Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 140, Chapter 2415
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Fifteen



    14th November 1975

    Moscow, Russia

    Stepping off the airplane, Kat was surprised to be immediately get hugged by Gia’s little boy, though at the age of eleven, turning twelve in just a month and a half, he was not so little anymore. He was just as tall as Kat now and he was talking excitedly to Kat and Doug as they walked to the waiting car.

    It was a bit amusing that Alexei called her Babushka, for his whole life that was exactly what she had been to him. He wasn’t the first surrogate grandchild of hers and that was probably just as well because her own children didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry in that regard. Of course, Gia was going to be in a similar situation in a few months because Anya and Renat were expecting their first. That was something that Alexei mentioned. What did it mean to be an uncle? Personally, Kat felt that Alexei was probably going to be a bigger than life figure for his niece or nephew because that was how these things tended to work.

    Getting in the car, Kat saw that Gia was waiting for them with Alexei on the far side of the back seat and Doug up front in the passenger seat.

    “Alexei didn’t talk your ear off?” Gia asked.

    “He did” Doug replied.

    Gia was amused by that, apparently she knew her son quite well.

    “I need to thank Mikhail for the invitation” Kat said, “It came at a good time.”

    “I understand that” Gia replied, “The release of the Abwehr files filled in a lot of blanks for historians. Perhaps you will now feel free to tell them what you said to that monster in the last minutes.”

    Kat had no response to that as she looked out the window as the car drove into Moscow. What she had said to Beria in the last minutes before he was hung like a common criminal was the cause of much speculation. Up until that moment he had been defiant in the face of his trial and the verdict against him. The brief conversation with Kat had completely undone him and that had resulted in a lot of questions that she had never answered. For Gia, Stalin and Beria were more than just the monsters under her bed. They had come a hairsbreadth from actually killing her when she was still a child, so Gia wasn’t in the least bit bothered by what had happened to them.

    “That is never going to happen” Kat replied.

    “Do you really think that people are going to leave it at that?” Gia asked.

    “I don’t care” Kat said sharply.

    Gia just sat there with a smirk of her face. She had been under the influence of Kat or her husband Fyodor for most of her life and understood the idea that most people would tell you their entire story with little prompting. It just took being willing to listen. That thought reminded Kat of something…

    “Where is Fyodor?” Kat asked.

    “Busy” Gia replied, “And you only need to open a newspaper to see what’s going on.”

    Kat understood that Fyodor had been her counterpart in times past before she had become too senior and well known to play that role. Kat had no idea who the Emperor’s current fixer was. Which was just as well. As for where Fyodor was, any newspaper would have the latest atrocity in Greco-Turkish relations on the front page in lurid detail. While the attitude was “A pox on both your houses” in Germany towards the latest round in that ongoing conflict, the Russian public was firmly on the side of the Greeks. Kat wasn’t sure if anyone really understood the implications of the position they were taking. Gia had just said that her husband was up to his eyeballs in what was happening in Greece, which wasn’t surprising.

    “Besides that, you do know why Mikhail decided to invite you?” Gia asked, “It wasn’t out of the goodness of his heart.”

    Kat had been hoping that it would only be a chance to get out of Berlin for a few days. Too many people knew about her house in the East Frisian Islands or Gerta and Kurt’s house in the Jizera Mountains which had been her preferred places to escape from Berlin. She might have gone to Judenbach but being on a Military Reservation came with its own problems. Perhaps Gia might consider giving her the use of her dacha in the Transbaikal Region of Siberia. It would probably be snowed in for the next several months, until late next spring but Kat didn’t have a problem with that. Finding out that Gia’s cousin, Czar Mikhail II of Russia had an ulterior motive wasn’t in the least bit surprising.

    “What does Mikhail have in mind?” Kat asked, glad that Gia was warning her.

    “The release of the Abwehr Files caused there to be a reexamination of certain events” Gia said, “I am sure that you have heard by now that my cousin Vladimir was stripped of his title and has had his Russian citizenship revoked for being in negotiations with the Stalinists during the war?”

    “Actually, I hadn’t heard about that” Kat replied. That meant that as far as the Russians were concerned, anyone or anything that might have kept Stalin or one of his henchmen in power was beyond the pale. Vladimir Kirillovich had been exposed by the release of the Abwehr Files as having done exactly that.

    “Just how do I fit in?” Kat asked.

    “Mikhail thinks that you played a larger role than you have been given credit for” Gia replied, “And the Duma has endorsed his proposals. I am surprised that you are unaware of this.”

    The truth was that Kat had had so much on her plate with local issues until she had withdrawn from the public that she had hardly paid much attention to the news outside of Berlin. In the weeks since, she had hardly left her house in Tempelhof. Kat suspected that whatever Mikhail had in mind, she wasn’t going to like it.
     
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    Part 140, Chapter 2416
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Sixteen



    15th November 1975

    Novorossiysk, Krasnodar Krai, Russia

    Russia and Ukraine were not at war, at least that was the official version of events. It was sort of hard to tell as the Grindwal entered Tsemes Bay and the port city of Novorossiysk with the Coastal Artillery clearly visible on the ridgetops. As Louis Ferdinand Junior looked at them through his binoculars on the rail outside the bridge, he figured that they were 180mm/56 Pattern 33’s. Those were practically antiques. Not that it would matter much to the Grindwal, the plunging shells would punch right through her hull and being inside the bay would completely negate the Corvette’s advantages of speed and mobility. Even the smaller 130mm guns that were a part of the defenses could do a number on light units.

    The reason why all these fortifications was obvious. The Russians wanted Sevastopol and the Crimean Peninsula back. That wasn’t a secret to anyone, least all the Ukrainians. Louis had been told that this area was considered a flash point if a war broke out. The Ukrainian Navy, as small as it was, was a threat to Russian operations on the Black Sea. Louis could also see that there was a substantial number of light units from the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the harbor. Naval Intelligence had told Louis that heavy units had been moved down the coast to Sochi in anticipation of his visit, much to the discomfort of the tiny nation of Georgia.

    “How would you take this place?” Borchardt asked.

    “I wouldn’t” Louis replied, “Not directly anyway. Marine Infantry would need to land on the other side of the headlands and take it from behind. The Squadron would provide fire support, but it would be the Apes’ show.”

    Borchardt snorted with a slight laugh when Louis said that. The reason why the German Marine Infantry were called that was lost in the history of the Indochina Campaign during the Pacific War. Was there a better term for anyone from one of the four Infantry Divisions of the German Navy who reveled in being the worst of the worst? Anyone who commanded the defenses of Novorossiysk had to be aware of Louis’ line of thinking. So, most of the artillery would probably be set up with turning them around in mind. It wouldn’t make sense to have your strongest defenses pointed in the wrong direction.

    “What do you think of that?” Borchardt asked nodding towards one of the hilltops and what looked like a forest of radio antennae. “Listening post?”

    “I think that the telephoto lens I paid for out of my own pocket had better be seeing a lot of use this afternoon” Louis replied. The small Intelligence Section aboard the Grindwal had insisted that they needed the thing though the Fleet had disagreed, that had been where Louis had stepped in. “And I doubt that even the Russians would make their signal intelligence or communications assets so painfully obvious. That is probably a decoy in case someone starts firing missiles.”

    Borchardt just shrugged. Apparently Louis had a higher opinion of the Russians than he did. The Russians had to have learned something over the last few decades. Hadn’t they? His presence here was a courtesy, though Louis would have to be a fool not to recognize the tenuous balance of power in this region. Just days before he had seen similar fortifications in Ukraine.

    “You are meeting the Commander of the City Garrison and the Officials” Borchardt said, “You think they will be forthcoming about any of this?”

    “I think that they will make sure I see what they want and tell me what I want to hear” Louis replied.

    “Politics” Borchardt muttered with a considerable amount of disgust. “When I first joined the Navy there were a lot of old salts who had fought on the Black Sea or in the Baltic against the Russians. They wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of all of this. The Russians still being here and this stupid game we are playing.”

    “Peace had to break out eventually” Louis replied. This wasn’t the first time he had heard about the attitudes of the generation that had fought the Naval component of the Soviet War. They had played second chair to the Heer, mostly involved in keeping the supply lines open to shipping and barge traffic across the Black Sea to keep Army Group South fed. That was after most of their heavy units had been transferred to the Pacific and the surviving Russian Naval units had been able continue to wage a protracted guerrilla war on the Black Sea. Louis’ understanding was that there had been a lot of bitterness with hate towards the Russians in general, not just the Bolsheviks, and that had left a stain. It was a forgotten theater of the Second World War and one that had suddenly become critically important to Louis’ mission.

    “There is also the Romanian question” Borchardt said, and Louis wished that he had not brought that up.

    Louis understood that his career was headed down a dead end due to politics, meaning that he was unlikely to rise any further than his present rank. The King of Romania had offered him a commission in the Romanian Navy and with it Flag rank if he became the Prince-Consort upon his marriage to Margarita. That was the lens through which the Russians, the Ukrainians, the Greeks, everyone, viewed their dealings with Louis.
     
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    Part 140, Chapter 2417
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Seventeen



    21st November 1975

    Odessa, Ukraine

    Climbing stairs wasn’t exactly Louis Ferdinand Junior’s idea of fun. With him being in Odessa and Margareta having come to meet him, it seemed like a good time to play the role of tourist. The respective protection details for the two of them were far enough away to let them speak freely, which was good. Even so, Odessa was a port city which meant that Louis barely got a second glance, Sailors and Ship’s Officers were a dime a dozen it seemed.

    The Primorsky Steps, or Potemkin Stairs as they were famously known, were one of the most instantly recognizable landmarks in Odessa. This was because of the film Battleship Potemkin and the scene which Sergei Eisenstein had filmed on those stairs in the 1920’s, though it was rather obvious that Eisenstein had taken a whole lot of liberties with when and where the events had taken place. It was a scene that had been recreated dozens of times in various films since. Most recently by George Lucas in his latest Star Wars film in response to critics who had complained that the Galactic Empire was seemingly too stupid and cartoonish to be believable though it was clearly based on the French Empire under Napoleon. Soldiers marching in lockstep over the dead and wounded as they fired volleys into a crowd of mostly women and children. Then there was the Cavalry waiting at the base of the stairs for anyone attempting to flee. That certainly made an impression. Evil didn’t need to be smart to crush a rebellion, it only needed to be ruthless.

    “You’re being quiet today Louis” Margareta said as they walked up the stairs. The funicular which ran parallel to the stairway rattled by.

    “I was just thinking about how when I was at the Mürwik Naval Academy they made us watch Battleship Potemkin and Alexander Nevsky” Louis replied, “These stairs played a starring role in Battleship Potemkin.”

    “A bunch of German children at a military school watching Soviet era Russian films?” Margareta asked. The tone of her voice suggesting that she found that a bit hard to believe. “In Paris there are a lot of the starving artists and self-styled student revolutionaries around who watched those films. Perfectly happy to talk at length about class struggle so long as they receive regular checks from their parents.”

