Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread II

Part 103, Chapter 1667
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Sixty-Seven



    19th December 1964

    Mitte, Berlin

    If there was one thing that Suse couldn’t understand about this whole ordeal that she had been subjected to, it was Rea’s involvement. She was one of the most progressive women that Suse had ever met. Yet here Ria was involved with an outmoded ritualized display that was totally misogynistic in nature, implying that that young women were only worth their availability for marriage and the potential ability to produce preferably male heirs. No matter how they tried to dress it up in the whole notion of coming of age, it was impossible to escape the origins of the event. When Suse asked Rea about that, she just smiled and said that it was really quite fun when it was someone else’s turn in the barrel and she didn’t need to participate herself. Suse knew the joke that Ria was referring to about a Naval Recruit who learns too late about one of the aspects of his life aboard the ship.

    So, the answer was pure sadism.

    It wasn’t as if Suse was surprised. She had been discovering that was how adults tended to view the world. It was all fun and games, so long as someone else took the drop. Suse’s mother had told her that she was being melodramatic. Her introduction to the Imperial Court was a chance to make new friends and there were a huge number of opportunities that would present themselves by her doing this. Suse’s father had a different take. He said that because of the Great Depression and the Spanish War, her mother had been unable to do this herself when she was Suse’s age. If that was the case, why did her mother have to once again try to relive her life through her? And this business with getting Manny to escort her. That was pure wish fulfilment on her mother’s part right there. Manny’s mother had been rather pragmatic about the whole thing when they had spoken earlier. “Just humor Gerta” Helene had said, “You know how she gets.” That was easy for her to say, she wasn’t the one standing here in a preposterous white dress trying to pretend that she was something that everyone knew she clearly was not.

    “You look amazing” Suse’s mother said as they looked in the mirror. Like always seemed to happen, the dress and her hair had gone with a rose theme.

    “I should have shaved my head” Suse muttered. Not even her mother could work with that.

    “You would have gotten off on it until the first time you saw yourself in a mirror” Gerta said, “Then you would have really fallen apart and there would be no way that you would get off that easily. Tonight, is about you not passing up something that you will always remember fondly and without regret, whether you like it or not.”

    This was worse than her sixteenth birthday.

    “And it won’t kill you to not be a sour little bitch for once my little rose” Suse’s mother said, the expression on her face never changing as she said that, though there was a lot of frustration in the tone of voice that she used.

    That was something else that Suse’s father had told her. That she aggravated her mother to no end, but her mother went out of her way not to show it. That was when Suse felt a bit of the annoying guilt that she felt whenever she was reminded of how her mother had gone all out for her again and again since she was a baby. She just wished that her mother wasn’t so suffocating at times.

    That was what was at the forefront of Suse’s mind as she followed her mother downstairs. The dress was proving to be a bother. It had been designed to accentuate what figure Suse did have, just that required her to be so tightly cinched into it that she felt like could hardly move. It also pushed things in certain directions and was cut in a way that left her feeling very self-conscious.

    Entering the parlor, Suse saw her father talking with Manny. They were only required to wear a suit and tie to this event, though her father was wearing the black dress uniform tunic of the Panzer Corps with the medals and orders pinned to it. The unfairness of that irked Suse to no end. Still, she saw the look of surprise on Manny’s face as he noticed her.

    “I wasn’t expecting this Suse” Manny said as he stood up. “I didn’t realize that underneath…”

    Manny trailed off and Suse’s father clapped him on the back.

    “Don’t start the evening by digging yourself a hole you won’t be able to get out of Manfred” Suse’s father said before turning to her, “You look beautiful Suse Rosa.”

    That left Suse feeling awkward. Was she supposed to thank him for that?

    “One more thing before we leave” Suse’s mother said as she walked in from the hallway. “You’ll catch your death if you wear just that dress out tonight. For you.”

    Her mother was holding the fur coat made from the white pelts of arctic foxes. It was gorgeous, for years Suse had seen it hanging in the walk-in closet in her parent’s bedroom but had never been allowed to touch it. Manny’s reaction wasn’t what Suse expected though.

    “Didn’t that once belong to my mother?” Manny asked absently.

    “And Helene gave it to me as a gift because she said it was entirely impractical with two children in the house” Suse’s mother replied, “It’s Suse’s now and it goes perfectly with that dress.”

    With that, the coat was thrown over Suse’s shoulders. Her mother was right about it being perfect.
     
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    Part 103, Chapter 1668
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Sixty-Eight



    29th December 1964

    Mitte, Berlin

    Emil stared at himself in the mirror and wondered how his life had come to this.

    The light grey Paratrooper’s tunic was covered with the medals and the stars of Orders that Emil had been awarded over his long career. The Orange sash of the Order of the Black Eagle and the Grand Cross and star of the Pour le Mérite were all that he really needed to wear. However, Emil knew that if he did that then all the Chivalrous Orders that he was a part of, mostly as Grand Commander, would want to know why. Looking at the Grand Cross of the PLM, Emil realized that if what he had heard about what was happening in Kiel was true then it was very likely that he would be the only living holder of the Grand Cross in the near future. Three had been awarded during the Second World War. The first to Jacob von Schmidt for the Battle of the South China Sea. The second to Manfred von Wolvogle for the Winter Campaign and the capture of Moscow. The third had gone to Emil for his destruction of the Japanese Army of Manchuria.

    When Emil had retired, he had assumed that he would never have to so much as look at his uniform again. Years later, he had realized just how far off the mark he had been as his uniform tended to come out every time he went to a funeral. Now it seemed like every time he saw it; it involved the loss of another friend and that was happening with a great deal of frequency. Piers Sjostedt had said that it was the sad reality of demographics when Emil had spoken with him the night before, they weren’t the children that they had been in Verdun or Ussy. Back then the odds of mere survival had been extremely long, yet they had made it through. Now though, time was doing what the French, Americans and British could not.

    Christmas had gone well this year, then a single phone call that Emil had received the next day had jarred everything.

    Maria and Zella had been enjoying a rare period of détente. It had to do with Zella taking some control of her personal life over the previous year, if swearing off men until one who was halfway serious came along counted as that. Zella’s latest documentary had aired on Christmas Eve on ARD Television. It was simply titled The Roundel vs. Wings of Victory, referring to the respective corporate logos of BMW and Honda Motorcycles. In Emil’s opinion, his daughter had outdone herself this time. He had seen her filming from the back of a flatbed lorry as it drove around the test track. The top speed of the flatbed was only around 120 KM/H, actually fairly slow for the racing motorcycles. Clever editing had made it seem like if the bikes were going a thousand kilometers per hour though. The documentary was a mixture of racing footage, interviews and detailed technical presentations. Zella had done her best to make sure that it was all comprehensible to someone even if they didn’t know anything about motorcycles. She had even convinced the riders to put their rivalries aside and appear in the film together. Probably her being a pretty young woman who could get them wrapped around her finger with a smile had helped her a great deal in that regard. It was nice to see Zella have a bit of success. Emil’s hope was that she would be able to build on it, she was on pace to finish University with a Master’s in Fine Arts. That would further burnish her reputation.

    Walter was a bit of a different story, he seemed to be at completely loose ends. Not as outgoing as his older sister, he was a bookish prankster if Emil had to describe his son. Walter had mentioned that he was interested in pursuing a career in Law when he started University next year, though that might change. Even so, Emil had called Erich Kästner, a friend who he had gone to University with in Jena years earlier who was now a Judge in Saxony to see if he could talk to Walter. If that turned into a mentorship then Walter would be better for it. When Erich had called back the day after Christmas, Emil had been in a melancholy mood because Nizhoni had already called earlier that day and that had put a pall over everything. When the conversation had turned towards what had been happening, Erich had observed that some of them seemed destined to persist forever, or at least what seemed like it.

    The day after Christmas, Nizhoni had called to tell him that Walter von Horst, arguably the toughest man who Emil had ever known, had suffered a major heart attack. It was supposedly over before he had hit the ground. Emil wasn’t about to say it to Nizhoni, but the fact that it had been quick and relatively painless had been a mercy. The last time that Emil had seen Horst at the beginning of December, he had been in poor health. Despite all his efforts to get the diabetes under control Horst had been told by his doctor that he was almost inevitably going to face being a double amputee in the coming year. Horst had been spared that.

    Emil had a hard time accepting it though. Horst had been a fixture in his life since he had been fifteen, almost fifty years earlier. Now he was gone, and Emil was going to his funeral.
     
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    Part 103, Chapter 1669
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Sixty-Nine



    29th January 1964

    Potsdam

    It seemed that over the course of his career, Piers Sjostedt had noticed that people tended to be focused on both ends of their lives. It seemed like baptisms and funerals were where he saw most people. What they did in the middle between those two events was a bit more important. No one could argue that Walter Horst didn’t leave his mark, they might quibble about how he did it though. There were a lot of people, especially in Russia and among those who had formerly been under his command, who might argue that Horst was the Devil himself.

    The sort of life that Horst had led was definitely checkered by anyone’s standard and Sjostedt knew it because they had spent a lot of time together in the trenches as it were in the First World War. He fully understood the dichotomy of the man himself like few others did.

    Horst had been a Soldier, first in the Ranks and eventually rising to the rank of Generaloberst and he’d had many of the vices associated with that. Horst drank, smoked, gambled and was about as irreligious a man as Sjostedt had ever known. He could be extremely vulgar and rude at times as well. There were a lot of good reasons why he had earned the nickname “Mad Dog” somewhere along the line during his career. There were also the attendant arrogance, pride and wrath Horst had exhibited in large measures during his life.

    There was the other side of him as well. Horst had been a faithful husband and a good father. Something that was especially important to Sjostedt because Horst had been married to his younger sister Nina. Sjostedt’s mind kept going back to all the times that Horst had his back in life and death situations. Or Horst’s reaction when the two of them came face to face with the sort of ugly bigotry that people like Sjostedt were subjected to by Americans. Horst was also a member of the most prestigious Orders of the Realm, some of which he had been granted on more than one occasion at different stages of his career. That included getting inducted into the Order of the Red Eagle no less than three times and the House Order of Hohenzollern twice. No one doubted his bravery or integrity for a second.

    For those who knew Horst, whether they loved or hated him, news of his passing had come like a punch to the gut. When he had been leading the charge as a younger man, he had seemed invincible.

    The Old Garrison Church of Potsdam was a building that the weight of history fell heavily on. The events that had occurred within its walls reverberated throughout Germany over the previous centuries and if everyone was being honest, it had not always been in the most positive way. While holding this event here was in keeping with Horst’s stature and reflected his career, Sjostedt was acutely aware of how this was also making him a part of that history. What role did a man like Sjostedt, who had dedicated a considerable portion of his life to the cause of peace have in a place like this, whose very purpose seemed very contrary to everything he stood for?

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

    As Uncle Piers stood before the gathered mourners and began the litany, Nizhoni knew that her father would have hated the circus that this whole thing had become. Today, his ashes were to be interred here. After everything that Walter Horst had done with his life, all that remained was an urn and a pillow with his medals on it.

