Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 142, Chapter 2456
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Fifty-Six

    3rd April 1976

    Finike, Turkey

    The sun rose over the hills and bay. Karl was forced to admit that it was kind of beautiful here, but only so long as they were not noticed. According to the radio the Greeks and Turks were throwing everything that they had at each other in a place called Antalya a hundred or so kilometers down the coast. Supposedly that city was key to this entire region. While Finike was an afterthought, there had been Units from the Turkish Army who had been here to hold the Coastal Highway and the Southern flank of Antalya’s defense. Those units had been called back to Antalya to prevent them from being trapped if the city fell, something which had been deemed increasingly likely. Finike was something of an afterthought.

    It was a situation that couldn’t last for long.

    Karl knew that he lacked the men to hold Finike, there were only a hundred and twenty-eight of them with the specialists like the Company’s Field Cooks and the Taylor had been left behind in Cyprus. Uncle Tilo might have popularized the notion that every Marine was a Rifleman first, that didn’t mean that those who had an excuse not to go out on the sharp end didn’t often take advantage of that.

    At the same time, Karl had the difficulty of waiting for the patents to be evacuated on the Landing Craft as his men dug in on defensive positions on the Coastal Highway, the most likely avenue of attack. Then Karl found out that there was a narrow road that cut through the hills leading right into the center of Finike, meaning that he could only hold until whoever was coming up the highway figured that out too. Karl cursed his rotten luck, if he had a Pioneer detachment available that road could be rendered impassable, but he didn’t. He had been able to set explosive charges on the main bridge over the tidal river that divided Finike, if push came to shove blowing up that bridge would buy his men enough time to escape.

    It was only minutes later when he heard the sound of an engine as an Iltis of all things came around the headlands south of Finike. Volkswagen had made them by the thousands, they had been sold to militaries around the world as well as civilian models. That vehicle being the choice of the Hellenic Army to be a scout car wasn’t a surprise, it was an annoyance.

    “Hold your fire and stay behind cover” Karl ordered into the microphone that was a part of his helmet as the Iltis stopped in at the hospital which happened to be one of the largest and most prominent buildings in Finike. The short-ranged tactical network allowed him to communicate with the entire Company. The last thing he needed was for the Greeks to get a read on their actual numbers.

    “If you could tell me what is going on here” The Greek Soldier in the passenger seat demanded when he saw Karl. Karl didn’t have a read on uniforms of the Hellenic Army, but the man’s manner suggested that he was an Officer of some sort. The chain of hospital orderlies and porters carrying stretchers across the road to where they placed the patients on the beach where they waited to be loaded onto the Landing Craft was sort of hard to hide.

    “Humanitarian mission” Karl replied, “We are evacuating the hospital so that we can avoid any unfortunate incidents.”

    “Do you have any idea who you are helping to escape?” The Greek Officer asked in a tone that suggested that he wasn’t happy to find Karl here.

    “The Director of the Hospital said that they don’t ask, they just help whoever is in need” Karl replied, “The patients and hospital staff won’t be a problem for you if we are allowed to continue…”

    “That is unacceptable” The Greek Officer said fixing Karl with a withering stare. “For all we know there are spies and saboteurs hidden among them, and you are helping them.”

    Karl had a sinking feeling that if he asked the Greek Officer how they should go about determining if what he said was true, Karl would hear something along the lines of “Kill them all and let God sort them out.” He wasn’t interested in listening to that.

    “I am afraid that we are at an impasse then” Karl said.

    The Greek Officer gave Karl a look of pure loathing before ordering his driver to order the Iltis to turn around and go back the way it had come from.

    “We are going to have company soon” Karl said into the microphone. “Could someone tell the Hospital Director that he needs to hurry because things are going to get very hot.”


    How the Hell could Hauptmann Dunkel stay so calm? Erich thought to himself as he watched the exchange from his position in one of the empty public buildings that stood on the edge of the hospital grounds after having heard the Hauptmann’s orders to keep out of sight.