    “It could not have been more different” Louis said, “We also watched a lot of other movies, British, French, and American, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, or Howard Hawks for example. There was always a discussion afterwards. The point was to be able to analyze what we were seeing and what was being said, recognize propaganda.”

    “Sounds like an interesting class” Margareta said as they topped the stairs. There was a carousel to their right and a bronze statue which curiously was of a man in Classical Roman garb directly in front of them.

    The weather on the shores of the Black Sea had been relatively mild, with the daily temperature above freezing. In her last letter, Kiki had said that where she was living in Bavaria was already getting snow and Louis had seen the weather reports spelling out what it was like at the moment in the Ukrainian interior. Which meant a sunny day in Odessa wasn’t that bad, still there was a cold wind blowing off the sea, so Louis was glad that he had remembered to wear his wool coat. The way that Margareta was dressed, one would think that she was on an expedition to the Arctic.

    “Can you tell which ship is yours?” Margareta asked looking back down the stairs at the harbor which they had an amazing view of. There were a large number of ships anchored out there under the midday sun. Among them the 2nd Eastern Mediterranean Squadron, which Louis presently commanded.

    “That is the Grindwal right there” Louis said stepping beside to Margareta so she could see what he was pointing at.

    “A big grey ship?” Margareta asked, “Aren’t they are hard to tell apart.”

    “She is a Corvette, which is quite small as warships go. Put the Grindwal next to Fischadler II and you’d see” Louis said, mentioning the newest Aircraft Carrier in the High Seas Fleet which was named for the original Fischadler of the Pacific War. “I would know her at a glance.”

    “Really?” Margareta asked with a smile.

    It was almost true. The Grindwal was anchored next to Estoc, which was a big help. The Säbel, the Grindwal’s true sistership was anchored a few hundred meters further out and almost identical in appearance. While also being a 1970 Class Corvette, Ozelot was of later production, so she had the enlarged radar needed for the installation of the Sperling missile system. That bolstered the already formidable air defenses of the Squadron and the bulged radome atop the Ozelot’s superstructure made her easy to spot. The Jagdterrier and Natter, the two Fast Gunboats that rounded out the Squadron were hidden from view as they were moored on the far side of the Ozelot.

    “Yes” Louis replied, “Now, about this lunch you promised. Now I’ve nothing against the Grindwal’s Cook, but something different would be very welcome. Then we can see the sights.”

    “Sounds good” Margareta said as they crossed the street and into the City Center. She had told Louis about the food at the hotel she was staying at, and it really did sound good. What he had not told Margareta was that if he had one more helping of potted meat-kimchee stew he wouldn’t be as likely to stop the wild talk by the crew about keelhauling the Cook.

    When they passed what smelled like a tobacconist’s shop, Louis saw that there were several newspapers for sale out front. While he couldn’t read Cyrillic, he saw the photographs.

    “Tante Kat is in the news again” Louis observed.

    “You call her that?” Margareta asked.

    “I was nearly twelve when I found out that Katherine wasn’t actually my aunt” Louis replied, “That is how close she is to my family.”

    “You know about her reputation? Former Royal Assassin, supposedly.”

    “Most of what people say about Kat isn’t true” Louis replied.

    “I don’t know, you should never, ever underestimate a redhead” Margareta said with an impish smile.

    “Of course, you would think that” Louis said.

    Margareta blew a raspberry at him as they walked up the street.
     
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    Part 140, Chapter2418
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Eighteen



    23rd November 1975

    Moscow, Russia

    Getting the Black Eagle had felt absurd decades earlier. That was after Kat had survived the shootout outside the nursery in the old Winter Residence with that group of killers sent by the very man who had ultimately resulted in this latest bit of absurdity and Kat remained the only individual who had been made a full member of the Order of the Balck Eagle who was not also a member of the Hohenzollern family as opposed to a Knighthood of the Order. That was at least concrete. Kat had saved the lives of Kira, Freddy, and Michael. Unknown to her, Kira had been pregnant with at the time, giving birth to Kiki in December of that year. When you factored in what they had done with their lives in the years since, the impact of what Kat had done became staggering. Freddy was now Emperor Friedrich IV of Germany. Michael was the King of Bohemia, and the exact benefit of his pursuits was debatable. Kiki though, she had personally saved thousands of lives first as a Paramedic and then as Field Surgeon. Finally, there was Louis Ferdinand Junior along with Vicky and Rea who were born later. A whole lot of good had come of that single action on Kat’s part.

    That was at the start of her strange career. Now, bookending the other side of her career was this latest development, her being awarded the Order of Saint Andrew by the Russian Czar and Duma. The surreal part was that these were people who should hate her for some of the things that she had done to them.

    The opening of the Abwehr files had revealed the role she had played in the capture of Lavrentiy Beria. There had also been the extensive back and forth in those files detailing that Kat had turned his execution into an undignified spectacle. Kat recalled that she had not been punished for that incident, but apparently she had almost been demoted and given a letter of reprimand for it. Of course, she had been awarded the Pour le Mérite for her role in the capture of Beria so any punishment for her might result in the whole thing being thrown into question. It was something that the OKW and Abwehr had not been able to afford at the time, so Kat had been sent to Wales as a consult with the SAS. She had met Elizabeth on that trip, then the Princess and designated heir to the throne of British Empire.

    Kat was almost disappointed about that outcome. When she had baited Beria in the minutes before he was hung, she had done it because she had felt that mere hanging was too good for him, and she had not cared about the consequences, allowing anger and disgust to get the better of her. All she had cared about was that Beria represented everything in the world that Kat personally despised. The Abwehr files had buttressed the claims of those who had complained that Kat had gotten away with everything for years.

    The Russians saw things differently.

    They seemed to think that Beria dying without all the begging and screaming would have been an injustice. There were also the many other things mentioned in the citation. The key role Kat had played in the capture of Stalin. Keeping Gia safe during the years after the Tumbler Ridge massacre. How she had honored Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaeva Romanova, Gia’s mother, by making her the first Dame Commander of Berlin’s Order of Merit and the only Dame of the Order of the Tigress. Both of those had been awarded posthumously which was something of a break from tradition, and Kat remembered the look on Gia’s face when Kat had handed them to her as her mother’s proxy. That had been what had actually prompted her to come to Moscow despite her own misgivings about this. She had a considerable debt to Gia still. Too protect her, Kat had taken Gia away from the life she had known. Gia had lost everything in the process including her identity. Then years later when Asia had painted herself into a corner, Kat had failed Gia again by obeying Kira when she knew that what was happening was wrong on many levels. Gia had made a bargain with the Devil to save Asia and had bravely faced the consequences of that action afterwards. She could have just buried it in the same manner that Kat had with so many other matters in the past.

    Looking in the mirror, Kat saw someone who she hardly recognized. Like if she needed to be reminded of her age every time she saw herself. She had too much dignity to color her hair. Or was it simply a refusal to admit her age because of pride? The copper tresses she’d had in her youth were long gone with how faded her hair had gotten. Aunt Marcella had told her that her grandmother had gone completely white by the time she was sixty, Kat was already well on her way there. There was also the aspect of this which required her to display the prior Orders and medals that she had received. Stars, medals, ribbons, and a few different sashes pinned to her tunic or draped over her shoulder and across her body. The Russians would see that she had already been awarded the Order of Saint Catherine and the gold medal with the two-headed eagle which had been awarded to Kat when she had ironically been named a Voyevoda of the Russian People. Though she had retired years earlier, Kat was still required to wear the uniform of a General of Parachute Corps for this occasion.

    Stepping out of her hotel room, Kat saw that Doug was waiting for her and he was not alone. Aunt Marcella, Gia, Josefine, Tatiana, Malcolm, Marie Alexandra, Sophie, and Angelica were waiting for her. To Kat’s surprise, they had been joined by Petia and Darya from her household, Anne, and Leni from the sisterhood, and even Cosimo De Medici, Angelica’s father. Someone had gone through a great deal of expense to get all of them here.

    “Here to see me get ritually humiliated?” Kat asked, they didn’t need to have found that funny.
     
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    Part 140, Chapter 2419
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Nineteen



    26th November 1975

    Flensburg

    “Yes Aunt Tilde” Monique said as she trooped up the stairs with a heavy box in her arms. For people who were supposedly retired, her grandfather and great aunt were surprisingly active in the community. They thought that it was wonderful that they had someone young like her to help out.

    Monique had also learned that arguing with her grandfather’s sisters was completely pointless. At best, the three of them would form a united front against her. Most of the time though, the disagreements they had with each other came to the fore. As Monique found out, when that happened she was a just another voice in the argument and because she was a niece she could be completely disregarded. She still wasn’t sure if that was family dynamic or cultural. Monique’s great aunts had never been particularly clear on that.

    Setting the box down where it fit in what had once been a spare bedroom, Monique looked at the frightful jumble that probably had had accumulated over the last few decades which her grandfather a rotating number of his sisters had lived in this house. She knew better than to mention it to anyone unless she fancied clearing it out herself. Sooner or later, Tilde was going to want exactly that, but Monique was in no hurry.

    Walking back down the stairs, Monique saw her grandfather and Tilde sitting at the table. A map was spread out on the table, and they were looking at it intently. From the looks of it, it was one of those places in the world that was so remote that the surveyor had just drawn straight lines. They were talking in that strange language that Monique still couldn’t understand more than every third word after a year. She had grown up not far from the border with Lorraine. Despite how much people in Fossoy hated the Boche and those believed to be descended from them, the lure of making money transcended politics. So, Monique had understood German before she had arrived in Flensburg. The language of the Diné was absolutely nothing like French or German.

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

    There were more roads into the Navajo Nation these days, Sjostedt could see that. Still, it was still far from anything else. If they went there, they would spend a great of time going from place to place. Not the least of which was Window Rock where there were many in the Tribal Government curious about what had been going on with Sjostedt and his family over the last several decades. Most of all, he wanted to go to Rock Point, or the Red Valley in Arizona or further north to Mexican Hat across the State Line in Utah. His earliest memories were of those places as he had traveled with his parents and grandfather between the various outposts and encampments in the Mesa desert. That was before his father died and his grandfather had brought them back to Europe.

    “We could go in the springtime, before it gets too hot” Tilde said, “That only leaves the question about what we do with the girl?”

    “There is no question” Sjostedt replied, “Monee is one of us and I think that it would be good for her to see where she really comes from.”

    “Northern France?” Tilde asked.

    “An impoverished corner of the world with a people still reeling from a war fought decades ago?” Sjostedt asked in reply, “Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”

    Tilde gave Sjostedt a frown.

    Among Sjostedt’s sisters, Tilde was the one who had been the most reluctant to accept Monique into their family. Nina had the exact opposite opinion, while Ilse withheld judgement. She had pointed out that there was family resemblance between him and Monique and that it was up to her to take her place with them. It was typical of the many disagreements that they had had over the years.

    Looking up Sjostedt saw Monique looking down the stairs at them. “Why don’t you join us Doli?” He asked. Monique was a bit annoyed when he called her by that pet name, meaning Bluebird, in his opinion it perfectly suited her. It fit perfectly with the connotations of Monique Clara Chanson, a name which translated to “One Clear/Bright Song.” It had probably not been the intention of her mother’s family to give her a name with such a deep meaning, but it was something the Sjostedt had encountered often. People walking around with names that told stories about their families and the history they had lived through, yet totally unaware of that.