    For Nizhoni, this whole thing was a nightmare.

    When her father had died her mother had been left completely catatonic and her older brothers had been almost completely useless. She had been the one to tell Uncle Piers that the closest her father had come to giving instructions about what he wanted after his death had been “Burn me with the rest of the trash.” Piers had just shrugged and written down that the General had requested cremation and had proceeded with making the arrangements. Nizhoni had realized that this wasn’t the first time that Uncle Piers had dealt with situations like this.

    Then the calls had started.

    Everyone wanted to know when and where the service was going to be. Nizhoni didn’t have any answers for that. She had two small daughters to care for on top of all of this. Petra was still a baby, which made things easier. Elke on the other hand had a lot of questions. She understood that her Opa had been sick, then he had gone away and wasn’t coming back. The adults in her life weren’t exactly forthcoming. And was the concept of mortality something that a four-year-old needed to have weighing on them?

    That was when Katherine had stepped in and had made the arrangements which was a godsend. Nizhoni had thought that this church was a bit much, until she had seen who would be in attendance. Still, she was ambivalent about her sister-in-law. Yes, Katherine was generous with her time, was good with Elke and Petra, and had helped out Stefan and Nizhoni countless times. Yet beneath it all there was a ruthlessness to Katherine that was unsettling. Stefan said that it was because she was the daughter of their father and left it at that. Nizhoni hadn’t found that comforting though. Everything that she had learned about Stefan’s father had been disquieting, he was believed to have been a Machiavellian figure controlling the underworld from the shadows for decades. It seemed that his efforts had culminated in the person of his daughter, the very embodiment of the iron fist in the velvet glove.

    With that the litany concluded and Nizhoni realized that she hadn’t listened to a single word of it. The eulogies were about to start, with the first being by the Emperor himself. She hoped that they would at least be honest about her father, they owed him that much.
     
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    Part 103, Chapter 1670
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy



    2nd January 1965

    Pankow-Heinersdorf, Berlin

    It was a typical weekday afternoon in Gert’s tavern. A thin crowd of regulars from the neighborhood plus office workers from the city who were sneaking out early on the Friday of a holiday week. That reflected the changing nature of the neighborhood. The light industry that had defined the neighborhood when Hans had been a child were largely gone and even the railyard that had defined the boundaries of it had recently been closed. Instead, new developments that were surprisingly upscale were moving in.

    “The place was a complete mess yesterday morning” Gert said, “We had broken glass everywhere, confetti and popped balloons among all sorts of other garbage. You wouldn’t believe what turned up in the lost and found box.”

    “I helped clean up after some of the parties thrown here in past, so I’ve a good idea” Hans said as he picked up the two glasses that Gert had just poured drinks into, beer for Hans and Coca-Cola for Manny. Gert was still around though he had a pension and sufficient savings to have retired years earlier. Hans had only asked him about it once. Gert had asked in reply what would he do all day? Hang around his own tavern? There was a truth in that. For Gert the tavern had always been a labor of love, even if he had been able to make a living from it. Though he was well past the age of retirement he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

    Making his way back to the table, Hans saw Manny watching the television over the bar. The Football Highlights of the past year was what was playing. He had invited his son to come here under the pretense of Gert having asked about him, which was true enough. However, Hans had wanted a chance to talk to Manny without Helene around because she was decidedly not thrilled with some of the choices that their son seemed to be making. Hans figured that having her rip Manny apart and attempt to browbeat him into doing what she wanted would probably backfire. Instead he was going to simply be honest about what was going on, try to convince Manny into seeing sense and not making any lasting decisions at this point. Easier said than done.

    “For you” Hans said as he sat the drink onto the table in front of Manny.

    “Thanks Pops” Manny said absently as he was mostly focused on what was playing on the television.

    They sat in silence for a few minutes as Hans thought about how best to talk to Manny.

    “You watched all these games over the year” Hans said, “You already know how it ends.”

    As soon as he said, Hans became aware of how that figured in with this conversation. He was all too aware of how it often ended having seen it play out far too many times over the previous years. Manny wasn’t. Which was why it was needed.

    “I know” Manny said, “But still.”

    It was an old complaint of Helene’s. A television being on tended to draw all the eyes in the room.

    “Gert!” Hans yelled, “Put it on a soap opera or something, I’m trying to talk to the boy.”

    The other patrons in the bar laughed as Gert grabbed a broomstick from behind the bar and used it to change channels on the television. They didn’t seem to mind too much so long as it was all a lark. There were some things in this neighborhood would probably never change. What came on was a news program that was currently featuring the day’s weather.

    “I was watching that” Manny said with as much indignation as he could muster. He was battling against a lifetime of knowing that when his father chose to talk, ignoring him was not an option. Helene tended to yell a lot, both Manny and Ina had learned to generally tune her out before they had finished out their first decade. Hans had taken a different approach that seemed to work better.

    “Gerta wanted you to have this” Hans said, handing Manny a photograph of him standing with Suse Rosa from a few weeks earlier as they had been leaving for the Grand Ballroom in the Hohenzollern Palace from an envelope that he’d had in his pocket. “Mind telling me what has been going on?”

    “Suse’s mother asked me through Ma if I would escort her to that” Manny said, “She thinks that we’ve been dating or something.”

    “Have you?” Hans asked, “Because it is the, or something, that you mentioned that is of concern.”

    And watched as Manny struggled to figure out how to explain this without trying to bullshit him. Something Manny knew simply didn’t work.

    The truth was that Magdalena Foerstner had spotted Manny and Suse in the Main Branch of the Berlin Library. Leni had thought that it was cute to watch them because it was obvious to her that Suse had the material down and she was trying to pound it into Manny’s head.

    “If you and Suse have been experimenting as young people tend to do, then you had best hope that her father doesn’t find out” Hans said, “While Gerta might not like it, she would probably be grudgingly tolerant so long as there were no consequences. Kurt on the other hand… If he finds out you’ve been messing with his little girl, you’re screwed. He’ll have the entire 5th Panzer Brigade drive over you for that.”

    Manny was sputtering, trying to come up with a coherent answer.

    “It isn’t like that” Manny blurted out.

    “What is it then?” Hans asked, knowing that he had Manny exactly where he wanted him.

    As he waited for Manny to either shit or get off the pot, he glanced at the television. The news story was about how much of a surprise it had been to learn of the role that Walter Horst had played in the Spring Revolution decades earlier. That had been mentioned a few times during the eulogies at Horst’s funeral a few days earlier. They must not have seen the movie when it showed how he had ended up in charge when von Wolvogle and the other Officers went to go take a piss that day.

    One man choosing to do the right thing when given the choice. Was that really so hard to believe?

    Just a few years after that, the Heer and other armed forces had adopted what were known as Spanish Rules regarding conduct around civilians and in foreign countries. Recruits were still required to memorize an updated version. That had probably been where that had all started.
     
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    Part 103, Chapter 1671
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy-One



    8th January 1965

    In transit, near Flensburg

    The train was pulling into the station and Nancy was getting fidgety, she a bit giddy about her reunion with Tilo. Nancy felt that it was stupid that she tended to feel that way every time she came back at the end of the week. It had only been a few days since they had seen each other.

    Anna had her face pressed against the glass as she was watching the landscape race past. It had taken considerable effort, but Nancy had gotten Anna to not stand on the seat. She didn’t want to think about what would greet whoever cleaned the glass and found in covered in the greasy handprints that Anna was leaving. Gretchen was mercifully asleep on Nancy’s lap. She had been unhappy earlier as they had left Inga’s apartment and in the manner of small children everywhere, had not shy about expressing that displeasure.

    Tilo’s sister Inga tended spoil the children rotten, it made her popular with them and left Nancy smarting at times. She had to be the one who told them that they could have no more sweets and that it was time for bed. It was a different story with Helga, Nancy’s mother-in-law. She ruled her household, including her grandchildren when they were present, with an iron fist. Helga stated plainly that history would not be repeating itself if she had any say about it. Nancy felt completely inadequate in the face of that.

    Looking out the window, Nancy saw the houses that had been built in the last few years on the outskirts of Flensburg pass as the train slowed. It took a few minutes for the station to come into view and the train to come to a stop. Gretchen was jostled awake as Nancy stood up and carried her in the direction of the door. Keeping Anna close in a crowded car was a challenge like always. Stepping into the cold night was a shock after the warmth of train car.

    Tilo was standing on the platform with Sabastian, his hands on their seven-year-old son’s shoulders. Tilo had a lot of experience in not allowing Sabastian to wander off, even for a second. It was noticeable that Tilo looked tired tonight. In the wake of the Sino-Korean War a committee of Officers from all the Service Branches had compiled a report about what had worked and what needed to be improved upon. One of the recommendations had been that the Marine Infantry be expanded to better suit the role that they had been playing in the Far East as well as in the Baltic. They could no longer be where the Heer dumped their worst castoffs. As the Commandant of the Mürwik Naval Academy, Tilo was playing a large role in the effort of shaping what the future of the Marine Infantry would look like.

    Over the last couple years, Sabastian had been spending a lot of time with Nicholas, Ilse’s son, on the expansive estate of Graf von Richthofen, Nicholas’ grandfather. He had loved the time he had spent in the forests of Silesia and for the first time in his life Sabastian had found himself in a place where no one minded his behavior as much. The Graf’s attitude had been that boys needed to run wild to a certain extent, they just needed proper direction as to how and where they did it. It was probably just a passing fancy, but Sabastian had come away from the experience of the previous two hunting seasons wanting to be a hunter in the mold of the men who he had been around, the Graf and the Foresters who he worked with.

    Nancy had looked into it and had learned that it was like any other skilled trade. There was an apprenticeship involved and that if Sabastian did that, he would probably be strongly encouraged to go to University. The University of Breslau had an Environmental Sciences/Forestry Program geared for exactly that. To Nancy’s surprise, it looked like the perfect thing for Sabastian. In the back of her mind she was aware that it was an alternative to where he was all to likely to end up.

    Reier, Park Seo-Hyeon and a couple of Tilo’s current aides were waiting with them.

    “Poppa!” Anna yelled and she ran across the platform to Tilo. The same reunion played out the same every week, but she didn’t seem to tire of it. Seo-Hyeon collected Gretchen from Nancy, freeing her to properly greet Tilo herself.



    Jena

    “Is there anything you want to do this weekend?” Ben asked, pointedly not looking up from the book he was no longer reading.

    “I don’t know” Kiki said with her back to Ben as she hung the blue kimono on the back of her bedroom door and removing the towel that she had wrapped around her head so not to stain the silk. “Sleeping all weekend works for me.”

    She had just showered, leaving Ben alone to read one of the books that that was required in the syllabus in the coming term. Dry material in the relatively new field of Radio Astronomy. Unfortunately, Kiki getting ready for bed was far more interesting. While he liked that she was willing to trust him to this extent, gawking at her would be childish.

