Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 136, Chapter 2335
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Thirty-Five

    3rd November 1974

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Despite Kira being gone for years, Kat still found herself looking through newspapers on Sunday mornings for interesting stories. That had been a difficult relationship with Kat often having to be the voice of reason as she had tried to temper the worst impulses of Empress. Still, their discussions about events around the world had been one of the better aspects of it. Though then as now, the news to discuss was not altogether happy. More war and starvation in China, which was fracturing again, and again as different factions vied for control. Chiang Kai-shek was basically the Mayor of Beijing these days with how much his authority had shrunk in recent years. Kat couldn’t help but notice how that stood in counterpoint to the continuing negotiations that were happening in Europe for a single market and customs union. Recently, it had been opined that they were trying to create a United States of Europe in a London Newspaper as they found themselves on the outside looking in. For decades, the British had maintained a perspective that Continental Europe was separate from them. Now, they seemed to be unhappy that in that they were seeing the consequences of that. This European Union, or whatever they were going to call it, would hopefully not repeat the mistakes of the United States of America or even the United Kingdom for that matter in how it was set up if, and that was a big if, that ever happened.

    The United States itself had been shocked by the eruption of the violence that started in Los Angeles and spread to other cities with shocking speed. Prior to that, the country had been in the midst of one of its restful periods, where the people of that country could pretend that the troubles that exploded into the open every few years could be papered over with a suburban home and an oversized car.

    Flipping through the paper’s back pages, Kat saw that the Royal Watchers were speculating on the implications of Kiki’s recent move to a spacious alpine chalet in Bavarian Alps. Benjamin had been appointed to be the Director of the Argelander Observatory and Kiki had taken a position as an On-Call Physician at the Hospital in Sonthofen. Many felt that was a step back by her after working in a prestigious Teaching Hospital in Berlin and the question was why? So far, none of the speculation revolved around the full truth. Mostly it was that she had stepped back after years working in a demanding field to reassess. That was actually close to the truth. Kat knew the truth though, that Kiki had needed something less demanding until she would be required to take a year-long leave of absence. If Kira were still alive, she would probably be horrified that Kiki was still working and want to wrap her daughter in cotton batting for the next eight months. That was something which Kat understood would not go over well with Kiki. If not for that, there was also the prospect of Rea’s upcoming marriage which would probably have killed Kira if she weren’t already dead. Of course, it wasn’t as if Kira would have approved of her other children’s activities. With Vicky’s little arrangement and what Michael was turning Bohemia into it was sort of hard to figure what her reaction to all of that might have been.

    As easy as it was to gainsay Kira, Kat understood how difficult it was to be a mother during changing times. Kira had gone about it the wrong way, trying desperately to control the lives of her children. That wasn’t to say that Kat had not made mistakes in that regard. Being afraid to say anything when Gia and Asia had been involved with each other. Then years later saying too much when Suse Rosa was living under her roof. Now she had Sophie’s troubles to deal with, all the poison that her mother had dripped into her ears made things difficult. Her boyfriend had kissed her, and Sophie had panicked causing a row on the thinnest of pretexts. Now the two of them were not on speaking terms and Kat had to deal with a heartbroken teenager.

    There was also Ilse to consider. She was not happy that Nikolaus had been sent to Argentina, finding out too late to stop it. It seemed that the school had tried to contact Albrecht and had gotten Manfred the Elder instead. That old goat would be all for his grandson having an adventure in Patagonia, if he were a few decades younger he would have gone himself. Kat had fired off a telegram to Martzel Ibarra informing him that Nikolaus was going to be in Rio Gallegos. He had sent a telegram back that said that he would have his people keeping an eye on Nikolaus. Considering who Nikolaus was, Martzel probably considered ensuring his safety an investment.

    What Ilse didn’t know about was how the American CIA and British MI6 had spent months following Marie Alexandra around Montreal. According to Sir Malcolm they were convinced that she wasn’t just a University student, that there had to be a trick involved. Kat felt a bit guilty about this development. Marie was getting spied on entirely because of Kat’s reputation and she didn’t deserve that. The trouble was that anything Kat might do to help Marie would just make matters worse.
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    Part 136, Chapter 2336
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Thirty-Six

    8th November 1974

    Montreal, Canada

    It was snowing as Marie Alexandra arrived at the Lane house. When Isabella let her in she was all smiles, the Housekeeper was always happy to see her, it made Marie wonder just how bad it had been before she had started coming around. She had been helping Henriette apply for Colleges in Montreal. After how Henriette’s life had been derailed, most of the problem was that she was scared to resume it after how she had barely managed to finish her secondary education because of her situation. Her mother had been pushing her to have a social life, that any man who was actually worth anything wouldn’t have a problem with Henriette having a daughter. That seemed rather optimistic to Marie, however she knew that her father had accepted her mother for who she was and everything that came with that for the last thirty years, so it probably wasn’t too far off the mark.

    Henriette wasn’t focused on the task at hand because Alice was sick. Mrs. Lane insisted that it was just the sort of minor thing that babies got. Still, by early evening, Alice was getting worse, burning with a fever, and Henriette was on the urge of panic. Even Marie had to admit that there was a problem. The trouble was that Mrs. Lane was uncomfortable driving across town and Mr. Lane was downtown in the office. Marie realized that there was a simple answer to their problem as she put on her coat and told Henriette to get Alice ready to go and she made a few phone calls.

    Minutes later, Marie was approaching the late model sedan with fogged up windows and two men seated in the front seat. She had to screw up her courage for the next part and wondered how her mother had been so bold to do things like this.

    “Be inevitable” Marie said to herself as she brushed the falling snow off her head.

    Walking up to the back door as quickly as she could. Marie grabbed the door handle and pulled it open and was greeted with a blast of hot air. Sliding into the back seat, the two men were startled by her intrusion.

    “I’ve already called my grandfather, so he knows I am here” Marie said, “The two of you need to make yourselves useful for once and drive Henriette’s baby to the hospital.”

    “The Hell we will” One of the men said turning in his seat to face her, angered by this turn of events. Confirming Marie’s suspicion that they were American CIA in the process.

    “Your job is to spy on me, this evening it is closer than usual. The alternative is that the Special Branch of the Mounties arrests both of you and begins the process of having you deported” Marie said, “I think that your Director Church would sack you for far less than that.”

    They were grumbling but made no move to eject Marie from the car. Marie had seen both of these men as a part of the team that had been following her around Montreal for weeks. Long after they should have gotten bored and found a better use for their time. She had also left out that her grandfather had specially told her not to do this sort of thing because it would convince them that she was just like her mother, but they didn’t need to know that. As it was, she had them over a barrel.

    A minute later, Henriette and Mrs. Lane along with Isabella crowded into the back seat. “Thank for your help Mister…” Henriette said in a leading question.

    “Mister Grey” The man in the passenger seat said and he didn’t sound happy. Marie had seen enough Spy Thrillers to know that was obviously not his real name and the atmosphere in the car remained tense with the only sounds were the engine and the windshield wipers pushing the snow off the windshield. That was until Alice started howling in displeasure. She was sick, tired, probably hurting, and she didn’t have the context to understand any of it. Henriette did her best to calm Alice without much success. After what had seemed like an eternity, they pulled up to the brightly lit entrance to the hospital’s Emergency Department. Marie recognized her grandfather there waiting for them and what looked like a team of Doctors and Nurses. Sir Malcolm had clearly called in a few favors to get an immediate response like this. She also saw that Kage Akio had decided to make an appearance now of all times and was standing off to the side and no one else had really noticed his presence.

    Opening the car door, Marie helped the others out. All the focus was on Alice as they moved as a group towards the automatic doors which slid open on their tracks. That was when Mr. Grey decided to not let things go as his partner watched from the car.

    “We are not here as your chauffer service” Mr. Grey said angerly.

    “I don’t care” Marie replied, not backing down. “You’ve been wasting your time for months, it’s about time that you did something useful.”

    Mr. Grey stepped forward, an outraged look on his face. Only to get his head slammed into the nearest wall by Kage.

    “What is it with the women in your family?” Kage asked in Japanese as Mr. Grey slid to the floor unconscious. Only the driver of the car noticed, and he was staring at them slack-jawed. “Ever heard that the easiest way to win a fight is to not be there?”

    Marie just shrugged in reply.
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    Part 136, Chapter 2337
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Thirty-Seven

    9th November 1974

    Montreal, Canada

    There were few certainties in life as Sir Malcolm had discovered. There were those which were expected such as death and taxes. There were others though and a big one was that Marie Alexandra Blackwood; she had apparently dropped the von Mischner part when she had enrolled at University, was still very much her mother’s daughter.

    Marie commandeering the car that was being used by part of one of the surveillance teams that had been tracking her was unexpected. Malcolm was proud that his granddaughter had acted decisively at a moment which it was called for, yet at the same time he also had to stop himself from yelling at her for acting in such a reckless manner.

    The Special Branch of the RCMP wasn’t exactly thrilled that Marie had blown up the CIA operation. They had been able to discern a great deal about the methods of the Americans by tracking them as they had followed Marie around Montreal. All of that had caused Marie to reveal that she paid careful attention to detail and certain patterns. So, she had spotted the men following her and had saved the information for when it might be useful. If Malcolm had to guess, that was entirely the influence of her father. God help anyone stupid enough to follow Katherine around like that. The Tigress would burn their world down and dance in the ashes.

    Regrettably, Margot wasn’t taking Marie’s friendship with the Lane family well. She had frozen Patricia Lane out of her social circle after her daughter had unexpectedly become pregnant and her boyfriend had skipped town as too many young men tended to do. Now she learned that Marie had spent the last few weeks helping Henriette and the trip to the hospital was because Henriette’s daughter Alice had gotten sick with an upper respiratory infection that had resulted in an ear infection. The Pediatrician who Malcolm had referred to the family had told them that Alice was responding well to the medications, and they were keeping her under observation for the next few days. By then though, the cat was out of the bag. Margot saw it as her granddaughter undermining her moral authority because that was the lens through which she looked at the world. Malcolm had been married to Margot for decades and had seen how she had become what she was over the years. If he had to guess where the problem started, it was when those around her became afraid to tell her no as she demanded others live as she saw fit.

    Then three decades earlier, this strange German woman entered the picture who was just as formidable as Margot and wasn’t in the least bit afraid of her disapproval. The way she lived her life was in almost the exact opposite manner as Margot had. Fortunately for everyone, Katherine had preferred to remain on the far side of the Atlantic most of the time. Now though, Malcolm watched as Marie had quickly figured out that she would never beat Margot at her own game. Instead, she had gone about living her life in a manner which threw all of Margot’s petty vindictiveness and hypocrisy into sharp relief entirely by accident. Malcolm had watched as everyone had congratulated them about how brave and selfless Marie was, while Margot was at a complete loss over how to deal with the matter.

