Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 139, Chapter 2395
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Ninety-Five

    2nd August 1975

    Charlottenburg, Berlin

    With her mother angry and her father just saying that he was disappointed in her, Zella had come back to Berlin the day before and tried unsuccessfully to push the events of the prior week out of her mind. It had been a long train ride home with her car still parked at her uncle’s house and she didn’t care that she had blown through an absurd amount of money in the club car.

    The trip to Jena could not have gone in a more horrible direction if it had been planned that way. Zella could deal with parental disapproval; it was something that she had lived with countless times. It was the sudden loss of her grandmother, that had been a gut punch. She had always encouraged whatever Zella had been doing and had made a point of calling Zella after every broadcast to let her know what she had thought. When Zella had ridden her motorcycle out of Berlin, her wanderings had frequently taken her to Jena to visit the care home where her grandmother had lived. Trying to numb herself with wine and cannabis had helped, but that was what had resulted in her parents getting upset with her.

    Her other grandmother was still alive and living in the same apartment that she had once shared with Zella’s mother. They were not close though. This was because she had not approved of Zella’s mother getting married to a man more than a decade older than her. That rift still persisted more than thirty years later. Zella had considered contacting her but had realized that would likely be compounding the mistakes that she had already made over the prior days.

    Watching television in her apartment, Zella had turned on the evening news and saw that they were covering the debate on the set of interlocking treaties that were had been hammered out in Switzerland over the last few years over the proposed Customs Union and Legal Standardization. The prior Government had been deeply involved with that process and now the new Government was trying to renegotiate key portions if those treaties and the other National Governments who were party to them were not happy with this turn of events. That was when the reporting shifted to two politicians arguing with each other and the Anchor doing nothing. It was the laziest form of journalism and as much as Zella wanted to turn it off, her head felt disconnected from her body. Laying on the couch passively watching was about all she could do. Besides that, if she waited the evening news would end and perhaps something better would come on.

    It was after Zella stopped paying attention that it occurred to her just how lonely she was feeling. She also remembered why she had unplugged the phone earlier that afternoon. Her mother had been calling to check on her. Then she had called Kiki and her friend had asked her to call back in the morning when she wasn’t so drunk and high after offering her condolences. It had been when she had called Aurora and it had just rung with no one picking up that she remembered that Aurora was out of town on a holiday to the Baltic Seaside. That had prompted her to unplug the damned thing. Now, laying on the couch, it occurred to Zella that she was getting halfway sober for the first time in days and that was not a good feeling.

    That was when the doorbell rang.

    With great reluctance, Zella peeled herself off the couch and shuffled to the front door. Opening it to Yuri standing there. She saw that he had his keys in his hand, which included the one to the front door of her apartment. So, he would have come in regardless.

    “Your mother asked me to check on you after you stopped answering your phone” Yuri said as he stepped in.

    “There’s nothing to drink or smoke left in this apartment” Zella said with some exasperation. “You can tell her that.”

    “There’s no need, you can do that yourself” Yuri said, “And you running out of drugs and alcohol tonight might not be a bad thing.”

    For lack of anything better to do, they watched television as the evening news went into the weather report. As Zella sat there with Yuri’s arm around her, she didn’t care about tomorrow’s weather. She was just glad that she wasn’t alone.

    Boston, Massachusetts

    For some odd reason Bill Stoughton liked doing business in an Irish themed restaurant in his home District. Today, James Hendrix was along for the ride, and he was looking at the unfamiliar items in the menu questioning what exactly was any good. It seemed that Irish food went far beyond corned beef and cabbage or shepherd's pie.

    “Do you have any recommendations?” Hendrix asked the waitress as she walked past. He instantly noticed that she was hot in a “Don’t fuck with me” sort of way and had piercing blue eyes.

    “The chicken curry and chips” The waitress replied with an Irish accent. That was a bit of a surprise on a couple different levels. How was curry Irish?

    “I’ll try that” Hendrix said, “And you are Irish, for real?”

    “We all come from somewhere Mister” The waitress replied before vanishing into the kitchen.

    Big Bill heard that and laughed.

    “The owner of this establishment hires students from Irish colleges for their summer vacation” Stoughton said, “Now going back that bullshit going on in the Appropriations Committee.”

    Hendrix was a bit annoyed, but it seemed that Stoughton intended this to be a working lunch.
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    Part 139, Chapter 2396
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Ninety-Six

    4th August 1975

    Lake Constance

    Through some sort of technological wizardry, the phone on the Epione could receive calls. Ben had a vague idea of how it must work, just he had not really cared enough to investigate the matter. He also saw how the technology in question was used and it sort of made him wish that he could throw it over the side into the lake.

    How had Zella even gotten this number?

    That was the question that Ben had as he listened to the phone conversation between her and Kiki. From the sound of it, Zella was calling completely frantic over her latest personal crisis that was a direct result of the last personal crisis. There were times when Ben wished that Kiki would just cut Zella loose. They had been friends for decades and while Zella had shown that she would do anything for Kiki, there were often times when it came with loads of unnecessary drama that Kiki was forced to deal with.

    “I understand that” Kiki said into the phone, “But I have obligations here and even if I could get up there this instant…”

    Kiki listened, but she had taken off her glasses and was pinching the bridge of her nose. There was a look of frustration on her face. Ben knew that even for Kiki, dealing with Zella was like talking at a wall when she was like this.

    “As I said, I understand” Kiki said, “Your situation… We don’t even know if there actually is a situation, is not going anywhere. So, you can wait a few days. Why not call Aurora or your mother? They are far closer.”

    Kiki listened some more.

    “No, I don’t think that she will say that Zella” Kiki said before listening some more.

    The conversation carried on for several long minutes before Kiki finally told Zella not to do anything stupid or rash. Ben knew that was sort of a lost cause, but she always tried. Then with an exasperated sigh she hung up the phone.

    “What was that all about?” Ben asked, only having heard Kiki’s side of the conversation.

    “Zella’s grandmother died” Kiki said, something that Ben was already aware of. “She spent the entire following week in as constant an intoxicated state as she could manage. Earlier today she figured out that several of the personal and professional things she had been neglecting needed to be addressed. Zella being Zella, her first response is to panic.”

    “Like how bad?” Ben asked.

    “Bills unpaid, her employers are angry that the subject of the story that she had promised them died and she was unable to inform them until this afternoon, having her parents angry with her” Kiki replied, “All the usual areas where Zella gets into trouble, except this time it really feels like the end of the world for her.”

    “Doesn’t is always feel like the end of the world with her?” Ben asked.

    “Don’t be mean” Kiki said, “I know that you and Zella haven’t always gotten along, but she has always been a dear friend for me.”

    Kiki always put it that way. Zella was her oldest friend from when she had first started going to school. Kiki had said that back then she had been incredibly sheltered and her admittedly introverted nature had made her an easy target for bullying. Past the negative aspects of Zella’s personality, she despised bullies and she had been exactly the sort of friend who Kiki had needed. Their personal loyalty to each other had meant a great deal to Kiki.

    “If you want, I think we can arrange to be on a plane from Laupheim” Ben said, “A quick trip up to Berlin, get Zella sorted and back before anyone in the conference misses us.”

    Kiki had trained at Laupheim when she had joined the FSR, the specialized Airborne Search and Rescue Regiment that was the elite of the Medical Service. Which meant that she knew exactly where it was.

    “It is sweet that you suggested that” Kiki replied, “But Zella… The corner she has painted herself into will take more than a few hours to sort out. In medicine sometimes you have to wait and see.”

    Ben had observed Kiki for years and had noticed when she did or did not say certain things. He had been when he had learned that she had been trained to handle patients and their families in certain, very specific ways. He had also learned to tell when he was being handled, like when Kiki chose which words carefully to inform him without telling him too much. Ben might have found that aggravating, but this was Zella. It was a thrill a minute with her and rarely in a good way.

    “Then I guess we wait” Ben said before looking back to the book he had been reading before Zella had called.

    Kiki didn’t join him back on the couch, instead she fretted around for a bit before going back the tiny space she used as an office aboard the Epione. She had let it be known that the clinic she had aboard the Motor Barge was open to anyone in the communities along the lakeshore. So far, it had only been the curious who had come. There had been journalists who had discovered that Kiki was an actual Physician the hard way.
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    Part 139, Chapter 2397
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Ninety-Seven

    8th August 1975

    In transit, Rural Germany

    Kiki watched the countryside roll past sipping a cup of tea and eating a buttered roll. Those were the only things on the menu of the dining car which she didn’t find too objectionable. It seemed like everything else was too greasy or sweet for her liking. Her bodyguards had suggested that she get more than that, but she had declined. It was a choice that she was a bit worried she would come to regret later that afternoon.

    Louis Bernhard had been fussy earlier. As much as she had been tempted to leave him behind with his father and older sister, she wasn’t interested in more time away from her son. She could have taken an airplane, but nine hours on a train, taking two entire days out of her way, would serve to help her put her thoughts in order. How she was going to deal with the situation and hopefully avoid bludgeoning one of her best friends to death with the nearest heavy object when she got there. If Zella said one word complaining about Kiki waiting until the conclusion of the Bodensee Conference to come help, it was a very real possibility that she would yield to that temptation. Those who had obligations and responsibilities were seldom interested in the complaints of those who didn’t.

    Working as an Emergency Physician and a Field Medic had taught Kiki that there was little justice in the world and seeing causation or symmetry in events was a fool’s errand. That didn’t mean that it didn’t seem like there wasn’t often a perverse irony throughout everything. More likely than not it was simply a case of go figure. She had not wanted to discuss the details with Benjamin earlier that week, even so she had almost told him about the unlikely corner that Zella thought she might have painted herself into this time. Considering who Zella was and some of the things that Kiki and Aurora had gone through over the last few years, the sense of irony that Kiki had regarding this latest mess was too strong to be ignored.

    Kiki was going to help Zella this time, but she was thoroughly fed up with her acting like a child. She had spoken to Nora Berg and her mentor had mentioned how she needed to be firm that this need to be the last time she did that.

    Strait of Gibraltar

    SMS K024 Grindwal was leading a squadron comprised of two of her sisterships, Type 1970 Class Corvettes K064 Ozelot and K026 Säbel, along with the old Type 1939 Fleet Torpedo Boat T35 Estoc were plying the narrow waters between Spain and Africa. Louis Ferdinand Junior imagined that they were an impressive sight as they raced east in loose formation. He had even considered asking the Captains of the French and British ships that had shadowed them since they had transited the English Channel. It was well understood that any movement by elements of the High Seas Fleet would get their attention. The Grindwal had passed alone through waters the British regarded as their own a few different times and that had never garnered such a reaction as a squadron of warships had. Even if they were just three Corvettes and a single Torpedo Boat. Even now, they had the two Destroyers from the Spanish Navy on a parallel course escorting them in the same manner the French and British had.

