door.

    Sophie understood. If Malcolm and Katherine knew then that meant that everyone else in household did as well. This was possibly the most embarrassing thing to have ever happened to Sophie. Looking over at the door of her bedroom, she wished that she could leave it closed forever. If Sophie could just live in this room for the rest of her life, then that would be fine with her. She didn’t think that there was nothing that could pry her out after what had happened today…

    It turned out that Sophie was very wrong on that score.

    No sooner than the thought ran through her head than her stomach cramped up again and she was left feeling feverish as it passed. Minutes later, she was out of her room looking for Katherine because she needed help. That just made things worse because all the other women in the household were talking at her like if what she was going through needed to be celebrated when she wanted to curl up and die. If it wasn’t the worst day of her life, it certainly was in the top ten.



    Wahlstatt, Silesia

    Earlier that day, Niko had taken part in the weekly field review as the entire School had assembled on the parade ground wearing full kit and when the moment came, they would be inspected to see if anything were out of place. They had stood there for what had seemed like an eternity as the Headmaster had inspected each class while shivering in the cold. By the time they got back to their dormitory, it was already dark and all anyone wanted to do was sleep after what had been an arduous day.

    At the moment, Niko was in his bed wrapped in a woolen blanket pondering one of the greatest mysteries of living in the dormitory. If he had gotten the top bunk, where Bas was, he would be roasting. However, Niko had gotten a lower bunk because of his high rank within the structure of the dormitory and felt every cold draft that blew through the room acutely.

    “I heard that with that cowboy movie playing in the theater, the one with that guy who was a cop in that other movie and the really hot babe, so most of the upper classmen will be off campus on Saturday” Bas said while hanging down from the top bunk.

    “What has that got to do with us?” Niko asked.

    “It means that the pool will be open for everyone” Bas said, “Not just the six and seventh years.”

    It was a problem that had existed for them since they had started at the school two and half years earlier. While the school’s heated indoor pool was always open for everyone in theory. In practice though, going in there on a weekend afternoon with a few dozen sixth- and seventh-year students was asking for trouble. While there were rules against mistreating younger students those were not as rigorously enforced as anyone would have liked. That was especially true for third year students like Niko and Bas. Bas was tall as most of them these days and had a reputation as a fighter, so they wouldn’t mess with him. Niko wasn’t so fortunate. He was widely seen as an apple polisher and was small for his age.

    “That would be fun” Niko said, “But I’m trying to get ahead of the final surprise of the term.”

    Bas looked annoyed when Niko said that. They were old hands at this game by now. They would get surprised by Staber Arbeit in the last couple of the days of the term when he told them about a pending white-glove inspection that they would inevitably fail, a long slog through the woods, or something else that would make them too sore to do anything for the first week of the holiday. There was always something and that was by design. Just to let them know who was really in charge before they left for the Christmas Holiday.

    “You are never going to manage to do that” Bas said, “So have a little bit of fun in the meantime.”

    “I’ll think about it” Niko replied.

    “You’ll have the rest of your life” Bas said, “You know, to go make a name for yourself like Manfred is.”

    It was something that they had been hearing about a lot lately, about how their older cousin was covering himself in glory in South America. Opa was just beaming with pride the last time they had seen him. One day it would be their turn, but Niko wasn’t stupid. He could be like his father or cousin if he were ever really put to the test, or he could be like his uncle, the one who didn’t amount to much, so he was seldom mentioned.
     
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    Part 125, Chapter 2104
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Four



    11th December 1971

    Near Los Grutas, Rio Negro Province, Argentina

    Standing in Martzel’s office, Manny was amused by the Commemorative Olympic Medal hanging on a picture frame. The picture itself was of Martzel at the 1936 Opening Ceremonies in Berlin running down the track with the box of kitchen matches in his hand. It being a Sunday he had been forced to drive all over the city looking for a store that would be open. That was before the whole torch relay had become a thing and in the years since whether or not they would need to include a Cowboy had become something of a standing joke among Olympic Planners. Martzel got interviewed by the International Press every few years over the matter and was expecting the same thing to happen again with the Summer Games happening in Munich next year. It was Manny’s understanding that King Albrecht of Bavaria was highly motivated for it to be successful and be a showcase for Bavaria to the world. It really did bother the Bavarian King that his Kingdom remained mostly rural and agrarian while the rest of Germany advanced.

    The next photograph on the wall was Martzel at about the same period as the Berlin Olympics. It was him standing on the Oberbaumbrücke on the River Spree. The surprising part was who he was with, Manny’s Aunt Katherine, she looked like she was fifteen or sixteen at the time. A girl with a shy smile in an oversized coat and a what looked like men’s trousers.

    “That was before Kat was the Tigress” Martzel said when he noticed that Manny was looking at that picture. “We all loved having her around, she made things interesting.”

    That was as profound an understatement as Manny had ever heard.

    “She rounded out the team” Martzel said, “If Johann had not overplayed his hand after getting bad advice, then we would have gone on to far greater things, but alas… Martzel shrugged apologetically.

    “You were part of a team?” Manny asked. Almost fearing the answer.

    “You tend to have those when something needs to be done” Martzel replied, “Ours was of the rather secretive sort who did the most dangerous things.”

    That was something that Manny had not been expecting to hear. Martzel had just implied that he had been in one of the BND’s Hunter/Killer teams with Aunt Kat. It tracked perfectly with the rumors that had been floating around for years. It also explained why when Patagonia had been invaded, Martzel had gone south to personally lead the resistance. He had done things like that before.

    “When I was a bit younger than you are now, I went up to Rosario in the Santa Fe Province on business” Martzel said, “For lack of anything better to do, I got involved in a crooked card game with a trio of cardsharps who thought I was an easy mark from the country. The game didn’t have the outcome they were expecting, and I got into a fight with them. Three against one, though it was still unfair odds if you ask me.”

    Martzel walked over and poured a clear liquor into two glasses. It was obvious to Manny that he liked telling stories, this one though had probably seldom been told to anyone. Not the full details anyway. He handed Manny a glass before launching back into the story. Manny took a sip and nearly choked as it burned all the way down, Martzel drank the stuff like water.