    Rio Gallegos, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

    A small group of tourists gawked at Juan as he walked down the street leading his horse pat them. To them he was like something from a movie, one going so far as to compare him to the famous Cowboys in the far north. The difference was that the American Frontier had been officially closed decades earlier. Here in Patagonia things had remained wild. However, looking around Rio Gallegos it was obvious that change was coming whether those like Juan liked it or not.

    “Go to the arsehole of the Americas and make a new friend” Juan muttered to himself as he walked through the center of town, paraphrasing his grandfather, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life working for your father and older brother?”

    The difficulty for Juan was that he knew his grandfather was right about that. He had been the younger brother himself until he had sought adventure and that had taken him around the world. He’d made his fortune and returned to Argentina as one of the most powerful and wealthy men in the country. Now it was Juan’s turn and his grandfather told him that he could start by protecting the family interests in Rio Gallegos.

    Turning a corner, he saw the gates of the City Garrison. It also housed the Depot which was where he had been sent in the first place. The rub was that he couldn’t exactly state his purpose here, so as he tied his horse to the hitching post he looked at the sign that was his other point of entry. The one on the building that was offering locals employment to the Kaiser for a season.

    The man behind the counter looked banefully at Juan as he walked in.
    “Gaucho?” He asked, “Don’t most of you prefer to work out in the sheep stations during the summer.”

    “I have my reasons” Juan replied.

    “We don’t like legal entanglements” The man said, “So if you think that you can escape authorities this way you are mistaken.”

    “Nothing like that” Juan said, but he knew that an exhaustive check on everything he said would take place.

    “So, what exactly do you bring to the table?”

    “I’ve my own horse, a Caesar Mike rifle, and a forty-five revolver” Juan replied, “I was also a Cabo in the Territorial Volunteers.”

    The rifle was one of the 6.5mm CZ Carbines that were common throughout Patagonia, to which somewhere along the line the slang term “Caesar Mike” had stuck. The horse and revolver had been loaned to Juan by his grandfather, but with no set date for him to return them.

    “You are proficient in those weapons?”

    “Yes” Juan replied.

    “And you seem to be a bit young to have been a Cabo” The man said.

    “They weren’t picky when they needed every man to fight the Chileans” Juan said, knowing full well that the instant this man got a chance, he would be on the phone confirming what he had just said.

    “Well, sign here and then we’ll will see about that” The man said handing Juan several sheets of paper. Juan saw that they authorized the German Army to conduct a background check and that he agreed to accept employment from the German Government for the next six months, or such time as they no longer needed his services. He signed his name; Juan Sebastián Ibarra on the dotted line.
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    Part 136, Chapter 2338
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Thirty-Eight

    11th November 1974

    Los Angeles, California

    Life had returned to as close to normal as it ever did in Los Angeles as the rainy season set in. For a few days, Ritchie had been the face of the response to rioting that had gone on. Now he was back to relative obscurity and was back on patrol. Aside from the upcoming Sergeant’s Exam, which he was being strongly encouraged to take, there was nothing else going on. His hope was that it would stay that way.

    With it being November, the Christmas themed stuff had gone up in the stores the very instant the Halloween themed stuff had come down. Ritchie had listened to Big Mike complain about that. How all the imagery was of the classic New England Christmas that had about as much relevance to life in LA as a rerun of Star Trek with the constant drizzle and rain of the last few days being as close to snow as you were ever going to get. Besides that, weren’t they supposed to wait until the day after Thanksgiving before going all in on the Christmas stuff? Ritchie had just listened without comment. His idea of Christmas was his mother making a big spread of food and his entire extended family being there at the house in the San Fernando Valley. If it was really the whole “White Christmas” thing then the back yard would be useless, and the entire party would have to be moved indoors. He had seen enough of that in New York State when he had lived there. If Mike wanted snow, he had the option of spending the holidays up at Big Bear. In the meantime, he had other considerations…

    Ritchie tapped the taillight of the car with his right hand as he walked up to the driver’s side window. This wasn’t exactly the crime of the century with the can having made an illegal turn several blocks back. It was instantly clear to him what must have happened as the woman who was driving was yelling at the children in the car, the children were largely indifferent to the yelling. Ritchie was reminded of his own childhood as one of the kids was staring at him as he approached, ignoring his mother, the other two were continuing their argument. The kids must have distracted her, she had been paying attention to them and not the road around her.

    “Do you know why I pulled you over Ma’am?” Ritchie asked as she rolled down the window. As he heard the kids yelling over the car radio, he saw in the look on her face that she couldn’t care less. Talking to her about that U-turn she had performed would be pointless. To her, he was just one more obstacle to be overcome in a hectic day that had dozens of others. With a sigh, Ritchie asked, “License and registration, Ma’am? Do you have proof of insurance?”

    It took a few minutes for the woman to find the necessary papers and her driver’s license. From the look of it, the inside of the car was a complete mess. The entire time Richie stood there trying to keep his mind from wandering.

    Walking back to Frankenstein, Ritchie could see that cars were slowing down as people tried to see what was going on he saw that Mike had already gotten back into the car once it was clear that this would be a routine traffic stop. Same everywhere, he thought to himself as he sat down in the driver’s seat and started relaying the information to dispatch as he filled out the ticket.

    “Woman with kids?” Mike asked in a better you than me tone.

    “Yes” Ritchie replied.

    “Crying, then rage” Mike said, “You think?”

    Ritchie knew that Mike was referring to how the woman would react when Ritchie gave her the ticket. That was one of perks that would come with leaving Patrol Division, no more traffic stops. The trouble was that Ritchie didn’t have the first clue as to what else he would be doing in the Department. Out here, what he did was tangible. That wasn’t so true elsewhere.

    “Good luck” Mike said as Ritchie finished filling out the ticket and got the confirmation number from Dispatch.

    “Whatever” Ritchie replied as he got out of Frankenstein and walked back to the car. Traffic continued to roll past.

    Mike’s prediction of theatrics was wrong as the woman gave Ritchie a death glare as he handed her the ticket. A minute later, she drove off as Ritchie walked back to Frankenstein. Mike would probably be focused on lunch as he tended to be this time of day. Putting the car in gear and pulling into traffic, Ritchie was slightly annoyed with how the traffic tended to slow down as soon as people saw a patrol car in their rearview mirror.

    “Thought at all about lunch?” Mike asked as Ritchie had expected.

    “Right now, I am thinking about everything but lunch” Ritchie replied, “The last few months, total garbage.”

    “I won’t disagree with you there” Mike said, “You been paying attention to what’s been going on in South-Central?”

    It was one of those turns that could only happen in LA. The neighborhoods which had been largely destroyed by rioting and the firestorm that had followed, were suddenly valuable real-estate. The safe assumption was that if the destruction had been less complete, then the property would be worthless. The detail that both Ritchie and Mike knew all too well was that it was because the people who had lived in those neighborhoods had been forced to move elsewhere that had caused the speculators to come in.
    Part 136, Chapter 2339
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Thirty-Nine

    14th November 1974

    Charlottenburg, Berlin

    It being a Thursday evening, Zella was not going out and was at home watching videos that she had of Star Trek. She missed watching the show when there had been a new episode coming out every week when the show had concluded a few years earlier in 1971. One hundred thirty-five episodes over five seasons. The voyages of the Starship Constitution on its five-year mission to explore strange new worlds to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. Zella had always been thrilled to hear those words as they were recited by Captain Christopher Pike.

    It had taken a considerable amount of effort on her part, but Zella had all the episodes on video so that she could watch them at home. Tonight, she was watching what was regarded as one of the best episodes of the series, the season three finale called “The Greater Good.” It was where Captain Pike discovers that the story that the Vulcan Commonwealth had been playing a dangerous game pitting the Federation of Planets against the Romulan Empire had been a lie that his own superiors had spread. The truth was that the Romulans and Vulcans were of the same people, they had been puppeteering the brutish Klingon Empire and the Federation in equal turns. If the leadership of the Federation revealed the truth, it would provoke a war where a pyrrhic victory would be the best they could hope for. Up until that episode, the series had been criticized for being utopian. It revealed that utopia was only a surface veneer.

    As Zella watched, Pike confronted Ambassador Spock across the table in a tavern aboard a space station over the situation. At what point did pure logic simply become a cover for self-serving ends? And why making sacrifices for the greater good was ultimately a fallacy. Pike said that in a monolog, only to have Spock tell him that there were reasons why the Vulcan Commonwealth acted the way it did and that there were threats beyond human comprehension out there in the Galaxy. It set the stage for the events in season four as the implications worked themselves out and was the first hint of the actual big bad who was behind the scenes all along.

    Zella thought that it was unfortunate that her friends didn’t share the same interest in Science-Fiction that she did. It wasn’t even about Sci-Fi. It was just about carving out the time to do something that was entirely for themselves for just a little bit. Instead, they were totally caught up in day-to-day concerns and had little time for anything else. Not that Zella blamed them, they all chose the lives they were living. She had noticed that it wasn’t making Kiki and Aurora happy though.


    Sophie wondered if Cheshire remembered Marie Alexandra as he let himself into her room from the window once she opened it. She had no idea how he managed to scale the side of the house to reach her room that way, just that she frequently woke to him batting on the glass. Sprocket wasn’t thrilled about the intrusion because Cheshire always displaced him from his place on Sophie’s bed. Swiftly closing the window, she shivered in the cold night air that had been let in. That was a reminder that Kat and Doug had asked her if she had any ideas for the upcoming holiday season. She found it depressing how life had just gone on without any acknowledgement of everything that had happened. It was just perverse. Aunt Marcella had told her that she felt the way that she did because it was all so new to her, her first love and first heartbreak. Marcella told Sophie that she along with Sepp had learned and grown a great deal because of their relationship. A year was also an eternity at her age with that sort of thing.

    The thing that Sophie couldn’t get past was how she had messed everything up. They had been in the park and Sepp had kissed her. It was like in the movies, such a perfect moment, and she had liked it. Then she had suddenly remembered all the times that her mother had told her that she would inevitably become a complete disgrace for that very reason. She had rather forcibly pushed Sepp away and he had asked her if he had done something wrong. Which had been exactly the wrong choice of words. Her response though, she knew even then that it was completely uncalled for.

    Sophie had lit into him about how it wasn’t always about him having done something wrong. That he wasn’t responsible for what other people did and how she found his constant desire to martyr himself to be pathetic. She had been angry with herself and her inability to let go of the hurtful things that had been said to her, Sepp had just been a convenient target at that moment though he had not deserved it. It wasn’t until Sophie had seen the look on his face that she had realized just how much of a mistake she had made. He had come back by telling her that at least he wasn’t constantly hiding who he was, unlike Sophie who went to such great lengths to pretend that she wasn’t from a working-class background just like him. Things had escalated from there as it devolved into them shouting hateful things at each other.

