Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 132, Chapter 2255
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Fifty-Five



    6th October 1973

    Silesia

    There were times when Ilse felt that her father-in-law had far too high of an opinion of himself. This time it was because he had finally figured out the truth about Izabella Lis that Ilse had known for ages and of course, was going about dealing with the situation entirely the wrong way in the most pigheaded manner. This was coming at a time when he should have been content to rest on his laurels, having secured the future of his family as the ruling House of Silesia.

    Ilse well understood that his anger actually had far more to do with the decline from what he had been decades earlier than anything else. All that needed to happen was for the great Manfred von Richthofen to walk past a mirror to be reminded anew that he was no longer the Hunter or Cavalry Officer that he had been in his youth. The fact that by some miracle he had lived into his eighth decade was a small consolation. He had never feared death, instead it was the infirmities of age that scared him. Having to walk with a cane because of an injury to his knee fifty years earlier that he had thought had completely healed or increasingly finding that his eyesight and hearing were deteriorating. Those things made him angry. Ilse had also come to understand why the grandchildren were so special to him and how the matter that he had brought up with her related to one of them.

    “This is something that I knew about before she was hired to work in this household” Ilse said, “And no, she is not going to be dismissed by you, most certainly not by me.”

    Manfred’s jaw dropped. He had clearly not expected her to say that.

    People standing up to him, telling him no, was something that rarely happened anymore. This time was different, and it was something that he was going to have to get used to. He had been delegating responsibilities in running the estate to Ilse for years. She enjoyed Albrecht’s full backing recently when it had been determined that certain conditions regarding Manfred’s mental and physical health had been met. These days any decisions about staffing or long-term plans had to go through Ilse regardless of Manfred the Elder still technically being the head of the family. When Ilse had made sure that it was all legally binding, it seemed that the problems presented by an aged family member with a stagging amount of power was not new to the legal circles. What had been surprising to Ilse had been that mechanisms had been put in place by Manfred himself decades earlier. Apparently, he had thought that this day would never come.

    “But why?” Manfred asked, “She lied to us.”

    “Izabela withheld information that no one asked her for” Ilse replied, “And do you know why I had no objections to her?”

    Manfred just stared at her, he had to know the answer to that question.

    “From both you and my sister I learned the value of having people around who are grateful for what I can give them each day” Ilse said.

    “You know about her connection to Ingrid” Manfred said, “How she abandoned her.”

    “And if I had been forced to give up Nikolaus because my family was a bunch of pious fuckwits, I would crawl over broken glass on bended knee to stay close to him” Ilse replied. She was daring him to continue this conversation, fortunately it sunk in that she had the upper hand.



    Lenk im Simmental, Switzerland

    “We could have disposed of both of them in one action” Petia said, reminding Kat that Petia was every bit the soldier she had been during the Soviet war.

    “Perhaps” Kat replied as she looked at the photographs of the meeting between Strauss and Bleier. “The fact that we can now prove that these two are collaborating is far more valuable. Helene can get them to the right Agencies.”

    “If you say so Katya” Peta replied.

    They were getting a lot of strange looks from around the recreation room they were meeting in. It seemed that carrying on a conversation in Russian was out of the ordinary here.

    “Anything else going on at home?” Kat asked.

    “Sofiya has met a boy” Petia replied, “I am certain of it.”

    Kat didn’t know if she should be amused or cross about this development with her foster daughter. Despite everything else that was going on, at the end of the day Sophie was a teenager with raging hormones and Kat was unable to be present at this time.

    “Too bad locking her in a chastity belt went out of fashion” Kat said.

    Petia just chuckled at that. “That would have just resulted in the man who would become my husband finding a hacksaw” She said.

    “I know” Kat said, “When you get back to Berlin be sure to tell Sofiya that I have full faith in her that she will make the right decisions with her life.”

    “Manipulative” Petia said approvingly, “I figure that it will probably work for a time. When are you coming back to deal with her yourself?”

    “Soon” Kat replied, “I am trying to get myself back into proper order, but that is proving a bit difficult.”

    “You will be pleased to know that the entire city wants you back” Petia said.

    “Of course, they do” Kat replied, “Right now they have no one to complain to.”
     
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    Part 132, Chapter 2256
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Fifty-Six



    10th October 1973

    London, England

    The SMS Grindwal was cruising slowly up the River Thames. There were an extraordinary number of people lining the banks and standing on the bridges. There had been vivid accounts of the sinking of the MV Rose of Inverness which had depicted Louis Ferdinand Junior as far more heroic than he felt he was. In an interview with the BBC, Samuel McPherson had said that he had tied the Grindwal up to the Rose and sent his crew aboard the other ship to fight the fire that had resulted from an explosion in the Engine Room. In his opinion, if the Rose had gone down fast, she would have taken the smaller Corvette down with her. Louis and his men had risked their lives to save all aboard the Rose. If there had been interest in Louis and the Grindwal before, it was at a fever pitch now.

    Borchardt had told Louis that the men were looking forward to a pub-crawl in London. With them being big heroes and all, they figured that they would be able to drink their fill without having to reach into pockets for the time of their visit. Louis wished the men well but had to remind Borchardt that he was one of the Ship’s Officers, even if it was as a Warrant Officer. So, his place would be with Louis when he went to meet with his cousin, the Queen of England. No one could recall the last time a ship of the Kaiserliche Marine High Seas Fleet had received a greeting like this in England.

    Louis was standing in his place on the bridge. Looking down, he saw that all unessential crew were standing at attention on the deck. Their dark blue winter uniforms were still new, and Louis suspected that if he did a snap inspection at this moment he wouldn’t so much as find a thread out of place. They had also acquired gold thread which had been used to embroider SMS K024 Grindwal on their caps, something that the crew was shockingly good at doing. There were probably professionals back home who probably could have done a more credible job of it, but he doubted they could do so well on a ship at sea. It showed that they took pride in their ship and wanted the whole world to know it and that Louis himself was a key part of that.

    As the Grindwal pulled up to the Victoria Embankment, Louis could see the Ambassador waiting for him as the ships was tied up. In Louis’ experience, such men were seldom happy, often playing the role dour technocrats. Today was different though, this man seemed almost gleeful. Louis’ actions must have made his job extremely easy over the prior weeks.



    Tempelhof, Berlin

    There were moments when Kiki’s job resulted in a mixture of bewilderment and terror, usually on a daily basis. Perhaps she might have preferred to work an ordinary job, but Doctor Berg had said that Kiki would just get bored and was probably right. You couldn’t tell what the next case to walk into the Emergency Department was going to be and there were loads of interesting cases. Then there was the last patient who had come in with a large screwdriver embedded up to the hilt, deep into his skull and Kiki had to prevent him from messing with it, or worse, pulling it out himself. Apparently, it had not hit anything he was using as it had gone in.

    After the patient had been handed off to the Surgeons upstairs, including a Neurologist, who could safely remove the screwdriver Kiki had been filing the paperwork when she had two of her colleagues asking her about the case. They seemed to think that it was one of those ones where the jokes write themselves. She wasn’t in the mood to listen to that sort of thing today and had just ignored them as she moved on to the next case.

    The next one wasn’t much better.

    Kiki knew this the instant she looked at the patient intake form in the file. Margareta de Roumanie, the Princess who had been pursuing Kiki’s younger brother for months in the hope of a dynastic marriage that would ensure her family’s place in their own country after the eventual death of her father. Kiki found it hard not to feel sorry for Margareta of Romania. The choices that Margareta felt she had to make were exactly those which Kiki had been pushing back against her entire life. She told the Nurse that she was feeling light-headed, dizzy, and had asked for Kiki specifically. Normally, a request like that would have been soundly ignored but Margareta’s equal social standing to Kiki’s had caused there to be a rare exception made.

    “I saw your little girl on television last week” Margareta said in greeting when Kiki opened the curtain of the cubical that the Nurse had deposited her in. “The striped pajamas were adorable.”

    Kiki almost laughed about that. It had been her old friends at Hertha FC had sent her those blue and white striped pajamas, which Nina loved and was in the process of wearing them to pieces. They felt that having Kiki, and now Nina, as unofficial mascots was lucky for their club having fought off relegation and even getting some big wins over the last few years. Personally, Kiki had little interest in Football but liked how the team was always friendly when she visited them a few times a year. As for Margareta, she had come a long way for medical care, but Kiki wasn’t in the habit of asking irrelevant questions of her patients.

    “It seems that everyone saw that program” Kiki replied as she pulled her stethoscope from its place behind her neck. “Now I am going to need to take a listen to start with.”

    “The whole medical thing, it’s for real?” Margareta asked.

    “I get that question a lot” Kiki replied as she put the earpieces into her ears and lifted the hospital gown and listened to Margareta’s heart and lungs. Kiki was about to lift the diaphragm off her back when she heard a slight flutter. It was something that was extremely unusual for a twenty-four-year-old woman. Margareta didn’t look like if she were starving herself, but Kiki did notice that she had chewed her fingernails down to the quick.

    “Have you been under any unusual stress lately?” Kiki asked.

    Margareta hesitated for a second, debating just what to say.

    “With your brother in the news, my father called and asked why I was having trouble closing the deal” Margareta replied, “He didn’t believe me when I told him that…”

    Kiki knew all about the pressures that ordinary parents could put on their children. When it came to Royalty, that was a thousandfold worse.

    “I will probably understand better than anyone else you could possibly find” Kiki said.

    “Louis is ignoring me” Margareta finished.

    That idiot, Kiki thought to herself. Leave it to Louis Junior to try to do the right thing and make a complete mess of it.
     
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    Part 132, Chapter 2257
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Fifty-Seven



    12th October 1973

    Inglewood, California

    After a couple weeks at Fort Irwin, all Ritchie wanted to do was go home and sleep in his own bed for a night or two before he headed back to work. The trouble was that once he got back to the Regiment’s Headquarters, there was something going on that complicated everything.

    “What the Hell were they thinking?” Crispy asked, “Giving you all those stripes?”

    Ritchie knew that Crispy, also known as Senior Lead Officer Mark Crisp of the LAPD Central Division, was just yanking his chain. However, that didn’t explain why Crispy was here in the first place. Ever since a traffic stop a year earlier had gone horribly wrong, he had been assigned to Parker Center to play the role of Gofer because the friends of some asshole from up north had been threatening to shoot him on sight. Not only was Inglewood a bit out of his normal jurisdiction, but it also happened to be an entirely different city within the County of Los Angeles. It being a California National Guard Armory was beside the point.

    “Being Sergeant Major of a Long-Range Reconnaissance Unit after more than a decade and a half in the Army” Ritchie replied, “It happens. Now what are you doing here?”

    “The Mayor, the Chief of Police, the Colonel in charge if whatever Division this is” Crispy said, “Along with a bunch of other bigwigs yacking at each other. Someone needed to babysit the Chief.”

    “This the 160th Infantry Regiment, not a Division” Ritchie said, “California Seventh.”

    Crispy gave Ritchie a look that suggested that meant nothing to him. As far as most of the Police were concerned, the State National Guard were there in case a fire, flood, earthquake, or a civil disturbance got out of hand. What Ritchie had been doing for the last two weeks out in the Mojave Desert, thankful that it wasn’t happening in August this year, was just a small part of it. A meeting of those who managed the sorts of emergencies that came up regularly in Southern California shouldn’t have been a surprise.



    Tempelhof, Berlin

    This was supposed to be a compromise, but the whole thing had left Sophie bewildered as she stared at the dull grey bicycle frame that had just been removed from its box. Was this Doug’s idea of a joke?

    “You wanted to learn about bicycle repair, what better way than building one, and you joined a club to compete in races” Doug said, “You are going to need another bicycle unless you want to strip down the one that you use for everyday riding.”

    It was something that she had not thought about.

