Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread II

Part 97, Chapter 1546
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Forty-Six


    3rd March 1963

    Mitte, Berlin

    There were times when Louis Ferdinand was reminded that his children were perfectly human, they could be happy, sad or in some cases, simply jealous. It had grown apparent that Friedrich was finding his situation chafing as his younger siblings seemed to have become more accomplished than him. A challenge for Louis was that he had grown up as the younger son, unexpectedly finding himself the heir to the throne when he was already an adult when his older brother had been killed in action in the Spanish War. Freddy had a different, he had been the Crown Prince since he had been a toddler and as he had grown older the sharp limitations that put on his life had become extremely clear. At Louis’ invitation, Freddy was talking with him in the billiards room that Wilhelm the 2nd and General von Wolvogle had their benders in back in the heady days after the end of the First World War.

    As it turned out, both Louis and Freddy were terrible at shooting pool. So, they eventually just sat at one of the tables in the corner. Eventually, the subject of the mess that Kiki had gotten herself into had come up. It was hardly a surprise really, even though there was considerable danger involved Freddy wished that he could be out in the world doing things as opposed to studying Law at University.

    “I would say that the biggest problem is that you simply do not understand your sister” Louis said to Freddy, “Right now she is in the limelight because of recent events, but you will still be in the public eye long after Kristina has found the obscurity that she is really after.”

    That seemed to come as a complete surprise to Freddy, he had commented about how Kiki seemed to be everywhere these days. The investigation into the ambush of the FSR team that she had been leading was ongoing, but already word was that her quick thinking and bravery were to be lauded. Some of the investigators did quibble over her having split her forces. Others pointed out that she had taken the two trained infantrymen with her when she had begun the counterattack, leaving the two medics to guard the radio operator. That was using the abilities of the people she had to best extent possible. There was also the matter of Kiki having captured three of her attackers alive, after she and her team killed five and sent the remainder running for their lives. They had concluded that while she should be commended for the reasons stated and factoring in what Kiki herself had said were her preferences about the incident, there would be no recognition of her personally by the Military. Instead, they were throwing a group recognition to the entire team. Much to Kiki’s annoyance, and because the incident had happened in Saxony, the House of Wettin had other ideas. Her presence had been requested in Dresden by Friedrich Christian. Oddly, Kiki’s biggest complaint was about how it seemed like everything that had happened only served to push her further from what she really wanted.

    “I’m starting to think that I’ve never known her” Freddy replied, “No one seems to.”

    Louis did find that newfound introspective a bit amusing. That was probably having Suga rip him apart over his choice of Christmas gifts for his sister speaking. What Freddy didn’t know yet was how valuable to him having a consort who wasn’t afraid to tell him he was being an ass would become in the future.

    “I think that the few people she has let get close to her know who she is” Louis replied, “Those two friends of hers from school, the way she tends to frighten that Doctor she has as a mentor, perhaps that boy who she met over the back fence when she lived with Gräfin Katherine and the Gräfin herself.”

    “Ben Hirsch?” Freddy asked, “You cannot be serious. She dated him mostly out of proximity if I had to guess. He just seems… Well, ordinary.”

    “That is perfectly in line with what I said” Louis replied, “Should it be a surprise to you that she wants an ordinary life?”

    “But she is a part of this family” Freddy said, “No one expects that of us, all our lives we were told that a great deal was expected.”

    “You were told that” Louis said, “Kiki was given a very different message. Do I need to remind you of what that was and why she has rejected it for the most part?”

    “No, Poppa” Freddy replied.

    It was something so obvious that Louis hardly needed to have mentioned it. All her life Kiki had people trying to fit her into a princess shaped box, told about how she would one day be a wife and mother who would have sons who would do great things. It was hardly a surprise that the first thing that Kiki did as she started to come of age was to reject that. She wanted to be the one who did great things. That was why it now wasn’t a surprise that she had found herself the target of malcontents from both the left and the right. To the left, she was too beholden to tradition, a militarist, and to the right, was entirely the result of progress they didn’t approve of. Oddly, Rea and Vicky aspired to be different things that seemed to be embodied in their older sister. For Louis, that was actually something he viewed with as a hopeful sign. He had been concerned that Ria would be a dilettante and Vicky might as well become the furniture wherever she eventually ended up. Life was not moving in ways anyone might have predicted for any of his daughters and that was a good thing.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1547
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Forty-Seven


    9th March 1963

    Langeoog Island

    The storm that had been gathering during the day, tonight wind rattled the windows and rain pounded the roof. The power had gone out hours earlier and Kat knew that it would probably be the next day or later before service was restored. That was why the parlor was lit only by fire that was burning in the fireplace. Marie had come with her so that she could spend the weekend with her mother as an early birthday present of sorts had fallen asleep on the sofa leaning on Kat. For tonight at least, it was just them. Which was exactly what Kat had wanted, spend this sort of time with her youngest daughter before she grew too old. Douglas was coming with Petia, Jo, Tatiana and Malcolm in the morning. Next week, Marie would have a party with her friends on her actual birthday but that would not be the same.

    Earlier, Kat had given her the emerald pendent on its silver chain and hairpins that had been given to her by Aunt Marcella years earlier. When she had discussed which of her daughters should receive those heirlooms with Doug, he had said that Tatiana was the most likely to inherit Kat’s mantle of the Tigress. Marie on the other hand was far more likely to be the next emerald, as much as Kat had hated it when the press had called her that. It made perfect sense and while Kat intended to place the jewelry back in storage for safekeeping until Marie was old enough, she had made a point of giving them to her that afternoon shortly after they had arrived. Before diner, Kat had spent a few hours showing Marie how to pin up her hair and that had turned out to have been enjoyable. Then the power had gone out.

    Cleaning up after dinner by candlelight had been a bit of a challenge. Afterwards Kat and Marie just talked about the random things that she was interested in. At just a few days shy of her seventh birthday, Marie’s personality was still gelling. It was fun though to listen to her talk about wanting to go on adventures with Cheshire, the tabby cat who she had wanted to bring on this trip. Doug had explained to her that cats mostly don’t travel, preferring to live in the house of their people for their entire lives, so Cheshire had stayed in Tempelhof.

    The events of this week were also a welcome escape from what had been going on elsewhere. The Emperor had recently asked her opinion of what had happened to Kiki, as far as Kat could tell her training and personal abilities had won out this time. According to Louis Ferdinand, the young men they had captured were talking, one was even bragging about what they had done. Those investigating the matter had discovered that they were actually a dead end, the organization they were trying to take down was structured in a manner so that taking down one or two cells might not get them as close to the nebulous leadership as they wanted. Right now, all they had was the name Mithras, which was that individual’s obvious nom-de-guerre. Beyond suggesting that the investigation continue at its own pace and that Kiki needed to stop taking so many risks, Kat had nothing more to say on the subject. This time she simply had too much on her plate and didn’t want to interfere with the ongoing investigation.


    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Kiki woke up with a start, unsure as to where she was.

    The room was dark, and she could feel someone hugging her from behind. Then the memories came back to her. She had gone out on a date with Ben and had made a few mocking toasts to Kiki as the first woman inducted into the Military Order of Saint Henry. Eventually they had ended up sneaking into his parent’s house and had spent a couple hours going over hundreds of pages of the application that he was working on if he wanted to join the Raumfahrer training program in Peenemünde. With his background as a Reserve Officer in the Luftwaffe, as well as his studies including Astronomy and Physics, Kiki figured that he probably would be accepted if he ever managed to get a degree of some sort. Kiki figured that she must have fallen asleep while he had worked on that, as she tried to remember the layout of Ben’s room. Finding the lamp on the bedside table, Kiki clicked it on and was blinded by the sudden light.

    “Sorry” Kiki said as she extracted herself from Ben’s embrace and took a minute to find her glasses that he must have put on the bedside table. It was to her great relief that she was still fully clothed. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Ben, if Kiki was being honest, it was that she didn’t exactly trust herself in that regard. Katherine had once warned her that sex, death and rebirth were all bound up in each other. After what had happened near Ortrand, she would want to do something life affirming to keep from going insane and that was a good way to end up pregnant. Kiki realized in that moment that Kat was talking from personal experience and didn’t want to know the story of how Kat must have figured that out.

    “Sorry I got into bed with you” Ben said drowsily, “You were having a nightmare and you only stopped when I held you.”

    Looking at her watch, Kiki realized that it was the early morning hours. She couldn’t remember the last time she had slept for that long. “Go back to sleep Ben” Kiki said before she kissed him goodbye before heading out the door. She made it down the stairs, to the front hallway before she was intercepted by Nadine.

    “Exactly where do you think you are going Kristina?” Nadine asked, her voice full of anger. “Trying to sneak out of this house the same way you came in?”

    “Nothing happened” Kiki replied, last night anyway. “And even if it did, Ben is an adult, he can…”

    “Benjamin lives in my house and that includes my rules” Nadine hissed at her, “He disregarded those for you, and I am tired of it.”

    “What do you have against me?” Kiki asked. She had never understood Nadine’s animosity.

    “I don’t like you because you sneak around” Nadine replied, something that was impossible to deny in this situation. “And when you are asked about yourself, the things you say feel like lies and half-truths.”

    “I don’t have much of a choice” Kiki said, “Just a few weeks ago some people I was responsible for nearly got killed just because I was there. Ben is separate from that world, so are you, can’t you understand…”

    It had hardly been her intention to start crying, but after weeks of having to play the role of the stoic commander she just couldn’t do it anymore.
     
    Part 98, Chapter 1548
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Forty-Eight


    15th March 1963

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Ben was left wondering exactly what had happened a week earlier. As he walked across the alley to Marie’s birthday party. Attending a child’s party wasn’t normally the sort of thing that he would do, but he had been asked to come and help out.

    A week earlier he had fallen back asleep briefly and when he had woken up, he had come downstairs to find his mother having to comfort Kiki who had started crying when questioned hard about just who she was. It had not been until after Kiki had pulled herself together and left that he had told his mother some of the truth. That in Kiki’s involvement with the FSR she had been caught up in the middle of the worst meatgrinder that the Korean War offered. That had a profound effect on her behavior.

    The night before she might have had a blasé attitude, but she was still trying to process what had happened with that ambush that she had gone through a lot closer to home. Once she had fallen asleep, Ben had seen how she had started thrashing around in her sleep and he had ended up having to practically hold her down. That even though she was asleep, her terror was evident. Even though she had calmed down when he had hugged her it had scared him, though he was not about to tell his mother about that. Her seeing Kiki burst in tears was bad enough.

    Still though his mother had not been about to let what she had seen go. Yes, Kiki was one of Kat’s adopted nieces. Unlike most of the others though, she still had a family. Her mother’s family had been a branch of the Romanovs and her father was from an extremely old Junker family. Following the untimely death of her mother, Kiki had been sent by her father to live with Kat. She was hardly the impoverished child of exiles that his mother had thought that she was.

    “Then why all the secrecy then?” Nadine had asked.

    “She is desperate to be seen as separate from her family” Ben replied, “That is why she kept volunteering for the toughest assignments, so that people don’t automatically assume that she had everything just handed to her. She has had some bad luck lately, the FSR team she was leading got attacked and Kiki blames herself for it.”

