Chapter One Thousand Eight Hundred Thirty-Two
5th February 1968
Like everywhere else, the city of Huế was a hive activity during daylight hours. That was particularly true because of the Holiday. Once the day’s festivities concluded it actually became quite peaceful.
It was a warm rainy night, Charlotte understood that was fairly typical here as this was the tail end of the rainy season. Looking out through the screen that covered the window of the room of the guesthouse that Antonia and Annett shared, Charlotte could see the other buildings of the Purple Forbidden City and the Perfume River beyond. She had been told that in a couple months it would be intolerably hot here, something that was perfectly plausible, even if she wasn’t in a hurry to return to the German winter.
The events of the prior days. were at the forefront of Charlotte’s mind, keeping her awake. For lack of anything better to do, she had gone to check on the girls and had found them asleep. While she might have been cross if they had been awake and playing some sort of silly game, that would have given her something else to focus on.
There were times when she had to consider just how frightening the world must be for her youngest stepdaughter. Victoria lived at all times with the thought of the consequences of what might happen if certain aspects of her life became common knowledge in the back of her mind. Charlotte had come to understand that it was a life that few would choose for themselves regardless of what many people believed. That was why it didn’t come as a surprise what that brash American woman had been overheard saying to Victoria and having her act as if nothing untoward had happened afterwards. It was all part and parcel with how she had to live her life, drawing too much upon herself was simply something that Victoria could not afford to do. Charlotte found it depressing that for all that had changed over her lifetime she still frequently encountered what could only be described as a Medieval mindset.
Looking at Antonia and Annett, Charlotte hoped that they would one day live in a world where they wouldn’t face impossible choices like the one that Antonia’s older sister had been stuck with. No matter what they would have each other though. When Charlotte had discussed taking Annett in, she had no idea that the girl would grow so close to Antonia. Charlotte had no idea if friendship between the two girls would endure in the years to come, there were times when they seemed intent to aggravate each other. There was also the struggle to find their place in the world. Charlotte had seen all her stepchildren going about that in different ways.
The stated worry was that Kiki would develop pneumonia again during her latest bout with influenza, which was why she had been kept in the hospital for an extra week. Then it had turned into the Doctors wanting to be sure that she would take care of herself once she was released as per her father’s instructions. That last part was particularly grating. Every aggravating turn seemed to be of her own making. However, it had turned out that Kiki was hardly the only one who had come down with the flu this time, she had been taken to an open ward which was the standard practice when dealing with an epidemic. She had thanked Peter for trying to help her and he had said that he felt sort of felt obligated to help, as her Doctoral Advisor having her die would look bad for him.
Peter had told her that an expert was saying that this was a strain of avian flu. Kiki understood how Biologists were able to reach those conclusions, but it hardly got her any closer to getting out of the hospital. That was why she was sitting on her bed, with the curtains closed around her, going through a large stack of letters that had arrived over the prior days. Invitations to various social events. There was one inviting her to a retreat of the Johanniter Order that mentioned how they would really like it if she showed up this time.
Finally, there was a notification from Koblenz stating that two pieces of her equipment needed to be turned in because they were being phased out. The first was the Panzerweste Ausf. E. It seemed that the aluminum rivets could pop out and injure the wearer under certain conditions, in the new Ausf. F Panzerweste that problem had been solved. Many found it strange that it had taken thirty years to essentially reinvent brigandine armor with more modern materials, but there they were.
The second piece of equipment hit Kiki harder than she thought it would. All variants of the Walther P38 were being phased out in favor of the new Walther P66. As a member of the FSR, Kiki would be required to qualify with the new pistol before she went back out into the field. Kiki had really only carried the old pistol she had originally been issued because she was obligated to protect herself and her patients, not because she had ever enjoyed having it. Later she had discovered that when she was angry and wanted to make a lot of noise it was perfect for doing exactly that. The notification said that she could keep her service weapon once the new one had been issued if she had the necessary permits. Was it something that she really wanted to keep?