Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 123, Chapter 2075
  • Chapter Two Thousand Seventy-Five



    23rd July 1971

    Wahlstatt, Silesia

    The end of the term was just hours away and it was so close that they could taste it. The Institution wasn’t about to let them go on their Summer Holiday without one last reminder as to exactly who was in charge here by announcing once their final exams were complete that a white glove inspection was going to be conducted on their dormitory. That meant that everything would need to be cleaned until it sparkled. Because it had seemed like the Staff had been easing up a bit as the end of the term had approached, there were portions of the dormitory that had not been cleaned properly in weeks.

    As a Cadet Sergeant and Dorm Leader, it was Niko’s job to get everyone moving at a time when no one wanted to do anything. It was only now that they were starting to feel the heat as the time had been running out and word had reached them that they would not be dismissed on their holiday until the headmaster was satisfied with the state of their dormitory. They were faced with a task that was far bigger than it should have been. For once, Bas’ complaints about how things like this were totally contrived were dead on, not that Niko would tell him that, of course. Niko also suspected that no matter how hard they worked, the headmaster was bound to find something even if he had to put there himself. Again, that was not something which he was going to tell anyone else, much less Bas.

    With the acrid smell of disinfectant filling his nose, Niko followed Oberstlieutenant Gruber, the school’s headmaster, and Staber Arbeit as they went through the dormitory. Every few seconds the two older men was say something quiet to each other and Arbeit would check something on the clipboard he was carrying. Niko realized that he was flinching every time something else was checked off. He was certain that they were dinging the dorm with every check and when they inevitably failed the first inspection the others who were waiting by their beds were going to take their frustrations out on him.

    “I expect that you will have this up to my standard by the time I come back later this afternoon Nikolaus” Gruber said as Arbeit handed him the checklist. Then Gruber, Arbeit, and an aide who Niko didn’t know, went down the hallway to the next dormitory, leaving him to go back and break the news to the others.

    As Niko looked over the list of items that had failed the inspection, he saw that it was even worse than he had feared. They were basically going to have to redo most of what they had already done that morning. Reluctantly, he walked back into the dorm. He hoped that the others would understand that this entire thing had been coming for weeks. Did they really think that the school would just let them go without doing something like this?



    Potsdam

    Looking out the windows at the Summer Residence seemed like it was about as close to enjoying the semi-rural surroundings as he could ever have. Later that afternoon, Freddy was going to have tea with Suga in the pagoda in the Zen Garden that had been a wedding present to them from his father. Just the fact that spending time with his wife and children was something that had of to be scheduled ahead of time spoke volumes.

    In theory, Freddy’s position was largely symbolic, so he really could spend his days doing as little as possible. There were certain powers that his Office retained in regard to the Government, but everyone was happier if he only exercised those in conjunction with the Chancellor and he was supposed to be above politics as it were. He was also considered the Head of the Military, which again was largely symbolic. The High Command would probably lose the message if he tried to do anything in that capacity that the Generals disagreed with.

    Instead, there were tasks that it was felt that he alone had the authority to carry out in service to the greater needs of the Empire. So, Freddy found himself on the phone arguing with Bureaucrats and Officials at various levels from a wide variety of other countries in the service of the German Empire and pounding out the latest draft agreements before those got dropped into the shredder. They were trying to nail down a final agreement regarding a treaty that would join all the nations of Europe into what would become the world’s largest customs union. There was an open question though as to who was a bigger pain in the ass, the French, or the Austrians? And the entire time England was egging them on. It was an almost exact repeat of the Common Defense Treaty from years earlier except then it had been the Italians, the French and the British causing the trouble. The Greeks had rather steadfastly refused to join that particular treaty, throwing in with the Russians instead. It wasn’t until years later that everyone figured out why, the Greeks had been planning on exterminating their neighbors and didn’t want any outside interference. Freddy’s father had once observed that things may have been different if bombs had been falling on London or Paris during the Soviet War along with Berlin but that hadn’t happened, so they needed to learn to live with them.

    Into this had come news a week earlier that Grand Admiral von Schmidt had died. Freddy knew that Jacob von Schmidt had a problematic legacy as being the source of much of the distrust that the world felt towards the German Empire. He had been entitled to a State Funeral, but his family had opted for a simple ceremony that reflected his religious background. As far as Freddy was concerned that was a bullet dodged.
     
    Part 123, Chapter 2076
  • Chapter Two Thousand Seventy-Six



    24th July 1971

    Off Puerto San Julián, Argentina

    Louis Ferdinand Junior watched the shore through his binoculars as the ship he was on rounded the headlands. The main guns of SMS Z66 “Schwertwal” opened up. The 12.8-centimeter guns were capable of firing once every three seconds and the Schwertwal was just one of a dozen ships in the Destroyer flotilla, so a vast amount of earth was getting churned up and the town of Puerto San Julián itself was getting pulverized.

    The Sealions had scouted the town a few days earlier, somehow entering and leaving without being detected. What they had found was that the civilian population had either fled or been removed by the Chileans, at least it was Louis’ hope that was true. This was due to the perceived importance of San Julián as a deep-water port, close proximity to a major road junction, and how any anticipated landings were likely to occur here because of that. Instead, there was what was believed to be a token “tripwire” force left in the town while the vast majority of the Chilean Army was further inland so that they could respond to the landings wherever they might be happening. Civilians would just have gotten in the way.

    Trailing the Destroyers was a number of Landing Craft Tenders and a pair of Guided Missile Frigates in case any airplanes from the FACh decided to join the party this morning. Aboard the Tenders were the German 3rd and 4th Marine Infantry Divisions, a contingent from the Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces equivalent to a Division and a Battalion of Marines from the Argentine Navy. Louis could see that the Landing Craft, dozens of them, were already being lowered into the water from the Tenders. He remembered his own time commanding LB932 during the landings at Andong during the Sino-Korean War, having to make repeated trips up and down the Yalu River to deliver Marines and supplies to the fight as the Chinese had shot at him the entire time from their side of the river. That was an experience he was pleased not to have to repeat even if he had been decorated for bravery afterwards.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    Of all the men on this tub, it seemed like only Karl Dunkel and Nicolaus Nguyen had any experience in this sort of thing. Had Korea really been that long ago? It didn’t seem like it could have been.

    “What you said before we boarded Spear?” One of the men, this one didn’t even look old enough to shave asked. It was a stupid question, and it was a reminder that Karl had been appointed to Hauptfeldwebel just before they had left Cuxhaven.

    “Get to the top of the beach, find cover, and try not to piss yourself” Karl replied. It wasn’t the quite same thing he had said before but as they were getting ready to go into a fight, he didn’t have time to repeat himself. Niko just smiled, he knew what the score was having made the landing at Andong with Karl, he had taken over Karl’s Squad when Karl had been appointed the be the “Company Mother” much to Karl’s annoyance. That was also why he made a point of being here as opposed to anywhere near the Officers. If any of them asked him to take note of something irrelevant he would be strongly tempted to shove the reporting pouch up their ass.

    Ahead of them, they could see that shells from the Destroyers were blasting the town. Anyone watching who was uninformed would think that no one could survive that. The truth was that either they were in a relatively deep shelter of some kind or somehow were not where the shells were falling in the first place. The truth was that shelling like this seemed to be to improve the morale of those about to run up the beach. It wouldn’t be until they got a radio man ashore to direct the fire when that would change. They would also be directly engaged by that point, so taking shelter would no longer be an option. Karl had been on both sides of that equation in Korea and knew which one he preferred to be on, at least until the shelling stopped as they drew near the beach.

    As the Landing Craft ran itself aground on the beach just north of the town, Karl could feel it through his feet before the ramp dropped. Fortunately, fire didn’t from the shattered buildings, at least not yet. He remembered his Drill Instructor had been a veteran of the Pacific War, he had spoken of how the Japanese would let them come ashore. Then the Japanese would wait until they let their guard down before opening up with everything that they had from concealed positions with idea of catching them flatfooted. All that would have needed to happen was for a Chilean Officer to have been able to stay awake during History Class for that same tactic to see use here.

    “Keep low!” Karl yelled over his shoulder as he realized that the buildings above the beach were the only cover visible.

    Running towards the town, Karl heard the sound of a machinegun open up and hoped that it was one of theirs being fired by someone who had gotten nervous. Otherwise, it was going to be a long day.
     
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    Part 123, Chapter 2077
  • Chapter Two Thousand Seventy-Seven



    25th July 1971

    Puerto San Julián, Argentina

    It was after midnight when Tilo came ashore, and the fighting was over. While the Chileans had made a go of it, the weight of numbers upon them told. They had been outnumbered better than ten to one and single Brigade against three Divisions typically had only one outcome outside of the movies. Most of the buildings having concrete block walls and a corrugated galvanized iron roof had certainly been of immense aid to the defenders. Some of the Chileans had held out against the Marine Infantry until the Armor from the 4th MID had come ashore. The main gun of a Leopard II made for one Hell of a door knocker.

    The Japanese had managed to out crazy the Marine Infantry this time. Something that had surprised everyone but the few remaining among them who had fought in the Pacific War knew that it shouldn’t have. For the Japanese SNLF it was a chance to show the world what they were made of, and they had made the most of it. It was odd how their Commanders still jokingly called Tilo “The Enemy” even when it fell on to him to dress them down about how they needed to cut out the recklessness. No one doubted their courage, you had to have more balls than sense if you even made it into an SNLF Unit. However, if the odds had been stacked slightly more in favor of the Chileans, then they would have gotten decimated.

    Mostly though, Tilo had come ashore to check how Karl was holding up. He had heard that his nephew had acquitted himself well, shown the sort of leadership that he had come to expect from Karl. Just that Karl was supposed to have progressed somewhat past that at this point. While it fit in with the ethos that Tilo had inadvertently created in Korea that all of the Marine Infantry were Riflemen, as a Hauptfeldwebel Karl was supposed to hang back and start to take on the role of Advisor to the Platoon Commander. He had clearly not done that this time. Instead, he had taken charge of two of the Squads that had been on the same LC as him. The Marines by their nature, had followed the first person who had seemed to be in charge.

    Tilo knew that he would need to do something about Karl. His Platoon Commander had been furious that he had exceeded his authority and was demanding that something be done. So, Tilo was in the ticklish position that his own Commanders must have been it decades earlier. The first option was to have a medal awarding ceremony at a Court Martial and the second was to give Karl a meritorious promotion, rendering the whole thing moot. Tilo preferred the second option because otherwise he would have to answer to his mother and older sister. It could hardly be called nepotism because Tilo knew that Karl had been content as a Squad Leader and would hate further advancement. If Karl wanted to be in charge though, then that was what he was about to get.



    Rio Gallegos

    After months of living in a city that had been under siege the sudden change had been jarring. The presence of the 4th Panzer Division had made Rio Gallegos too hard of a nut to crack, or at least doing so would have cost the Chileans more than they wanted to pay. Suse had found that keeping the machinery throughout the city functioning as winter had set in with the precarious supply situation to be a fulltime job. Anything that she couldn’t find or improvise had to be fabricated and even the raw materials she needed to do that were in short supply.