    SMS T35 Estoc was old friend of Louis, having been a part of the Flotilla based in Trieste during the previous Greco-Turkish War eight years earlier. She had a different Captain now, but the familiar lines of the old Torpedo Boat were a welcome sight. He remembered the hunt for the Q-Ships that had been attacking shipping in the Adriatic Sea and how that had ended with him demanding more firepower if that was what they were contending with. Having a video recording of that battle widely broadcast certainly helped. The Estoc had been what the Fleet had sent. Only later had Louis found out that the Estoc was one of the last ships in the Fleet still in service that had taken part in the Battle of the South China Sea. It was said that the Captain of the Estoc was always informed that he could easily find himself facing Court Martial if he allowed so much as a scratch on her paint. Louis hoped that was a joke because the Estoc was a part of his Command.

    “Our friends have sent someone else to the party” Borchardt said before nodding ahead.

    Three ships crested the horizon to the east. They were still too far away to tell who they were. Probably French or British if Louis had to guess. Though the Italians were not outside the realm of possibility. Louis had always been on good terms with the Italian Navy and the current Crown Prince of Italy was a friend of his. Amedeo had sent a message to Louis that he was looking forward to entertaining him. He missed being in command of the RN Audace and had spent much of the last several years at sea. The unexpected, but not exactly tragic, death of Amedeo’s older brother had required him to put aside his naval career, something which Amedeo remained unhappy about. He had apparently leaped at the offer to discuss the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean when Louis had sent the message asking what he knew about it.
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    Part 139, Chapter 2398
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Ninety-Eight

    9th August 1975

    Charlottenburg, Berlin

    Zella had spent most of the last week inside her apartment having locked everyone else out and having a panic attack every time she thought too much about everything that had happened. Instead, she had gone to her original medium of painting to try to work that out. The result was a painting that was a mishmash of garish colors and no cohesion, a visual representation of her own anguish and mental state. Looking at the thing, Kiki figured that it was probably just as well that no one else had seen it and that Zella would probably paint over it with something less disturbing in the future.

    Kiki could also see that Zella looked like she had not slept, eaten, or bathed in that time. Wearing dirty clothes that were covered in paint while looking like was about to fall over from exhaustion was really the least of her problems though. Fortunately, any drugs and alcohol in her apartment were long gone and Zella’s anxiety had prevented her from getting more.

    “You make a phone call, and a problem just goes away” Zella said to Kiki as she was sprawled boneless on the couch. “Can you do that for me this once?”

    “I wish it worked that way” Kiki replied as she was opening the windows of Zella’s apartment to let some air in. “That only works if someone is giving me trouble. When it comes to personal matters, I am on my own.”

    “That fucking sucks” Zella said.

    “You haven’t done lasting damage to yourself” Kiki said, “And your employer was quite happy when I told them that you had talked me into doing a live interview at some time in the near future.”

    “Except for that one thing” Zella said, and Kiki gave her a dirty look.

    “Your obsessing over that matter does you no favors” Kiki said, “It’s been what, six or seven days? Too soon to know anything and that is my opinion as your Physician.”

    Earlier that week Zella had called Kiki frantic about how in the intoxicated state she had been in, she had neglected everything. That included the dietary supplements and oral contraceptives she was supposed to take daily. Ordinarily that wouldn’t have been a problem, except her boyfriend had come over while Zella had been feeling upset and lonely, what had happened next was predictable. She had only discovered the problem the next morning. The thing was that it wasn’t the first time that Kiki had heard a story like that, not by a long shot. She had suggested that Zella talk to her mother or their friend Aurora, but Zella had been afraid that she would have to listen to some version of “I told you so” and had isolated herself. In Kiki’s personal experience, that was almost always a stupid move especially at a time when you shouldn’t be alone.

    “What would you do if you were in my situation?” Zella asked.

    “I wouldn’t be asking stupid questions” Kiki replied, probably sharper than intended. “Especially ones with obvious answers.”

    Zella paused; she had been so wrapped up in her own problems she had not considered that Kiki had her own life. A life she had put on hold to come help a friend sort things out.

    “Where are Nina and Lutz?” Zella asked, as she belatedly realized the problem.

    “Nina is with her father and Louis is with his grandparents” Kiki replied, “Bernhard and Nadine are always happy to see one of their grandchildren.”

    Zella groaned and threw a blanket on her couch over her head. That response was exactly the sort of thing that she didn’t want to hear. For lack of anything better to do, Kiki joined Zella on the couch and waited for her to say something.

    “Why can’t life be simple the way it used to be?” Zella asked.

    “You would have to go back a long way for that” Kiki replied. She couldn’t remember when life had been particularly simple. There had always been something going on that had made a mess of things. Being the Princess Royal of Germany came with a massive load of expectations, and the first thing that anyone noticed was that Kiki had never been able to look or act the part with her dark curly hair, glasses, and bookish nature. When they were children, Zella had been far ahead of the game. Or at least that was how it had always seemed to Kiki. Now as adults, that was simply not the case. What exactly had changed and when had that happened?

    “I have an idea” Kiki said after they sat in silence for a long awkward moment. “You get cleaned up and we will go get breakfast. And I promise that we will save this conversation for later.”

    Zella smiled at that. Despite everything else, she had to be hungry and as well as exhausted. Kiki had seen this before in the Emergency Departments of the various hospitals she had worked in. People wanted basic needs filled, any discussions regarding thorny issues had to wait until they were in a better frame of mind. The worry that Kiki had was that Zella might be expecting her to make her decisions for her because she was feeling overwhelmed. That was the last thing that either of them needed. When Kiki had spoken with Nora Berg, she had made a point of telling her to use caution in that regard.
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    Part 129, Chapter 2399
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Ninety-Nine

    14th August 1975

    Near Limassol, Cyprus

    RAF Airfield Akrotiri wasn’t a hard place to be posted. Drinking water was the biggest problem as Wing Commander Bradford Sickles had discovered, with the Cypriot Greeks just outside the gates being a close second. He had joined the Air Force to fly airplanes after University, only to discover that the RAF needed Logistics Officers and Engineers far more than they needed Pilots. That especially true in places like Cyprus, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Diego Garcia, Hong Kong, and dozens of points in between where he had been posted over an eventful career. It had been fighting the insurgency in Kenya where Bradford had found himself leading RAF Airfield Security Personnel who had been pressed into service as Infantry which he owed his present rank, reputation, and posting. The trouble was that he found himself having to play the role of diplomat. One that he was ill suited to as he had some unexpected and unwelcome guests, several of whom were in this room sipping drinks and carrying on conversations.

    Once, a handful of German ships might have caused a panic if they had appeared in Akrotiri Bay. Bradford remembered his grandfather’s stories about what the Jerry had done to British Coastal cities during the First World War, how the Admiralty had assumed that they could track German ships at sea. Decades later they discovered that the Jerry had been wise to that and had planned accordingly. The result was the shelling of Lowestoft and Gorleston in a single bloody night that had ended in the almost complete destruction of Felixstowe, a crime of such a scope that it was only eclipsed by the actions of Stalin a generation later. An entire city, thousands of people, gone in an instant. Should not have been the least bit surprising that Norfolk and Suffolk had erupted in violent protest when word reached them that Westminster had thrown their lot with the Germans and joined the fight against the Soviet Union. That had all happened a few years before he had been born, but people talked about those events like they were yesterday.

    When he had seen the German ships Bradford had felt anger at their mere presence, wishing that the sea would open up and swallow them. Those were Corvettes according to the Naval Personnel who had seen them and apparently under the command of a German Prince. He had to bite back his distaste as he saw Prince von Preussen speaking with the Base Commander and Jack Wick, the Colonial Administrator who Bradford considered possibly the biggest waste of oxygen he had ever encountered.

    Seeing the German Prince up close, Bradford could see the white Summer Uniform and the array of medals. Bradford recognized the blue enameled gold Maltese Cross, the famous Blue Max, on the black and white ribbon around the Prince’s neck and the Iron Cross pinned to his chest. He also saw the George’s Cross, a British medal, which was a puzzling addition. The rest were ones that he was unfamiliar with. There were two men with the Prince, a man identified as a Warrant Officer named Borchardt, a name that didn’t sound like it was German, and Major Brog, a Marine Officer.

    “This is Wing Commander Sickles” Wick said in introduction, “If you need anything while you are in Cyprus, he is the one to ask Captain von Preussen.”

    “Pleased to meet you” The Prince said in heavily accented English and was offering shake Bradford’s hand. He debated for a moment exactly what to do and wished that Wick had not said that.

    Mitte, Berlin

    It was obvious why the Tigress had wanted to meet him in the Tiergarten. There were few places so far outside his element than the park in broad daylight on a warm summer afternoon. That much was made clear by the stares that Birsha Bleier was getting from the passersby. The Tigress was seated on a bench enjoying the afternoon as Birsha took a seat beside her.

    “Exactly why did you want this meeting?” Birsha asked.

    “It has been two years since you last tried to kill me” The Tigress said, “I felt that it was only fair to mark the occasion. There is also this…”

    The Tigress gave him a smile before handing him a piece of paper. Unfolding the piece of paper, Birsha saw a name and an address, both of which had once belonged to him.

    “I have resources that you cannot imagine” The Tigress said happily.

    “I’ve killed for lesser trespasses than this” Birsha said angrily. The expression on the Tigress’ face never changed.

    “Spare me the theatrics” The Tigress said, “I get enough of that from my children and besides, the KSK Snipers I have on overwatch for this meeting will shoot you dead if your hand gets any closer to that knife on your belt.”

    Birsha paused his hand moving away from the knife.

    “If anything happens to me and you happen to get away, your friends in the Society of Silence will hear all about the real reason why you were run out of Altötting and cannot use your real name” The Tigress said, “Do you think that you would vanish as thoroughly as most of your victims? Just with a lot more screaming before the end?”

    It had been a long time since Birsha had been so easily outmaneuvered.

    “You wouldn’t have called for this meeting unless you already knew exactly what would happen?” Birsha spit at the Tigress, that was half question and half accusation.

    “What do you think?” The Tigress asked in reply.

    “What the fuck do you want?” Birsha asked.

    “Mind your language” The Tigress said, “There are children around and their parents might take exception.”

    The serene expression on her face suggested what she wanted; To show Birsha who was boss in this city. He had no answer for that.
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    Part 139, Chapter 2400
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred

    22nd August 1975


    Public relations disasters came in all shapes and sizes as Manfred the Younger had learned as he prepared to make yet another television appearance where he could try to be the friendly face of the 140th Regiment. All of this stemmed from an exercise that had been planned and executed without Manny’s input where the Oberst had wanted the most realistic simulation of actual combat possible and those he had tasked with carrying it out had done their jobs a little too well.

    The scenario was an urban setting with the enemy deeply dug in, it was something that soldiers dreaded coming against. The real trouble though, was that one of the Engineers had done his homework and read accounts of exactly what that entailed. He had also included several elements that were not typical. Tape recordings and old department store mannequins had been set up to simulate the presence of civilians with cunning devices set up to create the unexpected in that situation.

