Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 138, Chapter 2375
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-Five

    24th May 1975

    Richthofen Estate, Rural Silesia

    Albrecht had gotten a taste of what his father did over the last few weeks and was already finding not to his liking. It was a heavy burden had he felt obligated to carry even though it meant giving up much of what he had carved out for himself over the prior decades. Watching his father sip his drink as he sat by the fire, Albrecht was struck by how this scene had probably not changed in centuries. Mathilda Auer had said that she saw Manfred von Richthofen as something akin to a High King from the Viking Epics, that was never truer than now.

    The study was uncomfortably warm as it tended to be when Manfred the Elder was present, which was most of the time these days. Albrecht didn’t hold that against his father, he just wished that they could hold these meetings in a more neutral setting. Having him sweating through his clothes as his father explained some other facet of his vision for their family’s future. Which Albrecht was finding difficult to pay attention to because of the intrusive thoughts that were swirling repeatedly around his brain.

    While Albrecht admired the aspect of his father that was the ability to bring his ambitions to reality, he feared that vision would run aground on the shoals of reality and might not live long past Manfred the Elder himself. To put it plainly, Albrecht already found himself trying to fill his father’s shoes and worried that he wasn’t adequate. Give him a Carrier Taskforce with a well-ordered crews and a clear set of orders, and Albrecht could exceed even the wildest of expectations. Silesia was far messier though and there were dozens of competing interests that all had valid claims. How on earth had the old buzzard managed to play this game for so many decades without having them eat him alive?

    Albrecht was nowhere near as ruthless as his father. So, what was going to happen once his father was no longer around? For all his scheming and ambition, the one thing that Manfred the Elder had never seemed to consider was that he was as mortal as any other man.

    “I received the latest letter from Nikolaus” Manfred the Elder said, “It seems the Martzel Ibarra has finally reached out to him, that old reprobate is looking for a deal involving the younger of his two grandsons.”

    They had discussed this months before. Manfred the Elder knew a great deal about what the political situation was in Argentina where land was a sign of political clout and the Richthofen family owned a great deal of land in that country. That had given Nikolaus a seat at the table in Patagonia, and it had also created friction with his Commanding Officer who was not nearly as well regarded. Manfred had stated that sometimes having to sooth the bruised egos of his superiors was something the Nikolaus was just going have to do throughout his career, no matter what it ultimately was. It was one of the few times in which Albrecht was in perfect agreement with his father.

    “Just what does he have in mind?” Albrecht asked.

    “Nothing too difficult” Manfred replied, “Just the introductions being made and getting an indifferent student to go to University.”

    “Sounds all too familiar” Albrecht said, he and Ilse had been trying to convince Nikolaus that he should go on to higher education. If for no other reason than Ilse thinking, probably correctly, that being a Cavalry Trooper in this era wasn’t a career with much of a future. Nikolaus being a teenager though, he had seen the opportunity for adventure and little else.

    “I think that when Nikolaus gets back this time he will be a lot more agreeable with what you are Ilse have been telling him” Manfred said, “Nothing like a good dose of reality to get a young man to see he has better options.”

    “Speaking from personal experience?”

    Manfred the Elder didn’t answer that question. Though he’d had a Classical Education in the fashion of a Nineteenth-Century Gentleman, he had excelled on the athletic field rather than the classroom. Albrecht suspected that was part of the reason why he enjoyed the presence of Sabastian Schultz on Holidays, the boy reminded him of a younger version of himself.

    “I’ve been observing how you have been running things” Manfred said, changing the subject. “You are going to burn out if you don’t change your perspective.”

    “And what perspective do I need?” Albrecht asked in reply.

    “This isn’t commanding a ship at sea” Manfred said, “More like being the referee at a Football match.”

    “What about all the times you have given a hard no to people and advised me to do the same?”

    “You mean telling Aaron von Groß to go fuck himself last week over his latest hairbrained venture?” Manfred replied, “I’ve done that a lot over the years and that idiot has never figured out that it is far more useful for me to tell him no.”

    There was cynical and then there was this, which was taking it to a whole new level.

    “He is Sonje’s husband” Albrecht said.

    “And I told her that her marriage to that louse was a mistake” Manfred replied, “That was right after Helene had married into the Mischner family and Sonje was desperate to keep up appearances by marrying into a family with an old title. A few decades later, how has that worked out?”

    Albrecht seldom heard his father talk about his sister’s various marriages. He had often referred to Hans von Mischner as a lummox, but that was it. He had stopped doing that after watching how the Polish Campaign, in which Hans had masterfully commanded an Army Group, had played out. Over the years Manfred seemed to have come to the opinion that Sonje and Caecilia, his two youngest daughters, could have done better in that regard.
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    Part 138, Chapter 2376
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-Six

    30th May 1975

    Breslau, Silesia

    The watch had been a gift from the Japanese Ambassador a few years earlier. At the time it had been technological marvel, maintaining accuracy approaching a degree which only been possible with scientific instruments. That was something that had swiftly changed as the technology had swiftly become commonplace. There had been the introduction similar watches manufactured by the hundreds of thousands, which had turned the traditional watch market upside down.

    Tonight, that watch had allowed Helene to count down the minutes until the polls closed and the returns started coming in. Everyone had been expecting that the Social Democratic Party was going to take a drubbing and that was exactly what had happened. This was mostly because they had been in power for more than a decade and people tended to grow fatigued. A fact that had allowed the Center-Right National Liberals and their Zentrum allies to ride to an easy victory. The worrying part for Helene was that they were not expected to get an outright majority. That meant that a coalition with one or more of the lunatic fringe far-right parties was likely, the very people who you didn’t want to have a seat at the table.

    Unfortunately for Helene and her Party, Democratic Ecology, had been part of the governing coalition. When Helene had spoken with Sophie Scholl earlier that day, Sophie had not been optimistic about what was going to happen. She had said that they needed to have a meeting of the Party Leadership so that they could come up with a strategy for the coming months. When the political party which felt that witch burnings were given short shrift historically insisted that become an issue or had one of their leaders drunkenly started ranting about Jews during a press conference, they had to be ready for it. It seemed that she held them in even less esteem than Helene did. Of course, Sophie had lived in Bavaria her whole life and had seen them up close far more than Helene ever had.

    For Helene, it would mean that she was about to be relegated to the opposition, this time with less influence because of the insane ambitions of her father. She had owed her position as Minister of the Interior to the Governing coalition needing to give the leaders of her party important positions. Now, she was faced with the same suspicions that had always dogged her and that had become a huge issue within her own constituency in Breslau. How could a woman who quite literally holds the title of Princess represent the interests of the people she claimed to? That question had caused a great deal of debate with Helene getting challenged from both the left and right.

    Knowing that there was nothing more to see, Helene turned off the television. Hans said that he was going to take her out later, though she didn’t feel like celebrating. He said that with their children having been married off and her having much less in the way of work the two of them were freer than they had been in decades.

    Washington D.C.

    As Frank Church hung up the phone the thought occurred to him that in the moment of the CIA’s greatest triumph that all wasn’t as if seemed. At the direction of the President, he had been briefed about the ongoing mission to infiltrate the highest levels of the German Government and he had been shocked at how reckless the entire operation was. For years he had been battling the culture that had developed within the CIA, he had heard it described as Nerds vs. Cowboys and this operation had largely been done by the Cowboys in the Berlin Station. The asset they had cultivated in the German Government was now going to be in the room itself where the decisions were being made as a direct result of today’s elections.

    The part that bothered Church was the murky understanding of the man’s motives. Exactly why was he doing this? And now that he was going to be in a position of actual authority, what motivation would he have to continue playing ball? The Cowboy’s seemed to think that they could blackmail him into compliance if push came to shove. As soon as Church heard that he had the same sinking feeling that he had felt when he first learned that John Aleshire was a German asset. The Head of the Berlin Station had rationalized the operation by saying it was in revenge for what the Germans had done with Aleshire, but it would have required time travel for that to be true.

    The former FBI Director was in a Federal Prison somewhere, locked away in a form of protective custody that was akin to being buried alive. The man who he had murdered, whose face had adorned the FBI’s 10 most wanted for decades had been strangely exonerated in death into an American hero with even institutions like the U.S. Navy having to rethink their opinion of him. If there was an afterlife, John Dillinger was probably laughing himself sick at the way which things had worked out.

    Church had pointed all of that out to President Nixon, but he had also reluctantly told the President that they were too deep into the operation to just pull the plug. They would need to see it through and hope that it wouldn’t blow up in their faces the way that so many other operations had in the past. It wasn’t that the CIA was bad at what they did, it was that most of the other nations in the world had been playing the game for a lot longer than them and were simply better at it. With the German elections, the stakes had been raised even further.
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    part 138, Chapter 2377
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-Seven

    31st May 1975

    Rural Silesia

    After spending the night before listening to her mother complain about the turn that politics had taken and the difficult reelection that she had narrowly won, Ina needed to do something where she wouldn’t need to think of any of that. Dealing with goats might not have been pleasurable, but it was a distraction.

    “I saw the announcement in the paper Ina but wouldn’t have known it was you without the photograph” The Farmer said as Ina was fighting to get the medication down the goat’s throat. The newspapers had run articles and photographs of her wedding, just they had identified her by her proper name; Katherine Lagertha von Mischner. No one had ever called her Katherine. She had always been Ina if for no other reason than to avoid confusion with her far more formidable Aunt. That was something which had been remarked on at every farm she had visited since she had gotten back from Greece.

    The goat was understandably resistant to having a tube down its throat and was putting up a fight as Ina injected the fluid that was for the treatment of intestinal worms into its stomach. The Farmer didn’t find this in the least bit remarkable as he had carried on the conversation. He spent his life around goats, so their behavior was not in the least bit surprising to him. Ina figured that once she was done with this, if she turned her back the goat would try to eat the dosing syringe and the plastic tube.

    “That is my full name” Ina replied as she withdrew the tube.

    “I get that” The Farmer said, “It was a bit of a surprise, that’s all.”

    Once released, the goat gave Ina the evil eye before going back to join the others in the enclosure where they lived. The Farmer found that to be funny. That set up the next question which Ina always got.

    “How’s your Grandfather?” The Farmer asked.

    “He’s well” Ina replied, “Since he announced his retirement he has hardly left his study, so everyone is a bit worried about him. I think that him taking a walk would do him a world of good.”

    “Age catches up with us all” The Farmer said. He was typical of the older Farmers who Ina encountered on a regular basis. Making a living from the land which they had been born on. He looked to be the same age as Ina’s father, which probably meant that the only time he had left this place had involved carrying a rifle and fighting the Russians. Most of them leased much of the land they owned for the cultivation of cereal crops and maintained sidelines to pad their bottom line. In the case of this Farmer, he raised dairy goats and sold the milk to cheesemakers in Oppeln. “This Admiral, not sure what to make of him yet” The Farmer concluded. The people of landlocked Silesia had suddenly found themselves with a Naval Officer as their King and were unsure what to make of it.

    “My Uncle is still trying to get his feet under him” Ina said, “No one was expecting my Grandfather retire, they thought he would stay on until the end.”

    “I see” The Farmer said, and Ina knew that what she had just said would probably get repeated dozens of times in the form of gossip. It was that same gossip that probably fueled the next question. “Heard you came back early from Greece?”