    It had been business as usual, until Suse had noticed a commotion outside the warehouse near the waterfront that she had she had worked out of for months. Stepping outside, Suse saw massive ship pulling into the harbor. More waiting out on the Atlantic Ocean waiting for their turn to enter and unload their cargos. Word had swiftly gotten around that the rest of the 2nd Field Army had finally made it to Rio Gallegos while the 3rd Army was going ashore somewhere up the coast.

    Minutes later Manny had come to Suse’s shop where all work had stopped for the day as everyone had been celebratory mood. While the 4th Division hadn’t done a whole lot more than to sit tight, they had made through and had tied down several Divisions of the Chilean Army and made themselves a royal pain in the backside for the last several months.

    Unfortunately, Manny had been thinking and that was never a good thing for anybody. It was about the future this time which was even worse.

    “The answer is a no for now” Suse said, “This is neither the time nor place.”

    “When would be the right time then?” Manny asked.

    “When we are back home and there is not a chance that we could be dead by this time next week” Suse replied.

    “Oh” Manny said, the look on his face suggesting that he had not thought things through. Here he was talking about a future that might not happen, especially considering the uncertain reality that surrounded both of them. The optimism that Manny expressed was one of the reasons why Suse loved him, the trouble was that it could be aggravating at times.

    “Besides that, Berlin Technical wants me to return next month” Suse said, “They want to know what I have learned in the field. If I want the last year to mean anything I need to go.”

    The expression on Manny’s face was one of pure disappointment when he heard that.
     
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    Part 123, Chapter 2078
  • Chapter Two Thousand Seventy-Eight



    28th July 1971

    Mittelland Canal, Near Peine, Lower Saxony

    After a somewhat contentious visit to Prague, it had come time to get back on the rivers and canals. Hopefully putting some distance between Kiki and her somewhat confused but well-meaning brother and sister-in-law.

    The trouble was that Michael and Birdie didn’t really understand Kiki. Michael had tried to show respect to her accomplishments by doing what he always did with elaborate gestures and ceremonies, because he always loved the showmanship that was a part of his job as the King of Bohemia. Things that Kiki avoided like the plague. Kiki reconsidered that thought for a moment. As a Physician she would have a duty to treat a plague outbreak the same as any other epidemic. So, dealing with the plague would be far preferable to a public spectacle.

    What that meant in practice was that Kiki had been inducted into the Order of Saint Wenceslaus as a Dame Commander and was now the Gräfin of Reichenberg inside Bohemia, an industrial city somewhere in the Northern part of the country that she assumed that she would need to visit some time in the near future. This was done entirely because Ernesto Guevara had written his own account of what had happened, and he had credited Kiki with leading them out of that mess which they had found themselves in. Michael had interpreted that as her saving the neck of a subordinate. Whenever the decision was made about Kiki’s future in the Medical Service, he wanted them to know his perspective on the matter when they opened her file and read the citation for the Commander’s Cross from the highest Service Order in Bohemia. Kiki had then made the mistake of pointing out that she wasn’t even Bohemian, he had rectified that by making her a Gräfin of his domain which was his right as King.

    Getting out of there before Michael did anything else seemed like a good idea. With the heavy rains that had occurred over the previous weeks the Elbe had been running high, so the Meta had been pushed along by the current, giving them a speedy trip out of Bohemia and through the Sandstone Mountains of Saxon Switzerland. After an extended stops in Dresden and Magdeburg, they had finally entered the Mittelland Canal with the goal of either Vienna or the South of France. Kiki figured that she would flip a coin when it came time to decide which way to go. In the meantime, she had more mundane tasks to take care of as she followed Fianna and Steffi into the aft cabin where they could discuss matters with a bit of privacy and Kiki could take care of Nina. It was a pleasant summer afternoon and all the windows and hatches on the Meta were open, so even in the cabin they were in, there was a nice breeze blowing through.

    “You were the same way” Fianna said to Kiki as she took off her shirt, “Growing fast with an appetite to match, your mother even compared you to a bottomless pit. Then God gave her twins a few years later. That I why you shouldn’t complain, you never know who’s listening.”

    Kiki just shrugged before Fianna handed Nina to her. While she had her doubts about the existence of God, she knew that the process in which certain embryos split and eventually became identical twins like her sisters Rea and Vicky wasn’t really understood by Medical Science yet. Over the next few minutes, the conversation turned to other matters as Nina was no longer the topic of conversation.

    “About this trip up a side canal to the city of Neumarkt in Bavaria that you have planned” Steffi asked, “That doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Is that a mistake?”

    “No” Kiki replied, “That canal in considered obsolete with the Meta being the largest type of craft that can make it up to that city. The hope is that the resulting publicity of me going there will encourage recreational boating into areas like that which would otherwise fall into decay. Which I’m sure you think is a bit foolish.”

    “Actually, that makes the most sense of anything to do with this trip” Steffi said, “Do think that we should call some of the newspapers and tip them off about where we will be ahead of time?”

    “Why not just tell them?” Fianna asked.

    “The newspapers always like to think they are pulling a sly one on me” Kiki replied, “The truth is that if they actually intruded when they were not wanted, I would probably disappear into here until they left.”

    That was a reminder that this wasn’t just a pleasure cruise. Kiki was taking it because she wanted to popularize the concept. Plus, she was doing her job as the Princess Royal without actually doing anything. Which was always a welcome consideration. It was at that moment when the hatch from the wheelhouse opened, and Bram poked his head in.

    “Ma’am, Herr Kirchhoff wanted to know…” Bram started to ask, and then he saw Kiki and he trailed off, his face went pale before he slammed the hatch shut.

    “I swear that boy needs to get out more” Steffi said.

    “Don’t be mean” Kiki replied, “He’s been very sheltered.”

    “I grew up in a tenement in Dublin with seven brothers and sisters” Fianna said, “We were sheltered from many of the ills of the world but not like that, that is privilege. Know the difference.”
     
    Part 123, Chapter 2079
  • Chapter Two Thousand Seventy-Nine



    2nd August 1971

    Near Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz, Rural Bavaria

    Zella was recording as Kiki turned the crank to open the flow of water into the lock, the clicking of the rachet on the shaft that went down to the paddles filling her ears. On the other side of the gates, Gregor was turning an identical crank. The Meta bobbed in the water as she slowly rose to the next level of the canal. On the canal behind them was a small flotilla of a dozen other small boats and barges that had shallow enough draft to make it up this canal. Word had spread of Kiki’s plans and many people who were already on holiday had decided to join her on this little adventure. The craft were mostly of modern fiberglass construction, inexpensive, intended for lakes and rivers. The people were largely Middle Class, professionals from the cities looking to do something out of the ordinary. There was a British couple who had the sort of narrow canal boat seldom seen on this side of the English Channel. Kiki had listened to them tell the story of their crossing to Belgium and was convinced that they were a bit insane.

    In most ways, the old Ludwig Canal was unchanged from the last attempt at modernization in the 20’s, decades earlier. The locks were completely manual and the canal itself was in desperate need of dredging. The Ludwig Canal had long been an example of forever being on the back foot, reacting when a bit of foresight would have saved a great deal of time and expense. Built between 1836 and 1846 to connect the Main and Danube Basin crossing the divide of the watershed.

    The trouble had started almost from the day that the canal had opened. Technical problems like a shortage of water for the summit level had still needed to be ironed out but the most glaring problem had been the narrow width of the canal itself. That had created a major bottleneck for inland shipping. Competition from the railroads had almost doomed the project, but the Wittelsbach family who owned the canal had not been about to admit defeat so easily with a project their name was bound up in. They had attempted to widen the canal and improve the locks in the 20’s. That was the reason why the Meta had once plied these same waters when she had hauled freight prior to the conversion to her present use.

    The problem was that by the late 40’s, the same problems had come up again as unpowered barges in convoys pushed by tugs had grown in popularity. That was traffic the canal could not be modified to accommodate. So, the Kingdom of Bavaria had been forced to accept a plan that had long been in the works at the Federal Level to build a new canal that was straighter and far more advanced in construction. As a sop, the new canal had been named for King Albrecht of Bavaria, but Officials from Berlin had remained firmly in control of the project in the years since with the Albrecht Canal having opened in 1960.

    While the northern half of the Ludwig Canal had been coopted by the Albrecht Canal, the southern half had basically been abandoned as the shipping traffic had ceased. That was why Kiki felt that it was the perfect opportunity for her to show that it could be put to a different use. Not everything had to move at the constant speed demanded by modern life, there were times when slowing down was welcome indeed.

    After climbing back aboard the Meta, Kiki explained all of that as Motor Barge got underway with Gregor at the helm. Zella and Kiki were sitting on the back deck under the canopy that had been put up to offer shelter from the sun and rain. It was the latter that Kiki and Zella were sheltering from this afternoon and light rain was drumming on the rubberized canvas. The others had taken advantage of Zella’s car to go on ahead to Neumarkt. After several days aboard the Meta, it seemed that they had wanted to go somewhere where they wouldn’t be getting in each other’s way constantly.

    It was a warm afternoon, with the rain adding a great deal of humidity. After a while, houses started appearing on the banks above the towpath as they neared Neumarkt. Zella had placed her video camera on its tripod so that it could record what was happening at a moment’s notice. Earlier, Kiki had allowed Zella to get a few shots with her and Nina, something that her friend had thanked her profusely for. It seemed that Zella’s boss’ boss at ARD had told her that she could practically name her price if she could get a few shots of Kiki and Nina together in a casual setting. Zella intended to milk that for all it was worth.

    “You are just lucky that she is being good this afternoon” Kiki said as she placed Nina back into the crib that Kiki had moved up from the cabin. While she wasn’t interested in sleeping, watching the countryside rolling past and the gentle rocking of the Meta were than enough to keep her occupied though. It was a welcome benefit of being on the Meta that Kiki had discovered.

    “It’s because she knows her Auntie Zella is here” Zella said leaning towards Nina. “You would never misbehave when I’m around, right Nina?”

    Nina just stared at Zella with the mesmerized look of babies not knowing or understanding what they were looking at. Kiki just shook her head. At any second something might happen, and Nina would be howling in displeasure. Zella was unknowingly playing with fire.

    Minutes later, they entered Neumarkt proper and came to the old quay where the barges delivering goods to the city used to tie up. To Kiki’s astonishment there was a huge crowd. What looked like the City Mayor and Council, plus everyone with an excuse to be there was, and with a brass band as well. There were flags everywhere as there tended to be whenever her father or oldest brother went anywhere. Ben and Bram were standing there looking bemused. When Ben saw that Kiki was looking at him, he gave her a look that seemed to ask, “What did you expect?”
     
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    Part 123, Chapter 2080
  • Chapter Two Thousand Eighty



    3rd August 1971

    Rio Gallegos, Argentina

    No sooner than the 7th Recon finally received orders to move out then a winter storm had shut everything down for a few days. In the meantime, they needed many of the things that had already been loaded into the Iltis utility vehicles and that caused a great deal of trouble. Especially when Christian ran afoul of a nail in a crate of batteries that Moser thought that they needed. He ended up with a hole in the sleeve of his coat and the shirt underneath which was annoying. There was also a gash on Christian’s arm that he had bandaged, but Manfred had insisted that he go to Medical Services to get it looked at and had even pulled rank to get him to go.