    “I was thinking that we should paint it red” Doug said.

    “We can do that?” Sophie asked.

    “It’s just primer on there now” Doug replied, “They do that so it can be painted with just rattle-cans and a bit of sanding. Red would be fun, sporty, but we can do whatever color you want though.”

    Douglas had told her that he and Kat felt that she was too young to attend adult courses at the University. Instead, he had bought tools and guidebooks on the subject and told Sophie that she could access them whenever she wanted. She knew that he had bought them as a gift to her, an early Christmas present, but had done it this way because he understood how she was.

    Today, a large box containing the frame and the assorted parts needed to assemble a new bicycle arrived. For Sophie, this was a bit too much.

    “You talked with Kat?” Sophie asked, changing the subject. “When is she coming home?”

    “I talk with her every day” Doug replied, “And she’ll come home when she is ready to.”

    “This is not her just taking a Holiday” Sophie said, saying what Marie Alexandra had been afraid to ask her father but had discussed with Tatiana and Sophie. Tatiana told them to leave it alone, that it was an adult matter. Marie had fired back that there had been rumors about what was going on flying around the Imperial Court. That Kat had flipped out and totally lost the plot. Eventually, Empress Suga herself had told everyone to cut it out. “Holidays don’t last for months.”

    “You have seen how Katherine has black moods” Doug said, “She is doing something about those.”

    Sophie remembered a few times with Kat closing herself off in her bedroom and not talking to anyone. Marie would go in there and spend time with her. She said that she didn’t want her mother to feel like she was alone. Had something happened over the summer?


    Lenk im Simmental, Switzerland

    Kat was no longer allowed into the group therapy secessions. Her tendency to ask questions that made the problems of the other women look trite had caused problems. There was also the aspect of her problems being real, some of the things she had endured and had done were rather disturbing for someone whose entire life was a staid suburban existence. Still, that didn’t change the requirement that she continue private meetings with Doctor Cremonesi.

    “In Belarus” Kat said, “There were these two sentries at the main gate of this radar installation my team had been tasked with neutralizing. I approached them pretending that I was lost and in trouble to get them to let down their guard. They were clearly hoping to take advantage of me, so I didn’t regret shooting them. One of them had this completely shocked look on his face, like it wasn’t supposed to happen, not to him.”

    Doctor Cremonesi was scribbling in his ever-present notepad.

    “You have said that action was necessary, and that you don’t regret it” Cremonesi said, “But it isn’t that simple, is it.”

    “I keep seeing Malcolm in that man’s place” Kat replied, “Which is crap.”

    Cremonesi just gave her a look.
     
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    Part 132, Chapter 2258
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Fifty-Eight



    13th October 1973

    London, England

    After a few days of liberty, most of the crew had returned of their own accord. They were out of money and had mostly worn out their welcome by now. So, getting back on the Grindwal and going wherever she might take them was exactly what they wanted. That didn’t mean that there weren’t still a few late getting back, Oberleutnant Lehr and Borchardt were busy trying to track them down. That was the lot of the ship’s XO and Senior Deckoffizier while Louis was busy readying the Grindwal herself to put back to sea.

    Much to Louis’ annoyance, that was when he received a summons back to Buckingham Palace to meet with the Queen. This time with it being implied that his older brother wanted him at this meeting. Despite there being a million other things that needed to be done, he reluctantly left the Grindwal. Louis had not had any expectations, but not even he could have imagined what greeted him. Louis personally knew many of those in the room, so he knew that the world had not seen meeting like this since the Star Chamber had been disbanded centuries earlier. Louis knew that if he ran afoul of this crowd, they would be arbitrary and capricious in ways that the Star Chamber couldn’t have imagined. Just the fact that this meeting was taking place would probably be enough to give those with republican sympathies fits across Europe if word of it got out.

    Queen Elizabeth II was leading it, clearly as the first among equals, probably because she was the hostess. Suga, the Kaiserin of Germany and Louis’ sister-in-law, was sitting to her right. To her left was Queen Marie-José of Italy. Around the table were many of the various Empresses, Queens, Duchesses, and Princesses of Europe. Louis noticed that none of them seemed to be too pleased to see him and that three of his own sisters were in the room.

    “We are pleased that you could join us Louis” Elizabeth said as the doors slammed shut. He had to admit that her timing was perfect.

    At that moment, a girl who he had seen in Suga’s company before, sixteen or seventeen with red hair and blue eyes, said something to Suga in Japanese. Suga replied in the same language and smiled, Louis knew why she had gone to great lengths to get this girl as her aide. There were few people who spoke Japanese fluently in Germany, the young daughter of Katherine von Mischner was rumored to be a polyglot even by European standards.

    “If you could tell me why I am here?” Louis asked.

    “A matter has come to our attention involving one of our own” Elizabeth said, “If you could tell him what you told us Kristina.”

    “Margareta of Romania was diagnosed with arrythmia a few days ago” Kiki said, matter of fact.

    “And?” Louis asked.

    “She is under a staggering amount of pressure” Suga replied, “And all you need to do is look at a map to see why. Romania is surrounded by nations that are less than friendly. Hungary has almost gone to war with them a dozen times over the last fifty years. The Russians and the Greeks are basically allies at this point. Into this, your own cousins in a cadet branch of the House of Hohenzollern are waiting for King Michael of Romania to die so that they can take over the country themselves after refusing to change the rules. There is also the worry of another attempted coup, there have been a couple of those and the last one ended with Michael having to order his own uncle’s arrest and execution.”

    “The Romanian King has that much power?” Louis asked, “If the Government think that a foreign prince is going to take the throne, they will make certain that he does not.”

    “There is a bit more to it than that” Marie-José said, “You are correct that the Romanian Government is unhappy with the situation and would probably act the way you describe.”

    “I spoke at length with Margareta about this, they want a proven warrior as Prince Consort” Kiki said, and everyone around the table agreed with that.

    “I thought you were against this sort of thing?” Louis asked directly to Kiki, “Our mother ended up sporting black eye because she tried to dictate your life.”

    “That had a lot to do with that wretched piece of shit Vittorio” Kiki replied, “I would join a celibate order before I married the likes of him.”

    “Language, Kristina” Elizabeth said.

    Louis couldn’t help but notice that Marie-José seemed to have no objections to Kiki’s harsh assessment of her son.

    “Sorry, Ma’am” Kiki replied, “Its true though.”

    “No one is asking you to marry the girl, just give her the time of day” Elizabeth said, pointedly ignoring Kiki’s last comment. “She told us about your evening in Tel Aviv, how it was a pleasant evening, then how you have given her the cold shoulder since then.”

    “Think about it from Margareta’s perspective” Marie-José said, “This dashing young Sea Captain comes along who is an answer to all her prayers and he rejects her out of hand. At the same time her father is leaning on her. The stress of it gets to her.”

    “I didn’t reject her” Louis replied, “I told her that I felt she should have choices about her life. And I am not a Kapitan-zur-See, not yet, probably not for some time.”

    Louis noticed that they found something that he had just said incredibly amusing. The word “choices” was getting thrown around, like if it were joke. Kiki was sitting low in her seat and Louis realized that he was getting a taste of what she must have gone through to reject all of this in her marriage to Benjamin Hirsch.
     
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    Part 132, Chapter 2259
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Fifty-Nine



    14th October 1973

    North Sea

    It was a rare sunny day for this time of year in these waters. The SMS Grindwal was cruising along the Belgian Coast in relatively calm seas and the two British Destroyers that had been shadowing them had finally peeled off after they had passed Dunkirk. As if Louis would order the Grindwal to shell an English coastal city just for old-times sake after they had given him a medal that went right after his Pour le Mérite in order of precedence.

    Looking down from the bridge, Louis saw that the Gun Crew had opened all the hatches of the 12.8-centimeter gun and were working on maintenance. In General Quarters, only the Gunner and the Gunner’s Assistant were in the turret itself, the remainder of the gun crew was below deck operating the machinery that fed the big gun. Other members of the crew who must have made the mistake slacking off while Borchardt was around, were hanging laundry on a clothesline that had been strung between the superstructure and the turret. Like if they would be doing any of that if they were looking to start a war. A pair of speedboats from the Belgian Navy had fallen into formation with the Grindwal and Louis had no doubt that they probably had more Intelligence Officers aboard than regular crew.

    Louis was still fuming about how he had been ambushed the day before. According to Kiki the meeting with its bevy of disgruntled harridans had been planned for months and that she had inadvertently served him up as the main course. She didn’t blame him for Margareta’s health problems. That blame landed on Margareta’s father far more than anyone else, but Louis’ name had come up for exactly the reason that he had been singled out. He had the misfortune of being available while Michael of Romania wasn’t about to come anywhere near the United Kingdom where he would inevitably get upbraided by his daughter’s Godmother, Queen Elizabeth II of England, who was who Margareta had called for help when Kiki told her that her stressful situation was making her sick.

    What was shocking to Louis was that apparently Margareta had set out to seduce a foreign Prince so that her father could have the standing to tell the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen branch of his family to pound sand. When he had mentioned that to Kiki, she had just given him that annoyed look of hers. If it were the other way around it would be perceived very differently, was Kiki’s reply. Exactly what was that supposed to mean?

    The meeting of… Louis had no idea if it had a name yet beyond having the feel of a Pan-European version of the Order of Louise, had certainly come as a surprise to him. He was a bit troubled by how he was being strong-armed into spending time with a woman entirely for political purposes. The tabloids were expected to have a field day with that when it happened. It was also clear that despite Elizabeth saying that she wanted nothing more than that, he was reminded of the American jokes about Farmers, Farmer’s daughters, and shotguns at the Wedding. He had seen the reaction of the Ladies at the meeting when he had used the word choice. They found it incredibly amusing.

    There was also Romania itself to consider. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart, Germany had grabbed Bohemia and Slovakia with somewhat mixed results. Romania, which had been in the process of losing the war up until that point, had been unable to believe their luck as what would become the nation of Hungary had quickly fallen into civil war over just who exactly could consider themselves Hungarian. They had grabbed everything they could before the Hungarians realized they had a common enemy and that had been the source of trouble ever since. To Louis, finding out that events that had happened in the chaotic days of 1918 just after the First World War had ended still were causing trouble was hardly a surprise. He could remember history lessons in school where it had been mentioned that during the Second World War Hungarian and Romanian Divisions had to be kept apart because it was felt that they would have turned their guns on each other, Soviets be damned.

    Finally, there was something that Kiki had warned him about. At the meeting, she had observed that there were two cliques that were emerging within the organization. A traditionalist block led by Elizabeth II of England and Maria-José of Italy and a progressive block led by Suga of Germany, and Silvia of Sweden, who Louis knew little about beyond her marriage the previous summer having taken up more television time then was warranted in his opinion. To Louis, it was painfully obvious that despite the internal divisions, the new organization was aimed squarely at one of the oldest conflicts in the world, East vs. West. With the rising of a new Hellenic Empire that considered itself to be the inheritors of the Byzantine Empire and the reemergence of Russia as a World Power it was inevitable that such an organization would be established.

    The only person beside Kiki who Louis had talked about this at length had been Borchardt. He had known the Oberdeckoffizier for years, since they had been aboard the SMS Windhund playing their unofficial role in the last Greco-Turkish War. Louis knew that Greg Borchardt was one of the few people he could trust.

    The trouble was that Borchardt had been of little help this time, telling Louis that he was basically being conscripted and would play role in this thing, like it or not. His perspective regarding Margareta was actually worse than expected. Borchardt only had one question; Is she hot?

    As if that was all Louis should care about.
     
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    Part 132, Chapter 2260
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Sixty



    27th October 1973

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    It being a Saturday, Sophie went out for a ride with the hope of covering as much ground before it started to get dark, and she would need to head for home. She had also headed south into an unfamiliar part of her own neighborhood. She had heard that the best adventures could be found without having to go too far.