    As the sun rose in the sky, Erich could feel sweat trickling down his sides as he waited. Everyone else just ignored him and went about their business. From his position, he could see the Company’s Heavy weapons sections setting up the Panzerfaust 400’s, placing anti-tank rockets within easy reach, and setting up the two light “Knee Mortars” that had been shamelessly reverse engineered from the Japanese decades earlier. The Mortar crews had taken the time the night before to determine exactly how far it was to the most likely targets. There were also the machine guns which had been set up in the most likely approach used by the Hellenic Army. If things got hot, as the Hauptmann had suggested, then they were going to need every bit of firepower they could muster.
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    Part 142, Chapter 2457
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Fifty-Seven

    3rd May 1976

    In transit, over the Mediterranean Sea

    The Steinadler that Ben was flying fought its way through the turbulence in the wake of the jetliner that had been converted to play the role of Tanker painted Luftwaffe colors as the refueling probe which had been extended out from the side of the nose slotted into boom extending from the Tanker’s tail. As fuel was pumped at a rate of hundreds of liters per second into the tanks aboard Steinadler, Ben had a brief moment for some intrusive thoughts to creep in.

    Ben didn’t doubt for a second that Kiki was probably going to kill him the instant he returned to Balderschwang. She felt that both of them had been through enough danger to last several lifetimes. Yet here he was because he had felt obligated. The Squadron he had been playing advisor to was going into action and he felt that he needed to see it through. That meant that Jasta 23, along with the rest of JG12, had been ordered into action along with an additional two Air Wings along with their support units had been ordered to fly south-east at the best possible speed. Probably leaving a trail of complaints all the way back to Munich because of the noise.

    As soon as he disengaged from the tanker, Ben looked to the disposition of Jasta 23. They had a mission to perform and if they had left noise complaints in their wake, that was nothing compared to what they were about to do.

    Finike, Turkey

    Perhaps it was the reputation of the Marine Infantry that caused what happened next, or perhaps a Greek General with more balls than brains who saw them as an obstacle. Of course, if your only tool was a hammer, all problems start to look like nails.

    For the Greeks, the last few decades had been a reverse in fortunes after centuries of getting pushed back. They were haunted by the memory of the lost Byzantine Empire and the attitude was that they were simply taking back what had once been theirs. The people who lived there now were little more than intruders. How merciful would you be to a murderous squatter living in your house? Karl had heard those exact same arguments before in Korea, Poland, and Argentina coming out of the mouths of prisoners who had been on the side of those who had started those conflicts. It didn’t matter where the conversations took place, the words of the aggressors tended to share a common theme. Karl knew that if the Greeks were being sensible they would just let him complete his mission without interference, but what were the odds of that? If recent history was any guide then he needed to prepare for the worst.

    Karl got his answer just after noon as the Hospital Staff managed to get the last, most complicated cases down to the beach and they were finally getting the Staff themselves to vacate the Hospital when Greeks did something stupid. The trouble was that they went about being stupid in a smart way. It was exactly like how Uncle Tilo had described the Japanese he had fought in the Pacific War. The truly stupid ones were all dead after years of war.

    The Panzer that Karl recognized as being a Russian designed T-72 of a variant known to be of Greek manufacture came clanking and clattering down the Coastal Highway screened by what looked like a couple Platoons worth of Greek Infantry. The unhurried manner which they were walking down the road suggested that Karl had been wise to order his men to keep out of sight, not giving the Greeks an actual read on their numbers. They were expecting a handful of Marines who they could push out of the way. Karl didn’t need to make too many guesses about what would happen after that. Karl and his men were the only thing stopping the people they were here to protect from getting slaughtered.

    “Hit the Panzer” Karl ordered the Anti-Tank team over the tactical net, “Gunners know what to do.”

    Even after decades of evolutionary development, the Panzerfaust still worked almost exactly the same way that it had since it had first been introduced just prior to the Soviet War. Improvements to the propellent and aerodynamics had extended the range out to four hundred meters. A shoulder brace and a prismatic sight had greatly improved accuracy. Still, at the heart of the system was an ignitor that detonated a small charge that launched the fin-stabilized rocket. At the same time, the iron oxide behind that filled the space behind the charge flew the other way down the launch tube resulting in almost no recoil felt by the user.

    The first rocket hit the side of the T-72 and even if it had only scorched the paint, it got the crew’s attention. Karl figured later that it was one of those situations where someone’s first instinct was just to do something, anything. The main gun on the T-72 fired, blasting a massive hole in the wall of the fortunately now empty hospital. Not that it mattered, because the second rocket hit side of the T-72’s turret squarely, the shaped charge slicing a hole through right through the armor. The resulting internal explosion blasted the turret well clear of the Panzer.