    Monique sat down in an open chair and was looking at the map of the American South-West with a great deal of curiosity.

    “Your aunt and I were just discussing travel arrangements we were making for this spring” Sjostedt said, “I suggested that come along.”

    “Arizona?” Monique asked, “Colorado? Like Cowboys and Indians?”

    As soon as she said that Monique realized the mistake she had just made. The expression on her face was the one of dismay, the same one that she frequently had when she stepped over a line. Sjostedt could forgive her for that. She was still learning after spending the first fourteen years of her life separated from who she was.

    “Definitely Indians” Sjostedt said, “And who’s to say that those things are mutually exclusive, though herding sheep is a bigger deal than cattle?”

    The look on Monique’s face went back to curiosity. It seemed that Sjostedt’s answer had shifted her thinking, which was good.
     
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    Part 140, Chapter 2420
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Twenty



    1st December 1975

    Tempelhof

    Aunt Marcella was deeply reluctant to admit that she was not at young as she used to be. As it turned out traveling all the way to Moscow a week earlier had been a bit much for her at the present state of her health and that had landed her in the hospital.

    This time the problem was exhaustion, just during the examinations the Doctors had discovered a few major problems any one of which was serious enough to keep her there. Kat understood that the real issue was the hardening of the arteries around the heart and the heart itself not being able to work as efficiently. It was something which happened with age, and that Marcella was being kept under close observation as the Surgeons considered the best course of action. Again, her age and health were factors. Marcella was seventy-eight years old and had grown frail in recent years, which complicated everything. While they had not come out and said what they were implying it to Kat and Hans who had come in from Breslau, it was clear that they had to be prepared for every eventually. Neither of them needed to be told what that meant.

    That had made Kat reluctant to put Marie Alexandra on an airplane back to Canada. It would be a terrible thing if she had to turn around and come back right away under decidedly less happy circumstances. However, Marie had already missed enough of her studies in Montreal so in Kat’s thinking, getting her back there took priority. While it would have been nice to have Marie attending University closer, not if it came at the price of having her behaving like her older sister.

    Tatiana had been her usual charming self with only Malcolm being able to talk to her. As far as Kat knew Tatiana was continuing her studies of Anthropology while working as an Analyst in the Human Intelligence Section of the BND. Kat worried that her source inside the BND wasn’t giving her the complete picture. Asia and Kris had told Kat they would do their best to keep Tatiana out of harm’s way, but they all knew that was an empty promise. Kat understood all too well that those above Asia and Kris saw Tatiana as a disposable commodity because they had to. They made decisions in the national interest and hopefully greater good, she also knew in her heart that if anything happened to one of her children she would chuck all of that out the window to personally rip those responsible to pieces. Kat didn’t care about the politics.



    Fort Lewis, Washington State

    It came a bit late, but Ritchie was reminded just how much being far from friends and family during the holidays sucked. He had missed out on Thanksgiving, and it was looking like Christmas was going to be cut close, depending on his ability to get on a plane back to Los Angeles. He had been able to talk to Lucia and Steven for a few minutes at a time, but that wasn’t the same. Lucia said that she was looking forward to seeing him when he came home. Steven was now old enough to get excited about the prospect of Santa Claus coming and Lucia understandably wanted Ritchie home for that. Hell, he wanted to be home for that. As it was, he was going to finish Warrant Officer Candidate Training School, hop on a plane to LA for Christmas, then turn around and get on another plane for Fort Meade Maryland for Specialty Training for US Special Forces ahead of taking a slot in the 19th Special Forces Group’s 1st Battalion, Company C, which was based in Los Alamitos.

    Walking across the parade ground, Ritchie heard some of the others in his class singing a joke cadence about a girl driving around in a sports car because some guy was stupid enough to sign power of attorney over to her. That was just one of the hazards of being in the Army and it made him glad that he could trust Lucia. Between her job at Ralph’s and the pay increase that he had received upon being selected for WOCTS, the two of them were doing better from a financial standpoint than they ever had in the past. Just leaving Lucia by herself grated on Ritchie. He remembered how his own father had been absent for weeks or months at a time, traveling across the American South-West in pursuit of seasonal work, mostly in agriculture. During the summer Ritchie’s whole family had come along and that had not been a social visit because there had been work needing to be done. Lucia’s experience was similar enough that neither of them wanted that sort of life. Now though, there Ritchie was far from home. He remembered how his mother had told him that he needed to meet a woman who understood the realities of his life and so-far Lucia had been exactly that. He felt that he needed to keep up his end of the bargain though.

    Entering the barracks, he was struck by how different it was from when he had been in the 82nd Airborne and even the Green Berets. There was no need for Mickey Mouse bullshit. Every man was a professional who knew it all front and back, so treating them like a bunch of recruits would probably be counterproductive. There was an added layer for Ritchie in that they all knew that he was Special Forces. “You are like the guy from the movie, right?” That was a question he had gotten often, and he wondered exactly which movie that was.
     
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    Part 140, Chapter 2421
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Twenty-One



    2nd December 1975

    Washington D.C.

    “What does this say about the relations between Russia and Germany?” Nixon asked.

    “That is a matter of perspective Sir” The expert replied, “On one hand the Russians being closely allied with the Greeks gives them the wider access to the world that they have wanted for centuries. They are neck deep in the Turkish mess because of that. On the other hand, the Germans have a mutual defense treaty with Ukraine and the Ukrainians have been doing their level best to be a thorn in the Russian’s side for the last few decades. They are still angry about the famine during the Soviet War. There is also the Romanians who are hoping to have Friedrich the IV’s younger brother marry their King’s oldest daughter, which could radically change the regional balance.”

    That was exactly the sort of wordy answer/non-answer that Nixon had come to hate since he had assumed office. The man was a foreign policy expert, in theory, but he had just used a lot of words to tell Nixon things he already knew. The Greeks and Turks had hated each other since time out of mind, the Ukrainians hated the Russians because of what the Soviets had done to them in the 30’s and 40’s. Even Nixon knew that it only took mere mention of the second Holodomor to cause people in Ukraine and Belarus to fly into a rage. Of course, it was not in the least bit surprising that the German Empire was pursuing their interests on shores of the Black Sea. They had interests damn near everywhere else.

    “Harry Truman once asked to speak with a one-armed economist” Nixon said, and the expert frowned.

    “What the President is trying to say is that he appreciates your efforts” One of Nixon’s aides said, much to his annoyance. He was tired of the so-called experts whose knowledge would be known to anyone who might be bothered to open a newspaper or two.

    “Thank you, Sir” The expert said through gritted teeth. What exactly had he been expecting?

    Mercifully, that was when the door swung up and Nixon saw Frank Church and Patrick V. Murphy were waiting. Church, he had a look on his face that was reminiscent of the cat that had just eaten the canary. Having been the Commissioner of the New York Police Department, Murphy was almost impossible to read.

    Because of the Aleshire scandal, the FBI and CIA had ended up with egg on their face. Both the Agency and the Bureau had been excoriated by the press over what had happened right under their noses for years. Murphy and Church had been appointed because they had the reputation of being reformers and had set about cleaning house. That was something that was long overdue if a cuckoo like John Aleshire could remain undetected for decades. They were still trying to reckon with the actual damage that Aleshire had done, a task which had proven surprising difficult mostly because Aleshire himself had refused to cooperate.

    “If you could excuse us” Nixon said to the Foreign Policy expert who was looking to leave anyway. Nixon turned and looked out the windows of the Oval Office as the man left the room. The thick, bulletproof glass distorted the view. It was as perfect a metaphor for the situation which Nixon found himself in as he could have found anywhere. Not that there was much to see today. It was a grey afternoon, not particularly cold though with it being in the low fifties. Pat had told him over the phone that it was in the mid-sixties and raining in Southern California that morning. She thought that was cold. He had told her that she ought to take a look at the weather reports on the East Coast and she just laughed, Pat said that she would come back to DC that spring, but if it got too hot like it had last summer she was on the first plane out. Nixon knew that she was joking, she was flying back next week, and the plan was to spend Christmas with the girls at Camp David.

    With a heavy sigh, Nixon looked back to Church and Murphy. He noticed that the room had been cleared. Whatever this was, it was clearly “Need-to-know” and anyone who didn’t need to know had been asked to leave. Too often, things discussed in the White House found their way into the pages of the Washington Post or New York Times if they failed to control the flow of information. The fact that it involved the Directors of America’s Intelligence and Counterintelligence together in the same room spoke volumes. Normally, the CIA and FBI ignored each other at best.

    “So, what do you have for us Frank?” Nixon asked. Guessing that the CIA Director was the reason for this meeting.

    “Our friend in Berlin came through” Church said handing Nixon a folder. Opening it, he saw a typewritten page with several names on it.

    “I see” Nixon replied.

    “We can roll this whole thing up” Church said excitedly. If this really was what Church thought it was, then this was a major coup by the CIA. “We need to act on this.”

    That was when a thought came creeping from the back of Nixon’s mind. It was early December, the absolute doldrums of the election cycle with the next election almost a year away. The timing for such a victory was terrible. If that was how it worked out.

    “Actually, we don’t” Nixon replied.

    “Excuse me, Sir?” Church asked.

    “As Director Murphy can tell you, getting information from an informant is just the beginning of the investigation” Nixon said, “We need to find out who these people know, their contacts, the network. Then we can roll the whole thing up.”

    We can also make damned certain that the Germans were not playing them as saps again, Nixon left unsaid. That had happened too often in the past.

    Church’s face fell as Murphy had a slight smile. Obviously, Church had been hoping to get the lion’s share of the credit. Nixon had just put the ball in Murphy’s court.
     
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    Part 140, Chapter 2422
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Twenty-Two



    5th December 1975

    Charlottenburg, Berlin

    Grading papers in the staffroom was how Jo spent most of her afternoons. She didn’t like working in her classroom once the students went home for the day. It was too quiet and various noises in the room would drive you insane as Jo had discovered when she had started at this school this year. At the moment, she was reading an essay written by a student of hers who was too clever by half. It was the sort of paper that would get the student a high mark, except it was as if he were deliberately trying to anger Jo.

    Once Suse moved out of the house they had shared in Wunsdorf, Jo had decided that she needed a change of scenery, and it would be nice to work with students who were not old enough to vote. The job offer Jo had received from the Realschule in Charlottenburg had come at a good time. Finding an apartment in Berlin was taking longer than she had thought that it would though, and she was commuting across town from Kat’s house in Tempelhof.

    “What are you doin’ Josie?” A rough voice asked, as there was a pop-hiss of a can of beer opening.