    Sophie remembered the horrified expressions of passersby and how she had fled home, refusing to leave her room until Kat had forced her out to go back to school. Holding Cheshire, who was purring and rubbing his head on Sophie’s chin, it was all she could do not to start crying again.
    Part 136, Chapter 2340
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Forty

    17th November 1974

    Near Balderschwang, Bavaria

    With Nina asleep, everyone else in the house had gone back to their respective corners. The amazing part was that this chalet, if it could even be called that, was so large that they could do that was a bit mind-blowing. The fact that this was the house of the Director of the Argelander Observatory suggested to Ben that the audit he had ordered should probably proceed with a bit more urgency. Fianna Dunn, the Irish woman who for cared Nina, and Steffi Bader, Kiki’s Personal Secretary, always traveled with them along with a handful of bodyguards. At the moment, Ben didn’t have an Aide and it had been suggested to him that he would need a team of assistants as soon as they could be found to help manage the operations up at the Observatory. The chalet already had a staff who were mostly from the surrounding community who had worked here for years.

    For Ben, it was a ten-minute walk to the aerial tramway that took him up to the Observatory most days. There was an access road that took considerably longer, but if the weather was that bad then there probably wasn’t much call for him to be up there anyway.

    The whole point of coming here was so that they could escape the world and just be a family for a few months. Unfortunately for Kiki, it felt like the whole would was beating a path to their door. Vicky and Anna had already made the trip from Munich a few times. To Kiki’s consternation, they had told Ermentrud Aue that she was working in Sonthofen. Which by what Kiki regarded as an unhappy coincidence happened to be only minutes from Frau Aue’s home in Blaichach. Kiki couldn’t figure out how Frau Aue had figured out that she would be at the clinic in Sonthofen because she didn’t work on any particular schedule. Kiki went there when they called and said they needed her.

    “She said that Vicky told her that I was a stubborn bitch, so she knew what to expect” Kiki said to Ben, “And that like everyone else she didn’t want a repeat of what happened the last time. I wish that everyone would stop talking about that.”

    Ben wasn’t sure exactly how to respond to that.

    Sure, Kiki understood how difficult things could get for her in the coming months and would need all the help she could get. At the same time, she was reluctant to trust just anyone. Perhaps Frau Aue could get through to her, the elderly Midwife had a lifetime of experience which included the delivery of three of Kiki's own nephews.

    “Mostly it is out of concern” Ben said, “They know how you can be when you are focused on doing a job.”

    The extreme focus Ben mentioned was one of the things that made Kiki good at what she did. The was a dark side to that though. She ignored everything else to her own detriment, her health had failed as a result a few different times. It was widely believed that included ignoring the symptoms of pregnancy when she had been in South America. First when she had been the Executive Officer of a Medical Services Regiment and later when she was intent on surviving as she made her way across a war-torn continent. Everyone was worried that she might do something like that again.

    “Not everyone” Kiki replied, “Nina has an entirely different set of questions.”

    Ben snorted at that, trying not to laugh.

    They had sat Nina down and told her that she was going to have a little brother or sister in six months or so. At nearly four, she was aware of far more than most people would give her credit for. Mostly that came in the form of her being highly inquisitive, much like what Ben imagined Kiki was like at that age. There was a key difference though, Nina didn’t seem to be nearly as introverted as her mother tended to be. That took the form of questions about what had happened and what was going to happen. While Kiki didn’t want to fill her daughter’s head with contradictory rubbish, gently explaining it to her in a way she would understand had proven difficult. They had been saved Louis Ferdinand and Charlotte showing up, and Charlotte had a lot more experience with this sort of thing than Kiki and Ben did. Charlotte said that she was happy to answer the questions of a small child as opposed to the thornier issues presented by her fifteen-year-old daughters.

    “I know you think it is funny” Kiki said, “But Nina asking how it got in there and not being happy with the answer I gave her… Where did she get that kind of persistence?”

    Ben had a few ideas. He just couldn’t say them aloud.

    “Think this one is going to be the same?” Kiki asked, pointing at her belly. She had hardly shown when she had been pregnant with Nina, an advantage of having a relatively long body. It remained to be seen if that might happen again.

    “I think that there are far worse things than that” Ben replied.

    Kiki gave him a look. While she loved Nina, there were moments when their daughter could be incredibly obnoxious. Two of them at once was not something she was looking forward to.
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    Part 136, Chapter 2341
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Forty-One

    23rd November 1974

    Eagle Rock, Los Angeles

    The spare upstairs bedroom was empty except for the drop cloth that was covering the floor. At the moment a whole lot was still up in the air, so Lucia had decided that it should be painted a cheerful yellow. Ritchie’s brother Bobby was unavailable to help out today because Lockheed had ramped up production of the Galaxy Airliner which meant that every warm body that aircraft manufacturer could get on the line was there. So, Ritchie had been forced to pick up the phone and call Big Mike who got there just as Ritchie was finishing the job of masking the walls. He was more than happy to use his skills of deduction to figure out that there was more going on than just Ritchie repainting a room in the first few seconds.

    “I warned that this was gonna happen” Mike said as he poured a measure of paint into tray before grabbing a fresh roller out of the plastic bag.

    It was something that Ritchie didn’t want to get into with anyone. It was less than a week before Thanksgiving and the last thing that Ritchie and Lucia needed was to have anyone in their respective families speaking out of turn. Christmas was something that they were dreading this year because by then talk would have gotten around.

    “If you breath a word of this to anyone…” Ritchie said, not finishing the sentence. With Ritchie getting promoted and Mike going to the Detective Bureau there wasn’t a whole lot that Ritchie could do to him, and he knew it. So, Mike started painting the wall opposite the door with a smile on his face, enjoying Ritchie’s discomfort.

    “I’m sure Clair is going to be delighted when I tell her about this” Mike said.

    “That is not what I mean by not telling anyone” Ritchie replied, “You might as well take out a full-page ad in the Times.”

    “I get you” Mike said, “Of course, a nice helping from the leftovers of your Mama’s Thanksgiving spread might make me forgetful.”

    “That’s extortion” Ritchie said. The meal in question was the odd fusion between a traditional Thanksgiving meal and the Mexican roots of Ritchie’s family. As far as he knew, it was unlike anything that could be found anywhere else. Of course, Mike would be after a plate or two of that even if it meant that Ritchie would have to fight his brother’s and cousins for it.

    “It is, what it is” Mike said, “And what are friends for if not blackmail?”

    Ritchie muttered a phrase under his breath in Spanish that they had heard often enough on the job for no translation to be needed. Mike knew that he had Ritchie over a barrel.

    Rio Gallegos, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

    There were a lot of things that Niko knew better than to trust. Bas’ word that he would stay out of trouble for example. Or in this case, the Argentine Volunteer who had appeared in the Depot who just happened to be the grandson of Martzel Ibarra, a friend of his Aunt Katherine. That just seemed a little too good to be true. While he had no doubt that Juan was who he said he was. The Regiment vetted all the locals who they hired to provide services or had useful skills. Once the full Regiment was in place they would start patrols that would cover an area that covered tens of thousands of kilometers. The knowledge that Juan had of this region was invaluable and he was exactly who the Regiment wanted helping them. The part that troubled Niko was that he had even the remotest interest in being friends with Niko. He had seen how the Junior Officers had invited him to be among them as they saw Juan as being a peer of theirs. Niko was decidedly not that. Willi was sort of useless because he thought that Juan was the absolute epitome of cool.

    He had written a letter to his Aunt Katherine and got it on the next flight out. It had a lot of questions about just who Martzel Ibarra is and if she had a way of finding out what Juan’s real motives were. What followed was several days of waiting as he hoped that his Aunt was taking his questions seriously. So, he went about doing what he had been doing. Mostly that involved teaching Willi how to ride a horse properly. He also found himself actually doing the tasks that he had been assigned to the 3rd Hussar Regiment to do in the first place. He figured that he would be doing more of the same unless he went out on one of the patrols, which didn’t seem too likely at this moment.

    Stepping out of the Mess Hall, where he’d just had a questionable meal of the sort that only the militaries of the world could provide. He saw that there was a commotion on the Parade Ground. A couple trucks were parked there. Every day a cargo plane from home landed with anything that the Regiment might need within reason. That included mail, which was why a crowd of Hussars always gathered around the trucks that came from the airport.

    With his hands in his pockets, Niko watched as bundles of letters were passed out as the Company Clerks yelled out names. He wondered if Aunt Katherine’s response had finally arrived.

    “Fahnenjunker von Richthofen!” One of the Clerks yelled, “Nikolaus!”

    As if there were more than one member of his family among them.

    “Here” Niko said, then got handed three large packages and several letters. He wasn’t able to get a look at any of them until he made it back to the barracks. The first package was a woolen sweater from his mother, a wallet sized photograph of his parents with his little sister that must have been taken recently and a handful of Argentine banknotes, just in case. The second two were from Katherine and his Great Aunt Marcella that included a number of items which they figured he would find useful. Uncle Hans had told him all about these packages and how they were a lifeline for him during the Soviet War. There was a letter from his Grandfather that was heartfelt but mostly platitudes about how proud he was of who Niko was becoming. Two were from Gretchen Schultz and Mathilda Auer respectively, who had apparently written letters to him as part of school assignments. Finally, the letter from Aunt Katherine, which was rather short. Just one sentence.

    Martzel Ibarra is someone you can trust without reservation.
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Forty-Two

    2nd December 1974

    Mitte, Berlin

    The club was an old institution with photographs on the walls that boasted of a storied past and an exclusive membership. That all seemed rather remote as the membership had aged and dwindled. These clubs that were once the unofficial halls of power within the Empire had not changed with the times and that was reflected over the decades as the only new thing they seemed to collect was dust. Franz Josef Strauss however found the one he was in to be an oasis away from the insanity that teemed on the streets of Berlin. It was like a machine that was poorly tuned and on the verge of spinning out of control, only continuing to work because it always had. In the club, he could get a meal and enjoy a short time of retrospection before he had to go out and deal with this city again.

    Looking at his meal, Franz was reminded anew of how much he hated this city as his appetite vanished. It corrupted everything and everyone within it. The cut of meat on his plate next to the potatoes and vegetables reminded him of the latest incident he had been assigned to investigate which he already feared was the work of Birsha Bleier or at least one of his underlings. He had already seen what happened when the Criminal Kingpin wanted to make an example of someone too many times. This time, it had been what could only be described as an orgy of blood and fire. The State Medical Examiner was still trying to piece together just how many bodies had been left behind.

    “You shouldn’t be brooding” Birsha said as he sat down across the table from Franz. Speak of the Devil and he appears, Franz though sourly to himself. Due to the club rules, Birsha had checked his usual frock coat, revealing the black suit he always wore underneath it. Franz might have asked whose funeral he was going the be attending but he suspected that Birsha would think that was a joke. The sense of humor of a man like Birsha was the sort of thing Franz shuttered to even think about. “Tonight, is one where we need to celebrate” Birsha concluded.

    “I saw the warehouse by the river” Franz replied, “That was extreme even for you and not cause for celebration.”

