Chapter One Thousand Eight Hundred Eighty-Nine
6th November 1968
The Instructor was droning on about the glories and history of the Continental Staff System, the room was stuffy, and half the students weren’t even pretending to stay awake. Unlike previous incarnations of the Staff College, the competition wasn’t nearly as fierce. This was due to them all having completed two years in the War Academy, five years of active service, and had been deemed fit for further advancement just by being invited back. This was all about checking boxes before they could return to their home units and resume their careers. For Kiki things were not that simple and she’d had a lot of time to think about the direction of her life as she had sat in this lecture hall day after day. Today, the Instructor had decided to spice things up a bit by boring them with the day’s headlines about the American General Election and the proper etiquette in greeting a Head od State. Oddly, not only was Kiki the only woman in the room, she was the only one who might actually put this lesson to use.
Afternoons and evenings were better because she was working in the University Hospital, mostly in the OB/GYN Department that was headed by Doctor Berg. There had been a few times when she had been called into the Emergency Department and it had been noticeable how a third year Intern was treated as opposed to what she had endured years earlier. An FSR Major/Oberstabsarzt commanded respect and there was also a vast difference between having been a teenaged Sanitäter and a Notarzt as Kiki was now. Working with Berg on what were termed Women’s Issues had been an education. There was an old joke about how if you thought that education was expensive, try ignorance, and Kiki had been reminded of it often by some of things that she had seen and heard from the patients. Berg had stressed that it was not Kiki’s job to judge and there had been plenty of times when Kiki herself had exhibited highly questionable judgement that both of them were aware of. That was why she held her tongue as she had listened to a patient explain to Berg that about a mysterious infection or pregnancy. Berg had just nodded sagely and helped them reach a conclusion without ever venturing her own opinion. Kiki had no idea how she did it.
That had also driven home for Kiki the realities of her life and the expectations that others had. The order of things that she had to contend with was what her poor deluded mother had basically told Kiki. That her only value was that she might one day marry well and have children, preferably sons, until her body gave out. That was exactly what had happened to her mother. She’d had six children in less than a decade and a premature death due to heart failure. Though those two things were considered unrelated, Kiki wasn’t so sure. That was not a fate she wanted for herself, getting pushed by Ben and her father in that direction was horrifying for her.
And they didn’t seem to understand.
Then there was her career. Equal treatment under the Law was enshrined in the Federal Constitution of 1921 and a body of laws had been passed to help women pursue career aspirations. Still though, there were older laws and traditions that were potential landmines. If Kiki married Ben, she would lose a great deal of her already precarious independence and if she got pregnant, she would be expected to spend at least a year dealing with that with her career on hold. If it happened more than once, then it was likely that she wouldn’t have a career to come back to. It wasn’t as bad as when Kat had been forced out of her nascent career with the BII, but it wasn’t perfect. The military hadn’t forced Kat out over Marie, but that was because there was a five-year gap between her and Kat’s paternal twins. Kat had also commanded the First Foot Guard Regiment by that time, a prestigious posting that had cemented her later career.
Were those options that would even be available for Kiki considering that her next posting would probably be in a Medical Services Regiment somewhere? Who knew how long that would last? She didn’t know and felt that this situation was unfair for everyone close to her. Kiki recalled an article she had read about after the rapid gains that women had made in the 40’s and 50’s the last decade had been a period of retrenchment. That had all seemed rather abstract until Kiki saw that how it hurt her personally.
The POP! of rimfire cartridges filled the air as Niko fired ten shots through the single-shot cadet rifle that belonged to the school as fast as he could reload it. He had passed on to a center-fire rifle before he had come to the school, but he had only gotten a dirty look from any staff who he told that to. Everyone in his Class had to start at the same place and the five other boys in his Squad would need to all advance or none of them would. Staber Arbeit made note of Niko’s score. When they had first started target practice in the afternoons, Arbeit had seemed annoyed. Then word had come that his cousin Manny was serving as a Sniper in the elite First Foot, protecting Emperor Louis.
“It seems that you and your cousin had the same teacher” Arbeit said. Niko had never considered himself a particularly great shot, it wasn’t until he had gotten to Wahlstatt that he had realized the implications of being from a family of hunters. The next day Niko had discovered that the targets he was shooting at had shrunk considerably while he was required to get a higher score to pass.
Niko had also been told that he was to assist his fellow cadets, a reminder that the whole Squad needed to pass the course. That caused a bit of friction with Bas, who had never picked up a rifle until a few weeks earlier and had several issues including remembering to always keep the business end pointed downrange. For the first time ever, Bas and Niko were in an unequal situation. The things that Bas excelled in seldom saw a whole lot of use here. Niko knew that if he ever needed help with shoplifting, sneaking into movie theaters, or extremely creative uses of spray-paint then Bas would be the first one he would turn to. The trouble was that here Bas always seemed to run afoul of Staber Arbeit, getting the entire Class in trouble in the process. That made both Bas, and Niko who everyone knew was Bas’ best friend really unpopular. So far, no one had carried out the threats they had been making, but if they did, they would discover that Bas knew how to fight mean and Niko would have his back.