    The new bicycle was amazing. Doug had said that he had ordered the parts for the group-set from Shimano, a Japanese company that no one Sophie had talked to had heard of. In reply to that Doug said that they had made some key innovations according to a friend of his who lived in Australia. Once Sophie got it out on the road and felt the surge of power every time she shifted speeds, she realized that the Italian designed group-set on her Bianchi was clunky by comparison as she shifted smoothly between gears. Doug had also told her that a red bicycle would go faster. Sophie figured that he was probably pulling her leg with that last part.

    Steering her bicycle through a portion of the road that was cracked and irregular, Sophie tried to steer around the worst portion with limited success. Winter was coming and she remembered how difficult to ride it was most days. Ziska said that Sophie needed to think of something else to do over the winter before she pointed out an article in one of the magazines that Tatiana had given her that she had not gotten around to reading about a men’s cycling team in Warsaw that lifted weights once the weather got cold. That was decidedly not what Sophie wanted to be doing and it was a bit embarrassing that Ziska had found that article before she had. Kat had finally come home the week before, when Sophie got the chance, she would need to get Kat’s opinion on the subject.

    Rounding a corner, Sophie saw that the houses on this street all seemed run down and dirty, she could hear the sounds of a busy road on the other side of the houses. There was also broken glass on the surface of the street, and she had to slow so that she wouldn’t ride through it. A single shard of glass could ruin her day if she had to walk her bike home and try to patch the innertube. That was when she passed a chain-link fence that enclosed a small garden that was largely overgrown. She was shocked when a bottle flew over the fence, narrowly missing her head, before smashing when it hit the asphalt. Sophie veered onto the far side of the street and increased her speed, getting broken glass in the tires would the least of her problems if that had hit her. As if on cue, a second bottle flew over the fence, smashed on the pavement and she could hear a man’s voice drunkenly yelling at her. As Sophie sped away, she made mental note to never come back this way in the future.

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

    “Fucking stuck-up bitch!” Sepp’s father bellowed, “Get back here and I’ll show you what’s what!”

    “Will you cut that out” Sepp said sharply, horrified by his father’s behavior. The fact that his father had just chased off Sophie before Sepp could screw up the courage to get her attention, even as horrified as he was about what her reaction might be when she saw where he lived, as she had passed by his house just made it worse. As it was, he could hear the clicking sounds her bicycle made fading in the distance probably going as fast as she possibly could. He could only hope that she had not seen him before his father started throwing beer bottles at her.

    “You saw that bike she was riding?” Sepp’s father said, his words slurred as he walked on unsteady feet back to the chairs that were on the front porch. “That is at least two weeks pay for an honest man, probably three. There is not a chance in Hell that girl made that herself. Her parents just gave it two to her. No one gives people like us a damned thing.”

    Sepp held his tongue in response to that. He could think of countless times when his father had been perfectly happy helping himself at the expense of Sepp and his brothers.

    “I saw that in Mexico” Sepp’s father said, “Poor people killing poor people, while that girl’s parents made a killing.”

    It was something that Sepp’s father talked about constantly when he was drunk. What he had seen with the Army in Mexico, and it was a big part of the reason why Sepp was desperately trying to get into University. If that fell through, then his options would be very limited.

    “You don’t know who she is” Sepp replied.

    “I bet you are stupid enough to want to know her” Sepp’s father said with a drunken chuckle, “With how she was dressed and all.”

    Sepp hadn’t really considered that, but Sophie had been wearing clothes that were appropriate for the season, so were not particularly revealing. However, because that was cycling attire, it was as light as was practical and rather tight so that it wouldn’t get in her way. Sepp was reminded of how Sophie was a rather fit girl who he had found attractive before he had gotten a chance to talk to her and found out that she had a sharp edge to her despite living on a posh street and going to a fancy school.

    Sepp and his father fell into an uncomfortable silence. Sepp’s mother had insisted that he needed to stay with his father to keep him from doing something stupid, something of a lost cause. Sepp had known it was coming after his father had woken up and decided that he needed some hair of the dog that had bit him, which had quickly become the whole hound. Sepp had been on the phone trying to pick up an extra shift at Benno’s to avoid having to do this.
     
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    Part 132, Chapter 2261
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-One



    2nd November 1973

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    After being away for so long, Kat was finding that she was having trouble with the rhythm of her household. It was like an itch in the middle of her back that she couldn’t reach. She felt restless and nothing seemed to help. She kept having the observations that had been made about herself and her family running through her mind.

    Jo had come around with Suse Rosa in tow. Kat’s foster daughter and goddaughter both had their own lives. She had come to the realization that though they didn’t really need her as much as they might have in the past, her home was something that they needed to come back to from time to time.

    Tatiana was busy with her studies, which was fortunate because the two of them had a terrible habit of arguing with each other. Doug said that it was because Kat and Tatiana had very similar personalities, so everything that aggravated them about themselves they saw very clearly in the other, Doctor Cremonesi had found that interesting but had not elaborated. Kat didn’t know if she could handle the sort of screaming match they had gotten into in the past at the moment, so she was hoping that Tatiana would remain busy. She wondered if that made her a terrible mother, even if Tatiana was now an adult.

    Malcolm had gotten over his disappointment at having been passed over for a slot in an expedition to Greenland and Baffin Bay. Instead, he was still spending most days sitting in a bunker on the outskirts of Potsdam fighting a losing battle against his subordinate’s misuse of military equipment. He didn’t think that Kat knew about any of it, with it all being officially secret. She had ended her career as the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe High Command, so she still had the security clearance necessary to know what her son was up to. It seemed strange to her that Malcolm’s superiors knew about what was happening and had done nothing to stop it, but they said that it was harmless. Constantly having him tell them cut it out forced them to keep it discrete. Kat understood that they were watching to see what sort of leader he was, she just wished that they had picked a less embarrassing way of going about doing it if Malcolm messed this up.

    Kat had spoken at length about how Marie Alexandra seemed to be reluctant to grow up. With how she seemed to get rewarded for her behavior, it seemed likely that she wouldn’t for a long time. Recently, she had accompanied the Empress to London for a meeting whose topic of discussion had left Kat fuming. Marie had been less focused on the implications than on how the whole thing had been this incredible lark. Aunt Marcella had pointed out that Marie was a lot like Kat, just in a different way. Marcella thought that she was who Kat might have been if things had just been different. Kat felt that there was no way to tell if there was anything to that.

    Petia had told Kat that she thought that Sophie had met a boy. Something that had prompted Kat to have the usual awkward conversation or two when she got home even though she had seen no evidence of this boy being around. What Sophie had really wanted to talk about was fitness and how exercise over the winter might help her this spring. That was the direct result of what Doug had gotten her into. There was a cycling club at the local youth center which Sophie had gone on a few group rides with over the autumn. It was through them which she had learned about competitive cycling and had this notion that she could compete in the Women’s Juniors starting next spring. Douglas had encouraged her, even going so far as help her assemble a new bicycle. Kat had been absent at the time and hardly in a position to discuss the matter at length because they had only been able to talk for a few minutes over the phone each day. Kat’s recovery had been far more important topic of conversation.

    Kat felt a bit guilty about Angelica. She had promised Cosimo that she would provide a stable home for his daughter. Being away for three months because she had one of her black moods overtake her was not a part of that deal. Kat knew that she had missed a great deal over the autumn and had no idea on how to make that up to everyone. Petia told Kat that everyone was just happy that she was home where she belonged.

    The folder on her desk, information compiled by her sources within the Berlin Police’s Intelligence Unit, would probably disrupt her current domestic harmony it any of her family found out about it. When Kat had dropped the photographs of Franz Josef Strauss’ meeting with Birsha Bleier off at the Headquarters of the BII she had gone to the City Police Headquarters next door and had spoken with the Inspector of the Intelligence Unit, the folder arrived at her house a day later. Kat understood that they kept tabs on those who lived in Kat’s household and who they associated with. The boy who Petia suspected Sophie had met was real. Josef “Sepp” Albers Deisler, fourteen-years-old, his father was a Laborer and apparent alcoholic, his mother worked in a factory that manufactured plastic containers. Josef would have met Sophie over the summer at Schwielochsee. Kat got the impression that he was a young man who was frequently forced into playing the role of parent within his family.
     
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    Part 132. Chapter 2262
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-Two



    10th November 1973

    Moscow, Russia

    The recent visit by Princess Kristina von Preussen zu Hohenzollern had been a success so far as opening a diplomatic venue between Germany and Russia on a more equal footing. While there had been successful scientific and economic collaborations, it had been difficult to get past the reality that the relations had been rocky because the Soviet War had always been at the back of everyone’s mind.

    Gia had been in a good mood right until Anya showed up at her front door with her, boyfriend, now suddenly her fiancé, Renat Orlov and announced their intentions. It wasn’t that she had a problem with Renat, it was that she felt that he and Anya was rushing things a bit having only met a few months earlier. Gia had convinced Anya to return to Moscow to be a dance instructor at the Moscow School of the Order of Saint Catherine. It would only be for a year and having done so would gain her a letter of recommendation from the Czar which would open a vast number of doors for Anya. Then Renat had entered the picture.

    It had been Gia’s intention to reestablish the network of schools for girls that had existed prior to the October Revolution. She was just doing it with a twist. Unlike the prior network which had been for “Noble Maidens,” places in the new network were reserved first for girls who had aged out of the State Schools and Orphanages with the promise of a Classical Education and a chance to go to University.

    Anya and Renat were certain that it was true love, and they announced that they were planning on getting married that spring. Gia figured that it was a result of their generation having progressed into their late twenties with the idea that many of them were living on borrowed time, she also understood that her own viewpoint had been similar in the past. Renat taught Russian Literature and had met Anya at the first faculty meeting of the new year. It had been a whirlwind ever since. Gia just hoped that they wouldn’t fall out of love as fast. She remembered the first time she had fallen in love and the massive scandal that would still bring if anyone ever learned of it. Gia also remembered how it had cooled over time. She figured that it was fortunate that Asia had remained a dear friend, even if Asia jokingly referred to Fyodor as “The other man” when no one else could overhear.



    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Attendance of the quarterly formal reception at the University Hospital was mandatory for the Senior Staff and Kiki would have preferred to have been anywhere else. Once again, she was forced to depend upon Steffi Bader, her long-suffering Personal Secretary to have the dress ready for her to change into it just minutes before she was supposed to be here. When Ben had met her in the Hospital lobby, he had mentioned how they had gotten quite good at throwing these things together at the last minute. Kiki knew that she needed to think of a way to thank Steffi for her tireless efforts in making her seem less like a complete mess than she actually was. Nina was spending the evening at her grandparent’s house and Kiki would rather be there than here.

    Everyone knew what the real purpose of these events were, to solicit the funds that could be donated to the Hospital. The Donors could be wined and dined with funds transferred at the end of the evening. The problem was that a few days earlier Kiki had been involved in a case which had involved heroic measures to keep the patient alive which had taken her all the way from the field to the operating theater after a car accident. It was something that had happened so rarely that no one could a record of it happening before. By the end she had been a small player among a team of surgeons trying to stabilize a broken neck.

    Naturally, that was all anyone wanted to talk about.

    The Donor who Kiki was presently talking to was typical. Aristocratic in bearing, with a neatly trimmed beard and a tailored suit. He was wearing a Soviet War victory medal pinned to the breast of his suit jacket and a Medical Service lapel pin.

    “I heard about the Atlanto-occipital dislocation that you dealt with Doctor von Preussen” The Donor said, “Your work was extraordinary.”

    “The patient is still recovering and will be for months” Kiki said, “We do not know the extent of the neurological deficit yet…”

    “My God” The Donor said, “That condition is almost always fatal, the fact that the patient is in recovery is nothing less than miraculous. If he walks out of the hospital at the end of this, that is unprecedented.”