    Jo looked up and saw Ian, who Jo guessed was a Welsh transplant because he said he had lived in Cardiff, who taught English in the Realschule and coached the Football team. He looked less like a teacher than anyone else who Jo had encountered. Even wearing the clothes appropriate for someone in his position, Ian still looked the part of the Rocker that he was during his off hours. Ian had told Jo all about how he had originally come to Berlin to be a Builder but because of the visas had gotten messed up, he had been unable to get a work permit. Needing to come up with something quick to avoid an uncomfortable trip back to the UK, Ian had enrolled at University because that was where his girlfriend at the time was. To his astonishment, he had excelled as a student even as his career as a Guitarist in a Rock band had gone nowhere. Now at the age of thirty, his irreverent attitude and lifestyle made him extremely popular with the students, much to the annoyance of the Headmaster and many of the parents. Comparisons to the Pied Piper of Hamelin were used a lot. On the first day Jo had arrived at the school, she had made it perfectly clear to Ian that she was not going to take any shit from him and that he was decidedly not her type. Oddly, that was when he had decided that they would be friends. As it turned out, the two of them were the outsiders in the school faculty, so they did get along well.

    “Don’t let the Headmaster catch you with that beer” Jo said.

    “Its after-hours” Ian said, “And besides, he’s gone home for the day. When the cats away and all that.”

    “You pay attention to the movement of the Headmaster?” Jo asked. “That seems like a lot of effort with little in return.”

    “No, I paid a few of the kids to keep an eye on the carpark” Ian said, clearly satisfied he had come up with that idea which was wrong on so many levels. “They tell me when his car leaves.”

    “I don’t suppose that there is any way you could do that without encouraging delinquency” Jo said.

    Ian just shrugged. “The boys and girls need something to do, I suppose” he said, “They could be doing far worse.”

    Helping Ian break the rules? That was the sort of thing most of the students hardly needed to be asked to do.

    “This is not a joke” Jo said handing him the paper she had been reading, “Look at what I get to deal with, what you are encouraging.”

    With that, Ian took the paper and read through it, laughing a few times to Jo’s annoyance.

    Looking at the top of the page, Ian saw the name. “Lindemann, I’m not in the least bit surprised.” He said, “I had him in my first period class last year, he gets off on yanking people’s chains.”

    “You see the obvious problem?” Jo asked, “While this essay meets the requirements assigned, the aim here is not to get a passing grade.”

    “With the understanding that you would be the straight man in the joke, as it were” Ian said, “This paper is full of inuendo, suggestions, and goes right up to line of what would get him into serious trouble. No one ever accused him of being stupid, this is brilliant for a twelve-year-old.”

    Which meant that the student in question was expecting Jo to overreact. She had once been told that adolescent boys posed a problem for her, stemming from her appearance. Suse had joked about for years that Jo looked like a Nordic Goddess. Most of the trouble had not been from her students though, instead it was their fathers acting like complete bores and the occasional jealous mother. It amazed Jo just how often paunchy, balding, middle-aged thought that she would be in the least bit interested in them. Of course, they were barking up the wrong tree, but Jo understood that for her the personal and the professional had to remain forever separate.

    “So, what am I supposed to do about it?” Jo asked, only to get an evil grin from Ian.

    “Give him an ace and make him read the paper in front of the class” Ian replied, “Then call his mother, tell her that her son’s crush on you is entirely inappropriate.”

    “That is cruel” Jo said.

    Ian shrugged again. “You want Till to stop being the class clown or not?” He asked.
     
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    Part 140, Chapter 2423
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four hundred Twenty-Three



    12th December 1975

    Mitte, Berlin



    Sophie felt like she looked completely absurd as she glanced a reflection of herself in a mirror that was used to give an illusion of additional space in the entry of the Old Winter Palace. This wasn’t helped by Tatiana’s opinion of things. That it was an outdated practice that was elitist, patriarchal, and a complete waste of time. But since when had she cared too much about what Tatiana thought? When she just happened to agree with her, Sophie thought glumly to herself. Aunt Marcella had told Sophie that years earlier Tatiana had refused to take part, promising to cause a massive scene if she were forced and had even threatened to use extremely creative measures to embarrass Kat. Kat had reluctantly conceded that the introduction to the Imperial Court was an opportunity for her oldest daughter, it was her choice. That had played out around the time of Sophie’s arrival in the household, and she had not been aware of all that had been going on. Sophie just wished that she had a fraction of Tat’s courage when it came to matters like this.

    “You made it after all, Zoey” Gabbi said with a smile, delighted that Sophie was here. Her half-sister had been born into an aristocratic family without most of the issues that Sophie had. So, her presence tonight had been expected from the moment she had been born because Gabbi belonged in these circles. On the other hand, most of the people at this event would have been scandalized by Sophie’s very existence just a few decades earlier. She was under no illusions about that.

    “I thought that you said you were not going to come?” Gabbi asked, and Sophie sort of wished that she could turn invisible. “Especially after the orientation.”

    “I thought so too” Sophie said without elaborating. Kat had left her little choice. She had simply pointed out to Sophie that they had given her a whole lot without asking for anything in return and to just consider what being introduced to the Court meant for her. Guilt had done the rest.

    During the weeks prior, Sophie had learned what would be expected of her over the Winter Social Season with events planned for every week between now and the 11th of February when the one of the largest festivals of the year would take over the center of Berlin. The Summer Season would start in May and conclude in August. After that, what Sophie did next was entirely up to her, it was the hope of the Empress though that those of her group would see the benefit of being a part of her inner circle and come back next year. Sophie got the impression that if she came back it would be one those better to be a guard than one of prisoners, sort of thing.

    “Err, shall we?” Sophie’s other problem tonight asked awkwardly.

    Sophie’s escort for the night was the seventeen-year-old son of a friend of Kat’s. Kat had told her that they had a great deal in common. So far, Sophie was finding that he had far more in common with a box of rocks and the way her towered over her, he was almost comically tall. Even worse, he attended one of the Prussian Institutes, exclusive gymnasiums where the Ancient Houses sent their particularly useless sons. When he showed up at Kat’s house that evening, he was wearing the red and grey formal uniform of a Cadet. He had a few medals, for athletics and good conduct at the Institution, which wasn’t particularly impressive. With a bit of reluctance, Sophie took his arm. There was an etiquette to this that Sophie had drilled into her head over the last few weeks.

    “Once we are in there, you can have your choice dance partners” Sophie said.

    “Oh, I thought that…” Sophie’s escort said, before stopping midsentence. He sounded disappointed.

    What exactly did he think this was? And what was going to happen? This whole thing was an obligation, and he was a part of that. Not a blind date or something equally stupid. Looking at his face, Sophie realized that Kat and his mother had been unfair to him. He must have had never had a chance to do anything like this, kept sequestered far from anything social which wasn’t carefully controlled. Even tonight’s event which was well chaperoned was radical freedom for him. Sophie wondered what he would make of some of the art and music festivals she had attended over the last couple years.

    “I’m sorry Sabastian” Sophie said, “This is not about you, my involvement with this… production, it wasn’t my idea.”

    “I thought that girls liked this sort of thing” Sabastian replied.

    “What gave you that impression?” Sophie asked.

    “I have two sisters who wanted to come to this, but Anna isn’t invited until next year” Sabastian replied, “Gretchen still has a few years, something which my mother is happy about.”

    How did you begin to explain to someone like Sabastian things like economic class? How someone like Sophie’s father, the man who Kat told her was little more than a sperm donor, had treated her mother like a plaything and thought that he would get away with it because of that? Sophie doubted that he could ever understand.

    As they entered the formal ballroom, Sophie heard Sabastian announced as Fähnrich Sabastian Reier Markgraf von Schultz zu Oppeln. She was aware that meant that he was the son of the Marshal of Silesia. Then she heard her name, Sophie Pauline Sommers, but they finished with saying that she was ward of Katherine von Mischner. Nothing more. She hoped that he understood just what that meant.
     
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    Part 140, Chapter 2425
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Twenty-Five



    15th December 1975

    Wahlstatt, Silesia

    Bas had finally made it back late the night before after a rare trip home over a weekend. It was particularly strange because it was so close to them all leaving for the Christmas Holiday. Naturally, that was all anyone wanted to talk about, but Bas said that he was interested in talking about what had happened. He sat there eating his breakfast, ignoring everyone until he had Niko were walking to lecture hall for the first class of the day. The end of the academic year might still be months off, but they had the exams to sit to receive the Abitur ahead. Which meant that they needed to know anything that their examiners might throw at them. Niko had realized that the months he had spent in Argentina were weighing on him. He had been told that he needed to keep up his studies regardless of where he landed, but with everything else going on there simply had not been the time. He had spoken with the Headmaster about it and Oberstleutnant Gruber had told him that the knowledge that the world would not always be accommodating of him was an important lesson to learn, it was up to him to carve out the time necessary for his studies. It was in that moment that Niko figured out that the Headmaster had known exactly what was going to happen to him in Argentina. That was what he had been doing for months, making up for lost time.

    That was what Niko was thinking about when Bas finally spoke up.

    “I went to the apartment that my parents have in Berlin” Bas said, “My mother wanted me to be presentable so that I could escort this girl as she was introduced to the Court. There was this formal reception, it was strange.”

    “That was all?” Niko asked, “Why all the secrecy?”

    “What secrecy” Bas replied, “Not wanting to talk to the entire class is hardly keeping secrets. Last I looked, my life isn’t their entertainment.”

    “I didn’t mean the entire class” Niko said.

    “I’m talking to you now” Bas said, “Without the audience.”

    The two of them had more or less grown up on Opa von Richthofen’s estate or Aunt Katherine’s house. Which meant that they had always been close as brothers. Niko should have known that Bas would tell him the story when he felt like it and not a moment sooner.

    “So, from my parent’s apartment I went to Aunt Kat’s place and, do you know Sophie?” Bas asked,

    “Sort of” Niko replied, “I’ve seen her around, but we are on totally different wavelengths.”

    Bas just nodded.

    Niko knew Sophie in passing. She had lived at his Aunt’s house for several years, but he had made little effort to get to know her after she had rather pointedly ignored him the few times they had met. The few times they had been forced to interact she had not made things easy. Niko had no idea that Berlinerisch really was a thing until Sophie had made a point of using it when talking to him.

    “She was the girl I was escorting to the opening of the Winter Season” Bas said.

    “Sophie?” Niko asked, “I thought that she wasn’t into socializing?”

    “She did tell me that her involvement wasn’t her idea” Bas replied.

    “She said that” Niko asked, “Whose idea was it then?”

    “I don’t know” Bas replied, “I get there, and she was wearing this white dress that shimmered as she walked down the stairs. There was also this jewelry she had on, diamonds, I think.”

    “Aunt Kat probably had something to do with that” Niko said, “She is associated with one of the top fashion designers in the city and goes all out with events like this. Dolling up her girls until you can barely recognize them.”

    “Well, it worked because she looked incredible.”

    “Really?”

    “Like an actress at that film festival in France that shows films from all over” Bas said, “You the one with palm trees.”

    “You mean Cannes?” Niko asked.

    “I think that’s it” Bas replied, “I read an article about it and none of the movies named seemed like anything I would sit through.”

    Niko figured that there was probably a great deal of truth in that about the nature of films that were meant to appeal to reviewers and critics. Bas preferred action films of the sort that were not known for challenging their audience and were extremely unlikely to be shown at the International Film Festival held in Cannes.