    Hours later, Christian was still fuming about how Manfred had done that. Didn’t he realize that there was a bloody war on? And Christian would get green tagged the instant he walked in and told to wait while they sorted the cases that actually needed medical attention. Which was exactly what happened.

    “Unterfeldwebel Wiese?” A bored looking Nurse called out, “We’re ready to see to that arm.”

    Following her into a different room in the hospital, Christian saw a woman who was around his age wearing surgical scrubs. “So, you are Christian?” She asked with a smile on her face. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” She had a pleasant face, and she looked a bit familiar, but Christian couldn’t place where he might know her from.

    “Is that so?” Christian asked in reply.

    “Yes” She replied, “Now hang your coat up and roll up your shirt sleeve. And I suppose I’ll need to see your tag. Any nasty allergies I ought to know about?”

    With that, Christian handed her the triage tag that had the pertinent information on it. “Its superficial” Christian said, “I only came in because Oberleutnant von Mischner ordered me to.”

    Something crossed her face when he mentioned Manfred as she grabbed a pair of scissors off the tray.

    “The tag says it is a bit more than superficial” She replied, “Now let’s take a look.”

    As soon as she finished cutting the bandage away, the gash started bleeding again. If anything, it looked messier than it had before.

    “That is going to need stitches and I would recommend a tetanus shot as well” She said, “Before that, I am going to need to need to clean it. Are you going to have too much trouble with a bit of pain? We can arrange a local…”

    “Just get it done” Christian replied, “I’ve already wasted enough time in here today.”

    She gave him a look. “My usual patients don’t complain about time spent in my care” The woman said.

    “Good for them” Christian replied.

    It hurt just as much as she said it would, but Christian meant what he said about wasting time. He felt the jab of the needle as the local anastatic was injected into his arm to numb it so that the wound could be cleaned and stitched up with causing him too much discomfort. When he got back to his Squad, he figured that they would be up to their usual deviltry, making jokes about how his numbed arm could be used. He wouldn’t be interested in listening to that though.

    Even with the local it still hurt a lot and Christian was very aware of the tugging as the stitches were done. The tetanus shot at the end was anticlimactic.

    As the woman was putting a fresh bandage on Christian’s arm, she said. “Normally, this is where I would pat you on the head and tell you that you were good boy before giving you a treat.”

    Christian gave her a startled look. “What kind of Doctor are you?”

    She started laughing. “I’m not a doctor of any kind” She said, “I’m actually a veterinarian.”

    “You are telling me that normally your patients are dogs and cats?” Christian asked in disbelief.

    “And horses” She replied, “Don’t forget horses.”

    She seemed a bit wistful when she mentioned horses. Everyone had favorites and for a second Christian felt a bit of guilt about how many times horse meat had been on the menu over the last few months.

    “Yet you did this” Christian said, holding up his arm.

    “When the war started the Oberst in charge of this Regiment asked me if I wanted to volunteer, being a civilian and all, no one could order me to do get involved. I was amazed when they told me I would be taking care of minor cases and it really isn’t too much different from what I was doing before.”

    Listening to her carry on, Christian wondered what sort of madness must had come over that particular Oberst to resort to this sort of measure. Minor cases? He should have anticipated that something like this would occur.

    “Whatever” Christian said, trying to recall if he had seen a wedding ring on her hand before she had put on gloves. “Well, thank you Fraulein…”

    “I’m Ina von Mischner” Ina said, “You know, Manny’s sister.”

    “Well, shit… Er… That’s well and good” Christian replied. No wonder she must have heard a lot about him. Manfred had probably mentioned him to her dozens of times over the last few years.

    “And if you could tell him to stop by for a visit before his outfit takes off, I would be thankful” Ina said. Then she shooed Christian out the door.
     
    Part 123, Chapter 2081
  • Chapter Two Thousand Eighty-One



    9th August 1971

    Washington D.C.

    “Things like this are why they always seem to be able to one up us no matter what their other hand is doing” Nelson said looking at the television that was playing the video which had been recorded at the CIA’s Berlin Station from television networks there. Just minutes earlier there had been a report on about the advance into Patagonia, where Nelson knew that two German Field Armies were involved in the fighting. That was actually desirable outcome, because defense planners had estimated that pushing through the Andes Mountains would probably come at a higher cost then they could afford to pay. The war would drag on until Chile and Argentina could be forced into talks which was a desirable outcome for the United States. That had immediately segued into a puff piece about Princess Kristina on a boating trip on the Inland Waterways of Germany with her family. “Instead, we have the Finley Family’s adventures on Lake George” Nelson said, and he saw the reaction to the others around the table.

    Nelson was referring to an infamous episode on an already controversial television show that seemed to exist for no other reason than to push the boundaries of good taste and what the networks, NBC in this case, would allow. The show revolved around the family Patriarch played by George Carlin, his shrewish wife and their three teenaged children. The oldest son was a hoodlum while it was strongly implied that the daughter was a prostitute, and the youngest son was gay.

    The episode in question, the Season Two Premiere, had featured the family going waterskiing on Lake George over Labor Day weekend and their boat was a decrepit looking fishing boat with an outboard engine that was both comically huge, loud, and belched black smoke. The episode had ended with the lot of them leaving their vacation earlier than expected to avoid getting arrested, but not before leaving the people in next campsite, the ones they had tormented for the entire weekend, holding the bag when the Sheriff’s Department showed up.

    That stood in rather stark contrast to what they were looking at presently. Princess Kristina with her baby, a little girl and the boat was a stately barge that slowly cruised down what looked like a canal in what looked like an idyllic countryside of woodlands and small farms. It was all so staggeringly wholesome. This shy young woman being one of the public faces of the German Royal family was a problem for the United States. The same was true with the way her brothers and sisters were frequently depicted, even the older brother who had become the King of Bohemia, who came across to Nelson as something of an oaf.

    “The Finleys are fictional” One of Nelson’s advisors said.

    “I know” Nelson replied “But more of the country than you would think has a hard time telling the difference between television and reality. And don’t think for a minute that what we see of the Hohenzollerns is not just as stage managed as a sitcom.”

    “I see, Sir” The advisor said, and Nelson doubted he did. He had realized too late into his Administration that having most of his advisors coming directly from Acidemia was a bit of mistake. While they were the absolutely at the top of their respective fields, they could be clueless about ordinary people.



    Near Comandante Luis Piedrabuena , Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

    The 7th Recon normally played a role similar to traditional Cavalry. Scouting ahead, screening and guarding the flanks of the Division. Today, they had been pressed into a different role entirely having been ordered to join 2nd Recon from the 3rd Panzer Division and capture Piedrabuena. They were to also link up with Army Group North if possible. According to Manfred, the Oberstlieutenant had told him and all the other Officers that the town was actually of secondary importance, it was capturing the bridge over the Santa Cruz River that was of paramount importance. The hope was that the speed of the Recon Battalions would enable them to move fast enough to get there before the Chileans realized how much of a predicament they were in and blew up the bridge. As Army Group South had broken out of Rio Gallegos the 2nd and 7th had turned north up National Route 3 and had spent the rest of the day and all of the following night moving forward at the best possible speed. Manny had made sure that the 1st Platoon (Callsign Gold) was in the vanguard just behind the 8-rads as they had rushed through the Argentine Steppe at 80 kilometers per hour as the sun was just coming over the eastern horizon.

    Manny had tried to sleep but his mind kept going back to how Suse had gotten on an airplane a few days earlier for home. Then there was Christian’s story about how when he got to Medical Services it had been Manny’s sister Ina who had worked on his arm. The rest of the Platoon had gotten a laugh about how she was a veterinarian as opposed to a Physician. Manny had not found that in the least bit funny, the last thing he wanted was for anyone from his Platoon sniffing around Ima, not even Christian who was halfway decent. He had tried to speak to Ima about that and she had told him that he should mind his own fucking business. He couldn’t recall Ima ever standing up to him like that before…

    The pitch of the Iltis’ engine changed as they rounded a bend and saw the long straightaway before the bridge. The 8-rads were speeding up to their top speed and the other vehicles in the column were keeping pace. Up ahead, Manny saw one of the armored cars veer off the road and what looked like several bits of wood rained down on the following vehicles. They passed two Chileans who had been manning a checkpoint who were sitting on the should shocked as the vehicles sped past. It that been their guard shack that the 8-rad had smashed through.

    The 8-rads had just gotten onto the causeway that approached the main span when the explosives went off causing everyone to slam on their brakes. Minutes later after they were sure they wouldn’t be killed by falling debris the Oberstleutnant came on over Command net. He sounded pissed.
     
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    Part 123, Chapter 2082
  • Chapter Two Thousand Eighty-Two



    10th August 1971

    Cologne, Germany

    In the grey drizzle of the afternoon, Cologne didn’t seem too appealing as the Meta passed through. Kiki supposed that the museums, marketplace, and culture of the medieval city ought to appeal to her, but she wasn’t inclined to stop here. She was sitting under the canopy aft of the wheelhouse as she had been doing most afternoons. It was nice to watch the countryside roll past and not be in any hurry to get anywhere.

    Whatever the plan had been, Kiki had looked at a map and suddenly exploring a city, she had never been to before had struck her fancy and Amsterdam was sort of hard to miss. Austria had been sort of a fizzle. Vienna had been almost as drab as Cologne seemed to be today. It seemed that her family wasn’t particularly popular in Austria, and they had gotten a rather frosty reception. It had something to do with history and how Vienna was no longer the seat of Empire while Berlin had ascended.

    The sad reality was that as much as the Austrians wanted to lay the blame on Germany, Kiki remembered from History classes that what happened to them was almost inevitable past a certain point. By the time the Dual Monarchy had started to break apart, the best that anyone could have done was a controlled demolition. Not that she thought for an instant that her grandfather and great grandfather had not exploited the situation for all it was worth. It was like what the Americans said. How the difference between a rich man and a poor man was dependent upon whose grandfather had been the better horse thief. Kiki had no doubt that her ancestors were among the absolute best of horse thieves…

    “What are you thinking about?” Ben asked, “You seem like you are a thousand kilometers away when you do that.”

    “Austria and how things happen” Kiki replied.

    “Still thinking about that” Ben said, “You just need to accept that not everyone loves you.”

    “I am not allowed to ever forget that. It is why I need to have bodyguards” Kiki replied, realizing as she said it that two members of her security detail were within earshot. “That was different though. Those people disliked me because of my family.”

    “Exactly what was your great grandfather supposed to have done?” Ben asked, “Have the Heer invade Hungary to keep their empire together at gunpoint? I’m not sure that having our soldiers in Vienna would have played well, especially after they had to take over on the Italian Front months earlier. There is a good reason why no one can see that ever happening.”

    “You know that, and I would guess that they do too” Kiki said, “But you know how people are.”

    They sat watching the bank roll by for several minutes.