    “I have no idea what you are talking about” Birsha replied. He wasn’t foolish enough to admit to having been involved in what had happened earlier that day in the presence of Franz. It didn’t matter if Birsha had Franz by the balls, this was simply too big for him not to act, regardless of the personal and professional consequences. “If I did have an idea though… I would say that it was necessary to convince our friends from Bratva that Germany was not open to them. Hypothetically speaking that is.”

    Franz looked sourly at Birsha. He suspected that Birsha Bleier, a particularly dark handle, wasn’t his real name but part of a persona he had adopted years earlier when he had become a Lieutenant of Otto Mischner within the GS. There was nothing before that. It was as if Birsha had fallen from the sky a couple decades earlier. Even as he had the thought, it occurred to Franz that someone like Birsha wouldn’t have come from the sky, rather he would have been far more likely to rise up from Hell.

    “Are you eating this?” Birsha asked as he slid Franz’s plate across the table. And Franz wondered where the Waiter, Host, or any of the other staff in the club had vanished to. One would think that they would take issue with Birsha’s mere presence. Of course, who among them would dare to lay a finger on the head the GS syndicate? That was asking for a closed casket funeral if your remains were ever found.

    “When I was a boy, the war meant that food was always scarce” Birsha said, talking with his mouth full. “We received rations from the State, but those didn’t ever seem to go far enough towards being filled. So, if there is one thing I cannot stand, it’s wasting food.”

    That was in keeping with what they presumed was Birsha’s age. He would have been an adolescent during the Soviet War. There had been rations intended for adults and children. Those that fell in between tended to either get too much, or not enough, depending on what amounted to the luck of the draw.

    “You might recall that your predecessors used a great deal of discretion in how they went about their business” Franz said, hating that he had to speak with this man as opposed to throwing him into a deep, dark hole.

    “Proves what you know” Birsha replied, “I was the one who frequently had to clean up the mess when they got excessive.”

    Otto Mischner was dead and buried. Jarl Gunnarsson had simply vanished. No one knew exactly what had happened, but he was gone and Birsha Bleier had taken his place. Franz understood what it took to stay on top of such an organization and that his usefulness for Birsha was the only thing keeping him alive.

    “Be that as it may” Franz said, “What do you want? I know you didn’t come here to reminisce.”

    “I though you would never ask” Birsha said, and Franz knew that he wasn’t going like the answer to that question.
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Forty-Three

    6th December 1974

    Plänterwald, Berlin

    As Sophie watched, the sentries on the edge of the grounds of the Winter Residence did a onceover on her Bianchi bicycle. She knew better than to say anything flip about what they might be searching for. They took this all very seriously and lacked a sense of humor.

    “Thank you, Fraulein” The Sentry said as he handed Sophie’s identification back. “You are expected.”

    Nella and Nan had big plans for this weekend, and they wanted Sophie there to help out. They were going to the Alexander Marketplace, one of Sophie’s favorite places especially during the Christmas Season and they had invited her to spend the weekend.

    “Thank you” Sophie replied awkwardly before she peddled her bicycle away from the guard post. She still expected Unteroffizer Auer to be here when she went to visit Antonia and Annette; Nella, and Nan to their close friends, though she knew that he had left months ago.

    Sprocket resumed his place at the front of the basket on the front of her bicycle that he rode in. He had retreated under the blanket when the bike was stationary, not even bothering to growl at the sentries. To them, he was hardly considered a dog, which proved that they didn’t know as much as they thought they did. He had his nose in the wind, probably enjoying the rich tapestry of smells of the trees and fields.

    It was a relatively warm day for December, though the sun was out, there were patches of snow in shady spots. She had promised Katherine and Douglas that she would mind the weather reports before going out. After what had happened a couple years earlier it was a continuing concern, that Sophie wouldn’t let stupid little things like the weather get in the way of her plans.

    As Sophie picked up speed, she reached down and shifted to a higher gear. She had rebuilt the Bianchi over the last few months with much improved drivetrain and tires. The new “Super Record” gearset was made by Campagnolo that was as good as the Shimano gearset on her red “No Name” bicycle and the latest Continental Grand Prix tires. She had saved up for the gearset, but the tires had been a bit of a surprise when she got them for free. It seemed that Continental had learned about her racing over spring and summer. They were trying to entice Sophie into agreeing to use their tires exclusively in the future and had given her a couple sets of tires for both her bicycles. Douglas said that it was because the giant tire company recognized her potential and soon enough, others would as well.

    Slowing to a stop, Sophie looked at the large house that was the home of the Emperor and his family during the winter months. His younger sister lived in a guest cottage elsewhere on the grounds when she was in Berlin. Nella and Nan remained here, though as they had gotten older. Their parents, the Emperor Emeritus and his wife were often elsewhere with Louis Ferdinand having been appointed to be a Special Ambassador. Whatever that meant. Unclipping Sprocket from his basket, he jumped to the ground and started sniffing around the bushes that grew around the side of the house as Sophie undid the straps that held the panier bags to rack on the back of her bicycle. Sophie knew that she could leave her bicycle under the overhang next to the side entrance without bothering to lock it. It was probably the most secure spot to leave it anywhere. Unless there was a State function, no one entered through the front doors.

    Opening the door, Sophie saw that other than another Soldier who was too disciplined to look bored, no one else was there to greet her. That meant that the Emperor and Empress were out today. If they were around, the security would have been far more robust. “They are waiting for you in the Solarium” The Soldier said when he saw Sophie. The Sentries out on the perimeter would have phoned as soon as Sophie had gotten through them. It was just a glimpse of the many layers of security that Nella and Nan lived inside, and it made Sophie glad that she lived a relatively normal life.

    Sophie knew the way to the solarium, a room copied from the Old Winter Residence that had always been popular with the various Empresses and Ladies of the Imperial Court. Sprocket ran a bit ahead of her. He spent enough time with Nella and Nan to track them easily, or he might just as easily be headed towards the kitchens in the hope that someone had dropped something edible.

    Sophie was amused that thought.

    Eventually, Sprocket led her into a room that was full of bright sunlight. There was the fragrance of soil and that flowering plants that grew year-round. It might have seemed like an extravagance, but Sophie knew that the double paned glass made the room extremely efficient to heat. Sophie saw Nella and Nan. When she had first met them they had looked close enough in appearance that people thought they really were sisters. That had changed as they had grown older with Nella’s hair turning from blond to brown, she was also half a head taller than Nan.

    “You made it Sophie” Nella said before giving her a suffocating hug. “Where’s Franziska?”

    “Her mother is planning this whole formal celebration of the holidays” Sophie replied, “Ziska is going to be fitted for a dress tomorrow along with her sister.”

    Nella made a face. She had been through that process countless times and didn’t like it because it always seemed to result in uncomfortable clothes. Sophie glanced at Nan who had scooped up Sprocket and was scratching behind his ears. That little traitor, Sophie thought to herself.
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Forty-Four

    20th December 1974

    Montreal, Canada

    The house was quiet, mostly because Marie’s grandparents were watching television in the parlor downstairs after everyone else had gone home for the evening while she was in her bedroom. The University Term had ended, Marie Alexandra didn’t have studying to worry about. She had considered reading just for the pleasure of it, but none of the handful of books she had on hand had interested her. Instead, she was just laying on her bed staring up at the ceiling.

    It was pretty clear by now that Marie wasn’t going to make it home for Christmas this year. She had been kept so busy over the previous months that she had hardly paid much attention to the date until December was suddenly upon her and it was too late to make plans. After the incident with the CIA Agents, the feeling that she was constantly being watched had abated somewhat. If Marie had to guess, it was fear of embarrassment that was causing the various agencies to back off with the surveillance. While she had demonstrated in a manner that no one could argue with that she could spot them, it wasn’t like if they were invisible. Kage, who had come to Montreal to check on Marie at her mother’s request, had gone back to Berlin. Henriette had gotten accepted into the Preuniversity Program at Dawson College with Marie’s help. In a couple years she would be able to transfer to McGill. It was all a reminder of just how the events of the last year had so thoroughly messed up Henriette’s life.

    As much as Marie hated the thought, her mother had warned her that there were aspects of her own life that were frequently unpredictable and often beyond her control. It was on her to carefully control the things could. She was starting to see exactly what her mother had been talking about. That really was annoying because like nearly everyone else, Marie thought that her mother could be a bit too intense about certain things.

    Feeling restless, Marie padded on bare feet out of her room and down the stairs. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror on the back of the door. Her hair was a bit mussed, and she was wearing a red McGill University sweatshirt that was still too new to be considered tattered and an old pair of blue jeans that were the very definition of that. If only those who thought that she was glamourous could see her now, she thought to herself as she descended the stairs.

    On the table by the door were a number of Christmas cards that had been delivered to the house over the last couple weeks addressed to the Blackwood family as well as to them individually. That had turned into a flashpoint as Marie had received a number of cards and letters that left her grandmother flabbergasted. First there was the letter from Marie’s cousin Niko who in Argentina that included a picture of him with his horse. That was fine until Margot had spotted Niko’s signature, Nikolaus von Richthofen. Yes, Marie’s Aunt Ilse was married to Albrecht von Richthofen, the heir of the Red Barron himself, and Niko was their son. Then the card and letter arrived from London where Marie and her mother were regarded as personal friends of Elizabeth… Things had gone swiftly downhill from there. As they arrived from some extremely notable people throughout the world that were addressed to Marie Alexandra that used her proper Title, Prinzessin, which was technically true. Finally, it had been the ornate card along with several letters from Freddy and Suga along with their children that had made Marie wonder if Margot’s head was going to actually explode.

    Marie could see the lights on in the parlor as she stepped into the kitchen. A slice of bread with a bit of jam and a glass of water was all she wanted. Fortunately, those were in abundance. Sitting at the kitchen table, Marie had the intrusive thoughts about what she would be doing over the coming days until the next University Term started and what she would do once it started. For some reason everyone expected her to join the University Theatrical Society. Which was sort of odd, because when had she ever shown any inclination towards acting? Marie had decided to come to Montreal so that she would have the space to figure out her own identity. Having people making assumptions like that were not what she needed.

    Her grandparents had the habit of eating a large meal at the end of the day. It was a meal that Marie had been begging off mostly after she found that the heavy foods they liked did not sit well with her when she had to be up early the next morning. Finishing her bread, Marie walked into the parlor as her grandparents were watching the nightly news. She saw a soldier holding a rifle while cautiously peering around a corner while another spoke into a radio a pace behind as the narration mentioned something about Commonwealth Forces under the League of Nations Mandate battling insurgents in Kampala. Wherever that was.