    “You are familiar with this matter Sir?” Kiki asked.

    “I should be” The Donor said, “I like to keep tabs on my people.”

    “Your people, Sir?” Kiki asked.

    “I’m sorry, we haven’t been introduced” The Donor said, “I am Artur Biermann, I of course already know who you are, Doctor Princess, which is rather rare.”

    “My younger sister is getting a Doctorate of Philosophy soon enough” Kiki replied, “And where have I heard your name before.”

    Biermann just smiled, “Generaloberstabsarzt Biermann ring a bell?” He asked.

    Kiki felt the blood rush out of her face. This was the head of the entire Medical Service and she had not recognized him.

    “I am terribly sorry Sir” Kiki replied, “I had no idea…”

    “Don’t worry about it” Biermann said, “Once you get past a certain Rank people stop being direct, change from that is refreshing.”
     
    Part 132, Chapter 2263
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-Three



    24th November 1973

    Wilhelmshaven

    The Freighter was steaming for the neck of the Jade Bight and from long experience, Louis Ferdinand Junior expertly steered the craft he was piloting on an opposing parallel course. The open whaleboat bobbed like a cork over the bow wave of the much larger ship. As the hull of the Freighter raced past, it loomed over the whaleboat though they were still a safe distance away.

    “The first command I held was one of these boats” Louis said as he gunned the throttle of outboard engine. At 8.2 meters length by 1.8 meters beam, the wooden boats were a common sight wherever the fleet was. The addition of a small outboard engine and ditching of the sailing rig in the 20’s had only increased the capabilities of the design. Louis had earned a Coxswain’s patch learning to pilot one of them and he valued it far more than the medals and orders he had received in the years since. “I still like to take one of them out whenever I get the chance.”

    The two crewmen from the Grindwal who had come with Louis on this errand were nonchalant about the whole thing. Margareta and her two bodyguards were clearly not expecting this and were fearfully looking at the wall of steel passing by at several meters per second. Louis had agreed to spend time with the Romanian Princess, but he was going to do it on his terms, and it was going to be a warts and all. Louis figured that ought to be enough to send the Margareta packing like few other things. A cold a trip across the Jade Bight on a cold drizzly afternoon with a low overcast and the rain was expected to turn to snow at any time seemed perfect for that. A tour of the Grindwal with most of the crew on liberty with the sight, and smells, of the caretaker crew aboard would seal the deal.

    They entered the choppy water in the wake of the Freighter and Louis steered the whaleboat back to the course that they had been on before. After several minutes, the line on ships anchored out in the Bight came into view. Most of them were light units of the North Atlantic Squadron with some units from the Baltic. That included SMS K24 Grindwal and a pair of her sisters. Louis saw that in addition to her pennant number someone had taken it upon themselves to paint her name to the bow and presumably the stern. There was talk of painting a likeness of the ship’s namesake, the Long-Finned Pilot Whale on the side of the superstructure, but nothing had come of it yet.

    Steering the whaleboat to the floating dock, Louis could see that Borchardt was waiting. The crewmen expertly tied off the boat as Louis killed the engine.

    “Welcome aboard Ma’am” Borchardt said as he helped Margareta off the whaleboat. “The Captain told us that you were coming, hope it wasn’t too rough a passage from the pier.”

    “This is Oberdeckoffizer Borchardt” Louis said hastily, “One of the Ship’s Officers.”

    “Came up through the hawse hole Ma’am, though only partway” Borchardt replied, “Though I have a warrant rank rather than commission.”

    The entire thing was a bit complicated, Borchardt was effectively the third in command of the ship. However, he still enjoyed a close relationship with the crew of the sort that Louis could never have. Louis had several questions, not the least of which involved the presence of Borchardt himself who was headed into Wilhelmshaven the last Louis had heard.

    “What are you doing here?” Louis hissed at Borchardt.

    Borchardt gave him a wink before they escorted Margareta up the ladder to the deck of the Grindwal. It was then that Louis heard them pipe Margareta aboard with a Bosun’s whistle that had very rarely seen the light of day while Louis had been in Command. She was all smiles as she saw the crew lined up in their dress uniforms as if an Admiral were coming aboard. It was also clear that though Louis had only been in Wilhelmshaven for a couple hours, the crew had cleaned the entire ship to within an inch of its life in his absence. Something that he had made happen only with great difficulty in the past.

    “You didn’t need to do all of this for me” Margareta said.

    “The men wanted you to feel welcome” Louis replied.

    As Margareta walked into the wardroom, Louis finally had a chance to have a word with Borchardt.

    “What the Hell is going on here?” Louis asked.

    “We aren’t letting you mess this up Sir” Borchardt replied, “The scuttlebutt going around is that she is a proper Lady and the Grand Admiral himself ordered us to see to it that you don’t.”



    Plänterwald

    Listening to Nella and Nan gossiping about their classmates when they were supposed to be studying was welcome from what Kiki had been learning about over the last couple weeks. Ben had been amused by her questions. Had it not occurred to her that the ivory tower she was on cost a considerable amount of money? The day-to-day running of the University Hospital was done with appropriations by the Reichstag and the respective Landtags of Berlin and Brandenburg in addition to the funds that came from Social Insurance like any other hospital. However, research, state-of-the-art equipment, and many of the building additions of the Hospital were often paid for by interested third parties. It was something that she had known about all along, the lengths that the University would go to keep those third parties happy was something that she had not thought much about. That was until she found herself neck deep in it.

    Kiki was aware that her education and training had cost the State a considerable amount of money. The return on investment was having her saving lives with what she had learned, but that wasn’t all of it. When she had met Generaloberstabsarzt Biermann, it had been because a few days earlier she had made a splash with her efforts as a surgeon. A portion of the University Hospital’s funding came from the Medical Service and Kiki had once again found herself in the spotlight as the poster girl for both the Medical Service and the University. It had been Biermann who had suggested that Kiki would be an excellent Instructor for the next class of Medical students, and a quiet word from him was like a lion’s roar.
     
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    Part 132, Chapter 2264
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-Four



    2nd December 1973

    Plänterwald

    Nina was awestruck by the snow that was falling past the picture window that looked out on the River Spree. Large flakes were spiraling down softening the landscape as everything was being buried under a blanket of white. That was in direct contrast to Rauchbier who was curled up on his bed next to the fireplace under a blanket with only his nose sticking out. The whippet had never liked cold winter days and he was not shy about letting everyone know that. It was even enough for Rauchbier to forgo his usual place with Nina or Kiki.

    Nina’s reaction to the falling snow was a reminder to Ben that everything she saw was with fresh eyes. It was also good that she had found something to interest her besides Kiki’s eyeglasses, which she had taken a keen interest on over the last few weeks and had grabbed ahold of every chance she got. Ben’s father said that he should treasure every moment he had with Nina when she was this age. It was before he knew it, she would be older, having opinions and things. Which would not nearly be as fun. As it was, Nina could already be a little pill at times. Kiki had read a book about childhood development, because there were books about everything it seemed, and it had said that this was normal. Nina was at an age where her personality was starting to gel, and she was learning to negotiate her place in the world.

    Apparently, that was a frustrating process.

    Seeing Nina looking out the window in wonder at a swirling snow was a welcome change. Ben scooped her up and was a bit annoyed at how big she was getting, he wanted her to stay a little girl forever. She was going to be turning three in a couple months and he could already tell that Nina was probably going to be tall like the rest of her mother’s family. That was a reminder of how Kiki had been in a bit of a panic lately after she had the head of the Medical Service recommend that she act as an Instructor. That was the sort of thing that took her out of her element and played on her insecurities. Ben had told her that if she held a Doctorate in something other than Medicine then it was very likely that she would have already spent a considerable amount of time at the front of the lecture hall. He certainly had. He also told her that she had done well with Markus, he had learned a great deal when Kat had shown him some basic medical procedures. She had muttered something about the boy being a guineapig in reply. He had suspected that she had used Markus, his blood anyway, to test out the diagnostic equipment she had aboard the Epione but had been certain until she had said that. It was not like if Markus had been an unwilling test subject and it had not been particularly invasive. She had also told him that it was far easier to explain things to one student as opposed to a dozen or more like what was going to be happening next month.

    “Your mother underestimates herself” Ben said to Nina who looked at him for a few seconds with a quizzical look on her face before turning her attention back to the falling snow.



    Mitte, Berlin

    Tilo had returned to Berlin and had new letter from Nhất Hạnh had arrived since the last time he had been home. Nancy had once asked about the letters that arrived from Vietnam a couple times a year and Tilo had told her the truth, that they were from a Buddhist Monk in Hue who he had maintained correspondence with for the last twenty odd years. She had given him a look that suggested that she wondered if he was pulling her leg.

    He had considered giving her a flip answer, something like the letters were from the family he had started when he had been in Vietnam during the war. However, Tilo knew that Nancy wouldn’t find that the least bit funny, so he had told her that she was welcome to read the letter herself. Mostly, it was comprised of Nhất Hạnh wishing him good health and happiness in the year ahead, he also addressed many of the questions that Tilo himself had regarding his profession and the intensive meetings that had been occurring as the High Command tried to digest the lessons from the Patagonian War. Tilo’s feelings about the conflict and his role in it had been the thrust of the letter he had mailed off months earlier. Where he had been a Marine fighting to save his own skin in years past, he had been the Theater Commander in South America, the one who loaded the guns as it were.

    To his credit, Nhất Hạnh didn’t attempt to moralize though Tilo knew that the Vietnamese Monk disliked war and saw Tilo’s role as being someone who carried out what was a sometimes-necessary duty. Tilo suspected that the reason why Nhất Hạnh still wrote back was due to Tilo’s questioning the necessity of his role as a General. Tilo had never included it in his letter, but if he had found himself carrying out a mission that was complete bullshit, would he have the courage to tell the High Command that. He had no idea.
     
    Part 132, Chapter 2265
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-Five



    15th December 1973

    Operations Command of the Armed Forces, Near Potsdam, Germany

    It had been snowing again when Rook had walked from his car through the gates of the base and to the entrance of the bunker. That had been entirely too far for his liking and the snow had been ankle deep with no one to shovel it off the path. Rook knew better than to complain because what would happen if his words reached the ears of the Hauptmann from bitter experience. He would find himself shoveling snow until he fell over from exhaustion.

    They were not allowed to park too close to the bunker complex because it was figured that the American satellites that passed overhead would be able to get a rough estimate of the personnel numbers within the complex. Like if the Amis couldn’t get the same information by counting the cars in the car park. That was what they did with the facility that housed their counterparts in Upstate Massachusetts. The Brass didn’t care though and Rook’s immediate supervisor, Malcolm? He was trying to become a polar explorer. So, Malcolm was pleased as punch trekking through the snow and didn’t listen to Rook’s complaints. He said that it was only few centimeters that will probably melt away before early afternoon.

    Rook was grumbling about that as he sat down at his monitor. It was midmorning in Potsdam and the West Coast of America was nine hours behind. That meant that it was still in in the early morning hours and there was little of interest going on. Stitch had set the monitors to the infrared feed and Rook found the odd colors of the images to be somewhat disconcerting. However, being able to see into even the darkest corners was useful.

    He had missed the flyover of the Los Angeles Basin and the various military installations there along with the rest of Southern California. There was a Naval Station that they were supposed to be keeping a close eye on and Malcolm had been after them about not abusing Government equipment by looking for things to jerk off to. Rook had not liked that characterization of the off books work they did. There had been several major intelligence finds by their section because Rook and Stitch had looked further afield than just what the Americans inadvertently told the North American Division of the BND about. The landscape of North Texas and Oklahoma looked just as unappealing to Rook in infrared as it did during daylight hours. He found it hard to believe that people actually lived in a place like that, but he could see the heat from the dwellings scattered across the landscape. That and cattle, lots, and lots of cattle. Rook could only imagine how bad that entire region must stink.