    “Fianna said that she is heating something up for supper” Ben said, “Next time we do this, we might have a dedicated Cook. That will be a major change.”

    But for the better? Kiki thought to herself.

    Next year the Epione would be ready and unlike the Meta, she would have dedicated crew berths according to the blueprints that Kiki had seen before she had approved construction to begin. Gregor was interested in staying on, but to manage a vessel the size of the Epione an additional crewman would need to be hired, possibly two. Typical of a Belgian Péniche, the crew quarters were just aft and below the wheelhouse similar to how the master’s cabin was situated on the Meta. Just on a larger scale.

    A dedicated Cook would be the third or fourth person. Ben mentioning it was a reminder of how it seemed like Kiki’s life seemed to be growing ever more complicated. Hiring people to help seldom made things less complicated.



    Comandante Luis Piedrabuena, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

    When Tilo’s helicopter landed, he saw that there were a large number of vehicles parked in every bit of open space near the center of town and knew that this was the 7th Recon Battalion. He had been briefed about what had occurred here the day before. How the Chileans had blown the bridge to buy time so that they could retreat west. The 7th had been driving towards the bridge with the 2nd Recon Battalion right behind them. All of them had been forced to stop suddenly and there had been a few collisions. Then they had been forced to wait for the Pioneers to arrive so that a temporary bridge could be built across the Santa Cruz River. They had made it across just as elements from the 3rd MID had been entering the town from the north.

    Tilo had been forced to remind them that this wasn’t a competition and there was still a lot of territory to cover before they pushed the Chileans back across the Andes. At the same time, he also understood that the 7th was a part of the 4th Panzer Division. They had spent months bottled up in Rio Gallegos and were clearly interested in making up for lost time. Tilo had also heard that it had been men from the 7th who had frequently launched aggressive patrols across no-man’s-land over the last several months. He knew of many uses for a hard charging Battalion like that.

    Walking across a car park towards the building that had been commandeered for Battalion Headquarters. Tilo ran across a familiar face as he walked through the doors.

    “I thought you were supposed to have retired by now?” Tilo asked his brother who gave him a look that could have frozen water.

    “Tell that to Salvador Allende” Jost growled before stalking off.

    Tilo chuckled as he walked towards the office of the Oberstleutnant who commanded the 7th. For as long as Jost had a breath in him there was no way that he would sit out a fight. The President of Chile had just provided him a handy excuse to stay in for as long as he could.
     
    Part 123, Chapter 2083
  • Chapter Two Thousand Eighty-Three



    12th August 1971

    Amsterdam, Netherlands

    Sitting in the bow section of the Meta, Bram could hear music from the saloon through the skylights. When the Englishman and his girlfriend had arrived earlier that evening they had been warmly welcomed. Apparently, he was an old friend of Kristina’s and was one of the front men of a band whose music she listened to. The music on the album had sounded like an industrial accident to Bram and what was coming out of the saloon couldn’t have sounded more different. The simple arrangements favored the guitar and viola duet, which made Bram wonder why they had not done that on the album as opposed to the heavily distorted guitars and pounding drums. It was one more thing about the world he was finding foreign now that he was out in it.

    It seemed that feeling useless or lost at times was a part of the job. Bram had no idea what he was getting into when he had been appointed to be the Aide of Oberstleutnant Markgraf von Hirsch zu Balderschwang. He had been excited about the prospect of learning from a Luftwaffe Ace and highly decorated hero. The presence of his wife Kristina, the current Princess Royal of Germany, or this long voyage to nowhere that they were indulging in over the Summer Holiday were not what he was expecting.

    It wasn’t the accommodations that had been a shock to his system. He had gotten used to crowded conditions at the schools he had attended and if anything, the food on the Meta was far better. Instead, it had been the people who surrounded him now. It was hard not to feel a bit of hero worship for the men from the First Foot, they were basically who Bram aspired to be in a few years. Gregor the Helmsman was always kind to him, telling him ribald jokes and explaining to him how things really worked when Bram got confused by something the Princess or the Markgraf did, which was often. He was a Petty Officer in the Naval Reserve, something that Bram had never encountered, and Gregor had explained that part of his job was to show Apprentice Sailors the ropes. Steffi Bader barely acknowledged Bram’s presence. Fianna Dunn was nice to him, except there was an undercurrent to that. Like if there were things about him that she found distasteful at times but was too tactful to say anything.

    Finally, there was the Princess and the Markgraf themselves, they had odd tastes, listened to outlandish music, and their friends… First there had been Wim, who was supposedly a highly regarded WSO who had flown with the Markgraf but was the most unlikely Officer Bram had ever met. Then he had met Zella when they had gone up that side canal and he had thought people like her only existed on television in some weird, oversaturated parallel reality. She had pointedly refused to stay on the Meta, going to find a hotel every night. Zella said that she wasn’t interested in sleeping in a bed that moved if there were better options. There was another woman who they had met Leipzig, Aurora. Kristina and Zella had spoken at length to her about the plans for an upcoming wedding and some of the terms had sounded strange until Bram had figured out that Aurora was Jewish. Bram liked to think that he wasn’t an elderly reactionary like his grandfather, but he had noticed his own reaction to learning about Aurora and the man he had been told was her intended. Bram had felt a sense of revulsion, but for himself for thinking that way. Gregor had told him that was a good thing, it meant that he was learning. Then there was that other incident that was too embarrassing to talk about.

    He knew that Kristina had a baby and had spent his childhood on his grandfather’s rural estate, so he knew about what happened. The embarrassing part was that when he had walked in on the women discussing their upcoming plans and she had been sitting there half naked with her baby at her breast. It was the first time he had seen anything like that in real life. That was not something that he didn’t want to talk about with anyone.

    It was perfectly keeping with what Bram’s grandfather had been telling him for as long as he could remember. That because he was the in the line of succession after his uncles it was rather likely that he would need to make his own way in the world a task that seemed impossibly daunting at times. While it was just as well his grandfather had made sure that Bram wouldn’t carry the name of his father, a man who Duke Joachim had loathed, Bram was actually glad that there was little chance he would inherit the Duchy. It was that concept of manhood that bothered him though, what would his grandfather have to say if he knew that Bram was clueless about women? That he found girls his own age intimidating and his brain seemed to turn to mush when he tried to talk to them? The episode with Kristina only seemed to highlight that and she was old, almost thirty.

    Looking at the lights reflected off the IJ, Bram seriously wondered what he was doing with his life and realized that little of his education had prepared him for what he was encountering in the real world. Knowing that, how was he supposed to return to Ballenstedt next year and not make a total mess of things?
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2084
  • Chapter Two Thousand Eighty-Four



    20th August 1971

    Mitte, Berlin

    “It’s custom paint that I had specially done in California a few years ago by Leo’s paint guy” Molly Fryer said, describing her guitar which she had been playing on stage just minutes earlier. A candy green Stratocaster with a white pickguard and a maple neck. It was in a case by her feet, and she had been describing it in loving tones with an accent that revealed her background Middle Class background in rural Southern England. Zella had struck up a conversation with Molly after she had gotten through playing her set.

    When Zella had been asked to cover tonight’s concert at the V8 Club by the BT Entertainment Desk, she had not been too thrilled by the prospect of spending a Friday night in the club but had no other plans. Sitting at home watching television with her parents was even less appealing. It tended to be packed with tourists on weekends this time of year and the better acts got themselves booked at larger venues on the festival circuit. Why play in front of a couple hundred people packed into a club at the center of Berlin when you could be in front of thousands on Rügen Island, the Tiergarten, or any one of dozens of other venues. A band with even the slightest amount of talent could make a good living over the summer that way. Places like the V8 Club was where they came home to during the winter.

    Still, when Zella had looked into Molly, she had been intrigued. At the age twenty-six Molly had been playing in various bands for several years and then went silent for a couple years. It had taken some digging but Zella had learned what had happened when she had gotten the village gossip on the phone. A disastrous marriage that had ended in divorce and Molly getting run out of the village she had been born in. While the reason stated in the divorce filing was intolerable cruelty and gross bodily harm, Molly had in fact ended up in the hospital after being beaten to pulp by her soon to be ex. The gossip had however told Zella that word had gotten around that Molly had had an affair with a woman and that was what considered to have set things off. Apparently, her ex-husband had also forbidden her from playing music out of jealousy as well. Threatening to break every bone in her hands if he ever caught her playing out. It was a reminder to Zella of how she had lived most of her life inside a tolerant bubble, but the part of Germany that was still stuck in the Fifteenth Century was never more than a few kilometers away.

    Apparently, Molly’s coming to Berlin was something of a fresh start for her. Playing in the Club scene in front of crowds that were only there to soak in the atmosphere and wouldn’t judge her too harshly. This was also her first foray as a solo act with a minimal backing band, it was something that Zella understood was extremely difficult. In Zella’s opinion, Molly was good and had told her as much, she had recorded the whole show and would be giving it a few more listens before writing the review. After a while, the conversation sort of petered out and Molly started flirting with Sarah. Zella tried to figure out how she had ended up married in the village she had grown up in but came up empty.

    Zella said her goodbyes before heading out to her car. She knew she could have the review written up in a couple hours and could hand it off to the Entertainment Editor when to BT opened in the morning. He would be working on finalizing his part of the all-important Sunday Edition and would be after any content he could get his hands on.



    Binz, Germany

    To the north of them was a Colossus of Prora, the vast hotel complex that gave this region it’s nickname of the Jewish Riviera. To the south was the field where the Rügen Festival of the Arts was held every summer. To George Bush’s shock, in the last couple years they had managed to net more in sales over the month of August than over the winter months combined. This year, he had planned ahead not wanting to have the embarrassing shortages of the first couple summers that he and Robin had spent here. That required ordering beer and soft drinks by the truckful. They also sold a considerable amount of sunscreen, hats, novelty t-shirts, and all manner of snacks. It was only two thirds of the way through August and the shelves were already starting to look a bit bare. He knew that he would need to open the store up in the early morning hours when the truck from the vendor arrived along with the merchandisers, which was always a bother.

    Robin still liked it here though, he looked out through the two-way mirror in his office that looked out into the store and saw her helping the last customers of the night as the store was closing. The locals saw them as the tame Americans who had moved into their community and didn’t seem to have any objections to their presence. He had a feeling that they merely tolerated him, while they actually liked Robin. She had been attending classes in Economics and Business Administration at the FH in Stralsund, catching the train most weekdays, and coming back in time to work in the afternoons and evenings. George wasn’t complaining because Robin was helping him run this business with what she was learning.

    That was when Torsten, the local boy who George had hired to help them out over the summer came from the backroom pushing a hand truck loaded with cases of beer towards the cooler. He normally worked the fishing boats with his father and younger brothers but had ambitions for bigger things which was why George had hired him. Not having to tell the boy to restock the beer cooler was a part of that. George couldn’t help but notice how Robin watched Torsten as he passed and was glad that summer was drawing to a close.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2085
  • Chapter Two Thousand Eighty-Five



    23rd August 1971

    Munich, Bavaria

    BMW was supposed to have stopped production of model 700 in 1968 in favor of a new line of midsized sedans and getting out of the crowded sub-compact market. Things had not quite worked according to plan. First had come the sharp rises in fuel costs as the chaotic situation in the Near-East was causing trouble around the globe, making an extremely efficient car very desirable for the average consumer. So, the 700 had remained in production even if that meant continuing to compete directly with Volkswagen, Fiat, and Honda internationally.