    Ben had worried that he had said too much when he had said that. All his mother would have needed to have done was open a newspaper and it would be obvious who Kiki really was.

    “Why are you involved with her though?” Nadine asked, “She has hurt you in the past and with what she has put herself through, I can only see things getting more complicated.”

    Ben had then tried to explain how special he thought Kiki was to his mother only to have her stop him. “I am concerned that you are in love idea of her and might not fully understand who she is” Was what his mother had said concluding the conversation. When he had heard later that Kiki had returned to Rangsdorf, he had been relieved even if he missed her.

    Now entering Kat’s house through the kitchen, he saw Kiki was chatting with Nancy Jensen, the odd American expat whose husband had commanded the Marine Infantry in Korea. She saw Ben and smiled as if everything was right in her world. He knew that it was false and was something she put on. When he had asked about that, she had said that it was something that most people did. Just in the role that she had been born into it needed to be in place constantly. It was also why Kiki said that she liked to be around people who didn’t realize who she was because she could just drop all pretense.

    The irony was that Ben’s mother disliked how much Kiki hid from her while having no idea it was the actual person who Kristina von Preussen really was who she was dealing with as opposed to the cartoonish figure that the tabloids and the entertainment shows made her out to be. It all played into why Kiki said that their relationship was ultimately going to be impossible. Sooner or later some journalist was going to figure it out and the last thing Kiki wanted was for Ben’s life to be upended because of her.

    Heading up the stairs, through the hallway and finding the Gräfin and Marie in the parlor. Ben saw that there seemed to be a substantial number of children running around the house and an equal number of adults, presumably their parents, looking around curiously. Small wonder that Kiki had asked Ben for help managing this mob. Marie was wearing the blue dress and white apron that she seemed to be wearing every time that Ben saw her. His mother had said that Katherine was lucky in that her daughter’s obsessions were practical and inexpensive.

    Marie lit up when Ben entered the parlor. He recalled when Katherine and Douglas had brought her home shortly after he had moved in. Seven years earlier.

    “So, how old are you today?” Ben asked Marie though he already knew the answer.

    “Everybody asks me that” Marie said earnestly, “Ask them.”

    That was quite an answer from a seven-year-old.

    “Well, many kind regards then” Ben said to Marie who smirked at him.
     
    Part 98, Chapter 1549
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Forty-Nine


    15th March 1963

    Mitte, Berlin

    It was hardly a surprise really. Alexis Waltz had managed to get himself captured and was singing like a canary in an effort to save himself from getting buried under the prison. It was something that Mithras had known would happen sooner or later and even if the House of Hohenzollern had been able to keep Kristina’s real name out of the papers, he knew the mission had come close to success this time. It was why he had been careful not to let Alexis have too much information or get much more than basic idea of what Mithras looked like. So far, the Financier had not caught wind of this latest setback or else Mithras feared that he would cut his losses and just have him killed.

    Now with the benefit of hindsight he realized that the Princess was better protected than he had thought. Even if she didn’t have a full security detail, she was extremely formidable on her own. It would have been nice to have known that before they had sunk so much into getting her. Just before this latest mess, Alexis had accused him of being obsessed with the girl. Even though Alexis was barely smart enough to be useful, he might have had a point, Mithras had probably gone overboard with his thoughts about Nemesis. It was time for the Movement to try a different set of tactics to muddy the waters.

    Perhaps having the police thinking that he was after the Princess could be used to his advantage. At this point it would be perfectly believable misdirection and Mithras knew that if he was eventually successful, he would get to Kristina eventually. He also needed to solve the minor problem that Alexis represented…


    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Looking across the alley, Nadine could tell that there was a substantial party going on over there. It was for the birthday of a seven-year-old, but as she had discovered over the years that she had been a neighbor of the Gräfin that she would use any excuse to get together with her close circle of friends. It was those same friends that made her worry about her son and what he was getting into by getting involved with Kristina again. She had seen Ben walk over there a couple hours earlier.

    When Nadine had moved into this house with her husband Albert and son, they had been told that the neighborhood was expected to become somewhat exclusive in the coming years. The Chancellor of the University of Berlin had bought a house a couple blocks away and Gräfin von Mischner had a house built on the same block. They had no idea what that had actually meant at the time. Douglas, the Gräfin’s consort was a pleasant man, even if Katherine herself was often a prickly character. The real issue was the women and girls who frequented that house. They seemed nice enough until you noticed that they tended to look at the world through eyes that had seen things no one should have to. One of them, named Kris, jokingly referred to them as the forgotten daughters of inequity, the Sisterhood of the spaces between the cracks. The others present had found that funny.

    Kristina seemed like a nice girl, but like all the girls who Katherine invited into her house they always had things they kept hidden and difficult pasts. Kristina was no different than the others in that regard, the fact that she joined the Medical Service as soon as she was eligible confirmed that. What the Gräfin offered them was a chance to control their lives but it was never without considerable cost. What Nadine had seen when Kristina had started crying was a young woman who was barely holding her life together after what she had gone through. Ben wasn’t stupid, but he had a serious blind spot when it came to Kristina.

    When Kristina had moved in years earlier, Albert had encouraged Ben to do a lot more than just have a crush on the pretty girl across the alley. It had been just innocent dating back then, nothing to worry about really. Then one day Kristina had vanished, only turning up months later living on the University’s Humboldt Campus as a student there. Ben had foolishly tracked her down and tried to act like nothing had changed only to find that she wasn’t interested in him seeing her. Nadine had been put out by Ben’s reaction to being rejected and had made a few choice comments to Katherine about it. In retrospect, Kristina had probably been overwhelmed by everything she had going on and had been unable to maintain a relationship on top of it. Still, Nadine’s memory of that time was Katherine standing in the garage off the alley looking at her with that same slight smile. Like if she was holding all the cards and Nadine was a clueless nobody who could only manage to bother her for a moment or two at worst. Now Ben and Kristina were both adults and Nadine was under no illusions about the possibilities of what might happen if their relationship progressed. Nadine just wished that Ben thought these things through as opposed to being infatuated with Kristina.

    In a few years was Kristina going to be like that one woman who visited Katherine every few days who was also said to be adviser of the Empress. Nadine had her name was Asia. She was prematurely grey and with haunted eyes? Would Ben be dragged into that with her if that was what she was destined to become?
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1550
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Fifty


    27th March 1963

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    As she had so often in the past, Kat found herself in the parlor trying to coax some answers out of Asia who had been looking a bit worse than usual over the prior months. There were also some things that had become increasingly obvious about Asia’s appearance that Kat had very gently brought up.

    “Please don’t judge me too harshly” Was what Asia said after Kat finally got her to talk and she admitted what was going on.

    For the last few years, since the mess in America, Asia had been having difficulty recovering from that incident. While she had been going grey for a long time, what had happened in the State Hospital had sped up that process considerably. When Kat had spoken with Douglas about it, he had observed that in Danvers they had run enough electricity through her to light up half of Boston and that had left an indelible mark. While Asia had had always been soft spoken, almost mute. These days it seemed like she didn’t speak unless she had to and even then, it seemed like words had to dragged from her.

    While Asia had done nothing to jeopardize her appointment as Mistress of the Keys, she had been engaged in what Doctor Holz would have referred to as self-medicating with a mixture of alcohol and various pharmaceuticals. She had also engaged in other kinds of escapism. As it turned out there were consequences that would only serve to further complicate her life. When Asia had gotten sick over the winter, it had turned out not to a case of the flu, which was what she had told Kat weeks earlier. She might even have convinced herself of that at the time. At this point though, Asia could hardly deny matters any longer, not to Kat anyway. As unlikely as Kat may have considered it to have ever happened, Asia had somehow gotten herself pregnant.

    “Have you ever known me to be a hypocrite?” Kat asked in reply, “I’ve been where you are a few times. Remember?”

    Asia looked extremely relieved to hear that.

    “Leni, Anne, Tilde, Ilse, Gerta, Helene, even me” Kat said, “Will be more than happy to fill your ears with horror stories about our own experiences.”

    It was not as if Asia was without means, still the entire sisterhood would need to come to Asia’s aid in the coming months.

    “But I’m not married” Asia said. Echoing Kat’s thoughts, Kat hid her annoyance with it as best she could. After all the dogma that Asia that rejected in her life, she still felt guilt over things that she shouldn’t have to. Doug and Ilse had described what it was like growing up in the Catholic Church and Erma Tangeman used to say that many of the problems that existed in the world could be traced back to the gaggle of elderly virgin men who infested the Vatican.

    “Yes, about that” Kat replied, “Do you intend to? To the father?”

    “He is not someone I would want to spend five more minutes with” Asia said, “Much less marrying him.”

    Kat couldn’t help but noticing that Asia had said that with far more certainty than anything else she had said. The contradictions that made Asia who she was were very apparent here.

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

    “Please hold while we redirect your call, Sir” The Operator said to Ben as he waited to get through. The number that Kiki had given to him was to the Berlin Phone Exchange with an extension directly into her suite of rooms in the Winter Residence leaving no direct record of a call to the Hohenzollern Palace. After a minute, it started ringing again.

    “What?” Kiki asked when she answered.

    “Happy to hear from you too” Ben replied.

    “Sorry Ben, I thought you were Zella, who was supposed to call me back” Kiki said, “She’s acting like a complete bitch again.”

    “Isn’t that how she always is?”

    “Don’t you start with that” Kiki said, Ben had never gotten along with Kiki’s dear friend. That was something that would probably never change.

    “Hello Benjamin” Ben heard a voice say in the background, Aurora.

    “Tell Aurora hello for me” Ben said.

    “Ben said hello” Ben heard Kiki say before she got back on the phone. “Did you need anything?”

    “I just wanted to hear from you how you were handling house arrest” Ben said.

    Kiki made an exasperated noise. The First Foot had said that they had received a creditable death threat on her by the same merry band of terrorists who had ambushed her FSR team. Supposedly they wanted revenge for the loss of their five friends. This time they were taking no chances. Kiki had found herself stuck in the palace and with round the clock protection.

    “They are talking about sending me to Swabia to play figurehead in the Hohenzollern Provence” Kiki said, “I have the castle, now all I need is dragon and I will be a real fairy tale princess.”

    “I don’t think that your typical fairy tale princess would tell her Knight Errant to piss off because she can save herself” Ben said.

    That got a bit of a laugh out of Kiki.

    “Ah yes, that is why I love the Black Knight so much” Kiki said, “He at least tries to understand me.”

    “It’s the least I can do” Ben said, “I could always visit you there and because you are the Lady of the Castle you could authorize it.”

    “You would find the castle to be drafty and not particularly comfortable.”

    “It didn’t seem too bad when I was there last winter.”

    “It was because my father was there” Kiki said, “When he isn’t, the staff doesn’t put in as much effort.”

    “You are saying that the Emperor tolerates his little girl freezing in the dark?” Ben asked jokingly.

    “If it saves him a few Reichsmarks then he would cheerfully tell me to throw an extra blanket on my bed and call it good” Kiki replied, “I wonder what the press would do if they knew the lengths that he goes to save money.”

    “You do know there is a reason why your family has been at the top of the heap for the last two hundred years?” Ben asked.