    Marie sat down in the empty recliner. Sir Malcolm smiled when he saw her before shifting his attention back to the television where it had shifted to a story about Canadian politics. Margot was pointedly ignoring her. It seemed that having a granddaughter who got a Christmas card from the Queen of England had upset her equilibrium.
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Forty-Five

    23rd December 1974

    Argelander Observatory

    It was a special treat for the children who lived in the surrounding communities. They had all seen the Observatory on the mountaintop and many of them had also taken school trips to tour the facility. That had been during daylight hours though. What was happening tonight was completely different with it being a cold, clear night the Observatory was active, and they were watching from the visitor’s gallery. For Ben, this was continuing the work he had done for years in making these communities part of the project. Great pains had been taken to reduce the light pollution while the Observatory was operating. The were the hooded streetlights and closed blinds having become a habit which everyone knew about. Kiki had also seen the gallery in Sonthofen which sold prints of the images captured by the Wolf Telescope, the smaller fifty-centimeter telescope, or the brand-new infrared telescope which had just become active. There were a few space themed touristy places that she had not been interested in.

    The observation gallery itself had been an idea of the first Director of Argelander Observatory when he had realized that it would often play host to various VIPs mostly in the form of University Presidents and members of Corporate Boards who saw the continued evolution and expansion of the Observatory as advancing the cutting edge of technology. Other frequent guests were King Albrecht of Bavaria and King Philipp of Württemberg. Though at the age of eighty and apparently in poor health, Philipp’s appearances had grown rarer in recent months. The two of them were considered key patrons of the Observatory along with Kiki’s brother Friedrich.

    From the gallery, one could watch the movement of the Maximilian Wolf telescope. All the intricate parts in a graceful dance around the massive six-hundred-centimeter primary mirror that was its heart, the cunning machinery required to support its weight and prevent it from flexing and distorting the image. There were also teams of technicians and specialists busy at work putting one in mind of something more akin to a Space Program launch center.

    Ben stood in the dim red light of the gallery explaining all of this in a way which kept the visiting children enraptured. Kiki knew that he had spent a great deal of time giving similar presentations at the Planetarium at the Archenhold Observatory when he had been a student at the Friedrich-Wilhelm University of Berlin. Nina was alternating between fidgeting and looking at the presentation when it held her interest for a few minutes. She had been far more fascinated by the ride on the cable tram up the mountain. They had been surrounded by swirling snow as it had been built to operate in most weather conditions. Everyone else had been hanging on for dear life. All Nina cared about was that she was going to where Poppa worked, and they were taking to most amazing ride up there. Kiki’s hope was that her daughter would always be so bold.

    Montreal, Canada

    “She’s still too young to appreciate the holiday” Marie Alexandra said, “In a few years she’ll be so excited that Father Christmas is coming that she won’t be able to contain herself.”

    “Really?” Henriette asked, looking at Alice who was sleeping in her arms. Presently, in the manner of babies since the dawn of time she made gurgling noises whenever she saw a familiar face and that was about all she did. She also had started grabbing at anything within reach having discovered her hands. Which in Marie’s experience was perfectly normal. Her mother had told her about how when they were little, the members of the Royal Family back home had been fascinated by her hair when she had been young. Which happened to be the same vibrant red that Marie had inherited.

    “It was the same way with Suga’s children” Marie replied, “You have this little baby, then before you know it they start talking, have opinions and are doing obnoxious things because they find that fun. Basically, they become children and it all goes downhill from there.”

    “That sounds terrible” Henriette said to Alice, “Would you do that to me?”

    “That is inevitable from I have seen, there are some benefits though” Marie said, “Mirai is a sweet girl as much as she tries to hide it. The fashion houses of Berlin, Rome, and Paris are not going to know what hit them when Alexandrine comes of age. Their little brother Eduard is like his father in that all he wants to be is a Footballer, er… I guess you call it Soccer here.”

    There was a photograph that Suga treasured of Freddy when he had been eleven or twelve where he was completely covered in mud, bloody nose, and a big smile on his face after an afternoon spent on the Football pitch. Suga said that while Freddy had never been the most gifted athlete, he had given it his all and had been overjoyed just to be alloyed to take part. She figured that Eduard would be like that as he got older and had not objected when Freddy had given their son a black & white football for his birthday the prior June. Eduard had loved it so much that Suga had to remove it from his arms when he had fallen asleep that night.

    “You think that is what it will be like with Alice?” Henriette asked.

    “She’ll become who she is, if that makes any sense” Marie replied, “That will be part of the fun.”

    Henriette liked that answer.

    Helping her out was the least that Marie could do because the Lane house had become a place to escape from the pressures of her grandparent’s house. The last couple weeks there had been a number of invitations addressed to Marie inviting her to this or that New Year’s Eve celebration. She couldn’t help but notice that many of them were members of Montreal’s Society who just happened to have College-aged sons who they would be happy to introduce her to. Her grandmother’s personal dislike of Marie herself had given way to her need to keep up appearances. Much to Marie’s discomfort.
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Forty-Six

    31st December 1974

    Montreal, Canada

    It was late, far later than Sir Malcolm normally stayed up for anyway, as the final minutes of 1974 ticked down. Margot was surrounded by her friends, enjoying the compliments about “Her accomplished and wonderful granddaughter” as if she weren’t often left seething by something that Marie had said or done. Malcolm knew that though she kept a smile on her face and was gracious, this was the twisting of the knife in a self-inflicted wound. Though in recent days, Margot had brightened to the possibility Marie Alexandra might be married off at some point in the future and thus, giving her a face-saving way out of the situation.

    As he walked across the crowded ballroom, Malcolm saw that Marie was frequently checking her watch as she was having a young man too oblivious to notice the bored expression on her face talking at her. She had told Malcolm earlier that the dark side of having everyone know that she spoke several languages was that she couldn’t pretend to not speak the one that the person who was boring her spoke. Considering that was Marie’s reaction towards most of the young men she had been introduced to tonight, Margot’s idea wasn’t going to play out nearly as easily as she might like.

    Over the last several months, Malcolm had observed his granddaughter and how she went about her days. Most of Marie’s classes were in the morning, so she left before the sun came up most of the time. He was aware that most afternoons, Marie was at the house belonging to Bert and Patricia Lane minding their young granddaughter so that Henriette Lane could better manage things. When Malcolm had spoken to Bert, he had said that Marie had been a godsend and had been thankful for how she was helping Hennie get her life back on course.

    While Margot was seemingly unaware of this, the rest of her circle of friends were not. To them Patricia was a mutual friend and they had gone with Margot’s dictates mostly out of fear of crossing her. Marie had little to fear from Margot because as everyone knew, she could leave whenever she wanted and her standing in her grandmother’s social circle meant nothing to her. Marie had given Patricia a way back in and Margot had to be gracious over how everyone was talking about Marie. Sir Malcolm had spent most of his life with Margot and could tell that this situation was one that she was not equipped to deal with. A dark part of him whispered that it was about time, but that was something that he would never say aloud.

    “If I may have this dance?” Malcolm asked Marie interrupting the conversation. She had a very grateful look on her face as she took his hand as they stepped out onto the dancefloor.

    “Thank you Opa” Marie said in German.

    Since she had arrived in Canada, Marie had seldom spoke in her own language. Malcolm recognized it as having the regional accent of Berlin and that her speaking it meant that he was catching her in an unguarded moment.

    “I saw that you needed saving” Malcolm replied in the same language. “How bad was it?”

    “He was trying to impress me with his athletic prowess” Marie replied, “Playing Golf, I didn’t know why anyone would think that would impress me.”

    The disgust was evident in her voice. While Golf did exist in Europe, it didn’t have nearly the importance placed on it that it did in the United States and Canada. When it came to being a member of an exclusive club where one could tell lies to their heart’s content and brag about their supposed wealth, the Germans seemed to prefer other avenues to country clubs.

    “What would impress you?” Malcolm asked as they danced to the rhythm of the slow Waltz. It was something that he wondered about. There were times when Marie seemed like a complete innocent, others when she was worldly and accomplished. It was an area where Marie was a complete mystery to everyone. Doug had once confided in Malcolm that he sometimes thought that Marie’s affections may be of the Sapphic variety, Kat apparently disagreed though. She just thought that Marie preferred to remain in a quasi-childhood where no such determination would need to be made. Malcolm wasn’t certain if either were true, if the former were true though, it would probably be the end of Margot. The impression that Malcolm got out of that, was that no one had actually asked Marie directly, possibly because they were afraid of the answer.

    “Why can’t they be like you, or Poppa?” Marie asked after a long pause. “Out there in the world doing real things as opposed to stupid games.”

    “Many would disagree on a couple different scores” Malcolm replied, “I am retired, and your father is in the Arts.”

    “You lived an amazing life Opa, and Poppa is a Photojournalist” Marie said, “He was right in the middle of the action during the Soviet War and later in Korea. There have been a thousand other places too.”

    Marie’s opinion of her father was somewhat unexpected. Not because of what she had said, but the vehemence with which she said it. That was an interesting wrinkle and Malcolm found that he was looking forward to seeing how that would play out in the months ahead. Malcolm glanced at the clock and saw that it was going to be midnight in a few minutes.

    “I need to go find your grandmother before the clock strikes twelve” Malcolm said, “I’ll keep an eye out for your adventurer in the meantime, you never know.”

    Marie just smiled at that.
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Forty-Seven

    4th January 1975

    Los Angeles, California

    For everyone there comes an inflection point.

    A moment comes where a decision gets made and afterwards nothing is ever the same again. For Ritchie, that came when he was drinking coffee while at loose ends in a 7-11 parking lot while watching the early morning crowd pass through the busy convenience store. His recent promotion to Sergeant had not come with an assignment just yet. Mostly he had resumed his duties in Patrol Division in the Central District without missing a beat. The difference was that he was now the senior Officer at nearly every scene he responded to and took on a supervisory role. He also didn’t have Big Mike in the passenger seat, whose presence he missed. This happened to be the first time that he had been in a patrol car without a partner present, which felt like an itch he couldn’t scratch.

    Despite having told dispatch that he was taking a meal break, he hadn’t really bothered. Just getting a cup of mediocre coffee instead. Ritchie figured he would eat when he got home in a couple hours after his shift ended. He was half listening to the radio as dispatch sounded bored with the usual reports of the various minor nuisance crimes that occurred throughout Los Angeles and all times, but especially in the early morning hours. The neighbor kid keeping the party going that should have ended hours earlier. That sick fuck up the block prowling around your yard again. Someone spotted taking a leak in an alley. And the like. It never really ended.

    That was when the call came in, Code 30, Officer needs help, urgent, shots fired, followed by a location just across the Ten in South-Central. Then something curious happened. A second call went out overriding Dispatch, 10-3, stop transmitting. Ritchie realized that had just nixed the entire response even as the Code 30 grew more frantic. There were rumors that this might happen if someone with a lot of juice in the Department wanted somebody dead and they had contrived to let the street do it for them. And any investigation would be unlikely to focus beyond the immediate scene of the crime.

    For a second, obeying orders, the thing that had been drilled into him from the minute he had first entered Army Boot Camp was in conflict with the ethos of every outfit he had been in. Something that John Casey had told him years earlier about being able to look at yourself in the mirror came to mind and leaving someone in a dangerous position was possibly the most shameful thing imaginable. Putting Frankenstein into gear was an automatic reflex as he turned the siren on. The crowd in the 7-11 watched agape as he tore out of the parking lot gaining speed as he slewed into the intersection and accelerated hard as the tires gained traction on the pavement.