    “So, no sooner than the fight had ended then there was this group of three Germans and a Spaniard who had watched the whole thing” Martzel said, “Then one of them, a big bruiser named Schultz asks me if I want a job. A few days work, easy money. I didn’t realize at the time that the job would last fifteen years.”

    “You are saying that you were recruited by Johann Schultz after he saw you get into a barfight?” Manny asked.

    “The one and only” Martzel replied, “Fritz Schafer, Juan Pujol-Garcia, and Karl Weise were there as well. I don’t think I need to tell you that your friend Christian is Karl’s nephew. The world is a small place at times.”

    “A knife maker and one of the richest men in the world were in the bar that night?”

    “That’s the thing” Martzel replied “That was before they became those things. Juan got rich during the war when he was put in charge of Imperial Shipping, since then he has sort of got into everything. Schafer was a renowned knife fighter back then. He just found a way to make a living doing what he loved after he got too old to be in the Heer. Karl, the street that runs past the new Reichstag building in Berlin is named for him, you know that story. There was a marksman who was an on-off member of the team who had worked with Schultz for years, Heinz Thorwald, I know you know that name already. That’s not the real kick in the head though.”

    Martzel was delighting in this while Manny was a bit bewildered. His Aunt Kat had hung around with this crowd while she was little more than a child? Had worked with them? Where was Aunt Marcella when all this was going on? She should have gone ballistic.

    “Leading this team was the brains behind the entire outfit” Martzel said, “Go there, do this, drop that off, put a bullet in this guy, and often for inexplicable reasons that didn’t become obvious until years, even decades later.”

    The booze in Manny’s stomach curdled. What Martzel was describing was something that was all too familiar to those within a generation of the German military. Something that everyone knew about and even the Government fretted over the possibility of it happening again.

    “Your team was directed by Jacob von Schmidt?” Manny asked.

    Martzel just smiled. “You said it, not me” He replied.
     
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    Part 125, Chapter 2105
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Five



    17th December 1971

    Falkensee, Brandenburg

    “Good morning, Tatiana” The nondescript woman who entered the interview room said as she entered. She pulled a pen and a blank notepad out of the briefcase she brought into the room. “I am certain that you want to go home to start your Christmas Holiday with your family, so I will do my best to keep this brief. You can call me Frau Sagen, I am the Staff Linguist among other things, and I have been assigned to be your Case Officer while you are training here in Falkensee.”

    It was obvious that Sagen was not her actual name, it was the sort of thing that would lead whoever Tatiana might blab to down a pointless cul-de-sac. A Linguist named Sagen, get it, Tatiana thought to herself. The entire thing was entire too cute and sent a message to her loud and clear, they didn’t trust her because she hadn’t earned it. There was also Sagen mentioning her family, meaning that they didn’t know much about her either. Tatiana knew that her father and Malcolm would probably be okay. Marie Alexandra though, who knew which persona she would have on. The only thing that was certain about Tatiana’s little sister was that no matter how dressed up she was always a pretentious bitch. Then there was her mother’s ward Sophie, it was hard to get a read on her other than how she jumped at her own shadow. Finally, there was her mother. Tatiana hoped that they could make it through the Christmas Holiday with getting into a screaming match like they had a couple times over the Summer Holiday. It seemed like they always ended up at odds with each other over trifling things that really had nothing to do with anything. The truth was that her mother did not approve of Tatiana training to join the BND and that was the elephant in the room.

    “You are studying Humanities at the Friedrich Wilhelm University?” Sagen asked.

    “Yes” Tatiana replied.

    “That is sort of an odd choice” Sagen said, “Most of the people I see are studying Economics or International Relations.”

    “Ever thought that might be a problem?” Tatiana asked in a slightly defensive manner. “Understanding why people do things as opposed to what they are presently doing.”

    “Perhaps” Sagen replied as she wrote something down on her notepad. “I also understand that you speak several languages. English?”

    “Yes” Tatiana replied.

    “What is your relationship with your mother like?” Sagen asked in English.

    “What sort of question is that?” Tatiana demanded, when Sagen didn’t respond, Tatiana had to repeat the question in English which left her stewing.

    “I ask because she can make all our lives very difficult” Sagen replied as she wrote more down on her notepad, “Your accent is terrible by the way, we will need to work on that.”

    Then the two sat in silence for several minutes, the only sound the scratching of Frau Sagen’s pen on her notepad. The question about her mother was an honest one. Tatiana’s mother could do a lot more than just make things difficult. She had an unimaginable amount of power, far more than her mere title suggested. She had learned from classmates once she started at University that in the Working-Class neighborhoods of Berlin, Katherine of Pankow, was seen as their champion, but she was also equally feared as the Tigress by those who crossed her. Unlike most other Rulers in this era, she held the power of life and death over her subjects.

    “There is someone I would like to introduce you to” Sagen said as she pulled a file from her briefcase and placed it on the table. “To see if you have any insights.”

    Opening the folder to first document. Tatiana saw the name on an American Birth Certificate, Margaret Anne Morgan. It said that she was the daughter of Dafydd Morgan, a Laborer from Cardiff, Wales and Rosemarie Morgan, nee Donnelly, a Seamstress from Salem, Massachusetts. Born on March 14th, 1951, at the New England Deaconess Hospital. The next document was Death Certificate for Dafydd Siors Morgan from Mesothelioma on July the 6th, 1954 at the age of forty. Stapled to the document was a photocopy of a Newspaper Obituary page, someone had taken a yellow highlighter pen to mark a short paragraph about Dafydd “Taffy” Morgan. The next document was a State Coroner’s report detailing how Rosemarie Morgan died of a previously undiagnosed heart defect on January 15th, 1955, at the age of thirty-five, six months after her husband. The final document detailed how three-year-old Margaret Anne was sent to live with her only living relatives in County Antrim, Ireland.

    “All I can say is that this girl did not have an easy start” Tatiana said.