    At the same time, something strange started had to happen. The 700 had become popular with a certain set not just in Germany but the rest of Europe as well. Namely those who aspired to be taken seriously as professionals and wanted an image that reflected that but couldn’t afford something nicer. Exactly how the 700 had gained that popularity was a bit of mystery, but as he listened to the presentation Emil had a fairly good idea of how that might have happened. He had given Zella the BMW 700 Sport Coupe he had received as a bonus five or six years earlier when she had first started doing video journalism. Since then, that car had been featured frequently in the background as she had driven it from Ireland in the west to Moscow in the east and from Sicily in the south to the Norwegian town of Hammerfest in the north and well as hundreds of points between. Emil had been astonished to learn that Zella had somehow put nearly half a million kilometers on the odometer when he had noticed that the car was back in the shop because the engine needed to be rebuilt. The rest of the car was falling apart despite Zella having gone to considerable lengths to maintain it.

    Looking at the schematic of the 1972 model 700 Saloon, Emil saw that it was not a bad looking car. While it was still a sub-compact, it had a revised layout with a liquid cooled inline 4-cylinder engine that had been changed from its RR layout to a MF layout similar to that which was employed by the VW Föhn. The interior had several improvements made to it as well.

    It was supposed to go on the market in the coming months, but Emil figured that he could use his position as the head of one of the teams in the Motorrad Racing Division to acquire one of the first ones to roll off the assembly line. He figured that it would make Zella happy, providing that she was around. It seemed that despite her not actually moving out of Emil’s house, she was still gone for days at a time as her assignments frequently took her away. Emil and Maria had realized that she had made the choice to be based out of their house while she was in Berlin. The alternative was that they would likely seldom see her. It would the same as with Walter, ever since he had started his Legal Apprenticeship it had grown difficult at times to remember what he even looked like.



    Tres Lagos, Argentina

    They were encountering the same problem that the Chileans had months earlier. They could advance hundreds of kilometers into mostly empty territory, but unless they ran across something that the other side was willing to fight for then they would just retreat west and leave you with a village in the middle of nowhere like the one that the First Platoon was entering. The whole place seemed to be just a church, a tavern, and a market surrounded by houses on a few streets, most of which were not even paved. Evidently, the Chileans had not considered it worth fighting over and they had even seen them running out of Tres Lagos as they had approached from the east. That was when Christian spotted a school and a post office. Those were almost a surprise.

    “The orders are to stay here until logistics catch up with us” Manfred said over the radio from a few kilometers back, “Until then I expect you to be on your best behavior.”

    That was met by groans in the Iltis as Christian looked out the window at the empty buildings as his team entered the village. The irony of Manny’s comment was profound. What sort of trouble were they likely to cause? The whole thing seemed pointless, sort of like the reasons for this war if the rumors were true.

    “Rook, this is Gold Three” Christian said into the mic after switching over to the Command Net.

    It took a minute for Rook to get on the horn and Christian had to inform him of their map coordinates again. He wondered at times if Rook was looking at other things or if Rook had been asleep until he had called at moments like these.

    “If you could look ahead Rook?” Christian asked, “See if we are missing something.”

    “Well, there are heat signatures in the buildings on either side of you” Rook said, and Christian had to bite back several swear words. The time to have called Rook would have been before they entered the village. However, everyone was tired and not thinking things through at the moment. Cursing out Rook wouldn’t change that. The resolution of the thermal imaging cameras on the satellites wasn’t particularly great, but large blobs of heat inside buildings generally meant the presence of people.

    Switching back to the Tactical Network, Christian told the others the wonderful news. As he stepped out into the street, he looked over his shoulder, Christian spotted Einar standing in the door of the Squad’s other Iltis, his rifle pointing at the buildings. Einar didn’t look happy.

    If shooting did start, the others would slam their vehicles into reverse while the gunners provided covering fire. Christian would be in a rather precarious position at that point. “The joys of command” Christian muttered to himself as he approached the front of a house.

    “Anyone home?” Christian called out in Spanish.

    A man’s face appeared in the window, looking at Christian who doubtlessly looked strange to him.

    “Who are you supposed to be?” The man demanded.

    “We’re from the Army Group South, we’re supposed to take control here now that the Chileans are gone” Christian said and word of what he had just said spread swiftly because minutes later there were people crowding the street celebrating their liberation.

    When Manny pulled up, he saw the party was just getting started and Christian could only shrug. He really had tried to be on his best behavior.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2086
  • Chapter Two Thousand Eighty-Six



    27th August 1971

    Plänterwald, Berlin

    Kiki’s thinking was a bit odd as the Meta pulled into her mooring. It was nice to be home was her first thought, but then it occurred to her that the ML Meta was home. The holiday that she was returning from was probably going to be the last trip that she would take aboard the old Dutch Barge and that was something that she looked at with a bit of sadness. At the same time, Kiki understood that the Epione was taking shape in Kiel so next year she would be able to go a similar journey except it wouldn’t be nearly as crowded. She was looking forward to seeing the Péniche when she was towed up the river to Spandau so that a team of carpenters could finish the interior.

    Looking at the bank, Kiki noticed that her father was standing there with Charlotte, Nella, and Nan. They were making a big deal of it, as if she were returning from some epic voyage as opposed to just puttering around the rivers and canals. She remembered they had done the same thing when Louis Junior had returned from Antarctica, it had been warranted then.

    Stepping onto the quay from the deck of the Meta, Kiki looped the bow line around the cleat. With long practice, she let the cleat take the weight of the Meta, thirty odd tons of barge being pulled by the current of the river. Every time the line went slack, she pulled it taunt. It actually looked as if she were pulling the Meta into shore and reveled in the illusion as the others watched. Once she had tied off, she ran back to the center line and repeated the process.

    “The new boat is not going to be as easy to get in” Gregor said as Kiki approached him as he finished tying off the stern.

    It was a part of the continuing conversation that they had been having over the crewing of the Epione. He was leaning towards having the crew be as large as possible, which was practical. The trouble was that the Epione wasn’t just going to be just any barge. Any crew would need to be selected with considerations towards more than just their competence, their discretion would be a factor as well. While the Meta had been in Amsterdam Kiki had entertained John Lennon and Queen Juliana of the Netherlands on different occasions. A light meal followed by playing music with John and tea with Juliana the next afternoon. There were tabloid journalists who would probably give anything to be a fly on the wall when that had been happening.

    “Can we talk about that later?” Kiki asked, “The Epione will not be ready before next spring and I still have no idea what is going to happen to the Meta.”

    Gregor just shrugged in response. He was one of those people who needed to make long term decisions that instant.

    In the minutes that followed, the others who had been aboard the Meta seemed to be in a rush as they went ashore. Kiki just watched with a touch of annoyance. There were many times when she wished that people would tell her if they had problem. This was one of those times.



    Fort Irwin, California

    There was nothing else to do but try to catch up on sleep. The others were interested in making that easy though by playing cards on the bay’s one table just a few feet away.

    Of all the times of the year and locations for the 40th Division to be conducting field maneuvers, Ritchie thought to himself as he listened to the air conditioning unit in the barracks going full blast. This was the asshole end of the Mojave Desert, and it was the hottest time of the year. Before he had managed to make it inside, Ritchie had seen that it was a hundred and twelve degrees. In a rare bout of common sense, the General had ordered everyone inside until it started cooling down in the evening, then operations would resume. The trouble that he was running into was that he was stuck in here with an entire Company who were less than thrilled with their present circumstance. Mostly that had been in the form of him politely explaining that he would break the legs of the next idiot who annoyed him and going into great detail as to how exactly he would go about doing it.

    “Tell us how you got that new rocker Sarge?” Walt asked from across the bay. Ritchie knew that none of his Platoon would believe it, his promotion to First Sergeant had occurred at the same time he had been ordered to report to the Headquarters of the 160th Infantry Regiment so that he could spend the next couple weeks in this delightful paradise. He had been tightlipped about why that had happened, mostly because no one would believe it.

    It had been Dick Nixon calling up the General and asking about the matter. Ritchie had been up for further promotion for months. Ever since his previous promotion. Nixon had made sure that the General knew exactly what Ritchie had done the previous May and because the Governor of California was the Commander in Chief of the State National Guard when it wasn’t federalized it was obvious what he was getting at. And Ritchie was a First Sergeant, just like that.

    “I don’t want to talk about it” Ritchie replied before rolling onto his side away from the ongoing card game. Unless they started betting stupid things like houses or cars, the game was none of his concern.
     
    Part 124, Chapter 2087
  • Chapter Two Thousand Eighty-Seven



    4th September 1970

    Mitte, Berlin

    The Model of car wasn’t even making its debut to the public until the International Motor Show in Frankfurt. Somehow, Zella’s father had convinced BMW to give him one of the first cars to come down the production line. He said that he was giving it to Zella as an early Christmas present to replace her old car before it completely fell apart. The two cars were superficially similar, the new one being dark blue while the old one was maroon.

    Zella had noticed the key differences though as soon as she got a look underneath. While the engine was still displaced 700 cubic centimeters, but unlike the old boxer engine in the rear of the old car, this one was mounted under the bonnet in the front. It was an enlarged version the of the four-cylinder K Series engines that Zella knew quite well. Her motorcycle used the smaller three-cylinder engine that was a part of the same series. The new car was also a Saloon model, so the back seats were not as cramped as they had been in the Sport Coupe.

    “Shouldn’t it be pointed the other way?” Yuri asked as he looked over Zella’s shoulder.

    “It doesn’t necessarily have to be” Zella replied, looking at the valve cover and wires from the spark plugs, revealing that the engine was mounted parallel to the firewall. Just in front of that was the aluminum housing of the transmission which the front axle ran through and the radiator.

    “You’re the mechanical expert” Yuri said, “So I’ll need take your word for it.”

    As Zella closed the bonnet, she wondered for what must have been the millionth time what made Yuri tick. Most men were into mechanical curiosities, all he cared about was if the new car would continue to get them from point A to point B like the old one had. She figured that it was just Yuri being Yuri.

    “How did things with Thea go?” Zella asked changing the subject.

    “She asked me not to ask her out again” Yuri replied.

    “Do you have any idea what I went through to get her to take you up on your invitation in the first place?” Zella asked as she watched Yuri shuffle his feet nervously. “I thought that things were going well between the two of you?”

    “Thea said that she wasn’t interested in settling for second place” Yuri said.

    “What the Hell was that supposed to mean?”

    Yuri looked like he was about to say something, but stopped for an awkward moment before saying, “I haven’t the foggiest” instead.

    “I don’t understand Thea then” Zella said, “She should be able to see what you got going for you.”

    “If you say so” Yuri replied.