    Manny had later learned that they had all been so proud of the project that they had stupidly invited a camera crew to record the exercise. He would have told them not to have done that if he had been asked. And the results had been completely disastrous.

    The sounds of people in the buildings around them had caused the soldiers to move with too much caution, enabling the opposing force to run circles around them. It wasn’t until one of the Leutnants became a “casualty” that the Noncoms who had experience in Poland and Patagonia had taken charge, clearing rooms with grenades and machine gun fire. Disregarding the presence of any “civilians” with the ill fortune to be present. The thinking had been that minimizing casualties was well and good, but not at the expense of blood. Everyone knew that urban combat was inherently brutal business, at least anyone who mattered.

    The video cameras had caught the whole thing, including the explanations given.

    Manny’s father had once told him that people liked the idea of Soldiers. What they didn’t like was seeing the reality of what Soldiers did. It wasn’t the bloodless thrills and quips they saw in action movies. It was grinding and bloody. Even an exercise like the one that had been captured on camera revealed several uncomfortable truths that the public was not prepared to deal with, mostly that extremely bad things happened to those unlucky enough to be caught in the crossfire. The tapes had been disseminated widely by the time Manny had been belatedly called and he was left being the one to clean up the mess, after all as the Public Affairs Officer that was what he did as he found himself answering questions from unfriendly journalists. This was one of those times when he seriously wished that he had any other job in the Regiment.

    Los Angeles

    The phrase “Move along, nothing to see here” had never felt more absurd as it did at this moment. Thousands would have witnessed the mid-air collision that had occurred over the Santa Monica Mountains. In addition to the Fire Department, there were those who were merely curious, and they needed to be kept away before they messed up the incident scene. After the shootout in South Central, Ritchie had been reassigned to the distant West Bureau patrolling the exclusive neighborhoods in West Los Angeles. Having him remain in Central was seen as borrowing trouble as apparently the street gang whose membership he had decimated had vowed revenge. Of course, Lucia didn’t mind. His rank meant that he was almost always the incident commander, meaning that his arrival on the scene was usually after things had settled. All that was left was questioning the witnesses and cleaning up the mess. Of course, little of note ever seemed to occur in West Los Angeles beyond drugs and domestic incidents. That was completely unlike the Central Bureau which had been a thrill a minute. Until today.

    Ritchie was cursing under his breath as he drove towards the scene which was spread out over several hundred yards. There were things that were recognizable, like a turbine engine that had split a tree in half. The rest was unidentifiable twisted wreckage. The primary concern of the Fire Fighters was to put out the fires that had been caused by the crash.

    Looking around, Ritchie swiftly called for backup as he saw that there were a couple of Police Officers standing around in the manner he was all too familiar with. They had seen that it would be difficult if not impossible to cordon this area off and hadn’t even tried. Ritchie could hear on the radio that the FBI and USAF Investigators were inbound. They were going to be pissed if they saw the chaotic scene that he was looking at…

    That was when he saw something that made his blood run cold. Down the hill from the main crash site what looked like a giant trash can was hanging from a parachute in a tree. Some of the people who were here to gawk at the crash were looking at it.

    He was out of the car in seconds and running down the hill.

    “Get away from that!” Ritchie yelled in a tone that suggested that he was not to be disobeyed.

    “We’re just looking around” One of the gawkers said indignantly.

    “Do you have any idea what that is!” Richie roared back.

    He just stared at Ritchie, it suddenly penetrating that more was going on here than he had thought. “Asshole” The gawker said as he and his friends walked away.
    Part 139, Chapter 2401
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred One

    25th August 1975

    Washington D.C.

    “Yeah, it would have been a great loss if all the fruits and nuts in LA had been blown to dust” Nixon overheard one of the Aides say to another with a snicker as he walked into the Oval Office. He took note of who he was. While Nixon wasn’t intending to retaliate, it was good to know which people should not be in positions of responsibility in the future. What the Aide had expressed was a common attitude that Nixon had encountered from people who had never set foot in California, much less knew anything about Los Angeles. If they had understood the reality beyond their own narrow perspective, they wouldn’t have found the situation remotely funny.

    They had no idea devastating it would have been to the entire country if the bomb that had landed in the Santa Monica Mountains had gone off. They only knew what they saw of Los Angeles on television or had thrown jokes around about. Southern California was home to domestic film production, aircraft, and car manufacturing, not to mention that a good portion of the nation’s agricultural products. The explosion and the radioactive fallout would bring all of that to a screeching halt. There was also the human cost, which was too nightmarish to think about beyond raw estimates. There was a reason why the League of Nations had debated whether or not the use, or even the possession, of nuclear arms constituted a war crime. Finally, people in small States had no idea how dependent they were on the flow of Federal tax dollars from New York and California to remain functional. Thanks to the Electoral College and the US Senate they had an outsized voice in the Government, far more than their actual numbers warranted. They would have been forced to take notice of reality if things had played out with only a slight difference. The experts were debating about switches and yields, it seemed that disaster had only narrowly been avoided.

    “How close was this thing to going off?” Nixon asked the gathered experts as he sat down behind the resolute desk. “No hypotheticals or speculation.”

    The experts started debating among themselves for several more minutes.

    It was Nixon’s understanding that a Boeing B-56 “Stratojet II” out of Travis Air Force Base had been conducting a training mission when it had collided with a cargo plane over the Santa Monica Mountains. It was unclear exactly how that had happened. Regardless though, the bomb that the USAF plane was carrying had been flung from the bomb bay and had armed itself. Apparently, only the failure of high-voltage switches had prevented a detonation. Nixon wanted the head of whoever was responsible for this mess, and they had better have stars on their collar.

    “We think that the most likely result would have been a fizzle Mr. President” One of experts said.

    “And that means?” Nixon asked.

    “Well, it would have gone off” The expert replied, “Just the secondary stage wouldn’t have ignited.”

    “So, that means that a nuclear bomb would have still gone off in the middle of one of the largest cities in the country?” Nixon asked. The experts just stared at him. That was exactly what they were saying. The only question was just how big of an explosion it would have been. Already, there were moves to bring down the veil of secrecy on the whole thing. The public already distrusted the Government over matters of war and peace, this would just compound that further if word ever got out.

    Looking at the documents, Nixon saw a familiar name. Richard Valenzuela, a Police Sergeant in the LAPD, and Sergeant-Major in the California National Guard had been one of the first people on the scene. He had instantly recognized what he was dealing with and had radioed in help from anyone he could raise to contain it. That was fast thinking and considering where he was, Sergeant Valenzuela could have done profound damage with that same radio. When he had become President, Nixon had been made aware of the secret wars that America fought and just who fought in them. Sergeant Valenzuela was one of those people and this wasn’t the first time he had kept the details of an incident like this himself. That man’s talents really were being wasted by the City of Los Angeles.

    Charlottenburg, Berlin

    Looking out at the park and the city lights beyond, it was a reminder to Zella that there was a wider world out there. She was starting to feel a bit of guilt over how she had been totally selfish over the prior weeks. Kiki had told her that it was a normal reaction to the loss of a loved one and that there was no correct way to go about doing it. Still though, she recalled her family, her parents and uncle in particular, who had borne the brunt of her misbehavior. Now she had the unappetizing prospect of trying to make amends. How exactly do you apologize for some of the things that she had said? It didn’t matter that she had need drunk and high. All that did was lower inhibitions. Uncle Peter was a retired Psychiatrist, so he would know full well that Zella had spoken the things that she was thinking and not caring about how much hurt she caused. Her parents weren’t stupid, Zella understood that her mother had thought that she was insane at various times in the past. God only knew what thought of her.

    Kiki had told Zella not to worry too much about that. Accepting all the times that you far from your best self was the sort of thing that families did. Of course, Kiki had made a point of telling her that she couldn’t just put her life on hold every time Zella had a personal crisis because she had her own family to consider. That was something else that Zella felt guilty about. She knew that Kiki was stretched more than anyone else, yet she had still called her. Only now did Zella realize how being scared had made her make a series of mistakes which had only compounded the ones she had already made.
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    Part 139, Chapter 2402
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Two

    29th August 1975

    Los Angeles, California

    “A goddamned nuclear bomb hanging from an oak tree in Franklin Canyon Park, and you just happen to be one of the first Officers on the scene” Bill Wilkinson remarked over the phone. “That is a bit much, even for you, and to think, they sent you out to the West Bureau to keep you out of trouble. Fat lot of good that did.”

    “I guess everyone has heard by now” Ritchie replied as he had the phone wedged between his shoulder and ear as he tried to keep from dropping Kristie, who was doing her best to squirm out of his arms.

    “If that thing had gone off, taking out Laurel Canyon and Bel Air would have done us all a favor” Wilkinson said, “I doubt that they would even notice in West Hollywood though, too many mutants there already.”

    “I talked to the Wing Wipers who showed up to collect the bomb” Ritchie replied, “They said that there was never any danger of it going boom.”

    “And you believe them?” Wilkinson asked.

    “Beats the alternative” Ritchie replied as he carefully set Kristy into her crib. “Everyone knows that if there was the slightest chance of a detonation, the Air Force, the Joint Chiefs, the Department of Defense, and everyone on down to the guy who mops the floors, would all deny it until the end of time.”

    “All about politics and reputations?”

    “Of course, I saw it plenty in the Army, CYA you know” Ritchie replied as Kristy realized that she was about to be left alone in her crib so her father could get a bit of sleep. Though he was not going to be more than a few feet away, she was having none of it.

    “No shit” Wilkinson said, totally ignoring Kristy’s squalling. “I seem to recall that I warned you about reputations around the department, good or bad. While you were not seen as a gun fighter, you had gotten yourself known to be wherever the action is. That kind of changed when you decided to do the Gang Taskforce’s job for them. Think that it is an accident that you haven’t had a partner in months? The Brass in the Glasshouse are scared that whoever they stick with you won’t have your ability to walk between raindrops.”

    “I hadn’t heard that” Ritchie replied as he debated picking Kristy back up. She wanted attention, but she would keep him awake all day if he let her.

    “You also got some of the members of the hat squad shitting bricks because they remember their dealings with you back in the day. They had no idea you had the balls to do some of these things” Wilkinson said, “They really hated you, didn’t they.”

    “They hated Bobby” Ritchie replied, “But he was nowhere to be found, so they came looking for me.”

    “That sounds about how those bigoted pricks go about doing things, every Mexican looked the same” Wilkinson said, “No one bothered to tell them that it ain’t the 30’s or 40’s anymore.”

    “You were around back then” Ritchie said, “Was it really the Wild West?”

    “You don’t know the half of it” Wilkinson said, “Movie stars and Mobsters, the glamour of the Golden Age, naturally that was a complete load of horseshit. Like a fresh coat of paint on a house infested with termites. Half the Department was on the take and the rest didn’t say shit unless they wanted to get themselves killed. They would have laughed themselves silly at then idea of Blacks and Mexicans on the Force in those days.”