    “That was of no fault of ours” Ina replied, “Greece was wonderful, until it wasn’t.”

    Greece had been exactly that, wonderful. The islands where Ina and Christian had gone had been beautiful with the sapphire sea and whitewashed towns. Every day had been an exploration into something new and fascinating. Then they had woken up to fighter planes streaking past right over their heads and a large Flotilla of ships from the Hellenic Navy passing east as the Greeks and Turks were at war again. Christian had recognized what was happening instantly and had been on the phone arranging for them to go home. Ina had been slower on the uptake and had been reluctant to abandon their honeymoon.

    “Sorry to hear that” The Farmer said.

    “Christian said that he going to make it up to me” Ina said as she walked to the VW Bergwind that she drove and started loading her equipment into the steel box bolted to bed of the compact car-lorry hybrid. The Bergwind was looking rather sad with the chipped and faded paint as well as the growing problem of the bottom rusting out. She loved it though because the purchase of it at an estate sale had been the first major adult decision that she had made when she had been starting out.

    Her father had used her wedding as an excuse to go ahead and buy a VW Iltis that was equipped for someone like Ina as a gift for her. That was especially true now that she was only months away from getting her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine as opposed to having been a Veterinary Technician. While that wouldn’t change what she did too much, people would see her very differently. As much as she hated the idea, Ina was going to need the Iltis and would have to figure out what to do with the Bergwind. It felt like losing an old friend.

    “Is he now?” The Farmer asked, “How is your husband adjusting to the country?”

    He clearly found that amusing. Christian was from Brandenburg an der Havel and had joined the Army to escape the prospect of the drudgery of the auto assembly line where the rest of his family worked. Now Christian had taken a post as a Lieutenant in the 3rd Landwehr Division, which was based in Kleinberg, Silesia. There had been a bit of culture shock involved and word had gotten around.
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    Part 138, Chapter 2378
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-Eight

    13th June 1975

    Balderschwang, Bavaria

    Today might have been considered unlucky, but for Kiki, she finally felt like things were going back to normal. A few weeks earlier she had moved back to Balderschwang after great efforts had gone into improving the security of the house of the Director of Argelander Observatory. Despite this, Kiki knew that she would need to be preparing for her sister’s wedding in just a week in Galicia-Ruthenia. After that she was going to travel to Hohenzollern Castle to prepare it to play host to a new group of children from the city. It was considered a charitable activity because most of them were from various disadvantaged backgrounds. Then she would be back in Bavaria for the autumn.

    There had been a bit of a surprise when Kiki had been sent a notification asking if Nina would be attending school in Sonthofen. She was used to thinking of her daughter as being a small child but when she got that notification she realized that Nina was not that small anymore. Nina was excited after they told her that she would be going to school, something that Kiki figured would probably change in a hurry when she figured out that it would mean getting up early most days.

    Knowing all of that, Kiki figured the best thing she could do was as little as possible in the meantime. Fianna had understood this and had made a point of telling Kiki that she had the afternoon off. Louis and Nina had been taken to a different part of the house after Kiki had seen to Louis’ needs.

    Sitting in the shade on the back patio of the house, Kiki looked down at the new fence at the edge of the property. The landscapers had done a good job in making hard to see and felt a bit of guilt that her presence had made it necessary. The rest of the valley was beautiful though. The green grass, trees on the mountainsides lit by bright sunlight on a partly sunny day. The mountains here were not quite high enough for there to be snow on the peaks year-round. It being June there were still patches of vivid white here and there though.

    The ski resort had closed for the season and most of the activity surrounding the Observatory occurred after dark. So, it was pleasantly quiet with the main sounds being birds and the wind. Occasionally, Kiki heard the sound of Nina’s voice as she was talking at Fianna as she tended to do.

    Ben had said that he would be back this evening. He had been invited to something hush-hush related to his role as a Luftwaffe Reservist and involving King Albrecht of Bavaria. Why was it that anything to do with Albrecht, no matter how serious it was, sounded like a silly game?

    Kempten, Bavaria

    Entering the Kempten Imperial Laboratories was like stepping onto a different planet. It was pleasant late spring afternoon and then they had rounded a turn in the road and encountered a gate in a double fence with topped with concertina wire. Next to the road was a sign that read; WARNING, RESTRICTED AREA, Use of deadly force authorized.

    Which struck Ben as a bit ominous even without the presence of a large number of Paras in full field kit. Ben had encountered members of the Fallschirmjäger in the past, mostly guarding the airfields he had flown out of. This felt totally different though. Something about the set of their shoulders and the expressions on their faces suggested that the words on the sign were not a bluff. When Ben had been named the Graf of Oberallgäu he had been expressly told that his authority did not extend to this place, and it had been strongly suggested that he not pursue the matter.

    Yet here he was.

    This had not been his idea. He had been invited by Albrecht of Bavaria as a Scientific Advisor and the King of Bavaria had basically ordered Ben to wear his uniform. The medals he was wearing, especially the PLM and ESA Polaris Medal would make the Laboratory Director and the Commanding General take him seriously. He had pointed out to Albrecht that he was an Astronomer as opposed to a Nuclear Physicist.

    While there was a great deal of crossover, everyone in the Kempten Labs would know that he was not of their specialty. Albrecht had said it didn’t matter because he knew how to speak their language and Ben would be standing next to the King of Bavaria, someone who Emperor Friedrich wanted to keep happy about having this installation in his Kingdom. That included an annual tour to see what exactly was going on there.

    Ben had warned him that he was probably getting snowed and kept away from the real research that was going on and Albrecht said that was exactly why he needed him along, there might even be another medal in it for him.

    When Albrecht had said that it was a reminder of the reason why Kiki had a dim view of medals and Orders. She had clearly been influenced by Kat von Mischner in that regard, but after all she had been through Kiki had a slightly more nuanced perspective. She said that Kat had told her that medals never reflected the seas of blood they represented. While Kiki didn’t disagree with that, she felt that they were just bits of tin until the reputation of the recipient was factored in. King Albrecht was a prime example, he had served in the Bavarian Army, but during the Spanish War the Platoon he led as a Leutnant didn’t make it to Spain before the war ended. Apparently, someone in the High Command had him posted him to the Staff of Generalfeldmarschall von Wolvogle during the Second World War in an unexpected attack of good sense. His view of medals reflected that experience.

    “Your Highness” The Fallschirmjäger General said to Albrecht as he stepped out of the car followed by Ben. Out of long habit, Ben snapped to attention in the presence of a General.

    “My Science Advisor, Oberst Doctor von Hirsch” Albrecht said.

    To Ben’s surprise, the General shook his hand. “An honor to meet you, Oberst” he said before turning on his heel and striding towards the entrance to the largely underground complex.

    “See, I told you it was a good idea” Albrecht said, and Ben figured that holding his tongue would probably be wise.
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    Part 138, Chapter 2379
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-Nine

    15th June 1975

    Balderschwang, Bavaria

    Sitting in a recliner, Ben was staring up at the ceiling trying to sort through the events of the prior week as he heard Nina bashing on a toy piano in the next room. It had certainly been eventful.

    Ben had not liked getting caught up in King Albrecht’s pissing match with what was seen as Federal or Imperial authority. Kiki had told him that while he needed to be more careful in future, he also needed to placate the Bavarian King who was a key patron of the Argelander Observatory. She had spoken with her brother and apparently Freddy understood the balancing act that Ben needed to do.

    Then Albrecht had come through on the medal that he had promised, he had put Ben’s name forward to the Advisory Committee that would award the Maximilian Order for Science and Art. That Committee was composed of the President of the Bavarian Landtag, as well as the Presidents of the Universities around Munich, and the appointed Scientific Advisors to the Bavarian Government. Ben understood what even getting nominated for that award meant. He had taken the job as Director of the Argelander Observatory because it was a major steppingstone towards becoming a Professor of Astronomy. A Maximilian Order would basically assure his future in that regard, but it would make him more beholden to Albrecht.

    Kiki told him to take the medal and be gracious about it. Ben more than met the criteria to receive it. Eventually, they were going to go back to Berlin and antagonizing Albrecht of Bavaria was not in their interest in the meantime. Besides, he was an old man and wouldn’t live forever. Once he was gone, Franz would take his spot on the throne and their lives would be a bit less complicated. Ben accepted that. He had gotten along well with his brother-in-law when Kiki’s younger sister came to visit.

    Finally, there was the upcoming regional conference. Ben and Kiki were going to be present in different capacities. He had found himself with the mayors and council member of all the various towns, villages, and municipalities at every level in Oberallgäu wanting to talk with him about what was going to be said. He had pointed out repeatedly that his position as Graf was largely ceremonial and as elected officials they were where the real power in the region lay. They tended to act like Ben said something silly when he said that.

    “Do you remember Richard and Lucia in California?” Kiki asked as she was sorting through the letters that she received over the prior week, the ones that Steffi Bader, her Personal Secretary, had deemed relevant anyway. Steffi spent a lot of time sorting through the letters, weeding out the scam artists, beggars, perverts, and cranks. And that was after the Postal Inspectors removed anything truly objectionable.

    “We were at their wedding” Ben replied.

    “Yes” Kiki replied, “It says here that they had a baby, a little girl…”

    Kiki paused.

    “And?” Ben asked.

    “They named her Kristina Concepción, with a K which is a bit odd in America” Kiki replied, “Because I got Ritchie that armored vest a few years ago and it probably saved him from serious injury.”

    If Ben had to guess, that was a bit of understatement by either Kiki or Ritchie Valenzuela. If the flak vest in question had taken hits from a bullet or shrapnel then it had likely saved his life. You didn’t just name your child after someone.

    “It is nice that they appreciate what you have done for them” Ben said.

    Kiki didn’t respond to that as she went back to her letters. He figured that there were dozens of invitations to various social functions and requests for personal appearances. How the public had never found out about Kiki’s normally introverted nature was a mystery to Ben. It seemed like they only saw her as she was in the midst of a crisis or making a public statement as necessitated by her title or career. At that point she had little choice but to rise to the occasion. Being at home on a quiet Sunday afternoon with him and the children was actually what she preferred.

    “It says here that we may have already won” Kiki said looking at a gaudy letter.

    “I think Steffi missed one” Ben replied as Kiki dropped the letter into a wastepaper basket.

    “This one is from my cousin excusing my absence from the Summer procession of the Order of Saint John and the reception afterwards because we will be attending Ria’s wedding” Kiki said reading the letter.

    Ben snorted at that while trying not to laugh. Kiki’s cousin had probably sent out dozens of letters like that, mostly to save face, because most of the members of the Order of Saint John were going to be in Galicia that day. The lure of free food and drink in Krakow trumped religiously motivated grandstanding it seemed.

    “Are there any letters from Hospital Administrators in there” Ben asked, “I know that they always love you to invite you to their events. Gawk at the Princess and sponsor a new wing or department.”