    “You’ll get bored by midmorning tomorrow” Ben said, “You always do, then we’ll have a late breakfast and be having the same conversation.”

    “Perhaps” Kiki said as she pulled a blue and white striped football jersey over her head and put on a pair of grey track pants. She occasionally teased him about whether or not he would prefer some busty, blond bombshell over her, everything she wasn’t. The truth was that Ben had realized long before that Kiki’s appearance was secondary, she was smart and funny when she chose to be.

    It was then Kiki went to the chair that was at her desk and started brushing out her hair so that she could braid it. If she didn’t do that it became a tangled mass while she slept. It was when she was braiding her hair that she noticed that Ben was watching her. It was the same as when they had been teenagers and she had been living in the attic room in Fürstin Katherine’s house. She paused for a second, before resuming with a slight smile.
     
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    Part 103, Chapter 1672
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy-Two



    14th January 1965

    Jena

    Kiki didn’t smoke. Personally, she felt that it was a disgusting habit to have and had never considered starting. Today though, as she sat anxiously it the group discussion, she had no idea what to do with her hands. The others in the group who smoked didn’t have that problem and Kiki envied them for that. The conversation drifted around until it came to the moment that she dreaded the most.

    “Do you have anything to say tonight Kristina?” Doctor Holz asked, “We could talk about whatever you want, no one will judge you here.”

    Kiki saw that all eyes were on her and wished that she could fall through the floor. For weeks she had listened to the others talk about harrowing experiences and the struggles that they had been having adjusting to life after that. Compared to any of that, her problems seemed incredibly trite.

    Did they really want to hear just how inane her life really was?

    “My dog has been hiding toys under the sofa in the parlor for months” Kiki said, “Vicky thought that it was funny, I ended up yelling at her and Rauchbier. Neither of them really listened and it is a tossup as to which of them is more aggravating.”

    “Who is Vicky?” One of the others asked, “Rauchbier?”

    “My little sister and my dog” Kiki replied, “Who I live with. I am also the servant of an elderly calico moggy with whom I share the house.”

    There was chuckling around the group.

    Then someone repeated a bit of what she had said, “With whom?”

    “What is wrong with that?” Kiki asked.

    “Nothing really” The man who had said that replied, “Just the way you talk, very polished and proper. How’d you end up in here with the rest of us mugs.”

    “Because I was naïve enough to think I was proving something by rejecting privilege and volunteered to go to Korea a couple times.”

    That raised a few eyebrows. Everyone else in this room had been of Mexico or Korea and that had been enough for them. Kiki had just admitted that she had gone by her own volition and then had gone back.

    “I was a Field Medic and Surgical Assistant posted with the 3rd MID when they went into the field against the Chinese when they first threatened war” Kiki said, “I went back with the 5th Attack Helicopter Wing leading an FSR team when the shooting started.”

    As Kiki watched money was changing hands.

    “What is going on?” Kiki asked.

    “There was a bet going as to whether or not you were actually in a combat posting.”

    “As opposed to what?” Kiki demanded.

    “Well, everyone knows sort of what happens to women in order for them to end up in here” One of the men replied and the others started shuffling nervously in their chairs.

    The assumptions that they must have been making about her. Kiki didn’t know what was more disturbing, the assumptions or the reasons behind them.

    “Thank you, Kristina, but that is enough for today” Doctor Holz said, ending the conversation before it got more uncomfortable.



    Tempelhof, Berlin

    After all the times that people had looked for a way to hurt Kat, they had clearly lacked imagination. Of course, while the situation that she found herself was like a knife through her heart, it was the sort of thing that was completely unthinkable for most people to even consider unless they were talking in hushed tones in the hopes that this true monster would pass them by. Losing one of her own hurt Kat deeply.

    Of the girls who had joined Kat’s makeshift family, Tilde Messerli had always been the healthiest and most mentally balanced despite having been orphaned during the Second World War. Once the mission of playing body double for Gia had ended, she had gone to University and gotten a Diplom in Early Childhood Development and had gone to work in the same State School for Girls that Kat had found her in years earlier. Then a few months earlier, she had been stricken by one of the few things that Kat could not protect her from, Ovarian cancer. She had concealed her illness from Kat and the others to spare them from having to watch her die.

    Looking at Tilde’s body, Kat could see what the cancer and the attempts at therapy had done to it. It looked like she had been tortured.

    “She should have told me or her sisters” Kat said, “No one should die alone like this.”

    “She wasn’t alone” The Oncologist who had been her Doctor said, “There were others in the ward who she was friends with and because we needed to have her on morphine towards the end it was not exactly painful.”

    Those were not comforting words for Kat. Someone she had cared about had died a lonely, agonizing death and now she was just a statistic, one of thousands who died like this every single year, forgotten. She would have to inform the rest of the girls about this and the result of that would not be pleasant. All of the other girls had potentially life ending conditions. Ilse had a weak heart, Kris’ bones were brittle as glass, Judita had epilepsy, Asia and Leni both struggled with mental difficulties. All of that was the result of traumatic childhoods or neglect.

    It was a horrible intrusive thought, but Kat realized that this would not be the last time that she would stand here identifying a body so that it could be prepared for burial.
     
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    Part 103, Chapter 1673
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy-Three



    20th January 1965

    Jena

    It was a bright winter day and despite the sunlight, it was extremely cold. Rauchbier tore across the field and birds took to the air as he ran through the shrubs that they were hiding among. He was wearing a red sweater along with boots on his paws that had been a gift from Vicky that she had been told would keep him warm while allowing him to move freely. It was perfect for Rauchbier because as winter had set in, he had been cooped up inside much of the time and had driven everyone nuts with his need to run off excess energy at least once a day. At the same time, he had not been shy about his dislike of the cold.

    Victoria had asked around on her own time about how other people with dogs who were as sensitive to cold as Rauchbier handled it. The sweater and the boots had been suggested. Kiki had seen that they were necessary but had felt a stab of guilt over the matter. It was something that she should considered before the weather had become cold. She had started to tell that to Victoria, but she had cut Kiki off by talking about how handsome Rauchbier looked in the sweater. Kiki had stopped feeling guilty as she had tried not to laugh, it was a bit of an absurd thing to say about a dog.

    “Someone is happy to get out” Kiki heard a familiar voice say behind her in English and she wondered if she should summon the two BII Agents who were standing a respectful distance away to run him off. He must have bullshitted his way past them as his kind were good at doing.

    “I’m trying to enjoy my afternoon Mister Thompson” Kiki replied, “And just why are you not in Washington D.C. The new American President is being sworn in today, yes?”

    “Wasting time in Paris seemed a better option” Hunter replied, “I already got enough lies on the campaign trail to fill an entire novel.”

    Kiki hoped that was hyperbole. She didn’t know as much about American politics as she might have liked, but from what little she had seen, scoundrels seemed to prosper.

    “Paris is a long way from Jena” Kiki replied as Rauchbier ran back to them. He sniffed at Hunter’s legs and feet before taking his accustomed place at Kiki’s side.

    “My editor said that a story about a real Princess would interest people” Hunter said, “I convinced Ms. Jensen to ask you for an interview. She said that it was up to you.”

    No wonder he had gotten around her security and Nancy had put the onus entirely on her. Kiki would need to properly thank her when she got the chance.

    “People find me boring” Kiki said. It was deliberate on Kiki’s part, she made sure to wear the same clothes whenever she went out in public. The result was that photographs of Kiki were worthless to the tabloids and there were actually more photographs of Rauchbier than there were of her. At the same time, her family had not produced the sort scandals that were the bread and butter of the tabloid press in recent memory. Sure, her relationship with Benjamin might have been a scandal just a few decades earlier, but her going to the Medical Academy would have as well. These days it wasn’t considered particularly exciting.

    “This is an international audience” Hunter replied, “Look at the success of the Disney films, people might want to meet the real thing.”

    “All of those are the same and equally insipid” Kiki replied, “If I woke up and found some strange man was kissing me, I would shoot him and the original stories are worse, if anything. Do you have any idea how the curse was broken in the first versions of Sleeping Beauty? I find it revolting.”

    “I’m not familiar with that.”

    “It wasn’t a kiss that woke her” Kiki said, “One of the twins that were conceived as the result of her being raped in her sleep sucking the flax splinter out of her finger because it was starving. Do I need to tell you everything that is wrong with that?”

    “That’s a bit of a non sequitur” Hunter replied.

    “It isn’t. It reveals the attitude towards women in the era in which it was written” Kiki said, “That we are mindless creatures with no agency, who don’t have a problem with the worst sorts of violations imaginable. That’s a load of bullshit and the sanitized garbage that Disney produces makes it worse.”

    “I’m just trying to ask about an interview Kristina” Hunter said, “Your opinions about culture can be a part of that, if you want.”

    “You only want to interview my Title” Kiki replied, “Not me.”

    “Actually I am interested in the woman who got the Blue Max in Korea without ever firing a shot and laughed in the face of a terrorist who was holding her hostage” Hunter said, “The fact that you happen to be a Princess of Prussia might be the least interesting thing about you.”

    With that Rauchbier took off running and a rabbit bolted when it saw him bounding towards it. Kiki hoped that he wouldn’t be too lucky on this outing. If in addition to dealing with Hunter, having to dispose of a dead rabbit would be a bit much.

    “And would you really shoot who kissed you without permission?” Hunter asked.

    Kiki reached into her coat and pulled her service pistol from its holster. “This is what I would use to do it” She answered. Ever since she had been grabbed by Mithras, she had not been in public without it.

    Hunter let out a low whistle as she put it back before anyone else saw it. He didn’t seem to be too put off by her having it.

    “See, I said that you were far more interesting” Hunter said.
     
    Part 104, Chapter 1674
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy-Four



    29th January 1965

    Mitte, Berlin

    After months spent on the campaign trail with Rockefeller, and with the compilation of articles he had written about to be published, Hunter had needed a pallet cleanser. If he was being honest, going to Paris had been an impulsive act for admittedly stupid reasons. He had heard that women went topless on the beaches in France. It hadn’t been until he had gotten there that he had realized that it was the dead of winter and he might as well have stayed in New York or Washington D.C. when it had been snowing the first afternoon he had been there. After a few days, he had gotten bored and had tried to figure out where the action was. They were coming up on a year since the German Princess had gotten her skull cracked in a series of events that people were still trying to figure out. The whole thing was tied to a fortune that had supposedly been stolen from the German royal family as well. He remembered the Princess, how she had thrown him out of her hotel suite the instant she had figured out he had misrepresented himself.

    Hunter’s Editor had wondered how he had managed to get an interview with Princess Kristina. She notoriously reclusive and prickly if approached. It was especially strange to hear from various newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic that the morgue files that they had on her were largely useless. In nearly every photograph they had on her she was wearing surgical scrubs or the same suit of drab, unfashionable clothes. It was obvious to him that it was an orchestrated strategy on Kristina’s part to keep herself out of the public eye. That and what had happened when he had first approached her in Jena only served to make her more interesting from his perspective.