    That was delving into some uncomfortable areas for Ritchie. The shootout in South-Central had been orchestrated by someone high up and they had to be pissed that their plan had gone sideways.

    “Any word in the Glasshouse about the investigation into what happened in January?” Ritchie asked. Wilkinson had a large number of connections in Parker Center, if anyone had a clue as to what was happening it would be him.

    “Professional Standards is off the case” Wilkinson replied, “The Feds are on it now, and you know what happens when they get involved.”

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation moved at a glacial pace, but like a glacier they crushed everything before them. They had you dead to rights before they even bothered to speak to you. Of course, the FBI had taken a hit or two over the last few years. If there was a major victory to be had by nailing someone in the LAPD then by God, they were going to take it.

    “I understand” Ritchie replied.

    “Be glad you are out of Central Bureau” Wilkinson said, “Trust is in short supply these days.”

    To think that Ritchie had been listening to Tony complaining about being sent to public relations in Van Nuys. Apparently, telling school children about the dangers of narcotics wasn’t much fun, or at least not in a way which didn’t invite the disapproval of their teachers.

    “I’ll need to take your word for it” Ritchie said. There were worse things to do while on duty than to drive around the canyons and mountains in West Los Angeles.

    “Whatever” Wilkinson said, “Try not to get yourself killed.”

    “Yeah, whatever” Ritchie replied, before he hung up the phone.

    Ritchie looked at Kristie who had fallen asleep but would probably be awake at any second. That was when the phone rang, causing Kristie to wake up and start screaming.

    “What!” Ritchie demanded as he answered the phone.

    “Is this Richard Valenzuela?” A bland voice asked.

    “Yes” Ritchie replied.

    “Please hold for the President of the United States” The voice said before elevator music started playing over the phone.

    “Wait, what?” Ritchie asked.
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    Part 139, Chapter 2403
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Three

    31st August 1975

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    The end of summer had felt like a rubber balloon with the air slowly leaking out. To his surprise, Sepp had enjoyed his time at the castle. Something about it made time pass by oddly, like if each day had a thousand different parts. Then one day he had been told that he needed to prepare to go home, and it had been with great reluctance.

    Dieter wasn’t happy because for the first time he had made an actual friend. A girl named Alex, apparently short for Alexandrine apparently shared several interests with him. He had found out that they lived in different neighborhoods back home. Sepp knew that was the extent of his brother’s thinking, that he wouldn’t be going to school with a friend he had made over the summer.

    Getting home wasn’t exactly any sort of great homecoming for Sepp and Dieter. The first thing they noticed was that their father wasn’t crashed out in the parlor like most weekend mornings. If fact he wasn’t around the house at all. It seemed that while they were absent over the summer, their mother had finally had enough of their father. He hadn’t supported them in ages and most of the time was a net drain on the family. She had changed the locks while he had been out on a Friday night blowing through a week’s wages and was divorcing him, provided he ever was dried out enough to start proceedings.

    Montreal, Canada

    It was expected for Marie to attend the mixer for returning students. She felt that with classes starting in only a matter of hours, this time was better spent doing other things. Yet there she was. Oddly, the people around her knew who she was, and they had a lot of questions.

    “I have absolutely no desire to get involved with any of that” Marie Alexandra said as she took a sip of beer, which was quite terrible. She had no idea how the art of making decent beer had been lost on this side of the Atlantic, but it apparently had, and it seemed like no one had noticed.

    “I would have thought that you would be a natural for it” The other student whose name Marie couldn’t remember said, “With the Olympics here next summer, translators will be in high demand.”

    That was just it, the reason for that high demand. Everyone was all about how the Olympics which were coming to Montreal. There were already preparations happening throughout the city and it was anticipated that there would be massive crowds. For Marie it all felt like a huge disruption, and she wanted nothing to do with it. While the rest of the world was heading to Canada, she was planning on going home. While she had played the role of translator for Jack Kennedy in July, that had been entirely her choice as opposed to having it imposed on her. Marie couldn’t get away fast enough.

    Marie had flown back to Canada a few days earlier and surprisingly both of her grandparents had been happy to see her. While she made a point of not antagonizing her grandmother too soon, she had told her grandfather about how she had spent the first half of her Summer Holiday at the beach house on Langeoog then the second half on the estate of Opa von Richthofen. Sir Malcolm had been interested in how the old Bloody Baron was spending his retirement and Marie had told him about the trip into Berlin to the Imperial War Museum where a camera crew had followed Opa as he conducted a walk around of his old Fokker and Albatros fighters which were on permanent display in section that dealt with. Everyone else spent the week exploring the various museums on the island in the center of the City. Marie had found herself with Mathilda Auer and Mathilda’s perspective was certainly an interesting one to say the least.

    Los Angeles, California

    When Ritchie had received the call from the President, as unbelievable as that might seem, it had changed everything. It seemed that Nixon had wanted to tell him personally that the Office of the Secretary of the Army had put his name forward for promotion and the President was prepared to personally sign the warrant, a rare honor. It had taken a moment for him to realize the implications of that. His thinking was that he was presently a Sergeant-Major, there wasn’t a whole lot higher to go in the Army. Then it had clicked, what Nixon had said about a warrant. It seemed that his actions in the Police Department along with putting together a LRRP Team in California National Guard had not gone unnoticed.

    Of course, the offer had come at a good time. The LAPD was currently unsure as what to do with him, so him asking for a leave of absence to go back to the Army was greeted rather enthusiastically. A bit too enthusiastically in Ritchie’s opinion.

    Lucia was a bit harder to convince.

    Her consideration was that when he left for WOCS at Fort Lewis up in Washington and then Special Forces training at Fort Meade in Maryland, he would be gone for months. Afterwards they would be living at the whim of the US Army, a prospect that Lucia was far less than thrilled with. At the same time, this was an incredible opportunity. Not just for Ritchie, but her as well as Steven and Kristie.
    Part 139, Chapter 2404
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Four

    1st September 1975

    Mitte, Berlin

    There was a key problem with the lens that Kiki looked at the world through. She was always on about not panicking over matters that haven’t played out yet. So, wait and see. The trouble was what came after you waited and saw that there simply wasn’t a whole lot to see. What did you do if you still had more questions than answers?

    “You look rougher than usual for a Monday morning” One of Videographers said with a smile. Zella had hired her because of her talent for editing video, not her ability to avoid speaking out of turn. “Quite a weekend?”

    Zella bit back an angry retort. Despite what the people she worked with thought of her, she wasn’t prone to excess in that manner. The week after her grandmother had died was an exception and what had happened since spelled out exactly why that was. The truth was that Zella had hardly been out of bed over the prior weekend because she had been feeling sick. It had been her hope that going into work would at least shift her focus elsewhere. She had obviously been wrong on that score. In some ways their assumptions were probably better than the truth, certainly less personally embarrassing.

    “We have the Monday morning meeting” The Videographer said.

    “Who came up with that bullshit?” Zella asked as she tried to find a clean cup on her desk. A first she had wanted coffee, to help her feel a little bit more human. Then just the thought of coffee made her feel nauseous. Instead, she wanted water. If for no other reason than to get the horrible taste out of her mouth that she suddenly had.

    “You did” The Videographer said in a tone that reminded Zella of a chirping bird. “Remember how we had two teams working on the same story last year and they weren’t talking to each other so…”

    “I get it” Zella said sharply giving up on finding a cup and following the Videographer down the hall to the conference room.

    “What’s your deal?” The Videographer asked, Zella really did need to learn her name. Despite being annoying at times, she didn’t deserve to be snapped at.

    “I’ve been sick for the last few days” Zella replied, “I thought I felt up for coming in to work this morning, but I was clearly mistaken.”

    “I understand that there is a bug going around” The Videographer said, “Have you been to the clinic?”

    A bug going around, Zella thought to herself. That was certainly an interesting spin on it. She would consider herself fortunate if that were what this turned out to be.

    “A close friend of mine is a Physician” Zella replied, “I spoke with her yesterday.”

    Zella had spoken with Kiki and what her friend had to say had not exactly been comforting. If Zella went to the clinic it might confirm a few things, and then as Kiki had told her, she would have some choices to make depending on the results. Sometimes it was just better not to know.

    “Oh good” The Videographer said with a smile, “It wouldn’t do for the star get sick, even if you insist on being a complete bitch most of the time.”

    Had she really needed to include that last part?

    Upon entering the conference room, it was obvious that the people present fell into two camps. The older men who mainly were there to be in front of the cameras who took oh so seriously, and the much younger crowd of men and women who embraced what had come to be called “Guerrilla Journalism” that the video technology had made possible. The former looked at Zella with undisguised loathing due to what they saw as her lack of professionalism. She only dressed in the business casual clothes they approved of when she was about to go in front of the cameras in the studio. Today, she was wearing blue jeans and favorite leather jacket, but had left the motorcycle or cowboy boots at home. That resulted in a few disapproving looks when Zella took her seat at the table. The latter were those who had entered the new field of Video Journalism because it was the exciting new thing. Many of them also openly admired Zella for what they saw as her pioneering work.

    It was a toss up as to which group she preferred to deal with less.

    As the meeting started, they discussed the projects that they were going to be doing this week. As had been mentioned before, this was mostly to avoid redundant efforts. No one asked Zella what she was up to, they all knew that she had gotten a one-on-one interview with Kiki. Twenty years of friendship and Zella had never done an interview like that with her. Zella understood that Kiki had volunteered to do it as part of an effort to save Zella from herself. Another debt that could never be repaid. The worst part for Zella was that it was expected for it to be a hard-hitting interview. How did she do that without it costing Zella her friendship with Kiki? Looking around the room, she couldn’t help but notice that Yuri was absent and wondered where he was.

    Zella was wrapped up in her thoughts and wasn’t paying much attention, so she hardly noticed when the yelling started and didn’t have the energy to take part. Many of the younger faction wanted to do a story about the small but growing protest movement against the new Chancellor’s priorities in the Universities. The older faction was against giving student groups air because they had memories of the Neo-Jacobins. Unfortunately, many saw all student led movements that way. There were still so many loose ends from that time as well. No one had ever been brought to justice for the Hamburg Stock Market Bombing or the 30th of June Shooting. Both of those incidents had left dozens hurt or dead and though it had been years since the political violence had tapered off, scars remained. Kiki herself had been injured by the leader of the Jacobins. It had been worse than the public had ever been aware of and there had been a guardedness in Kiki afterwards that had not been there before.

    Months later, when the man who had self-styled as Mithras had been found to have an untreated wound that had gotten badly infected. Kiki had discovered the injury, but to save his life she had been forced to do an above the knee amputation. There was a part of Kiki that had reveled in the idea that she had crippled the man who had hurt her. That was the side of her that Zella suspected only she knew about.
    Part 139, Chapter 2405
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Five

    8th September 1975

    Sonthofen, Bavaria

    The old joke about a child in a candy store had applied to where Ben had found himself over the prior two weeks in Kaiserslautern. His presence had been requested to train in the brand-new Arado Orkan B series, as if he had needed to be asked twice. The new planes were built incorporating all the lessons learned over the last five years including the Patagonian War where the Orkan had really made its mark in the skies over the Andes. It hadn’t just been Orkans either. There were also the latest fighter planes from Focke-Wulf and the Albatros trainer by Bohemian Aero GmbH. Ben had taken the opportunity to spend as much time in cockpit as he could while he was there. Who was going to tell him no? An Ace was a rockstar at Kaiserslautern.