    “As I was saying though, Sophie looked incredible” Bas said, “She acted like she didn’t like me very much though.”

    Because it wasn’t an act, Niko thought to himself.

    “That’s over with I guess” Niko said, “You won’t have to think about her anymore if that is how she is.”

    “You don’t know?” Bas asked, “She is going to Montreal with us next summer, Women’s Road Cycling.”

    “I don’t know if I am getting that chance” Niko said. He had looked into if there were any events where he might be able to qualify to compete in the upcoming Summer Games. It was something which he and Bas had dreamed about for years. The best shot he had was on the Fencing team to go as an alternate this year which would be a major leg up to compete in the Moscow games. Even that was dependent of someone getting injured. The presence of Sophie Sommers was an additional complication.
     
    Part 140, Chapter 2426
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Twenty-Six



    18th December 1975

    London, England

    This might have been a cheerful time of the year. Just in the dismal streets of London, Christmas, Peace on Earth, and good will to all men seemed rather far away. The streetlights were a bit spotty in this neighborhood and in the early morning hours it seemed like the city center was spots of light between vast pools of darkness. That was an annoyance because the headlights and flat, split windscreens on the old Johnston Sweeper left a lot to be desired. As Steve had discovered since he had started this job months earlier, people threw away the damnedest things and he preferred to see that sort of thing before he hit it. This wasn’t helped by the drizzling fog further restricting visibility, and it was too bad that it wasn’t quite cold enough to snow. If it were snowing, Steve could use that as an excuse to take the Johnston back to the garage and call it a day early. For reasons of safety, he thought to himself.

    This is how it was, Steve thought to himself, getting up around midnight so that he could be driving the Johnston along the planned route of the day. It was fortunate that the weather was bad, otherwise there would probably be people yelling at him for making so much noise. Though if he skipped their block, they would be pissed about all the crud that would pile up. Steve’s supervisor told him that there was no pleasing some people, so not to worry about it.

    This job, which he was lucky to have, wasn’t what Steve had in mind when he had left school. He had studied Architecture and had had a job as a Draughtsman, until someone in management had suddenly realized that no one was building anything in London these days. So, it was a mad scramble to get a new job before he found himself sleeping rough. Driving the Johnston Sweeper didn’t seem so bad compared to the alternative.

    Taking another attempt to adjust the heater as the Johnston was on a long straight street with no cars parked on it, Steve cursed at the thing. It seemed that it was all or nothing with the heater. If he cracked the window it would let some air in, but he knew from bitter experience that the inside of the cab would be dripping wet in seconds. Then the whole thing smelled of mildew for the rest of the shift. Perhaps it might have been tolerable if he had tunes, but company forbid having a radio in the Johnston as a matter of policy. The hole in the dashboard where the radio had once been, which served to mock him.

    Turning onto another deserted street, Steve peered through the darkness. Soggy newspapers, random bits of paper, and presumably food wrappers tended to accumulate in the street. The Johnston vacuumed them up into the hopper in the back, the spinning brushes got anything more stubborn than that up off the pavement. He had learned not to think too much about what he saw in the gutters. Looking up, he caught a glimpse of the soot darkened bricks that made up the buildings on this block in the headlights of the Johnston. Day or night, brick or concrete, the view was largely the same.

    Frequently, Steve wondered if this was what it must have felt like in Rome in the final days of the Empire. There were no Visigoths or Vandals waiting to sack the city though. Who needed them when they had that pack of thieves in Westminster which already performing the same role. Steve remembered the General Election a couple years earlier. The Tories had been elected on the promise of a new dawn for Britain. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it had been one of those dawns where you wake up with a nasty hangover, a black eye, and only the foggiest memory of what you were up to the night before.

    As if summoned by Steve’s thoughts, a familiar figure appeared in the headlights of the Johnston. Taking his foot off the accelerator pedal, the slow-moving Sweeper rolled to a halt. Rolling down the window, Steve yelled out, “You trying to catch your death out here?”

    Dave just looked up and had that grin of his when he was still a bit more than half drunk. “I was trying to get home” He said, which was simply stating the obvious.

    “I’ll give you a ride then” Steve replied.

    “I want to get home before New Year’s” Dave said, it being long standing joke about how slow the Johnston was as it worked its way around the city.

    Even though Steve knew his boss would have kittens if he knew that Steve had let a friend ride with him, but Dave’s flat was along the route and what he didn’t wouldn’t hurt him. Besides, it would give Steve someone to talk to for a bit.

    “I thought you were headed for the job center yesterday?” Steve asked as Dave settled into the passenger seat.

    “Fat lot of good that was” Dave replied, “The usual fun there.

    Then Dave switched to the snooty voice, presumably the tone used by the councilor at the Job Center. “We got three choices for a young man like you” Dave said, “Army, Navy, and Air Force.”

    “For real?” Steve asked.

    “He might as well have” Dave replied, “It was as bad as that bloke who was trying to sell us on Australia or New Zealand a few weeks back.”

    Steve remembered that conversation at the pub. The man in question was obviously trying to recruit warm bodies for distant parts of the Commonwealth doing work that was probably not much better than what they were already doing. Dave had shut him down by asking if he had any suggestions that didn’t involve places where the pastime was fucking sheep.
     
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    Part 140, Chapter 2427
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Twenty-Seven



    20th December 1975

    Mitte, Berlin

    The Alexander Marketplace was in full splendor for the season. The air was filled with the strong smells of cinnamon and roasting chestnuts. At first Kiki had been a bit concerned that Nina would gorge herself on sweets until she was sick in same manner that Nella had years earlier. Fortunately, Nina had a bit more control than her aunt had had. Still, it was the fun going from stall to stall in the marketplace. There were plenty of wonders to look at. Nina was pulling at Kiki’s arm as she wanted to rush from place to place because there was so much to see.

    Earlier that day, Kat had told Kiki about how she had commissioned a formal jewelry at one of the workshops in the upper floors here before showing her the matching necklace, earrings, and bracelets. They were beautiful pieces and had been a gift for Sophie for when she had been introduced to the Imperial Court. Kat had then told her that she had told Sophie that she was only lending them to her, and that they had needed to be returned by the end of the evening. The truth was that they belonged Sophie, but Kat understood that she would never accept such a gift.

    If Kiki didn’t have Nina with her, she might have gone upstairs to where the workshops were located. It would have been interesting to see the process as well as seeing the finished products in the stalls where they were being sold. Instead, Kiki was having to content herself with walking around making her purchases. It was a bit disappointing that the kind Russian woman who sold various kinds of pickled vegetables and fruit preserves was not here this year. The people who ran the stall on either side said that she had moved on to bigger and better things. Kiki was happy for her if that were true.

    As they reached one end of the central concourse, they came upon the Christmas tree that towered over them and Nina stood awe struck by the sight of it. The lights were not electric, but jets of flame. The ornaments went along with the industrial theme, like the vision an ancient pagan god’s vision of the future. Up close, it was clear that this tree wasn’t actually a tree. It was made of concrete and steel.

    There was a small crowd of people talking to a man who was standing next to a sign that said that he was Heinrich Vogt, the one who had designed the tree and had overseen its construction. Kiki stepped forward to tell him how incredible it was, but when she saw him she stopped and was frozen in place. The shape of his face, but especially his eyes, were unmistakable. Kiki knew instantly who he had to be.

    “Does Kat know you are in Berlin?” Kiki asked.

    “In this town Kattie knows if a squirrel farts in the park” Heinrich replied. For years, Kiki had heard that Kat had a number of brothers and sisters. She knew Ilse, but Heinrich was completely different. He lacked Kat’s hard edge and didn’t seem in the least bit fragile like Ilse. That name he had used, only those in Kat’s direct family called her that and he had created something as incredible as this. His warmth reminded Kiki more of Hans, though Hans didn’t favor their father nearly as much as Kat and Heinrich did.

    “I’m Kiki by the way” Kiki said, “I don’t know if Kat told you about me, or what she did if she did.”

    “She mentioned you” Heinrich said, “You’re the Surgeon, right?”

    “Among other things” Kiki replied.

    “She was rather proud that one of her girls made it through Medical School.”

    “This is incredible” Kiki said looking up at the tree, changing the subject to something other than her.

    “My girls said that I ought to do an art installation like this one for ages” Heinrich replied, “Getting it in sections from Essen turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than I had thought it would, but they’re saying that the Emperor himself might come take a look.”

    “I’ll tell Freddy that he should” Kiki said.

    “Freddy?” Heinrich asked.

    “Emperor Friedrich” Kiki replied.

    “You make it sound like you know him” Heinrich said, “Of course, it seems like so does half of Berlin.”

    “At least half” Kiki replied, “I have a connection or two that are real.”

    She figured that telling Heinrich that Freddy was her older brother would be a bit pointless, he was one of those people who saw her as just Kiki as opposed to THAT Kristina. She was however going to tell Freddy that he did need to see this.

    “We’ll see” Heinrich said before seeing Nina peeking at him around Kiki. “Who’s this?”

    “Nina” Kiki replied, “My daughter.”

    “I see” Heinrich said, “They are fun when they are that age, they don’t stay that way for long so enjoy it while it lasts.”

    With that, Heinrich moved on. Kiki got the impression that he was a busy man. Or at least he was busy when he was answering questions about an art installation he had done despite being a Metal Worker rather than an artist. Of course, Freddy had once told her that there was a fine line between engineering and art.
     
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    Part 140, Chapter 2428
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Twenty-Eight



    24th December 1975

    Los Angeles, California

    Ritchie got a number of curious looks at the Airport as he walked from the gate out to where Bobby was waiting to pick him up. He had encountered this before when he had flown across the country to visit home when he had been in New York. The difference was that at least most people had known what Sergeants stripes meant. Those who Ritchie encountered on the flight between Seattle and Los Angeles were unfamiliar with what a Warrant Officer even was. The green beret with the 19th Special Forces Group blaze was what drew the most comment. He had been asked what it was.

    Ritchie was reminded of his conversation with Parker years earlier after they had made one of their unexpected vacations to a part of the world that most people couldn’t find on a map. There was a massive disconnect between the military and the public. As if that was something that he was unaware of already. This stood in stark contrast to his time in the Los Angeles Police. There he had had been involved directly with the public and the politics that came with it. The us and them attitude that existed in the Department, as well as the hate and fear that many had for it was shocking to most outsiders. The opposite was true with the military, most of the public was unaware of what they actually did outside of movies and that created its own problems. It was exactly as Parker had told him. Most people sleep in their beds at night blissfully unaware of what was being done in their name. A key part of their job was ensuring that the public never found out, because that would mean that they had screwed up spectacularly.

    During the lectures in Fort Lewis, Ritchie had been given an overview of exactly what someone in his position was going to be and the line about not screwing up came to mind. The expectation was that he would be a Combat Leader, Mission Specialist, and an Advisor to whatever Commanding Officer of whatever unit he was attached to. In the 19th SFG’s detachment in the 40th Division that meant more that he would be doing far more than just leading a single LRRP Team in the Mojave Desert as he had before. He would be directly responsible for preventing that very sort of screwing up.