    There was a military installation south of Dallas, but even the US Army regarded that as a dusty backwater that they used for little more than storage of obsolescent vehicles that were waiting to be shipped off to the foundry or scrapyard. There were a number of places like that in the South-Eastern portion of America. It seemed to Rook that they were mostly named for Confederate Generals and whoever staffed those places must have really angered their superiors or were somehow suspect. He had sent reports of his observations up the chain of command but had never heard those above him thought on the subject. Rook had a hard time reconciling the brightly lit cities on the coasts with the dark interior of America.

    As the satellite passed over the Eastern Seaboard, Rook and Stitch did a quick count of the ships of the various Navy Yards to see if there had been any substantial movement. Afterwards they handed off the satellite to the section that handled monitoring locations in Europe, mostly watching what the French and Brits were up to. A second satellite, the one that the section that monitored the Central Pacific was handed off to Rook’s section and he saw now familiar West Coast of California appear on the monitor. Looking at an empty beach and the smoldering remains of a bonfire; Rook saw what must have been quite a party the night before. Looking above the tideline he saw two figures.

    “I think I found something interesting” Rook said to Stitch who kicked himself over to Rooks monitor, not bothering to get up from his office chair. “On the beach.”

    “I’m always up for a dalliance in the dunes” Stitch said with a snicker as Rook zoomed in. Out of long habit, the others in their section ignored the two of them.

    And Rook’s blood went cold as he realized what they were seeing wasn’t what they thought it was and it wasn’t the sort of thing they wanted to see…

    “Fuck!” Stitch exclaimed, before calling for Malcolm. They were in way over their heads with this one.



    Will Rogers State Beach, Los Angeles

    The whole thing was a clusterfuck beyond all comprehension. The Western Los Angeles Division had a whole lot of questions. Like how a Patrol Officer in Central Division had gotten a tip about a murder that had occurred with Officers arriving on the scene before the body was cold.

    “I got a call from a connection in the Special Forces community” Ritchie said, as he watched people from the Medical Examiners and men from Robbery Homicide Division examine the body. Normally, that was enough to get his questioners to back off. The Detective from the Hat Squad was not so easily put off.

    “And how do we know that this connection isn’t the one who put that body there?” The Detective asked sharply.

    “I would say that he has quite an alibi in that he is thousands of miles from here” Ritchie replied, “He told me that one of his people saw it go down and called me.”

    “We have a witness?” The Detective asked in disbelief.

    “Sort of” Ritchie replied, “There are all sorts of national security problems.”

    “What are these people, CIA or something?”

    “If they were ours, yes” Ritchie replied, “The problem is that the witnesses are some of theirs, if you know what I mean. Getting a witness statement will be difficult, if not impossible.”

    “What the Hell did you just drop into my lap?” The Detective asked, echoing what had been Ritchie’s thoughts as he had driven across town. There was simply no way to explain any of this.
     
    Part 133, Chapter 2266
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-Six



    24th December 1973

    Plänterwald

    It was complicated. That was the only way to describe the situation that Sigi found herself in. While she and Jay would have liked to have gone back to Spain or somewhere further afield, they now had André, or Andy after Jay’s father, in tow and the State had something of an interest in her staying in Germany, for now. It was just as well that Jay had landed some work for UFA, an Anglo-German production that would be a regular paycheck for the next several months.

    Sigi’s son was subject to a vast amount of interest to the Medical and Scientific communities of Germany though he was only a couple months old. This was entirely because Sigi had been into Outer-Space and to the surface of the Moon. She had told the Doctors and Scientists that she would tell them if Andy developed any super-powers. She had been sarcastic when she had said that, but the experts had looked at her with looks of wide-eyed expectation. These were little boys who loved comic books decades later, seeing the possibility that their fantasies might be real. That had been when Sigi had sent them packing and had headed out to Winter Residence for the Holiday Season at her nephew’s invitation. The people who had been bothering her wouldn’t dare come anywhere near there.

    All of that aside, Charlotte said that there was nothing about Andy that was out of the ordinary. Like all babies he had a profound amount of potential, but what became of that was up to Sigi and Jay, or despite them. Charlotte seemed to find that thought amusing. Judging by Nella and Nan, Charlotte’s own teenaged daughters, she was probably a good authority in that matter.



    Tempelhof

    Padding down the stairs on bare feet with Sprocket at her heels, Sophie made her way to the formal dining room and the kitchen beyond in what had become a Christmas tradition of sorts. Petia was holding her usual court in the kitchen. She was starting to feel her years and was having to defer more and more of the household responsibilities to Julia and Serhiy. With the rest of the house asleep, they were cheerfully playing cards and talking before they would retire for the night themselves.

    Sophie’s failure to sleep tonight had nothing to do with anxiety like in years past, after so many years it was obvious that Kat wasn’t going to throw her out. Instead, it was because every part of her body ached. Asking for Kat’s help in being physically ready to ride competitively in the springtime had turned out to be a mistake. It had turned out that it was the same training if she were going to meet KSK women’s standards and because Kat was taking time out of her day to help her, it wasn’t as if Sophie could just tell her that she had changed her mind. So, Sophie went downstairs feeling like she had endured a beating with the hope that Petia might have something to help her sleep. She certainly had in the past.

    When she opened the door to the Kitchen, no one seemed too surprised to see Sophie. “We could use you to set a watch Sofiya” Petia said.

    “I doubt that” Sophie replied, trying to pretend that she had not done this many times before.

    Darya just smirked at her.

    Petia’s granddaughter’s role in the household had shifted over the years since Sophie had lived here. She had originally been a Maid as she had gone to University. Recently, Darya had completed her degree in Economics and Kat had taken her on in that capacity. The Prefect of a Major City with millions of residents needing all the assistance she could get wasn’t in the least bit surprising.

    “Yet here you are” Serhiy said, the Ukrainian Cook had seldom spoke to Sophie in the past. Mostly, she had watched as he and Petia had argued over culinary choices. Most of the disagreements had been over minor matters and Sophie had heard it suggested that they mostly boiled down to the idea that he was using the kitchen which Petia considered her domain.

    “Ever ask for help you regretted?” Sophie asked, trying to change the subject to something besides her presence.

    That earned Sophie a round of laughter.

    “Kitten regrets asking Tigress how to use her claws?” Boris asked, “What did you think would happen?”

    “I asked Kat for something else” Sophie replied, pointedly ignoring that Boris had just called her a kitten. All of them had to be aware of the exercise room that Kat maintained in the basement. For the last couple weeks, she had been dragging Sophie through that torturous regime.

    “It gets easier” Petia observed, “Kiki and Gia got what they needed and moved on to other things. They also spent plenty of time complaining about Katya being a slavedriver.”

    “I never said that Kat was a slavedriver” Sophie said.

    “You will” Petia replied as she poured hot milk into a cup that already had a mixture powdered chocolate and cinnamon in it before she handed it to Sophie. Sophie was also aware that it was spiked with some of Serhiy’s vodka. “Now drink that and back up to bed with you.”

    “Why the rush?” Sophie asked.

    “You have grown too big and heavy for Boris to carry upstairs to your room like in years past” Petia said, actually that solved several mysteries.

    “The Tigress gets upset if we are too festive going up to the top floor” Boris said, “And after last summer’s bloodbath we don’t want any more incidents.”

    Sophie had been drinking the hot chocolate and had been unable to respond. She had suspected that something had happened over the summer, but no one had said what. Petia gave Boris a stern look suggesting that he had just spoken out of turn.

    “Back to bed” Petia said to Sophie, “Now.”
     
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    Part 133, Chapter 2267
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-Seven



    31st December 1973

    Plänterwald

    The fact that it was final day of the year meant little to Sprocket. He had a far different way of reckoning time than people did. For him it was always the ever present, ever glorious, now and he saw little need to think past that. That didn’t mean that he couldn’t anticipate. Like when his girl was coming home for the day or when his dish of kibble along with whatever delicacies the older woman who smelled of spices and food gave him as extras was going to be placed on the floor of the kitchen. She had told his girl that dogs just always go for the trimmings from the stewing meat. Those were a couple of his favorite things. There was also riding in his basket of the bicycle with his girl, like he was right now and that was also his favorite thing.

    The ride across town had been a vast bouquet of delightful smells. Coal and woodsmoke, people, lots and lots of interesting people, something dead that was decaying the most beautiful aroma in the gutter as they passed. Sprocket was aware that his people couldn’t understand the complexities of odors. He had been on the receiving end of their dismay many times. Especially after rolling in something that he liked and had swiftly found himself in the kitchen sink soaked to the skin and being scolded for his trouble. The words “Tupaya sobaka!” being used so often that he was starting to wonder if that was a command he was supposed to be learning.

    Rolling up to the gates of the parklike setting that two friends of his girl lived in. Sprocket could smell the trees, rabbit droppings, damp earth, and other dogs. A man looked into Sprocket’s basket, and he growled at him, much to the man’s amusement…


    “You brought the mighty hunter I see, Freknur” Wulfstan said looking in the basket. Sophie knew that the guard was poking fun at her, that name being old Norse for Freckles.

    “Sprocket is actually a good ratter” Sophie said, “He brought in a big one he killed in the alley by the rubbish bins a couple months back and Petia just freaked. Dead or not, that thing has no place in my house.”

    Sophie said that last part in an imitation of Petia’s Russian accent.

    “I’ve been warned about the Russian sisters” Wulfstan said as he handed Sophie’s identity card back to her. “That the First Foot should be grateful that they happen to be on the same side.”

    “Petia and her friends?” Sophie asked, “They are mostly harmless.”

    “To you, yes” Wulfstan replied, “To the likes of me, they are almost as dangerous as the damned NKVD was, the difference is that they are still around.”

    Sophie knew that the guard who she had gotten to know quite well over the last year had to be pulling her leg. She knew the circle of Russian women who Kat employed were kind to her and didn’t deserve the sort of fearsome reputation that men like Wulfstan Auer seemed to want hang on them.

    Sophie knew that the guard who she had gotten to know quite well over the last year had to be pulling her leg. She knew the circle of Russian women who Kat employed were kind to her and didn’t deserve the sort of fearsome reputation that men like Wulfstan Auer seemed to want hang on them. Sophie figured that that she couldn’t change his mind, so she changed the subject.

    “Why are you still here?” Sophie asked, “Don’t they rotate men through the First Foot?”

    “They do, eighteen months and you get your choice of assignments” Wulfstan replied, “The trouble is that your choice doesn’t always have a slot for you that is open right when you want it to be.”

    “So that’s why you are still minding the gate out here?”

    Wulfstan ignored that last question.

    “Antonia and Annette are expecting you” Wulfstan said, “Your friend with the leg is already there, you girls have fun.”

    With that Wulfstan opened the gate and let Sophie through. As she rode her bicycle towards the main house, she thought about what was going to happen. She had been planning this night with Nella, Nan, and Ziska for ages. They were planning on throwing a party of their own and staying up late, until midnight. Nan said that there was a way onto the roof of the main house of the family compound that would give them an excellent view of the fireworks up and down the river. Of course, it was Nan who would figure that out, she always went out of her way to find out every little secret of whatever building she happened to be in. Every entrance and exit, every window and hiding place. The building that Nella and Nan lived had only been built a few years earlier, but it had a number of secrets that only Nan could have ferreted out.

    Still, regardless of what happened that night, it would be a welcome respite from what had been going on over the prior weeks. Next week, Sophie was supposed to meet with a coach. If she were truly interested in competitive cycling, she needed to know what it would take to get onto a team. It seemed like a whole lot of effort, but as Kat had told her, there were a lot of things she didn’t know. Cycling being a team sport had not even entered her thinking until Kat told her about Fraulein Baruch.
     