    Kiki sighed and gave him a look, as much as those sort of invitations annoyed her, she liked him making fun of them even less. She believed in the mission of most hospitals. Unfortunately that mission was a rather expensive one and they typically took money from wherever they could get it. It was one of the few times where Kiki didn’t object to using her title to advance a cause.
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    Part 138, Chapter 2380
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Eighty

    19th June 1975

    Jassel, Galicia-Ruthenia

    “Then Poppa said that we needed to not do that in the future” Nele, the five-year-old daughter of Olaf “Olli” Bauer, said with entirely too much enthusiasm as she concluded telling Freddy all about the mishap that had occurred on her father’s farm a few weeks earlier. One which had resulted in a hole in the roof of the barn, punishment for Nele, and a stern talking to by her father about playing with dangerous things. It was clear to Freddy with Nele reminding him a bit of Mirai when she had been that age, that she had learned absolutely nothing from the experience except to perhaps not to get caught next time.

    “Our guest is not interested in that Nele” Nele’s mother, who confusingly had the same name said nervously as she handed Freddy the glass of water that she had promised when he had entered their kitchen to wait for her husband to return.

    Nele’s mother knew exactly who he was and Nele herself didn’t care. She was actually extremely close to Freddy’s sister Ria and was apparently excited about the role she was going to play in the Ria’s wedding in a couple days. The Photographer who was along today had delighted in how little Nele had told Freddy her story across the kitchen table.

    The diversion to Olli Bauer’s farm had been decided some time earlier at the suggestion of Nancy Jenson in the Press Office. People often thought that all of Galicia-Ruthenia was Krakow and Lwów. Both were University cities and Ria delighted in the intellectual churn, going far as to make sure that debate had strong constitutional safeguards within her Kingdom. The trouble was that this often was presented on the Television News in the form of raucous student protest and industrial action. At the same time, the Universities were starting to gain a reputation in certain fields that would probably pay dividends in future.

    In the meantime, this had given Galicia-Ruthenia a reputation of being a place of barely contained chaos. A peaceful, well-ordered farm in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains owned by the Marshal of Galicia was perfect to showcase the other side of the region. Not that Olli Bauer himself didn’t present his own problems. Freddy was aware of Bauer’s past, the part that the public had been told and what remained secret. Namely that he had been working indirectly for the Heer through his friend Kurt Knispel the entire time he had been leading the Galician Freikorps. They had lucked out due to Bauer being both competent and loyal, Freddy could think of a lot of ways in which an operation like that could have gone wrong. If someone more ambitious and with less in the way of scruples had been in that position, there might have been serious consequences. He had made sure that the relevant people in the Heer and the Intelligence Agencies understood his opinion on the matter. This was Chess, but Freddy had needed to ask; Didn’t any they ever think past the next move?

    The brought his thoughts around to Ria’s wedding.

    Most of the public had believed the rumors that Ria was a lesbian. Having her hair cut short, preference for practical clothing, and her direct manner had all seemed to buttress that belief. Then she announced that she was getting married to Lars Vangsgaard which had been met with disbelief and had created a number of headaches. The Danes were understandably upset by this because his father was the self-styled Grand Duke of the Island of Bornholm. He had declared it independent during the Second World War. They were worried that this was an indirect way of recognizing that independence. The old Junkers thought that she was making a mockery of them with this move. Freddy knew that Ria had thought that through, and that she thought that hereditary titles were a load of manure. She had told him as much. What was anyone’s title really based on when it came right down to it? By criticizing Ria, the Junkers would be calling their own position into question. That was not a question whose answers they would like.

    “Sorry to keep you waiting Sir” A man who Freddy understood was Olli Bauer said as he entered the kitchen. “I had some business to attend to that couldn’t be left for later.”

    The file had said that Olli had been a career soldier, mostly enlisted or as a Warrant Officer, only taking the Commissioned rank of Major at the end to increase his pension. Becoming a farmer had been a dream of his and receiving a substantial amount of land in a depopulated part of the Empire as a part of his retirement.

    The Polish War had changed all of that.

    Through an unforeseen and odd set of circumstances he had found himself leading a Division of Freikorps even as he insisted that he was still just a Major. When the Poles had attempted to put down what they saw as a rebellion in Southern Poland, he had used every trick he knew to bleed the Poles white as they had blundered south. Though badly outnumbered, he had managed to hold Krakow until elements of the 2nd and 3rd Army Groups along with the Bohemian Army had arrived. Olli Bauer wasn’t a large man, in keeping with how he had started as a Loader in a Panzer before moving to the Commander’s cupola later.

    “I understand completely” Freddy said as he stood up from his chair, “I was just having your daughter telling me about her experiments in the barn.”

    “I see” Olli said, clearly trying not to react to that. “Are you ready for the tour, Sir?”

    “Why yes” Freddy replied, “Just lead the way.”

    The two men from the First Foot standing by the door who had heard Nele’s story were amused by that exchange. Her experiment must have been far more dangerous than she had let on.
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    Part 138, Chapter 2381
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Eighty-One

    21st June 1975

    Krakow, Kingdom of Galicia-Ruthenia

    The wedding ceremony had been a muddled affair taking place in front of the Cloth Hall in Krakow’s Main Square with everyone who wanted to be involved having a place in the proceedings, within reason. That was why it had been officiated no less than six representatives from the major religious denominations found within the Kingdom. They had painstakingly negotiated just who was going to say what and when over the prior months. Then the procession went out into the streets where it was mobbed by tens of thousands of people until the police cleared the streets enough to get it moving to the castle where the reception was going to be.

    What astonished Kiki was just how much love these people had for her sister. Originally, she had been suggested to be Queen as a means of helping Galicia preserve its independence and perhaps to have a uniting figure as the various factions had turned to squabbling at the end of the Polish War. That was where Ria and Olli Bauer had entered the picture. They had read the draft constitution that had been proposed, seen the direction that things had been going and had gotten ahead of it. Mostly comprised of things that had worked in other places with a special emphasis on religious freedom and recognition of the different parts of the diverse population. How else were they going to prevent a small kingdom comprised of a number of different ethnicities and religions from killing each other? Most of all, that vast majority of the people wanted peace regardless of background and Ria had found that they were the ones most receptive to her ideas.

    Sitting in the back of the lead car with the new Royal Consort, no one was quite sure what exactly to call Lars yet. Ria was waving to the crowd as they passed. Kiki could see her from the car behind as she held Louis with Nina peeking out the window at the people as Ben kept trying to get her to take the middle seat. In front of her, Marie Alexandra was in the front passenger seat, not wanting to ride with her family as she had gotten into an argument with her mother. Something about how Marie’s social phobias had gotten worse over the first year at University. Kat wanted her to get help, which Marie felt was unnecessary. As far as Marie was concerned, being too frightened to talk when approached by strangers had kept her out of trouble.

    While that was an interesting take on the situation, Kiki disagreed, but knew that Kat’s confrontational approach usually had the exact opposite effect with her daughters. Last year, Kat had gotten into a shouting match with Tatiana over the family plans for the summer. Tat had gone backpacking with her friends in Spain while everyone else had gone to Montreal. They had hardly been on speaking terms for months afterwards according to Sophie, who delighted in talking with Kiki about the goings on in Kat’s house. Sophie had also mentioned that Angelica, the youngest girl in Kat’s household had been having a difficult time lately. Kiki figured that she should probably get to know Angelica before there was an issue that Kat would also be asking for help with.


    Riding in the lead car, a stretched Mercedes limousine, Louis Ferdinand looked at Marie Cecilia who was seated next to Lars as she waved to the crowd through the open rearmost window. Called Ria by everyone since she was a baby after her older sister shortened it from Marie. Today, wearing the wedding dress he could see how strongly she favored Kira. It was also nice that for once the oldest of his twin daughters from his first marriage had not bucked convention. Lars seemed like a solid man despite feeling obligated to help advance his father’s vision. Of course, Louis understood that as he had gotten to know Ria he had spent less time on Bornholm.

    “I think that your mother would have liked this” Louis said to Ria who just shrugged.

    “She would have made a comment about my hair” Ria said, “She couldn’t help herself.”

    Charlotte said nothing. She had known that Louis was a widower at the time she had met him and that complications from the six stepchildren had been a part of the package. She occasionally heard about Kira in that context, and she had told Louis that that it was sort of hard to be jealous.

    Antonia and Annette were a part of the wedding party this time and they were sitting next to their mother. Louis had been a bit shocked at the idea of them being two young women having just turned sixteen earlier that month. Kiki had also mentioned that Nina, Louis’ granddaughter was starting school in just a couple months. How exactly had that happened?

    With that the procession entered the carpark outside Wawel Castle where the reception was going to take place. Below the castle there was a festival for those not invited to the reception in the park on the bank of the river. From the sound of it, the festival had already started. Getting out of the car following Lars and Ria, Louis saw that the other cars of the procession were pulling in so that they could drop off their passengers and park elsewhere in the city. Vicky, rushing ahead of her family, rushed up and was talking excitedly to Ria in the private language that the two of them had used since infancy. It seemed that time really had healed old wounds. Lars shuffled nervously as Franz, Crown Prince of Bavaria just stepped up and shook his hand. With that, Lars and Ria entered the castle, followed by the others in the wedding party.
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    Part 138, Chapter 2382
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Eighty-Two

    23rd June 1975


    It was quiet in Louis’ stateroom aboard the Grindwal. More than usual anyway with most of the crew was ashore while the Technicians and key members of the ship’s personnel were busy upgrading the computer systems aboard the Grindwal. Louis Ferdinand Junior figured that giving all nonessential crew a week’s liberty was the best way to ensure that they would not be underfoot which would speed the process along. He didn’t even pretend to know how most of the computer systems worked. He knew how to use it, having taken the training course required whenever something new was added to SMS K024 as part of the continuing education required of the Command Staff aboard any ship of the Kaiserliche Marine. Electronic Countermeasures, Fire-Control, Radar, and so much more were all controlled by the computers. The idea that many of them were designed to react independently of the systems operator at times didn’t sit right with many of the Old Salts in the Fleet, but Louis understood the reasons why. In the sort of high threat environment that the Grindwal might find herself operating in, an action might need to be taken instantly. By the time a human operator figured it out, it might already be too late.

    Isaak Lehr had been promoted and sent to take a Staff position until a Sea Command became available, so Louis was waiting for his replacement. He had grown used to having Lehr around as his XO and not having to worry about what might happen when he left the bridge. He just hoped that whoever got that slot next wouldn’t turn out to be a constant pain in the ass. In the meantime, Borchardt was acting Second in Command.

    Louis had his typewriter out and he was typing his latest situation report for the Atlantic Fleet Headquarters. He detailed what was going on with the computers and the Technicians, mostly civilians from Zuse AG and Naval Research AG. The Ship’s Purser would need to include the invoices when the entire report was submitted. The trouble was that the Ship’s Yeoman, Alex Mogens, was one of those who was presently ashore and so Louis would need to wait to do that.

    “A moment of your time, Sir” Oberdeckoffizer Greg Borchardt said, standing in the doorway.

    As the Captain of a ship the size of the Grindwal, Louis was the only one who had a stateroom to himself. It wasn’t much bigger than a typical closet. The bed was steel frame with a canvas base lashed to it and a 35-millimeter cotton mattress, both of which had been soaked with fire retardant before they were issued. It was same bed that everyone else aboard slept on. It even folded against the wall when not in use, the same as every other bunk on the ship, so that Louis could sit at the small desk and use the typewriter. There was also a locker for his personal effects, a file cabinet and the ship’s safe. The key difference though was that he had it entirely to himself.