    Before Kiki could answer the sound of something plastic hitting a hard surface was heard over the line. Ben thought he heard an all too familiar voice cursing.

    “What was that?” Kiki asked.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1551
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Fifty-One


    31st March 1963

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    It should not have been a surprise, but Ben’s mother had been furious and humiliated about what had happened. She had made numerous assumptions about Kiki and to say that she had gotten things profoundly wrong was an understatement. The whole thing was compounded by Ben suggesting that perhaps she shouldn’t have been eavesdropping in the first place. Yes, it was true, Kiki had always been THAT Kristina and he had known about it for a long time. No, he had not been lying to his parents over the previous years. Ben had not told them who she was because Kiki had asked him not to for exactly the reasons that he had seen himself over the years that he had known her. It was inescapable that people generally behaved strangely towards Kiki when they found out who she was. They either wanted something from her, they hated her for the damnedest reasons or else they got all giddy and weird. She was now worried that Ben’s parents would fall into one of those categories now that they knew the secret that Kiki had been keeping from them.

    Ben telling them that they knew Kiki for who she really was had mostly fallen on deaf ears.

    Over the last few days, Ben had seen how his father had reacted. He had immediately gone to his desk and looked through the stack of magazines that he kept in the in and out boxes that had never been used for anything else. The only good photograph of Kiki was one that had been taken of her at some palace event a few years earlier, she was wearing a white dress and she had a blank look on her face. Ben knew that it was the expression that she had said was practiced, it was like a mask that she wore whenever she was in an uncomfortable situation that she had been given no choice in the matter. The rest of the photographs were taken at a distance or were obscured somehow. Kiki was extremely adept hiding behind other people if she knew a photographer was close.

    Looking at the photograph, it was undeniably Kiki but at the same time it was difficult to tell that she was the same frumpy young woman who they had seen around the house from time to time. In it, Ben couldn’t help but notice how beautiful she was when she put in the effort. He figured that she also had a team of people behind her appearance on that occasion. Professionals who took care of clothes, hair and makeup.

    After a few days of negotiations, Ben finally convinced his parents and Kiki that they needed to deal with this matter because it wasn’t going away. Kiki would come for lunch on Sunday and they would see if there was some sort of accommodation that could be reached. When Kiki arrived, it was in the form of her arguing with two blue uniformed soldiers about whether or not their presence was necessary. Ben recognized them as being from the First Foot and he doubted that there could have been a more divisive means for Kiki to have reminded everyone of just who she was.

    Lunch turned out to be an awkward affaire, with everyone sitting in silence and just picking at their food. Ben’s father did his best to draw Kiki into a conversation over just what her did. Her answer was that her father wished that he could be a mechanic just served to add a new layer of awkwardness. Finally, Ben’s mother had had enough.

    “I want to know why you felt that it was permissible for you to come into my house and lie to me, to involve my son in your games. You certainly spent a lot of time leading Benjamin on” Nadine blurted out, “And don’t try to tell me it was because you were trying to protect us or some other contrivance. You did this for years.”

    Kiki just stared at her plate, not saying a word.

    “All the sneaking around, seeing Ben when you thought I wouldn’t find out” Nadine said, “I am thinking that this was all a game to you. Wasn’t it? That we are just pieces in a silly game that a girl from nearly unimaginable wealth and power plays to pass the time when she’s trying to ward off boredom.”

    It was only now that Ben realized that his mother had seated him across the table from Kiki on purpose. He desperately wanted to reach out to her, to let her know that she wasn’t alone here, but the table was in the way. Kiki had once told him that if there was one thing that had defined her childhood, it was loneliness. At the time she had no idea that it was not normal for it to be that way and she had escaped into the extensive collection of books that her family had. Today, seeing her sitting at the table he thought he was seeing what that must have been like.

    “It was never like that” Kiki said, her voice hardly more than a whisper.

    “Nadine” Ben’s father said, “I think that is…”

    Ben saw his father visibly wilt under the furious stare that his mother gave him. “Not one more word Albert” She said, biting off each word.

    “I just want to feel normal” Kiki said, “Is that so hard to understand?”

    “By lying to us?” Nadine asked, “Where did you honestly think it would lead?”

    “I didn’t think it would lead anywhere” Kiki said, Ben saw a tear roll down her cheek, “Ben will always be special to me, but our relationship has always been impossible. Eventually some reporter would find out, or a photographer would get a picture and it would all fall apart once everybody knew about it. Then it would be over and there would be nothing I could do.”

    Ben was horrified that Kiki had just told his mother exactly how to break them apart forever. What was she thinking?
     
    Part 98, Chapter 1552
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Fifty-Two


    31st March 1963

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    It was because of two men named Dirksen and Martz, aged nineteen and twenty years of age. They were not going to be getting older. When their autopsies have been conducted, the cause of death had been ruled death by gunshot. In both cases, it had been 9-millimeter bullets weighing eight grams that had been pulled from their bodies that were the approximate cause. When Kiki had been informed of that detail, she had gotten sick in a way that she hadn’t since she was a child. There had been only one weapon on the scene that could have fired the bullets in question, hers.

    It was something that Kiki found that she couldn’t get past, it was the complete antithesis of every single thing that she had ever wanted to happen in her life. Kat had told her that the blame for what had happened was entirely on them, Kiki couldn’t afford to think about the incident any other way. It might cause her to hesitate in the future and that would make her a serious liability to the people trying to protect her. Kat had been brutally frank with her about how they had had been self-styled “Jacobins” who saw her as a useless parasite. They had wanted to kill her. Did she not realize what they would have done to her if they had taken her alive? Kat had practically been yelling at Kiki by the time she was through. The rational part of her accepted at face value what Kat was saying, that wasn’t the part of that felt guilty over the indelible fact that she had ended two lives.

    Kiki had still been reeling from that whole thing a couple days later when she remembered that she was obligated to spend the midday meal with Benjamin’s parents and that had turned into an absolute nightmare. Nadine had ripped into her about everything that had happened over the years. She had basically said that Kiki was a terrible person and except for the idea that she saw ordinary people as playthings, there was a lot of truth in what Nadine had said. The thing that really hurt though, had been to look of dismay on Ben’s face. What did he think was going to happen here? If Kiki told off his mother, then she would confirm forever in her mind everything that Nadine thought of her. So, she had sat there and taken it until Nadine had asked where she thought it was going to lead.

    That was when Kiki had told Nadine the absolute truth, that her relationship with Ben was impossible. That it was eventually going to fall apart despite what she might have wanted. She saw Ben’s look of dismay turn to one of horror as Kiki realized that she had just told his mother, who hated her, how to end their relationship if that was what she really wanted.

    The pattern they were stuck in had to end somehow.

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

    Nadine was furious, she had been for days. Having that girl in her house again… She didn’t care who Kristina was, this had been coming for a long time and it had felt good to finally tell her what she thought of everything that had been happening, everything that Nadine had been forced to put up with over the last several years. That was however when Kristina did something that was entirely unexpected. She had told Nadine a bit of harsh truth, that if her relationship with Benjamin became common knowledge then it would probably be the end of them. Forever.

    For a brief minute, Nadine felt triumphant as she watched Ben and Kristina retreat into the parlor. She had finally cornered Kristina and gotten her to tell the truth with none of her evasions or lies. All she would need to do is pick up the phone and call a newspaper, proof of her claims wouldn’t be too difficult. There were photographs of Ben with that girl around somewhere. Nadine would need to find them…

    “You haven’t won anything Nadine” Albert said, “All Kiki did was put the ball on your side of the court.”

    “We finally have a chance to set things right” Nadine said.

    “If that is how you want to play it, then the girl will go away and so will our son” Albert said.

    “You say that after all the half truths that evasions that the two of them have engaged in?” Nadine asked.

    “Ben once told me who she was shortly after they broke up for the first time and I didn’t really believe him” Albert said, “I was more interested in his telling me how he had convinced her to kiss him. That seems silly now, but it was important enough at the time.”

    “Can’t you see what has been going on?” Nadine demanded.

    “Yes, but I also see what is going on right now” Albert said, “Can’t you put your anger aside for a few minutes?”

    “What are you talking about?” Nadine replied. Then she saw what Albert was getting at. Kristina and Benjamin were sitting on the sofa in the parlor as she was weeping, and he was trying to comfort her without much success.

    “I see a girl who made a long series of mistakes with good intentions and has had it all blow up in her face” Albert said, “One who is willing to give you the power to end her relationship with Ben in an effort to end the conflict with you. Unless I’m mistaken. She thinks that it is over because you’ll rush to call any newspaper who will listen to you.”

    Nadine hesitated, for the first time in days she felt a twinge of uncertainty.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1553
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Fifty-Three


    2nd April 1963

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Though she had been invited, Nadine still felt a great deal of trepidation over the idea of entering the house of the Tigress.

    Walking across the alleyway for Nadine was always a fraught experience. There was simply no telling what would greet her when she entered the Gräfin’s back garden. It could be something pedestrian like Katherine’s daughter pushing a baby carriage with the family dog in it which was what had happened the last time Nadine had come around. Or it could be the older women of the house doing something outlandish. There had been any number of times when she had seen the latter. This time the garden was mercifully empty. Walking up to the kitchen door, she was greeted by Housekeeper who opened the door before she could knock. “She’s in the parlor” The Russian woman said before she went back to whatever she had been doing before.

    Walking up the stairs, Nadine couldn’t help but notice that this house seemed to be on a larger scale than hers was even if both houses seemed to have the same floor plan. She saw in the library that Kat’s youngest daughter, Marie, was reading from a book to another much younger child, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Not quite what she would have figured for Marie to have selected, but it was of a similar vein. The child looked at Nadine with big brown eyes, ignoring the story that she was being read.

    “Hello Nadine” Kat said when she entered the parlor, she didn’t look up meaning that she had been expected. Instead all of her attention was focused on a baby that seemed to be only a couple weeks old in her arms. “This is my niece Petra. Her mother wanted a break for a few hours.”

    “Is she really your niece or the daughter of one of your nieces?” Nadine asked. That was far more pointed than she intended, though Katherine didn’t seem to notice, or care if she had.

    “Petra is my brother Stefan’s daughter” Katherine said, “I have Marie entertaining Petra’s older sister and should probably check on them soon.”

    “Marie was reading to another child when I walked past” Nadine said.

    “That would be Elke” Katherine said, “Nizhoni is up in one of the guest rooms sleeping while Stefan has business in the city. She could have done anything she wanted and that was her choice. I do not miss that aspect of having a baby in the house.”

    “What sort of name is Nizhoni?” Nadine asked.

    “Nizzi’s mother is Diné, from the American South-West” Katherine said. Nadine had no idea what that meant but didn’t want to give Katherine the satisfaction of catching her out, so she didn’t ask.

    The two of them sat in awkward silence for a long moment until Nadine finally spoke. “I’m sure that you have talked to Kristina by now” She said, “What she did on Sunday.”

    “It was a foolish thing for her to have done” Katherine replied, “She placed a staggering amount of trust in you, all in some effort to win your approval. In my experience that sort of effort is often misguided.”

    “Your experience?” Nadine asked sourly.

