Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty
11th September 1966
Sitting in the cockpit of Black Knight III waiting for the Crew Chief to tell him when to turn on the fire control computer that had been dodgy lately, Ben considered what had and hadn’t changed. He was still in the Luftwaffe Reserve as a Hauptmann, though he had brought some additional prestige to the 18th Fast Attack Wing, which was a Landwehr Unit operating out of the City-State of Berlin. Before the Sino-Korean War, they had been regarded as little more than a club for bored Students and Businessmen playing at being Fighter Pilots. After Korea they were regarded as a force to be reckoned with, now with one of their own had volunteered for the Space Program, passed the rigorous training to become a Raumfahrer and orbited the Moon.
When Ben arrived back in Tegel he was greeted as a hero and had gotten the first Pour le Mérite in the 18th SKG. Wim however had a slightly different perspective. He had told Ben that his involvement in the Taxidiotis Program was brave but stupid. What else could be said about sitting atop a hundred and twenty-meter-tall pile of explosives and lighting it off. It was hardly a surprise that Ben had made into orbit, he would have ended up there anyway even if the launch had failed. With how cynical and risk adverse Wim was, there were times when Ben wondered exactly why he had become a Reserve Officer in the Luftwaffe.
Beyond that, Ben still trying to process everything that had happened over the previous weeks. He had been a part of a team that had made history when they had orbited the Moon. Commentators had mentioned that they had been the first people to lay eyes on the far side of the moon and soon a man would set foot there. They said that these were the first steps in a new era of discovery. All Ben knew was that the Professors who he couldn’t get to return his calls before he had left for Cam Ranh, were now behaving very differently. Every single one of his applications to enter Doctorial Programs in various Universities had been approved so he could pick and choose where he went next. That was far more cynical of an outcome than even Wim was prepared to imagine, so he hadn’t mentioned it to him.
The last time Ben had talked to Kiki she had said that she was going to be in Laupheim for the next few weeks refresher training in the FSR and getting various recertifications. He was going to be free next weekend, perhaps he ought to go there. He hadn’t seen her in person since he had gotten back to Earth.
Louis was looking at the deck of the Windhund and it was so clean that he could eat off it. Normally, he wouldn’t complain about this sort of extremely rare occurrence, but this was entirely because of Zella. She had told the crews of the boats that she needed stock footage of them going about their duties of maintaining the boats and if that turned into a competition over who could keep her attention as Zella and Yuri had worked their way up and down the pier.
After a couple days of that, even the Landing Craft that that were a part of the flotilla were sparkling in the sunlight. The one exception was LB-222 whose engine was out, and the men were rebuilding it. It was fortunate that the LC used a MAN diesel engine that was commonly used in lorries all over the world. That made parts easy to find, but that didn’t resolve all the panels being removed and the rest of the LC being a greasy mess. Zella had found plenty to film there as well. The rub for Louis had been when she had asked him why the flotilla needed the slow, wallowing tubs in the first place. He had to explain the role they played in the flotilla’s logistics and if he needed the Marines who were presently guarding the pier for an operation in the coming months then they would prove invaluable.
Naturally, that led to Zella having a lot of questions about future operations and Louis had just shrugged, telling her that he cannot answer questions like that. Still, all the Navies of the world thrived on scuttlebutt, so Zella had still found out about the Q-Ship that they were going to resume hunting in a few days and was angling to come along. The entire purpose of having Zella and Yuri in Trieste was so that she could get film of him in action.
“What are we going to do about her?” Louis asked Borchardt.
“So long as she keeps the men pulling in the right direction and shows no favoritism to any of them, then you don’t need to do a damned thing” Borchardt replied.
“Marcella wants in on the hunt when we leave” Louis said, “You know as well as I do how much trouble she could cause.”
“I would suggest that you ditch her then” Borchardt said, “Except if you pass up on her filming something that the Navy wants filmed, then you’ll be lucky if they send you back Wilhelm Station for the rest of your career.”
Louis had been afraid that those would be the choices he was stuck with.