    Every other member of the crew slept, ate, and lived their lives within the tight spaces of the Corvette’s common areas. Only the Officer’s Wardroom, Ship’s Galley, the Enlisted Mess, and the Ship’s Heads were not regularly converted into sleeping quarters. Nearly every available centimeter was used for storage as well. All of that meant that Louis was the only man aboard whose permission Borchardt needed ask for before entering.

    “I think I have a minute” Louis replied looking at the page in the typewriter. “I went to my sister’s wedding, no one did a damned thing while I was away, and now I’m playing catch up. The most obnoxious part is that I could use Bootman Mogens presence about now, but he is nowhere to be found.”

    Borchardt chuckled at that. He knew all about Alex Mogens’ reputation as a Sea Lawyer and all-round reprobate, but he also knew that Mogens was most useful when he put those skills to service for the Grindwal herself.

    “You aren’t going to find him” Borchardt replied, “That rat knows every hole he can crawl into in the city. It comes from being the child of a Sailor. He grew up here, in Wilhelmshaven and on the Jade, you know.”

    While Louis hadn’t known that. It did explain a great deal.

    “What did you want though?” Louis asked.

    “We got the new batch in” Borchardt replied handing Louis a dark blue American style ballcap. This one had the usual SMS K024 Grindwal in gold letters, it also had an embroidered representation of a pilot whale that was identical to the one painted on the side of the forward superstructure as well.

    “Looks like someone went all out” Louis remarked.

    “One of the men’s wives did it” Borchardt replied, “They felt that the lead ship of the Squadron needed something special. The outfit ashore that makes those hats were able to copy it.”

    That was Louis’ understanding. There was a company in Wilhelmshaven that had started making the hats for ship’s crews at first. Then they discovered that people were interested in them as collectables.

    “What’s this business with us being the lead ship?” Louis asked.

    “That’s the latest scuttlebutt” Borchardt said, “That Fleet has finally decided to promote you, official word has not come down yet.”

    “I see” Louis replied. He just hoped that Borchardt understood the implications of that. As a Kapitan-zur-See Louis would likely lead a Squadron of Corvettes. The trouble was that as a newly minted Captain, Louis would get the worst assignments. As in picket duty listening for American Submarines in the Denmark Strait during the wintertime or something equally unpleasant.
    Part 138, Chapter 2383
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Eighty-Three

    1st July 1975


    With the new Government in place, Freddy found himself meeting with the Chancellor that the Governing coalition had decided on, Heinz Kissinger, and he was already wishing that the old Chancellor were still in office. But like what so often happened, Freddy had to do many unpleasant things as Emperor. That included meeting with the new Chancellor and tolerating that odious toad he kept as an aide. If it wouldn’t have caused too much trouble he would have had them both thrown out of the Summer Residence. The National Liberals collectively were of the opinion that there had been entirely too much military adventurism over the last thirty years and that the State needed to be minding its affairs closer to home. Freddy had realized in that moment that it wasn’t an accident that the Greeks had gone to war with their old enemies when they had. He also had the sinking feeling that inaction would come with a price this time.

    Then Kissinger had brought up the subject of his brother’s recent promotion. That was not something which Freddy liked to talk about. Mostly because it was a reminder of the shadow that the previous century cast over his family. It wasn’t just Nicholas II of Russia who came to mind when people thought of inconvenient problematic monarchs these days. Freddy’s own Great Grandfather, Wilhelm II, was a close second in that unfortunate contest. In Government circles, it was widely believed that Wilhelm II could easily have caused a Communist revolution akin to the one which happened in Russia. If the First World had ended any differently. Things might have still gone bad if he had not retired when he had. Freddy’s earliest memories had been of Wilhelm II. An old man who had smelled of tobacco and drink. He had liked to tell Freddy adventure stories and had delighted in introducing him to military and industry leaders. There had been a lot of things which Freddy had not understood at the time. That Wilhelm had lost his son and successor in a sordid scandal and his namesake grandson had been killed in the Spanish War. He had decided that his name was unlucky and requested that the family never name a son Wilhelm in the future.

    There was a concern which cut across all political lines was what might happen if Freddy, or whoever his successor might be, should ever find themselves at odds with the Reichstag. The Emperor was theoretically in charge of the Military, but the High Command wasn’t required to obey. That was where the careers of his siblings entered the picture. Both Kiki and Louis Junior had been seen as rising stars in their respective fields. Then they had run into an informal agreement which must have existed for decades. The concern that them rising to the level of Division or Army Command might lead to the creation of a Praetorian Guard, which would be a dagger aimed right at the Democratic aspects of Empire and the Constitutional controls placed on the Emperor. Neither Kiki nor Louis would be allowed to rise above a certain level as a control on Freddy.

    Now Louis Junior had been promoted to Kapitan-zur-See and the Government was leaning on the Navy to make sure that he never saw another promotion. In the meantime, he had been assigned to the Eastern Mediterranean. It was a posting of critical importance, where a Squadron of Corvettes would probably be able to accomplish more there than either of the two active Carrier Groups or nine Guided-Missile Cruisers that the Navy had available. That meant that regardless of politics, the Fleet had faith in Louis’ abilities. Things were a bit easier with Kiki. She was presently on Maternity leave and that would defer any questions about her future until she came back next year.

    Langeoog Island

    Laying in the afternoon sun after swimming in the cold waters of the North Sea was a welcome shift after how she had started her Summer Holiday. It was still early in the season and a weekday, so she mostly had the beach to herself. She figured that doing this for a little bit wouldn’t hurt, she would need to go in soon. If she got a sunburn then it would be something else for Kiki to get on her case about.

    It had been her mother’s idea. That Marie should spend a week or so out at the vacation house in the East Frisian Islands so that they could have some time to cool off. They had been at loggerheads over Marie being shy, her mother thought that it was an issue while she didn’t see what the problem was. It seemed like many times over the last year Marie had encountered people who it was simply not in her interest to know. Not talking to them and being as one newspaper in Montreal had put it, “A very private young woman” had saved her a great deal of grief.

    Marie’s mother had convinced Petia to finally take a vacation and to take her granddaughter Darya with her. The detail that Marie was traveling with them to the same location was hardly material. Marie suspected that keeping an eye on her was the only way which Petia could have been convinced to take some time off.

    With a bit of reluctance, Marie got up and brushed the sand off her body as she gathered her things. She could feel the salt dried to her skin as she walked back to the house and knew that she would need to shower before she did anything else.

    Petia hardly looked up from her magazine as Marie entered.

    “Having a good afternoon Grandmother” Marie said in Russian as she passed.

    “I was until Darya got into her head to cook supper for us” Petia said. Marie knew that Petia was proud of how her granddaughter was working directly for Marie’s mother in her capacity as an Economist. As a cook though, Petia was of the opinion that Darya could burn salad.

    “It’s just supper” Marie replied.

    “I wish I shared your optimism” Petia said, “Herr Kennedy called again, he asked if you had thought any more about his offer.”

    Marie didn’t react to that. Her mother’s friend Jack Kennedy had told her that he needed a translator who knew Chinese, and that be someone he could trust. If she were willing to take a few days from her holiday his Law Firm would generously compensate her for her time. She had said she would need to think about it.
    Part 138, Chapter 2384
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Eighty-Four

    7th July 1975

    Dublin, Ireland

    They could see Marie Alexandra von Mischner-Blackwood sitting in the conference room filling out the paperwork that one of the secretaries had provided for her. She had dressed conservatively presumably because it was appropriate for the occasion, and she wanted to be taken seriously. Ironically, it had not had the desired effect. The problem, as Jack saw it, was that it made her look like a child playing dress up.

    “Are you sure about her?” Andy O’Neal asked, “She seems a bit young.”

    “Nineteen” Jack replied, “Don’t let that fool you though. When her mother was that age, she was capable of things that would turn you white and she looked exactly the same.”

    “The Tigress” Andy said, “I’ve heard.”

    “You’ve only heard the half of it” Jack said, “If that.”

    Andy gave Jake a look. He had been there when the evidence of the Galway Scandal had arrived at the firm’s offices. It had been Kat von Mischner who had been the investigator in that case and now, almost three decades later it was still reverberating throughout Ireland and well beyond. The Catholic Church had taken a massive hit to its prestige and that had led to massive changes in Law and Society as new scandals had continued to erupt. Strangely, it had ultimately been for the better if Jack had to guess.

    “It is also likely that you are looking at the next Prefect of Berlin” Jack said.

    “Doesn’t she have older siblings?” Andy asked.

    “Yes” Jack replied, “Tatiana is a prickly character. She has her mother’s ruthlessness but little of her charm and Malcolm is the exact opposite. The position is appointed rather than inherited. Marie grew up in the German Imperial Court, she was basically the Kaiserin’s Personal Assistant and confidante for two years before starting University at McGill in Canada last year. Do I need to point out how useful someone with dual citizenship in Germany and Canada would be to us?”

    “That is an interesting background” Andy said, “Of course, her qualifications, or lack thereof, is not the issue. The other Partners are concerned that you might have fallen into old habits.”

    Despite the gravity of that statement, Jack had to smile at that. When he had been younger he had been quite the womanizer and his reputation from those days still followed him around.

    “Besides Jacqueline being only a few years younger than her there would be the issue of the massive legal settlement, along with what her mother and then my wife would personally do to me” Jack said, “I doubt there would be a whole lot left for the Partners to take to take to task.”

    Andy found that funny. For years Jack had heard the joke about how having a daughter would cause you trouble because you knew damn well that there were millions of other men just like you out there. Fifteen-year-old Jacqueline, that name had stuck after “Jack Junior” had been born a girl and she had been causing Jack a lot of trouble over the last few years. Jack’s son Sean, who had been born a couple years later, had been named for his Maternal Grandfather and had caused a different kind of trouble.

    What Andy wasn’t aware of was that despite Marie’s harmless appearance, she was very much her mother’s daughter. Jack had heard about what she had done to the CIA Agents in Canada who had lingered too close to her and the influence of Akio Kage, an odd man who worked for the Japanese Government but frequently pursued his own agenda and that involved working with Katherine von Mischner. Underestimate her at your own peril.

    “Have you given any thought to how our friends across the water will react to her?” Andy asked, meaning the Chinese and the British Officials who they were going to be dealing with this week in London.

    Jack snorted at that. “She will be seen but none of them will understand who she is” He replied, “They will only hear a voice translating their words and ours while thinking that she is little more than a pretty little brainless ornament with a talent for repeating whatever she hears with little real understanding. Meanwhile, I expect that she will see and hear everything they say when they assume she doesn’t understand the nuances. My calculation is that she will be more than happy to share it with us after they inevitably talk down to her.”

    “That is cynical even for you” Andy replied drolly.

    “Optimism is for the Associates” Jack said, “As Partners in this firm we have to have to be realistic and use the tools we have.”

    Jack had known Andy for decades and he remembered how they had joked about how the Firm’s Partners were a bunch of cynical old men. Over time most of the old Partners had either died or retired and they had replaced them as the cynical old men who the Associates made fun of.

    With that, Andy walked into the conference room followed by Jack. Andy was acting like he did whenever they met with a Client, though in this case it was Marie’s family who was the Client rather than just her, all smiles and welcoming. Jack figured that he ought to warn his business partner that she would probably see right through him but didn’t see the point.