    Ritchie only paid attention to the traffic to the extent that he needed to dodge around it. He shouted into the radio that he was responding, ignoring the call for radio silence. If anyone had a problem with that, they could get bent as far as he was concerned. He didn’t know if anyone else was responding but realized that he didn’t care. If they had any pride at all they would be right behind him.

    Ritchie rounded a corner, the tires screeching as two tones of steel barreled through the intersection. There had been a few times in the Green Beret where Ritchie had been dialed in and it was like seeing everything in slow motion, aware of every detail as he slammed on the brakes. He was in that mode as he saw a young man wearing blue and black with a pistol turn and fire at Frankenstein, the window turning to a shattered cobweb instantly. As it turned out, that was a huge mistake by the shooter because the instant the Dodge stopped, Ritchie sprung from the driver’s side with the Winchester shotgun that had been strapped to the center console. In the back Ritchie’s mind, he was aware that they were wearing gang colors as he fired a 12-Gauge at the shooter. The man had a look of surprise on his face before a blast of buckshot erased it.

    The other members of the gang became aware too late that a higher level of predator was among them as Ritchie started taking them out as fast as he could pump shells into the breech. He had to take cover behind a parked car as they belatedly started shooting back as him as he fired the last shell, drew his pistol, and resumed shooting, continuing to take out anyone who dared to point a weapon remotely in his direction. It was when he ricocheted a bullet off the street below a parked car hitting the gang member sheltering behind it that the others realized they were overmatched by one man. It was a detail that would enter the lore of the surrounding neighborhoods and grow with retelling. Ritchie wasn’t concerned by that as he heard the approach of the belated response.

    “What the fuck?” Tony asked as he stepped out the building he had been hiding in, saw what Ritchie had just done and was shocked by it. The small Italian pistol in his hand what would be expected for someone in his undercover role. It was totally inadequate for the situation that he had found himself in with a street gang looking to skin him alive.

    “You really must have pissed someone off” Ritchie replied, “They sicked these guys on you and delayed the response.”

    “That wasn’t what I was talking about” Tony said as he stared at the dozen bodies in the street with a look of horror on his face.

    Some outfits in the Army only take you if they know you are a killer and would act without hesitation, which was something that was seldom mentioned. Few people were aware what happened when those they asked to do violence on their behalf went to work.
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    Part 137, Chapter 2348
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Forty-Eight

    5th January 1975

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Standing there on the sidewalk with his hands in his coat pockets, Sepp felt extremely foolish to have walked past here in the first place. In the window of the discount clothing chain-store was a poster of an extremely attractive woman whose apparent discovery of the blouse she was holding was the greatest thing ever if the blissful expression on her face was anything to judge by. The blouse she was already wearing was extremely tight and a bit revealing. When Sepp had been thirteen the picture had sort of blown his mind. How could people walk past that all the time and hardly give it a glance? As silly as it sounded now, he’d had a crush on the model though as far as he knew she had done nothing else, and he had no idea how long the poster had been hanging there. Just the fact that it was still there years after he had first seen it spoke volumes. That he had gravitated towards here left him feeling rather foolish.

    What had he been thinking?

    Kissing Sophie had been stupid, but for a moment the experience had been blissful. Like something from the movies. Then she had pushed him away and the argument had started. The expression on her face… It was as if he had hurt her somehow. He had replayed that moment in his mind again and again trying to figure out what he had done wrong. The only thing that came to mind was Katherine’s warning from months earlier about how Sophie had had a difficult life to please be careful with her.

    At the time, that had seemed presumptuous.

    Now though…

    For lack of anyone better to talk to, Sepp had mentioned this to his mother. She had asked how much he knew about Sophie’s past, and he had been forced to admit that he knew very little other than that she had once mentioned something about how the building she had once lived in, in Reinickendorf, had been torn down. There was also how she spoke during unguarded moments, a Working-Class Berliner accent not unlike the one that Sepp himself had. To his eternal regret, when Sepp had been hurt by Sophie’s rejection he had used that like a club to beat her over the head with. He had called her a phony and had rubbed it in once he had seen that it had drawn blood. He had been angry and hurting her back had all he had cared about. How could he have done something like that to someone he supposedly cared about? Sepp’s mother had told him that he was still growing up and learning which was far better than the alternative. Something about the way Sepp’s mother had said suggested that she had his father in mind when she said that last part.

    At the same time, Sepp had royally messed things up with Sophie because he had simply not understood a key thing about her. She was one of the daughters of the Tigress and everyone knew that to play that role, you had to have a past that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. Whatever had happened in her past, it had caused her to freak out when he kissed her.

    Feel a new wave of guilt and self-loathing Sepp continued up the street forgetting about the stupid poster. It wasn’t hard to figure out that what he had really wanted was for things to be simple again. Was that really too much to ask?

    Los Angeles, California

    It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but this wasn’t getting treated like just any “Officer Involved Shooting” after the details got spread around. The way things had panned out, the first news helicopter had arrived overhead before additional Officers had arrived on scene. Word had spread fast, the crew from over on East 22nd had been decimated and it had been a single Officer who had done the deed. Ritchie had gotten an earful about how they had part of a larger gang and that this was a source of great embarrassment in that some of their top soldiers had been taken down by him in seconds.

    Ritchie had not done himself any favors when he had bristled at the mention of those undisciplined punks being called soldiers of any kind. When they had found themselves taking on a real soldier, it had proven to be a fatal mistake for many of them. He was also believed to have taken down a serious shot-caller or two, but a shotgun was quite good at erasing identities with an ounce of what they loaded the shells with. It remained to be seen how the Street would react to this incident, but word had spread about how there was a “Super Cop” out there. Which struck Ritchie as being totally absurd.

    There was also the detail that he had sort of disregarded orders when he had rushed off to rescue Richard Anthony “Tony” Marin. However, it was unlikely that anyone in the Department would ever act against him because the FBI had descended on Parker Center along with a team of Federal Prosecutors. It had been that Tony had finally told Ritchie what all of it had been about.

    Someone had tried to set up a Mischner style operation within Los Angeles. Cornering the market in every illegal activity in the County and imposing a Street Tax. Tony had caught a glimpse of who that was and that had been enough for there to be an attempt on his life. Even as Ritchie heard that, he realized that it could only be someone high up in the Department.
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    Part 137, Chapter 2349
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Forty-Nine

    5th January 1975

    Mill Valley, California

    “We are building a production facility up north near Novato” George said, “My people think that we will be able to push special effects ever further.”

    “Now that you can just throw money at any technical problems” Gerta replied, “I assume it has gotten easier.”

    George just shrugged.

    “We also have big name studios lining up to work with us once this latest film is complete” George said, “We are in the midst of principal photography right now.”

    Gerta knew that George was in an enviable position and as one of his key backers, she was making out quite well from the investment. The trouble was that she had read the script for the latest film, one that she knew would challenge the audience. In her experience, in mass media people didn’t typically like being challenged. They wanted escapism and Gerta didn’t know how an exploration on the nature of war and human nature through a Zen Buddhist lens would sit with them. Particularly the part where it sinks for the protagonists that victory is ultimately out of their reach and that they are just repeating a bloody cycle.

    At the same time, George had seen his vision through in the first two movies and the results spoke for themselves. Gerta wasn’t about to scuttle the project by cutting off the money, still she, along with many others had concerns and that was why she was in Mill Valley having a breakfast meeting with George after spending most of the previous day flying from Bohemia and getting a taste of the infamous California traffic. It was like they were allergic to any sort of transit other than their cars and it showed with the crawling pace from the San Francisco Airport to Marin County.

    “As I am sure you know, the investors have concerns” Gerta said, “Mostly about the commercial viability of this film.”

    “They always do” George replied, “That is what happens when you push the limits.”

    “That is like driving fast” Gerta said, “Right up until you discover that there is a reason why roads have guard rails and the worst that happens is that you damage your car because you took a turn too fast.”

    “That is one way to look at it” George replied.

    Gerta knew from the way he said it, that in the future George would discover that having people unwilling to tell him “No” would ultimately be to his detriment.

    Rome, Italy

    The mood in the capital was odd, if Cosimo de Medici had to describe it he might have called it restrained jubilation.

    News had reached Rome that Vittorio Emanual, Prince of Naples, and Heir to the Italian throne had taken the switchbacks of the Stelvio Pass at high-speed in his Ferrari 365 GTS/4 “Daytona” while in what everyone was assuming he was in the intoxicated state that he had more or less been in for the last decade and had missed a turn with fatal results. Cosimo felt that it was quite tragic because that had been a really nice car. There were already rumors that it had actually been an assassination, Cosimo knew that was a load of bullshit. Mostly because if that actually were the case, he would been the one rig the brakes on Vittorio’s car. Ironically, it had been the topic of conversations that Cosimo had with Umberto on several different occasions.

    King Umberto of Italy and Queen Marie-José were understandably upset over the death of their oldest son. They were in seclusion with their daughters being the only ones allowed to see them and it had fallen on Cosimo, in his newly official role as the Marchese of Siena and King’s Consigliere to keep Umberto’s office in order during his absence.

    Even before this, things had not been well in the royal household over the last couple years. Umberto had been pressuring Vittorio to take the responsibilities of his role seriously, presumably that involved marriage and producing an adequate heir. The trouble was that the Prince’s reputation as a playboy preceded him, and no woman of suitable birth wanted anything to do with him. There were also a number of illegitimate children whose claims of paternity would further snarl matters in the years ahead.

    The only people more upset was the leadership of Movimento per una Repubblica Italiana. They had just lost the greatest ally that they had ever known. Cosimo couldn’t imagine that Prince Amedeo Giovanni of Aosta was happy with this development. He was serving Italy as the Captain commanding the RN Audace, a Destroyer that was regarded as one of the finest ships in the Italian Navy. He had been guarding Italian interests in the Dodecanese Islands against the day that the Greeks and Turks do something stupid again. Cosimo knew that because one of his sons, Cesare, was an Officer in the Italian Army and he had seen Amedeo in Rhodes just a few days earlier. Word was that he had been ordered to return to Rome by the most expeditious means.

    Messages of condolence were coming in from around the world and Cosimo flipped through them. The American President Nixon had sent one. Kaiser Friedrich IV of Germany was next, he was the closest thing that Vittorio ever had to a genuine friend. Too bad he didn’t follow the German Kaiser’s example in how to conduct himself. There was one from Princess Kristina zu Hohenzollern, Friedrich’s younger sister who had once been seen as a possible match for Vittorio. She had threatened to join a celibate religious order in response. While that might have been the first time that had happened, it wouldn’t be the last. There were dozens more that were coming in and it struck Cosimo as a very cynical exercise. As if any of these people were experiencing anything other than relief that Italy’s problematic Crown Prince was now out of the picture.
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    Part 137, Chapter 2350
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three-Hundred Fifty

    7th January 1975

    Sonthofen, Bavaria

    Watching Nina running around on the snow-covered field with children her own age was something that Kiki liked to see. In Berlin Nina had been kept isolated so much of the time along with Kiki and Ben behind several layers of security. It was believed that it wasn’t as necessary here. Kiki knew that Nina wouldn’t be nearly so happy when she was cold and wet from playing in the snow, but for now she had a huge smile on her face. Out of what had become a habit, Kiki glanced at the pager that was in her coat pocket to see if anyone had tried to contact her. No one had.