    That wasn’t to say that there wasn’t time spent in the classroom. Since the first Orkans had flown, pilots had figured out dozens of tricks involving the throttles, wing-angles, flaps, slats, and anything else they could think of to wring out any advantage they could. The Luftwaffe had a vested interest in making sure that information was disseminated widely. While that was something of a contradiction with how competitive pilots could be. All of them had had von Richthofen’s Dictate pounded into their heads since before they had been allowed anywhere near a cockpit; They lived and died as a Group. It didn’t matter if that was referring to the Hunting Squadron, the Air Wing or the whole of the Luftwaffe. Advanced fighter tactics revolved around two to twelve planes, so anyone who wasn’t a team player had best find something else to do.

    As fun as all of that had been, Ben had needed to come back to Balderschwang. Because there were some things which took far higher priority. Holding Nina’s hand as she walked between Ben and Kiki on her first day in Kindergarten for example.

    “She finally admitted that, shouldn’t the Vatican be informed or something?” Ben asked, “This seems like something they might want to know about so they can get ahead of it.”

    “That isn’t funny Ben” Kiki replied.

    “What are you talking about?” Nina asked.

    “Nothing important” Kiki said, “I told your father something that he cannot seem to get past.”

    Ben just shrugged. He had asked why Kiki had been preoccupied and she had told him why. How was it his fault that he instantly saw the comedy in it?

    “I hope that you can refrain from joking while we introduce ourselves to Nina’s teacher” Kiki said, “We have already made her job considerably more complicated. The last thing we need to do is give her a bad impression.”

    When the school had notified Ben and Kiki that Nina could start the Autumn Term, there had been many questions needing to be asked and things to be done. The school and staff had been subjected to a lengthy security assessment, a process which had probably not been much fun for anyone involved. There had also been many upgrades that had been done to the building of the school that Kiki had happily paid for herself. For her, the matter was nonnegotiable. She wanted Nina and Louis to have ordinary childhoods and was prepared to do whatever it took to see that happen.

    Buffalo, New York

    The mood in the Headquarters of the Curtis-Wright Corporation was surprisingly buoyant. It had taken years, but the House Armed Services Committee, Air Force, and Navy had finally recognized the writing on the wall long after it had been apparent to everyone else. The war in South America had demanded a complete rethink of what had been orthodoxy in aircraft design. For Curtis it had come at a good time because their Chief Designer, Robert H. Widmer had a prototype that had met the new criteria.

    The trouble was that the Air Force and Navy had spent the prior two decades pursuing the idea of Point Defense Interceptors. Big, powerful, missile armed, aircraft that would in theory engage enemy bomber formations at long range. The handful of those airplanes that had found their way into Chilian Service during the Patagonian War had proven wholly inadequate and were easy prey for Argentinian Mirage fighters. The Chilian Airforce had swiftly switched to former Air National Guard Curtis Goshawk IIIs, leftovers from the 50’s, and the far newer Grumman F-11B Super Tiger.

    Widmer’s attitude had not helped matters when he had compared many of the Air Force’s current fleet of “Fighters” to dump trucks, school buses, and garbage scows in a public statement. It had been suggested that this was in retaliation for what had happened when Curtis had first revealed the drawings for their new prototype, the Falcon, which was Widmer’s personal project. The Air Force Brass had almost universally said that all it would be good for was hotdogging over County Fairgrounds as part of an airshow. Them having to admit that initial assessment was totally wrong wasn’t about to happen. That was why they had dragged their feet after Curtis had several working prototypes, long enough for McDonnell-Douglas to produce a protype of their own for a fighter plane with similar performance and handling. Meanwhile, Grumman was in the process of building a new plane for the Navy that was incorporating the lessons learned with the Super Tiger and Curtis-Wright was kept afloat by the role they were playing in the construction of the Lockheed Galaxy Airliner.

    Today, word had arrived that the Air Force had authorized a production run of the Falcons.
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    Part 139, Chapter 2406
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Six

    13th September 1975

    Constanța, Romania

    The arrival of the Squadron was cause for great fanfare in the largest seaport in Romania. Everywhere Louis Ferdinand Junior looked, he saw the blue, yellow, and red flags of Romania mingled with the red, white, and black of Germany. It was painfully obvious what these people’s expectations were now that he was here. The Helmsman was expertly steering the Grindwal towards the pier, the actual size of the Corvette suddenly apparent as they could see hundreds of people there to greet them as they arrived.

    “Looking forward to meeting the parents” Borchardt said with a chuckle.

    “Don’t you start” Louis replied.

    When they had arrived at station in Constantinople, there had been a message waiting for Louis. The Squadron had been ordered into the Black Sea for what had been described as a diplomatic visit. It seemed that the Navy was extremely interested in Constanța and the Danube Delta. From there they could keep tabs on what the Greeks and Russians were up to without drawing to much attention to themselves. Louis was reminded of the string of semi-secret listing posts that Naval Intelligence maintained on Atlantic islands so that they could observe what the Americans were doing. While there were already outposts in Odessa and Sevastopol, the unpredictable, and often openly hostile relationship between Ukraine and Russia imposed limits on them. No one in the BND, MND, and AA wanted to risk another war with Russia and had the goal of containing any conflict between Russia and Ukraine, should that happen.

    The listening posts had been an idea of Grand Admiral von Schmidt, whose legacy the Navy had been built on over the last few decades. The Grindwal was also a part of that. Light, hard-hitting units that could operate over wide expanses of sea. The term glass cannon might have been used to describe the ships, though in an era with nuclear weapons and anti-ship guided missiles it was debatable just how much utility the old Dreadnaughts might have had. The electronic countermeasures, flare/chaff projectors, and the swift agility of the Grindwal herself were a different kind of armor. Louis had conducted drills where they had simulated missile attack.

    The resulting mad scramble that had resulted had been informative. Louis’ greatest hope was that they would never put those systems to the test because in real life they couldn’t reset and start over. Any mistakes go them killed. To drive that point home, damage control drills had been conducted right after the missile drills.

    The idea that Margareta was waiting for him in Constanța with her parents felt a lot like those missile drills. The difference was that this was obviously not a drill, the only difference was that no one was yelling “Vampire!” at the moment.

    “The men are looking forward to liberty after they didn’t get it back in Greece” Borchardt said.

    “I understand that Constanța is almost as good” Louis said, “They will be the toast of the town here. I’m not sure what sort of reception they might have gotten in Athens or Constantinople.”

    “That’s you speaking as the Captain” Borchardt said, “The men just know that they have been at sea for a while and a few days of blowing through their back pay is in the offing. They could give two shits about politics right until the instant it lands them in the local jail.”

    “Thinking about the welfare of the crew and avoiding international incidents?” Louis asked, “Starting to think like an Officer as opposed to being the buffer.”

    Borchardt gave Louis a dirty look. His role as Oberdeckoffizer was a bit nebulous with men in his capacity often filling specialty roles. So, there was some question as to where Greg Borchardt fell into the chain of command aboard the Grindwal. Oberleutnant zur See Bruno Eglītis, the Grindwal’s new XO, the Ship’s Engineer, Doctor, ASW and Gunnery Officers all technically outranked him. At the same time, everyone knew that he was the enforcer of Louis’ will aboard the Grindwal. That had grown a bit more ticklish with the addition of Leutnant Muller to the crew, who now occupied the third in command slot which had once been held by Borchardt because no one else had been available.

    Montreal, Canada

    It was a beautiful September afternoon, the sort that Marie Alexandra wanted to get out and enjoy it. Winter was coming soon enough, and she remembered what last winter had been like. Inviting Henriette had been a good idea, Marie had been planning they were exploring the Little Italy and Mile-Ex neighborhoods anyway. As had happened occasionally in the past, Henriette’s mother had practically pushed them out the door telling them to go do the sort of fun things young women did. Henriette had been dragging Alice’s stroller towards the door. Mrs. Lane had been having none of that. She said that she, but more likely the Lane’s housekeeper Isabella, would mind Alice that afternoon.

    With how Marie had arrived back in Montreal with barely enough time to prepare for the start of the new term they had not had time to catch up in the weeks since. At the moment, Henriette was watching with a bemused expression as Marie talked with the woman who ran the bakery they were in, in rapid fire Italian. She had only wanted to order biscotti for them, but upon hearing Marie speaking in Italian, it had turned into an entire conversation. She didn’t believe that Marie was German, saying that she didn’t have a German accent and that she looked more like someone from Turin or Milan. It was sort of an odd thing to say, still, Marie was able to get directions to the best coffee shop in the neighborhood to go with the Biscotti.
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    Part 139, Chapter 2407
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Seven

    20th September 1975

    Charlottenburg, Berlin

    Zella was staring at the piece of paper hoping that if she stared at it long enough it would change the personal issues that she had. If she burned it would her latest problem go away or would that just cause her another problem. Her mind kept going back to that brief phone conversation she’d had with her mother how that had set in motion a series of events that had led to her staring at a piece of paper as she drew out the pros and cons of a deeply personal decision.

    If only she had missed that call, she wouldn’t have gone to Jena. Or if she and Yuri had been late getting to the party she wouldn’t have been the one to find her grandmother having already suffered heart failure. Then perhaps she wouldn’t have tried to numb herself to the feeling of failure and loss which had led directly to her parent’s disapproval. That in turn had caused her to come home probably before she should have. Then when she had been feeling particularly lonely and still mourning, Yuri had stopped by to check on her and she had clearly not been thinking clearly.

    Any break in that chain of events would have meant that she wouldn’t be here having to do this. It being a Saturday night, she would probably be out watching a band play live somewhere. Or riding her motorcycle around Autobahn 10 before stopping for a lousy cup of coffee at the all-night diner on the outskirts of Werder that mostly catered to Heavy Goods Drivers, but in recent years had become a destination for Rockers and Bikers out of Berlin. She turned her attention back to the paper, as much as she wanted to think about anything else.

    “Pros and cons” Zella muttered to herself as she wrote, Telling my mother in the cons column before drawing a skull and crossbones. Kiki, whose idea this was, was probably going to love that. When Zella had tried to go back to work, she had been called into her Supervisor’s office and told that if she was sick, she needed to go home. Liesel Wehnert, the Videographer whose name she had been unable to remember had ratted her out. The worst part had been that they had insisted that Zella get cleared by a Doctor before she would be allowed to return. The final link in the chain of events that had been her undoing.