    “Douglas’ mother doesn’t approve of her son’s marriage to me” Katherine said, “There is an extensive list of things that Margot thinks is wrong with me, religion and nationality are at the top.”

    “I am nothing like that” Nadine said, “My problem with Kristina is that I cannot trust anything that comes out of her mouth.”

    “Because she didn’t tell you who she was when you met her?” Kat asked, “What do you know about the Rome incident? Or how Kiki broke her nose when she was thirteen?”

    “I don’t know what you are talking about” Nadine said.

    “An Italian Mafia family had the idea of kidnapping Kiki along with her sisters. The Italian police foiled the plot, but the plan was to send Kiki back to her father a piece at a time until he paid a ransom to get the three of them back” Katherine said, “She broke her nose when her bodyguards were less than delicate in getting her out of a church in the midst of an assassination attempt on her mother. Those were merely two major attempts on her life, there have been dozens of others including one just a month ago.”

    Nadine was shocked to hear that. Sure, she didn’t like Kristina’s casual relationship with the truth, but she didn’t want to see harm come to her.

    “Last Friday Kiki learned that two of the men involved with that last attempt died by her hand. She spent most of that evening crying over men who didn’t deserve it” Katherine continued, “Something that played a role in her decision to tell what she did.”

    “I had no idea” Nadine replied.

    “The thing you fault Kiki for, withholding information. Have you been paying attention to your son’s career?” Katherine asked, “If he follows through on his ambition to remain a Reserve Officer in the Luftwaffe do you think that this will be the only time that you find out that you were left out in a need to know situation?”

    Nadine was about to say that would be different, but realized what Katherine was getting at. It really wasn’t.

    “Besides all of that” Katherine said mildly, “If you reveal anything about Kiki’s personal life to the newspapers, I will destroy you.”
     
    Part 98, Chapter 1554
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Fifty-Four


    6th April 1963

    Mitte, Berlin

    After a frustrating week spent filing reports and requisition forms at a desk in Rangsdorf, Kiki found that she was willing to go to the Provence of Hohenzollern for Spargel if she wouldn’t have to look at a sheet of paper the entire time she was there. Then she found out that Kat had threatened Ben’s mother. This was on top of the events of the previous week. It was moments like these when she felt like if she was the last sane person on the planet. It seemed like everything she had done to try make things better to had created an even larger mess. Kiki should have known that Kat would react the way that she had. If the Gräfin had errored in the past, it had always been in her excesses on behalf of those she cared about. That had always translated to loyalty towards Kiki’s family in the past, so it had worked out. Still though, Kat was clearly not thinking things through. She would burn the world down to protect others. But who protected Kat though?

    The entire situation had all become too much for Kiki to handle and it needed to stop. When she had talked with Charlotte, she had told Kiki that when she was stuck in a hole then the first thing she needed to do was stop digging. What would even that look like? So far, everything she had tried had gone horribly wrong. “Did it ever occur to you that the secrecy you have engaged in is the real problem?” Charlotte had asked, “That is the reason why Benjamin’s mother doesn’t trust you.”

    Kiki had tried to explain how her actions had been necessary considering the situation, only to have Charlotte stop her. “You are not guaranteed a happy ending here Kiki” Charlotte said, “When you got back together with your former boyfriend it was because you wanted something real as opposed to the sorts of offers that I know you have received. Unless you like the idea of being alone, relegated to being a broodmare or end up like Marie José and be used as a human shield against allegations that your husband is a homosexual, I would suggest that you face your demons.”

    Apparently, that included pretending that white asparagus prepared dozens of different ways were not monotonous and figuring out what she was going to do to find a way out of her current mess. Because of how Kiki figured that everything that she had assumed about matters was wrong, she figured that it was time to try something that went against everything she had been told was proper. If someone was going to blow something up, then they would need to consult with an expert in demolitions.

    Knocking on the door, Kiki waited until the door swung open and a Butler looked out at her. “The Fraulein isn’t home” The Butler said sharply. It seemed that he had a lot of experience with the sort of friends that Zella had and assumed that she was just another one of them.

    “I’m not here to see to Marcella” Kiki replied, “I came to speak with Maria. Can you tell her that I am here? My name is Kiki and she will see me”

    The Butler looked at her, he clearly wasn’t thrilled with having her around. Kiki figured that it was how she had dressed for comfort on a day off and what Ben had dubbed the Russian peasant dress that she was wearing was beneath his standards. The Butler cleared his throat, “If you could wait here in the vestibule while I check with Markgräfin von Holz” With that he vanished for several minutes leaving Kiki standing there.

    Looking around, she saw that there had been several additions of art that had been added to the walls since she had last been in this house. When Zella and her little brother Walter had been younger, they had not been present. Probably because the odds of them being damaged or destroyed had been extremely high.

    The Butler appeared looking shaken, “Your Royal Highness” He said, “I beg your apology, I didn’t recognize you.”

    “I’m not here to have my presence be a big production” Kiki replied, “I have a matter I wish to discuss with Maria is all.”

    “And that is why you came incognito?” The Butler asked, obviously looking for a face-saving way out.

    “If that makes you happy” Kiki said in little more than a mumble.

    Though Kiki knew the way to Maria’s home office, the Butler still insisted upon showing her the way and announced her as Imperial Princess Royal Kristina of Hohenzollern. She really wished that her father had not given her that title, if really did confuse matters.

    “What can I help you with Kiki?” Maria asked when Kiki sat down in the chair next to the desk. It wasn’t until she looked across the desk at Maria that Kiki realized that she was sitting in the same chair that Zella had sat in while her mother scolded her over her latest infraction throughout her childhood.

    “You helped Tante Kat tell her story, the one that was going to wreck her?” Kiki asked.

    “Do you have a story like that?” Maria asked.

    “No, not quite” Kiki said, “Just I’ve messed things up and I’m not sure what to do.”

    “And you think that becoming a spectacle will get you out of it?” Maria asked, “I don’t think I need to tell you the problem with that.”

    “I’m not trying to get out of anything” Kiki replied, “Just the story is going to come out and if the wrong person tells it, I’ll be a laughingstock. My life has become the worst sort of melodrama.”

    “How bad could it really be?”

    “Benjamin’s mother hates me because she found out that I’ve been keeping secrets from her for years” Kiki replied.

    “Just who is this Benjamin?”

    “He’s my boyfriend, on and off since we were fifteen.”

    Maria was a bit surprised by that answer. It was something that only a few people had ever known about and certainly no one from the press had been allowed anywhere near them when they had been together.

    “And the secrets you’ve kept?”

    “The whole stupid Princess thing” Kiki replied, “She just blew up at me over it. She said I treat ordinary people like playthings.”

    “Do you?” Maria asked.

    “No” Kiki said, “But after finding out about how I killed those two men it was entirely too much.”

    “You mean that ambush where they were trying to kill you?” Maria asked as she started opening drawers to her desk.

    “That doesn’t make what I did right” Kiki replied.

    Maria produced a tape recorder and plugged a microphone into it.

    “Can you please start at the beginning?” Maria asked, “How did you meet Benjamin?”
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1555
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Fifty-Five


    15th April 1963

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    It was waiting for something to happen that had always proven difficult for Kage. Gräfin Katherine had promised that as soon as she completed the investigation the time to act would come. In the meantime, he was supposed to watch and learn. Lately that had come in the form of spending time at the Gräfin’s house observing the ins and outs of the household. None of the household staff questioned his presence and the Gräfin herself had a lot of questions about the sort of training that Kage had completed and Japanese society. The things that Kage thought were the same and what he found to be completely different. The thing that Kage thought the she had going for her was that she actually asked him t do things as opposed to how the Japanese Government treated him like so much baggage until they ordered him to do something.

    The only vice that Kage allowed himself with was cigarettes. The Russian woman who was the Gräfin’s retainer had been annoyed by this. Petia had said that after what she had gone through in order to quit smoking that she would skin him alive if he did it around her. That was why he was out by the garden gate, leaning on the fence trying to put the day’s events into perspective.

    The antics of the Germans had become a source of amazement for Kage. Here he was near the center of a storm swirling around their royal family and he could watch with detached wry amusement. One of their Princesses had admitted in an interview with a major newspaper that she had been carrying on a romance with a middle-class student who would eventually serve in the Sino-Korean War. In Japan such events would likely have resulted in bloodshed, here though it was met with mere loud debate. A Princess taking up with a commoner? Who did they think they were? Considering that the Germans also made jokes about inbred nobles or the Chauffeur secretly being the Herzog’s father, then perhaps they might consider a Princess openly looking a bit more widely than her social class as a good thing.

    Kage had realized that he had seen the both the young man and the Princess around the house of the Gräfin, together in fact. They seemed to have the sort of chaste relationship that would bore most outsiders to tears and that was reflected in the advanced copy of the article that Kage had read shortly after Katherine was finished with it a few days earlier. It also explained why Kage had seen Ben loading a suitcase into a car early on the day the article came out. Then again, he knew better than anyone not to take appearances at face value. The Princess was a shy girl with glasses and curly hair. It had been to Kage’s surprise that she knew Japanese, even if she spoke it with a terrible accent. He had forgotten that she had lived for a year in Japan, though Kage admittedly had not been one to keep up with current events until they had come around to bite him.

    The back door swung open and the Gräfin’s youngest daughter stepped out. For once she wasn’t dressed up like Alice from the cartoon, not that her clothes were not still farcical. Instead she was wearing a purple frock coat over a linen shirt that was much too large for her, tucked a pair shorts that had probably belonged originally to her older brother. The look was completed by an old fedora that she had turned into a makeshift tricorn with safety pins. Katherine had said that Marie had been reading Robert Louis Stevenson lately and Kage was certain that Treasure Island must have been the inspiration for this. The cat who was Marie’s constant companion and four-year-old cousin Nikolaus followed along behind her. At first, Kage had thought that they were siblings before he had learned that Nikolaus was the son of Katherine’s younger sister Ilse and her husband, Albrecht von Richthofen. That was a family name that even Kage knew before he had arrived in Germany.

    “Momma says that smoking is bad for you Heir Kage” Marie said earnestly.

    Kage laughed inwardly at the spectacle of someone like him speaking to a fearless seven-year-old. “Your mother is smart” He said, “You ought to listen to her.”

    “And you don’t?” Marie asked.

    “Your mother and I have an arrangement” Kage replied, “It is a matter of shared interests and most of all, I am not under her command. That means that I don’t have to obey everything she says.”

    As Kage said that he realized that he was here because he wanted to be, even as Marie looked at him with a bit of a bewildered look on her face.

    “Exactly what are you supposed to be?” Kage asked.

    “A pirate” Marie said with a smile.

    “You don’t look like any pirate that I have ever seen” Kage replied, “Most of them were Chinese or from the East Indies, none of them had red hair or freckles.”

    It was something that Kage had noticed about Berlin since he had arrived. The shocking variety of people here. When he first got told that he was coming here he had presumed that he would stick out. Strangely, that had not been the case. There was a scattering to Koreans, Vietnamese, Chinese, Africans and Pacific Islanders throughout Berlin. Mostly though, it was a large collection of people from throughout the lands that made up the European portion of the German Empire. He knew that Marie must take after her mother, who had the same red hair just with a visible amount of grey in it. Or Asia who must have had coal black hair when she was younger, even if it will probably have gone completely white by the time Asia was forty. On the opposite extreme was Katherine’s ward Josefine. She seemed to have been born with hardly any color at all.