    Part 133, Chapter 2268
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-Eight



    4th January 1974

    Operations Command of the Armed Forces, Near Potsdam, Germany

    The first week of 1974 was not going well for Malcolm. The room he was in left him feeling like a single goldfish in a tank full of large, hungry sharks. He had been redirected here from the car park by two members of the military police who were not interested in telling him what they wanted with him. From there he had been shoved into an office in a part of the bunker complex that he had never set foot in before and had to recount what exactly had transpired two weeks earlier.

    “Two of the men in my section have been looking further afield whenever they get the chance” Malcolm said, “If you look at a map, the site of the incident in question is almost a straight line directly east from the Point Mugu Naval Air Station.”
    God truly loves drunkards and fools, Malcolm thought to himself. Rook and Stitch had been very lucky in that what they were looking at to get their voyeuristic thrills this time happened to be extremely close to several locations that they were supposed to be keeping a close eye on anyway. Point Mugu and Port Hueneme located near Oxnard were regarded as key military installations of the United States Military. This way it looked like they just happened to stumble across something horrific as it had been happening. When Malcolm had kicked that up the chain of command, he had hoped that would be the end of his involvement in the matter. It seemed that the Brass had other ideas.

    “You say that two of the men under your supervision look further afield?” One of Malcolm’s inquisitors asked, he was the highest ranking of them, wearing the uniform of a General of Branch and no one had bothered to tell Malcolm who any of them were. “Exactly what do you mean by that?”

    “The Americans are aware of our satellites” Malcolm replied, “They plan accordingly and do their level best to keep us from seeing certain things.”

    “I am certain that you have heard the rumors?” The General asked, “That extremely expensive Government equipment is being turned to amoral purposes?”

    “Exactly what amoral purpose can a satellite orbiting thousands of kilometers over the planet serve?” Malcolm asked in reply, technically that wasn’t a lie. He knew full well that Rook and Stitch were involved in the production of the world’s most expensive form of pornography but knew better than to turn them in at this point. If he did the first question asked would be why he hadn’t done it sooner. That said, next time he caught those two in the act he was going to give them a beating that they wouldn’t soon forget.

    “You would be amazed” The General said, “That said, are you aware of the significance of what you stumbled across.”

    “We recorded a murder in the process of happening halfway around the world” Malcolm replied, another first for the Space Program he thought sourly to himself.

    “There is a bit more to than that Fähnrich von Mischner-Blackwood” The General said, stumbling slightly over the part of Malcolm’s name that contained English words. “Do you understand what a serial killer is?”

    “I am aware, Sir” Malcolm relied, “My mother was involved with the Dirlewanger investigation.”

    “Yes, she was, wasn’t she” The General said, “And that man rightly lost his head. It’s a shame that the State has lost sight of the need for that sort of justice.”

    Malcolm held his tongue. His mother had told him that she had witnessed the execution of Lavrentiy Beria and had felt very differently than this General did. Beria had been one of the worst monsters of the Soviet State while Oskar Dirlewanger had been little more than predator skulking in the shadows. Killing them had not brought their victims back. Her opinion was that welded into a cage in some dark corner where even their names would be forgotten would be a better form of justice.

    “Regardless, it seems that one of these maniacs is loose in California” The General said, “Your section caught this one in the act, one that has been a step ahead of the authorities in Los Angeles. They are demanding that we give them of copy, even going so far as issuing a subpoena to the Foreign Service for that tape.”

    “With all due respect, Sir” Malcolm said, “Who told them that we have the tape?”

    “That is way over your station, all you need to know is that someone higher up in your chain of command saw an opportunity to show off and had a friend of a friend who knew someone he could call to tip off the police over there” The General said, “That matter has been dealt with.”

    That last part was a touch ominous and the Oberst to the General’s right was looking rather uncomfortable as he spoke. Malcolm could only imagine what someone like the General would do to someone he felt was speaking out of turn.

    “The issue is that the diplomats have gotten involved, and we have to give them something” The Oberst said and the expression on the General’s face told Malcolm what he thought about that.

    “I’m sorry Sir” Malcolm said, “I don’t see where I fit in. Why am I here?”

    “It is very simple Fähnrich” The General said, “You created this mess and now you get to help clean it up.”

    There was an implied “Or else” on the end of that Malcolm knew was there.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-Nine



    6th January 1974

    Rural Silesia

    Walking among the giant trees that grew on Opa’s estate, their moss-covered trunks like pillars holding up the vast cathedral of their crown. Mathilda sang a song to the spirits who occupied this land. Freyja, the Siberian Husky who Opa had said was her responsibility when she was home from now on walked at her side, ears perked towards the sounds of movement in the brush. Even in the depths of winter, there was still life all around. One only needed to be open to the feeling of it.

    There was a reason why Mathilda loved it here. The sounds of traffic and the constant buzz of electrical wires were absent. This place was how the whole world once was, and in Mathilda’s opinion, how it should be. Just the sound of wind in the trees, especially this time of the year when nature slept deep underground, dreaming of the summer to live anew when the sun was warm again. It was in places like this where Mathilda could feel that without feeling removed. Most people she met frantically went about their lives with everything metered down to the very second and Mathilda could tell that few of them were ever truly happy with it. It felt to her that it was a life that people were not meant to lead. Small wonder that everyone was so miserable. In a few days Mathilda would be going back to Tzschocha, and she wasn’t looking forward to that.

    Freyja’s ears turned and Mathilda heard the sound of footsteps crunching in the snow as she stopped singing. Moving swiftly, she headed for a hollow on the back of one of the trees. Freyja had already grown used to her habits, which included hiding when there was an intruder into Mathilda’s meditation, so she curled in protectively like a furry blanket. A few minutes later, Opa came into view walking with his dog Rust at his side.

    “A shame you stopped singing” Manfred the Elder said, “You’ve a pretty voice Tilla.”

    “You shouldn’t be so far from the house Opa” Mathilda replied as she stepped out from behind the tree.

    “You and Ilse both” Manfred said, “This forest is my life’s work and the crown jewel of my family’s holdings. The day I cannot see it for myself is the one where they bury me in it at last.”

    Mathilda looked at Opa, there were times when he was in a morose mood, and this seemed to be one of those times. “Has something happened?” She asked.

    Opa gave a heavy sigh before pulling an envelope from his coat pocket. He unfolded a typewritten page before handing it to her. Mathilda had never seen telegraph before in real life, it was the sort of thing that mostly existed in movies and on television.

    We regret to inform you of the passing of Sir Albert Ball, Member of the British Empire, Group Captain RAF (Ret.) VC, DSO & two bars, MC. Former Chief Executive Officer of the Austin Motor Company. The family of the deceased wishes to know if you are interested in attending his memorial services?

    “This man was your enemy?” Mathilda asked, “Shouldn’t outliving such a man be cause for celebration?”

    “I once thought that way” Manfred replied as they fell into step with each other. “Sure, there were those like René Fonck who I didn’t shed too many tears for because of his high opinion of himself, but eventually I realized that I had far more in common with my former enemies than I did with my successors.”

    That seemed rather strange to Mathilda. In the epics, bitter enemies were exactly that. The idea that age and time would so radically change things had never entered her thinking until Opa told her so. Perhaps she needed to find some new epics.

    “I see” Mathilda said, which she did, sort of.

    “That song you sing in Old High German?” Manfred asked, “You know what it is about?”

    Mathilda was a bit put out by that. She sung in the language her mother had taught her that she had thought was unique and special. To learn that there was a name for it was an annoyance.

    “It is to remind the forest that spring is coming” Mathilda replied.

    “I like that” Manfred replied.

    “You want to be buried out here?” Mathilda asked.

    “If you had to stay in one place, could you think of anywhere better?” Manfred asked in reply.

    “No” Mathilda replied.

    “That will not be for awhile yet though” Manfred said, “I’ve big plans for the future.”

    Mathilda was a bit confused by that. Albrecht and Ilse were taking on greater responsibilities and pushing Opa aside in the process. There had been difficulties…

    “The future?” Mathilda asked.

    “I figure that Manny and Suse are going to make it official next” Manfred said, “Käte would like that.”

    “I wish I had a chance to know her” Mathilda said, “Your wife, she sounds wonderful the way people talk about her.”

    “She had to be to put up with me for decades” Manfred said with a smile. “I figure that you’ll meet someone like that eventually.”

    Mathilda made a face at that notion. “Most boys I meet are not worth my time” She said.

    “I would imagine not” Manfred said, “But where you find those worth your time might surprise you, like say at a University trekking club.”

    “Trekking?” Mathilda asked, “Is that what Niko and Bas do?”

    “I think that you confuse them with the wisent in this forest” Manfred said, “Hard to tell the difference most of the time.”
     
    Part 133, Chapter 2270
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Seventy



    11th January 1974

    Tempelhof

    Contrary to what many people seemed to think, Ziska was hardly helpless. Provided that prosthesis on her right leg was adjusted properly, she could walk without much undue difficulty. The trouble was that it was difficult to keep the complex device made up of fiberglass, springs, and metal hinges working properly. If any part of it went wrong, it swiftly became cumbersome and annoying. She also risked injury to her good leg and in a disgustingly ironic twist, the portion of her right leg that she still had in the process. There had been a day months earlier when she had been clothes shopping with her mother and sister that had been particularly dark when it had all been going wrong at once. Ziska had refused to take another step and had just wanted to go home. They had been less than understanding.

    Later, she had talked with the same Orthopedic Specialist who she had been seeing since she was a small child about what had happened. “We are trying to replace with artifice what was perfected by evolution over millennia” He said, “And as clever as we are, we cannot build better than what we are trying to replace. The weight is wrong and the field of movement of the human ankle is difficult to duplicate, so we do the best we can.”

    Basically, it came down to the acceptance of her own disability and Ziska’s own rebellion against those who didn’t understand it. The later was a circle of people that seemed to be growing by the hour. That was hardly a surprise. Ziska’s older sister had never been kind to her, occasionally crossing the line into outright cruelty. Her mother though, she expected Ziska to be normal, that was impossible, and as Ziska grew older, her mother’s impatience with her seemed to be increasing.

    All of that was at the forefront of Ziska’s mind as she listened to Sophie’s latest frustration. It seemed like everything, without many exceptions, Sophie eventually turned into frustration. The most galling part this time was that it involved cycling. A few years earlier, Sophie had taught her how to ride and it had been like something from a dream. Flying down hills in a way that she never could have before. The bicycles that both of them had back then, the one that Ziska still had, were built for families. Heavy, well-constructed, with solid step-through frames, up-right geometry, and platform pedals. Perfect for someone like Ziska who discovered that the racing bicycles that Sophie had gotten into were nearly impossible for her to ride. That alone sort of cast a pall over the whole thing, but now Sophie had found a whole new thing to complain about.

    “She isn’t interested in what I can do” Sophie said, “Her interest in me is entirely because she wants Katherine’s sponsorship.”

    It was unbelievable, it seemed like Sophie had come to define her entire life around refusing to compromise. It was difficult for Ziska because she had been forced to compromise one way or another her entire life due to being disabled.

    The latest example of this was when Alida Baruch entered the picture. She had been a world-class athlete from the Netherlands a decade earlier as a sprinter in track and field. She had gotten into cycling after an injury had sidelined her and was part of a group that was trying to get Women’s Cycling made an Olympic event. That effort had brought her to Berlin where she apparently figured that growing interest in the sport was an opening. The thing was that she needed money, numbers, and visibility. The offer to give Sophie Pauline Sommers, the fourteen-year-old ward of Kurfürstin Katherine von Mischner zu Berlin a chance to try out for the team she was building fit her needs perfectly in all three of those areas. Of course, Sophie being Sophie, she didn’t trust any of it, not for a second.