    It had been the thing that Zella had been dreading the most and it had taken her a few days to screw up the courage to deal with it. The instant she stepped into the University Clinic and spoke to the Triage Nurse, she could see the wheels turning. The first thing the Doctor who had seen her had done was take a blood draw, then he had used a bunch of medical jargon to order a battery of tests before doing anything else. It was patronizing bullshit. As if Zella didn’t know what most of that meant after having filmed documentaries in hospitals. The worst part was what the first test he had ordered had been.

    Zella had left before the results had come back and had unplugged her phone. It had been a few hours before Kiki had knocked on her door. Zella had forgotten about it, but she had made Kiki her emergency contact to avoid disputes with her mother and as Zella’s Personal Physician she had access to the results of those tests. Zella had no idea how Kiki had gotten to Berlin so fast, but she had.

    “Everyone has gotten really tired of you acting like a teenager” Kiki had said as soon as she walked through the door.

    Zella might have been inclined to argue with Kiki about that. She had built a good life for herself regardless of what was said about her. Except the next words out of Kiki’s mouth had thrown all of that out the window.

    “You are pregnant and that is not something you can hide from” Kiki said. It was confirmation of everything that Zella had been trying to avoid hearing since she had figured out that she had messed up with the pills. Zella didn’t know how long it had been, but it had felt like her head had been full of static during the minutes that had followed. Afterwards, when she had finally calmed down enough to listen to what Kiki had to say, Kiki had told her that she needed to think about what her next move would be. That was where the wretched chart with the pros and cons came in, at Kiki’s suggestion. Of course, Kiki had needed to go back to Bavaria so that she could be there for Nina’s first day of school. She had said that she would be back tomorrow, but Zella had not finished the stupid chart though she had tried no less than three times before to do it. Each time she had ripped it up. That had been satisfying, but only for a few seconds because it changed absolutely nothing. The key problem wasn’t the long list of cons, it was in the list of pros. You are unlikely to get another chance at this. Of all the frustrating things to conclude. Trying to be objective in the face of that made her want to rip the thing up again.
    Part 139, Chapter 2408
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Eight

    28th September 1975

    Balderschwang, Bavaria

    “You aren’t planning on running off to Berlin again this week?” Ben asked, “Are you?”

    “No” Kiki replied, and she saw a look of glee flash across his face. “And that is not an invitation for you to make fun of Zella again.”

    Since it had been confirmed that Zella was pregnant, Ben had made a number of jokes about how any child of Zella’s would inevitably be the Antichrist. This was a bit disappointing for Kiki because she had hoped that her husband had outgrown his animosity towards her best friend. Zella had enough on her plate already.

    When Kiki had arrived in Berlin the previous Sunday she had found several version of the list she had suggested that Zella write out. She also learned that it had been done several times with Zella ripping it up when she didn’t like the conclusions she was reaching. As far as Kiki could tell, it was one of those things where Zella understood her reality on an intellectual level but wanted something completely different emotionally. This coming on the heels of a painful loss had ensured that Zella was a complete mess and would be until she reached some sort of conclusion. Having known Zella since they were children, Kiki knew that almost all of the time emotion tended to win. This time though, who knew what might happen.

    “I’m just joking around” Ben said, “Zella gets off on being violent and hostile to anyone or anything that gets in her way. Everyone knows that.”

    “Would it be so funny if it were Nina fifteen or twenty years from now?” Kiki asked, “What if it were someone who you didn’t have a history with?”

    Ben just shrugged and Kiki wished that she could make him understand that this was not a simple matter. It never was.

    Kiki had never told him about some of the things that had shaped who Zella had become. Working in a male dominated field, she had needed to be tougher and smarter than anyone else around her. That was something that Kiki understood far better than most because it was not so different from being an Emergency Surgeon. There was also what had happened when Zella was nineteen. Ben didn’t really understand all that, being stuck on the incident where Zella had run over his foot with her motorcycle when they had been teenagers. He had made the mistake of making her feel cornered, and that had been the reaction. Kiki understood that Zella reacted in ways like that because she felt she had to. Now this. She had told Kiki that she felt like her whole life had come undone because of what had happened over the last few months and it was impossible to disagree.


    There were many who felt that the only Medal or Order named for Friedrich the Great was a Medal for Service Animals was beneath the dignity of the former King of Prussia. It just proved how little they actually knew. Friedrich the Great certainly loved his dogs and apparently his fellow man as well. It had been that latter part which had been given a great deal of scrutiny in recent years. There were many among the more tradition oriented political parties who were aghast that anyone would suggest that a member of the Royal Family might have been Homosexual. Freddy knew better than to laugh aloud when he heard that. His great however far back great uncle was hardly alone on that score. There were others though that used that rumored aspect of “Alt Fritz” to give themselves legitimacy in a way that twisted the nose of those unwilling to even acknowledge their existence.

    For Freddy, awarding the Friedrich Medal made for a pleasant afternoon spent with Mirai and Alex. The two girls had been Lobbying Freddy and Suga for a dog for months and had even enlisted the help of their grandfather who had pointed out that Freddy himself had a few different dogs over the years, Ueli, Aki, and Frost most notably. It was because of the dogs which he had had which was why he was a bit reluctant. You tended to get extremely attached to them and it was always painful when the time came to say goodbye. When Freddy had lost Frost the girls had been little, too young to understand, and it had not been a good day.

    In the past it had mostly been dogs who had been awarded the Friedrich Medal. There had been a few cats and horses who had received it. Today’s recipient of the Friedrich Medal seemed to drive that home. Of course, the girls were instantly in love with Keks, a silly name, even for a dog though it was perfect for him. He was a dopey looking Basset Hound who been trained in Search & Rescue and was employed by the Fire Department in Bielefeld. There had been a gas explosion that had resulted in an apartment building collapse. Keks had been employed to find survivors under the wreckage. After it had been declared a recovery effort Keks had refused to leave a particular spot. Eventually his handler had directed workers to start digging, apparently just to satisfy the dog only to be shocked when a survivor had been pulled alive from the rubble a full week after the collapse. It was at least the millionth example of how people didn’t deserve dogs.
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    Part 140, Chapter 2409
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Nine

    6th October 1975

    Richthofen Estate, Rural Silesia

    With the older children having returned to school the house felt empty to Ilse. All of them were teenagers these days, so they were hardly children. Only Ingrid was still living at home, but she had started Primary School in Breslau. The result was that Ilse suddenly had more time for her research than she’d had in years.

    Spending most of a year in Argentina had done wonders of Nikolaus’ attitude. Before he had been indifferent to his future, but he had gotten a good long look at what his life would be like if he didn’t go on to University. It was a bit more difficult to gauge Sabastian’s thinking. It seemed like everyone surrounding him wanted him to compete athletically with the aim towards Montreal, which was now only months away. To Sabastian’s complete astonishment, he had qualified for the National Track and Field Team.

    Anna and Gretchen were a bit harder to read. Anna had been forced to mind her manners at school and at home over the last year. It had yet to be seen if she would be able to keep that up forever. Either way, Gretchen still didn’t want to be any where near her older sister if she could avoid it. That was causing a great deal of trouble for their parents, so it was only a matter of time before Tilo and Nancy told Gretchen to get past that, or else.

    That was where Mathilda Auer entered the picture. She had grown into a lovely young woman but did nothing to disguise her odd beliefs and occasionally strange behavior. At the same time, Ilse had seen Mathilda’s love of nature, how she would spend all day walking and singing among the trees with Freyja, the Siberian Husky who was her constant companion when she was on the estate, if they let her. Ilse suspected that was how Mathilda had spent much of her childhood when she had lived with her family in an isolated part of the Baltic Coast. The other thing was that she annoyed Anna like few other people could. If Ilse had to guess, it was almost entirely because Mathilda didn’t care what anyone thought of her, particularly Anna.

    Finally, there was what was currently going on between Albrecht and Manfred the Elder. The two of them had been getting along, with Manfred easing into retirement and leaving the job of managing the family affairs to Albrecht. Then one of the implications of the new Government had come into focus. They had made a campaign promise to declassify the files regarding many of the events of the Second World War and unless there was a compelling and current State interest in keeping those materials secret. This was to the delight of Historians who now had far greater context with which to frame events, there were many who were less than thrilled by this development though. It was rumored that Heinz Kissinger had made an enemy of Ilse’s sister Kat with this action. Many of things she had done were shrouded in secrecy for good reason and Ilse suspected that Kat had many skeletons hidden within those files. As it was, they had released the files pertaining to the crash research projects that had occurred through out the Universities and in Industry during the war. What had emerged from those projects was earth shattering. Jet engines, computers, and nuclear bombs, just to name a few. It was impossible to gauge the impact on people’s lives in the decades since. Albrecht’s name had come up again and again in the University of Berlin’s Computer Science Department. The work he had been doing had been critical for the war effort, far beyond anything that anyone had known about. It also wasn’t an accident that Albrecht had been selected to join the Space Program at its inception.

    Manfred the Elder was not one to ever admit that he had ever gotten anything wrong. That included his reaction towards what he had seen as his son’s evasion of service during the Soviet War. It was stated clearly in the newly declassified files that Albrecht had been expressly forbidden from joining the Luftwaffe like his father had wanted.

    Even worse than making an enemy of Kat, the Government had made an even worse mistake. They had forced Manfred von Richthofen to admit he had been mistaken and he would balance the scales on that score of that were the last thing he did.

    Reichenwalde, Brandenburg

    The sound of a BMW K3’s engine hitting the redline was unlike anything else that Zella had ever heard, and she had the throttle wide open as she raced down a long stretch of highway. It was what her father described as clearing the cobwebs. She had no destination in mind, just riding anywhere else from where she was. Not that she had much luck in that regard. Wherever you go, there you are. Eventually, she found herself on a familiar stretch of road which caused her to slow and turn off the road.

    This was the lake she had come to many times. Zella still had no idea what the name of it was, just that it was peaceful here. That was why she had kept coming back. A few hundred meters up the lakeshore was a campground. With it now autumn, it was empty and quiet. She shut off the engine of her motorcycle and just listened to the wind and that water lapping on the lakeshore for a few minutes.

    “What are you doing here?” Zella heard a voice ask. She turned and saw a woman staring at her.

    “I just had to get away and it is peaceful here” Zella replied, “I had an appointment in the city today that I sort of blew off.”

    “And you came here instead?” The woman asked incredulously.

    “I’m not bothering you am I?” Zella asked. It had never occurred to her that she might be trespassing. The lakeshore was easily reached from the road.

    “No” The woman replied, before walking off.
    Part 140, Chapter 2410
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Ten

    13th September 1975

    Montreal, Canada

    As the Canadian Thanksgiving Holiday rolled around again Marie Alexandra learned a couple different things. The first was the real reason why her grandmother had been so nice to her since she had returned to Montreal. It seemed that there was a rumor that Queen Elizabeth was coming to Canada that summer for the Olympic Games and Marie’s grandmother was hoping that Marie could make certain introductions. As if she needed another reason to be on the first flight to Berlin-Brandenburg as soon as the University Term ended, and the Summer Holiday began. Marie also had no intention of letting her grandmother know her plans. She would let her figure that out on her own.