    The Clinic was small, just a few Doctors and a handful of Staff. As Kiki had already learned, this was the busy time of year as people took ski vacations and suffered the sort of injuries associated with the sport. They were more than happy to have her help as they prepared the patients for transport to Kempten or Munich depending on the severity of their injuries. There was word that a hospital was being built in nearby Immenstadt which would both serve all the communities in the region as well as serving to shorten the transport times. Kiki had been asked if she intended to work at the new hospital when it opened next summer. She had been forced to say again and again that she wasn’t supposed to be working at all by then.

    At the same time, everyone had been treating her as if she were made of glass since Freddy, curse him, had included her pregnancy as part of his New Year’s address on radio. People wanted to know how his family was doing, well, he had told them everything. There were jokes flying around that the tabloids were upset because there wasn’t much left for them to splash across the front pages of their magazines after that.

    For Kiki personally, things had been difficult. The migraine headaches, nausea, and unsettling dreams were back. That just made her own ignoring of those symptoms a few years earlier all the more inexcusable. At least she wasn’t trapped behind enemy lines and having to walk hundreds of kilometers across Patagonia with a colleague she hardly knew this time. If that had merely been the end of it, it would have been fine, except Ernesto had written a book about the long journey from Southern Argentina to La Paz, Bolivia. These days he was regarded as the great hero in his native Argentina because of that. Regrettably, he had also sold the rights to an American studio.

    When the film in question had been released right before Christmas and Kiki had not thought too highly of it. The actor playing Ernesto was way too tall and couldn’t maintain an Argentine accent to save his life. While Kiki had nothing against Sally Field, who they had cast to play her for some confounding reason, she hadn’t been shy about stating her opinion about how she looked nothing like her, and that role was badly miscast. She was supposed to be playing a German Doctor when she sounded like a girl from California, which was exactly who Sally was. There were also a few things that the movie had implied and when asked about them by a reporter Kiki had made clear that it was complete rubbish. The only thing that Kiki had to say to Ernesto at this point was to ask if he was ever planning on returning her car.

    That inevitably led to the next question that was on everyone’s lips. What did she think about Prince Vittorio’s death by misadventure? That he had ignored warnings and put himself in a dangerous situation with predictable results? What exactly had they expected her to say in reply to that? That She had found Vittorio repulsive. That his existence had been key in the argument that had ended with her mother getting decked and Kiki being sent to Japan for a year as an exchange student, which was actually exile. That her mother had refused to speak with Kiki when she had returned from Japan even though she was dying from congestive heart failure. Even though it had been almost twenty years, the hurt that single action had caused still remained. While Kiki understood that her mother had made that choice out of pure spite, it had not made it any easier.

    Watching Nina as she joyfully played with the other children was a reminder of the promise that Kiki had made to her when she had first held her almost four years earlier. That Kiki would do her level best to make sure that Nina wouldn’t have the same sort of lonely childhood she’d had. That she wouldn’t force Nina to make impossible choices that no one should have to make. She assumed that she would be making a similar promise to the one nestled in her when it came in mid-April, which was what they estimated would be the due date.

    In the end, she had simply refused to answer those questions. Vittorio was irrelevant, he was someone who she had not wanted to know. She felt bad for his parents, who must have been aware of what he was and had been unable to change that. Perhaps, it a different world, one where he had been forced to grow up and act like an adult things might have been different.
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    Part 137, Chapter 2351
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Fifty-One

    18th January 1974

    Montreal, Canada

    After months of internal debate, Marie Alexandra had finally purchased a bicycle and was riding it home, even as she was annoyed by the noises that it was making. Squeaking and clanking mostly. It was an old metallic-green Schwinn Breeze Deluxe 3-speed with a step through frame that admittedly needed a great deal of fixing, which was part of the reason why she had been able to get it for a song in a shop that sold an odd jumble of everything from rusty tools and car parts to electronics and hi-fi stereo equipment. Marie got the impression that the old man who owned the shop had cut her a great deal because he thought she was pretty. It was something that Marie felt she could live with so long as he had been polite, that was just how the world worked. There had been countless times when Marie had been forced to endure unwanted attention and boorish behavior. That was something that she would not put up with for very long.

    Out of habit, Marie went past that Lane house to see if family car was in the driveway. On a Saturday, that typically meant that they were home. Walking the bike up to the door, she knocked and was surprised when Isabella, the Lane’s Housekeeper didn’t answer the door. Instead, it was Mr. Lane who looked at Marie as if she were a visitor from a different planet.

    “I just stopped by to check of Henni and Alice” Marie said a bit awkwardly. She had rarely seen Mr. Lane around and all she knew about him was that he worked downtown as an Insurance Salesman. To her, he was the epitome of the grey men she saw every day who worked in boring offices and went home to boring lives.

    “That’s good” Mr. Lane replied in a manner that suggested that he really was dead from the neck up. Why was it that many people seemed to just sort of give up on life as they grew older? “What are you riding that for? I would assume that you would have something nicer.”

    “I am intending to fix it up” Marie replied looking at the bicycle, “The new ones I looked at lacked character.”

    “It certainly has that” Mr. Lane said, “I didn’t know that you were into bicycle mechanics.”

    “Something like that” Marie said. Fixing old things up was something that she had done for as long as she could remember and was what she preferred. While she wasn’t exactly mechanically inclined by any means, finding someone with that sort of knowhow had never been difficult. It was too bad that Sophie was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, she lived for this sort of thing.

    Near Rio Gallegos, rural Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

    Niko remembered what Manny had told him about the wind in this part of Patagonia. So, the constant howl of it should not have been a surprise. Zwei’s reaction though was. During particularly strong gusts, the horse shied away from the wind. That was a reminder to Niko of something that his grandfather had warned him of, that you never could tell what might startle a horse. Niko supposed that the Devil winds were as good a reason as any.

    Niko had been running dispatches between the forward Command Post and Headquarters in Rio Gallegos. It was a simple, though monotonous task. He knew that he was supposed to be learning from this experience, though exactly what he was supposed to be learning was unclear. He had done his best to continue his education independently, but that was proving more difficult than he had imagined. There was no one to keep him on task, if his mind wandered then it might be hours or even days before he got back to the assignment.

    There was also the issue with Teachers here in Argentina. Most of them were in the employ of the High Command, few in number, and overwhelmed by the workload they had. If Niko turned in a paper, the wait until they got back to him was often considerable. Finally, there was the nature of Patagonia itself in the summertime. He was surrounded a vast number of distractions. Niko had seen how Willi didn’t bother, and how that had marked him for whatever unpleasant job the Senior Noncoms had in store. While Niko had found himself doing those sorts of jobs plenty of times, being seen doing something that the Noncoms approved of during your spare time tended to stay their hand.

    On the opposite extreme was Juan Ibarra. The Gaucho seemed to come and go as he pleased, and Niko figured that was because his knowledge of the region was priceless as far as the 3rd Hussars were concerned. They needed someone who the locals would be inclined to at least talk to.

    In the short time that Niko had been in Argentina he had already seen what happened when the people in the distant sheep stations and scattered communities were not inclined to cooperate. They turned noncooperation into an artform and stole anything that wasn’t nailed down or on fire. He supposed that they’d had a great deal of practice during the months that this area had been occupied by the Chilian Army.

    There was another gust of wind and Niko felt Zwei shutter and made sure that he had the horse firmly under control. The last thing he needed was for Zwei to run off out of control with Niko along for the ride, that was if he didn’t get bucked off first. Either way, it was something that he would never be able to live down.
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    Part 137, Chapter 2352
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Fifty-Two

    26th January 1975

    Richthofen Estate, Rural Silesia

    The latest letter from Niko mostly contained him describing repetitious days spent doing boring tasks. That was hardly a surprise, even an outfit like the 3rd Hussars which had a hard-charging reputation of pursuing sharp action even while conducting missions like their present one would want to keep Niko away from the action mostly due to his age. Of course, Albrecht was under no illusions about his son. Even at the age of fifteen, Niko had already demonstrated that he was truly one of the Richthofen family on many different occasions. If there was a way for him to get into trouble, then there wasn’t a whole lot that anyone could do to keep him out of it.

    Ilse had been told by her sister that an old and trusted friend in Patagonia had dispatched several individuals to watch Niko’s back including one of his own grandsons. Albrecht just hoped that it would be enough when it came right down to it. The region that the 3rd Hussars tasked with patrolling was vast and remote, comprised mostly of the areas that Argentina had occupied prior to the ceasefire that ended the Patagonian War. As the negotiations for a final treaty that would officially end the had dragged out, the presence of the Argentine Army had become an issue as the Chilean Government had grown increasingly aware of how easily those areas could simply be annexed. They had demanded that the Argentinians pull back at the League of Nations Assembly in Switzerland. Though that was an idea that had been soundly rejected, simple economics had eventually caused that to happen to a degree. Keeping thousands of soldiers in the field along the present frontier indefinitely was expensive and despite being an emerging economic power, Argentina had been feeling the strain of that.

    What had happened next had not been a retreat so much as a restructuring the lines with defense in depth. Beyond a handful of “tripwire” forces, the bulk of the Argentine Army had withdrawn to scattered garrisons along the old frontier. What they had left behind though was a lawless region and a growing humanitarian crisis. Regrettably, anyone who had even a little bit knowledge about the history of South America would not be in the least bit surprised by what had transpired.

    “Anxious, Poppa?” Ingrid asked very earnestly.

    “Considering things, who can blame me” Albrecht replied only to get a blank look back.

    “Do you even know what that word means?” Albrecht asked after an awkward pause.

    “Ciocia says I make her anxious when I climb trees” Ingrid said with as much solemnity as a five-year-old could muster. “She says I go too high, and the branches might break.”

    Albrecht knew that Ciocia was the Polish word for Auntie and the woman in question was Izabella Lis, a woman who came to work on the Richthofen Estate shortly after Ingrid had been adopted by Albrecht and Ilse. She also happened to be Ingrid’s biological mother. The deal was that Izabella could be a part of Ingrid’s life so long as it didn’t interfere with her regular duties within the household and there be no confusion about who Ingrid’s parents were. Izabella have lived up to her end of the bargain and despite Albrecht’s father had been rather unhappy to learn that detail well after the fact, Ilse had steadfastly defended Izabella’s place in the household.