    “I understand that you are going to be working with us for the next few days” Andy said, as he exchanged greetings with the girl. “I trust that the Secretaries went over all of this with you?”

    Andy gestured to the paperwork that was typical for a new hire. Marie just nodded and smiled, something about the look in her eye suggested that there was far more going on in there than it seemed.
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    Part 138, Chapter 2385
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Eighty-Five

    9th July 1975

    London, England

    On occasion, Marie Alexandra had heard Suga mention days when she wished she could just escape. Not to anywhere particular, just anywhere else. She knew that she had only herself to blame for this. She could have been sitting on the back porch of the beach house enjoying a book at this very moment. Or if it were a warm afternoon she might have gone swimming. That was something which she had come to enjoy in the months since that had become a fun escape from her grandparent’s house much to her own surprise. That certainly would have been better than where she had found herself.

    While Jack Kennedy had offered to pay handsomely her for her services. It wasn’t entirely about the money. He had made it sound interesting. She would act as a Translator for Kennedy and his colleague Andrew O’Neal so that they wouldn’t have to rely on the British Translator who they apparently didn’t trust. That seemed simple enough, but as she had swiftly figured out, the situation was anything but straight forward.

    Even mentioning China seemed was a somewhat fraught subject with the country split between North and South with both sides claiming that they were the legitimate rulers of the country. Jack had warned Marie that the Chinese Officials who she was dealing with would become very cross with her if she mentioned their counterparts on the other side of that divide. She also needed to remember that the British had sided with the Southern part of China in a move which they felt would serve their own interests, namely Hong Kong and the lease on the New Territories which was set to expire in 1997. In return for military, fiscal, and agricultural aid over the previous decade the British were asking for that deal to be renegotiated. Southern China was receptive while in the North, the Government was threatening to have them all shot for even having the discussion. Of course, that wasn’t a new thing. The British position was that the state of China, whose civil war had ended mostly out of mutual exhaustion with neither side able to gain the upper-hand and the former battle lines becoming the new frontier, suited them just fine. They knew that the South was rearming for the next round, and presumably the North as well.

    That was why representatives from the Guangzhou Government were in London, to negotiate the transfer of advanced weapons systems. Jack Kennedy had been brokering this deal for months and as Marie watched, the British were basically trying to renegotiate the entire deal at the last minute. Then there was the gulf between what everyone was saying and what each party was actually saying. The other Translators, the ones who Jack said he didn’t trust, were smoothing everything out and glossing over anything that might cause offense. Marie realized that was what they had been told to do. Then there was what was said about Marie herself. The British treated her with thinly veiled disdain, she had heard that it was assumed that anything said to her would instantly be repeated to Jack, her mother, and then “The Kaiser” in that order. The Chinese on the other hand used insulting terms right in front of Marie to describe her and the British clearly thinking that she wouldn’t understand.

    Marie was already counting down the hours until she could just go home.

    Rural Silesia

    Riding in the front passenger seat of a DKW Munga, the substitute standard as a light transport vehicle that wasn’t as well regarded as the VW Iltis, Christian could only stew over his current predicament. The muzzle of the artillery piece being towed by a modified SpZ-4 APC was pointed right at him which was the perfect metaphor for his situation. He could also see Soldat Gajos atop the APC, not someone he wanted to think about at the moment.

    Soldat Arek Gajos bagged groceries at a market in Breslau most of the time when he wasn’t attending University classes and had an unfortunate habit of saluting Officers in the field. Gajos was now Christian’s problem along with a dozens of others and he happened to be the biggest one at the moment. He was one of the members of the Artillery Battery Section who Christian inherited when he arrived at the 3rd Landwehr Division’s Headquarters and was told that he was now an Artillery Officer. That was totally absurd. He had been Scout in a Panzer Division. He had even been wearing the gold Waffenfarbe that said that he had been in a Recon Unit with Cavalry traditions as they had told him. Later, Manny had told him that he had been sent to where he was needed as opposed to what he wanted. Manny had also told him that Artillery was where they sent you if they had expectations. After all, he had been trained extensively in Radio Communications, being an Artillery Officer was the other half of that. He had come to Silesia and the 3rd Landwehr to have the time to spend with Ina, this was the cost.

    That was where Soldat Gajos entered the picture.

    The 10.5-centimeter “Light Field Howitzers” had been built during the Second World War and had remained is service in the decades since. It seemed that there was always a demand for the ability to lob 15-kilogram high explosive shells 10 kilometers. Gajos had somehow memorized the tables for each shell type and the charge used. Having to depend on a nineteen-year-old Soldat in order to not look like a complete incompetent was not a comfortable spot to be in.
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    Part 138, Chapter 2386
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Eighty-Six

    10th July 1975

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    It had been a long evening at Benno’s and all Sepp wanted was some uninterrupted sleep. Tomorrow was another day of classes followed by a shift at Benno’s Burgers, the same as today. Fumbling with his keys, he opened the front door and saw his father was passed out on the recliner in the parlor with the television on. Sepp was really starting to wonder why his mother put up with his father, even at the best of times he was worthless…

    “Josef?” Sepp heard his mother ask from the kitchen and he felt a stab of guilt over his previous thoughts.

    Seeing his mother seated alone at the kitchen table with papers spread out before her, he could see that she looked tired. If she had been paying bills, continuing the juggling act which she had been doing for years, then that explained a great deal.

    “I spoke with your Headmaster today” Sepp’s mother said, “He said that you have been recommended to start taking preparatory classes next year. Why didn’t you tell me?”

    Because his mother would force him to take that recommendation.

    “I forgot” Sepp replied. His mother didn’t take issue with that, but Sepp could tell from her expression that she didn’t like that answer.

    “You will have plenty of time to remember” Sepp’s mother said as she pulled a letter out from one of the piles and handed it to him.

    Sepp read it with growing disbelief at what his mother had done behind his back. Apparently he and Dieter had been selected to take part in a historical emersion program. Reading between the lines, Sepp could see that this was another “Get the poor kids out of the city for a few weeks” program.

    “Is this a joke?” Sepp asked, “I can understand Didi doing this, but I’ve too much to do.”

    “No, you don’t” Sepp’s mother said, “You and your brother have a chance at a better life, and I’ll be damned before I let you fuck that up.”

    Sepp was rather surprised by the vehemence in his mother’s words. For years, he had only seen a weary acceptance for the way things were from her.

    “I see” Sepp replied. Realizing that he was not going to be given a choice in this matter.

    “And enough of you working at Benno’s” Sepp’s mother said, her words growing angry as she said them. “Yes, the money helps, but if it comes at the cost of your future then it is not worth it.”

    Sepp said nothing in reply. It had been a long time since he had had his mother talk to him this way, but he remembered that she had been unbending in the past. She wasn’t going to allow him to do anything but what she wanted this time.

    Dublin, Ireland

    With a day’s wait before the flight which would take Marie Alexandra home, Jack had insisted that she be his guest and have dinner with his family. Out of courtesy, she couldn’t exactly say no even though she was tired and just wanted to spend the rest of her Summer Holiday sleeping.

    When Marie had told Jack what she had seen and heard over the course of the week he didn’t seem too surprised. Not even when she mentioned the British or Chinese Officials who had treated her in such a shabby way. He had been particularly interested in what they had said to each other when they thought no one who could understand was listening. Marie had heard plenty and had no problem with telling Jack all of it. Her mother had told her once that respect goes both ways. Those who disrespect you are not worthy of being given it in turn.

    Mercifully, the negotiations had ended with all parties getting as much as they could get their greedy hands on. Marie had traveled back to Dublin where she spent all afternoon once again going over every word she had heard spoken with Jack and Andy. To her shock, they had transcribed everything said officially at the meetings in London and there had been a Stenographer present during what had turned into a debriefing.

    Had Jack known what was going to happen and planned accordingly?

    That was not a pleasant thought and Marie knew that if she complained it would be one of those situations where her mother would tell her that things like this come when you are an adult. Small wonder that Marie would have remained a child forever if she had gotten her way. Life had been so much easier when her primary concerns had been Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Robin Hood, or Treasure Island.

    “You attend McGill University in Canada, right?” Jacqueline, or Jackie as she preferred to be called asked. Like in every interaction Marie had had with her, Jackie’s words came in an almost incompressible mad rush with an odd Dublin accent, giving Marie little or no time to answer her questions. If she could understand them. “They say that McGill is the Harvard of Canada, Da went to Harvard. Did you know that? And I asked him if that means that Harvard is the McGill of the United States. He didn’t answer the question…”

    On and on Jackie went, with Marie answering “Yes” or “No” but most often “I don’t know” over and over. She got the impression that Jackie must get that reaction often from people.

    “Our guest is tired, Jackie” Bridget said, and Marie was profoundly grateful. “Why don’t you talk to your brother about his day instead?”

    “Ew, gross” Jackie replied.

    Sean said nothing but was pushing food around the plate with his fork. Considering some of the things that Jack had said about his son it was probably for the best that he was quiet.
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    Part 138, Chapter 2387
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Eighty-Seven

    11th July 1975

    In Transit, Over the English Channel

    Jack supposed that Marie Alexandra must be used to the slings and arrows of international travel and airlines. Taking a private jet from Dublin to Berlin was very different from that and she had seemed surprised at every step along the way. After Marie had spent an evening showing extraordinary tolerance towards Jacqueline, the least that he could do was let her tag along on a flight that he had planned on taking to Berlin anyway.

    Presently, she was sitting in her seat with her eyes closed wearing headphones and murmuring words in a language that Jack could hardly speak but recognized all too well. In the sunlight streaming in through the window, she almost looked angelic. Through a quirk in genetics, Marie strongly favored her father in her appearance with a heart shaped face and high cheekbones. The red hair and her eyes were inherited from her mother. Anyone who had ever seen those blue eyes staring coldly at them found it hard to forget, though Jack didn’t find Marie to be cold. Kat had once told him that she thought Marie was a lot like who she might have been if things had been different. There was probably a bit of truth in that, though Jack was reminded of a proverb about how God tended to both give and take.

    “Why is a German girl trying to learn Gaeilge?” Jack asked.

    Marie opened her eyes, removed the headphones from her ears so that they were hanging around her neck, and hit stop on the small tape player, a wonder of engineering not much larger than the cassette tapes it played. Marie had brought dozens of tapes with her, mostly for learning languages but music as well. Jack could see the Sony and Stereo emblazoned on the front of its plastic case. Marie had mentioned that she been given the tape player from Princess Kristina as a gift. The Princess frequently received products from the Sony Corporation before they were offered to the general public, this was apparently one of those things.

    “Excuse me?” Marie asked, “Did you say something?”

    “I heard you asking for directions to the nearest bus stop” Jack replied, “And was wondering why you are studying that particular language.”

    “It interests me” Marie replied, “And I was just in Ireland, when in Rome.”

    “I see” Jack said, starting to wonder if even he had not fully understood Marie’s abilities. He had heard that she was a Polyglot, but just what did that mean? “How many languages do you speak?”

    Marie took a minute to think about it. “English, of course” She said, that happened to be the language they were speaking that minute. “German, French, Metropolitan and Quebecois, I grew up with the latter. Russian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, though I have struggled a bit with some of the Southern dialects. Spanish and Italian were easy after learning Latin in School. I also learned Greek in School. I have been trying to learn Arabic, but study materials of that are a bit hard to find and I haven’t met many native speakers, that is the same problem I ran into when I was learning Swahili. I would like to study Vietnamese and… What?”