    “I would think not” Sagen replied, “She died a few hours after she was born, our people within the hospital system over there pass along certain files that might one day be useful, like the ones you are holding in your hand. Others, like the ones documenting Margaret Anne Morgan’s death were destroyed before they were entered into the system. As far as the State knew, her parents had a minor child at the time of their deaths. Having relatives, even ones overseas, willing to take in such a child would be seen as a godsend.”

    “Wouldn’t they figure out that she didn’t actually exist?” Tatiana asked.

    “You would think” Sagen replied, “But arrangements were made to everyone’s satisfaction. As I said, the system is overburdened.”

    Tatiana found that more than a little disturbing, then it occurred to her that they expected her to become this person.

    “Now what do you think you can tell me about her?” Sagen asked.

    “She doesn’t like her first name” Tatiana replied while thinking about what she knew about American names. “Margaret is terribly old-fashioned, and she absolutely hates it if anyone calls her Maggie. She prefers to go by her middle name, Anne.”

    “That’s good” Sagen said before writing more down on her notepad, “What else have you got?”

    Now that Tatiana was getting into it, this was actually kind of fun.
     
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    Part 125, Chapter 2106
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Six



    21st December 1971

    Mitte, Berlin

    Nella just sipped a cup of hot chocolate while looking at the various wares that were on display. She didn’t seem to be particularly interested in the sweets like she had been in years past. Kiki wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed. Nella had always overindulged until she made herself sick but at the same time Kiki missed the little girl with infectious enthusiasm for the Christmas Market. Instead, Nella was buying trinkets for friends and close family, seemingly indifferent to what exactly she was buying. Kiki hoped that indifference wasn’t practice for what Nella would be like in a few years. She felt like it would be a great loss if her little sister started to behave that way.

    If anything, Nan was even more reserved this year, but she had never trusted superficial things like the Christmas Market. Nan had seen too often in her early childhood how anything could be taken away, even the most basic of necessities. Charlotte had explained to Kiki her worries about the daughter that she had adopted years earlier. Her biological father had been a creep of the sort that normally didn’t exist outside of monster movies. Nan had already put two and two together, figuring out her indelible connection to her mother’s rapist. The concern now was what would happen when Nan figured out that she’d had other siblings who had not been as fortunate as she had been. Their bones had been found buried in a wooded part of the family farm, the fatal consequences of becoming a disappointment. It had been suggested that Nan had narrowly escaped that fate.

    “My when did this happen?” the Russian woman who had sold Kiki the pickled ginger root when Nella had made herself sick asked as they approached her booth and she saw Nella and Nan. It was a reminder that Kiki had missed the year before because she had been lost behind the lines in Patagonia at the time. “You used to be this tiny little thing showing up here after you had too many sweets, luckily your big sister was there to help you.”

    Nella gave her an embarrassed smile.

    “We wouldn’t miss this for the world” Kiki said, for lack of anything better to say. She feared that there was a good chance that Nella would not be interested in doing this next year.

    “Don’t you have your own little girl now?” The Russian woman asked warmly.

    “Nina is still too young” Kiki replied, “And today was an excellent chance for her to visit her grandparents.”

    “I hope that the Emperor doing well these days” The Russian woman said guessing correctly that Nina was with Kiki’s father and stepmother. Despite everything that had happened, Kiki’s father had been the Emperor for thirty years and people had a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that in the now Friedrich IV that sat on the throne.

    “He is enjoying retirement” Kiki replied, “Trying to start his second act.”

    “I am happy to hear that” The Russian woman said.

    A few minutes later, Kiki, Nella, and Nan resumed their Christmas shopping. The entire time, Kiki was thinking about how Ben was not thrilled about her going to Kiel after New Year’s because she was going to be taking classes so that she could pilot the Epione if it were ever necessary. He had joked about how the last time she had gone out of town for any length of time, she’d had somehow managed to have a baby by the time he had managed to catch up with her again.

    Kiki had not found that in the least bit funny. The only way they were having another kid anytime in the near future was over Kiki’s dead body and she was not near as caviler this time around. For her the unlikely had already happened and she wasn’t taking chances.



    Washington D.C.

    “Is this true?” Nelson Rockefeller asked.

    “According to our latest intelligence, yes” Frank Church replied. He had served as the National Security Advisor across two Administrations and with Rockefeller on his way out he was unlikely to serve in a third. Instead, he was in a strong position to be the next Director of the CIA or the NSA. The trouble was that he had to get through the next year until the new Administration came in.

    “Are we going to do anything about it?” Rockefeller asked.

    “That is ultimately your call, Sir” Church said, “But I would advise against it.”

    “You are saying that an important regional ally is about to get hammered because Martinez wants to make a brutal point before he is going be willing to sit down and begin negotiations” Rockefeller stated, “And suggesting that we sit on our hands.”

    “Yes and no” Church replied, “We can act, but if we do then the question will become exactly where we got the information from. Our source in Berlin will be compromised.”

    “Would that really be enough to leave our man exposed?” Rockefeller asked.

    “In this game, all it takes is mere suspicion to cause someone to clean house and the Germans are as ruthless at that as they are with anything else” Church said, “And we had to work for years to cultivate our current asset. One wrong move and he is spending the rest of his career counting penguins at Wilhelm Station if he is lucky, and that is only if the German BII or BND doesn’t have enough to throw him into a dark hole from which no one emerges.”
     
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    Part 125, Chapter 2107
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Seven



    24th December 1971

    Paso de San Francisco, Argentine-Chilean Frontier

    It was a real kick to the head what had happened.

    Because the 1st Platoon of the 7th Recon’s Dragoon Company had been in Argentina since the start of the conflict and had an exemplary combat record from the siege of Rio Gallegos and in campaign that had followed, they had been given the option of going home early. No one had taken Headquarters up on that offer. It was like something from a movie. They had been there from the start, and they wanted to be there at the end.