    “You actually saw real pirates?” Marie asked.

    “It was part of a mission that I did on behalf of my Emperor” Kage replied, “I might tell you the story sometime, if your mother allows it.”

    Marie looked a bit disappointed by that answer as she ran off.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1556
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Fifty-Six


    18th April 1964

    Sag Harbor, New York

    It was an unseasonably warm afternoon as Parker pulled into the driveway of the house where his mother lived during the summer. With his parents having one of their annual arguments, Parker’s Mother had come out to the house in Sag Harbor as a summer residence early to escape having to be around his father. As he shut down the engine, he remembered who had told him that this particular model of car was one that he needed to purchase as soon as it became available. Parker had even gone so far as to get on the waiting list to get one on the first day that they had reached the showroom in New York City. Earlier that day he had driven the factory new Rangoon Red Ford Mustang off the lot. As Parker had driven down the Long Island Expressway, he kept thinking about how Jonny would have loved this car.

    Closing the door, the first thing that struck Parker was how quiet it was here when the summer season was still a couple months away. There were only a couple thousand year-round residents. In July and August, the village became a small town as well to do vacationers came here to escape the heat and humidity in New York City. The second was that the house really did need to be painted, not that he was going to volunteer to do it. He had taken no more than a couple steps towards the house before his mother stepped out.

    “About time you showed up Jay” Parker’s Mother said, “Francine was here, and she had her daughter Mary with her. I had told them a lot about you, they were disappointed when you called saying that you were running late.”

    Meaning that Parker’s Mother and a close friend, Francine Digby, had attempted to play matchmaker between him and Mary. He figured that her had dodged a bullet and if he took the time to talk to Mary, he would learn that she thought the same thing. If he recalled correctly, Mary was a Graduate Student at Columbia where she was attending Law School. She was entirely too ambitious, if Parker had to explain his career then she would instantly see through the huge amount of doublespeak that he had to use when describing it to civilians. He did not think that would go over well.

    “I had an errand to run in the City” Parker said as he followed his mother into the kitchen. There was a pitcher of lemonade on the table and as his mother took her seat, he wondered if he should check her glass. Knowing her, it probably contained just as much gin as lemonade. On the table was the magazine that she had been reading, celebrity trash from the look of it. On the cover was a photograph of the German Kaiser’s decidedly less than glamorous oldest daughter. The Secret Life of Princess Kristina was splashed across the front cover. The Special Forces had heard about Kristina von Preussen but for different reasons than would be in a magazine like this. Reasons that the writers and readers of a trashy magazine would never understand.

    “To pick up that car?” Parker’s Mother asked, “It doesn’t seem very special.”

    “My friend, the one who died in Korea, would rise from the grave and haunt me forever if I let this particular matter drop” Parker replied.

    “I understand then” Parker’s Mother said, when she clearly didn’t. “I just want to see you get on with your life is all.”

    “And throwing me at Mary Digby is the way to go about doing that?”

    “You think that your being in the Army is a deal breaker with a young woman like her” Parker’s Mother said, “The truth is that she finds it exciting.”

    “Most women do in the abstract” Parker replied, “Then they find the reality repulsive.”

    “Bullshit” Parker’s Mother said, “Your Great Grandfather was in the Army of the Potomac in the Civil War, your Grandfather fought in Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt and in France under Jack Pershing. You are just continuing a family tradition, so stop using that as an excuse not to put down roots anywhere.”

    It was hardly was a surprise that it was her side of the family that she was referring to. His mother had not mentioned that his father’s family had gotten rich in those same conflicts by exploiting the opportunities that had resulted, none of them had been combatants. Then again, Parker doubted that she would be too kindly disposed towards his father at the moment.


    Hohenzollern Castle

    Regardless of what one might have to say about drafty old castles, they were perfect for sleepless nights when one was depressed. Kiki walked around the battlements aimlessly. Yes, she had resolved the situation that she had found herself in. Solving one problem by creating a dozen more. It seemed to be the story of her life.

    The story had run and suddenly everyone knew most of the truth. There were some details that Kiki had excluded, like that one night that was no one else’s business but hers. Katherine and Nadine had nothing left to say. Before she had left Berlin, Kiki had told both of them that was all there was. There were no more secrets and she wasn’t lying about anything else. So, no more sniping at her, no more accusations and no more threats on her behalf. Kiki was through with all of that, all the drama ended then and there. For the first time in her life she had seen Kat completely surprised by her actions.

    Kiki had completely blown up her life and the way that people saw her had probably been changed forever. The problem was that once the rush that she had felt in the very act of self-immolation had faded she had realized that Ben had been caught in the blast. She had not heard from him and he had apparently gone into hiding to avoid getting assaulted by the press. It seemed that all of Kiki’s worst fears about what would happen if their relationship became public knowledge were playing out. It also seemed that she now had one more regret to add to the growing list.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1557
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Fifty-Seven


    26th April 1963

    Hohenzollern Castle

    After a long and fruitless day, Kiki was on her way back to the Castle. Looking out the window of the car at the sunlight that was filtering through the trees. The realities of her position and the concrete limitations that had come with it had come into sharp focus since she had arrived in the Hohenzollern Lands.

    “We are perfectly happy to have you here” The Director of the Clinic in Hechingen had said to Kiki as he had conducted the tour. It was obvious that he was less interested in having her as anything more than a patroness and that was fine, for now. It was same reaction that Kiki had received as she had toured the various small towns and villages that made up the Principality though. Mostly, she had listened to the various elected leaders as they humored her and told her very politely that while they were thankful for her interest, they could mind their own affairs. It wasn’t helped by just how small some of these places were. There had been a particularly embarrassing incident where Kiki’s entourage had gotten lost trying to find a place only to find that they had passed through it a couple different times while trying to find it.

    Hechingen was the largest of the towns with barely twenty thousand people and Kiki was acutely aware of how there were individual neighborhoods in Berlin that dwarfed the entire Principality. The mindset here was something that she was still trying to comprehend.

    Just an hour earlier, Kiki had been meeting with the Mayor of Hechingen and he had proudly told her that the City Government had rebuffed attempts to bring the automotive and computer industry here. Though the history of her family in this region went back centuries, it was plain for all that she was the outsider here and that if she wanted to have these people turn on her then she would try to tell them what to do. That was why she had held her tongue when she had wanted to ask the Mayor if he understood that he had pissed away the future by having done such a stupid thing. It was better to say nothing than to say something that she knew full well would cause her untold grief. Going to the Town Clinic seemed like a much safer option, it was something that she at least understood. Instead, Kiki got the usual attitude that had become familiar. They liked the idea of her money, but she needed to understand that her presence wasn’t necessary. They did thank her for her interest though.

    Next week she was dreading her meeting with the Oberst who commanded the Landwehr Regiment that was raised from the Principality. He was said to be a relic left over from the First World War and he would have been asked to retire ages ago if his command was located anywhere else. Not only would Kiki have to contend with his attitudes towards her as an Oberlieutenant and a woman, there was also the fact was that Hohenzollern Lands fell under the military jurisdiction of the Rhineland. He could pretty much ignore her without consequence if that was how he chose to play it.

    “I can find my own way” Kiki said as the car pulled up to the gates. It was out of frustration that she slammed the door of the sedan as she got out and left her guards scrambling to catch up as she stomped into what she had come to see as her prison. Until the slime who had ordered the ambush on her were caught, she wasn’t to be in public without a full security detail. That had become a constant aggravation. High overhead on the watch tower was the flag of Prussia with the blue banner of the Medical Service flying below it. That let everyone for dozens of kilometers in all directions that she was here.

    Entering the tower room that had been her room when she had been here in the past and she had reclaimed it now. Kiki couldn’t help but feel annoyed. This was her life, the chasm of years yawning in front of her as the figurehead leader of a country that didn’t want her. Sitting at the desk that was covered in papers that were from Kiki’s attempts to learn how to do the job that no one really expected her to do. She wallowed in self-pity for an unknown length of time.

    Kiki was startled when the phone rang, it had been silent for days as no one had a pressing reason to call her.

    Picking it up, she tentatively asked “Who is this?”

    “Who do you think?” Ben said.

    “I thought that you were angry with me?” Kiki asked.

    “I was” Ben replied, “The first I heard about you going to the Berliner was when I saw the advanced copy of the article. All I can say is that you have managed to make my mother extremely happy, she is assuming that we are quits because you told her that would happen if people ever found out.”

    Kiki felt a stab of guilt over that, she had not thought of anyone but herself. “I’m terribly sorry” Kiki said, “What I did was horrible.”

    “It was” Ben replied, “At the same time I always thought that all the sneaking around was a bit foolish and I can think of a lot of things that you’ve overlooked about me. I’m choosing to overlook your selfishness this time.”

    “Why?” Kiki asked bewildered.

    “We do that for the people we love.”

    Dear God, Kiki thought to herself. Of all the things that she had thought might happen, this had not been one of them.

    “Are you still there Kiki?” Ben asked.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1558
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Fifty-Eight


    30th April 1963

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    His studies forgotten on his desk. Ben was staring out the window of his bedroom replaying the last conversation with Kiki in his mind.

    At first, Ben had been confused about how the phone conversation that he’d had with Kiki had become very awkward. It wasn’t until afterwards that Ben realized that he had basically told Kiki that he loved her, and he figured that she must have been on the verge of panic once he had said that. It had been a few days since then and he had not heard from her again and he could only imagine what Kiki must be thinking. If Ben was being honest, he really did love her. Just it was impossible to tell with Kiki what she was thinking or feeling, so he had no idea how she would react if he really told her that. She tended to dwell on some things and endlessly examine others in minute detail. It seemed like things that were simple always ended up needlessly complex and messy. Ben’s father had told him that it was partially because she was a woman, that came with the territory. The rest was because it was Kiki being, well, Kiki. There was no other way to describe it.

    Added to this was what had happened with Oberst Stigler the day before…

    There was a knock on the door before it swung open. Ben saw his mother with a nervous look on her face, “You’ve a guest Benjamin” She said before retreating to presumably safer ground.

    Having everyone know that Ben had been dating Kiki had a lot of unforeseen consequences for his mother. While she had been gleeful at first thinking that Kiki’s prediction that exposure would end the relationship was coming to pass. Watching Kiki effectively bringing Kat von Mischner to heel had left her positively euphoric. Then life had gone on, she had found herself subjected to unexpected jealousy and resentment within her social circle. People who had never liked her had told her what they actually thought of her. Ben’s father had described the situation as the result of there being a serious disruption in the ecosystem.

    It was when Charlotte entered his bedroom, much to Ben’s surprise. He had met Kiki’s Stepmother on a few occasions but had never spoken with her at length to any extent about anything. Ben wondered exactly why she was here.

    “Something going on with Kiki?” Ben asked.

    “Other than her attempts to convince her father that she should be allowed to return to Berlin?” Charlotte asked in reply, “Not a whole lot I would imagine.”

    “Then why are you here?” Ben asked.