    “Isn’t it what you want though?” Ziska asked.

    “Anyone who gives you something can always just take it away” Sophie replied flatly as she had countless times before.

    It was her typical response.

    Ziska had realized that it was actually about power and trust. Sophie didn’t want anyone she didn’t trust to have power over her. Except for Ziska, Sophie’s half-sister Gabi and perhaps Katherine and her husband, Sophie didn’t really trust anyone. If someone gave anything to her, she felt beholden to them and that was unacceptable.

    “That isn’t what is happening” Ziska said choosing her words carefully, if Sophie got defensive then nothing could change her mind. “You are being given a chance to try out, nothing more, if what you told me is true.”

    “Why though?” Sophie asked, “I’ve never been in an actual race, she has no idea what I am capable of.”

    Ziska knew the answer. There had been many times when Sophie had ridden on the nearby University campus following the same routes as the student athletes. Just the fact that she could keep up had drawn attention. There was also Katherine herself who might have dropped a word or two set it up. Sophie had told Ziska that she had asked for Katherine’s help in physical training, that meant Katherine’s standards which were far beyond what Ziska believed she was capable of.

    “Then win some races” Ziska replied, “Make everyone think that she would be insane not to have you on her team.”

    Sophie just stood there blinking for a moment. As if something so painfully obvious had never occurred to her.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Seventy-One



    14th January 1974

    Moscow, Russia

    Mikhail II, the alleged Czar of Russia, and so-called Defender of the Faith, whatever that even meant, hated Monday mornings as much as anyone else. The difference was that where most men just had their boss ranting impotently at them as they nursed their hangovers from weekend, Mikhail had “important” men pretending that he actually ran this country talking at him as if it mattered. Most days he suspected that a department store mannequin could credibly do his job. It wasn’t that he wanted more power or responsibilities, it was that he felt so useless much of the time.

    It was the result of the lasting lesson that the Bolsheviks, may they all burn forever in Hell’s deepest pits, had taught the Russian people. Too much power in the hands of one man was a disaster waiting to happen. It didn’t matter if it was Nicholas the Stupid, Mikhail’s late largely unlamented Great Uncle who blundered Russia from one crisis to another or Iosif Stalin, who ruled over Russia with an iron fist as General Secretary of the Communist Party killing anyone who dared to disagree with him. Both men had led the nation into calamities. One dying in exile and the other being hung like a common criminal when his enemies wanted to maximize the symbolism of his death.

    When the system had been devised, it had used what was seen as the strengths of other Governmental models from around the world featuring separation of powers as well as checks and balances. A generation later, the flaws in the new system had grown very apparent in that it favored inertia. The generation, that which many deemed the lost, that had come of age after the Soviet War had ended had wanted peace and stability above all else. Now a new generation was coming of age, and they wanted the long-deferred promise about Russia’s place in the world to finally be fulfilled. Instead, they were being stopped by the very inertia that was built into the system and the older generations that wanted something much different. Those older generations also looked at the flood of new ideas and fashions coming from the west with a mixture of alarm and suspicion. There was finally the resurgent Orthodox Church, who had collectively decided that regardless of official titles strict separation of Church and State was a wonderful idea whose time had come, particularly if the people ever decided to burn the State to the ground again.

    For Mikhail himself, he wanted nothing to do with any of this and sincerely wished his father were still alive to deal with it all. He had been perfectly happy as a Doctoral Student studying Anthropology at Lomonosov State University of Moscow. These days the best he could do was auditing the occasional class via video with having learned the hard way that the Professors should not find out who was watching the recordings. The prior summer he the conversation he’d had with his cousin Kristina’s husband, Doctor Benjamin Hirsch, had been like a breath of air to a drowning man. Talking with a peer about various topics at his own level was something that Mikhail had missed profoundly. The University had given him the Doctorate as a formality the instant he had completed the Dissertation. No one having read it or him having to defend it had left it a hollow exercise. The rest of the major Universities of Russia had fallen all over themselves to grant him Honorary Doctorates, pleased as punch that the Czar was a Scholar who clearly valued education.

    “We have received a query from the entourage of Princess Eva of Denmark and Greece about her travel arrangements” Mikhail’s Secretary, who he had tuned out several minutes earlier, said. It was a reminder that his bride was coming for their Easter Wedding. He liked Eva, a lovely young woman who he could talk to about most topics and realized that was probably as good as he would be able to do. This was not a fairy tale wedding by any stretch of the imagination though Russian Media would do their level damnedest to make it look that way.



    Wilhelmshaven

    The Grindwal was tied up to the pier as she prepared to put to sea. The reason for this was the rail spur that ran down the pier and the cargo crane that was unloading the flatcars. Despite the Corvette being a relatively small ship, everything that she and her crew would need for the next few months had to be taken aboard with its location on the ships noted. There was an endless list of items, tools, and supplies. The crates, many containing foodstuffs needed to be taken to the hold, freezers, or any other available space. It wasn’t uncommon for sailors to find themselves sharing space with boxes of tins, machine tools, planks of lumber or metal bar stock in their sleeping quarters. It was something that few people ashore ever thought about. How they needed to bring everything with them and anything they didn’t have on hand would need to be fabricated. There was also a barge tied up alongside the Grindwal that was pumping fuel into her bunker.

    As Captain, Louis was supervising this activity, but mostly that involved knowing when to stay out of the way of his crew as they did the jobs they had been trained to do. Borchardt was yelling at the crew, waving a clipboard in his hand. It was said that he wasn’t above hitting anyone in the crew who he felt wasn’t pulling their weight with it. Recently, the Grindwal had a new Chief Bosuns Mate assigned to her who was not one of Borchardt’s people. The Oberdeckoffizer was less than thrilled by that development. Louis had seen it when he had a recent meeting with the ship’s Noncommissioned Officers. On this next cruise there were going to be some fault lines among the crew to be mindful of. It was just as well that this was going to be a mission of the sort that sailors would give anything to be on.

    The US Navy was planning an exercise by their Atlantic Fleet in the Caribbean Sea and the Grindwal was tasked with observing what the Americans were up to. There had been a prior agreement, so the Americans knew that they were coming. Louis figured that whatever morale issues the crew currently had would evaporate as soon as they got underway, and he announced that they had liberty in Cuba to look forward to.
     
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    Part 133, Chapter 2272
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Seventy-Two



    15th January 1974

    Munich, Bavaria

    After two weeks as an Instructor at the University Hospital, Kiki had asked Louis Junior if his ship needed a Medical Officer when he had told her that it was going to be putting to sea. As it had turned out, that position was already filled so she was out of luck. Besides, Louis having his big sister who held a Rank equivalent to his would be awkward, not to mention her being the only woman in a ship’s compliment of ninety-five Men and Officers. The truth was that she had no interest in going to sea, just a strong desire to be somewhere else.

    So, it had not taken too much prompting to get Kiki to drop everything and leave Berlin. Her younger sister Vicky having a baby certainly counted as prompting. The thing was that by the time Kiki had made it to Munich, it was over except for the question as to what to name her newborn son. It seemed that Vicky had been certain that she was having a girl, so she and Franz had not thought of boy’s names. Eventually, they decided to name him Albrecht Louis after his grandfathers for lack of any better ideas. It was all that Kiki could do not to laugh as she watched that old goat, King Albrecht of Bavaria, strut around like a peacock when he got that news. Watching the men smoke cigars and congratulate Franz, as if any of them had done anything, was a version of a ritual that Kiki knew had been playing out in one form or another for centuries. There was now an heir and a spare as it were, ensuring that the House of Wittelsbach would continue for another generation.

    This had been so welcome for Kiki because she had been dealing with a dozen “Physicians in Internship” who had come from Medical School with the notion learning Emergency Medicine. Unfortunately, none of them were prepared for the reality that greeted them when not five minutes after Kiki had finished briefing them the Field Surgeon brought in a construction worker with an open comminuted fracture of the leg. It was something that Kiki had seen dozens of times, but students were understandably horrified by what they were looking at. Kiki had little patience for them and had proceeded as if they were not there. The following two weeks had hardly improved matters with her finding herself treating them like the particularly dim subordinates she had dealt with in the Medical Service by ordering them around and having no tolerance for hesitation or dallying. It was hardly a surprise that two of them had quickly dropped out, requesting to go to less demanding fields of study. Kiki had not heard from the Hospital’s Administration but figured that they must be appalled.

    Then this week something else had happened that had left Kiki feeling completely absurd. A seven-year-old boy, Dieter Deisler, had wandered into the Emergency Department looking for a Doctor Noah Bauer. The Charge Nurse didn’t have the heart to tell him that was a fictional character from a television show who didn’t exist in real life. Instead, she had referred the boy to Kiki, who she said was an actual Emergency Surgeon who had saved the lives of literally thousands of people and had been featured in a documentaries that Dieter had in fact watched. Kiki had a number of opinions about parents who essentially let the television raise their children, but in this case, it seemed to have created an interest in the Medical Profession.

    Kiki was used to people’s reactions when they learned that yes, she was that Kristina, but to have a little boy staring at her in awe because of what she did professionally was a new, uncomfortable experience. He had babbled on about how he always watched Medical shows with his brothers, Josef and Hagen as Kiki had used the opportunity to do a few checks on him. Dieter seemed to be in good health, but Kiki could see that he was small for his age and that his clothes looked like they were mended and patched, presumably given to him after they had been outgrown by the two older brothers he had mentioned. He had told her a great deal about his life. How his mother worked nights, Sepp was the one who took care of him after their father passed out on the couch in the parlor and Hagen had left for the night doing whatever he did.

    Kiki figured out that Dieter lived only a few blocks from the Hospital, so just letting him go wouldn’t be too much of a problem in that he would be able to find his own way home on a Sunday afternoon. Now, a few days later, looking at her nephew Kiki couldn’t help but be reminded of that boy. Albrecht and his older brother Max would have every opportunity in life. Dieter probably was already falling behind his peers. She was aware of how children who happened to have rich parents were far more likely to get recommended to better schools while the poorest were almost always sent to get a basic education and learn a trade if they were lucky. The way that Dieter described it, his oldest brother was having to move Heaven and Earth to get into University while working to help keep the family afloat. While his middle brother seemed to have already given up.
     
    Part 133, Chapter 2273
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Seventy-Three



    25th January 1974

    Tempelhof

    It seemed like no sooner than Sepp managed to bus a table than the next one was needed to be cleared. Going behind the counter, Sepp fished a rag out of a bucket of the diluted sanitizer whose smell revealed it to basically be bleach so that he could wipe off the tables. His coworker, the one who was manning the counter was practically dozing while standing there.

    Working in Benno’s on a Friday afternoon was its own special sort of Hell. Most of the customers were from the nearby Humboldt Campus of the Fredrich-Wilhelm University of Berlin and it was hard to feel a touch of resentment when he overheard the inane things that they considered problems. Here they were, living lives that he could only aspire to, and they were complaining about having to wait the color of paint for their apartment which they had on order. Couldn’t they see how easy they had it?

    Then there was his other problem.

    Sepp had picked up Dieter after school so that his mother could sleep. While a seven-year-old didn’t have much in way of studies, Sepp was having him work on that in the corner table by the fire exit. He had gotten him a Cub Burger with extra pickles, something that he knew Dieter liked. The picked over remains of that plus a few French fries were sitting on a tray. He was sitting there watching Sepp wipe off the tables with an intent expression that Sepp knew probably meant trouble if he couldn’t divert his little brother’s attention elsewhere.

    “What you got going Didi?” Sepp asked.

    “Thinking about television” Dieter replied, “What’s real and what’s not.”