    “You’re being quiet” Bobby said, as he drove his car through the afternoon traffic which was heavy even on Christmas Eve. Lucia and gone to the family home in Pacoima for Christmas Diner this year and was helping out with the preparations. Ritchie was going to get there just in time.

    “Just hoping that Lucia won’t be too sore with me taking off and leaving her with the kids” Ritchie said looking out the window. That was partially true. He didn’t know if Bobby would understand the rest of his thoughts.

    “That is the least of your worries, Mom might kill you when we get home” Bobby said, “Did you hear about what Mario did?”

    That had an ominous note to it. Their younger brother had been working at the Lockheed assembly plant with Bobby in Burbank, not much of a way to get in trouble there. Mostly because no one wanted anyone messing around when that could result in lawsuits with liability in the hundreds of millions of dollars and possibly an equal amount of lost revenue for the company.

    “No, I haven’t heard” Ritchie replied.

    “Mario got bored and blew off the job at Lockheed to go surfing up the coast” Bobby said, “Mom read him the riot act for that when she found out.”

    “When the Hell did Mario get into surfing” Ritchie asked, though he could have asked “Why” as well.

    “Don’t worry about it” Bobby said, “But then she tells him that he needed to either get a job or get out, he decided to follow the example of his big brother.”

    Bobby didn’t need to sound so amused.

    “Do you know where he is?” Ritchie asked, he had a sinking feeling about why their mother would be angry about this.

    “The fucking Army sent him to Wisconsin” Bobby replied, “You didn’t mention the freezing cold in your stories, did you.”

    Winter in Upstate New York and Massachusetts had been bad enough, Wisconsin was supposedly taking that to a whole different level. Ritchie had heard horror stories about pissing off the Brass and getting sent to either Fort McCoy or Fort Irwin. He had experience with Fort Irwin during the summertime which had been as close to Hell on Earth as he could imagine. Fort McCoy during the winter was supposedly just as bad, as in it got too cold to snow there. There was also the business of sending recruits as far from home as could be arranged. He had heard rumors over the years that it was deliberate policy. There were also rumors that it was the same policy that had resulted in National Guard Units in certain States having obsolescent weapons and equipment. For some reason, the 40th Division wasn’t a part of that.

    The Recruiter must have found Mario to be an answer to his prayers. A newly unemployed Highschool graduate with an older brother already in the Army. Now he was missing Christmas diner and was far from home. Small wonder Mom was pissed.

    “Is there anything else I should know?” Ritchie asked.

    “Just the usual family stuff” Bobby said, “Everyone is happy you made it back in time.”

    “Except for Mom” Ritchie said, and Bobby laughed.
     
    Part 140, Chapter 1429
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Twenty-Nine



    25th December 1975

    Mitte, Berlin

    The studio was located in the penthouse apartment that belonged to the Hohenzollern family. Zella had visited it several times before because Kiki frequently stayed there whenever she was in Berlin and didn’t want to go through the bother of opening up her cottage on the grounds of the Winter Residence in Plänterwald.

    Normally, Zella would have been a bit put out over having to work on a holiday. This however was different. Perhaps Kiki had talked her brother into it, or Freddy had decided to request Zella on his own, she wasn’t sure exactly, but she had been asked to give the interview that would be the follow-up to the Emperor’s Christmas address to the Empire. It would be going out on all the major radio stations and television broadcast channels, so it was the sort of thing that defined an entire career.

    For Zella herself, this had come at the perfect time. She had found that she was running out of time. At the Hospital, she had been told that her pregnancy was progressing normally. The trouble was that her employers expected her to go on maternity leave at six months, which was the beginning of January. The other wrinkle was that ARD was a public broadcaster and they were looking at the political aspect of all this. Zella felt that her life outside of what she did in front of the camera was no one’s business but hers. The Chairman of ARD’s Berlin affiliate disagreed. He had told her that her marriage status and gender made this a political issue. Zella had seen that this was one of those times when arguing would make things worse. The physical realty wasn’t helping as she was nearly six months along and anyone who saw her could tell.

    Yuri had offered to marry her but hadn’t thought this through. He was technically Zella’s subordinate even if they hadn’t worked together in months. Despite ARD’s policies when it came to interpersonal relationships, Zella knew that they would not hesitate to land on her with both feet. As it was, she was going away and taking the problems she presented with her, so they didn’t have to think about it.

    Then there was Yuri’s mother.

    Yuliya Kozlova saw nothing wrong with Zella’s situation, which was exactly the opposite of how Zella’s own mother saw things. She felt that it was tame compared to what she had faced when Yuri had been born three decades earlier. She had never told Zella the details, but it didn’t take much effort to fill in the blanks. Yuri’s paternity being totally unknown told a story in itself. For Yuliya this was her first grandchild and Zella saw her constantly because of that. She was also one of the Russian sisters and Zella had heard the rumors about what they were capable of, so it was difficult to tell her “No” when Yuliya became too intrusive.

    Today’s interview would be the last hurrah before Zella would be required to bow out for the next year. Then she would have a few months to try to get things together before she would have the baby. It all seemed so daunting.

    Watching Freddy giving his address, Zella thought that she heard a bit of dislike creep into his voice as he mentioned the present Chancellor. Zella had heard talk about some of the minor parties that were part of the governing coalition with the National Liberals. Mostly about how they had a mindset that would have fit in well in the Court of the Habsburg Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. To their great disappointment pogroms and witch burnings were no longer fashionable. Like his father before him, Freddy tried to have a somewhat progressive outlook, something that was made difficult by occupying an Office that was essentially a Medieval institution. Zella had several questions addressing that very topic.

    Then Freddy mentioned that the family had new addition with his children receiving a puppy from retired Generalfeldmarschall Manfred König von Richthofen zu Silesia. Apparently, it was of the weird mixed breed dogs that von Richthofen had on his estate that were descended from Friedrich and Wilhelm, a pair of Dachshunds he had been given as a joke several years earlier and what he thought were local terriers. It seemed strange to hear about how all three of the Emperor’s children were old enough to have a dog, but with the youngest, Prince Eduard being four years old, that was true. Like most people, Zella thought of them as being small children, but Princess Mirai was nearly twelve.

    While Zella was not planning on giving the sort of interview that might be called “Soft Ball” there were a few questions that she had for Freddy. Namely how he would handle having a daughter who would probably be every bit as wild as Zella had been in a couple of years. Freddy would probably respond with a bit of humor and joke about sending Mirai to a convent. That was where Zella’s relationship with Kiki would trip him up. She knew that his father had done that once to Rea and Vicky when they had gone too with one of their pranks when they had been teenagers.

    With that, Freddy concluded his address and Zella glanced at her notes. This was going to be the biggest moment of her career and she was intending to make the most of it. As the production crew signaled that they were in a break, two chairs were brought out. Freddy gave he a smile before taking his seat and Zella couldn’t help but notice the direction his eyes went as she walked towards hers. He had probably known for months because he had talked to his younger sister. If he thought that would cause Zella to go easy on him today, he was mistaken. Zella retuned his smile and thought about how this was actually going to be fun.
     
    Part 140, Chapter 2430
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Thirty



    31st December 1975

    Balderschwang, Bavaria

    It was New Year’s Eve, but no one felt like celebrating this year. Ben knew that for Kiki it was particularly hard because she needed to hold herself together for Nina. The way a child experienced grief was all consuming, both Ben and Kiki had been involved in dangerous occupations in the past. They understood the risks and accepted that. Nina though, she was dealing with the sorts of things that troubled adults.

    Things had been going wonderfully as they had enjoyed the Christmas Holiday with a winter storm having closed the Observatory for a few days. Kiki had found watching Zella giving a particularly tough interview to her older brother a rare treat. Two days after Christmas, that was when things had taken a turn.

    Having been a fixture in their lives for the prior decade and a half, Rauchbier had always been there, content to be close to them. Suddenly he was gone and that left a shattering void. The Veterinary Clinic had told them that it was stroke that had left him with a deep neurological deficit when they had brought him in and there was little that could be done. From almost the instant that Nina had been born, Rauchbier had been her constant companion and guardian. Kiki had told Ben that for her this felt the same as when she had lost Hera, she couldn’t imagine what it must be like for Nina. Hera had lived nearly twenty years and Kiki had been an adult at the time. Rauchbier had originally been part of a childish joke by Kiki’s brother, but he had become very much a part of their family. When the weather got better, they were planning on traveling to the Summer Residence in Potsdam and interring Rauchbier’s ashes on the terrace with the other family pets. Kiki remembered the impromptu service that she along with her brothers and sisters had performed when Ueli Freddy’s foxhound had died. She said that was exactly what Nina needed. Ben didn’t feel the need to point out that Nina wasn’t alone in that, the two of them would be right there next to their daughter when they said their goodbyes.

    Despite it being well after her normal bedtime, Ben was letting Nina stay up so that she could count down to midnight. Kiki had agreed that they needed to give her a rare treat after everything that had happened.

    In the final hours of 1975, they talked about the changes that had occurred. Not just the obvious, but how Nina was no longer an only child, how riding a bicycle had turned out to be harder than she had thought it would be. Nina wasn’t particularly thrilled over the prospect of finding herself with a little brother and had said as much when Ben had mentioned it to her.

    Ben had mentioned that in addition to his work at the Argelander Observatory, he was doing important work with Wim Franke that would help others like him make it back home in the future. What Ben had not been able to tell Kiki and Nina was that the Luftwaffe High Command had caught wind of the project. The result was that the stamp of official secrecy had been placed on it. They felt that if there was an advantage to be gained in any future conflict, then they wanted to be the only ones who knew about it.

    Finally, Kiki who had listened to Ben and Nina talk had said that she was looking forward to going back to her career as soon as Louis Bernhard was old enough. It was a reminder to Ben just how when given a choice, Kiki almost always chose the most difficult path. Ben understood why she did it and wished that she would rest on her laurels this time. Still, regardless of the political issues that were presently a barrier for further advancement, Kiki’s ambitions had not changed. Ben knew in that instant that she was planning on dealing with that the same way she had dealt with every other barrier in the past, and God help anyone who got in her way.

    As midnight neared, Nina had dozed off in her chair as Ben told Kiki about the most recent discoveries made by the huge primary telescope in the Observatory and the other more specialized telescopes and instruments. He had photographs in binders which Kiki always enjoyed looking through. In many ways he wished that it were possible for Kiki to be as open in her career but had realized that she was protecting him from some of the terrible things she saw on a regular basis.

    As midnight arrived, Kiki gently woke Nina up and they headed out to the back porch. As the hour was struck fireworks were shot off in the center of Balderschwang and the bangs echoed off the mountain slopes. It was nothing like the massive fireworks display that was happening at that very moment in Berlin, but it was a welcome close to what had been a hectic year. Then after a few minutes they headed back into the house. Out of long habit, Ben held the door open for a minute with the expectation that… He closed the door quickly when he realized what he was doing and why. Kiki noticed and a look of sadness crossed her face.
     