    “I wanted to see how you were doing” Charlotte replied, “I know that you have a full plate on top dealing with the likes of Kristina.”

    “Exactly what do you know?” Ben asked.

    “That Oberst Stigler told you what my husband said to him” Charlotte said, fortunately she didn’t seem to find it funny.

    The Emperor had spoken with Ben’s Commanding Officer regarding Ben’s failed application to join the Space Program and had said that he didn’t mind the thought of shooting Ben into Outer Space if Ben ever got it all straightened out. Stigler had suggested that getting him back was purely optional and the Emperor had laughed before saying that it would depend on Ben’s intentions regarding his daughter. Ben had only met Louis Ferdinand a few times and he had found the Emperor extremely intimidating. Having him find out about what had happened with the application was particularly embarrassing. Ben had been told that while he didn’t qualify presently, he should continue with his studies at University and reapply at a later time. Once he got a degree in either Astronomy or Computer Science it would probably sweeten the deal considerably.

    “I didn’t find it as funny as they did” Ben replied.

    “Louis is playing the role of a concerned father looking into one of his daughter’s suitors” Charlotte said, “Though I would be careful in your shoes, he was not entirely joking and unlike anyone else you will ever encounter he can make it happen.”

    That wasn’t a surprise.

    “Doesn’t he have other daughters?” Ben asked, “I’ve never heard of him acting this way towards anyone else.”

    “Antonia is a child, Marie Cecilie hasn’t met the right man” Charlotte replied, “And Victoria doesn’t seem to be attracted to men in general. I am not sure what her deal is.”

    Kiki had a few ideas about the more conservative of her younger twin sisters that she had told him, and Ben had a feeling that Charlotte would not see the irony that Kiki had.

    “I also wanted to see where you lived” Charlotte said as she looked at a poster of a star chart that was tacked to the wall.

    While the room wasn’t a mess, it was cluttered with the contents of Ben’s flat still crammed into the room. Ben knew that it probably wasn’t going to give Charlotte the best impression.

    “The contents of my flat had to be crammed into here after I lost my flat last year” Ben replied, “That is the reason for the mess.”

    “Korea?” Charlotte asked.

    “Yes” Ben replied, “This is what greeted me when I got back.”

    “What were you expecting?” Charlotte asked, “Failure to plan and all that.”

    Having heard it many times before, Ben knew that expression well. Failure to plan on your part does not constitute a crisis on mine.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1559
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Fifty-Nine


    12th May 1963

    Potsdam

    The Hall was festively decorated in the warm colors of Summer to celebrate the changing seasons. The wind driven rain that was running down the windows told an entirely different story. The calendar might say that it was nearly Summertime but the storm outside suggested that the cold, wet Spring wasn’t over just yet. Victoria Augusta was finding the weather was perfect reflection of her mood. Not that she showed it to the guest who she was currently entertaining.

    “What was that supposed to have meant?” The Prince of Naples asked, and Vicky felt nothing but revulsion at his apparent dullness. Her mother had tried years earlier to broker a marriage between Kiki and Vittorio. That had worked out as well as anything else that her mother tried to do with Kiki. Meaning that it had been a complete train wreck. Admittedly, the Italian Prince had a reputation of being a shameless womanizer as well as being personally reckless. The hope the House of Savoy had was that the Italian Crown Prince would meet and marry a respectable woman before he caused a scandal or inherited the throne. Whichever came first. That was the stated reason for sending him to the capitals of other European nations, though it was just as likely an excuse to get rid of him for a few months.

    Vittorio had been trying to charm Ria and Vicky. Making Vicky glad that this afternoon’s event was chaperoned in the process. He had mentioned Kiki once in passing, making sure that she was out of the capital because word had spread about her killing two men. Ria had told him that he had little to worry about on that score. Then she had walked away while Vittorio was trying to figure out what that had meant, leaving Vicky with him. Out of aggravation Vicky almost blurted out that Ria had implied that she didn’t consider him to be much of a man. Once again, Ria got to play the “fun one” leaving Vicky to be the “serious one” who had to be responsible and nobody liked.

    Vicky was realizing that she had no opinion either way. Yes, Vittorio made her skin crawl and the way that he couldn’t seem to stop staring towards things he shouldn’t be was becoming annoying. At the same time, he was just the latest in a long series of men who she wasn’t attracted to. Vittorio just happened to be the worst of the entire wretched lot. That was in keeping with all the things that Vicky found were disappointing about herself. Her sisters found things in men that they thought were attractive while she had never seen the appeal.

    “If you would please excuse me” Vicky said to Vittorio who just nodded indifferently. He had noticed that the bar had opened and that was what all his attention was focused on. Vicky refrained from voicing her disapproval of his personal habits. Tante Katherine always told her to pick her battles carefully and scolding an overgrown child was a waste of her time.

    Walking quickly in the direction that Ria had disappeared, Vicky left the reception hall and walked down the corridor towards the Lady’s Wing. While the reception that was celebrating the reopening of the Summer Residence was going on, the business of the Imperial Court still was proceeding normally. The meeting that Charlotte was conducting with the senior Ladies of the Court was just letting out.

    Ria was talking with their Stepmother and Tante Katherine while the others were filing out of the room. Asia Lawniczak, the Mistress of Keys was walking towards Vicky and it was too late to avoid her. The pregnancy that had caused so much speculation around the Court was starting to show. Vicky had found herself appalled by the whole situation. No one knew who the father was, and she had refused to tell anyone that information. How could Asia, a Lady of the Court and a confidante of the Empress behave in such a shameless manner? It should have been a scandal, but no one seemed to care. Just a few hours earlier Vicky had attended a service held in the Garrison Church, the sermon had been about the moral decay that seemed to be overtaking the Empire. From Vicky’s perspective, Asia personified that. The sort of sexual deviancy she was said to have engaged in…

    “Victoria” Asia said in greeting. “Was the Prince of Naples not to your liking?”

    “I find him to be gross” Vicky replied, “Last I saw of him he was getting his first drink of the day.”

    “If it makes you feel better, I find him the same way” Asia said, “I was just telling your Stepmother that he will probably be the best friend of the Italian Republican movement in the coming decades unless he should happen to have an unfortunate misadventure in the meantime. While that would be better for everyone, I don’t want to give the BND any ideas.”

    Asia must have seen something cross Vicky’s face because her expression changed.

    “I know you don’t approve of me” Asia said, “But life is that silly thing that happens to you despite your plans.”

    “It is not my place to judge” Vicky replied, if she had taken anything away from attending Church it was that.

    “I can tell you don’t mean that” Asia said as she reached out and touched Vicky’s cheek. It was an action that was meant to be compassionate, but it felt differently to Vicky.

    Asia must have noticed, because Vicky noticed a flicker of surprise cross her face.

    “You’ll never be happy until you accept yourself” Asia said, confirming Vicky’s worst fears.

    Then Asia walked off. Vicky absolutely hated how she had just betrayed herself and the meaning behind what Asia had said in that moment.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1560
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Sixty


    15th May 1963

    Kreuzberg, Berlin

    For the hundredth time this week, Gang Ji found himself thinking about how this wasn’t what he was expecting at all.

    A month earlier, Ji had been called to assembly with the rest of his Company. It was announced that they had completed their commitment to the State and were free to go. The whole thing had been an absurd anticlimax after the events of the prior year. His arrival at his parent’s house had not gone much better. His father had welcomed him warm but stern fashion and then asked him what he was planning on doing for employment. It was to Ji’s shock that his father had told him that he had no future in his home village and that he needed to take the money that the Army had paid him and get as far away from there as he could.

    It had been a chance encounter a few days later when he had been trying to catch the train to Seoul that he had run into one of his friends from the Army who had told him that the shipyards in Kiel and Danzig always needed workers. Skill level and immigration status would be overlooked the need was so great. As Ji found out once he had managed to cross the vastness of Russia and was nearly out of money, if something sounded too good to be true it probably was. If he had arrived six months earlier, the situation would have been as he had heard. Instead with the European economy in recession the shipyards had been idled. Even if they had started full production the next day, it would be German workers who got hired on first.

    So, Ji had been forced to look elsewhere, landing a job in a Korean Market in Kreuzberg had been a stroke of luck. Berlin had a relatively large Korean population centered in that neighborhood, and as Ji would quickly learn it went with dozens of other ethnic groups that had arrived in the city over the previous decades. All them came into the store, so the Han Suk store’s owner had said that he had best put his prejudices aside and treat all of them like paying customers. If he learned that they didn’t have money, then he no longer had to worry about being polite because they didn’t belong in the store.

    So far, he just did odd jobs. Sweeping the floor and taking out the rubbish bins when he wasn’t stocking the shelves. Suk had said that he would show Ji how to use the register when he got the chance. In the meantime, having a former soldier around was good for the store if there was any trouble.


    Pankow-Heinersdorf

    “I just don’t get it” Kat said after she had told her Aunt what Asia had told her. “How can Vicky look at Asia with scorn but still be infatuated with her?”

    “If this girl really does have those kinds of leanings, I would be willing to bet that your protégée is the likely the only woman she regularly encounters who plays for that side occasionally” Aunt Marcella replied.

    That sounded correct to Kat, she had known for a long time that Asia was equally attracted to men and women. The current situation that Asia had gotten herself into was proof enough of that.

    “God has a strange sense of humor at times” Marcella said, “I’ll grant you that.”

    “And I came to you for advice” Kat replied, “What am I supposed to do about it?”

    “I know that this goes completely against your nature Katherine” Marcella said, “But this time, I think you should do nothing. Let Victoria find her own way and for God’s sake, don’t breathe a word of this to anyone else.”

    Kat had gone to Aunt Marcella because she had found herself in a situation that was way more complicated than anything she had ever handled. If she made the wrong choices, then she would wreck the life of Victoria who Kat had known since she had first that second heartbeat weeks before the twins had been born.

    Sure, Kat had listened to Kiki and Ria making jokes about the secret nature of their straitlaced sister for years. She had always just assumed that it was just more sibling rivalry expressing itself. To have Asia come to her and voice her suspicions after what had happened on Sunday afternoon was an entirely different matter. Asia said that Vicky was her usual insufferable self, full of the sort of judgement and self-righteousness that she had taken on in recent years. It was probably in reaction to her sisters leading less conventional lives if Kat had to guess. Though Vicky hadn’t said it aloud, she had a sneering perspective towards Asia’s failure to live a proper life from her perspective. For her part, Asia said that she had felt sorry for Vicky figuring that it was coming from a place of naïve arrogance.

    “I’m good at keeping secrets” Kat said, “Just I’m afraid that Vicky might get herself hurt.”

    “That is understandable” Marcella replied, “Perhaps, what Vicky really needs is someone like an Aunt, or at least what passes for one, to listen to her without judgement.”

    “You’ve been waiting ages to say that” Kat asked, “Haven’t you?”

    Marcella just smiled.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1561
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-One


    17th May 1963

    Hohenzollern Castle

    When Kiki learned that she had a guest arrive from the city she was briefly excited, then she saw who it was and felt her heart drop through her stomach. Vicky. All the castle’s staff clearly wanted it to be a joyful reunion, but it was obvious to her that her younger sister was having a personal crisis of some sort. The kind that caused her to travel seven hundred kilometers out of her way. She looked exhausted, like if she hadn’t slept in days. Just the fact that she had run to Kiki in a manner that was totally unlike her showed just how desperate Vicky was.