    Jack must not have been able to hide his growing disbelief.

    “I was just thinking that in many respects you are just as formidable as your mother” Jack said, “She was also frequently underestimated as well.”

    “Is that why you tried to kidnap her?” Marie asked.

    Jack felt a bit embarrassed that Marie knew about that but realized that this was one of those times when candor was warranted.

    “The US State Department was concerned that American interests were going to be disrupted by the actions of General von Holz. I was working with Naval Intelligence at the time, and it was felt that your mother was the weak link in that operation.” Jack replied, “The intention was to question her and then let her go.”

    “What idiot came up with that plan?” Marie said with a barely suppressed giggle. If Jack had known then what he knew now, he would have understood that the entire scheme amounted to almost suicidal stupidity.

    “Paul Finley” Jack replied, “My so-called superior who sprung that on me at the last second so I couldn’t talk him out of it, and we narrowly avoided being prosecuted by the Australians. The Navy used what your mother did to me as an excuse to get rid of me, medical discharge, and I had little choice but to get a one-way ticket on a ship to Ireland.”

    “I see” Marie replied, “I only knew my mother’s version.”

    “What is different about her version of events?” Jack asked.

    “She said that she was happy that the two of you provided a welcome diversion from her companion that night who she had been about to thump” Marie said, “She also mentioned being pleased that she avoided getting blood on her dress.”

    “That sounds like her” Jack replied, “I recall that she was wearing a loose, cream-colored dress with a green sash around her waist, it really would have been a shame to ruin it.”

    Marie paused for a second.

    “She gave me that dress a few years ago and insisted that I try it on so that she could see how it looked” Marie said, “She said she got it in Australia, but didn’t tell me the whole story.”

    “There are a number of things that I am sure your mother would like to tell you, but she has sworn to keep them secret. In some cases, forever.” Jack said, “There is a reason why she has been my client for so long. I am one of the few people who understands her as Kat, the woman from Pankow-Heinersdorf, as opposed to her titles and that nickname that has stuck with her for decades.”

    “Die Tigerin” Marie said softly, her voice hardly heard over the sound of the engines of the airplane.
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    Part 139, Chapter 2388
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Eighty-Eight

    12th July 1975

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Flying back to Berlin had been a nice change, but as Marie Alexandra had discovered that didn’t mean that things would move swiftly on the other end. The train which would take her back to Wilhelmshaven wasn’t going to leave until Monday morning, which would be after two very long days. While she liked sleeping in the bedroom that had been hers for her entire life, her mother was still after her to do something about her perceived shyness. She found that bothersome and felt that she needed indulge herself by doing what she always did when she felt uncomfortable in her own skin. Marie became someone else for a few hours.

    With her red hair hidden underneath a dark wig and theatrical contact lenses that changed her eye-color to the most particular shade of amethyst. Marie had also applied makeup to make her complexion far lighter, like someone who had never seen a ray of sunlight. She was also wearing a crimson dress that perfectly matched her lipstick to complete the look.

    Walking down the street, Marie drifted through the shops getting the occasional stare from a passerby and reveling in how in made her feel… Well, like someone far bolder than she normally was. Stepping into a shop that sold Rock & Roll memorabilia as well as records, Marie was looking at concert posters that were in a rack that allowed them to be flipped through like a book.

    “Can I help you Fräulein?” The man running the store asked with a leering grin, and Marie couldn’t help but notice that his eyes seemed to be looking everywhere but her face. She had to stop herself from reacting defensively, which was exactly what he probably wanted.

    Marie responded in French. Despite being a Rocker, the man didn’t seem like the sort who had ever left this neighborhood unless they absolutely had to. Any lessons in different languages he’d had probably ended the instant he no longer had to attend those classes.

    “Yes sir, can you tell me when these bands are coming back to your city?” said Marie, delighted at the bewildered look he gave her. “You go to a lot of Rock & Roll concerts, don't you?”

    “Er… Excuse me?” The man replied, clearly not understanding what had been asked.

    Marie smiled and started looking back to the posters. She figured that in a minute he would leave her to her browsing.

    “Marie!” Marie heard a voice say excitedly, then Dieter Deisler ran up and started rattling off to her all about how he and his brother Sepp were going to a Castle over the upcoming Summer Holiday.

    “Stop it Didi” Sepp Deisler, the older brother in question said sharply. “That’s not…”

    Sepp looked at her for a few seconds blinking.

    “Sorry, I didn’t recognize you at first.” Sepp said sheepishly.

    Marie couldn’t help but notice that the man who she had been speaking to before was giving her a dirty look. He was actually fast enough on the uptake to realize that she had been playing him for a fool.

    “We should probably take this elsewhere” Marie said as she walked towards the door.

    “Oh” Sepp said, catching on to what was going on.

    Stepping out onto the sidewalk, they walked up the street.

    “Sorry that I barely recognized you. What was that about?” Sepp finally asked as they followed Dieter, towards the small park where the High Street ended in a T intersection at the boundary of the Humboldt Campus.

    “Men like that behave like pigs” Marie replied, “So I gave him the impression that I was someone he couldn’t talk to. Didi sort of ruined it.”

    “He excels at that sort of thing” Sepp said, “He got both of us roped into going to the Hohenzollern Province this summer.”

    “You are going to the castle to be Kiki’s guests?” Marie asked, she was unable to hide how delighted she was to hear that Kiki was still doing that.

    “Take the poor kids out of the city for a few weeks so that they don’t end up in jail” Sepp said, “Diversion, I think that they call it that.”

    “I’ve spent a few Summer Holidays at Hohenzollern Castle and I am not poor” Marie said, “Personally, I think that you will have a lot of fun if you give it a chance.”

    Sepp seemed rather dismissive of that. Clearly, he felt that spending the summer that way was a waste of his time.

    “How is Zoe doing?” Sepp asked.

    “She’s in France right now, she was Italy and Belgium before that I think” Marie replied, “Women’s Road Racing, that’s all I know.”

    “I had no idea.”

    “My mother mentioned that she is trying to qualify for Montreal next year” Marie said, “I don’t pretend to know much about that, it seems odd to me that some people take cycling so seriously.”

    “What’s happening in the Montreal next year?” Sepp asked as Dieter walked back towards them licking an ice cream cone he had gotten from a cart that was doing brisk business. Without missing a beat, he asked; “Just who paid for that?”

    “I did with the money Momma gave me this morning” Dieter replied, “She said to have fun with it and that if she gave it to you, you would just save it.”

    Sepp seemed a bit annoyed that his mother had spoken to his little brother that way about him.

    “Family is always like that” Marie said, “If not disappointing you with their behaviors, they are crushing you with expectations.”

    “Expectations?” Sepp asked, “You have clearly never met my father.”

    “Sophie told me about him” Marie said, “Despite all that, you look like you are doing well. I’ll tell Sophie that the next time I talk to her, she’ll be glad to hear it.”

    Sepp looked to Marie like if he were about to say something more, but then said nothing and they resumed walking through the park.
    Part 139, Chapter 2389
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Eighty-Nine

    18th July 1975

    Mitte, Berlin

    For years, Zella had followed the Moondogs as a well-known friend of the band having been a fan since she had seen them in the V8 Club as a teenager when they first played in Berlin. She might have remembered a line in one of the songs written by John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” after having listened to that song countless times. The sequence of events starting on a Friday evening was certainly all of that. In the months that followed, her entire life had been turned upside down and she thought of that line often. Things had been going so well though…

    Finishing the live segment of the broadcast after playing the short documentary, Zella knew that she had been on a roll. She had done a number of presentations over the previous months and there was even talk of awards for her brand of journalism. The terms innovative and groundbreaking were getting thrown around. That was exactly the sort of thing that her Superiors at ARD liked to get from her.

    Returning to the alcove that had been her “office” since she had come to ARD. Originally it had been because they had not known what to do with her, but over time, the alcove, and hallway around it had become the space used by her and the growing team that helped produce the video documentaries and short pieces. Sometimes it was hard to believe that she had started this alone and had not wanted the help when ARD had assigned Yuri to run the cameras.

    Like always there was a pile of memos detailing the calls that had come in while she was away from her desk. While the phone operators employed by the Broadcaster was good at sorting out the cranks, there were still dozens more. She had tried to create a means of sorting out which of those remaining she would respond to and which she could ignore, but as she had found everyone who called seemed to have urgent business that needed a prompt return. Like always, there were requests for her time, invitations for her to do something in a location or on a particular topic, and finally she found one in the pile of a nature she could not ignore.

    With an exasperated sigh, Zella picked up the phone and dialed number that she knew by heart knowing that her mother would be waiting for this call despite the late hour. The phone rang a few times before it was answered.

    “I just watched you on the television” Maria said happily, “Your story tonight about the Cello Maker was good, but the story you did a couple months ago about the heroin addicts in Hamburg was far more impactful.”

    Zella felt a stab of guilt over that. It was a reminder of how long it had been since she had last spoken to her mother. Once her mother had retired, her parents had moved to Jena to be closer to her extended family on her father’s side. Not seeing them every day had made keeping in touch a challenge. She knew that she might have explained to her mother the difference between a short like the story about the Cello Maker versus an hour-long documentary like the one about Drug Policy and addicts in Hamburg.

    “I’ve been very busy lately” Zella replied, “I would have called except for that.”

    “I understand” Maria said, “I just wanted to tell you that your grandmother’s birthday is next week, and everyone is going to be there. Including you if you can peel yourself away from your work.”

    “I will be there” Zella replied, hoping that her superiors would understand her taking a few days off to go to a family function.

    “Bring Yuri and your camera if you need to justify it that way” Maria said, “In fact you probably want to bring Yuri anyway, you know how your grandmother is. She’s old fashioned and afraid that you are becoming an old maid.”

    “And you think that her meeting Yuri will change her mind?” Zella asked. Her mother had not made a big deal about how Zella’s relationship with Yuri had never been serious. He had been asking where they were going though, and her inviting him to a family function like this would send all sorts of messages that Zella wasn’t sure she wanted to send.

    “She knows that you are over thirty” Maria replied, “Beggars can’t be choosers and all that.”

    “For fucks sake” Zella muttered, and she could have sworn that she heard her mother snickering at her reaction. “And this business with the camera, what ever happened to not being a part of the story?”

    “You’ve never been much good at that” Maria replied, “Besides that, your grandmother is turning ninety-eight and after what she has seen over her lifetime I would be shocked if there wasn’t a story there.”

    “I can’t just pursue a story like that anymore” Zella said, “ARD has been insisting that I formalize the process so that others can follow my lead. Sort of like the editorial process, except we are using video tape.”

    “That’s wonderful Marcella” Maria said, “It means that you are moving up in the world.”

    “I don’t know about that” Zella replied, “The process might have changed but the method has not.”

    “I was the Features Editor as well as a Reporter for a long time at the Berliner Tageblatt” Maria said, “See if you can get your Employer to give you a title that reflects what you are doing.”

    “That sounds easier said than done” Zella replied.

    “Take credit for your work” Maria said, “I spent most of my career making things happen. That is how I got were I was. That’s also how I met your father.”