    It was getting close enough to talk to her that had proven the challenge. These days she never went out in public without Agents from the BII, German equivalent of FBI, right at hand and as Hunter learned, she had a gun as well. There had been a few journalists who had tried approaching her directly and that had ended badly for them.

    Strangely, it had been through Kristina’s father that he had gotten the interview with her. Hunter had found a throwaway article from a couple years earlier about Kaiser Louis touring the Volkswagen assembly plant in Wolfsburg, then a different article about him on a similar tour at a design center in Stuttgart. There were additional articles about his interest in Formula One racing and his sponsorship of the Beijing to Berlin Rally Race. So, it was fairly easy to figure out what Louis was really into in his spare time. The German Kaiser was a car guy and regardless of language, Hunter knew how to talk to someone like that.

    It had taken weeks, but Hunter had arranged to speak with the Kaiser as background for an article that had run in Car & Driver about the current model year of Mercedes Benz. It had turned out that Louis had a lot of opinions in that regard and because cars were not seen as political, he was free to talk about the subject to his heart’s content. The conversation had eventually turned to Louis’ plans to lease the aging palaces to the State so that the headaches associated with them would be someone else’s problem. Then his infant granddaughter Mirai Louise and one of his sons who was in Antarctica. Finally, he mentioned that he had read the Playboy article that Hunter had written about Kristina and liked how it had been fairly evenhanded.

    That had been first in a series of conversations until Hunter had gotten Louis to suggest that he talk to Nancy Jensen about doing another article on Kristina. That had been a bucket of ice water over Hunter’s head. He had grown all too familiar with the House of Hohenzollern’s American born gatekeeper. Not only was she immune to his charms, she was married to one General Dietrich “Tilo” Schultz of the High Seas Fleet’s Marine Infantry. In Germany that meant that if he bothered her too much then there would be several extremely rough men knocking on the door of his hotel room and they wouldn’t be the type to care about there being a law against them kicking the shit out him.

    What had followed was several days of back and forth with Nancy Jensen getting and having permission to approach Kristina in Jena where she was attending Medical School. Finding her watching her dog run around a field had been a nice touch. The off-topic talk about Disney and how she related to it, not so much. There had been one major sticking point. It seemed that Princess Kristina wanted assurances regarding just what publications an article about her would run in. The last one being in Playboy had not been to her liking. Her objections revolved around respectability and what she saw as exploitation. It had been during those negotiations that Kristina had let slip her own political views. While hardly surprising when considering who she was doing with her life, it definitely blew out of the water the perception that many Americans had about royalty.

    Now a week later, waiting for her to show up for the interview in the hotel bar that she had agreed to do was a reminder of just whose country this was. When she finally did show up, Hunter saw that she had Nancy Jensen and Marcella von Holz as well as the dog with her this time. He realized then that this was not going to be an easy interview.
     
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    Part 104, Chapter 1675
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy-Five



    5th February 1965

    Mitte, Berlin

    When Manfred had ended up telling his father about what he had really been doing with Suse, he had found himself in a bewildering situation. For starters, his father was disappointed that he had attempted to go around behind his back, especially because it had to do with the possibility of Manfred meeting the requirements to get into the Panzer Corps. In the past his parents had never told him directly what their problem was with his choices. That changed in Gert’s tavern as his father told him about how he reminded him of the idealistic boys who came into the 140th Regiment. He had not pulled any punches as he described how many of them found themselves sent to the rear because they lost their nerve if they were lucky. They rest found themselves horrifically injured if they weren’t sent home in a box, often in pieces. His parents wanted far better for him because Manfred had better options than his father ever had.

    Then there was the problem that was presented by Suse Rosa, something that Manfred had never seen coming.

    He had broken off all contact with her after the conversation with his father. He understood the real threat that Kurt Knispel represented and didn’t want to see what a Generalmajor would do to him if provoked, merely driving Panzers over him would probably be the least of it. A couple weeks later he would learn that Suse was outraged for reasons that Manfred couldn’t understand and was refusing to be ignored. The trouble was that Manfred’s scores in Mathematics had improved, from Suse had said very emphatically that it looked to her like if he had gotten what he had wanted from her and then had been trying to avoid her. His parents had joked about how he should be learning an important lesson from this situation and about how in the future he should keep it in mind when the stakes are higher. It hardly needed to be mentioned what they were getting at and why they thought that the thing was hilarious.

    That was how Manfred had ended up outside the old von Wolvogle townhouse in his best suit so that he could take Suse Rosa, who wasn’t his girlfriend by any stretch of the imagination, out on a date. “It will make Gerta happy and it is the least you can do to thank Suse for the help she’s given you” was how Manfred’s mother had put it.

    Knocking on the door, Manfred stood there half hoping that no one was home tonight. He realized that he wouldn’t be so lucky when a Butler who he had never seen before answered the door.

    “The Lady of the house has instructions that you are to proceed to the parlor and wait for the Fraulein” The Butler said. Something about the way he said it suggested that Manfred was some sort of unappetizing insect that had crawled in from the garden.

    The Butler led Manfred through the house to the formal parlor. Kurt Knispel was sitting in a relining chair in his shirt sleeves, Manfred realized that this was the first time that he had seen him without the black dress tunic that was worn by the Panzer Corps. Sitting gingerly down on the sofa, Manfred did his best not to be noticed. The television was tuned to the evening news, a story about the new American President giving a speech about a new era of International cooperation. Manfred’s lack of attention during the English classes he had endured came back to haunt him as he could only understand perhaps every third word. He hoped that Kurt wouldn’t ask him his opinion because it would be instantly obvious that he didn’t have the first clue about any of it.

    “Good evening Manfred” Kurt finally said after several excruciating minutes. “Gerta is helping Suse get ready and she isn’t having an easy time of it.”

    Manfred wondered if he was talking about Suse or her mother.

    “I can wait Sir” Manfred said, knowing that being anything other than agreeable would probably be bad for his health.

    “Don’t have much of a choice, do you?” Kurt asked. That was another comment that was true on several different levels.

    Manfred sat there quietly. Mercifully, the report changed to the day’s sport coverage and that was a welcome distraction to the looming doom that Kurt represented if Manfred stepped out of line.

    “I understand you’re a Footballer” Kurt said, something about the look in his eye suggested that question was somehow loaded.

    “Yes, Sir” Manfred replied.

    “Is that the only sport you are into?” Kurt asked.

    “I’m also into track and field” Manfred replied, “In the autumn there is hunting on my grandfather’s estate, I went fishing on the North Sea last year when my family when to Aunt Kat’s house on Langeoog.”

    He had probably said too much, but he couldn’t see how Kurt could hold any of that against him.

    “So, hunting and fishing” Kurt said, “You must have been in the Scouts?”

    “Yes” Manfred replied, his trepidation returning.

    “All the times that you had an animal in your sights or a fish on the end of a hook, remember that and consider that you are still near the bottom of the food chain” Kurt said, “Am I clear.”

    He was a little too clear with that meaning.

    “Suse and I are only friends” Manfred said, “I’m only taking her out tonight to thank her for her help.”

    Kurt snorted a laugh. He clearly didn’t completely buy that.

    Luckily, Gerta and Suse came downstairs and saved him from further awkward conversation.
     
    Part 104, Chapter 1676
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy-Six



    9th February 1965

    Mitte, Berlin

    As Louis Ferdinand entered the room, he considered how ill equipped he was to deal with the dispute that he had been asked to mediate after two members in the Reichstag got into a couple physical altercations twice in the last week alone. Someone like Antonia’s Kindergarten teacher would probably be ideal. She was used to dealing with squabbles among five and six-year-old children who were probably far better behaved and acted more mature than the two so-called men that Louis was going to have to deal with today.

    It was all because of von Papen and there were times when Louis felt that it would be better for everyone if he would just die already. He remained under house arrest as teams of accountants attempted to untangle the web of financial deceit that von Papen had created. They were discovering things that seemed entirely geared to create massive headaches for Louis in the years to come and probably Friedrich in due time as well. Like the current mess in Southern Poland where von Papen had been funding the radicals on both sides of the divide there or furthering the aspirations of the two men who Louis was going to be meeting with who were both from fringe-right political parties who were only united by their dislike of him.

    The first was Prince Alexander Ferdinand von Preussen, the leader of the Land and Tradition Party who also happened to be Louis Ferdinand’s cousin. Land and Tradition, dubbed Dust and Cobwebs by its many critics, was the largest of the Royalist political parties which was nowhere near as impressive as it sounded. Louis was also aware that they didn’t approve of him because he was seen as too liberal. They didn’t approve of his children either due to matters such as Friedrich’s marriage, Michael’s advocacy of Bohemia as opposed to the interests of Germany, Kristina being a bluestocking as well as a woman, and Louis Junior sharing the same name as his father. Marie Cecilie, Victoria and Antonia’s names had never come up, but Louis had no doubt that the royalists would think of some reason to dismiss them out of hand. Louis knew that if he asked his cousin, he would be told that it was just a happy coincidence that only Alexander himself checked all the boxes as far as the Party he headed was concerned.

    The other man was Martin Bormann, a blowhard and a bully who had spent decades forcing his way up the ranks of the ironically named National Socialist Party. He had done this mostly by sucking up and kicking down. Bormann had finally slimed his way into the top spot by taking control of the party’s funds, using it to bribe those amenable to it and violently pushing out anyone who vocally opposed him. After years of this anyone who was not a crony of his had long since fled the party and even other nationalists found him to be odious. He had been particularly outspoken regarding Friedrich’s marriage to Princess Suga of Japan and the birth of Mirai. The terms Bormann had used had not endeared him to the House of Hohenzollern or anyone else who didn’t fit within his narrow chauvinistic views of who belonged in Germany.

    The saving grace in all of this was that both of them despised each other. Alexander thought that Bormann was an ignorant uncultured, uncouth thug who belonged in prison as opposed to polluting the very air of the Reichstag with his presence. Bormann on the hand, was very vocal in his opinion that Alexander was a pompous self-serving windbag. As far as Louis was concerned, they were both correct in their assessment of each other and he couldn’t for the life of him figure out how they got enough votes to get seats in Government or in the opposition at any level. There was also a great deal of irony in that if they lived in the less enlightened era that both men considered a lost golden age, Louis would have solved the problem that they represented by having them arrested on whatever plausible pretense he could come up and have them shot or beheaded. Not only would have no one have said a thing against that, it was very likely that the execution of Martin Bormann would have been applauded and killing off Prince Alexander would have been seen as a power play.

    Instead, the Chancellor had said that in the next apportionment both of their constituencies would include communities with more people than sheep. They would be gone for good after the next election. In the meantime, having them putting aside all rules of decorum was unacceptable and the hope was that Louis would be able to put the fear of God into them. Lotte had joked about how they were getting sent to the Headmaster’s office. Louis had asked Katherine how she would handle a situation like this. She had just given him that unreadable smile of hers. Katherine had said that they were lucky that she wasn’t handling the matter and that she was glad that she wouldn’t have to either. She had advised him that he needed to take control of the conversation from the beginning and not allow them to get a word in, not as if those two would say anything worth hearing from her perspective. Then she had vanished faster than he had believed possible.