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    Part 141, Chapter 2431
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Thirty-One



    16th January 1976

    Mitte, Berlin

    It was said that Augustus Lang would look out the windows of his office and just watch the anonymous people pass on the sidewalk and the avenue below. It had seemed strange that a man at the pinnacle of Government would waste time in such a manner, then Heinz found himself in the office looking down at the street named for the man who had walked down into the basement of the old Reichstag Building in a doomed effort to disarm the bomb which had leveled that building. The new building, the one Heinz was in, had been built atop the ruins and the body of Karl Weise had never been found. The memorial marker that was next to the front doors of the building was essentially a gravestone. Heinz had heard talk of a man sometimes seen wandering the halls of the Reichstag building late at night wearing the field grey uniform that Heer Soldiers wore back in the 30’s. Heinz was a rational man, so talk of the ghosts of the dead from the bombing struck him as patently absurd. Even so, he would be fool if he didn’t realize that there was more than one kind of ghost. This office, those that surrounded it, and the halls of the Parliament already had the weight of history of History upon them. This had been where Lang had been at the apex of his power even as the seeds of his own downfall had been sown. It was a lesson that those who had followed him ignored to their own peril.

    Then Heinz caught sight of a man on the sidewalk holding up a placard with a photograph of Heinz’s face on it. It was the image that was popular with the University crowd of him with his right eye being blind. The implication being that he couldn’t see the danger that was coming from that direction. It just proved what they knew. The far-right parties that the NLP was in coalition with were composed to Monarchists who believed that they should be the Monarch and the Nationalists who believed the more or less the same thing except they usually called it something else. Their craving for power was the only thing that kept them pulling in the same direction, but Heinz knew that was tenuous. At any moment they might start arguing among themselves and he would have the headache of smoothing things over until the next argument, sometimes only moments later. He was well aware of the actual danger posed by them, it involved getting trampled if he made the mistake of getting between one of them and a television news camera so that they could preen a bit before bitterly whining about how the world was unfair to them and who they thought was to blame.

    Turning away from the window, Heinz looked back at the notes from the latest briefing on his desk. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. The student protesters were getting a disproportionate amount of attention from the BII, but they had said what Heinz had already known. Most of them were harmless with groups like the Neo-Jacobins having disbanded when their leaders had landed in prison. Instead, there were nebulous threats from across the political spectrum with the BII basically saying they wouldn’t know what was serious until something changed.



    Fort McCoy, Wisconsin

    “Ritchie said he would have talked you out of it if he had not been up in Washington, but it’s a bit late for that now” Bobby had said over the phone when they had talked the day after Christmas. “Being bored in Burbank riveting aluminum panels has got to be better than freezing your nuts off in Wisconsin.”

    It was sort of hard to argue that Bobby was wrong.

    The whole thing had not been well thought out from the beginning. Mario’s real consideration had been that the thought of going back to work at the Lockheed assembly plant and working the riveting gun with the Quality Control Inspector breathing down his neck the entire time had filled him with such loathing that a few days up the coast, surfing with some friends in Santa Cruz and Big Sur last summer had seemed like godsend. Mario’s mother had been furious with him when he got back because she had gotten the call from Lockheed leaving a message that said not to bother coming back.

    Bobby had told Mario about how Ritchie had told him that it might not have been a coincidence that an Army Recruiter had just happened to run into him when he was newly unemployed and with few prospects. They would have known about his technical background, he had built airplanes for crying out loud, and kept track of these things. They would have also known that he was Ritchie’s kid brother. Of course, the Recruiter had told Mario exactly what he had wanted to hear. They were extremely good at that sort of thing and if Mario had been bothered to read the papers he had signed, he would have seen that the Army wasn’t obligated to keep any promises made to get his signature on the dotted line. It was something that he had had a lot of time to consider as he had done basic training in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.

    It hadn’t been that bad when Mario had gotten there, but autumn had turned to winter and then it had started snowing. The Barracks had become a complete mystery to him. How could it be both freezing cold and uncomfortably hot at the same time? Finally, it had been announced that Mario’s outfit was nearing the end of training and that he had been assigned to the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 11th Airborne Division. He had told the Recruiter that he had wanted to be in the Airborne like Ritchie. It was one of the few times that he had been given what was promised. He would be traveling to Fort Richardson, wherever that was it had to be warmer than Wisconsin.
     
    Part 141, Chapter 2432
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Thirty-Two



    18th January 1976

    Hohenzollern Province near Hechingen

    The weekend trip to the castle after the trip up Potsdam the previous weekend had made for an exhausting week. It might have seemed impractical to most people, for Kiki it was about trying to help Nina and herself by extension. Nina looked apprehensively at Rolf as they got out of the car when he came out to greet them. He looked a lot like the classical image that people had of Father Christmas with a long grey beard and round, weather-beaten face that came from life mostly spent outdoors. He also tended to wear the traditional clothes of a Woodsman in this region which made him look like he had just stepped out of a storybook. Like always Rolf didn’t even acknowledge the presence of Kiki’s armed bodyguards, she was never sure exactly what to make of that.

    Rolf’s wife was standing by the front door of their house, Kiki knew that she would need to have tea with her and listen to the latest gossip from around Hechingen. Filling Kiki in on everything that had happened since her last visit was something which she liked to do. Kiki just hoped that Nina wouldn’t grow too bored in the meantime.

    Rolf had worked indirectly for Kiki’s family for decades and was happy to let them onto his property with the dilapidated house and dog runs enclosed by chain-link fences. His actual business was the breeding and training of Bavarian Mountain Hounds, but he happily took on the role of Royal Kennel Master when asked by either Kiki or Freddy. It had been in that capacity in which he had minded Rauchbier when Kiki had been forced to travel and had needed to leave him behind. Rolf had frequently taken him ferreting along with his dog Cora. It had been during that time which Rauchbier made his contribution to the Swabian Windhund which Rolf had been developing for years. One of Rauchbier’s offspring was the companion of Nella and Nan, Kiki’s much younger sisters from her father’s second marriage. There were also a number of pure-bred whippets in Berlin. So, Rauchbier lived on in them, but that was small consolation. Kiki had seen how Ben had held the door to the porch open in anticipation of Rauchbier following them in a few different times. A reminder of just how big a hole had been left.

    “I was sorry to hear about Smoke” Rolf said, “He was a good dog.”

    Kiki just smiled at that. She knew that Rolf was one of those people who didn’t believe that there was really such a thing as a bad dog, the same couldn’t be said for people though. Especially when you considered what they did to animals. It was terrible how those two things so neatly dovetailed. She had learned a bit about Rolf years earlier. How he had been involved in the Heer’s logistics operation during the Soviet War. That had included trying to save the lives of those Stalin had purposely starved in the Second Holodomor, under the direction of Medical Personnel. It was hardly a surprise that he had liked dogs more than people after that.

    “I am a bit surprised that it is just you and the girl” Rolf said.

    “Benjamin had to go back to Balderschwang” Kiki replied, “With Exerevnitís III going into orbit in the Jovian system it is important for him to be there.”

    Rolf gave Kiki a look before muttering under his breath, something about not understanding where the world was going. She didn’t blame him, for Rolf the old tube radio in his parlor was as advanced a technology as he was interested in. The idea of nuclear-powered robotic probes sent to other worlds was totally outside his experience. Beyond that, Kiki knew that Ben would much rather be here with them today than being at the Observatory answering inane questions from news reporters that a child Nina’s age would have been embarrassed ask. It was all part of the public aspect of being the Director of the Argelander Observatory. Being there during daylight hours and the media relations as much as he disliked it.

    Following Rolf into the kennel, Kiki held Nina’s hand as they entered the cinderblock building. There was an immediate response as the dogs noticed Rolf’s presence and they were swarmed by a dozen of the brown hounds with black faces that he kept. What followed was a few minutes of Rolf yelling at the dogs to get them to calm down, without the desired result and he was clearly trying not to use swear words in front of Nina.

    Fortunately, the hounds quickly grew bored with this.

    “Never mind this lot” Rolf said, “Everything is a game to them.”

    Kiki noticed that Cora and a few of her offspring, with black and white fur like their father or grandfather had observed from the other side of a chain-link fence that kept them in a separate part of the kennel. If Kiki had to guess, it had something to do with the differences between sighthounds like whippets or now their Swabian cousins, and the scent hounds like these. Rauchbier had seldom expended energy unless he had to, then it was in an explosive rush.

    “What you told me on the phone” Kiki said, “If we could take a look.”

    Rolf smiled at that, before he opened another door.

    Inside the small room was a single one of the brown and black hounds and a seven or eight puppies of the same breed. When Kiki and Ben had discussed this matter at length, they had decided that the goal was not to replace Rauchbier, but just to have another member of their family as it were. There were other considerations though. Kiki’s daughter was going to be Nina of Oberallgäu for her whole life, choices needed to be made that reflected that.

    “I’d be careful, or she’ll want all of them” Rolf said as they watched Nina’s interactions with the pups. Kiki didn’t care, this was the happiest she had seen her daughter in weeks.
     
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    Part 141, Chapter 2433
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Thirty-Three



    30th January 1976

    Washington D.C.

    “This is really quite extraordinary” Carl said as he flipped through the photographs that had been published by the European Space Agency the day before. They had known each other since Nixon had interceded on Carl’s behalf with Harvard University when they had tried to deny him tenure back in 1968. Because he had attended UC Berkley before becoming an Assistant Professor at Harvard, Nixon had been among the Harvard Alumnus who had rather forcefully disagreed with that decision. It seemed that Nixon, then the Governor of California was impossible to ignore, and at the same time he was not the most prominent of the Alumnus involved, just one of the most vocal. A few years later the Whitehouse had needed a Science Advisor and Nixon had remembered that same Astrophysicist with growing celebrity might owe him a favor.

    “I would agree” Nixon replied.

    The photographs were extraordinary. Planet Jupiter up close with the swirls and bands of bright red and amber colored clouds. The idea that he was looking at storms that were bigger than the planet Earth that might have raged for centuries was mind blowing. These were only 8 x 10 photographs, and they were awe inspiring. Nixon could only imagine what the poster sized prints the ESA said they had must be like. Nixon couldn’t remember where he had heard it, but many times Astronomy felt like art, then you remembered who the artist in question was, if that was what you believed, and much of what you were seeing was destruction on a scale that was difficult to comprehend. The hand of God indeed.

    “There are a few outstanding issues” Carl said, “The League of Nations has established an Office of Outer Space Affairs which is supposed to mediate disputes like the ones that took place during the Moon Landings.”

    That was something that the general public was unaware of, how when the ESA and NASA orbited the Moon they mapped the dark side for the first time. Of course, it was the nature of man to name things when given the chance. Different expeditions had placed different names on the same features and that had resulted in many shouting matches over the last decade. Nixon figured that the same thing must have happened during the first great era of exploration when it had been men on wooden ships crossing unmapped oceans.

    “How is that working so far?” Nixon asked.

    “LNOOSA has only approved one application so far” Carl replied, “The Director of the Argelander Observatory, Doctor von Hirsch asked to name a pair of mountains on IO after his children. The rest are pending.”