    The luckless Greek Infantry, whose job had been to spot the Anti-Tank teams in the first place, were caught flat-footed by this turn of events. Then they learned a harsh lesson that had been taught at the hands of the German Military many times since the Soviet War, that the MG42/56 was an absolutely terrifying weapon to be on the receiving end of, Karl’s Company had four of them. A close second was the Vz.60 light machine guns that each of his Squads had one of. Those among the Greeks who could still run took flight.

    “Hold fire!” Karl yelled into the microphone and heard the order repeated. His men had done well, but Karl knew that the next time the Greeks wouldn’t be caught by surprise, and they would come in force.

    That was when Karl saw the Hospital Director looking up at the massive hole in the side of his building and all the windows that had been blown out by the blast. “This is unacceptable” He said to Karl, as if Karl was about to disagree with him. There was a reason why they had been working to get these people out.
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    Part 142, Chapter 2458
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Fifty-Eight

    3rd May 1976

    Finike, Turkey

    What was left of the Greek Panzer was still burning, belching black smoke into the air. Every once in a while the wind blew it in his direction and Erich caught a whiff of burnt diesel, plastic, and cordite. Muller made a joke about how there wasn’t a lot of the roasted pork smell this time and that he should be thankful, at least Erich hoped that the Oberfeld was joking.

    As Erich watched, the last of the medical personnel were herded onto the waiting landing craft. As it was slowly winched off the shore he wished that he was on it…

    His thoughts were interrupted by a loud explosion that reverberated through Finike.

    “That is who we are dealing are dealing with here” Muller said, “Remember that if you have complaints about shooting Greeks or Turks.”

    “What are you getting at?” Erich asked.

    “Our Greek friends just blew up the local Mosque, if I had to guess” Muller replied, “Perhaps they are busy enough desecrating the graveyard to have forgotten about us.”

    “Won’t the people around here get pissed about that?”

    “Aside from the people in the Hospital, have you seen any civilians around?” Muller asked in reply.

    The implications of that were delightful, Erich thought to himself. When he had been assigned to this Company, Erich had been told that he was supposed to learn from the experience. Exactly what lessons was he going to learn from being involved in this madness? What the Hell were they even doing in this place? As it turned out the Greeks had not forgotten them, Erich learned this when artillery shells started landing on the east side of the river among the buildings that the Marines were sheltering in.


    Karl could hear the radio chatter of the command net. Mostly ships and airplanes talking to each other. It was the ships that provided the counterfire against the Greek artillery. He saw the earth erupting skyward as the shells pulverized the hilltops. He knew that there was a road up there, the odds were high that was where the bulk of Greek forces were coming from. The Coastal Highway would be too exposed. The whole idea was to buy them time to withdraw in good order, before the Greeks were really able to bring the hammer down. That was why he had done his best to identify the obvious choke point, the highway bridge over the river which was strong enough to support Panzers crossing it. If he were in the shoes of the Greek Commander he would know that it would be critical to take that first. It was what Karl was counting on for his plan to work, he just needed to get the timing right…


    As Erich watched, dozens of T-72s and what must be hundreds of Greek solders came into view. This wasn’t like that first lazy attack that had happened only an hour earlier. They were moving from cover to cover. Erich could hear the sound of rifle fire. The idea was to get the defenders, meaning Erich himself, to keep their heads down so they could advance unmolested. There were bursts of rifle fire that he knew were coming from G44 Rifles, which sounded very different from the Simonov Rifles that the Greeks used, going the other way.

    Looking through the two-power rifle scope, Erich took aim, but his nerve failed him. Those were people and he wasn’t at war with them, this whole thing was just so much bullshit. At the same time, he knew that Muller was watching him. If he revealed any cowardice, the Oberfeld would tell the entire Company, which would be impossible to live with. He squeezed the trigger, not really aiming at anything, praying that the bullets wouldn’t hit anyone.

    Distantly, Erich heard the thud and thump of the 50mm Knee Mortars and 40mm grenade launchers. Those would do nothing more than scratch the paint on the T-72s. It slowed the Greek Infantry down though. That was when the Anti-Tank team tried to reassert itself by firing rockets at the lead T-72. And it didn’t work nearly as well as it had the last time. The Greek Panzer fired on the right building this time and as Erich watched, half the AT team was obliterated by the 120mm shell. As if to ad emphasis, the Panzer sprayed the buildings with the coaxial machine gun before firing another shot from the main gun. Erich ducked to avoid the fire but found that he couldn’t bring himself to look back over the windowsill.