    For Manny, it was a stressful situation. The men of the Platoon had put a lot of faith in his leadership and all he could do was make continuing decisions as best he could and hope that it wasn’t misplaced. What had happened when he had come back from leave spent at Martzel Iberia’s house in the Rio Negro Valley didn’t help matters.

    The Chilean Army had stolen a page from the Heer when they decided to launch a counter offensive just after Christmas, not to change the course of the war, but to slow it down. Hopefully buying their political leaders the time to negotiate a better peace deal than they might otherwise have gotten. What they didn’t know was that the BND’s Signal Intelligence Section had cracked the Chilean Army’s codes and knew what the next play was. When President Martinez had been informed, he had said that he wanted to use this as a chance to kick the Chilean’s teeth in. While Manny had his reservations about the course of action that Martinez was demanding, he did admire the decisive manner in which the Argentine President ordered the Army Group that had defended the nation’s critical oil refineries on the Pacific Coast earlier in the war. He had not so jokingly said that the operation had no name, just what roughly translated to “Happy Christmas, Motherfuckers” before he had placed General Tilo Schultz in overall Command. The goal was not to take the pass, but to smash the Army Group on the other side of it.

    Their own 4th Panzer Division was to be near the tip of the spear and that had necessitated Manny’s Platoon being deployed well ahead of the main advance. They had come in on foot the day before to the flanks of Cerro San Francisco, the extinct volcano that shared its name with the pass carrying as much ammunition, water and whatever else they thought they might need, as they could carry.

    Spread out below them had was the Chilean Army Group that had been massing here. Their goal was to remain undetected until the main attack started, then they were to coordinate air and artillery strikes after having mapped the pass. The fact that they were way out here on the sharp end was not lost on anyone. If things got hairy, then it would the 32 of them against whatever the Chilean Army could throw at them. Manny didn’t like those odds and neither had anyone else. That was why he had had gotten no static when he had done his level best to get them to make themselves invisible. Manny saying that he would personally skin alive whoever allowed themselves to be silhouetted, and had not been joking, might have had something to do with that.

    That was way, his Platoon had spent all of Christmas Eve in foxholes covered by sheets of plywood covered in earth trying to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. Manny had worked all day to map out the opposing trench system. The heat of the day had vanished swiftly, the clear skies and high altitude of around five thousand meters saw to that.

    Earlier that evening, they had heard the sound of engines revving as the Panzers had moved into place from Fiambala. Manny had recognized SPz IVs and Leopard IIs in the distance around sunset but knew that when it came to the initial assault on the trench system, they would be a part of the force that would exploit the breach in the lines. It would probably be the regular Argentine Infantry, for political reasons, in conjunction with the Storm Pioneers who tore the hole. That was why Manny had not been surprised to see the modified Bergepanzers used by the GS, the turretless Panzers employing the most dangerous weapon to a soldier in a trench, a bulldozer blade. Trenches, barbed wire, and landmines tended to be useless against their advance. It was said that if the GS were in the field, digging a trench was effectively digging your own grave and the Storm Pioneers would be more than happy to fill it in for you.

    As the minutes ticked down to Two O’clock in the morning. Manny found himself unable to sleep. Ralf, who he was sharing a hole with was fidgeting around and keeping him awake, while Christian was snoring softly. This was one of the rare times that Manny envied Christian.

    Once they started directing the artillery fire, the Chileans would swiftly figure it out. It was the space of time between them and when reinforcements arrived when Manny expected his Platoon to really get hammered.

    Sliding out of his hole, Manny crawled to the next hole over. Einar and Brodbeck were sharing this one.

    “It is about to get hot around here” Manny whispered. In the starlight, Einar nodded. That was how he worked his way up and down the line. Getting back to his own hole at One Fifty-Eight he had a couple minutes to spare before the show started.

    At exactly 2 AM, 15- and 10.5-Centimeter Artillery, both towed and self-propelled opened up, firing over the ridges. From Manny’s perspective, it looked like the shells were just meters away as they arched overhead. In the valley below, there were little cover beyond the trenches. Looking at Ralf and Christian as Manny grabbed his spotting scope and the canvas bag that held his Thorwald rifle.

    “Looks like we are getting a front row seat for this show” Manny exclaimed with far more enthusiasm than he really felt.
     
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    Part 125, Chapter 2108
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Eight



    25th December 1971

    Paso de San Francisco

    The choking dust and the noise of mortar shells falling on the ridge were constants as it occurred to Christian just how they had managed to paint themselves into a corner. The morning had started easy enough, directing artillery in the vast set piece battle that was taking place in the valley. The trouble was that the Chileans were not stupid, and once artillery fire had begun, they had started looking for who was directing it. The nature of this battle had made it so that they were shooting blind over the mountains hoping to slow down the opposing force that was driving up the valley, but whose advance was still concealed by the mountains. A high degree of accuracy was a clue that there must be a forward observer somewhere.

    The First Platoon was still within what was enemy territory and even if they attempted to retreat, there was nowhere to go. Nothing in this barren landscape offered any cover, so they were stuck until they were relieved. Which happened to be one of the stupidest plans Christian had ever heard of. Manny had just shrugged, “Sometimes you have no choice but to fight” He said, “Then it is a matter of picking your ground.” Christian didn’t believe that. He suspected that they wouldn’t be here if they had not been ordered to.

    Later in the morning, something must have given their position away because they had spotted a formation of Infantry working their way up the mountain. Manny had called it in, and they had watched as it had been blown apart by artillery. It had been shortly after that when the mortar fire had started. Christian figured that whoever was directing the blasted things didn’t know exactly where they were, but all he needed to do was get them to keep their heads down. As was, they were trying to get as deep as they could in their holes, with only a thin sheet of plywood, their helmets and body armor to protect them. It hardly seemed adequate.

    “They won’t be able to keep this rate of fire up for long, thin air” Manny said, “And being here works for us.”

    “What the fuck?” Christian replied, wondering where Manny’s optimism was coming from as they were getting showered with shrapnel and rock fragments.

    “Look for yourself” Manny said before pointing up the mountain. “It’s something you have to remember when shooting up or down slopes. Gravity, you know?”