    Nixon knew who Benjamin von Hirsch was, the CIA apparently had a file on him that ran for several thousand pages. Even if he wasn’t a rising force German Scientific community, he was the brother-in-law of the Kaiser, an advisor to the King of Bavaria, and in his capacity as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Luftwaffe he had killed an American pilot during the Patagonian War and shot the plane out from under another. While that would never be officially acknowledged, there were many in the US Navy who would love nothing better than to take the matter up with him in a back alley if they ever got the chance. Nixon had also seen the latest press release regarding those two children, one was still a baby while the other was nearly six. There had been a photograph of a cute little girl with brown hair and blue eyes. She’d had a toothy grin as she was holding a brown & black puppy that was all giant paws and big floppy ears.

    “Thank you, Doctor Sagan” Nixon said, “I am giving a press conference about this and our response in the coming months.”

    Carl nodded. He was not in the least bit camera shy, and he was a vocal advocate for robotic probes into the outer solar system. What NASA was gearing up for was a rare planetary alignment with the launch window coming in 1978 with the Voyager Program. Nixon had no doubt that their International rivals were getting ready for the same opportunity. With any luck this would maintain the public focus the way that the Moonshot had in the 60’s and everyone would reap the benefits.



    Montreal, Canada

    Marie Alexandra was trudging from the Atwater Metro Station to her grandparents’ house near Westmount Park. The entire time she was wishing that her haversack was lighter as the weight cut into her shoulder. She also wished that it wasn’t so icy so she could ride her bicycle without the risk of breaking her neck. To her annoyance, Marie practically heard her mother’s voice saying that she wouldn’t need wishes if she were better at planning as the thought crossed her mind.

    At last, she reached the side door of her grandparents’ house. Taking off her boots and coat in the mudroom, she headed for the kitchen in the hope of grabbing something to eat without getting noticed. Those hopes were dashed when her grandmother, who was holding court in the tearoom with a dozen of her friends spotted her.

    “Marie, would you tell the ladies about the letter you received in the mail the other day” Margot said. She was a lot happier with Marie since she had discovered that Marie’s studies at McGill, personal connections and language abilities reflected well on her. Personally, Marie had liked it better when Margot was still pretending that she wasn’t there.

    “I was offered a chance to study at Trinity College in Ireland after I graduate from McGill” Marie said, “That is if I choose to go into International Law.”

    “Really?” The woman who Margot had been speaking to asked in a delighted tone and Marie had to do her best to hide her annoyance as she reluctantly took a seat at the table. She was certain that Jack Kennedy was behind that offer, even if that had not been mentioned in the letter. Marie wondered how her grandmother would react if she ever learned that little detail.
     
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    Part 141, Chapter 2434
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Thirty-Four



    2nd February 1976

    Balderschwang, Bavaria

    Having a rare weekday off was a treat for Ben and he was trying to read a book for pleasure, something else that it seemed that equally rare these days. While Lutz was with Fianna Kiki had taken advantage of the break to get some uninterrupted sleep and had expressly forbidden anyone from bothering her this morning.

    Unfortunately, the cook had the television on as he was preparing lunch for the family and that kept drawing Ben’s eye. There was also the presence of Arno, who was sleeping by Ben’s feet. As soon as the puppy woke up, Ben would need to take him outside. As was the nature of dogs since the dawn of time, not peeing in the house was the first and possibly the hardest thing for them to learn. With Nina at school today, Arno spent most of his time around Ben though according to Kiki he normally stuck with her or Lutz during the day. He really came alive when Nina came home though.

    Ben looked up to see Kat von Mischner’s face of television. When he had been a teenager she had been his neighbor and having the Tigress herself living just across the alley had made things interesting, especially because of the girl his age who lived on the top floor of Kat’s house at the time. Ben had gotten to know that girl far better in the years since. He was a bit amused by his own naivety looking back at that time. Seeing Kat reminded him of that until he noticed what she was being interviewed about. Today was the anniversary of the Reichstag bombing and Kat von Mischner had been the youngest survivor of that tragic disaster. It was hard to imagine Kat as a teenager though, even as he was seeing a photograph of her recovering in the hospital after getting caught in the blast at the age of sixteen or seventeen.

    Shaking his head, Ben set his book aside as Arno woke up and was looking at him expectantly. Taking him outside, Ben looked up the mountain at the Royal Friedrich Wilhelm Argelander Observatory, the white paint causing the buildings to stand out vividly against the blue sky. He remembered how the people of Balderschwang had reacted years earlier when the building housing the six-meter reflecting telescope in its dome was proposed. They had worried about how it was going to change the nature of their community and Ben had done his level best to make sure that everyone had benefited with the year-round jobs that would remain even after construction was complete. The construction had still not ended with the Universities in Munich and Berlin coming up with new additions to the mountaintop complex. At the same time, efforts were being made in the surrounding communities to limit light pollution, especially during the summer when the Observatory was most active.

    Most recently, there had been the hectic weeks spent processing images from the Exerevnitís III Jovian Orbiter. At the Argelander Observatory, they had experience developing large format prints of the nature required. So, even with nothing scheduled over the prior month, the entire Staff had been working frantically as the feed from the antenna arrays around the world had come in and as they had processed the images, they had made several discoveries with their own analysis on site. Many of the Universities that were not affiliated with the Argelander Observatory had cried foul over what they had seen as the Astronomy Departments of those that were got first bite. Ben had also heard that the prints they were making were causing a sensation at the Archenhold Observatory in Berlin, the Humboldt Campus of the University of Berlin, and the University in Munich.

    When Ben had talked with the Presidents of those Institutions, he had told them what was going on, and they had been pleased. While scientific discovery was all well and good, they saw it as a means of securing funding for the next round of expansion. That was where the unaffiliated Universities had reentered the conversation, Ben was to refer them to the Presidents he had been speaking with to if they were interested in changing that. The more Universities that the Observatory was affiliated with, the more pots of money they had to draw from, the greater the prestige that they would gain with their involvement. This latest round of discovery was being compared to the Atomic research that had been conducted years earlier by the Wilhelm Institute under Nessa von Schmidt when she had been awarded the Nobel Prize for her work. The Wilhelm Institute had only been tangentially involving itself in Ben’s work preferring to concentrate their resources in the Technical University of Berlin and the Military. If they involved themselves in the Friedrich-Wilhelm University of Berlin and by extension, the Argelander Observatory, in a larger way, then things would be looking very bright indeed.

    Ben was thinking about this as he watched Arno sniffing along the fence. That brought him back to earth. He also had the project he had been working on with Jasta 23 and King Albrecht of Bavaria to contend with. Who was it who said that the reward for a job well done was often more work? It certainly seemed like that was how things were panning out. In a few months, the Americans were going to put their Viking lander on Mars. When that happened, the world would probably forget all about him and the Argelander Observatory. It was something that was surprisingly welcome.
     
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    Part 141, Chapter 2435
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Thirty-Five



    5th February 1976

    In Transit, Northern France

    Looking out the window of the train in this part of France was seldom uplifting, especially during the winter. It had remained impoverished for decades having been devastated by war followed economic calamity. The ruins of once prosperous villages dotted the landscape with only the most stubborn or destitute remaining. Even the railroad, which had once been the source of prosperity in the region no longer served that function as the trains plying the express routes to Berlin or Hamburg never had reason to stop. The old watering and coaling stops had fallen to time and rust.

    It was to Sven Werth’s annoyance that this entire trip had been necessary. The prickly French Government had wanted to make sure that someone with sufficient stature to come collect Leon Pohl and Sven being a Head Inspector, PHK, from the BII fit the bill as it were. The French had not liked that the German Government had gone the route of trial in absentia after Leon had fled jurisdiction years earlier after the rest of the members of the Jacobins had been thrown in prison. While Sven saw nothing wrong with the demand that Leon be treated fairly, had they been paying attention to who Leon himself was? If Leon had been content with living quietly in Paris he would have gone unnoticed, but he was a braggart and a petty criminal. It seemed that living quietly was something he was incapable of. Clearly, the French Police and Government had wanted rid of him. However, a chance to needle the German Government had blown a simple extradition into major diplomatic pissing match which had dragged on for months. If there was one thing which Sven didn’t like, it was politics interfering with his job. Having to go hundreds of kilometers out his way and spend two full days away from tasks which he considered far more important certainly counted as interference. Fortunately, there had been a private cabin available on the train for the return journey, depriving Leon of an audience for his antics. It was just Sven and Markus sitting on Leon until they could hand him off to Uniformed Officers when they reached Berlin.

    “Perhaps you ought to know I was there that night” Leon said, breaking the silence that he had maintained since the train. “When the Princess started shooting at us…”

    “If you are talking about the alleged incident of the bank of the River Elbe more than a decade ago you will not find too many interested” Markus said, “Old news, and good luck trying to find anyone interested in taking a case with any of your people involved.”

    Leon seemed to sink into himself. He had already been in the custody of the French Government for months. That was just a taste of what was waiting for him in Germany, and he had to have spent a lot of time thinking about what he was going to say when he found himself in this very situation. The story about Princess Kristina defending herself from a gaggle of self-styled revolutionaries with her service weapon had been told and retold. She had never denied the story but had not elaborated either. It was a loose end and much as Sven hated those, one didn’t interrogate the Princess Royal of Germany on the basis of hearsay if they valued their career.

    “You are going to have to do better than that Leon” Sven said, “Of course, considering where you are going…”

    Sven held his hands up implying that there was nothing he could do.

    “Years in the worst prison as a pariah among the inmates, hard labor” Markus said, “I’m sure you’ve heard about what happened to your leader.”

    Leon gulped. He had to know just how screwed he truly was.

    “I know who did it, the 11 Messidor attack” Leon blurted out.

    Sven thought he felt the temperature of the room drop in the long moment of awkward silence that followed. That was a piece of information the BII had wanted for years, would give anything to get. Even the sound of the rails under the wheels of the train carriage took an ominous tone, the clock ticking down the seconds.

    “If you are playing us…” Markus said, the implied threat in that was plain to hear.



    Montreal, Canada

    Looking in on Marie, Sir Malcolm saw that she had fallen asleep at her desk in her bedroom again. For a young woman who didn’t know what she wanted, Marie seemed to be working extremely hard to achieve it. Malcolm wasn’t too concerned about that though. She would find her way eventually.

    In the light of the desk lamp, Malcolm saw something which was a bit amusing. If Marie’s hair was a bit darker she would look a whole lot like the woman he had fallen in love with when he had first returned from France a lifetime earlier. He just hoped that life would be far kinder to Marie and the difficult bits wouldn’t embitter her like they had with Margot.

    “Time to go to bed poppet” Malcolm said to Marie who opened her eyes.

    “So much to do Opa” Marie replied.

    Malcolm noticed that she spoke Quebecois with a slight German accent. If there was anything that showed exactly who Marie Alexandra really was, that was it.

    “Nothing which cannot wait until the morning” Malcolm said, “Having you fall asleep in class will just get your Professors angry with you.”

    Marie looked at the book she had been reading with the relevant passages having been marked with yellow highlighter. Then she closed it with a bit of reluctance.
     
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