    The dinner they had of soup and bread that they had was tense, with Vicky only willing to answer questions about school and how Nella or Freddy were doing. Later, Kiki was sitting on her bed while Vicky was looking through the latest batches of pamphlets that covered her desk. They were from various corporations, mostly in computer technology but there were others as well, optical glass manufacturing and precision assembly. Looking at Vicky in the soft light that the lamps cast, Kiki could see how she favored their mother. It was odd how Ria and Vicky were identical, yet Kiki didn’t see that same resemblance when looking at Ria.

    “I’ve been trying to persuade the local communities in this Province that they need more than just forestry and tourism for the economy” Kiki said, “Most of the resistance to that seems to be fear of change.”

    Vicky’s expression grew clouded, “You and Ria are the same” She said, “You think that if you ask nicely, people will upend their lives to suit you.”

    That was what Kiki had come to expect from Vicky, she had always been the realist to Ria being a dreamer. In recent years she had embraced institutions of various kinds, church and family, all of that in ways that Kiki and Ria had rejected years earlier.

    “I’m not asking people to upend their lives” Kiki replied, “I’m just trying to give the people who live here opportunities that they might not otherwise have.”

    “If is so great than just order it done” Vicky said sharply.

    “This isn’t the Heer Vicky” Kiki said, “The instant I just ordered people to do things like that, then I would lose what authority I have here.”

    “Then how do you expect things to get done?” Vicky demanded. Kiki couldn’t help but noticing that she was growing more upset. “I don’t understand your constant need to make things difficult?”

    “It is called being an adult, if you want positive changes to be permanent then you have to build consensus” Kiki said, something crossed Vicky’s face and Kiki knew that it had been precisely the wrong thing to have said. Though she didn’t know why.

    “It’s not supposed to be this way, not for me” Vicky said, “It is supposed to be girls like you who go off to play solder or Ria, who is weird anyway.”

    “What are you talking about?” Kiki asked, “What’s not supposed to be this way?”

    That just caused Vicky to start sobbing.

    “There’s something wrong with me!” Vicky wailed.

    And? Kiki thought to herself. For years she had watched Vicky trying to be perfect, conforming to what she thought other people wanted her to be. Had she finally cracked now that she was about to sit for her Abitur and the responsibilities of being an adult were looming? With her personality, finding that she was a fallible human being like everyone else would be difficult for Vicky. It didn’t help that with her still being a very sheltered teenager, small personal matters were the end of the world.

    “It’s not like we are talking paranoid schizophrenia here” Kiki said, “Did you come in five minutes late to one of your classes last week ruining twelve years of perfect attendance?”

    Vicky’s jaw dropped when she heard that.

    “Is that what you think of me?” Vicky asked, “That I would…”

    She trailed off and Kiki immediately regretted having asked that.

    “No” Kiki said, “But compared to some of the things I’ve seen, I have a hard time thinking that your problems are as serious as you make them out to be.”

    Vicky just stared at her and Kiki could tell that she was about to hyperventilate. What could possibly get her in such a state?

    “If you had just lost a limb and were bleeding out, I would not only understand but could step in and save your life” Kiki said, “That it something I’ve seen and dealt with. Whatever is going on with you couldn’t be that extreme.”

    Vicky stared at Kiki for a long minute, clearly weighing how much she trusted her.

    “Something happened” Vicky said reluctantly, “I was talking with Frau Lawniczak and she noticed something about me.”

    “You are here because you talked to Asia?” Kiki asked.

    “I find her repulsive” Vicky said, “No one knows how many lovers she has had. She flouts convention and now with her being with child everyone is acting as if it’s not a big deal. Charlotte even offered to be her baby’s Godmother. It’s absurd.”

    Vicky said she found Asia repulsive, but the expression on her face said otherwise. This also just confirmed something that Ria had been making jokes about for ages using lewd terms when she knew Vicky was out of earshot. It was a cliché that good girls found bad boys irresistible, in this case Vicky found herself in that same sort of situation with a twist. Asia wasn’t stupid in these matters and had obviously noticed.

    “So, you are saying that you ran away from Potsdam and spent eight hours on a train because you are afraid that people will figure out that you’re a lesbian?” Kiki asked.

    Vicky just sat there blinking and Kiki realized that she was on the verge of having a panic attack. No one had ever said that aloud to Vicky before now.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1562
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Two


    19th May 1963

    Hechingen

    This place was one of complete darkness with the only light coming from the flashlight that Kiki was holding, the air wasn’t stale though. Kiki said that the complex was climate controlled because there were things down here that were required to be kept at a constant temperature. It was a secret that Kiki had said that Vicky needed to see.

    Kiki had led her deep under the castle through a maze of tunnels that she said dated back centuries. There were several steel grates that were locked from the inside, and Vicky knew that she would have been hopelessly lost if her sister hadn’t known the way. As the grates locked behind them, Kiki said that it was fine because they were not coming back the same way. Eventually the roughly cut stone walls gave way to concrete. After they had walked what seemed like several kilometers, they came to a sign that spelled out in red letters Danger! Radiation, Observe all Protocols.

    When Vicky looked at that with fear, but Kiki just smiled.

    “During the Soviet War the Wilhelm Institute relocated one of their research projects to Hechingen” Kiki said, “We’re deep under the town and that history is part of the reason why certain industries want to locate here.”

    “Is it dangerous?” Vicky asked.

    “I came through here with a Geiger counter and there is no more than the expected background radiation except in the core itself” Kiki replied.

    “The what?” Vicky asked.

    “What we came here to see, sort of” Kiki said, “We would not want to access the core obviously, but the control room is impressive.”

    “Shouldn’t there be guards?” Vicky asked.

    “The way we came is one of the few ways to get in that weren’t sealed off when the project was moved elsewhere” Kiki replied, “The core couldn’t be removed.”

    “What was this project?” Vicky asked.

    “Operation Hecate” Kiki answered, and Vicky felt her mouth go dry. That was the name of the project to develop the first atomic bombs in great secrecy. Decades later only the barest details had been given to the public.

    The previous Friday night, Kiki had sussed out Vicky’s deepest secret and her reaction had surprised Vicky. Contrary to what Vicky had feared her reaction would be, Kiki had made it clear that she didn’t think it was the end of the world. “Just do me a favor” Kiki had said, “If you ever decide to go public with this, tell everyone that it was having Prince Vittorio as a potential suitor that was the final straw. He caused you to swear off men forever.” Despite her fear of being found out Vicky had laughed at that.

    “That isn’t how it works” Vicky had said.

    “I know” Kiki replied, “But the look on that pigheaded louse’s face when he hears that would be just delicious.”

    Later they had talked late into the night and Vicky had learned the reason why Kiki had taken it all in stride. In the Medical Service and the FSR, she regularly encountered women who preferred the company of their own gender as she put it. They were respected professionals in their own fields, and no one made a big deal about who they went home to at night despite what the regulations said. When Vicky asked if Kiki ever worried about people thinking that she was one of them, she just smiled. Kiki said that the stories about her having a boyfriend were true and that she knew what she preferred. For Vicky herself, she had realized she felt like a great weight had been lifted off of her, when she was alone with her sister anyway. Then Kiki had told her that next autumn Vicky would be starting at University and that would be a new opportunity to meet new people and figure out how to live her life on her terms.

    The next day, Kiki had let Vicky see what she had been doing over the prior weeks she had spent in the castle. At a typewriter filling out applications for Federal infrastructure grants and trying to lure corporations to build facilities in Hechingen and Sigmaringen. This had led directly to a conversation of why Zuse, Leica, Siemens, Zeiss or any of the others who Kiki had been in contact with would be interested. Kiki had said that it was because of history. Vicky had asked what she meant by that and Kiki had said that she needed to see it for herself.

    Entering the control room, Kiki found a switch and turned on the overhead lights and Vicky saw the long rows of gauges with the needles occasionally moving. “The core is in there” Kiki said pointing to a small window at the end of the room. When Vicky looked, she saw a circular metal pedestal set into the floor. She realized that it was a lid on something like a jar.

    “Metal over graphite and lead, cooled by a self-sustaining closed system that uses salt as a coolant” Kiki said, “It weighs several tons and after two decades its still quietly ticking away.”

    “You know a lot about this” Vicky said.

    “It’s my business to know” Kiki replied, “The men I’m dealing with want to know about this.”

    “This is amazing” Vicky replied, “Scary though.”

    “Sometimes the monsters under the bed are real” Kiki said. Vicky realized that if Kiki had just said that this was down here then there would be no way that she would have believed it.

    With that they left the control room, down a corridor and up several flights of stairs. Vicky couldn’t help but notice that several of the side tunnels had been backfilled. Kiki was right about how they really had sealed this place off. Coming to a steel door set into the wall, Kiki pounded the butt of her flashlight into it until it swung open.

    “You should have called us ahead of time your highness” A man in the green uniform of a policeman said as he let them through.

    “Consider this a surprise inspection without the inspection” Kiki said as she led Vicky up one last flight of stairs into the Hechingen Police Station.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1563
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Three


    22nd May 1963

    Kreuzberg, Berlin

    Ji had just finished unloading crates of fresh produce from the van into the walk-in cooler. Many of the varieties of fruit and vegetables that he had seen were surprisingly familiar to him being the same as those sold in Korea. According to Suk it was because farmers outside the city knew that there was demand here within the Korean population looking for a taste of home. It was something that caused Ji to take a closer look at the jars and cans of the products that the store sold. He had seen the labels in Korean and assumed that they had been imported. It seemed that Ji’s assumptions were wrong and when he thought about it, he realized that these were locally produced goods that had Korean labels slapped on them. It would have been too expensive to do it otherwise.

    “Are you here to window shop or work” Soo-Jin said sharply. It seemed like Ji was always running afoul of Soo-Jin, Suk’s wife who took the management of the store far more seriously than her husband did. If it wasn’t how he was doing his job, it was her concern about how Ji might put down roots here in Kreuzburg through her family. As if Ji was interested in the Han family’s homely daughter Bora. Even at the age of seventeen Bora gave Ji the impression that she would become her mother in twenty odd years. Ji would call the German authorities on himself before he considered going that route.

    Rushing back to the front of the store, Ji grabbed the dust mop and started sweeping the aisles of the store. It was something safe to do, it made him look busy though he wasn’t doing a whole lot. He did a once around the whole store, trying to make sure that the linoleum floor was spotless. There were a few coins that he found that he pocketed, it wasn’t as if anyone’s name was on them. After shaking out the mop, Ji found a broom and a dustpan. As he swept up the pile of debris, Ji noticed that he was being watched.

    A little girl with blue eyes and hair the color of copper was peeking around the corner at him. Seeing that she had been noticed, she stepped forward. “Good afternoon, Sir” She said in comprehensible Korean, and she gave him a slight nod in the manner considered polite.

    “Thank you, Fraulein” Ji replied in German and the girl smiled.

    “Stop bothering him Marie” Soo-Jin said, “The boy needs to earn his keep.”