    With that the Greeks resumed their advance onto the bridge, and the explosives underneath it detonated. The weight of the Panzers completed the collapse into the water which was rushing out with the ebb tide.


    “Fall back!” Karl yelled into the microphone over the tactical net. The order was repeated among the men. They knew that they were supposed to retreat for the Landing Craft which were coming to pick them up. It was also the riskiest part of the whole operation. The Greek Commander wouldn’t need long to figure out what was going on, nor would it take much time for him to figure out a different way across the river. As Karl left the shelter of the building that had been his command post and was running across the beach along with the radio operator and artillery spotter, he heard the shriek turbine engines and explosions as jets from the Luftwaffe pasted the other side of river.


    Erich could see the gunners on the Landing Craft were firing their guns, 2-centmeter Flak and MG42s he thought absently to himself as he half walked-half crawled aboard the LC to find that it was already packed full of men from his Platoon. There came the clatter as the LC winched itself by the anchor chain off the beach. The craft was rocking as it turned and to put to sea. It was then that Erich ventured to look above the gunwale, he saw that the Fleet ships were pummeling what was left Finike.
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    Part 142, Chapter 2459
  • Chapter Two Thousand Four Hundred Fifty-Nine

    5th May 1976

    Wartburg Castle, Eisenach, Thuringia

    There was a large map of Finike, and the surrounding area tacked to a corkboard. Emil was giving a presentation about the military operation that had gone on there a couple days earlier as a part of his role as the appointed Marshal of Thuringia. It was an entirely ceremonial role that had sprung up over the last few decades. Getting a General, often retired as was the case with Emil, to play at being the Commander of the State Landwehr and Reserve Divisions. That involved compiling an annual report about the Military readiness of those Divisions and submitting it to the Landtag as well as occasionally showing up for a ritual or parade. One of his duties though was to give a briefing about a military matter if requested. That was what was happening today. Emil had made a number of phone calls the day before to old friends who still worked inside Wunsdorf-Zossen to learn what he could about what had happened a couple days earlier in the latest round of Greco-Turkish insanity so he could at least a little bit knowledgeable about a part of the world he had seldom thought about. He had gotten to the question-and-answer part of the briefing, which Emil expected to drag on until everyone got bored.

    “Can you repeat that last part Markgraf?” Grossherzog Carl Augustus II of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach asked, much to Emil’s annoyance. He was a large part of the reason why they were meeting here as opposed to Erfurt. That was Carl Augustus’ center of power, and the other three Grand Dukes were not about to be seen as his guests. Foolish pride, Emil thought to himself. There was also the Minister-President along with much of the Landtag as well as many Mayors and Local Councils. Wartburg Castle was regarded as a neutral corner of Thuringia for reasons involving the deep history of the place.

    This was a microcosm of the reality of not just Thuringia, but the larger German Empire if Emil had to guess. The Grand Dukes of the Ernestine Duchies no longer had any actual power, their lands folded into the modern State of Thuringia. Still, it was often hard to tell because of how connected many of them were with the Government at various levels. At the same time, the Grand Dukes were scions of the oldest of the Old Junker families and they were slowly dying out. This had been building for decades and it was upending what had once been seen as the entrenched social order. Oddly, they saw the alliance and intermarriage between the Richthofens and the Mischners as a way of preserving their way of life. It was just a matter of finding the right New Junker family.

    Emil was aware of two things though. He didn’t think they realized that it was a two-way street and there were certain other considerations that had clearly flown out the window in recent years. Emil knew this much when he was asked a couple different times about his newest granddaughter. They had to know the circumstances of Irina’s birth and that didn’t seem to be a deal breaker like it would have been a few decades earlier. They saw her as the Granddaughter of a Field Marshal and Markgraf. The rest could be worked with time.

    “The Marine Infantry were in these buildings south and east of the District Hospital” Emil said, repeating himself, he knew why Carl Augustus wanted that to be a part of the official record. There was already controversy over the initial clash the Marines and elements of the Hellenic Army. The Marines sheltering in the Hospital itself would have constituted a war crime. There were also some questions as to the legality of Marine Infantry firing the first shots from ambush. Of course, Emil knew how the Marines operated, they viewed sticking strictly to the legalities that put them at a disadvantage as stupid.