    “Let’s go for drive then, around the Orbital and we’ll stop at the roadhouse for a lousy cup of coffee” Zella said, “That will help get rid of the cobwebs.”

    “Cobwebs, Zee?” Yuri said, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “It’s something my father says” Zella replied as she opened the door of the car and got behind the wheel.

    As Yuri climbed into the passenger seat, Zella turned on the ignition. While this new 700 was clearly built for economy over speed, that didn’t mean that it was incapable of doing a few impressive things. Whoever had given it a five-speed manual transmission had to have understood that. For Zella it was only a matter of seeing what this car could do.

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    Driving around A10, the Orbital highway that circled Berlin, listening to Rock music, and singing along badly with Zella did help Yuri forget things for a time. It wasn’t until got to the junction of A10 and Bundesstraße 1 that his reality started to intrude on his thoughts again. He’d had the perfect opportunity to tell Zella the truth, but he had chickened out. When Thea had told him that she wasn’t interested in coming in second, she had obviously meant behind Zella though she hadn’t actually said that. That had been what he had almost told Zella.

    Entering the car park that the Roadhouse Diner shared with a petrol station, Yuri saw that like most weekend nights during the summertime, the place was packed. A couple years earlier there had been a happening that had involved a midnight motorcycle ride around the A10 involving possibly hundreds of riders that had started at the V8 Club and ended here. The Diner, open 24-hours a day, didn’t have great food, they just served a lot of it at reasonable prices. It had catered mostly to the Lorry Drivers who came in and out of Berlin at all hours. They still did that, however much to the owner’s astonishment, Zella had written a widely read article about the place after the midnight ride, and it had swiftly gained a whole lot of new customers. With all the motorcycles and even a few hotrods, a factory new BMW stood out like a sore thumb. Zella just laughed at the strange looks she was getting when they realized that it was her driving.

    When Zella came through the front doors, she was warmly greeted. The diner was full of Rockers, Racers, and Gear Freaks, many of them people who Zella had known since she was a teenager. This was her scene and Yuri was out of place like he always was whenever he went somewhere with Zella.

    “Who’d you steal the car from?” Someone asked and Zella just laughed.

    “From no one” Zella replied, “It’s for work, you know, looking respectable on Television.”

    “What’d you know about that Zee?” Someone else asked and Zella didn’t bother answering as she pushed her way through the crowd to the counter to order coffee. Like always, Yuri followed closely, a bit worried about what these people thought of him.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2088
  • Chapter Two Thousand Eighty-Eight



    5th September 1971

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Hiding things from Kat was absolutely impossible. She somehow knew everything that happened in her house and Sophie was unsure exactly how that worked. It wasn’t that Kat was cruel or neglectful. Sophie had seen enough of that from her actual mother, who she had not seen in years. Kat had made a point of pointing out to her that nothing terrible had happened on her twelfth birthday or in the months since because her life hadn’t changed. Sophie that realized that it was one more thing that her mother had obviously gotten wrong.

    Not that everything was perfect though. While Sophie’s own life remained the same, it seemed like everyone around her was caught up in some sort of turmoil. Marie Alexandra had gone away to a school in Switzerland and Sophie was discovering that things where actually a bit boring with the closest thing she had to a sister gone for the next school year. Ziska had discovered a passion for a certain kind of Pop music, one which left Sophie cold because she didn’t understand the point of it. That had led directly to an argument when Sophie had asked if they could please go and do something, anything else after school. Eventually, she had been forced to go home early though Ziska’s mother had told Sophie that it wasn’t her fault. Ziska was in a mood today, whatever that meant, and things would be better in a couple days.

    Turning into the alley that ran behind Kat’s house, Sophie saw that Frau Hirsch was unloading a heavy box from her car that was labeled FRAGILE, GLASS.

    Do you need help with that?” Sophie asked.

    Frau Hirsch looked up a bit startled.

    “No” Frau Hirsch said a bit too sharply before saying, “Thank you for the kind offer Sophie, but you are not exactly the best person to help in this case.”

    Sophie just shrugged it off as she walked her bicycle through the gate into the garden and leaned it against the garage’s back wall. She was a little disappointed because whatever was in the box looked interesting and couldn’t help but notice that her bicycle was the only one there. Marie’s was gone, having been put into storage.

    Entering the house through the laundry room Sophie was warmly greeted by Fleur, the elderly terrier mix. The dog was always happy to see Sophie and today was no exception. Cheshire was nowhere to be seen, but he was off doing whatever a cat did with his day and would turn up when he felt like it.

    In the kitchen, Sophie found a note on the refrigerator from Petia telling her to help herself because she was done for the day and Sophie was perfectly able to feed herself. This had become typical, the Russian woman who ran Kat’s household had said that she was perfectly happy to have Sophie take on grownup responsibilities so that she didn’t have to.

    Getting herself a slice of bread and jam, Sophie hummed to herself as she walked up the stairs to the parlor level. There were two men in dark suits who Sophie had learned to tell were BII just from the look of them. Not the sort who anyone with an ounce of sanity wanted to tangle with. The light was on in Kat’s office and Sophie could hear Kat talking to someone in a tone that she knew from personal experience no one wanted to be on the receiving end of. From the sound of it, there were several other people in there even if Kat was doing all the talking.

    “You were given a chance to rebuild your life in America with a dear friend of mine sticking her neck out for you, but you screwed that up and got yourself deported” Kat said in a voice that could have frozen water. “I warned you about what would happen if you ever came back to Berlin.”

    “But it wasn’t my fault that…” A man’s voice started to say only to be interrupted by the sound of a fist hitting him in the face. Kat had done her level best to shield Sophie and the rest of the children under her care from the seamier side of being the Prefect of Berlin, that in order to control a massive city there were times when she couldn’t afford to be nice. Not that Kat ever personally got her hands dirty these days, she had people for that.

    There had been a few times when Sophie walked in on something that was in the midst of happening. This was no different and while Kit would have encouraged Sophie to move along to her room, she lingered on the stairs to listen in on what is happening.

    “You meant to say that you couldn’t keep it in your pants” Kat said harshly, “That is your fault. Now, what are we supposed to do with you?”

    There was a long awkward pause before the man started to answer.

    “Let me leave the city, I swear I’ll never come back” he said, his voice becoming a frightened sob.

    “In the old days, a man like you would have been castrated before being hung, drawn, and quartered” Kat said, “But first your tongue would have been cut out for lying to me like you just did.”

    That was enough for the man, he attempted to flee Kat’s office and came flying out the door only to get tackled by the two BII men. Looking up he saw Sophie watching from the stairs and went white as a sheet as a look of recognition crossed his face as the BII men dragged him back into Kat’s office.

    Later, Kat came to Sophie’s room and told her that she hadn’t hurt the man she had seen too badly, she had just put the fear of God into him so that he would leave Berlin and never return. Then Kat said something odd, that it was unfortunate that Sophie had seen her sperm donor like that. For the second time that day, someone had told Sophie something that she didn’t understand.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2089
  • Chapter Two Thousand Eighty-Nine



    10th September 1971

    Plänterwald, Berlin

    Looking at the map of the Southern Andes spread out on the table, Kiki did her best to explain where she had been months earlier when she and Ernesto Guevara crossed into Chile. “There was a low range of hills, but then we crossed a fallow field to a muddy track” She said, “There were no checkpoints or any evidence of patrols, at least none that I could see.”

    “Thank you, Ma’am” the senior of the two Officers who had come to Kiki’s cottage said, “This information will be useful.”

    “Traveling north on Chile’s Route 7, I saw how much of it had to be taken by ferry” Kiki said, “I’m not sure how useful this actually is because of that.”

    “General Rommel told us that you were sharp” The Junior Officer said with a smile.

    They were from the Office of Strategic Planning within the Military High Command, whose job it was to digest useful information wherever they could find it and turn it into actionable plans for Generals on the ground. They also started the process of learning from present conflicts, often while they were still in progress to see what lessons could be gleaned. It was composed of semi-retired Officers, mostly of the rank of Oberst or higher, and career bureaucrats like the two who had come to speak to Kiki today because they were extremely interested in how she had crossed over into Chile without anyone being aware of her movements.

    Field Marshal Erwin Rommel remained in charge of the Office though he had to be getting up there in years. He had commanded a successful operation in South Africa before going on to the Heer’s High Command. When he had retired, he had replaced Walter Horst whose health had been failing at the time. Kiki had gotten to know him and his family well when she had been recovering from a head injury and had spent the summer in an isolated chalet located on his property.

    “Is the General well?” Kiki asked, Rommel had to be nearly eighty years old, and Kiki knew how difficult it was to get her father to admit that he wasn’t young anymore, that probably went double for a man who had spent his youth like Rommel had.

    “He said that you would ask that” The senior Officer said, “And he told us to tell you that he was a bit put out that you and your family didn’t see for yourselves when you in Bavaria this summer.”

    “My boat cannot go that high up into the mountains” Kiki replied stating the obvious. It was just like him to give Kiki a hint like that, and she would need to arrange to visit him the next time she went to Bavaria. Ben and Kiki had been getting hints from Balderschwang as well, they really wanted to meet the new Markgräfin and heir apparent now that Nina was old enough to travel.



    Fort Irwin, California

    Ritchie had done his best to bring the rest of his Platoon up to his standards, which were also the Green Beret’s standards. It was something that had not gone unnoticed by the Brass, and they had been called into the Colonel’s office where they had been issued Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol patches. Ritchie had almost laughed at the situation because unlike the others who were strutting around now that they were technically considered a Special Forces Unit, he knew exactly what they were in for. A few days later the others had found out as they had been ordered to perform reconnaissance across the Mojave Desert in a patrol that went far ahead of the main column, on foot. Over the last few days, they had gotten lost a couple times and had to sleep during the hottest part of the day in whatever shade they could find. There was also lots of dust, scorpions, and snakes to contend with.

    The real fun had come when they finally sighted the “Enemy Forces.” They had withdrawn from the area without making contact and radioed the map coordinates of where they had spotted the “Enemies.” After that, there was nothing else to do but proceed to the extraction point and wait for the helicopters to pick them up.

    “Was that it?” Walt demanded as they walked across the rough desert terrain.

    “The idea is to gather intelligence” Ritchie replied, “If we are fighting the opposing force then something has gone wrong, and we would be trying to get clear before a regular Army Unit brought the hammer down on us.”

    “That isn’t what I’ve seen” Rick said angrily, “The comic books showed the Hellcats blowing shit up and shooting Russians.”

    Ritchie had seen those comic books, the old Combat Comics that had lionized German Special Forces. Few remembered that they were straight up German propaganda that depicted the Russians as barbarians, the Japanese as savages, and if American forces were mentioned at all, it was as the butt of a joke by clever Hellcats or Sealions tricking them, usually for beer. He had also seen many of the German movies about the Second World War and the Spanish mess that had preceded it. If anything, those were even more scathing in their depiction of America’s not so neutral neutrality.

    “They were infiltrated by parachute, and extraction was difficult before helicopters” Ritchie said, “If they got sent in, it had to be for a high value target and there is a reason why more than half of them never made it back alive.”