    Christian saw that most of the mortar shells were overshooting and hitting the peak of the ridge behind them. Manny had a smile on his face, it was covered in dust and there was a trickle of blood from where a fragment had cut his forehead, Christian was aware that he probably had several similar injuries but had lost count as he had been hit by the fragments that had found their way into their improvised shelter. Christian realized that Manny was very much in his element here when anyone else would be panicking. Small wonder that people thought that the Mischner’s were collectively insane. In the minutes that followed, the fire slacked off as had been predicted.

    “Now comes the tricky part” Manny said as he keyed the radio to talk to the others dug in on the face of the ridge. “We’re about to have visitors, lets give them a proper welcome.”

    The ragged affirmations came in from those still capable of giving them.

    “Do you know something I don’t?” Christian asked. It wouldn’t be the first time.

    “Beyond the obvious? No” Manny said, “The group coming up the mountain is probably the size of a Regiment, so have that grenade launcher on your rifle ready.”

    Lifting his head to the lip of his hole, Christian saw dozens of soldiers trudging up the mountain. They didn’t seem to be moving particularly fast. In Christian’s experience, the Chilean Army was better than this. What was going on?

    Then Christian remembered the walk in yesterday, how the thin air had left him gasping. They were on a mountainside at five thousand meters above sea level, so a Regiment from the Chilean Army that would have pushed them off this ridge with ease had this been at a lower elevation was having to climb a steep slope and getting exhausted. The same thing must have been happening to the mortar crews. Christian took aim with the ladder sight on his rifle, knowing that he was shooting downhill he adjusted his aim. Not that he could miss. The 40mm grenade was fired from the under-barrel launcher, arming itself after it had completed two full rotations before exploding among the Chileans. Breaking open the grenade launcher, the spent case was kicked out and through long practice Christian fed another one into it. Around him, Christian could hear the short bursts of machinegun fire as Manny had ordered them to conserve ammunition.

    A couple kilometers and a few hundred meters below them, the battle for the pass was engulfed in clouds of dust. Christian had no clue as to what might be happening down there as he fired additional grenades into the Chileans. He wished that whatever were happening would hurry up and happen, because eventually the weight of numbers was going to become a factor up here. Switching to shooting his rifle, Christian was dimly aware that he was shooting at distances he would not have considered before Manny had gone on that marksmanship kick in Wunsdorf a million years earlier and damned if he weren’t hitting what he was aiming at.
     
    Part 125, Chapter 1209
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Nine



    25th December 1971

    Paso de San Francisco

    The first wave of soldiers coming up the mountain had fled as soon as they figured out that they were encountering stiff resistance. The trouble was that in the manner of soldiers since the dawn of time, their Commander must have exaggerated the actual numbers he was facing. Because the Chileans unloaded everything they had on the mountaintop. It was sort of ironic because Manny could see how the lines were getting pushed back. Every shell expended uselessly against a handful of observers was one less that was desperately needed elsewhere. It made sense in the brutal arithmetic of this conflict however it was sort of hard to keep that in perspective as they were getting hammered. In the valley below, the force that was assembling against them looked enormous. A part of Manny felt like yelling at them that it was to be expected when they took on the Panzer Corps.

    It was shortly after that when Manny saw that the Infantry were trying to advance up the mountain again. He understood the motivation that must be at work. Even as the Chileans were getting pushed back, Manny and his men were the enemy in front of him. He wasn’t prepared to just let that go. Focusing through the scope of his rile, Manny looked for the tell-tale signs of Officers and Noncoms. Anyone who looked to be in charge or walked like an asshole, not to put too fine a point on it. As fast as he could work the bolt, he sent 8.5mm bullets down range until he discovered that the pack containing the cartridges was empty.

    Ralf must have noticed because he shoved his own rifle into Manny’s hands along with several unused magazines. He was operating his radio and calling in artillery and air support, so his rifle had seen little use today. Manny went back to shooting at the advancing Chileans, he heard Einar shouting at Brodbeck to get the bonesaw back into the fight and Brodbeck complaining about how he was out. A moment later Kruger said the same thing and then came the call that Grünbach was hit and the 3rd Squad which he led was on the verge of panicking. Things were unraveling fast as Manny realized that he was out of options. He desperately needed the one thing he didn’t have, time, as the Chileans were pushing to within a matter of a few meters. Christian fired a grenade had sounded like if it had barely left the barrel before it had detonated before looking at him apologetically, meaning he was out too, and Manny realized that he was out of time and options.

    Snatching the radio mic away from Ralf, Manny started shouting authorization over the command net for a fire mission and when Ralf and Christian heard the coordinates, they started yelling for the others to get as deep in their holes as they could. Less than a minute later, the whole face to the mountain was swept with creeping barrage from a battery of Evergreens that started with their own position and progressed towards the road.

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

    Christian had no idea how long he had been out, but his head was ringing as he was pulled out of his hole after being half buried. He had a man who he dimly was aware was a Chilean Officer yelling at him in Spanish. Something about demanding to know where the rest of them were.

    It took his addled mind a minute to find the right words in Spanish to respond. “I crap on your whore mother” Christian said to the man’s face and watched his face turn red with rage. Next thing Christian knew he had a gun in his face, and he simply no longer cared as he would have spit at the man if his mouth wasn’t so dry. A minute later he was dragged over to where the others were sitting surrounded by armed Chilean Soldiers.

    “You just earned yourself a Knight’s Cross if we get out of this shit Chris” Manny said as he must have seen what had just happened. Watching as the other survivors of their outfit were getting pulled out by the Chileans, the Officer was yelling at his men as he must have finally realized that he had taken on a single Platoon and had taken disproportionate losses.

    “Now there is someone who is having a truly rotten day” Ralf observed, and they got a good laugh. The Soldiers around them looked totally outraged. Their part in this show had been reduced to that of a complete farce.