    Looking at the intercom on his desk, Louis knew that they were in the outer office. He steeled himself and pressed the button letting his Personal Secretary know that he was ready to speak to them.
     
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    Part 104, Chapter 1677
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy-Seven



    26th February 1965

    Mitte, Berlin

    As this continued, Jo was getting a picture of just how naïve Suse Rosa was. To her, going on pretend dates with Manny was an easy way to have a bit of fun and for perhaps the first time that she could recall, Suse didn’t have her mother on her back. They would go to the cinema or one of the dances that were being held throughout the city this time of year, perhaps get a bite to eat along the way.

    What Suse wasn’t taking into consideration was that her being regularly seen with Manny in social and public settings. As in Freiherr Manfred von Mischner, the grandson of Graf Manfred von Richthofen and nephew of Fürstin Katherine von Mischner zu Berlin. It was something that everyone was taking note of. Suse was the granddaughter of Ritter von Wolvogle, legendary Knight of the Black Eagle. It took far less than that to get gossip’s tongues wagging. And it wasn’t just Suse’s mother, but the whole of Berlin society that would be looking to have her fitted with a wedding dress if they got the wrong idea.

    There was also the personal aspect as well.

    Suse had never been in a relationship of any kind before. Despite her protestations, they would have to see exactly how fake the relationship was when Manny was his usual oblivious self at some point in the future. He took the whole thing about the two of them just being friends for exactly that, which was the problem. A couple years earlier, Jo had found herself having a schoolgirl crush on Manny and because there were other girls around, she had found herself jealously attacking them. Mostly verbally but physically once as well. Jo was still embarrassed by the memory of her behavior and she hoped that she had outgrown it.

    Still, she worried about Suse.

    Simply put, Jo had not behaved like herself during that time because she had lacked understanding of what had been happening. Suse had not learned that understanding yet and she had always been more of a fighter than Jo ever was. So when, not if, that happened there would very likely be blood on the floor before Manny realized whether Suse actual had feelings for him.

    This afternoon, they were sitting in a clubhouse that was provided for the youth wing of one of the political parties that Aunt Marcella was a prominent member of. Manny had grabbed bottles of orange Fanta from the refrigerator before he had started trying to teach Suse how to play pinball. There were few other boys their age around. However, as Jo had discovered over the previous couple years whenever she tried to talk to them, they would just nervously stare at their shoes and make excuses to be elsewhere. Aunt Marcella said that it was because she was an extremely beautiful young woman and even if that wasn’t intimidating enough, everyone knew that she was Kat’s ward.

    So, Jo had nothing to distract her as she watched the interaction be Manny and Suse. They were very much complete opposites both physically and in temperament, but Jo realized that it had nothing to do with the notion that opposites attract. They were people not magnets. As Suse got frustrated over the game that she couldn’t seem to master, Jo realized what was really going on. While it was obvious that they were more attracted to each other than they were prepared to admit, it seemed to Jo that both were the perfect foil of the other. Jo had no idea how that would play itself out, but it would certainly be interesting to watch.

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

    Mamma had insisted that she wear an itchy formal dress made from blue wool today and Marie was hating every minute of it. A detail of the incident months earlier was that she had bitten one of her kidnappers. For starters it was exactly the sort of thing that Momma insisted that she never, ever do and she had not talked about it in hopes that it would be forgotten. It had certainly seemed that way until this evening, but it had turned out Marie was wrong.

    It had started when Marie had gotten home from school. Her mother had insisted that she needed to get cleaned up quickly and the dress had already been laid out for her. “Your Godfather asked to see you tonight” Was what Momma had said when asked. Marie understood that her Godfather was an important man, but in all the times that she had seen him in the past a formal dress was not ever required. Tonight, was different somehow and them Momma had explained that it was because Marie had bitten that man. When Marie asked if she was being punished, Poppa had laughed while Momma had just looked at her sadly. “There will be many times in your life when you are going to be asked to just accept things how they are” Momma had said, “This is one of those times.”

    Then she had been loaded into Momma’s car and they had driven Downtown and like always Poppa insisted that she hold his hand once they got out of the car. Riding the elevator to the top floor of the building was almost distracting enough to make her forget the itchy dress. Entering the penthouse, Marie saw that Kiki, who was like a big sister to her, was already there as well as Lotte, her Godfather’s wife.

    Once in a room where her Godfather was waiting for her, Marie noticed that there were other men around. She still insisted on hugging him in greeting. He just smiled, “I’m happy to see you too Marie Alexandra, but we need to avoid the appearance of favoritism” He said, which Marie didn’t understand. Then minutes later, before the photographers he pinned a gold medal on a white bow to the front of her dress.

    “Lotte nominated you to receive this after the investigation concluded that you helped save my little my little girl” Marie’s Godfather said, “You see the two letters at the bottom, those are CH for Charlotte Hedwig”

    Marie looked at the medal, it had the words “For Merit” engraved across the top of it and a gold cross set into the face. It was pretty. They said it was an award for Ladies. Momma always did insist that she act like one, but how did biting play into that?
     
    Part 104, Chapter 1678
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy-Eight



    3rd March 1965

    Essen

    Her parents had been completely surprised when they learned where she would be going this week. Out of all the things that Aurora could have as a career option, they had never considered industry, especially with her having gone to University. It seemed that Krupp was offering other possibilities even if Aurora hadn’t made her mind up just yet.

    Aurora’s mother had said that she hoped that all of this wasn’t some sort of odd reaction to her perceived appearance or her lack of success in dating. In recent years Aurora had finally managed to lose the pudginess that was such a curse when she had been a teenager and yes, she’d had a string of rotten boyfriends. Still, she was interested in this because Krupp sold their products all over the world and she could be there representing them.

    As Aurora followed Heinrich Vogt down the elevated steel walkway. Below them was a hive of activity as the foundry’s operations were continuous and the workers were preparing for the next round of operations. As she grew closer to getting her Diplom in International Relations, Aurora had found herself heavily recruited by both Government Ministries and Industrial interests. Krupp Steel had invited her to Essen for a three-day tour of their manufacturing and fabricating centers to entice her to come work for their public relations department.

    It had been a lot to take in.

    Divisions of Krupp made everything from precision instruments and cutlery all the way up to artillery pieces, the plates that would make up the hulls of ships and the thousands of kilometers of rail that linked the nations of the world. When she had walked into the hall of the Corporate Headquarters where the company’s varied products were displayed, the first thing she had seen was a StuG VIII Assault Gun that was waiting to be shipped to a unit in the Heer. Heinrich, her tour guide, said that if anything was made of a steel alloy then Krupp made it.

    Heinrich Vogt was a bit of a surprise as well. He was a bit rough around the edges having started on the foundry floor and working his way up to his present position, Senior Operations Officer of Krupp’s heavy industry here in Essen. The first two days had been spent touring the tool & die works, one of the fabrication plants and a factory where they assembled marine diesel engines. The whole time Heinrich had been explaining to Aurora exactly what was going on. The entire time she had felt a nagging sense of familiarity towards him. Then it hit her, he reminded her of Fürstin Katherine somehow which was extremely strange.

    When Aurora brought it up with him, Heinrich had just laughed. “Usually it’s people saying I remind them of Hans Mischner” He said, “Katy is my half-sister and I would prefer you didn’t spread that around.”

    That was not what she had expected to hear. Sure, there were rumors that Katherine’s father had been some sort of mafioso and a complete rake, but to speak to someone who was that completely frank about it was different.

    Now, hours later, Aurora followed Heinrich onto the observation platform. She was wearing heat reflecting coveralls and a steel hardhat, because plastic ones tended to melt according to Heinrich. They were going to see the foundry operation and one of the rolling mills today. This was the first part of that.

    “That’s where the magic happens” Heinrich said as he pointed to the furnace. “The charging buckets are loading scrap steel into the crucible now. Before they turn on the juice, you’ll want to put on the earmuffs that I lent you.”

    The earmuffs were different from what Aurora had seen before. They went around the back of the head and rested on the collar of the person wearing them. It wasn’t until she watched Heinrich putting them on that she realized that they were made to be worn with the hard hats. No sooner had she got them on than a klaxon sounded, and a large electrode descended into the crucible. The angle was wrong to see what was going on in the crucible itself beyond the flashes of blue-white light reflected off the corrugated steel roof of the foundry high above, but the sound was deafening. After a few minutes the crucible itself started to glow white hot and Aurora felt a wave of heat hit her though the furnace was at least hundred meters away.

    Despite herself, Aurora was amazed as steel poured like a liquid through a ceramic pipe into water-cooled molds that were waiting below. The scale of this was larger than anything she had ever seen before.



    Jena

    The article had been submitted to English edition of the Mirror for local publication in Germany and supposedly it was to run in Time Magazine in the United States. Hunter had agreed that he wouldn’t embellish anything and would instead present Kiki as he saw her, warts and all.

    Still, Kiki had gotten a call from Zella’s mother telling her that they wanted updated photographs of her for the story. Mercifully, Hunter had gone back to Paris and they were sending out Doug Blackwood because he had worked with her in the past. Even so, Kiki was wearing her least attractive clothes, an oversized brown sweater and a pair of baggy grey trousers.

    Doug had not seemed to mind her look at all. He took several photographs of her in the back garden of the house she shared with Vicky, even a few with Rauchbier.
     
    Part 104, Chapter 1679
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy-Nine



    15th March 1965

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    She was seated in her accustomed place at the table in the hospital cafeteria trying to think about anything other than the dangerous and complicated procedure that she had just concluded. Usually in her practice what Nora Berg witnessed most days was life affirming.

    Today, she had everything go wrong and had been struggling to save two lives by performing an emergency cesarean. She had managed to save the mother, but it had been too late for the child. She then had the difficult task of informing the husband of what had happened, he had employed the sort of denial and bluster that men in that sort of situation always did. As if threatening Berg would change a damned thing. It was something that Berg dealt with more often than she liked to think about, and she knew that if she ever got used to it than she would need to find something else to do with her life. Like always she had told him that he would need to be strong for his wife in the coming days, perhaps that would be good enough. Berg didn’t know. It was all something that she was trying to push from her thoughts, but the messy ones with bad outcomes were the hardest to do that with. Berg always found herself second guessing what she had done, thinking that there was something that she might have done differently. The truth was that things had already been going wrong by the time she had been called in, the rational part of her understood that.

    Now sitting in the cafeteria, Berg realized that she had no one to talk to. Kiki was in Jena attending the Medical Academy under the direction of Peter Holz. The other young woman who Berg enjoyed speaking with was Peter’s niece Zella who was being kept extremely busy as her time at University was nearing its conclusion. They all lived in small circles, didn’t they? And even with the difficulties that both had, or perhaps it was because of it, Berg had enjoyed listening to them talking about how they would go about their week.