    The Davis brothers were silent for a few minutes as the implications of their new role sank in. They couldn’t say that Ritchie hadn’t tried to warn them.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2090
  • Chapter Two Thousand Ninety



    20th September 1971

    Rural Chile, South of Balmaceda

    The Chilean Army was making a stand east of Balmaceda forming a defensive line along the river that was the frontier between Argentina and Chile. They had managed to stop the advance of the 3rd Panzer Division for the last several days. That was when Intelligence had cooked up a new plan when they found a remote border crossing which was apparently undefended. The 4th Division had found themselves at loose ends, so they had been tapped to carry out the exploratory mission. Through long experience, Christian knew that when something seemed too good to be true it probably was.

    Looking at a map, even Christian had seen the problem with the plan. There was a Division of the Argentine Army currently bottled up on Route 45 on the north shore of Lago Buenos Aires in a situation similar to the one that 3rd had found themselves in and was entirely too close to the jumping off point. From there it was a road north along the frontier to a remote Estancia. That was where the Pioneers came in. They had needed to build a bridge across the river that could be used by Panzers then build a road to connect the one on the Argentine side with the one on the Chilean side. There had been all sorts of things that could have gone wrong with that plan. They had been in a narrow, remote valley the entire time on terrible roads with a precarious supply situation. If they had been spotted at any time, the Chilean Air Force would have cheerfully fucked them up the ass.

    To Christian’s astonishment, the plan had worked, and the 7th Recon was speeding North ahead of the bulk of the 4th Division at the best possible speed. It was jarring when the Iltis hit pavement after so long spent on gravel roads. Not wanting a repeat of what happened weeks earlier, Christian ordered Maus to turn onto the bridge to their left.

    Christian jumped out of still moving vehicle as it crossed the midspan. He ran along the guard rail, looking for telltale wires that would reveal if the bridge were rigged to explode. To the east, he could hear the sound of artillery as the 3rd was probably clobbering the Chileans with everything that they had just a few kilometers away.

    As the two Iltis vehicles reached the far side of the bridge. Kruger and Brodbeck opened up with the Squad’s two machine guns, the green tracers leaping out towards a target that Christian couldn’t see as he ran to catch up. Behind him, he could hear the roar of hundreds of diesel engines as the rest of the Division raced to take the airport and Balmaceda itself. Looking in that direction, he saw a pair of the Argentine attack planes with twin turboprop engines conducting strafing runs. If the Brass took nothing else from this conflict, it was that the Heer needed to get some of those for themselves, Christian thought to himself.

    Eventually, elements of the 4th began turning west, leap frogging Christian’s position on that end of the bridge. They were packing up to join the advance when the General’s Adjutant showed up and asked if they had been the ones who had taken the strategically important bridge over the Río Oscuro. Christian had almost told him that it wasn’t a big deal, the few Chileans defending it had fled as soon as his team had shown up and his Gunners had taken a few potshots at them so that they would keep running. The Adjutant had looked Christian in the eye and told him not to tell anyone else that.



    Base Aérea El Tepual, Puerto Montt, Chile

    It was shocking how different things were from a year earlier.

    The situation wasn’t getting better, that much was clear as word reached them that the city of Coyhaique had fallen to the Argentinian forces and their allies. Reinaldo Contreras had noticed something far more obvious that screamed volumes about everything. His Squadron was now conducting almost all of its operations over Chile rather than Argentina.

    At the same time, a new plane with markings from the German Navy had appeared. As a Naval Aviator himself, Reinaldo understood that planes that operated from Aircraft Carriers frequently had to make serious compromises in order to conduct their missions. The compromise that these planes seemed to have made involved dispensing with the laws of physics. Reinaldo had tangled with these planes as they had conducted attack runs and discovered that they just turned away and even a plane as maneuverable as an F-11 couldn’t stay with them.

    Reinaldo had also realized that with Route 7 cut, the portion of the Chilean Army south of there was screwed. That highway was their lifeline, and it was increasingly likely that Puerto Montt would suffer the same fate as Punta Arenas. Shelled into oblivion by the opposing Navy. For him personally, all of this had come at a time when he had finally managed to get his Squadron to behave as a Squadron. It was unfortunate that it had taken a few encounters with Jasta 11 to slam home the reason why it was necessary. They were like any other team in the Majors finding themselves playing against Murderers Row, get better fast or die.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2091
  • Chapter Two Thousand Ninety-One



    24th September 1971

    Wahlstatt, Silesia

    There was considerable irony in teaching Logic and Ethics considering where these boys were destined to end up. Still, Professor Fuchs rolled with it because there was a good chance that teaching them to think for themselves would save lives in the future.

    “Killing opposing leaders is a bad idea” Sabastian Schultz said while answering Fuchs’ question.

    “Why is that though?” The Professor asked in reply. He had gotten to know Sabastian well over the last few years, that answer was incredibly deep for the boy. Probably the direct result of the influence of his father who had taught Philosophy at the Mürwik Naval School, if Fuchs’ had to guess. That was confirmed by the next thing that Sabastian said.

    “My father says that you need to have someone to negotiate with once the shooting stops” Sabastian said, “Otherwise you will be forced into an extended occupation which is a good way to lose the peace.”

    “Do you agree with your father about that?” Fuchs asked and he saw Sabastian had a look of panic pass across his face. He half expected Sabastian to look to Nikolaus von Richthofen who was seated across the room as he often did when pushed. Fuchs had learned quickly in the first year that he had this class that having those two seated by each other was trouble brewing and it had been necessary to keep them on opposite sides of the room. The problem was not that Sabastian was stupid, it was that he tended not to think things through. That was something that Fuchs was trying to change.

    “Why wouldn’t I?” Sabastian asked a bit too smugly, “He is a Generalfeldmarschall.”

    “Yes, Sabastian, I have seen the Evening News” Fuchs replied, “But that is not an answer, I am however interested in what you think. You know, your opinion.”

    Turning to the chalkboard, Fuchs wrote out a phrase from a film he had seen over the Summer Holiday.

    Opinions are like assholes; Everyone has got one and they all stink.

    That caused a bit of laughter among the students.

    “I expect a thousand words the ideas that Herr Schultz has expressed here today from each of you” Fuchs said, “And I expect you to be able to defend the arguments that you put forward.”

    Sabastian looked embarrassed though there was no reason for him to be. The class would have been assigned a thousand words regardless of what happened. The bell rang and the Professor erased the blackboard as the students fled before they got any further assignments to do over the coming weekend.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    “It only takes a couple hours at most to pound out a thousand words” Niko said.

    “Yeah” Bas replied, “But Professor Fuchs always makes you read it aloud and defend every assertion.”

    Niko knew that last bit was particularly torturous for Bas. Not only having to write down what you thought but having to explain it as well. The term was only a few weeks old, but Niko had seen how others had learned the hard way that cheating was basically impossible in Professor Fuchs’ class. If you didn’t know the material, the Professor was perfectly happily let you stand before the class and humiliate yourself. Today, the subject of current events had come up and one of the other students had made a comment about plastering whatever hole the Chilean leadership was hiding in with bombs. That was when Bas had spoken up and had repeated what his father had told him without fully understanding the implications. Because that was just the sort of thing that he did.

    The next thing today was lunch, followed by the scheduled activities that were of a less cerebral nature. It being a warm Friday afternoon, Niko figured that it would be target practice followed by swimming. Bas was hoping to make the Track and Field Team this year, so he had grown a bit impatient with anything that wasn’t along those lines even if it was just them running laps as punishment. Even then he was trying to get noticed by the Coach. Tomorrow on Saturday, they had been told that they would be riding, practicing Cavalry formations and saber drill. Which meant that they would be too sore to move on Sunday.

    All of this was quite a change from the Summer Holiday. With Bas’ father in Argentina his mother had arranged Bas to go to Opa von Richthofen’s estate along with his younger sisters. Whatever plans they might have made up there this year they had needed to factor in the constant presence of Anna and Gretchen. There was also Niko’s little sister Ingrid to contend with. She was now walking around and loved the presence of her big brother. Frequently, Niko and Bas had found themselves having to keep a close eye on the girls who were aghast at the thought of hunting and fishing like they had over the previous summers.

    As if the food on their plate had magically sprung out of the air, Niko thought to himself sourly.

    The rest of the time had been spent doing things that Opa felt were in keeping with their birth. While Bas had enjoyed watching the sporting events, he was less then thrilled with the gambling, scheming, and glad-handing that Opa engaged in. Eventually, Bas had asked Opa what any of that had to do with him? Opa had told him that his father was overseas leading a campaign that had been successful so far. If that continued, the Emperor would have little choice other than to place Dietrich Schultz among the highest ranking of the New Junkers and Bas was his father’s designated heir.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2092
  • Chapter Two Thousand Ninety-Two



    27th September 1971

    Mitte, Berlin

    While there were a lot of reasons for Kiki to question some of the choices that she had made today, though knowing that a bedroom that belonged to her was just a short elevator ride up from the office where her father’s charitable foundation was located was not one of them. She had even found an old Hertha jersey and pair of grey track pants that she had left behind. As much as she cared about Nina, having her at her grandparent’s house in Tempelhof today was a chance to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep and that was too much to pass up even if it meant sneaking away. Kiki doubted that anyone would complain though. She was only here today for introductions as it had yet to be determined what exact role she would play within the foundation. She had been told that she could go home afterwards but had come here instead.

    As she had years earlier, Kiki lay in her bed and watched the city far below. At this hour, there were thousands of commuters making their way out of the city to the suburbs and more who worked outside the city center but lived in residential buildings like the one she was in. The view wasn’t as unobstructed as it had been years earlier as other buildings just as tall or taller had sprung up in Mitte. That was hardly a surprise because it was just the nature of things. Berlin had expanded outward until it had encountered to much resistance to go any further, now the city was starting to be built upward.

    Kiki heard the door swing open, rolling over, she saw Nan poke her head in and knew that wherever Nan was, Nella was always nearby. It occurred then that it had been a long time since she had seen either of her youngest sisters. They had become a bit reluctant to come around Kiki’s cottage after Nina had been born and many things had happened in the months since.

    “Are you coming in?” Kiki asked as she sat up in her bed, “Or are you just going to stand out there?”

    Kiki listened to the whispered back and forth as Nella and Nan debated whether or not they should take her up on her offer. Apparently, Charlotte had told them to let Kiki sleep and they had minded that about as well as they ever did despite their oh-so serious pretenses. Finally, they entered the bedroom. Kiki could tell immediately just how long it had been from their appearance. When they had been younger, they looked so similar to each other that they looked like if they really were sisters. As they grew older, the differences between them had grown more apparent. Nella had grown visibly taller, and her hair had gotten darker to about the same shade as Kiki’s. Nan had remained a blond, but because her actual age was unknown no one knew if this as tall as she ever would be. It had always been assumed that Nella and Nan were around the same age, but Kiki wasn’t so sure. There were times when aspects of Nan suggested that she might be somewhat younger than originally thought. The circumstances of her early childhood had necessitated her growing up quickly and with her being mature for her years made it difficult to tell. The two girls didn’t seem to care about any of that, so Kiki had never brought it up.