    The other thing involved what Marie was seeing in the news, albeit the news that was only in the back pages of the papers in Montreal. The formerly classified files pertaining to her mother’s wartime activities had been released and the people who had never liked her in the first place had pounced on them. At issue was possibility that the Soviet War might have ended with Lavrentiy Beria performing a palace coup and possibly allowing a Romanov restoration to help with continuity. Instead, an operation performed by Abwehr with Marie’s mother playing a key role had ended with Beria’s arrest and the bid of Vladimir Kirillovich to become Czar of Russia effectively over. The trouble was that most of the high-ranking people who had been directly involved were dead or long retired.

    Her mother had told Marie about this operation but had not expected the relevant files to be released during her lifetime and it was easy to see why. What was getting thrown around was that the Soviet war had dragged on for another year and thousands had died in pitched battles during that time. Louis Ferdinand, who had been the Emperor at that time had made a rare public statement on the matter that basically amounted to “Would you be so foolish enough to trust the likes of Beria and Vladimir? How long would that peace have lasted?”

    Being on the far side of the Atlantic complicated matters for Marie. She wanted to help but had no idea how.

    Munich, Bavaria

    Ben wouldn’t have minded Zella’s drama if she didn’t make a habit of dragging Kiki into it. Earlier that week, Zella had scheduled an abortion and then had not been able to go through with it. She had ridden her motorcycle out of the city for several hours before finally calling Kiki when she had gotten home. Ben had seen the look of frustration on Kiki’s face as she had tried to figure out exactly what had happened but knew that if he said anything about it he would just be restarting an old, ongoing argument which had been going on for years.

    It was almost a relief when he got summoned to Munich by Albrecht of Bavaria. Even if Ben was unsure as to what the Bavarian King wanted or what agenda he was pressing at this particular moment. Even without that consideration, entering the Winter Residence in Munich was always a daunting prospect. The vast compound was comprised of several massive buildings, courtyards, and gardens. Ben remembered Kiki’s stories about growing up in a similar environment in the old Hohenzollern Palace in Berlin. How she along with her siblings had explored disused portions of the palace that were relics of the world as it had been prior to the First World War. Anyone who knew about that shouldn’t have been surprised by the Hohenzollern family eventually moving to smaller dwellings that while certainly less expensive, allowed far more privacy. In Munich though, it was like stepping back into the Nineteenth Century. The ornate decorations that were everywhere one looked and an army of servants to see to everything being a part of that.

    “Benjamin” King Albrecht said in greeting as Ben entered the billiards room, though these days it played host to whatever entertainment the King had planned. Sometimes that even included playing billiards. Presently, the scene would not have looked out of place in any Royal Court over the last thousand years with a large group of courtiers and the drink flowing freely. The only difference was the choice of entertainment today. At the moment there was a massive color television set with a Football game playing, Bayern Munich if Ben had to guess from the colors. “Get something to drink, we’ve business to discuss.”

    Ben figured that it must not be anything too serious for Albrecht wanting to discuss it openly. In his experience, the Bavarian King preferred to plan his skullduggery behind closed doors, if anyone was an unwitting participant, he tended to spring it on them when it was already too late. Wanting to keep his wits about him, Ben took a soft drink. He was aware that those who surrounded Albrecht would judge him for that, but he had absolutely nothing to prove to them.

    “I got your invitation Sir” Ben said as he joined Albrecht.

    “You follow Football?” Albrecht asked, “Have a team?”

    “Not really” Ben said honestly, “And Kiki would have my hide if I said any other team but Hertha.”

    That was met by a round of laughter.

    “It’s been easy to follow Bayern these days” Albrecht said, “Everyone loves a winning team.”

    “I see” Ben replied, that explained far more than Albrecht intended.

    “There is also this” Albrecht said as he handed Ben a folder. “I wanted to be the first to congratulate you.”

    Opening it, Ben saw that there were several photographs of crumpled aluminum and other assorted debris. There were several typewritten pages summarizing what he was looking at and where it had been found. It seemed that this was a plane, a Grumman F-11B Super Tiger that he had shot down over Chilean controlled territory on 10th of February 1971. He had marked it down as a probable kill, but it had gone unconfirmed as the Chilian Air Force had not been cooperative. This changed that as it was his fifth in the Patagonian War, making him an Ace in two conflicts. Twenty-Four total air-to-air victories over his career.
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    Part 140, Chapter 2411
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Eleven

    19th October 1975

    Charlottenburg, Berlin

    It was Sunday afternoon and it felt like everyone was angry at her. She had her mother and Yuri furious at her at different turns. Yuri had been upset that she had not told him weeks ago. Her mother had been all about how she was clearly not prepared for well, anything. Kiki had asked her to only call if she had an emergency with the frustration evident in her voice. And Aurora… Aurora had exploded at her. Ranting about how she had suffered a series of miscarriages, but with Zella it was an accident? Aurora told her not to talk to her unless she was prepared to explain any of this in a way that made any sense.

    Looking out the window of the apartment which her mother had made a point of telling her was totally impractical, Zella was amazed by just how completely she had wrecked her life in such a short time. She had tried to explain to Kiki what had happened, how she had made the appointment but as the hour approached she had fled out of the city. There was nothing else to say. Something that she had said had really ticked Kiki off this time, as if Kristina von Preussen had never made any mistakes and was the only one on Earth allowed to ever change her mind when it came to major life decisions.

    There was pounding on the door and with great reluctance, Zella got off the couch wondering what fresh new Hell awaited. Looking through the peephole, she saw that it was her Uncle Peter.

    “Are you here to lecture me about how I’ve messed up my life?” Zella asked as soon as she got the door open.

    “I figured that that you are doing that on your own” Peter said, “So my help is hardly required.”

    Zella gave him a glare in reply as he entered her apartment.

    “Actually, your father asked me to check on you” Peter said as he looked at the painting that Zella had attempted to start that afternoon before she had gotten discouraged.

    “I would ask why he didn’t come himself” Zella replied, “But he has not talked to me since Oma’s funeral.”

    “You are going to have to cut Emil a bit of slack” Peter said, “He blames himself for what happened.”

    “What kind of bullshit that?” Zella demanded.

    “He saw that you were falling apart, making poor choices, and did nothing to stop it” Peter replied, “We all did.”

    Zella sat down in her place on the couch as Peter looked out the window at the roof of the department store and the park beyond. It wasn’t raining, but it was a cold, cloudy afternoon. Zella wasn’t interested in talking, so she just sat there wrapping a blanket around herself as Peter spoke to her awkwardly. About the weather, her job, painting.

    “Have you eaten anything today?” Peter eventually asked.

    “Nothing I’ve been able to keep down” Zella replied, with more sarcasm than she intended. She knew that Peter meant well and was trying not to patronize her, but still…

    “That is normal” Peter said, “You are what? Eleven weeks along? Have you had a scan yet?”

    “No” Zella replied. It was actually more like twelve. She knew that because she remembered the exact date, but she felt that it was none of Peter’s business.

    “Since you are now planning on keeping it, you need to start thinking about these things” Peter said falling easily into the role of Doctor, which was clearly what he was comfortable with.

    “I don’t need a Doctor” Zella said, “I know perfectly well what is going on.”

    “Yes” Peter replied, “I see.”

    Zella didn’t think that he did. She wanted Peter to talk to her like he did when she came to visit him in Jena, when he had interesting house guests, and she was a part of the conversation that was going on around the table. Instead, he was here to check on her, whatever that meant, and that was making things uncomfortable.

    “No matter” Peter said, “Do you want to get out of here for a spell as opposed to marinating in self-pity? You must be hungry.”

    Zella looked at herself, she was hardly presentable. She was wearing a paint covered smock and a pair of blue jeans. The idea of going out like this did not appeal to her.

    “I’m not interested going out” Zella said.

    Peter gave her a look. “You cannot hide in this apartment for the next several months” He said.

    “Watch me” Zella replied. That sounded childish to her own ears, she could only imagine what sounded like to Peter.

    “Or we could order something” Peter said, “Eat it here.”

    “It’s Sunday” Zella said, “No one is going to deliver here.”

    “Who said anything about delivery? We can just pick it up ourselves. And do I need to remind you that the Korean and Vietnamese residents of Berlin do things a bit differently?” Peter Asked, “Do you have a phonebook? Everyone knows you have a phone.”

    Zella was bit annoyed by that last comment.

    “It’s holding up one end of the couch” Zella replied.

    “Good” Peter said, “If you could just get it out from under there.”

    As Zella looked at the phonebook wedged under the corner of the couch. She remembered months earlier that she had needed Yuri’s help to get it under there. There was simply no way that she would be able to do it herself.

    “That isn’t happening” Zella said.

    “Then I guess we are going out after all” Peter replied. He didn’t need to seem so happy about it.
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    Part 140, Chapter 2412
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Twelve

    1st November 1975

    Breslau, Silesia

    Everywhere Hans looked, he saw the green and red colors of the FCLB, or just the Legion as it was called, along with the charging Wisent that was the team’s mascot. This was because of what was happening at the Silesian Arena that afternoon.

    There were matchdays, typically those brought people from around Silesia for a fun afternoon or evening. Then there were Matchdays which were at an entirely different level. Today’s match fell into the latter category as Bayern Munich was playing Fußballclub Legion Breslau.

    Hans had discovered this when he had first moved to Breslau. He had followed the rivalry between Hertha and Union Berlin his entire life. When Bayern came to Breslau it was entirely different though, that meant that the entire community went to war. Supposedly, this went back decades to the 30’s. Legend said that was when the Legion lost a match to Breslau and was faced with the prospect of relegation. Someone from the Bayern side had apparently started gloating. That had caused a brawl to erupt in the field as well as in the stands. Hans had been unable to pin down the full truth of that because like so much of sporting lore it was entirely subjective with the members of the respective teams telling very different versions of what had happened. That hardly mattered now because the rivalry had curdled into hate.

    Hans was in the press booth trying to do his usual coverage of a major sporting event. Something which had grown difficult because the trouble had started before the game when there was a shoving match during warmups. It was broken up before blows were exchanged. Then the game began, and all Hell broke loose.

    Hans had never seen so many yellow and red cards in one game, unfortunately that also made the Referees combatants. Eventually, the game ended in a one-to-one tie with scoring forgotten and Hans felt like he was doing commentary on a Boxing Match. In a rare spasm of good judgement, someone had made sure that the fans of each team were kept separate, limiting any brawling to outside the Arena, where the Police would have the upper hand and there would be far less risk of people getting trapped in the tunnels or gates. Then something got mentioned which gave Hans pause. This was the strongest side that Breslau had fielded in years. Today’s game was considered a preview of the Federal League Championship round next year.