    “A package for you Doctor Berg” One of the Administration lackies said as he dropped a large manila envelope on the table next to her tray. He was gone before she could say anything. It had been too long since she had put the fear of God into the Admin Staff, it was something that she would need to rectify when she got a chance.

    Opening the envelope, Berg saw that it was a copy of the Mirror, a weekly magazine that she didn’t even have a subscription to. This one was the edition that had come out just a couple days earlier. Finding a piece of paper used as a marker within it, Berg saw it had a note written on it. I figured that you would like to know what your protégée was up to, it read. It was unsigned, but Berg recognized the handwriting as belonging to Kiki’s father.

    The article marked was an in-depth interview with Kiki where she spoke openly about her struggles with effects of traumatic stress and depression, her time in Korea, the Jacobins and violent incident that occurred the previous year, the long recovery that followed. In the past, Kiki had always been very guarded about these subjects and Berg wondered what had prompted her to be so open at this time.

    There was also a series of photographs. Mostly of Kiki wearing drab clothes under grey winter skies which was perfectly in keeping with the title of the article, Princess in Winter. It was obvious to Berg that Kiki had gone out of her way to make herself look unattractive. Her hair hadn’t been brushed out, so it was a mop of brown curls and it partially obscured her face. She was also wearing her military issued glasses, which were atrocious. That sweater and those trousers were worse. They looked like the sort of thing a fisherman who had stopped caring about his appearance might wear.

    The entire look was a complete rejection of all things that might be considered fashionable. The Photographer had done his best to get a variety of emotions from Kiki, she only looked happy in a couple of them when she had her dog in the picture with her. Most of all, Berg realized that Kiki might have outsmarted herself this time. She may have rejected other people’s expectations about what she should look like, but a woman in her position ought to know that she sets fashion as opposed to following it. When Berg considered the matter, she realized that Kiki probably knew but simply did not care. It seemed very much in keeping with what Berg knew about her.

    It was also fascinating what Kiki had to say about the extent of her injuries and what she had been going through over the last year. Berg was a bit perturbed that Kiki had not mentioned very much of that to her the last time they have eaten lunch at this very table. She also understood that people did things in their own order. Kiki hadn’t wanted to talk about it at that time and then things must have changed. That didn’t mean that Burg wasn’t going to have a lot of questions the next time that she saw Kiki.
     
    Part 104, Chapter 1680
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Eighty



    1st April 1965

    Jena

    There was no escaping today’s date. Kiki knew full well that the joke was on her and it wasn’t in the least bit funny.

    “I can assume that all of you read that stupid article by now?” Kiki asked to the others nodding and affirming what she already knew. This group along with everyone else she knew it seemed. It was not as if she could have pretended to be anonymous for long but to have things blow up the way they had it was impossible to hide.

    The problem was that she had either told Hunter more than she had been intended or he had found out by other means certain things that she hadn’t intended the public at large to know about her and the events of the last few years. There were several things that had gotten mention in the article that Kiki was certain old friends would probably be sore about even getting mentioned.

    “I don’t think that what you did was stupid at all” Doctor Holz said, “We are trying to remove the stigma that surrounds those issues.”

    “My experience is never going to be what others face” Kiki said, “Anyone else would have wrecked their life and completely destroyed their career by doing what I did. That might still happen anyway.”

    Because Kiki was the Princess Royal, she couldn’t be thrown out of the FSR or the Medical Service. That didn’t mean that she didn’t understand that there would be serious consequences of her actions. Kiki would likely never get another promotion and in due time she would get shown the door with her very lack of advancement providing the excuse to shove her through it.

    “That is why it was so important” Doctor Holz said. That was incredibly easy for him to say. He wasn’t going to spend the next several decades paying the price for a few moments of candor.

    “Important?” Kiki asked, “Do you read the medical journals in your own office? There are Surgeons keeping people alive in ways that would have been considered impossible just a generation ago and you think that what I did was important.”

    “It’s all about courage Kristina” Doctor Holz answered, “And an expert in their field isn’t taking as much of a risk as I know that even a woman in your position took by giving a frank interview. Your actions reflect your character.”

    It was obvious that they were on completely different pages here, so Kiki sat in sullen silence waiting for someone to change the subject. It didn’t happen, all anyone wanted to talk about was her and it made her want to scream.



    Munich

    Picking Maria up at the train station because of the situation that Emil had found himself in wasn’t how he was expecting to end this business trip. She was certainly amused by it as she looked at the car that he had found himself with. It had been given to him as a bonus when he would have preferred for BMW to have just given him cash instead.

    Emil had come to Munich in order to meet with the executives of BMW for him to discuss his strategy for the upcoming racing season, it basically amounted to him having to explain what the technicians on his team had told him dumbed down to the point that people who knew little about the subject might sort of understand. The executives had been completely surprised when he had arrived on his old R68. He had turned it into a joke by saying that you cannot improve upon perfection and they had laughed. It was the same motorcycle that he had been around the world on though, so it wasn’t entirely a joke. He had gone on to brief them about what his team had been up to over the winter such as improvements on the supercharged 500 cubic centimeter opposed four-cylinder engine, the efforts to further lighten the alloy frame and the improved disk brakes he watched their eyes glaze over. That was until he mentioned that his team was reaching speeds well over three hundred kilometers per hour on the test track. That was met with a bit of disbelief.

    While they didn’t pretend to understand the entirety of what Emil was doing, they saw that his team had been winning races as was as their rivalry with Honda’s Racing Division drawing a lot of attention and that was translating into sales. It was that final aspect that they understood perfectly.

    Then the subject of compensation came up.

    Emil was treated like any other Department Head by BMW and that was reflected in his paycheck. It wasn’t as if he needed the money, he drew a comfortable pension as a retired Generalfeldmarschall and former Commander in Chief of the Military High Command. He had gone to work for BMW Motorrad because it was something that he might have done without corporate backing regardless. While they mentioned that he probably deserved a raise, they gave him a car instead.

    It was the latest version of the 700 Coupe Sport that was BMW’s answer to the Volkswagen Föhn series. Emil couldn’t help but noticing that it was filled with technology that his team had developed, not the least of which was the engine that happened to be an enlarged version of the same one that had gone into the racing motorcycles over the previous year. The problem it presented Emil was how did he get two vehicles back to Berlin?

    “Why didn’t you ask to have it delivered to our house?” Maria asked as they drove back to the hotel where Emil stayed when he was in Munich.

    “That didn’t occur to me” Emil admitted.

    “Not that it matters now” Maria replied, “I needed the escape anyway, the offices of the paper have been a zoo since that story in the Mirror, the weekly magazine that operated in conjunction with the BT, ran a feature story featuring Princess Kristina.” The normally press adverse Princess had spoken openly about a subject that Emil knew was a prickly problem for the military, something that most didn’t have the guts to even mention.

    “This car will be perfect for Zella” Maria said.

    “Excuse me?” Emil asked. That wasn’t what he had been thinking they might use the car for.

    “She will need a way to get around if she wants to look presentable” Maria replied, “As much as the two of you love those motorcycles there are times when they are simply not practical.”

    Emil didn’t entirely agree with that, but Maria did have a point.
     
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    Part 104, Chapter 1681
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Eighty-One



    11th April 1965

    Mitte, Berlin

    Even on a Sunday evening parking in Mitte was atrocious. At least the car had good mileage while they searched for a parking spot.

    For the umpteenth time Zella cursed her rotten luck as she drove around the block again looking for a place to park. If she had her motorcycle, she could have just parked it on the sidewalk in front of the club with the other bikes and called it good. Walter, her little brother, thought that it was all so funny. She had this car she hadn’t asked for, that she didn’t dare complain about and her mother had made one of the conditions of her having the car being available if her brother who didn’t have a driver’s license, needed to get someplace. Zella suspected that Walter that had wanted to come along tonight for the express purpose of putting her in this situation. If he said anything to confirm those suspicions, then he was going to find himself walking home.

    After the third trip around the block, they finally found an empty parking spot. As Zella locked up the car, she had to remind herself the entire reason why she had wanted to come in the first place. It was because she had been so buried in her coursework that she simply hadn’t had the time for the last few months to make it into the V8 Club between being near to completing University and being Bart’s assistant. Tonight, it would hopefully be the house pickup band composed of whoever happened along. It was probably the best showcase of Berliner Jazz or Gutter Blues on a good night.

    Zella had been offered a job over the summer at ARD entirely on the strength of the documentaries that she had been making. Someone over there was intrigued by her ability to put them together on the cheap. Apparently, it represented a great opportunity if she made the most of it. So, she had no idea when she would get a chance to come back around. Zella couldn’t help but feel a bit of guilt regarding Kiki. Her and Aurora were getting on with their lives and starting careers while she still had a year to go. It was odd because Kiki had started a year before them. All the time that Kiki had sacrificed to join the Medical Service and go to Korea had made a profound difference in her life. Zella was still trying to figure out if that had been worth it.

    Entering the club, Zella saw that some rangy looking teenagers were packing their gear up. The fact that the club was extremely empty wasn’t a good sign as their abilities. The noticeable absence of John Elis was hardly a surprise. Whenever a new band played in the club, he found an excuse to be elsewhere.

    “Who are they?” Zella asked Sarah, who was behind the bar tonight. The members of the band were hanging around at the other end of the bar drinking beer and trying to act grown up. They were failing at it.

    “Forgettable for the most part, mistaking volume for skill” Sarah said.

    As Zella ordered a drink and waited to see how things would pan out for the night, it didn’t look like anything was going to happen. Walter was starting to fidget, and she figured that it was probably not going to be a good night around the V8 Club. Which meant that she would probably be home and asleep by midnight. How very disappointing.

    “Do you come here all the time?” One of the boys from the band asked as he walked up to her. The others had obviously egged him into talking to her.

    “Not as much as I would like” Zella replied pensively, she wasn’t interested in being anyone’s entertainment. “And you are playing way over your division.”

    Sarah looked like she was trying not to laugh. “I warned you about this sort of thing Rudolf, the local wildlife doesn’t like being bothered.”

    With that Rudolf retreated to be among his friends. Him screwing up enough courage to speak with a woman so obviously out of his league would probably be one of the high points of the night. Walter was older than them, it was absurd that one of them even approached her.

    “They are harmless” Sarah told Zella, “Visiting the big city and learning that being a big deal in their own minds somewhere out west doesn’t mean a damned thing here.”

    “That would be like me hitting on Sarah” Walter said, he had observed quietly. By now he understood that Zella could take care of herself. It was obvious that there were still a few things that he had yet to learn. Both Zella and Sarah got a laugh over the comment he had just made.

    “It is a bit less extreme than that” Zella said.

    “Because she is older?” Walter asked, a bit confused.

    “No” Sarah replied, “You are not in the right scene.”

    Walter looked even more bewildered by that.

    “It’s because you have a penis” Zella said, and she watched her little brother’s face turn a deep crimson. As much as he aspired to be a sophisticated urbanite there were still a few buttons that Zella knew she could press that would reveal his lack of worldliness.