    “Yeah” Zella said, “See you next week.”
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    Part 139, Chapter 2390
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Ninety

    21st July 1975

    In transit, Hohenzollern Province

    At first Dieter had been excited by the prospect of traveling out of their own neighborhood. The tickets had said that they were going to Stuttgart first and then taking another train to Hechingen. Those were places they had never been. Sepp had seen the times printed on the tickets and had seen that they had at least an eight-hour ride followed by a layover and another hour at least on a different, far slower train. Basically, it was wasting an entire day which he thought might had been spent doing other, far more productive things. Not that he was going to be doing a whole lot over the next month.

    Predictably, Dieter got bored after the first fifteen minutes. He then spent a lot of time staring out the window and fidgeting in his seat when he wasn’t asking Sepp inane questions. The Conductor had made it very clear what would happen if they caused any trouble and apparently they were not the only ones traveling to the castle this year. Lunch had been a somewhat disappointing affair with them eating the sandwiches and boiled eggs their mother had packed from them while those around them ate far better fare from elsewhere on the train. Dieter had asked if they could buy drinks, but Sepp had told him no because what little money he had needed to last them the whole holiday. Dieter just smiled and accepted that the way he tended to.

    They got to Stuttgart and had never even left the platform. One train to the other and were pulling out the instant their luggage could be transferred. This time Dieter fell asleep, and Sepp was watching the landscape roll past. Once out of the city, he saw the familiar mixture forest and farm fields was continuing, but now there was more forest and hills looked like they were getting higher as they entered another small town. Then the train pulled into a station. It was one of several that they had passed through, and they had all looked the same.

    “You two are part of the lot that are getting off here” The Conductor said to Sepp as he was walking through the train. Sepp quickly shook Dieter awake.

    “We’re there” Sepp said, though looking out the window he couldn’t see a whole lot. Just a stone building, part of the station, and people walking past on the platform.

    “Where?” Dieter asked.

    “Hechingen, I guess Didi” Sepp replied as they collected their things.

    Dieter had a book bag and suitcase while Sepp had wanted to keep it simple with just a duffle bag. That made disembarking a simple matter. They joined the group of boys and girls who mostly were mostly Dieter’s age, but Sepp noticed that there were several who were the same age as him. One of the girls his age turned around and said something to the children following her. Sepp instantly recognized her as Ziska Böttcher, Sophie’s best friend and she was joined an instant later by Gabriele Scharnhorst, Sophie’s half-sister who just happened to look a whole lot like her. While he knew that the castle was supposedly a big place, the odds of him spending the entire Summer Holiday dodging awkward encounters had just massively increased. A couple weeks earlier, Marie von Mischner-Blackwood had told him that this would actually be a lot of fun. It was already not shaping out that way.

    Walking to the end of the platform, there were buses parked there which were probably used by the area schools most of the time from the look of them. Stepping aboard there was the smell of hot metal and old vinyl, the driver made a comment about how he expected Sepp to help keep things under control. Though just how was he supposed to do that?

    As Sepp and Dieter found a seat the others piled in the bus quickly became a cacophony with yelling and laughing. Sepp felt out of place, as the oldest on bus he drew a lot of curious looks.

    “Who are you?” A boy seated in front of Sepp asked staring at him.

    “I’m the one in charge of this group” Sepp replied, and the boy turned back around saying nothing. That was entirely a load of manure, Sepp didn’t have the first clue as to if he were really in charge. These were kids though and they equated bigger and older with authority. So, him saying that was perfectly in keeping with how they saw the world. He just hoped that none of them had the wherewithal to challenge that because they would swiftly discover that Sepp was full of hot air.

    It was about that time when everyone started looking out the windows as the castle came into view atop a mountain. The brown stone walls looked like gold in the late afternoon sunlight. The towers and spires looked like something from a fantasy.

    “That where we’re going” Dieter said to Sepp, belaboring the obvious. The others started talking excitedly as the bus turned off the main road and though a set of double chain-link gates and with actual soldiers manning them.

    “Don’t mind the men from the First Foot!” The Driver yelled back at them, “They are just here to see to the safety of your hostess and any guests she might have! Her brother is here today so they are going all out!”

    Sepp watched as dogs sniffed around the bus and a pair of soldiers passed though checking names against a list they had. Then they were waved through. The bus passed through forest, climbing higher up the mountain on a switch-back road until they emerged from the trees and approached the castle walls.

    As the bus stopped, Sepp followed Dieter out and saw a small group of adults chatting. To his complete surprise, one of them was the Emperor himself. A man he only ever seen on television or in newspapers.
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    Part 139, Chapter 2391
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Ninety-One

    24th July 1975


    They ended up taking Zella’s car, a BMW 700. It had seldom seen much use outside of work when ARD had not provided transportation. The rest of time Zella used her motorcycle. It was fast and parking was never a problem, unlike the car which was rather sluggish and there had been times when she had found herself circling city blocks looking for a place to park within screaming distance to where she needed to be. She figured that wouldn’t be a problem in Jena, though looking at the clock on the dashboard, Zella knew that she had other problems.

    Stepping out of the car, Zella looked down the street her Uncle Peter lived on. She had been here countless times on her own, visiting either her uncle or grandmother. This time felt different though. Her mother had arrived at some point earlier and would have told God only knew what to everyone already there about Zella and her life. She also had Yuri with her and the truth about that whole thing could get awkward in a hurry.

    “There’s no reason to be nervous” Yuri said, “You’ve known most of these people your whole life.”

    “Today is my grandmother’s ninety-eighth birthday” Zella replied, “The lens she looks at the world through is reflected in that, so be forewarned. And my mother has already been in there for a time.”

    “I see” Yuri said as he picked up the two heavy duffle bags containing the camera equipment they had brought. “Does she have a name? So, I don’t get off on the wrong foot.”

    “Marcella Marie Holz” Zella said flatly. He had never really understood Zella’s relationship with her mother. How they had been butting heads for years, even when they had lived in the same household.

    “That’s your name” Yuri said, amusedly.

    “That wasn’t an accident” Zella replied, annoyed that Yuri had only now picked up on something so obvious. “I was named after her.”

    “Oh” Yuri replied as they walked down the sidewalk towards Uncle Peter’s house.

    “And please be careful about certain subjects when you talk to my extended family” Zella said, “They are big on educational achievement, and I get static for having a Degree in the Arts.”

    “What exactly are you saying?” Yuri asked.

    “Nothing” Zella replied, realizing too late that she had said something incredibly stupid and was already kicking herself for having done it. “Just be careful.”

    Yuri looked like he was about to say something in reply when they rounded the corner to the front door of Uncle Peter’s house. Zella knocked, hopefully ending the conversation before she said anything else.

    Theresa, Zella’s cousin opened the door and greeted her in Australian accented English. “If it isn’t Emil’s little girl” She said with a smile. According to Zella’s mother, Theresa had helped care for her when she had been a baby. It was a reminder that among her cousins, Zella was the youngest.

    “Theresa, this is Yuri” Zella said, “Yuri this is my cousin Theresa.”

    “If he ain’t a tall one” Theresa said drawing a confused look back from Yuri. Too late Zella remembered that while Yuri spoke a few different languages, English was not one of them.

    “She’s giving you a compliment” Zella said, at least she hoped that was a compliment. “Just smile and nod.”

    Yuri did as he was asked, but Zella could tell that he didn’t like that. Before anything else could go wrong, Zella led Yuri into the house which was full of people. Zella found herself being greeted by all of them, either as members of her family or those who were friends of her family from around Jena.

    “You made it” Walter, Zella’s little brother asked when she found him. She thought that she had seen his wife and two children around, but at the moment it felt like a kaleidoscope walking through the house with everything in motion.

    “Where is Oma?” Zella asked.

    “She said she wasn’t feeling well” Walter replied, “And that it was too crowded. She stepped out with Peter a little while ago, I think they are in the back somewhere.”

    Knowing that she would need to get the preliminaries out of the way, Zella flagged Yuri to follow her as she walked towards the back of the house. She saw Aunt Olivia in the kitchen and knew that she would need to swing through there on the way back. She thought that she saw Uncle Peter in there as well.

    Zella tried to remember the layout of the house as she walked past the staircase that went upstairs, her Uncle Peter’s home office, a bathroom, and a few doors which were closed. She had no idea what was behind them. Finally, she emerged out onto the sunporch at the back of the house. Her grandmother was sitting in a chair that looked out at the garden and Zella could hear her breathing softly as well as the buzzing of bees in the flowerbeds whose scent filled the air.

    “Oma” Zella said trying to get her attention, “There is someone here who I want you to meet.”

    That got no reaction.

    “Oma?” Zella asked again and she reached towards her only to have Uncle Peter emerge from the house.

    “She said she was tired and needed a few minutes to rest” Peter said, “I went to get her something to drink.”

    “If you say so” Zella replied as she watched Peter step around her with a glass of water in his hand.

    “Zella is here to see you mother” Peter said pleasantly, when she didn’t react Zella saw Peter react in a way which did not match the tone of his voice as he turned to her. “If you could please get my Doctor’s bag from the office quickly that would be helpful.”
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    Part 139, Chapter 2392
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Ninety-Two

    26th July 1975

    Hohenzollern Castle

    High atop the North watch tower the Prussian flag flew with the blue banner of Princess Kristina below it. The Princess apparently preferred to live in the Markgraf Tower, leaving the Master’s Chambers empty when she apparently wasn’t renting it out to whatever VIP she was presently trying to impress. It was said that when the Princess’ consort, Graf von Hirsch came to the castle in a few days his red and white banner would join it. It was a leftover thing from centuries past to let everyone for kilometers around know that the Lady was home. Sepp just looked at it with wry amusement. The sort of things that people did before television if he had to guess.

    The castle itself took a bit of getting used to. The Princess and her two children were often seen around the castle with an Irish woman and an old dog that followed them everywhere. Perhaps it was predictable that Dieter would have an easier time making friends among the children here for the summer than Sepp was. They had tended to congregate in the room that Sepp and Dieter shared out of long habit. Strangely, they knew only what Dieter told them so many of these children seemed to think that Sepp was a hero of some sort. He didn’t understand why.

    There were also moments when Sepp was certain that the adults in the castle all had ulterior motives when they did things. Sure, there were moments like when they had been introduced to the Stone Masons who helped maintain the castle itself that were interesting. There were also tasks like weeding the kitchen garden and feeding the goats or chickens who lived on the grounds that left Sepp wondering what was really going on here. The clothes, which were supposedly period authentic, that they were expected to wear had the effect of making everyone the same. Despite all the very real Medieval trappings around the castle, Sepp was aware of the modern heating, plumbing, not to mention the service entrance with the loading dock. Those things were decidedly not an authentic part of the experience and a reminder that the castle had been built and rebuilt at least three times and there had been countless efforts at refurbishment of the interiors. The most recent rebuild had only been about a century earlier.

    On the first Saturday Sepp found himself unexpectedly meeting with someone from his own neighborhood, who Dieter had told him all about on many occasions. This happened with Sepp as part of the handful of fifteen and sixteen-year-olds taken aside while the children were taken to the movie theater in Hechingen. First they had been given a lecture, by Princess Kristina herself, beyond what they already knew. That they were in positions of responsibility and that they needed to set an example. She then outlined what they would be doing over the next few weeks and the detailed schedule. Then she introduced Doctor Thomas Ott, a friend and colleague of hers. He promised to keep his introduction brief and he stuck to that.

