Chapter One Thousand Nine Hundred Fourteen
10th July 1969
Aunt Marcella had moved into the flat near the University Hospital because she wanted to live near her family without living with them. Between the sale of the machining business and the house in Pankow-Heinersdorf, she was fairly well off. Just the difficulties of her age had started to pile up, like the real reason she had sold the house after discovering that she could no longer physically maintain it. Or today, when her grandniece had come to help with a project that would have been something that she would have handled with ease just a decade earlier. Still, Marcella was able to live independently, which was important to her own sense of self-worth.
It had been a bit surprising when Marie Alexandra had come to her door. Kat had warned Marcella that Marie was going through a difficult time and that much should have been obvious by the fact that she was dressed exactly like her mother might have thirty years earlier. Marcella knew that look all too well. Oversized, shapeless clothes that completely hid the figure of the anyone who wore them. When given a choice, Kat had worn clothes like that from her teens right up until around the time she had met Douglas. It was obvious why Marie was dressed that way, for the same reason her mother had. She was uncomfortable with the changes to her body and the attention those brought. It was something that would only get worse as Marie got older.
Mercifully, Kat understood and didn’t try to force her daughter to do anything different. That was a mistake that Marcella had made and had only succeeded in making things worse. Kat had also mentioned some of the more outlandish costumes that Marie had tried out. And while she had made most of them sound silly, there was no hiding just how out of sorts Marie must be feeling.
Watching Marie stitch the features onto the face of the rag doll that Marcella had been making for a friend’s infant great-granddaughter was a pleasure now that she had trouble getting her fingers to move so deftly. She had tried to teach all the girls who had passed through her life how to sew, but only Marie had ever wanted to learn beyond the basics, with Marcella teaching her how to alter and repair clothes a few years earlier.
“Was it you who named the doll I gave you Kora?” Marcella asked.
“No” Marie replied, “That was Tatiana, I named mine Noemi.”
“Noemi” Marcella said, “Such a strange name for a little girl to choose.”
“It was from a television show” Marie replied, “There was this character named Noemi who I wanted as a friend. It seems silly now.”
“Hardly” Marcella said as she got up to take care of the electric kettle on the countertop. Where Tatiana had always been outgoing, Marie had always been more refined, cerebral. That had made it difficult for her to make friends early on. It was sort of funny how Kat was at a loss when it came to dealing with her daughters, both of whom exhibited different aspects of her. Pouring hot water into the tea kettle to seep, Marcella turned to see that Marie was already there to help her carry the tea and biscuits to the table. Despite Kat’s worries, both Tatiana and Marie Alexandra were good girls. The same could be said about the rest of Kat’s unorthodox extended family as well. Like Kat herself, Marie would find a dear friend or two in time.
Once they were settled back at the table. Marcella asked, “Just who was this Noemi?”
Marie smiled at that as she resumed work on the doll. It was at that moment that Marcella had an insight that her grandniece would continue the tradition of making these dolls.
In transit, Eastern Pacific
The other Medical Staff aboard the ship said that this was probably the most restful leg of the journey, from Panama to Western Samoa. For Kiki, it was spent studying the varied missions of the SMS Antonia Marie and her role in them.
The three Princesses had been named for Kristina’s three sisters, SMS Marie Cecilie, SMS Victoria Augusta, and SMS Antonia Marie. There had once been SMS Prinzessin Kristina, but she had been renamed when Kiki had joined the Medical Service and stricken when her obsolescence could no longer be denied. All three ships were identical with the same purpose-built hull that was two hundred sixty meters in length, with a beam of thirty-three meters. The ten surgical suites, a radiological suite, intensive care unit, a dozen patient wards, laboratory facilities, quarantine bays, double helipads with hanger facilities, extensive freezers, and refrigerated storage. It was clear from looking at the lengthy list of supplies kept on board, stocking them must have been a real boon for the pharmaceutical industry back home because it looked as if they had delivered more than a bit of everything. The current setup was for one ship to be at sea, the second on standby, and the third in for refit. It all made Kiki’s head spin to think about it all.
Kiki was the Commanding Officer of the FSR Company based aboard the SMS Antonia as well as the Marine Infantry Platoon that saw to the ship’s security. That made her privy not just to the explicitly stated mission of the Antonia of providing medical services wherever they were needed, but the secret mission that she had been tasked with as well. The Antonia was a key part of the planning for the continuity of the German State in the event of a nuclear war. The mainframe computer aboard her held the digital backups of the medical files of every citizen of the German Empire and anyone who received services from the Joint Medical Service. In the event of war, the Antonia was to steam south into a remote corner of the Southern Ocean and await further instructions. The Antonia and her sister ships could remain at sea for months if they needed to.