    Ji held his tongue, he felt he more than earned his place here. The Han family had been paying him a fair wage, but he still needed to get his living situation sorted and had been sleeping on a cot in the store’s back room until a more permanent arrangement could be found.

    “You know her?” Ji asked.

    “Marie’s father rents a space upstairs that he runs a photography business out of” Soo-Jin said, “Her parents have been encouraging her to learn new languages, so she bothers me and Suk until her father comes looking for her.”

    “You said that you would teach me some more words Frau Han?” Marie asked plaintively.

    Ji saw Soo-Jin pull a dogeared Grammar schoolbook from behind the counter that had several bookmarks in it. He couldn’t help that Soo-Jin’s actions didn’t reflect her words. She seemed to enjoy teaching the girl words in Korean.


    Copenhagen International Airport

    Erland Dalgaard knew that he was in deep shit because he was tied to a chair at what sounded like the airport. He couldn’t guess why he had been crammed into the trunk of a car with two of his co-workers, he would have known that it was Carsten and Ivar just from the smell. Of course, when Erland had seen the Oriental he should have known that something was up, not that he had seem him for long. It had been with shocking speed that he’d been soundly thrashed, which led directly to this current predicament.

    After an unknown length of time, a woman entered the hanger and Erland recognized her. The term “deep shit” no longer applied to the situation. It had just become completely catastrophic.

    “Did you have any trouble with them?” The woman asked the Oriental. He just shook his head.

    “Why did you kidnap us?” Carsten demanded. He never had known when to keep his mouth shut. Didn’t he realize who this was?

    The woman smiled warmly but her eyes were cold.

    “Nathalie Falk” The woman said, and Carsten fell silent. Erland knew that judgment had come for them.

    “We don’t know nothing about that” Ivar said, “She killed herself.”

    “No, she didn’t and with that double negative you admit that you know the truth” The woman said, “She was beaten to death after the three of you got through having your way with her.”

    She had them dead to rights and Erland had no doubt that the other two would sell him out in a heartbeat to save their own skin.

    “Look, whatever price you name, we’ll pay it” Erland said.

    “All I want is an answer to a simple question” The woman said, “What was so important that you would risk the wrath of Jarl Gunnarsson? Nathalie was under his protection.”

    “We got a better offer” Erland replied.

    “I know” The woman said, “Figuring out who that was took time. That is why I’ve had you three watched carefully for the last several months.”

    Erland had no idea that had been happening.

    “We just were supposed to learn who the father of Nathalie’s daughter was” Ivar said, “She never told us.”

    “Idiots” The woman said, “I don’t have time to deal with the excuses that rapists make. We discussed this Kage.”

    The Oriental nodded, then with one quick movement he expertly cut Ivar’s throat. As Erland watched him walk towards him, he remembered that there was an expansion of the airport terminal happening, somewhere under the concrete it would also be his tomb.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1564
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Four


    24th May 1963

    London, England

    “Then I had to tell him that I would be out of the country and wouldn’t be able to sort this latest mess” Kat said to Elizabeth who seemed amused by the whole situation.

    “I am surprised that he did not just order you back to Berlin” Elizabeth said, “He has that authority.”

    “Yes” Kat replied, “But he knows that I cannot be two places at once. I couldn’t be in both Berlin and at the Hohenzollern Castle. Especially since I got Kiki and Vicky on the phone so that I could get to the bottom of what has been going on.”

    For Kat the previous days had been spent running from place to place. First from Berlin to Copenhagen and then on to London where she had promised Elizabeth that she would visit when it could be arranged. Kat wasn’t about to change her plans just because one of Louis Ferdinand’s children was having a crisis, if she did that then she would never get anything done. It was bad enough that she had needed to go to Copenhagen to conduct some distasteful but necessary business. At the moment, they were watching Elizabeth’s fourteen-year-old daughter Birdie as she held one of the reasons for Kat’s visit, the newborn Prince William. There was probably no one on Earth happier to have welcomed England having a new Crown Prince more than Birdie herself. Kat understood that Elizabeth had suffered a miscarriage a few years earlier, something that had dashed the hopes of the more traditionally minded within the British Government and Birdie.

    Since she had been born, Alberta, better known by the nickname Birdie, had been the designated heir. It was a role that she had never been comfortable with and had even gone so far as to seriously look at converting to Catholicism to get out of it. It had been pointed out that making such a move might not work as intended. The legal and religious issues raised by that had never been adjudicated. Not to mention the reality that Birdie would hardly be free, instead she would have made herself the perfect candidate to be the future Queen consort in Spain or Italy. While her love for her baby brother was genuine, Birdie still felt liberated by her change in circumstance.

    “What has been going on?” Elizabeth asked.

    “Victoria is finding adult life a bit more complicated than she ever bargained for” Kat replied, “She ran to her older sister for help.”

    That was a half-truth, but Kat had been protecting the children of the Emperor since she was not much older than Birdie. It wasn’t a habit that she was about to break now. Elizabeth didn’t need to know what the full story about what was driving Vicky’s actions.

    “We all have those moments” Elizabeth said, “For instance, I convinced a friend to arrange for me to learn to drive a tank when I was her age.”

    “It was a fun day” Kat said.

    “That reminds me, how is Major Knispel these days?” Elizabeth asked.

    “He’s a Generalmajor, er… Brigadier these days” Kat said correcting herself midsentence, remembering the equivalent rank. “Michael is trying to convince him to take command of the Armored Division of the Bohemian Army.”

    The instant Kat mentioned Michael of Bohemia she noticed that Birdie’s entire demeanor changed. While the two of them had gleefully tossed aside the entire notion that they were to enter an arranged marriage, Michael had been one of the few people in Birdie’s life who had told her that she had choices. Years later, it was obvious to everyone that Birdie still had a thing for the young King of Bohemia.

    A few minutes later William started fussing and the nurse retrieved William from Birdie. As her son was placed back into her arms, Elizabeth asked. “Do you miss this, when they are little?”

    “Yes and no” Kat replied, “Babies were made cute by evolution to prevent us from killing them when they throw a fit because you said no to a sugary snack. Fortunately, Marie seems to have outgrown that sort of thing.”

    “You need to bring Marie here next time” Elizabeth said, “I haven’t seen her since she was a toddler.”

    “Lately she has taken to pestering the Korean couple who runs the market downstairs from Douglas’ studio to teach her that language” Kat said, “Do you really want to put yourself in that role?”

    “Marie is what, seven or eight?” Elizabeth asked in reply, “At that age children are mostly harmless.”

    Kat tried not to laugh. That was spoken like a woman who had an entire staff to help her mind her children. Kat’s experience was that children were small-minded selfish little brutes until they learned better.

    “She’s seven” Kat replied, “Marie is extremely precocious. She loves playacting, dressing up as a pirate or as Robin Hood are the least of what she does. Having her in a palace packed full of historical artifacts is asking for trouble.”

    Elizabeth just smiled at that, “The way you describe her sounds a lot like how I imagine you were at that age” She said.

    “I never dressed up” Kat said.

    “I will have to take your word for that, but didn’t you once say that you had visited almost every European capital city by the time you were six” Elizabeth said.

    Kat was trying to remember why she had told the Queen of England about that.
     
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    Part 98, Chapter 1565
  • Chapter One Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Five


    27th May 1963

    Mitte, Berlin

    After weeks in Swabia her father finally relented and allowed Kiki to come back to Berlin with Vicky. The stated reason was that with the preparations for the upcoming Royal wedding in full swing, having a key member of the wedding party on the wrong side of the country no longer made sense. The other reason was that Kiki’s father was hoping that Kiki could enlighten him about what had caused Vicky to flee Berlin in the first place. Kiki had placated him by saying that it was a personal crisis brought on by a feminine issue, which was sort of the truth. The next question from her father had catapulted the entire situation into the realm of the truly absurd. “Vicky isn’t pregnant, is she?” Kiki’s father had asked, and Kiki had said that was sort of impossible.

    Staring at her face in the three mirrors facing her, Kiki looked at the form fitting suit that she was wearing while standing on a stool in a room full of people and wondered if she should be embarrassed. Klaus Voll had been commissioned to design the wedding dress for Suga and the dresses worn by the other women in the wedding party. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that he wasn’t about to let pass.

    “We need you to hold still love” Klaus Voll said amicably to Kiki. She was finding it hard to do, especially because of the itch in the middle of her back that was growing more aggravating by the second.

    “I’m doing my best” Kiki replied as one of Voll’s assistants was carefully measuring her body with a cloth measuring tape. “I thought that you already had my measurements?”

    “As of a couple years ago, yes” Voll said, “But you’ve managed to put on a few centimeters around your hips since then, I see.”

    That was news to Kiki, she had not gained any weight in that time and as she looked in the mirror, she saw the same thing she always did.

    “You change as you get older, it is expected” Voll said, “There is also challenge of making a dress for a woman with an athletic body.”

    Kiki had not heard herself described as athletic before, only having heard it said about Kat. It was far better than the terms that had been used a couple years earlier. If that was the only comparison with Kat that people made of her then she would be happy with that. When the conversation with her father had shifted away from Vicky, he had wanted to talk about how things had been going in the Province of Hohenzollern. The region had a reputation of being rebellious against Hohenzollern rule and the hope was that the people there would see Kiki as nonthreatening. It spoke volumes about how her father saw her and at the same time she realized that it couldn’t have been less true. Kiki could only imagine the sort of negative reception that she would have received if she had a reputation like Kat’s. While she loved her like an Aunt, there were times when Kat could be entirely too much. There had been in the moments after Kiki had finished with that counterattack when she had realized that she had become like Kat in the seconds before she had opened fire.

    It wasn’t a great feeling.

    Shortly before Kiki had left Hohenzollern Castle, she had found herself with an unexpected visitor, Friedrich Wilhelm, heir apparent of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen branch of her family. She had not known a whole lot about her distant cousins, other than they lived in Sigmaringen and that they closely related to the King of Romania. In the context of the visit, Friedrich’s father was the Graf of Sigmaringen, and they were very interested in what Kiki’s plans were for the future of the Province. She couldn’t tell if they were offering a partnership or were merely opportunists. If she had to guess, she would say that they were perfectly prepared to be both depending on whether she fell flat on her face or not.

    “Now, in this matter your brother’s intended has not exactly been a great deal of help” Voll said, “She thinks that since the bride’s maids are going to be wearing these dresses then they ought to pick the color.”

    “And all of them want something different?” Kiki asked.

    Voll’s face reflected how vexing he found that and there had probably been a great deal of arguing about that judging from the expressions of the women around the room. Kiki had seen the various swatches of cloth.

    “Then tell Suga to pick one and be done with it” Kiki finally said.

    “Not everyone is as decisive as you are Kiki dear” Voll replied.

    Kiki knew what Voll was getting at. “I’ll talk to her once this is finished” She said with a great deal of reluctance.

    “Good” Voll said, “You are the sort I like, agreeable and your dimensions probably won’t be changing too much from day to day.”

    Kiki wondered what would have prompted that comment when she noticed that Asia was sitting in the corner glaring at Voll. It was hardly a surprise that he would be less than sympathetic towards the issues surrounding pregnancy. Kiki figured that would be something else that she would need to smooth over before there was a body to hide.
     
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