    The Chilean Officer came back over and singled out Manny to yell at. They must have figured out that he was the Platoon leader, a minute later, they started checking rank tabs. Sort of difficult to do considering how they were completely covered in dust. “Sargento” One of the men said as he got a look at Christian, and he was shoved in the direction of Manny. It was clear that they were trying to separate out Officers and Noncoms who held greater intelligence value from the Other Ranks. Christian was tired, and he was noticing the various injuries he had received over the course of the morning.

    It was then that a shrill whistle split the air and as Christian watched a single man stood on the crest of the ridge. Then as if by magic, dozens of others appeared. They were shooting at the Chileans and when they reached Christian on of them looked at him and said, “Why can’t you Recon types stay in your own lane?” It was then that he noticed that the man had an Edelweiss patch on the sleave of his tunic and Christian wondered if it was too late to go with the retreating Chileans. When word of this got out, they were never going to hear the end of it.
     
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    Part 125, Chapter 2110
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Ten



    27th December 1971

    Paso de San Francisco

    Tilo read the report that landed on his desk that showed how things were progressing and felt a bit disgusted by what exactly he was doing here. This wasn’t a battle; it was deliberate destruction just for the sake of doing so. Like a child breaking dishes by throwing them out the window because they liked to hear the crash. The plan was to lure the Chilean Army to commit more and more resources to defending Paso de San Francisco and it was working so far. They had taken the top of the pass and the Chileans were pouring men and material into retaking it.

    The Argentine President didn’t just want a victory here, he wanted the Chileans to remember it if they ever set foot on this side of the Andes Mountains. President Martinez had said as much in a fiery speech in which he said he wanted graves filed as the wails of widows and orphans filled air. The Chileans had started this fight and it was his intention to end it on his terms. Tilo had been tempted to ask if President Martinez wanted him to salt the earth as well but had held his tongue. He had no way knowing if this was the crowing of a politician pandering a public hungry for revenge, or if Martinez meant every word he said.

    Tilo’s mind kept wandering back to what had happened the day before how a single Platoon had found themselves in a critical mission that had placed them a dangerous position. With hundreds of thousands all around, it seemed strange that a small number be involved in what had turned out to be a microcosm. Of the thirty-two men involved in the operation, eight had died and the remainder of the Platoon had all suffered injuries to some extent and at least six would never return to active service. In return, they had guided the artillery that had covered the main advance up the pass and when they had been discovered, they had fought a far larger force to a standstill.

    He had known Manfred von Mischner for his entire life, Manfred’s mother Helene being a dear friend of Nancy’s, which was why the 4th Panzer had checked with him first. Tilo had sent him in there knowing that this would be the likely outcome. If it had been Sebastian, would he have been so quick to approve the orders? He didn’t know. He had talked to President Martinez that morning and had learned that the Argentine Government wanted to reward the detachment from the 7th Recon. It would probably the first bit of recognition that they would receive. Tilo remembered his own experiences and remembered how a bit of costume jewelry had hardly seemed worth the price he had paid for it, years later he would discover that they opened many doors for him though. Apparently, the Argentine Government believed in giving things that were a bit more tangible.

    Overhead, four of the Turmfalke fighter-bombers streaked past, on an attack run. They were so close that Tilo could see the pilots behind the controls. Were they flying low or was this place so high?



    Mitte, Berlin

    “I know that this is not how you want to spend your day” Marie heard her mother say, “I do not want to hear any complaints regarding…”

    “If you told me what this was about, I probably wouldn’t complain as much” Marie said as she looked out the back window of the car. “You always do this, keeping me in the dark, thinking that I need to be protected.”

    All Marie knew was that her plans to sleep in her own bed, reveling in the freedom and privacy of her bedroom over the lazy week between Christmas and New Year’s had been rudely interrupted. Being handed clothes that her mother deemed appropriate and told to get dressed. Now, in the car as they were being driven across town, Marie wanted answers.

    “I am going to tell you if you give me a chance” Marie’s mother replied. Something about the way she said it suggested that Marie would regret it if she interrupted her mother again.

    They sat in silence for a long awkward moment.

    “As I was saying, I don’t want any complaints because they would be extremely inappropriate” Marie’s mother said, “Zoe Brun, who I know is a classmate of yours lost her brother a couple days ago and I know that you will want to be there for your friend.”

    “I’m attending a different school this year” Marie replied, “Remember?”

    “And you will be attending the same school again next year” Marie’s mother said, “Adults do not limit their friendships to people they see every day. They have a wider circle of friends and right now I would say that Zoe needs a friend like you.”

    Marie remembered Zoe’s older brother, how she met him a few times and then he had left for Argentina. How she had thought he was cute when she had seen him in the photographs which he had sent in the letters he had sent Zoe.

    “What happened to Engel?” Marie asked.

    The expression on her mother’s face changed. “There is a war going on in South America” She said as if that explained everything. “Young men die in war Marie, before they grow sensible and tell their leaders to fuck off when asked to do something stupid.”

    Oddly, Marie wished that her mother had not told her so much this time.
     
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    Part 125, Chapter 2111
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Eleven



    31st December 1971

    Buenos Aires

    It had taken a few days aboard the SMS Prinzessin Antonia, but the Surgeons had told Christian that his injuries were not life threatening. He had spent the flight from Fiambalá to Córdoba and finally to Buenos Aires completely out his head on painkillers and antibiotics, his arms and legs wrapped in gauze. The Surgeons had been unable to find all the small fragments of metal and stone lodged in the parts of him that had not been armored, mostly his arms and legs. Many of those fragments had started to work their way out on their own and the risk of infection was great, so Christian was being kept cooped up.

    Christian had found that being a hero didn’t mean a whole lot here after the ten of them who’s injuries were relatively minor waited on the hospital ship in Buenos Aires while the Heer decided what to do with them. Aboard this ship, it seemed like everyone was a hero of some sort, so they were just the crazy guys who called in an artillery strike, from 15cm Evergreens no less, on their own position as a way to give the finger to the Chileans as they were being overrun. Laudable, sure, but still totally batshit insane.