    “We’ve been over this” Sepp said as he reached for a bin to catch the debris that he pushed off the table. “Most of what you see is rubbish.”

    “I know” Dieter said, “I asked at the hospital about Doctor Bauer and the Nurse who spoke to me said that she was surprised that show was still on the air and that Doctor Bauer isn’t real, though it wasn’t what I asked.”

    “You shouldn’t have done that” Sepp said as he dumped the remains of Dieter’s meal into the bin. “They are busy people who get cross if you get in their way or waste their time. What if there had been a real emergency?”

    “That was what they told me” Dieter replied, “The Doctors and Nurses were really nice though, even when I told them I had no reason to be there. I just wanted to see what it looked like, for reals.”

    “For reals” Sepp repeated, “Now that you’ve seen it, don’t go back cause if Mama hears about it, you will be in there, except for reals.”

    Dieter looked back to the workbook he had been looking at before they had started talking. As much trouble as Dieter caused at times, Sepp knew he wasn’t stupid. Completely unlike Hagen who would best be compared to a box of rocks in that regard. Getting back to work, Sepp grabbed a broom and began sweeping the floor. The Shift Lead who had been in the back helping the cook with cleaning so that they could all leave the instant Benno’s closed for the night, saw that Sepp was working and didn’t say anything. Probably the only advice that his father had given him that was worth anything was to always look busy at work. He continued working on that for the next few minutes.

    “There was one Doctor I met who was on television” Dieter said, “The one who was in that show with the blood spurting in her face, Hagen thought was so keen.”

    “That wasn’t a show, that was a documentary” Sepp said, “I doubt that they would allow that in a drama.”

    “But I thought you said it was all rubbish?” Dieter asked.

    “It is, but not always” Sepp said, “A documentary is different, it’s like the news. There to document, meaning to record what happens in real life.”

    “Poppa says that the news is a load of shit” Dieter said all wide-eyed innocence. Their father thought that anything he didn’t like was a load of shit, of course as Sepp had discovered those terms could easily be used to their father more often than not. If Poppa were not such an opinionated blowhard, he would have a decent job or at least steady work and Sepp wouldn’t need to work at Benno’s to help keep them from freezing over the winter. It was the sort of thing that Dieter would learn on his own soon enough if he hadn’t already figured it out.

    “That is the sort of thing he says” Sepp replied, “And you don’t need to go around repeating it.”

    “Oh” Dieter said, a bit disappointed.

    “You met this woman Doctor?” Sepp asked.

    “Yes” Dieter said, “She was ordering these other Doctors around, the Nurse said that they were training to be Doctors and Doctor Fischer was like in the Army or something and had saved a gazillion people in Korea and Argentina, so it was her job to make them learn.”

    “A gazillion is a big number Didi” Sepp said as he grabbed the dustpan and started sweeping the pile of dirt which he had accumulated into it. It was nice to see that Dieter was interested something non-arson related. “It’s like what Oma did during the Soviet War as Nurse.”

    Dieter looked at Sepp with a touch of surprise. Oma lived across town, and they visited her on holidays. The idea that she had had a life before they knew her was a new idea for him.
     
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    Part 133, Chapter 2274
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Seventy-Four



    27th January 1974

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    It being a Sunday, what was supposed to be a day of rest was anything but restful in the Emergency Department. Kiki had found herself wanting to yell at her students to get the Hell out of her way after she had had to contend with man who’d had a mishap with fireworks leftover from New Year’s Eve. Even as she had done her best to stabilize to patient before sending him upstairs so that a surgical team could go to work, she already knew that this was one that was probably going to go into the loss column, whether or not the patient survived. She had seen how one his hands had looked like raw meat with bone fragments thrown in and his face had not looked much better. She understood that this was someone whose life was irrevocably altered regardless of her efforts. The whole episode brought unfortunate memories to the fore of events that had happened in Korea that she had wanted to keep buried.

    Stepping out into the ambulance bay for some fresh air and leaning on a rail steel rail, Kiki felt the damp chill air of a late afternoon in January which caused her glasses to fog up the instant she stepped out of the stuffy interior of the hospital. The surgical scrubs and white lab coat that she was wearing did nothing to keep her warm, causing her to shiver. Recently the Hospital had switched from the traditional white scrubs to a blue-green color that was supposed to be easier on the eye and be less likely to create odd illusions when looking away from the color red. She was withholding judgement for now. Too many times in the past, Kiki had gotten the impression that Hospital Administrators made changes so they could feel like they were contributing more than they actually were.

    This felt like one of those things.

    It was raining with a strong wind blowing. There was a bit of slush on the pavement from when it had been snowing the night before which had mercifully melted off quickly this time. A few weeks earlier, the snow had stuck around for days, melting, and refreezing into sheets of ice overnight. It had made for a busy week in the Emergency Department as automotive accidents and precarious footing took their toll. You would think that people would be smart enough to stay home during icy conditions before the State could do something about it, but that was obviously not the case. Kiki noticed a bit of movement in the corner of her eye, she knew that it was her security detail. They had had gotten better at keeping their distance at moments when Kiki was in a foul mood like the one that she was in now, but she really wished that she didn’t need them.

    It was then that an ambulance was backing into the bay. Kiki recognized the familiar markings of the JUH, Saint John Accident Aid, an organization that was affiliated Johanniter Order, which Kiki was a high-ranking member of as a Dame of Honor. She had found out that she had her cousin fudge the rules for her to get her that rank, he was able to leverage her conduct in Korea to do that. Now there was talk of making her a Dame of Justice and the last several new members inducted into the Order were from the Medical Profession.

    It had been suggested that Kiki had made it fashionable for Doctors to join the Johanniter Order, she dreaded the thought that she had that sort of influence. She had seldom attended events put on by the Order and often she had needed to be pressured to show up by her father or older brother. There were also religious matters to consider. Zakhar, the Metropolitan of Germany who had replaced Simon after he had gone to lead the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, and Kiki had no idea what he thought of her being a member of a Protestant Chivalrous Order, or hopefully he simply didn’t know. She was in no hurry to have that conversation.

    Where Simon had been relatively openminded, Zakhar was a fossil they had dug up from somewhere in the Russian Far East, the few times that Kiki had encountered him she had been reminded of accounts of Grigori Rasputin. It was incredibly obvious to Kiki that not all his cups were in the cupboard, but many in Berlin’s Russian Expatriate community thought that he had a direct line to God. She looked forward to the day that he could be locked away in the Psychiatric Ward and then Simon might send someone a little less off-putting to play that role.

    The Driver of the Ambulance pulled the doors open and Kiki saw the green uniformed Paramedic in the back with the patient. The members of the FSR she had served with in the Medical Service were heavily recruited by the JUH, so it was no surprise that this man carried himself like a Paratrooper. He probably had been one before he had taken this as a civilian job. The patient was an older man, the pained expression on the part of his face that Kiki could see around the oxygen mask and some of his movements already suggested what was going on.

    With a sigh, Kiki pulled the stethoscope from around her neck as she walked towards waiting ambulance. At least this one was in one piece and wasn’t bleeding.

    “Possible myocardial infarction” The Paramedic said as Kiki approached. Then he started rattling off what he had done to treat it in the field as he had prepared the patient for transport.

    “This one is too pretty to be a Doctor” The patient said, and Kiki did her best to not look annoyed. It was something she heard numerous times a day, at least he wasn’t saying that she was an angel like some of those worse off tended to do.

    “I bet you assume that I am too young as well” Kiki said, “I will have you know that I got my medical license just last week from box of chocolates.”

    “You remember which brand?” The patient asked, “I’d hate to think my Doctor got her license from the cheap stuff.”

    “Only the best” Kiki replied.

    The patient laughed at that, or at least he tried to.

    Kiki might have been in a foul mood, but she still knew how to keep someone’s spirits up.
     
    Part 133, Chapter 2275
  • Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Seventy-Five



    2nd February 1974

    Mitte, Berlin

    It used to be that the entire country shut down on this day to mark the tragic events that had occurred thirty-five years earlier. The interest in that had waned over time and it had just become another day. Among Marie Alexandra’s earliest memories was the sudden jarring silence as the City of Berlin had marked the twentieth anniversary of the blast that had leveled the Reichstag building and had killed hundreds, it was hard to imagine that could happen now. Her mother had always been uncomfortable with the attention she received on this date and locked herself away from the public. Marie had other obligations as she accompanied the Imperial couple along with their children down to the monument in the Tiergarten dedicated to those who had lost their lives. In accordance with what had become tradition, Friedrich and Suga placed a wreath at the foot of the monument.

    Marie couldn’t help but notice that there were other, half-forgotten monuments around. Dedicated to this or that national tragedy or war. Some, like the monument to the First World War, called the Great War on the monument itself which had become something of a sadly ironic joke in the years since, or the monument to the Soviet War, would probably remain important. However, there were monuments to the Second Schleswig War and the Seven Weeks War which they had walked past where Marie didn’t know any of the details beyond what was written on the plaques. It seemed that no one was still alive who knew what those conflicts had been about. The idea of war with Austria and Denmark seemed a bit absurd, now anyway.

    Falling into step with Suga, Marie helped keep six-year-old Alexandrine and four-year-old Eduard moving in the same direction. Their older sister, Mirai, was a bit less inclined towards the rambunctious behavior of her siblings and she was walking next to Friedrich as they made their way back towards the car that would take them back to the Winter Residence. Mirai had told Marie that because she was about turn ten, she needed to be more serious. Though Suga probably would have been aghast, Marie had told Mirai that she had entirely too much of her life to act like an adult, so she should enjoy being a child while she could.

    “At least it is sunny this year” Suga said in Japanese, “You remember how it was last year.”

    That was true enough, the sun was out even if there wasn’t a whole lot of warmth in it. A year prior it had been snowing and there had been some doubt as to the travel arrangements to and from the Winter Residence.

    “Just a reminder of how happy it will be once spring finally gets here” Marie replied in the same language. Her interest in languages had been one of the things that had led her to be appointed to be the current Kammerfräulein and inadvertently becoming the confidante of the Empress. That had also led to her being the most visible of her mother’s children. As far as the tabloids were concerned, Tatiana and Malcolm might as well be invisible. No notice was made of Josefine, Sophie, and Angelica though Marie’s parents had taken great pains for them to be treated like a part of their family. Though Marie strongly favored her father in appearance, everyone made a big deal about how she had the same rare combination of red hair and blue eyes as her mother.

    “Spring” Suga said, seeming to savor the word. “Have you given any more thought about what you are going to do next year, at University?”

    “No” Marie said without elaboration. She was expected to sit the Abitur, everyone had expectations about what she would do next but all she saw was the yawning chasm of the years ahead and was petrified. She didn’t have the first clue as to what she wanted to do with her life. Marie had overheard her mother and Petia talking about how she didn’t want to grow up, as if deciding on a course of study and taking an interest in boys was everything. It wasn’t that simple. She didn’t want to pick a course of study if that meant locking her life into something that she would come to hate and boys, she felt totally clueless about them at the best of times. Suga was the only one who she had tried to talk to about it when it had inadvertently become a topic of conversation.

    “Not thinking about these things will not make them go away” Suga said, “I needed to put some distance between myself and my family to gain some perspective. Now your parents are nowhere near as bound by tradition as mine were, so I figure that you only need to ask them to help you in that regard.”

    Marie walked with her hands shoved into the pockets of her coat trying to keep what she was feeling from being expressed on her face. Suga had no idea that for Marie talking to her mother about matters like these was absolutely terrifying. Here they were, walking away from a monument commemorating a tragic event where hundreds died, yet many more were saved due to the heroic actions of a young Katherine Mischner, Marie’s mother. Marie sincerely doubted that her mother had ever been hesitant about anything in her life, much less experienced what Marie was going through.

    “I don’t know what to tell them” Marie replied.
     
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