    “That reminds me” Sarah said, “Have you solved the little problem that you discovered in Jena.”

    It was Zella’s turn to be perturbed. She had asked Sarah for advice the last time she had been in here. About Kiki telling her that Vicky had a thing for bad girls, and she had a crush on Zella. Even if Zella swung that way, getting involved with her best friend’s little sister was something that she would never do. Sarah had advised her to let Vicky down gently if it ever came up.
     
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    Part 104, Chapter 1683
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Eighty-Three



    20th April 1965

    Silesia

    With Easter past everyone was just enjoying a few quiet days in the countryside before returning to their lives. The big family meals in the Richthofen house had grown into raucous affairs. Helene’s mother said that it was good to have them from time to time because the house tended to get extremely quiet if Ilse and Albrecht were back in the city. After nearly fifty years of marriage, Manfred and Käte understood where their interests lay and how they overlapped. There simply wasn’t a whole lot to talk about that they hadn’t discussed countless times before.

    As Helene watched Marie and Tatiana playing a board game with Ina, it occurred to her that every time she saw Kat’s daughters, they reminded her of Kat herself when she had stepped off that railcar at the vegetable market in Berlin almost thirty years earlier.

    There was also the reminder that her father was very different when he played the role of Opa to the various children who came to the estate. He had taken an interest in Marie this time, helping with her curiosity regarding the animals that she had only read about in books, seeing them for real. There was a rather large contrast between that and how Helene remembered her own childhood. She recalled that he had always been somewhat remote and a rather hard disciplinarian.

    “How can he be so different?” Helene asked as she explained it to her mother.

    “Because indulging grandchildren is the domain of a grandfather” Käte replied, “And as much as he is loath to admit it, I believe that he has learned from his mistakes.”

    Of course, that was exactly what Helene would expect her mother to say. She had seen the great Manfred von Richthofen when he had been at the height of his personal power and commanded the attention of the entire world. His career had continued for decades afterwards, but he had never quite matched the achievements of those early days. Helene knew that saying that her father had made mistakes was about as far as her mother would be willing to go, with her anyway.

    “What’s this girl Suse who I’ve been hearing about like?” Käte asked, changing the subject.

    “She is Gerta’s little girl” Helene replied, “And I don’t think that her and Manny are an item. Not yet, anyway, if ever.”

    “Gerta?” Käte asked, “As in Gerta von Wolvogle?”

    “Yes” Helene replied, seeing the expression on her mother’s face change.

    “It is just speculation, but many researchers think that some forms of insanity might have a genetic component” Käte said, “Just something to consider if the girl is Ritter von Wolvogle’s granddaughter.”

    “You knew the Old Wolf didn’t you” Helene replied.

    “All too well” Käte said, “Do you have any idea how destructive that man was when he got drunk?”

    “Ask the Russians” Helene said darkly.

    Käte nodded, “He broke the picture window on the landing between the first and second floor of…” She trailed off as she remembered that this house wasn’t the same one that she had lived in decades earlier even if it had been built on the same spot. For Käte, damaging her house in a drunken stupor was unforgivable. Even after more than two decades, she still hadn’t been able to square that with how her husband had torched the old house rather than have it become a trophy for the Soviets.



    Wilhelm Station

    When the end came, it was an anticlimax.

    The SMS Sirius had arrived a few days earlier and it was to open a passage for the Albatros back into open water. Louis’ mail had arrived, and it had included a stack of magazines about various topics and dozens of letters. There was an article about Kiki in there and they seemed to have caught her when she was in one of her melancholy moods. Still, seeing her sitting there in a garden somewhere was a reminder of just how long he had been away from home. There were also plants growing there, even in wintertime. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen an actual plant growing in the ground.

    Louis had not had time to think about how much time was left in Antarctica, or much else, because he had been babysitting a group of Geologists as they had worked their way down a mountain range that was poking out of glaciers in the interior. It had been a boring task, keeping Geologists from coming to grief in the cold and weather had proven to be a fulltime job. Then they had returned to Wilhelm Station and it had been mentioned that he was on the next ship back to the world. Unless he wanted to spend another winter at Wilhelm Station that is, they always needed volunteers…

    Now as he got out of the Iltis with Hugo carrying his sea bag across the ice dock to the gangplank, Louis realized that he was not going to this place at all. His time in Antarctica had not been an epic tale of survival or exploration. He had come here to do a job. He had done it to the best of his abilities and now it was over. Was most adventure just boredom masked by nostalgia? Louis didn’t know.

    The Obermaat in charge of the security detail gave them the evil eye as their papers were checked and approved. Minutes later, they were shown to their quarters aboard the Albatros.
     
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    Part 104, Chapter 1684
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Eighty-Four



    8th May 1965

    Jena

    Of all the ways that Ben would have liked to have woken up on a Saturday morning, having his girlfriend’s little sister yelling at him and the dog licking his ear wasn’t very high on the list.

    “Lotte just called and said that Poppa is coming here!” Vicky yelled at him, “You can’t let him, or his security detail catch you here, not like this!”

    He had been sleeping cuddled together with Kiki after what had been a difficult night for her. She had spent the entire week in lectures and labs which she found to be an alienating, exhausting experience. Kiki had said that it felt like the most actual human interaction she’d had was with the Medical Academy’s cadavers and that was a mostly one-sided conversation. She had been extremely tired but hadn’t been able to sleep until the morning hours. She had asked Ben to only be with her so that she didn’t feel alone, nothing else had happened.

    To Ben it had felt like he had just gotten to sleep when he had woken up to Vicky and Rauchbier. Kiki had been out of bed in an instant in Vicky’s face.

    “You shouldn’t be so rude” Kiki said crossly.

    “Your security detail and the household staff turn a blind eye to Ben so long as he doesn’t get you pregnant or give you the clap” Vicky said, “Poppa finding him like that in your bed will end that in a hurry.”

    Ben watched Kiki’s face turn red as Vicky said that. Considering the extensive measures that Kiki insisted on, it was unlikely that could happen. Still, that didn’t mean that Kiki was comfortable with her sister talking about it like that. Ben remembered that when Kiki had moved in with Vicky, Kiki had thought that she was incredibly naïve. Vicky herself had quickly shown otherwise. Ben was reminded of that as he considered his present unclothed state.

    “Er, if you wouldn’t mind Vicky” Ben said, instantly realizing that drawing attention to himself was a mistake.

    “Grow up Benjamin. Even if you had anything I’ve not seen before, I wouldn’t care about it” Vicky said crossly, picking up his clothes and throwing them at him before storming out of the room.

    “Sorry about her” Kiki said as Ben got dressed, “Despite everything else she is still the most conservative one in my family.”

    That wasn’t the first time that Kiki had mentioned that there was more going on than was obvious with Vicky. Ben had not dared to ask exactly what that was. From what he had seen of Vicky, as judgmental as she could be about others it was hardly a surprise that she may come up wanting. Ben couldn’t imagine what that might be other than apparently Rea taking great delight in it according to Kiki.

    “Is what she said true?” Ben asked, “That everyone around you tries to ignore me?”

    Kiki gave him an exasperated sigh. “It’s the whole Princess thing again” She said, as if that meant everything. Ben had discovered a long time ago that asking her to elaborate upon that was a mistake, so he let it go. She had a lot of good reasons for wanting an ordinary life, hearing her complain about public perceptions and all the ways that distorted her life for several hours wasn’t something he wanted to go through again.

    “Why is your father coming here?” Ben asked, changing the topic to something that was a safer topic.

    “He could have a lot of reasons” Kiki replied as she started pulling clothes out from her wardrobe, “Checking on me and Vicky, touring local industry, finding out what the University is doing with the grants that he has given them, or something else that I’m not privy to.”

    “It was nice of your stepmother to call ahead” Ben said as he looked for his socks.

    “It’s because Charlotte doesn’t want an embarrassing scene for any of us” Kiki replied, “I guess this is it until next weekend.”

    Kiki then kissed him goodbye before she shooed him out of the house.

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

    As Louis Ferdinand’s motorcade pulled onto the street that Kristina and Victoria lived on, he might have sworn that a car of the type that Kristina’s boyfriend was said to drive was turning around the corner at the far end of the street. He knew though that if he brought it up with his daughters, they would just change the subject. Not that he would though. Presently there was a bit of equilibrium with his family and he had no intention of rocking the boat. He tried to think of himself as a modern man and knowing that his children lived in a very different society than what he had grown up in was a part of that. Knowing that Kristina had a boyfriend and that he would need to steel himself for whatever happened with Victoria in the future was still bothersome.

    He figured that they would be happy to see him and by whatever means that they had to learn that he was coming would probably be in full swing. That also meant that he was going to see whatever Kristina and Victoria wanted him to see. Was that a good or bad thing? He was also sure that they would like to hear that Louis Junior was on his way home.

    After this, Louis was scheduled to tour the University Hospital, Law School and the newest facility that Karl Zeiss AG had going. He wondered if either of his daughters would be interested in accompanying him on those tours.
     
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    Part 104, Chapter 1685
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Eighty-Five



    22nd May 1965

    Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Berlin

    The Charlottenburg Palace was lit up in all its glory and serving in its intended role like it did four nights a year as opposed to that of a tourist attraction the rest of the time. The spring quarterly meeting of the Order of Louise was in full swing, Kiki found herself wearing the dark blue wool dress tunic of the FSR and was trying to ignore the itch that was developing between her shoulder blades. She was rather surprised by the company that she found herself in the grand ballroom as members and their guests enjoyed refreshments before the meeting started and just what they that had ended up talking about. Cosimo De’ Medici and a tall Englishman in his forties named Christopher who she had never met before. The way that Cosimo got his back up when Christopher approached them suggested that he was of the same sort of international problem solver that Cosimo and Kat were. They claimed they were diplomats, but Kiki had lived just enough in their world to know better.

    “I was just telling the lovely Princess Kristina about how fortunate it is that her time in Korea didn’t coarsen her” Cosimo said to Christopher who just nodded.

    “It was not as if I would come back smoking unfiltered cigarettes and covered in tattoos” Kiki replied jokingly.

    “I would hope not” Cosimo said, “For a young woman to deface what I consider God’s greatest creation would be an atrocity.”

    “You think I am God’s greatest creation?” Kiki asked in reply, amused by what was clearly flattery.

    “No” Cosimo said, “All young women are God’s greatest creation.”

    “Is that why you’ve maintained a collection of them?” Kiki asked to Cosimo’s feigned annoyance.

    “I will know that I have never given my wife or any of my mistresses cause to complain” Cosimo said with mock indignation.

    “I think she has your number” Christopher said.

    “I am wounded that you think that I have such low character” Cosimo said.

    “I think you’ll survive” Christopher replied.

    “All of that aside” Kiki said, “Just what are you two doing here anyway? Two spies at a meeting of a Chivalrous Order for women?”

    Both Cosimo and Christopher looked genuinely annoyed by Kiki asking those questions. Like if she was missing something obvious.