    That was why Christian was staring at the ceiling, deck, or whatever you called it on a ship. The others in the ward were watching a television that was playing a recording of a sitcom from back home. Christian wasn’t interested. Instead, he kept running the numbers of what had happened to the Squad he had led. Fred Moser, the Squad’s Radio Operator, Martin Kruger, one of their gunners, and Engel Brun, one of their Dragoons, were all dead.

    Bruno Kundert had his face peppered by shrapnel. It was a miracle he had made it to the field hospital alive and the Surgeons had been unable to save his vision. He said that driving an Iltis was the only thing he had ever been good at. Florian Brodbeck had sustained similar injuries to Christian’s and was with the others watching the sitcom. Einar Tann was in a different ward recovering from the major surgery that had been required to save his life after getting shot in the chest by the Chileans. Christian had been told that he would eventually recover but that would not be soon.

    Manfred von Mischner and Ralf Blecher had been in the same hole as Christian. Manny was in a private cabin and not just because he was an Officer. It was said that because he had been nominated to join the prestigious Order of the Pour le Mérite. When Christian had spoken with him last, he had been taking the deaths and injuries among the Platoon hard. He felt that he had made several mistakes starting with letting them volunteer to remain on the line. Ralf was in the bed next to Christian’s, and he was annoying everyone with his tendency to want to disassemble anything electronic.

    Rainer Maus had somehow received only minor injuries and had been sent to 7th Recon’s Headquarters to wait for further orders, sort of hard to do with the rest of the Platoon out of action. Ralf figured that Maus was probably Oberstlieutent Schier’s gofer. As if Christian needed more proof that God loved drunkards and fools.

    Feeling restless, Christian got out of bed and limped on bare feet to the door leaving the ward. Stepping out into a hot, humid night, he saw the lights of the City off in the distance. The Antonia was anchored out on the river for reasons unknown to him. He recalled that he had been flown from the airport to the helipad on the ship. It was something that he hoped he would never have to do again. It being New Year’s Eve, there was a celebration going on in the city. Leaning on the rail Christian watched the city and wondered if they did fireworks at midnight here like they did at home.

    Christian’s own situation was a bit odd. He had been promoted again before leaving for Paso de San Francisco, but the news had not reached him before the battle. Then afterwards he learned that Manny had remembered saying that he would put him in for a medal after he had insulted that Chilean Officer. Like the EK1 and EK2, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross was open to Officers and Enlisted alike, Christian getting nominated for one was huge deal though. He had also been recommended for a meritorious promotion and had his name broadcast over the Imperial Radio Network in a dispatch to the Reichstag. He had been informed of all this by one of the Nurses calling him Oberfeld Weise and had thought that she was talking to someone else. Later, when Generalfeldmarschall Dietrich Schultz had been visiting Manny, two of his Staff had spoken with Christian. They had said that with his service record, decorations, and after having received two meritorious promotions in two and half years he seriously needed to rethink the role he played in the Heer…

    “You are not supposed to be up” One of the Nurses said as she approached Christian. “And look at this, you’re bleeding again.”

    Christian looked at his arm from where he had been clutching the rail, the bandage had blood seeping through it.

    “Sorry, Ma’am” Christian said, “I was just trying to get some fresh air.”
     
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    Part 125, Chapter 2112
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Twelve



    7th January 1972

    Berlin

    The railcar slowed to a stop as it pulled into the station. Pulling on his coat, Manfred von Richthofen was annoyed by how he felt the cold as he had grown older. He remembered that Käte had wanted to buy a house in Italy or Portugal, and he had not liked the idea because that would be admitting that he had grown old. There were entire communities in those countries that catered to German retirees during the winter months. They would happily welcome Manfred, and his money, with open arms. Still, the thought of spending the winter months with a vast crowd of pensioners who shuffled around ancient streets that they no longer had the energy to properly explore as they waited to die did not appeal to him. He would certainly miss the rhythm of the seasons that had been a part of who he was for his entire life. Grabbing ahold of Rust’s leash, Manfred did his best to stride towards the exit but the arthritis in his knees made itself felt and he almost cursed aloud. He would be damned if he would walk with a cane. It was already bad enough that he was half deaf and needed glasses to read. It seemed like every part of him was failing him these days. As a retired Field Marshal and the Prince-Elector of Silesia, Manfred had had a number of Aides who had taken care of the arrangements for today before he had left Silesia. They had done much of the thinking beforehand, so that was one thing he didn't need to worry about.

    “The Emperor has confirmed your meeting with him tomorrow” Major Erich von Manstein said. It seemed absurd to Manfred that his Chief of Staff was the grandson and namesake of a Heer General he had once worked closely with. But there he was. The meeting with Friedrich had been up in the air just a few hours earlier. It being Emperor Friedrich these days also felt absurd.

    “Very well” Manfred replied.

    “The other bit of news is that Herr Guthmann is waiting in your car” Erich said, “He said that it is urgent.”

    “When isn’t it?” Manfred asked.

    Erich just stared at him and for what must have been the thousandth time, Manfred felt that the Major really needed to develop a sense of humor or else he felt sorry for the men in the future who would fall under Erich’s command. Not that his grandfather had exactly been a joy to be around either. There was also something about the way he mentioned Guthmann that suggested that he shared his grandfather’s perspective on certain other matters as well. It was a reminder to Manfred why he had taken pains to keep Erich and Helene separate at all times. She was rather intolerant of that sort of thing.

    Walking out of the train station, Manfred saw his car waiting for him. As the Chauffer opened the back door, he saw that Berthold Guthmann was waiting inside.

    “Why exactly haven’t you retired yet?” Guthmann asked as Manfred sat down. “Like most men our age.”

    “I could ask you the same thing” Manfred replied.

    “I passed off running the firm to the Junior Partners ages ago” Guthmann said, “They called me back from Naples because it seems that I’m the only one that can talk to a stubborn old goat like you. I’d rather be there than experiencing the joys of winter in Berlin.”

    Guthmann had just unknowingly confirmed many of Manfred’s earlier thoughts about Italy. During the First World War, Berthold Guthmann had flown in the Imperial Air Service, what would eventually become the Luftwaffe. After the war he had gone into the legal profession and was one of the few Lawyers who Manfred halfway trusted to mind his family’s affairs.