    “And they repulsed the first attack?” Carl Augustus asked.

    “As near as I can gather, it was disorganized and not expecting organized resistance” Emil replied, “The Marines present said that an hour later the Greeks assaulted their position in force. That was when the Marines suffered a number of casualties, but the Hospital Staff and their patients had been evacuated by then.”

    Emil could tell that he had just told everyone in the room exactly what they had wanted to hear. While the Marine Infantry took pride in supposedly being the worst soldiers in the German Military, Emil knew that had become mostly for public consumption. The long history they now had of fighting in distant lands against often impossible odds had given them standing alongside Emil’s own Airborne Divisions as loath as he was to say that out loud.

    “So, they completed the mission and gave the Greeks a bloody nose” Carl Augustus said, not a question but more of a statement.

    “Yes” Emil said, knowing that was the public sentiment by and large when news of the operation had broken the day before. “Now, I would remiss if I didn’t point out that there are going to be a lot of diplomatic headaches resulting from this in the coming months.”

    “Yeah, so what” Carl Augustus said under his breath. Emil knew that Carl Augustus had been as Officer in the Heer during the Soviet War. That had been a long time ago though. The Minister-President had nodded along though. The political dimensions of this would be at the forefront of his mind.

    “Next question” Emil said aloud and was met with a flurry of them.
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    Part 142, Chapter 2560
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Sixty

    16th May 1976

    In transit, Rural Brandenburg near Neuruppin

    Perhaps it was a bit of a rebellion, but when Sophie learned that members of her club would be eligible to enter the Berlin to Kiel Audax if they were interested, she had signed up. Everyone else had been daunted by the amount of time involved, the modifications that would need to be made to the bicycle they would use, and how it would need to be done entirely without support according to the rules. Sophie already had a bicycle that met all the criteria, and it seemed like a fun thing to do.

    Now it was very late at night, extremely dark and Sophie felt like she was a very long way from anything. She knew that much when she realized that she could hear the arcing of electricity in the power lines that ran parallel to the road. The dynamo light lit the way forward, was supposed to illuminate five meters ahead of her, but it wasn’t capable of much more than that. She took a bit of a risk and reached into the canvas bag in the front basket and grabbed a handful of raisins she had in there.

    She was riding her Bianchi bicycle tonight because it suited the sort of race she had gotten herself into after she had upgraded the parts recently. The Campagnolo Super Record groupset had proven almost as good as the Shimano parts she had put on her other bicycles including her favorite, the red No-Name. Every few minutes she popped a raisin into her mouth. She had dried apples, cheese, and bread with her as well but didn’t feel like searching for those in the dark.

    It was starting to feel like she had been riding forever. With almost the entire day before spent on the first leg of the race, going from Berlin to Kiel. The sun had set during the return leg and Sophie had realized that she would need to press on through the night to complete the race. It would be something if she made it back to Berlin after traveling seven-hundred kilometers. The expected average time was thirty-odd hours and Sophie had been trying to beat that since she had started out. There had been a few awkward moments along the way with it seeming like the race officials had only belatedly realized that Sophie was a girl, but she figured that she was making good time despite that, or at least that was her hope.

    Sophie had passed other riders in the night, but that must have been hours earlier, she didn’t know because it was too dark to see her watch. Now it was just her on what seemed like endless empty stretches of dark roads.

    Rounding a turn, Sophie saw the lights of a town ahead. She could hear the freewheel clicking as she coasted down the deserted streets. To her surprise, she saw a sign directing her to the control point, meaning that she was in Neuruppin which was just a few hours out from Berlin.

    “You’re early Fraulein Sommers” The official said as soon as he saw her. That meant that she would need to wait until it was time for the next leg, not that Sophie would object to a chance to get a little bit of rest. Still, he stamped her brevet card with the time of her arrival then directed her to where she could fill her water bottles and take care of any other needs. There was no one else around, which was a bit surprising.


    Sophie had dozed off for a little bit but had woken up as other riders had started arriving. The first thing that she noticed was that she was noticing that it had gotten cold, and her woolen cycling gear did little to keep her warm. Checking her watch, she saw that the time to restart the race would be in a few minutes. There were a few curious looks directed at her, as she pulled the sweater out of one of her pannier bags that Kat had insisted she take along. She also noticed that her legs felt rubbery despite having had a chance to get a bit of rest. She quickly ate the rest of the food that she had packed, at this point it was either fuel or dead weight. Sophie knew which of those she preferred.