    “Your Ciocia isn’t wrong” Albrecht said, “She is worried that you might get hurt, you worry me and your mother at times as well.”

    “Not Opa?”

    “Of course, not Opa” Albrecht replied, “Recklessness has been his stock in trade for his entire life.”

    Ingrid gave Albrecht a quizzical look that reminded him of all the times that Ilse had given him the same look.

    After Ilse had nearly died giving birth to Niko, they had been advised that they should not have any more children because of the strain that would put on Ilse’s heart. In her heart of hearts Ilse had wanted more children though and when Ingrid was abandoned as a newborn in a Church in Breslau she had seen it as the perfect opportunity. Ilse had been abandoned herself in a similar manner decades earlier and while Albrecht had agreed to go along with that readily enough, he’d had his own misgivings.

    Just what was Ingrid’s background and how would she ultimately fit into the Richthofen family?

    Five years later, half of that had been answered with Albrecht’s father happily playing Opa for another child. Ingrid also had taken in a lot from Ilse, the manner which she conducted herself for example. Still, Albrecht had always studied the features of this little girl who was his daughter in all the ways that counted and tried to fill in the blanks. There were features that could only have come from her birth mother. Others though, Ingrid’s thin face and slight build for example, suggested that her biological father was unlikely to have been an ethnic Pole.

    “What’s this?” Ingrid asked snatching the photograph that had come with Niko’s letter off the table.

    “Your brother sent another letter” Albrecht replied, “With photographs.”

    Ingrid had not mastered reading just yet; still being of an age when children in school were still encouraged to learn through play. That hadn’t stopped her from trying to learn ahead of her class, something that neither Albrecht nor Ilse had any reason to discourage her from doing. She understood photographs perfectly and was looking at the picture of Niko and his friend Willi unloading horses from a trailer that was hitched to a lorry. She worshipped her big brother and delighted in seeing pictures of him having this grand adventure in the distant land of Patagonia. A few days earlier she had described it, a place she had never been in a way that fell squarely into the magical and fantastic. Albrecht had a feeling that when Niko made it back, he was going to get an earful from Ingrid and find himself unable to make heads or tails of it.
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    Part 137, Chapter 2353
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Fifty-Three

    3rd February 1975

    Munich, Bavaria

    “How does it look?” Kiki asked staring at the ceiling as the cold probe slide on the lubrication that had been smeared across her abdomen during the ultrasound. She was dreading the answer considering some of the unpleasant surprises she had endured in rooms like this one in the past. There was also the aspect of her pregnancy showing a lot more this time, which had caused her a great deal of trouble as it had become the story of the day for the Tabloid Press.

    “Everything looks like it is developing normally” The Technician replied, she was a younger than expected woman who came across as a little too into her work. She had made Kiki a bit uncomfortable with that intensity, but Ermentrud Aue had said that she was one of the best in the field having worked with her in the past. The trouble was that Nora Berg had come from Berlin to check on Kiki so the two of them were comparing notes about everything they knew about her today as they were looking at the scan. Where Doctor Berg was all about science and comparing results, Frau Aue considered the role she played far more of an art where frequently things that Berg considered “Old wife’s tales” came into play. Frau Aue was an old wife and she had seen a whole lot over the previous seven decades.

    “I told you so” Frau Aue said matter of fact as they were looking at the monitor screen.

    Berg just glowered at it. “You had a fifty-fifty shot, so what?” She muttered in reply.

    “I would say better than that” Aue said happily.

    “What are you two on about?” Kiki asked.

    “You should tell your husband to pick out a boy’s name so that you’ll be ready in a few months” Frau Aue replied, “That is tradition.”

    “Shouldn’t we both be picking names?” Kiki asked, “In case it’s a girl.”

    “This one is definitely a boy” The Technician said, though no one asked her. Kiki knew that she must look at these scans every single day, so she probably knew what she was talking about.

    “I would say that she is correct about that” Berg replied, “But that doesn’t mean that Frau Aue’s guesses were more than a coin toss.”

    Frau Aue just smirked at that, clearly satisfied with how this had played out. Kiki was reminded of the three witches from McBeth. The Maiden, the Matron, and the Crone. It was unclear exactly who fell into what role, though it was Kiki’s understanding that a woman played all three roles over the course of a lifetime. Frequently more than one at once.

    Annoyed, Kiki looked back at up at the ceiling only to have the jarring thought that she was going to have a son in a few months intrude into her thoughts. Ben had suggested the name Bernhard after his father, Kiki felt that they could do better though. That discussion would need to reach a conclusion because this was really happening. Looking over, Kiki saw the screen with the black and white image on it. The outline of the head and body. The bit of anatomy that revealed its gender was visible from this angle, which answered a question that Kiki had not thought to even ask.

    “Three months” Kiki whispered to herself as the Technician handed her paper towels to clean the gel lubricant off herself. She realized that she didn’t care Frau Aue and Doctor Berg’s opinions. When the time came, they would play their roles. In the meantime, Kiki would have to do her best to maintain the peace between them.

    It was then that Doctor Huber decided to make an appearance as Kiki was buttoning up her blouse. She had tried to dismiss the Obstetrician when she had first met with him months earlier, only to find herself at odds with Ben, Vicky, and Vicky’s father-in-law about the best care that she could receive. They told her that she needed a whole team of Specialists and Practitioners minding her this time and had been more than happy to send them her way. For Kiki, that was a special kind of Hell and wasn’t surprised when she was of the receiving end of all sorts of contradictory dictates. She had most of them thrown out. There was also something that she had not anticipated but should have. Nora Berg and Ermentrud Aue saw Doctor Huber as a common enemy and Kiki had found herself defending him. It was a complication that she didn’t need.

    “How are things progressing?” Doctor Huber asked pointedly ignoring Doctor Berg and Frau Aue, clearly annoyed that they had proceeded without him.

    “Normally for six-months gestation” The Technician replied.

    “That’s nice” Doctor Huber said as he stood over Kiki.

    Why did he have to be so tall? Kiki thought to herself.

    “You probably shouldn’t have put your shirt back on” Huber continued, “While I few doubts about the bun, it is the oven that concerns me, if you wouldn’t mind.”

    For once, Berg and Frau Aue had nothing to say as Kiki took her blouse back off. Suggesting that they agreed with Huber this time. If she had known this would happen she might have worn something else Kiki thought, as she felt the metal of the stethoscope pressed against her back. Kiki knew that he was going to check her blood pressure followed by a blood draw, because Huber had done that every week.
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    Part 137, Chapter 2354
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Fifty-Four

    8th February 1975

    Breslau, Silesia

    Having to make the long journey from Berlin was not the highlight of Suse Rosa’s week. In many ways it was the culmination of every nightmare she’d had over the previous years about how her wedding would play out. It wasn’t just her getting married to Manny, it was the joining of three powerful families, and she had always feared that her mother would make it into a massive production. This gave Lagertha von Knispel nee Wolvogle the perfect opportunity to do exactly that. There was also the aspect of this being a double wedding with Manny’s little sister Ina’s marriage to Christian Weise. Manny regarded Christian as a brother having served in the same Regiment since they had completed Basic Training and having seen each other through some hairy situations in Argentina. There had also been the suggestion that his maternal grandfather probably wouldn’t be around for many more weddings, so he couldn’t just say no this time. Tonight, he was delayed in getting out of Wunsdorf-Zossen, so she didn’t even have the comfort of his presence to even things out.

    “You are supposed to save the tears for the wedding day, Love” Klaus Voll said as he approached her. So far, he was one of the few people in the rancid production who was not ignoring her. The fact that Suse had been sulking at the table what would be the venue for the reception with no one seeming to notice spoke volumes. The place was huge, so vast that Suse felt like she was lost in it. It was the sort of symbol that her mother would have known that she wanted to avoid, if she could be bothered to pay attention. Even Ina, who was going along with this entire thing had looked at this venue with a great deal of trepidation. This was entirely because of politics. Everyone of importance in Silesia had needed to be invited. A considerable number of invitations had gone elsewhere as well. All the capitals of the various States within the German Empire as well as several other nations. That meant that there were going to be hundreds of guests.

    “Tears of happiness” Suse replied, “From my mother perhaps, after all, this is her big day.”

    Voll gave her an appraising look.

    “Your mother wants you to have the fairy tale wedding that she didn’t get to have” Voll said, “And you can trust that on that day, which happens to be the first day of spring, all eyes will be on you, with your mother in the background.”

    “That doesn’t sound very appealing” Suse replied.

    Voll just smiled. “You are not your mother, that is something that I understand better than most” He said, “The not wanting to draw attention to yourself. The truth is that this is your one day to shine and then your mother cannot ever ask anything from you again after this sort of favor.”

    “Don’t be absurd. My mother won’t stop being my mother because of this” Suse replied before switching to an imitation of her mother’s voice. “Suse, we’ve company tonight, and would it kill you not be such a sour-faced little bitch for once. By the way Suse, your boyfriend called to say he is coming by, and you how you get with all that repressed sexual tension…”

    Voll actually laughed at that.

    “I’m being dead serious” Suse said, “She says those things to me.”

    “Your mother is not necessarily the libertine that she imagines herself to be” Voll replied, “Underneath the flossy exterior is something else entirely.”

    “If you say so” Suse replied. She had seen nothing but the frivolous aspect of her mother for her entire life. While supposedly, Gerta was a hardnosed businesswoman who got results with the production company she had started as well as a huge portion of the existing film and television studios in Potsdam, Vienna, and Prague. That was an aspect of her mother that Suse was totally unfamiliar with.

    “I don’t blame you for the sexual tension part” Voll said, “I’ve seen your fiancé around. I must say if you like them tall and ruggedly handsome, he is quite the dish.”

    That was a reminder as to just whose side Voll played for. Suse was a Berliner from birth so someone being a dear friend of Old Fritz had never bothered her. Klaus Voll had never judged her either over the years that Suse had known him. Others in his position might have pointed out that she was entirely too short and too plain to have his services be of much help. Instead, he had worked to bring out the best in her during certain milestone events in her life. It occurred Suse as she had that thought that it was only right that he be here for her wedding too, even if he couldn’t contain her mother’s worst impulses.

    “Whoever said that there is any sexual tension between me and Manny?” Suse asked, “Aside from my mother who thinks that it is a giant joke? What happens, or has happened, between us is no one else’s business”

    “Well, I had assumed that…” Voll started to say, “Er… You haven’t mentioned any of this to anyone else have you?”

    “Of course, not” Suse replied, “As you said, my mother is not the libertine she thinks she is. God only knows how she would react if I ever told her everything about my personal life.”

    “Funny how that works” Voll said, “Just as well you can keep the personal, personal. It would be a real pity if I had to redesign your dress at this late stage of the game.”

    “My mother would just throw money at the problem” Suse replied, “She’s been doing that a lot lately.”

    “Luckily for her and your father, she just has the one daughter” Voll said, “Otherwise, bankruptcy might be a real possibility.”

    “Care to tell my mother that?” Suse asked in reply.