    “What’s the crisis that is so important that it brought you back to Berlin?” Manfred asked.

    “You haven’t seen today’s news then I take it?” Guthmann asked, “Your daughter threatened to withdraw the Greens from the Government if our further involvement with the war between Argentina and Chile involves anything other than a ceasefire and negotiating a settlement to end the conflict. She is really taking her son getting hurt over there personally and that move would force early elections. The Chancellor is screaming bloody murder.”

    That surprised Manfred. He had returned to Berlin because Manfred the Younger was coming home this week and could probably use the support of someone from his family who understood the implications of everything that had happened. To help him put things into perspective.

    “That is the sort of powerplay that I wouldn’t have expected from Helene” Manfred said, but in retrospect should have anticipated it.

    “We need to get ahead of this matter” Guthmann said, “The optics of…”

    “I’ll issue a public statement expressing my unreserved support for my daughter’s actions” Manfred replied cutting off Guthmann.

    “That is a bit of a surprise” Guthmann said.

    “The war in Argentina is over but for the shouting” Manfred said, “While Helene’s actions are because she is upset as a mother, it also makes her look extremely powerful which is good for the Party.”

    Guthmann stared at Manfred, looking bewildered.

    “I cofounded Democratic Ecology with Helene and Sophie Scholl, so I have an interest in the future of it” Manfred continued, “Care guess who this move appeals to? Millions of wives and mothers out there who are less than thrilled by the military adventurism over the last couple decades.”

    “Of all the Machiavellian crap you have pulled over the years” Guthmann said, “This takes the cake.”

    “Welcome to the future Berthold” Manfred replied, “Some of us have seen it coming for a long time.”
     
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    Part 125, Chapter 2113
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Thirteen



    10th January 1972

    Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport

    Standing in a portion of the Airport that most of the public didn’t have access to was odd. It was the portion that was used by the Military, for the Fighter and Transport Wings based in this region. Even if Manny weren’t coming in on a Military Transport, this would still be the portion that the plane would be directed to because of the interest that the Press had in this story. Helene didn’t want them around for this moment.

    Helene figured that she was in serious trouble when she had been praised by her father in a public statement. Manfred the Elder saw any bold action by a member of his family as a way of carrying the flag forward as it were. It had all been confirmed when Kat had asked her if she had lost her mind yesterday when they had met for their weekly Sunday breakfast. “There are few things that draw public ire more than a woman exercising authority” Kat had said, suggesting that Helene was inviting backlash.

    That was rich coming from Kat considering the rumors about what happened to those of caused her trouble and Helene had pointed that out only to have her say that those were only rumors because she took care of such matters quietly. Helene could have pointed out that with Kat, “quietly” was said to involve frequently involved a lot of screaming but thought better of it. Kat’s father had ruled the underworld of Berlin with an iron fist, with his enforcers meting out bloody retribution on anyone who rocked the boat. Kat on the other hand controlled the City-State of Berlin by holding the leashes of nearly everyone in a position of power within the City Government. Some might have chafed at being under her control, especially because it was said that while Kat knew that a certain amount of corruption existed in the City her first rule was that they answered to her first no matter how much money they were paid on the side by anyone else. Her preferred means of punishment usually involved the one thing that most politicians actually feared, full public disclosure. Helene had seen how colleagues of hers had been audited, landed in divorce proceedings and even prison after running afoul of Kat.

    Still, Helene’s actions had really set off Chancellor Brandt which was the exact opposite of how Kat typically operated. But what exactly was she supposed to have done? Having her son get hurt in Argentina in a battle that looked like it was being fought largely at the behest of that country’s bombastic President’s desire to see Chile punished was the last straw. As Helene had seen it, someone needed to do something or else this madness would just continue. How many others would get unnecessarily hurt or killed in the meantime? Dietrich Schultz said that he was going to talk President Martinez around, convince him that the Battle of San Francisco Pass was enough destruction. Helene didn’t figure that it would wise to count on that though.

    Fortunately, Helene had been saved from that conversation by having Jo Falk and Suse Knispel come down the stairs. Kat’s former ward and Gerta’s daughter had returned from Argentina when the opportunity had presented itself months earlier. Kat disliked talking business in front of the girls unless it applied to them directly. Helene’s own daughter Ina had followed a few weeks earlier and for them, the entire experience had been this great adventure which the war had hardly factored into. According to Ina, after the siege had lifted and the 4th Division had left Rio Gallegos things had gotten downright boring. Returning to her friends, family and life in Berlin and Breslau had suddenly held a great deal of appeal for her, but she had agreed to do veterinary work in Patagonia for a set period of time and that had not run out until the beginning of December.

    As the plane taxied in and came to a stop, Helene worried for a moment about exactly what condition her son would be in. The old folk song about the man coming home from the wars after having left many bits of himself here and there along the way came unbidden to mind. Then she pushed that aside, he had not been evacuated directly to a hospital as opposed to being sent home to recuperate. Helene had been informed that he had some fractured bones, a concussion, and several shrapnel wounds. Supposedly, everyone on this flight were those considered walking wounded.

    The ramp dropped and Medical personnel who were on hand moved in to help the men off the plane. Helene was a bit amused by how there was a bit of protesting as to whether or not that assistance was needed. She remembered the various times that Hans had been sick over the years and there had always been a similar reaction. The men coming down the ramp were limping or had some visible sign of injuries like bandages or like in the case of Manny, his left arm was in a cast from his hand to his shoulder. Helene wanted to take him home and then never let him leave again as she carefully hugged him. Hans was a bit more taciturn, but Helene knew that he was happy that Manny had made it home in one piece. Ina seemed distracted and Helene realized that she was looking at the faces of the others who were coming down the ramp and that she was looking for friends she had made along the way. Ina must have seen many of them on a near daily basis in Rio Gallegos…

    “Where’s Suse?” Manny asked and Helene had another realization.

    She had forgotten to invite her.
     
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