    With a second stamp recording her time of departure, Sophie was back on the road out of Neuruppin a few minutes later. She had been shocked to learn that there had been no one ahead of her because she had outpaced all the other riders and had even overheard a bit of talk among the others about being beat by the mere slip of a girl, much to her amusement.

    Back on the dark roads, Sophie knew that Neuruppin had been the last control point. She had a straight shot into Berlin, and she intended to make the most of that. Gaining speed, she shifted into higher gears. Again, she was alone after a few minutes, that was just how it went. Her thoughts turned to the recent interview that she had done. Normally an interview like that was stupid with the interviewer asking her questions geared towards inane things like clothes, cosmetics, or boys. This time had been different. Sophie had been asked what she was planning on doing after she was no longer involved in International Competition? It was something which she had never thought about, so she didn’t have an answer for that question. The other questions had been about the technical aspects of her sport, those she was able to answer fairly easily. She continued to press herself harder, knowing that the finish line was drawing close, still it came as a bit of a surprise as she saw the familiar skyline of Berlin come into sight about the time the sun rose.
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    Part 142, Chapter 2561
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-One

    17th May 1976

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Kat had told Sophie that she was proud of her, finishing the bicycle race from Berlin to Kiel and then back. She really didn’t care what the final tally had been, just that Sophie had crossed the finish line. As it was, Sophie had completed the ride in just under twenty-three hours with an average speed of 28.5 Kilometers Per-Hour. The Berlin-to-Kiel-to-Berlin Audax wasn’t considered an actual race with the prize being bragging rights with Sophie receiving only a certificate stating that she had completed the race. Still, the open rules of Randonneuring had allowed Sophie to compete in what was a male dominated field in a way that existed in few other venues. Of course, Kat remembered what it had been like when she had been not much older than Sophie and she had been forced to push herself like that to get through Judenbach. She figured that Sophie would be paying a price for her accomplishments today.

    “Good morning” Kat said pushing the door to Sophie’s room open with part of the day’s edition of the BT under her arm and a bottle of aspirin in her hand. The day before, Sophie had just enough energy to stagger up to her room and had not emerged afterwards. Sophie just groaned and put a pillow over her head. Sprocket, who had spent the night with Angelica had followed Kat into the room and he was overjoyed to finally be with his favorite person. He jumped up on Sophie’s bed and had his face under the pillow licking her nose, his stubby tail wagging furiously.

    “No fair” Sophie said sitting up, pushing Sprocket away, the dog went to the foot of her bed and looked at expectedly. Kat noticed that Sophie was wearing the red and black checkered flannel nightgown that had been a gift from her and Doug the prior Christmas. Regardless of what Sophie had accomplished, she still wanted the comforts that came from her adopted family and Kat was more than happy to let her stay as long as she wanted. It wasn’t a surprise that a look of pain crossed Sophie’s face as much as she tried to hide that sort of thing.

    “You rode a bicycle for an entire day, Zoe” Kat said as she handed Sophie the bottle of aspirin. “Two or three of those will help and I figure that you will not turn down a ride to school today.”

    “How am I supposed to do that?” Sophie asked.

    “You’ll manage” Kat replied, “And I am sure your friends will be very interested in seeing you when you get there.”

    With that, Kat handed Sophie the portion of the newspaper she had brought with her. It was the Sport section with a photograph of Sophie on her bicycle from the day before, above the fold with the headline reading; 17-Year-Old Cycling Prodigy and Olympic Hopeful Sophie Sommers smashes record in Bicycle Endurance Race.

    “Is this a joke?” Sophie asked.

    “Hardly” Kat replied, “And this is far better news that the front page. More dreary news out of Anatolia and the reaction about what the Navy did to the Greeks a couple weeks ago. What the Hell were they thinking by getting involved with that mess?”

    Sophie gave Kat a blank look, the International aspects of the day’s events seldom entered her thinking. She supposed that was a good thing, if the madness that consumed the Greeks and the Turks affected Sophie directly it was because she was somehow caught up in it. Instead, it was events that were occurring somewhere far away.

