Chapter One Thousand Nine Hundred Twenty-Four
7th August 1969
Rural Brandenburg, near Nauen
For what must have been the thousandth time this hour, Zella cursed the clothes that she was wearing. Someone at ARD figured that it would be fun to send her out a replica of a Medieval farming village that had been built by the History Department of Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin. That had included a period correct costume that Zella was supposed to wear when on camera, an absurd Milkmaid getup that Zella wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead in. It was the little things like this that were the reason why she had a doll that looked a lot like the Production Manager at ARD’s Berlin affiliate with several pins shoved through it hidden in the bottom drawer of her desk.
How on Earth was it possible for a dress to be both suffocating and a bit too revealing at the same time? Zella wondered to herself as she tried to adjust the bodice that was tightly laced around her abdomen. It was pushing everything up and leaving her feeling like she was about to spill out of it at any second. If she found out that this had been selected for the purpose of driving up ratings, then she was going to do some extremely unpleasant things to whoever was responsible.
“This dress is awful” Zella muttered to herself as she and Yuri walked across the Common, a muddy field that reeked of cow manure. He was wearing ordinary street clothes and lugging the heavy camera equipment and had no clue as to how much she envied him at this moment.
“It looks perfect” Yuri said, “My mother would say that you are lucky to have the figure to wear it.”
“You would say that” Zella said sourly, “But it was made with someone different in mind.”
“How so?” Yuri asked.
“It was made for a woman with smaller…” Zella started to say only to pause when she noticed that Yuri was no longer looking her in the eye. “Would you mind looking at something else.”
“Sorry” Yuri said, his eyes snapping forward at something in the distance. As if Zella needed more proof that this stupid dress was an adolescent fantasy, and she was going to be interviewing University students. It was something she was not looking forward to.
Shooting with an elevated heartrate proved trickier than Manny had anticipated as he had relearned the day before. Considering all the years he had spent shooting various rifles, it was something that he should have known about innately. That was why shooting a paper target with a pistol proved difficult after running an obstacle course. And once he had finished that, there were the real-world scenarios that were part of the live fire drills that needed to be completed with passing scores. The minor detail that he was having to do this with a weapon that he had long regarded as basically useless didn’t help.
“This training course was developed by a woman!” The Feldwebel who was today’s Instructor yelled, “And here we are with a group of men who are supposed to be from one of the most elite Units in the Heer struggling with it. What a disgrace!”
Manny knew better than to mention that he personally knew the woman in question, Kristina von Preussen, and she was an Officer in the FSR. The Jäger Corps of the Joint Medical Service was as hard to get into as any other Special Forces Unit and she had done it. He also didn’t mention that Kristina had based this course on training that she had received early on from Manny’s Aunt Katherine, the Tigress herself. It was supposedly difficult by design because real life was unforgiving.
“Mischner, you are up” The Instructor said, “Four-man Squad, GO!”
That meant that he would be leading a Fireteam, something he had a great deal of experience in doing. Like always the exercise would be timed and scored. With any luck, today would go far better than the previous one had.
Oma Blackwood had shooed Marie Alexandra out of the sunroom so that she could have afternoon tea with her good friends in peace. She said that they wanted to have an adult conversation and that Marie’s presence was not needed. That was why she was again out in the back garden with the same girl who she had given her nothing aside from sour looks a few days earlier. The only real difference was that Marie now knew her name, Henriette Lane. Like before, Henriette seemed interested in her book while pointedly ignoring Marie.
It was a warm afternoon and the Maid had promised them that as soon as the ladies in the house were situated, she would bring snacks and refreshments out to them. That didn’t bother her, she was fine with waiting. It gave her time to explore and the multitude of ways that she could go about doing that.
Taking off her shoes, Marie took the time to feel the differences between the parts of the concrete that were warmed by the sun and those that were cool in the shade. The feel of the moss between her toes was a bit of a pleasure.
“Everyone is talking about you” Henriette suddenly said, “Margot Blackwood’s beatnik granddaughter who is supposedly a Princess in Germany.”
“I told you the other day that I am not a Princess” Marie said, “And what is a beatnik?”
“You know, Bohemian” Henriette said, “Look at how you dress.”
Marie looked at the light blue sundress that she was wearing, nothing about it seemed out of the ordinary. It was perfectly seasonable. Compared to some of the other clothes she had worn, Oma Blackwood had found absolutely nothing objectionable about it.
“I’ve been to Prague” Marie replied, “It seemed like anywhere else I’ve been. What does that have to do with me?”
Henriette looked at Marie as if she had grown a second head. It was something that had been happening with increasing frequency over the last year or so.