    “I prefer the term Facilitator for what I do” Cosimo replied, “Spy seems rather crude, like if I were merely an assassin lurking around in the dark with a dagger and a vial of poison.”

    “Something else you ought to consider Kristine, this meeting includes some of the biggest players in the German Empire” Christopher said, “Or at least their wives. My employer as well as Cosimo’s are very interested in what gets discussed here.”

    “I see” Kiki replied as she wondered if it would be too much trouble to have them both thrown out. As one of the two Dame Commanders of the Order, she knew what was going to be discussed in the upcoming meeting. She figured that the vast majority of what was to be talked about would bore them to tears and wondered if they were being punished for something. The Order had finally codified the long-discussed expansion beyond the current hundred full members and that was to be announced tonight. Then the next quarter’s charitable activities would be discussed…

    It was then that Kiki felt something close around her waist, looking down, she saw Marie Alexandra smiling up at her. It was the first time that she had seen Kat’s youngest daughter since the gold medal on its white bow that she had pinned to her dress had been awarded. It was the first Lady’s Merit Cross that had been awarded since the end of the Second World War and the first nomination for an award that Charlotte had felt compelled to make. It had been Kiki’s father who had waived the normal ten-year requirement between the awarding first and second class of the medal, something that was only done in exceptional cases. Kiki had asked why he had done that, and his answer had bothered her in the months since. Because he felt that helping to save Kiki had merited it. The fact that Marie wondered if she had gotten it for biting someone, something that she had been punished for in the past, sort of put it all into perspective.

    “Just who is this?” Christopher asked.

    “Kat’s little girl” Kiki replied, “Who has clearly escaped from her mother.”

    “The Fürstin of Berlin” Cosimo said, “Someone who you wouldn’t want to tangle with Christopher, because she happens to be good friends with your employer among other things.”

    Christopher gave Cosimo a dirty look. The Italian had just implied that he worked directly for the Queen of England. It was obvious to anyone with half a brain, but it was considered rude to talk about it in the presence of outsiders and Kiki figured that it was a calculated insult as well.

    “I believe that I should go find Marie’s mother” Kiki said with a smile, “Try not to get too bored in the hours ahead.”

    Kiki could tell from the looks on their faces what they thought of that idea. Once again, she wondered if they were being punished for something. The next time Kiki spoke with Elizabeth of England or Marie-José of Italy she would need to ask what sort of mischief these two self-styled men of action had gotten up to that had ended with them so far out of their element.
     
    Part 104, Chapter 1686
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Eighty-Six



    13th June 1965

    Jena

    As she sat on the hard, uncomfortable church pew there were times when Vicky envied her sisters’ choices when it came to religion. Kiki had stuck with being Russian Orthodox and they typically stood for services. Rea had publicly declared herself to be Agnostic and typically slept in until noon on Sunday mornings. Hardly a surprise considering that Rea was studying Philosophy.

    The thought of Rea was a bit painful for Vicky. They had shared nearly everything for the first fifteen years of their lives as identical twins. Then there had come the profound rupture in their relationship and Vicky hadn’t understood what had happened or why Rea remained so angry with her until recently. She was taking Human Psychology courses at University and her Professors had insisted that Vicky needed to undergo Psychoanalysis herself as a part of that. Considering that her interest in that subject came from wanting to understand herself, it wasn’t something that Vicky had objected to. The resulting self-reflection had forced Vicky to admit a few things about herself and her relationship with Rea. Like how Rea was angry about how she had basically thrown her to the wolves at a time when Rea had needed her the most. Now, they led entirely different lives, attended different Universities in different cities and it was something that Vicky found painful.

    While Vicky had avoided talking about her sexuality to her Analyst, he had implied that he suspected that something was going on. He had said that his impression was that she didn’t entirely trust him. It was the elephant in the room like always and it was something that only a few people in her family knew about. So far, they had proven to be worthy of the trust that Vicky had put in them. Vicky was aware of Paragraph 175 of the penal code, how that equated homosexuality with bestiality. Fortunately for those like her, the men who had written the law nearly a century earlier had lacked the imagination to include women. However, Charlotte had warned her that there was considerable danger from those who might consider her a sexually deviant even if she had never acted on it and there was also the public reaction to consider. Charlotte said that she only needed to ask Frau Lawniczak about what had happened to her in the United States to get an idea of how things could go horribly wrong.

    The Mistress of Keys was one of the most powerful women in the Empire and she had lived her life on her own terms, but there had been a brutal episode where she had nearly come to grief because of it when she had been a Field Agent in the United States. She was also everything that Vicky wished she could be, except for the whole complicated mess that Asia had gotten herself when she had her son Heinrich. Vicky’s father had decided that because Heinrich’s father acknowledged his paternity, he was the legal heir if he was deemed suitable upon attaining majority at the age of twenty-one. The rub was that the wife of Heinrich’s father never having to see or hear about him, ever. The alternative was to let a family line die out, so even Vicky realized that her father didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. It also made Grossherzog von Hessen completely beholden to the house of Hohenzollern at a difficult time, so the move made perfect sense from the perspective of cold-blooded realpolitik.

    Thinking about Asia, stirred something else in Vicky. It was the aspect of herself that she was still struggling to come to terms with over the last couple years. The fact that Vicky had realized that she had a type, one that was filled by women who flouted all the rules that would restrain them. It was also why she was attracted to Marcella, Kiki’s best friend. Both of those women had noticed that attraction and had completely different reactions. Asia had let her know she thought Vicky’s interest was sweet and had then told her that she would be happier playing with someone her own age. Zella had clumsily told her that she wasn’t a part of that scene, whatever that meant, and had done her best to let Vicky down gently. It had been Kiki who had put it in perspective for her by mentioning that an older woman had once told her that a regrettable part of being a… Vicky still couldn’t bring herself to use that word, even in her own thoughts. The regrettable part was that there would probably be many times that she would find herself barking up the wrong tree. It wasn’t regrettable so much as it left her with lingering questions. Like how exactly had Vicky ended up wired to want to go looking for that sort of tree in the first place? It certainly complicated almost every aspect of her life.

    The worst part was that it all seemed to revolve around something else that Vicky envied Kiki for, the relationship with Ben Hirsh that seemed mutually supportive. Why couldn’t she have something like that? It was completely unfair that her sister could seem to throw all caution to the wind because of who she was doing it with.

    “I hope that you found this morning’s service edifying, I’ve observed how deep you were in contemplation” The Pastor said as he approached her, “It is nice to see a young woman of your stature taking such matters seriously.”

    “Thank you” Vicky replied awkwardly having no idea what he was talking about, hoping that he wouldn’t ask her anything regarding what he had said over the prior hour or what she thought. She had been so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she had hardly listened to any of it.
     
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    Part 104, Chapter 1687
  • Chapter One Thousand Six Hundred Eighty-Seven



    22nd June 1965

    Kiel

    The experience was unsettling. Albrecht could see that Admiral Jacob von Schmidt seemed to be a shriveled remnant of what he had once been, it was the vacant expression on his face though that was the worst aspect. It was clear that his mind was completely gone along with everything that had made the Admiral who he had been in life. The trouble was that even in this state, Jacob remained every bit of the security risk that he had been throughout his life because no one knew what secrets remained locked in his head and could spill out at any time. The joke that flew around the offices of the Ministry of the Navy while Albrecht had worked there suggested that if Jacob ever did spill the beans, a lot of the senior Brass would be dragged out in handcuffs. Not that they would need to worry about a trial because a few minutes later nuclear tipped missiles fired by one of the many countries that Jacob had manipulated or antagonized would arrive…

    That meant that his attendants had to be carefully screened to weed out anyone with a possible connection to a foreign intelligence service. The other consideration was that Jacob’s language skills had gone with his mind. These days he only seemed to remember Hebrew or Yiddish during his more lucid moments and that made finding attendants even more daunting.

    It was Esther who Albrecht really felt sorry for though. She had stuck with Jacob through decades of marriage, raised two daughters and pursued her own career ambitions as a Civil Servant. Now in retirement, she helped care for a husband who had regressed to early childhood and no longer even recognized her. Albrecht remembered the conversation he’d had with the Admiral after the initial diagnosis. It had been his concern about what would happen to Esther that had prevented him from putting a bullet through his head, sparing him from this fate.

    When he entered the room, Jacob muttered something that Albrecht didn’t understand to Esther who just smiled.

    “He said that he always loved the sea and asked why a Kapitän would call on us” Esther said.

    It was odd. The Admiral seemed to have forgotten nearly everything else, but he had instantly recognized that Albrecht was wearing the uniform of a Kapitän zur See.

    “I came to tell him about the Taxidiotis Project and how Wernher von Braun is trying to build rocket engines powerful enough to make his dreams reality but they keep blowing up during testing” Albrecht said, “The Admiral would have been delighted to hear that.”

    With the Space Center in Vietnam open again because an alternate overland route had been established, Taxidiotis was moving full speed ahead. Albrecht, who had been on the short list to take Command of an Aircraft Carrier had instead been reassigned to oversee the final implementation of the program. That included lighting a fire under van Braun, whose division had been soaking up money and had little to show for it except having found one of the most expensive ways ever devised to turn metal, graphite and ceramic components into shrapnel. When Jacob had been the Head of the ESA, he had frequently butted heads with von Braun over budgets and results.

    “The games that boys play” Esther said with a touch of condemnation, but also with wistfulness as well because it reminded her of happier times.



    Mitte, Berlin

    Three written exams and one oral. All with incredibly high stakes involved and to Manfred as well as most of his Professors, he had passed all of it. “You have a bright future ahead of you Herr von Mischner” The Headmaster said when he found Manfred in the hallway outside the lecture hall where several of the students had been killing time while they waited for the results. “Try not to mess it up.”

    That was as close to praise as Manfred had gotten from the Headmaster of the gymnasium over the previous seven years. Mostly he had gotten stern disapproval over being a far less than diligent student and some to the things that he had gotten into with his friends from time to time.

    As it had turned out, his parents were less than thrilled by the news when he got home. “We can’t exactly tell you what to do anymore, our hope is that you will listen to what we have to say” Was what his father had said, “Just please think before you make any decisions.” His mother was a bit more direct. She didn’t yell this time though, instead she handed him a stack of catalogs outlining various University programs with a note on top that read; If you do nothing else, try to get this one right.

    As much as Manfred understood his parent’s concerns, he wished that they weren’t pushing him so hard in the direction that they wanted. He left the house and was walking randomly an any direction on the streets of his neighborhood. It was only by coincidence that he found himself walking on the street where Suse Rosa lived. Looking up, he saw her looking down at him from one of the upstairs windows. Feeling obligated, Manfred knocked on the door. When the Butler opened the door, Suse pushed around him and was happy to see him.

    “I heard when Momma talked to Aunt Helene just now” Suse said excitedly. “We did it, didn’t we?”

    “Yes” Manfred replied, he had no idea how to explain this to Suse.
     
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