    Somewhere over the Austro-German Frontier

    Ben rolled the Focke-Wulf FD121 “Steinadler” over before diving into narrow mountain valley before rolling upright and racing down it. He didn’t have the afterburner on, still he was moving at a good clip with his wingman struggling to keep up. This had been King Albrecht of Bavaria’s idea, to send Ben to JG12, Royal Bavarian Jagdstaffel 23 in particular as a consultant.

    The report about the lessons learned during the Patagonian War had been published months ago, but there was a big difference between reading reems of dry material and having someone on hand who fought in that conflict. He was also flying the latest version of the Steinadler, which he had done the check rides on in Kaiserslautern. The experience was rather different than flying an Orkan or a Pfeil. The Steinadler was smaller and only having a single cockpit, the pilot had a larger workload. It felt more like you were wearing the airplane when flying it and it was certainly a bit snappier in flight than an Orkan. However, that came at the cost of a much smaller payload and less effective radar and counter measures. He had seen the French Airplane that the Steinadler had frequently been compared to, the Mirage F-1 and understood that it was a case of form following function. The two planes were very different once you past the external similarities. Ben also found that he missed having Wim in the back seat because that meant that he always had someone to talk to. Without that, his mind tended to wander during longer flights when there was little else to do.

    Not that Ben had much time to think at the moment traveling through mountainous terrain at a thousand kilometers an hour. He was watching the ground avoidance radar closely and maintaining awareness of his flightpath as he had in the Orkan. At the same time keeping half an eye the dial that showed threats, mostly “enemy” radar from a SAM battery whose goal was to get radar lock on him and a targeting solution. Ben wasn’t making that easy for them as he was keeping a ridge between himself and the SAM battery. His mission was to get close enough the air defenses and drop the practice bombs on the target. There was just the question of getting the concrete filled version of the AS500 bombs there without the simulated version of getting pasted. Despite what Ben had told the Commander of Jasta 23, this was proving a lot more complicated than what he had encountered over Chile and Argentina. For starters, whoever was working the ground radar had obviously read the manual which was completely unlike their Chilean counterparts. The equipment was also in top shape which proved something that the report had emphasized, that degrading and suppressing enemy air defenses had to be a key component of any future conflict. That meant new tactics, technology, weapons, and even specialty aircraft.

    Turning the corner around the ridge, Ben lined up to where he believed the SAM battery was and the targeting computer started showing numbers on the HUD from the radar altimeter. As in South America, he had set the computer for as low and as fast an approach as it could manage. The radar operator noticed the two Steinadlers far too late, even so Ben was aware that his threat indicator showed that the radar was in the process of getting a lock as the bombs released. He didn’t see it, but the drogue chutes on them deployed. That was not to stop them from falling, but to give the plane enough time to escape the blast radius.
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    Part 140, Chapter 2413
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Thirteen

    7th November 1975

    Balderschwang, Bavaria

    There were times when having a high-ranking Medical Officer and the Princess Royal of Germany for a wife was a serious disadvantage. Ben had discovered this again and again as there was very little information that Kiki didn’t have ready access to. That was how she had found out that he had been pulled into King Albrecht of Bavaria’s inner circle and the UZfLv program. As far as Ben knew, meant the same thing as the name of the American program, Suppression and Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses. Of course, the Americans called their program SEAD dropping the first D. Almost every pilot Ben that knew was superstitious to a degree and would likely avoid anything called S/DEAD as if were the plague. They also referred to the aircraft modified for the mission as Wild Weasel, whatever that meant.

    When Kiki found out that Ben had actively involved himself in the project, even flying some of the mock attacks where he could demonstrate to the members of Jasta 23 the tactics which had worked in Argentina she was decidedly unhappy because she had thought that he had gotten past what she called taking stupid chances.

    That might have been the end of it, except Doctor Ernesto Guevara who had walked with Kiki across much of South America when they had been trapped behind the lines during the Patagonian War, had been doing a speaking tour after the book about the experience had become a Global bestseller. He had mentioned the incident where he and Kiki had been trying to charter an airplane to fly them to somewhere friendlier than Santiago. Only to watch as the airport had been blown to smithereens right in front of them. He had Kiki sitting in a taxicab laughing hysterically and saying that she was cursed. Evidently, Ernesto had compared his notes and discovered the identity of the fighter-bomber Squadron that had blown up the flightline of the Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport, Schlasta 5, an element of SKG 18, and Ben himself had been leading the flight. It was a sobering thought that he had only narrowly missed killing his wife, who had been pregnant with their daughter. Considering why he had volunteered to go to South America in the first place, to look for Kiki if he got the chance after she had gone missing, that whole situation had almost taken on the bleakest kind of irony. If Kiki and Ernesto had been just a few minutes earlier getting to the airport or the Jabos had arrived a few minutes later…

    It was about that point when Ben decided that he should probably not fly practice missions for the foreseeable future. Besides that, he had made his point with Jasta 23. What remained was finding the solutions to the problems that he had identified. That was what had prompted him to put a call into Wilhelm Falke, better known to the world as Wim. No one knew as much about the systems and tactics used to defeat air defenses as Wim did. Ben had certainly heard him complaining about those things often enough. What would Wim do now that they were in a position to offer solutions?

    Montreal, Canada

    It had not been Marie Alexandra’s intention to replace Cheshire, but she had always had a cat or a dog. First Fleur, who had been a shockingly tolerant participant in Marie’s games though she would never have done anything to hurt the terrier mix who had been her childhood companion. There was of course Cheshire, the big moggie who Marie had acquired as a kitten. He later became just as much Sophie and Angelica’s cat as Marie’s. Marie also liked Sophie’s puppy Sprocket.

    Earlier that year just after she had returned from Germany, Marie had found stray tuxedo tomcat haunting her grandparent’s garden and decided to see if she could win him over. It had been a slow process, but she had earned his trust. Figuring out a good name for him had taken longer. Eventually Marie had settled on the name Porthos, from the Three Musketeers, which was perfect. In the books and movies, Porthos was a big, strong, boisterous extravert. Which described Porthos the cat during his better turns.

    As autumn was turning into winter, Marie arranged for Porthos to occupy the basement. Whatever objections Oma Blackwood might have had vanished along with the mice that had infested that part of the house. Porthos seemed particularly satisfied and less interested in the food Marie left in his bowl.

    “There is a letter from a legal firm in Ireland, that is odd” Oma Blackwood said as Marie entered the kitchen from the basement. The cook was in the final stages of preparing dinner and Oma was “supervising” though Marie couldn’t imagine her actually cooking anything more complicated than tea or toast. “You are not in some sort of trouble? I know that your mother plays fast and loose with the law at times. I would hate for you to get drawn into that.”

    “No” Marie replied, as she saw the stack of the day’s mail. Out of long practice, Oma and Opa’s mail was opened by the household staff. Marie had felt that it was a violation of her own privacy at first until she found out that it hadn’t been done on purpose. Seeing the letter, Marie saw that Jack must have had it written largely in Irish. “I did some work for Jack Kennedy, one of the firm’s partners, as a Translator last July.”

    “And that is why he is sending you letters written in gibberish?”

    Marie almost said that it was an offer relating to how the entire world was coming to Montreal next summer and he was making a generous offer for her services as a translator. It was too bad for him that she was making other plans.
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    Part 140, Chapter 2414
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Fourteen

    9th November 1975

    Breslau, Silesia

    Helene wished that Hans had talked to her before he had put pen to paper. The column that he had written had run on the front pages of every major newspaper in Germany and far beyond. Pretty much everywhere that Football was a passion. Apparently it had been his understanding that it would just appear in the sport section, but it seemed that the Editors of various newspapers had thought differently.

    In it, Hans had gone on at length about how violence, both on and off the field, was ruining the game that he loved. He recounted how at a recent game it had devolved into beating up on the opposing side with little regard to playing the game. The disgust that Hans had felt witnessing that spectacle was evident. The trouble was that Hans was unaware of just how much influence he had personally. He seemed to think that what he did on television and radio wasn’t that serious. “Just on there to talk Football” was how he put it. Apparently, the viewers and listeners saw things differently. To them he was someone in a position of authority and he gave them a voice when he said that he was appalled by what he had seen on the Football Pitch in Breslau. Two teams, supposedly the best in the League, behaving like bar brawlers was unacceptable. Of course, there were partisans from this or that team who rather vocally objected to Hans’ opinion. Which was hardly a surprise because people like that were always around. Those who had the ability to feel a bit of shame went silent.

    Helene understood the politics of the matter and those who in elected positions tended to look with deep suspicion. Hans on the other hand was being his usual self, he liked to say that the sporting field transcended politics. If only that were true.

    In the past Helene might have asked Kat to help get through to her brother. She was good at that sort of thing except Kat was presently on a sabbatical, or at least that was how Douglas had put it. The was the most annoying thing about the release of the Abwehr Files. People who had risked and sacrificed everything during war, often with the knowledge that no one would ever know the contribution that they had made had been exposed with little effort to give context. Kat was among the handful of those people who were still alive. Those who had hated her for years had seen the Saint Petersburg incident as an opportunity to tear her down but had not considered the minor detail that many Russians considered Lavrentiy Beria to have been the Devil himself. The former Emperor, Louis Ferdinand, had made a rare public statement that was to that effect and in Kat’s defense. Between the disclosure of these files and the continuing publication of Anne Frank’s diaries, there was a good possibility that Kat was out of secrets to conceal.

    Regardless of that, Kat had dropped out of public sight. Anyone who knew where she was, wasn’t interested in telling Helene for some reason.

    Wahlstatt, Silesia

    Over the summer, spending time on his grandfather’s estate had been like living on a different planet after spending much of the prior year in Argentina. Starting with his grandfather, everyone had treated him differently. As if he had done something great as opposed to follow along and do his best to stay out of the way of those who knew what they were doing. There was also this business with him being the Prince of Breslau. While it was the nearest city to where he had lived most of his life, he never really considered it anything special. It was where his mother worked and where to go if he needed anything from the market.

    Niko’s return to Wahlstatt was also bit odd for him for the first couple months. It seemed like everyone was focused on all the wrong things he must have been doing in Argentina. They didn’t seem to grasp the reality of it. Horses, riding with the patrols, dealings with the people who lived in on the Patagonian Steppe had consumed all his time. Except for the short periods in which he had been a guest in the homes of the various landowners he had been too busy for many other considerations. Even then he had been a guest in someone else’s house, so anything other than the most honorable conduct would have ended badly for him. As it was, everyone saw that he now had a Cavalry Badge and a South America Service Medal. It took awhile for his classmates to lose interest because of that.

    The other thing was that there were no more upperclassmen. After years at the school Niko’s class was at the top of the heap. The fear that the younger students had when they delt with them was obvious. This was despite never having done anything to them. It seemed that they had their ears filled with stories about brutal hazing, which was expressly forbidden. Anyone who thought that it was funny found themselves dealing with Bas who didn’t like those who kicked down. At the same time, Bas had the Olympics coming up, so everyone was treating him like he was already a hero. Niko had been asked if he had any plans in that regard, he had thought that it was already too late for that.