    “Of course, Doctor von Preussen feels that the older boys might be more comfortable talking to me” Doctor Ott said to them, “As an Emergency Surgeon for the last thirty years, I can assure you that nothing you could possibly think to say or ask would surprise me in the least.”

    That brought a round of nervous laughter. Of course, Sepp had one important question, so he raised his hand.

    “Yes, Josef” Kristina asked.

    “What exactly are you getting out of this?” Sepp asked, “No one does something for nothing.”

    “I’m getting a holiday in a scenic part of the country” Ott replied, “I also understand the importance of what we are doing here.”

    “Taking the stupid, poor kids out of the city for a few weeks to stay out of trouble is important?” Sepp asked, “By having them do gardening and get kicked by goat?”

    There was a bit of snickering around the room. All Sepp had done was say what everyone here was thinking.

    “Your sarcasm is noted Josef and you could not be more wrong” Kristina replied, “If you were stupid you wouldn’t have been invited and as for being poor, the students come from a variety of backgrounds.”

    “There is also the aspect of children from the city learning that milk and produce do not just come from the market” Ott said, “That is a divide that Doctor von Preussen and her brother are working to address.”

    Sepp didn’t quite understand what it was that Ott was getting at. Sepp saw the Princess smile at that though. According to Dieter, who had gotten to know her at the University Hospital in Tempelhof, she preferred to be addressed as a Doctor as opposed to the other titles she had.

    “There is the aspect of the northern and southern political divide to consider, one that we are seeking to bridge” Kristina said, “That is the real reason you are here, those who might be leaders in a generation.”

    “I think that you should look elsewhere then” Sepp replied. He knew that he wasn’t a leader of any kind, it was all he could do to get through the next school term and to make sure that he and Dieter kept a roof over their head. All of that despite his worthless father’s efforts to keep them forever on the edge of destitution.

    “Regardless of what you may think Josef, that is the truth” Kristina said, “I am also responsible for your health and safety while you are here. I intend to make the most of that with the help of Doctor Ott. Does anyone else have any questions?”

    Sepp listened as Kristina patiently answered the questions and resumed explaining the schedule for the activities that were going to be happening over the next several weeks. It was starting to dawn on him that this was going to be an extremely long holiday.
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    Part 139, Chapter 2393
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Ninety-Three

    27th August 1975

    Langeoog Island, East Frisian Islands

    With so many pressing concerns in the city, it felt like Kat rarely got the chance to get away on a holiday. Escaping for the weekend was the best she could do, and Marie Alexandra was already on Langeoog. Unfortunately, Kat was learning that another one of her daughters had become something of a stranger to her. That much was clear as Marie had slept in until late morning then decided to go swimming before lunch. Since when had Marie ever been into anything remotely considered athletic? Eventually, Kat had gone out to the back porch of her vacation house and waited for her daughter to return while sitting in the shade.

    As Kat watched Marie emerge from the sea, she saw that her daughter had not bothered with anything that might be considered remotely superfluous before going into the water. While that was perfectly permissible on this side of the Atlantic, it bothered Kat for other reasons. For a young woman who was painfully shy around people, Kat was amazed Marie could also be so bold in other respects. When Kat was that age she had hidden her body under bulky clothes and made herself as unattractive as possible. She had been told that had really been armor used to protect herself from the world by Erma Tangeman and it had much to her surprise that Erma had not encouraged her to do something else, like everyone else had at the time. She had said that Kat would do something else when she no longer felt she needed to protect herself that way.

    Kat really missed Erma at times like these. She had known exactly what to say and had understood things probably better than anyone. With Tatiana, Marie, and even Angelica, Kat felt like she was continually messing things up. Things had gotten a lot better with Sophie once she had discovered cycling, something which she was inarguably good at and that had made a world of difference.

    Marie had put on an old, oversized T-shirt that hung down to her knees and padded back to the porch on sand covered bare feet, her hair mussed and wet, salt drying to her skin. Kat looked back to the book that she had been ignoring as Marie approached.

    “Your book is upside down Momma” Marie said, her voice full of amusement.

    “Your Grandmother would have a heart attack if she knew that you were swimming au naturel” Kat said as she put the offending book aside.

    “Good” Marie replied with a slight smile. That smile was a reminder that she really did favor Doug when it came to her features. Kat was also aware that this was one of the rare times when she was seeing Marie with no cosmetics or artifice, basically who she was laid bare. Often, Marie could appear as several different people over the course of a day. As Kat had that thought, it occurred to her that she wasn’t the only one who had worn armor.

    “Margot is quite the charmer, isn’t she?” Kat asked, knowing that it was probably unfair for her to say that to Marie. Her mother-in-law could be vicious at times, Marie would still need to live with her for the sake of Doug’s father Malcolm.

    “Starting next week, this beach will be crowded with people on their Summer Holiday” Marie said changing the subject, nodding towards the mostly empty expanse of sand. “I figure that I might have to go somewhere else for August.”

    Kat nodded. It was nearly August and while many people had the last week of July off, the first week of August would be when the season really kicked off. The East Frisian Islands, along with much of the North Sea and Baltic Coastlines would be overrun with tourists.

    “Any idea of where you might go?” Kat asked.

    “Tatiana might have had the right idea in going backpacking in the Pyrenees Mountains last year” Marie said.

    Kat considered making a comment about how she had no clue as to where Tatiana had actually spent last summer. Her contacts in Spain had told her that no one matching Tatiana’s description had been seen in that region. While it was entirely possible that she might have been missed, Kat figured that with her oldest daughter’s tendency to shoot her mouth off every time she didn’t like something, someone would remember having to deal with Tatiana. Kat might have followed up with further inquiries, but Tatiana was an adult now. It was something that Kat would need to remember if she ever wanted that relationship to improve. Still, she didn’t like being fed such an obvious lie.

    “You worked briefly with Jack Kennedy in Ireland” Kat said, “Any thought of doing that again?”

    “Have you met Jacqueline?” Marie asked in reply, “Every second I am in Jack’s house, endless questions. That girl loves to talk and talk.”

    Kat almost laughed at that characterization of Jack’s daughter but figured that Marie would take it the wrong way. “Of course, I would know her” She replied, “She’s one of my God daughters.”

    “My God” Marie said, a look of horror on her face. “That means if anything happened to Jack and Bridget she would come live with us.”

    “For someone who says she has no interest in acting you are certainly good at it” Kat replied.

    Marie blew a raspberry at Kat before getting up and walking into the house, presumably to shower before lunch.
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    Part 139, Chapter 2394
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Ninety-Four

    28th August 1975

    Jena, Thuringia

    The death of Zella’s namesake grandmother hit her particularly hard. Yuri had tried stay around, to be supportive but the feeling that he was out of place had only increased and Emil had told him that it would probably be for the best if he went back to Berlin. Now it was looking like that may have been a mistake as Zella had really fallen apart once Yuri had left. As if Emil needed more proof that there was more to Zella’s relationship with Yuri Kozlov than she was willing to admit.

    Emil was unsure how to handle the situation. Zella had arrived at her grandmother’s funeral unsteady on her feet, reeking of cannabis and alcohol. Maria wanted to get someone to take her home that instant, but Emil knew that they would regret it if they did that. Peter had suggested that they sedate Zella, but Emil figured that might just make things worse and he had told his brother no. Then a few minutes later, Zella had wondered aloud if because her grandmother had made her wishes to be cremated known well in advance, would there be a few seconds where she would be medium rare or well done before she was burnt to a crisp? He recognized the bitter cynical humor his daughter was extremely capable of. Perhaps having Zella doped to the gills on tranquilizers wasn’t the worst thing, but by then it was a bit too late.

    So, they were stuck in the Church during the funeral with everyone staring at them as Emil and Maria had Zella between them in an effort to keep her out of trouble. Emil and Maria’s grandchildren, Annika and Peter were asking what was wrong with Aunt Zella in the unthinking manner of children as Walter was telling them to be quiet far louder than he probably intended. Karina, Walter’s wife looked completely mortified. Far from causing trouble, Zella was sitting there quietly weeping.

    With a bit of reluctance, Emil got to his feet to deliver the eulogy. As the oldest son it was expected of him. Maria nodded as she took ahold of Zella’s arm. Emil knew that if their daughter were determined to get up and do something crazy, there was little that Maria could really do to stop her.

    Seeing hundreds of eyes staring at him, Emil looked at the obituary written by his wife which he had clipped from the local newspaper. It had run in every major newspaper primarily due to Maria’s influence the day before in the Sunday Editions. There was simply no way he could top this.

    Come to think of it, this was possibly the worst fix his had gotten himself into without someone shooting at him.

    Hohenzollern Castle

    The elderly Oberst commanding the Hohenzollern Province’s single Reserve Infantry Regiment finally retired this year due to his advanced age. Kiki might have asked for a replacement except he had done his job without fanfare and had seldom asked her for anything. Unfortunately, his replacement, Oberst Meins was not nearly as easy to work with as Kiki was discovering as she was having to take time away from preparing for an important regional conference in Konstanz. It seemed that his ambition had been what had gotten him assigned here and that he had not left that in Wunsdorf-Zossen. He struck Kiki as a man whose ambitions far exceeded his actual competence. If the Epione was not moored in Lindau and the Meta was not being moved up the Rhine to serve as an administrative and living space for her expanded staff Kiki would probably be quite cross with Oberst Meins. Still though, the idea of throwing him into the castle’s oubliette until he learned a bit of humility was appealing. If Royalty still did that sort of thing, that is.

    “This Province is far wealthier and has a larger population than it did fifty years ago” Oberst Meins said, “There is no reason why it cannot be expanded to an Infantry Brigade, and what is this business of being subordinate to the 16th Division in Trier?”

    “I would be exceeding my own authority if I tried to help implement any of your suggestions” Kiki replied, “You will need to make the proposal to the Landtag and the Minister-President. I would suggest that you have a details about exactly how you would intend to pay for that. As for the Hohenzollern Provence's Regiment being a part of the 8th Army Corps, that has always been the case and there is no way that is going to change.”

    And she watched as he stood there blinking for a long moment. Too many people had the assumption that members of Kiki’s family were Autocrats, and they could make things happen with a wave of their hand. It came as a slap to the face when Kiki started talking about her actual authority as the Princess of Hohenzollern.

    “I have not been introduced to the Minister-President or the members of the Landtag for that matter” Meins said, “If you could help…”

    “No” Kiki replied, “My position involves choosing my battles carefully. Getting into a fight with the Landtag over what many of them regard as an indulgence to my family is the exact opposite of that.”

    “There is far more to it than that” Meins said, “This Regiment exists for times of emergency, so we aren’t totally dependent on our neighbors.”

    “That sounds pretty good” Kiki replied, “You have already figured that out?”

    “Oberst Schwenke told me that right before the changeover of command occurred” Meins said.

    “I would suggest that you tell the Minister-President that” Kiki said, “Be very persuasive, or else I figure that he would be inclined to go the other way. Do you care to guess who will get the blame if that happens?”

    Meins gulped, perhaps the reality of his situation was finally dawning on him.
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