Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Ninety-Two
21st April 1967
Cam Ranh, Viet Nam
The air was shattered as Taxidiotis V lifted off the pad. Albrecht watched as Mission Control went about their duties as the shutters that protected the windows of the blockhouse all stayed open this time. This was to be his last launch in charge of the Program and during the pre-launch meeting Werner von Braun had been jubilant over the prospect of finally being free of him. Albrecht knew full well that the Professor’s happiness would be short lived. The other members of the ESA were emphatic that the next Mission Director should not be German, so his designated successor had already been named, General Nikolai Kamanin. He had a reputation of not taking shit from anyone and if Professor von Braun thought that he would be allowed to run wild again he was in for a rude awakening.
As bothersome as von Braun was, Albrecht had greater headaches to contend with today. His father showing up in Cam Ranh hours before the launch with the Japanese Emperor in tow had been unwelcome surprise, the Emperor of Vietnam had shown up later at their invitation. Presently, Emperor Hirohito and Emperor Bảo Đại along with Prince Elector Manfred von Richthofen zu Silesia were watching from the elevated observation lounge where they stashed VIPs so that they could watch without causing trouble while feeling important. So far, no one had figured out that it was sound-proofed and that the sounds of Mission Control were piped in. It was all so that the VIPs in question could be completely ignored during the launch.
Albrecht knew that he couldn’t ignore them for long though.
After the death of Käte von Richthofen-Otersdorf, Albrecht’s mother, Manfred the Elder had started correspondence with Emperor Hirohito of Japan regarding the exploits of his dog Rust, who happened to be an Akita, a breed considered a National Treasure by Japan. The result was an invitation to visit Tokyo and Manfred had boarded a plane a few weeks later.
“That was impressive” Manfred said as soon as Albrecht entered the lounge, he was wearing his old Field Marshal’s uniform though he had retired twenty years earlier. Much to Albrecht’s annoyance, all the personnel on hand were a lot more inclined to defer to his father than they ever had for him.
In the minutes that followed, there were a lot of handshakes and bowing. Albrecht swiftly relearned that in both Japan and Vietnam the Kaiserliche Marine was held in great esteem. When he saw his father’s guarded expression, he realized that this entire introduction had been contrived. Manfred expected that one day Albrecht would follow as Prince Elector of Silesia and was preparing him for that, both the Governments of Vietnam and Japan would see him as an important figure after this.
22nd April 1967
The magazine that Ben was reading was talking about the recent archaeological finds in South America. A welcome escape from the Astronomy that consumed his days. He had come from Berlin the night before only to find Kiki exhausted and completely consumed by work, it had been all he could do just to get her to stop for a few hours so that she could sleep. Now, early Saturday morning, she was up and back at it before the Sun was up.
Kiki was wearing the clothes she wore as pajamas while seated at her desk banging away on her typewriter. She also had several folders on hand that were filled with accident reports and some of the most horrific photographs that he had ever seen. “That is why you should always wear a seatbelt” Kiki had said when Ben had asked her about those. Now hours later, she was banging away at what Ben had belatedly realized was a Doctoral Thesis. Eventually, she stopped and took off her glasses. Normally, that was a sign that she was through for the day, but this time she seemed conflicted. She got up from the desk and threw herself onto the bed, landing next to Ben in a huff.
“You must think that I am completely mental” Kiki said.
“No” Ben replied, “But I do think that you are getting a bit ahead of yourself. This isn’t like you panicking over Girenkopf again?”
Kiki frowned when he brought that up. The estate that Ben had been granted to him by the King of Bavaria didn’t have a single bit of level ground anywhere on it, just mountains and forests up against the Austrian border. Kiki had been certain that Ben was going to get soaked when the tax bill came due on the property, instead he had learned that the Astronomy Department of the University of Berlin was looking for a location to build an observatory. They were perfectly happy to lease a corner of Ben’s property if it sat atop a 1600-meter peak and was far enough away from any cities that there was little in the way of light pollution.
“No” Kiki replied, “I learned that further promotion for me has been deferred until I complete my education, I’ve been told that it will be back-dated when I finally get it. The soonest I will be able to take the second State Medical Exam is next year, the third a year later. The thesis will need to be done by then.”
“What’s the problem then?” Ben asked, “Besides that, I thought that you didn’t care about Rank? Only being able to help people.”
“I have found that it helps people take me seriously” Kiki replied.
“I see, two years is a long time though” Ben said, “Working without rest until you get sick again will not help with that.”
It had been a long time since that had happened. When Kiki had had been going through the University of Berlin’s Sanitäter Program she had done that on more than one occasion because of the same impatience that she was showing now.