    As had happened often since Kiki’s father and stepmother had taken Nan in, she instantly had both girls talking at her at once when they had questions. “Hold on” Kiki said, “One at a time please.”

    Nella and Nan stared at Kiki, both reluctant to ask the first question. This was also typical of them. Then she noticed what they were looking at the front of her shirt. With a bit of annoyance, Kiki got out of bed and went into the bathroom to wash it off and relieve the pressure which had caused her to spring a leak.

    “That is just one of the things that happen when you have a baby” Kiki said.

    “They didn’t say anything about that at school” Nella said, and Kiki just shrugged as she rejoined them on the bed. In recent years, the schools had tried to introduce an expanded curriculum dealing with the subject of reproductive health knowing that many parents were not comfortable talking about it themselves. While Charlotte was a Licensed Social Worker who had been trained to talk to people about difficult subjects, she had felt that her daughters needed to hear it from someone other than her.

    “I know that they try to make the lessons on this subject as comprehensive as possible, but they cannot get to everything” Kiki replied, “I didn’t learn of much of this until I found myself trying to take care of Nina and making all sorts of mistakes, and I had a whole lot of help too.”

    Nella and Nan looked at Kiki wide-eyed, all of that was probably a bit too much reality for one day. She remembered that when she had been their age the thought of having a baby sounded painful and gross. As an adult working as an Emergency Physician and later giving birth, Kiki had learned that she had not understood the half of it.

    “What I want to hear about is what the two of you did over the Summer Holiday” Kiki said, and the girls looked relieved. It was far safer subject.
     
    Part 124, Chapter 2093
  • Chapter Two Thousand Ninety-Three



    1st October 1971

    Silesia

    The air in his father’s office felt like if it was from an Egyptian Pharaoh’s tomb, stagnant and full of dust. Just how much there was of the later hanging in the air was evident from the sunlight entering through the windows. The walls were covered in trophies from a lifetime spent as a soldier and hunter, the ancient Pharaohs would have understood that part instantly as well as Manfred von Richthofen’s overweening ambition. He had never couched it as personal ambition when he spoke to Albrecht it was always about the family, how Albrecht and Nikolaus following the path he had cut were his legacy. Often when he did that, Albrecht wished that they had remained among the ranks of the Junkers controlling a minor estate in Rural Silesia. Today, like most days that his father considered workdays as it were, he was wearing a Luftwaffe uniform of the sort that the Luftwaffe hadn’t used in years. This was despite having retired decades earlier. Looking at his father the thought occurred to Albrecht that it came complete with its own mummy and almost burst out laughing, something that he knew wouldn’t go over well.

    “I hope you told the boy how proud you are of him for this accomplishment” Manfred said, “I certainly did.”

    “Of course, I did” Albrecht replied, “As much as Ilse would prefer that he stuck to academics, this is equally important.”

    Recently, Nikolaus had placed second overall in an Interscholastic Fencing tournament earning himself a ribbon. While normally Manfred the Elder would settle for nothing less than first place among his children and grandchildren, it was tempered in this case by Nikolaus competing against boys who were years older than he was.

    “I guess getting beat by a girl lit a fire under his butt” Manfred said with a chuckle.

    “In fairness, Marie Alexandra is no ordinary girl” Albrecht replied, “Her mother saw to it that she is extremely formidable when she needs to be.”

    “Even against her own cousins?” Manfred asked in reply.

    “Especially against her cousins” Albrecht said.

    The Mischner and Richthofen families were presently bound together by fortune and blood, but they could have become rivals just as easily. They still could if circumstances ever changed. It was something that was always a reality among the leading families of the Empire even if the days of them openly warring with each other was long past.

    “No matter” Manfred said, “We can agree that Nikolaus’ accomplishments are a good thing. May this be the first of many.”

    “Most of our disagreements are by design” Albrecht said, “You take positions on trivial matters that you know I’ll be forced to vocally disagree with you on, so that the Junkers of Silesia will think that I am my own man.”

    “I know full well that you are your own man” Manfred said, “I knew that when you stayed in University.”

    It was something that still bothered Albrecht. During the Soviet War he had remained a Doctoral Student doing research that had been deemed critical for the war effort. He had been forbidden from breathing a word about it to anyone including his family. His father had not known about that and had not exactly been too understanding at the time, basically accusing Albrecht of cowardice on more than one occasion. It had only been recently that the full scope of what Albrecht had been doing had been declassified, even so what if father had just said was probably as close to an apology as he would ever get.

    “It is not about me” Albrecht said, “It is about the perception that others have about me. If they all see me as the more reasonable one of us, they will be more likely to embrace me once you are dead.”

    “Measuring the drapes?” Manfred asked.

    “Hardly” Albrecht replied, “I’ll probably have this room dismantled and the contents shipped off to the War Museum. Then it will need to be fumigated. I have no idea what use it will be put to afterwards. Perhaps the household staff will want a break room. I haven’t given it much thought.”

    That was when Manfred burst out laughing. Albrecht had been dead serious, but his father thought it was a joke. Perhaps Helene was right when she said that the old buzzard would outlive them all, even if it was just out of spite.



    Córdoba, Argentina

    Stepping off the airplane, Christian knew that whatever was going was a huge deal. That morning, he had been in Puerto Chacabuco on the Pacific Coast with the rest of the 4th Panzer. There had been rumors that Army Group South was to be redeployed north, but that hadn’t happened yet.

    Then that morning, Manny had been asked to volunteer for secretive mission and had been told that he should pick three of men who he trusted implicitly. Christian, Einar, and Ralf had been picked. What happened next was a hair-raising flight over the Andes that had landed here, a major airbase in a totally different part of the country than where they had previously operated.

    This place felt odd, surreal, the war had hardly touched it and they got a whole lot of strange looks as they walked across the tarmac. “They must not see the likes of us often” Einar said as they were led to the assigned barracks. It wasn’t until later that they learned that Tilo Schultz himself was present in Córdoba and that they knew that Christian had been nominated for the rare Golden Military Merit Cross, also known as the PLM Enlisted Grade, for bravery when he had captured the bridge at Balmaceda. That just confirmed Christian’s original suspicion.
     
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    Part 124, Chapter 2094
  • Chapter Two Thousand Ninety-Four



    4th October 1971

    Tempelhof

    Getting pulled out of class by Kat had been a novelty at first, that was until Sophie had discovered that she really did have a doctor’s appointment. What followed was unexpected, as she was introduced to a new term, Medical Specialist and learned that she had seen one several times in the past, one that specialized in caring for children. Now though, she seemed to have outgrown that this time. What that involved was meeting one of the strangest adults who Sophie had ever met. She was an older woman in a white lab coat with a serious demeanor who had her grey hair pulled back into a tight bun. She strangely seemed to know almost everything about Sophie before she even walked into the room.

    “We are here today so that I can get to know you Sophie and get a general picture of your health” The woman who identified herself as Doctor Nora Berg said. “Your foster mother is a very influential woman who happens to have the one who donated the land this building sits on to the University, so the hospital thinks that all of us will be well served if I help her and by extension you.”

    Sophie gave her an apprehensive look.

    “Even the Prefect of a major city can feel that she is out of her depth when she is worried about a child in her care” Berg said, “She has seen how early neglect can lead to serious problems later like cardiac issues and another one of her other girls having fragile bones. Katherine also overheard two of her former wards talking about how she can be a bit intense over certain issues and wanted someone more objective to help.”

    “With what?” Sophie asked.

    Berg smiled and Sophie could see that she was thinking about how to answer that question.

    “Katherine said you are a bit apprehensive about what the future holds” Berg replied as she placed a thermometer into Sophie’s mouth. “My hope is that we can put your mind at somewhat ease.”

    Sophie sat there thinking until Berg took the thermometer from her mouth and wrote the result down on a form that she was filling out. Next came drawing blood, which Berg walked her though. She had endured far worse in the past. Watching as Berg continued to fill out the forms.

    Sophie understood that she had said a lot of things to the people around her, Kat, and Ziska mostly. Apparently, Kat had listened. Ziska though, Sophie could only speculate about what was going on with her friend, it felt like there was this sudden divide between them that hadn’t been there before. As much as she was apprehensive about the future, as Berg had put it, the thought of being left behind was actually worse.

    “What comes next is that I will continue the examination and that because of your age I will keep it minimally invasive” Berg said, “Katherine told me a great deal about your past Sophie, so if anything makes you feel in the least bit uncomfortable, I will stop immediately. Do you have any questions?”

    Sophie thought about that as she felt Doctor Berg open the medical gown that she was wearing, and a cold stethoscope was pressed against her back.

    “I need you to take a deep breath for me” Berg said, and Sophie complied before the stethoscope shifted around, “And another.”

    The stethoscope was withdrawn, and Berg put a blood pressure cuff around her arm and started pumping it until it became tourniquet tight. It was then as Berg relieved the air pressure, watching the gauge, she wrote down some numbers on the page.

    “You said that some of the others have had problems?” Sophie asked, “What about me?”

    Berg looked at her for a minute before replying. “We will get a better picture after we get the results of the tests back.”

    “When did you learn about Aunt Ilse’s heart problem?” Sophie asked, “She is the one you mentioned who has cardiac issues.”

    “Katherine warned me about how you are an extremely smart girl” Berg replied, “And as unfortunate as it might be, Medical Science is not perfect. Some problems need the right circumstances to present themselves. Ilse’s pregnancy put a lot a strain on her heart, and she suffered cardiac arrest as her son was being born. There is a reason why Nikolaus is an only child.”

    “Albrecht and Ilse have Ingrid” Sophie said, “She had to be followed around the house to keep her from getting into things.”

    “It is wonderful how they opened their home to that child” Berg said, “But Ilse knows that an additional pregnancy would likely end her.”

    Sophie paused for a moment. No one had told her any of that. She had just assumed…

    “I would say that if you eat right, get exercise, and avoid as many of the stressful situations that Katherine seems to thrive in as you can” Berg said, “Then you should be fine.”

    That was when a question occurred to Sophie that was incredibly obvious.

    “The periods, when does that start?” Sophie asked.

    “I take it that you are still waiting?” Berg asked in reply.

    “Yes” Sophie said unsure if she had just said too much.

    “It could be tomorrow or a year from now” Berg said with a smile, “Katherine is quite concerned as to how you will take it when that happens. Part of her hope is that you’re seeing me here today would help you not be scared.”

    “What if it never does?” Sophie asked, “What if I am some sort of freak?”

    “That does happen” Berg replied, “That is rather uncommon, and we would have seen signs of that already.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “I know a simple test” Berg replied, “Just close your eyes.”

    Reluctantly, Sophie did that.

    “Now picture the face of the one who you fancy” Berg said.

    A face immediately came to mind, totally unbidden.

    “Sorry” Sophie replied, “I don’t fancy anyone.”

    Even as she said that, Sophie was aware of how her cheeks felt like they were burning. Her blushing just gave her away.

    “Just an observation Sophie” Berg said, “I think that you are a perfectly normal young woman.”
     
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