    “My job is to know these things because they have a direct bearing on matters here” Kat said.

    “If you say so” Sophie said as she finally got out of bed, opening the aspirin bottle as she went, Sprocket at her heels.

    “Hurry if you don’t want your breakfast to be cold” Kat said as Sophie walked into the hallway just ahead of her.

    Sophie grumbled something before closing the bathroom door with Sprocket taking exception to her not letting him follow. A few seconds later, Kat heard the shower turn on. In the end Sophie was still Sophie, an extremely private, guarded young woman who was stubborn to a fault. She had come a long way in learning to trust Kat and Doug over the last few years, but Kat understood better than anyone that it was a slow, ongoing process. As Kat descended the stairs she could hear the clicking of Sprocket’s toenails on the hardwood following behind her. When Kat reached the dining room on the garden floor it was a scene of domestic chaos that greeted her as everyone in the household was enjoying breakfast.

    Sprocket rushed past Kat to take his place under Angelica’s chair. He obviously knew who the easiest mark was. Tatiana was home, normally she left while everyone was still asleep to avoid having the same arguments with Kat that they had been having since she was thirteen. Presently, she was talking with Malcolm about the Japanese number puzzles that had appeared in the newspapers. While Malcolm had always had issues with reading, he was a wizard with numbers. Doug was reading the newspaper, probably the same story that Kat had read earlier. His angle was that there were parts of the world where he simply couldn’t go. In Doug’s thinking that was the most galling aspect. He had wanted to lead a photo expedition to Petra for the American magazine National Geographic, but the security could not be guaranteed. That had resulted in the entire thing getting called off. Now with stories about how the Greeks had turned to erasing the history of the lands they were taking over from the Turks; he had asked where it was going to end?
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    Part 142, Chapter 2562
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Two

    18th May 1976

    Limassol Port, Cyprus

    After almost a year of being run hard, the wear and tear on the Grindwal was starting to show. Louis Ferdinand Junior was left feeling like if the effort had become like damage control. Yet he had not heard from Wunsdorf-Zossen or Kiel about how much longer they were supposed to remain on station in the Eastern Mediterranean. In a bit of a historical irony, they were presently moored in Limassol, one of the few relatively friendly seaports in the region which served the British Exclave located on the island.

    The news coming in from the crew was not great, the main gun was reliant on the cooling jacket around the barrel to keep from melting during periods of sustained fire and that was part of a larger system with the heat-exchanger deep in the hull. The problem was that the coolant was found to be contaminated by seawater. That meant that one or more of the hundreds of pipes in the exchanger had corroded to the point that it was leaking. So, Borchardt had some men down in the chamber where seawater flooded in from an opening in the hull while the Grindwal was underway. With the valve in the sea-chest closed, it was a very cramped, damp space where they were trying to figure out which pipes were leaking so that bronze plugs could be driven into the water intake which would temporarily solve the problem. The key issue was that it wasn’t the only heat-exchanger on the ship. Louis knew that after so many months at sea, the Grindwal needed to return to the yard so that all her systems could be inspected and replaced if needed. Fixing the pipes in the exchangers alone would be a massive job and who knew what else there was lurking in the ship’s systems. There were also three other ships that were increasingly held together with duct tape and bailing wire. Louis had ordered the Ship’s Captains under his command to have a report about their present status on his desk as soon as they had it completed.

    Curiously, SMS T39 “Estoc” was in the best shape of Louis’ Flotilla. The old Fleet Torpedo Boat was a product of a different era and her systems reflected that. They had needed to be more robust by necessity. His father had once told him that new wasn’t always better, this seemed to be an example of that. Finally, there were the complaints from the Grindwal’s Petty Officers that came up every time they did anything involving the ship’s cooling systems. The ship used industrial alcohol as a coolant and there was always someone stupid enough to try to drink it. That never ended well.

    At the same time, the situation in Cyprus was somewhat tenuous. The Greeks on the island had learned the role that the flotilla had played in Finike and there had been violent protests outside the gates of the Port. This was just the best they could do until they got further orders. It wasn’t like if they were going back to Constantinople any time soon. The Hellenic Army and by extension the Greek Government were thoroughly pissed over what had happened and how this had exposed their actions in the parts of Turkey that they were occupying. There had been protests in front of the German Consulate located on Cyprus and the Embassy in Constantinople as well. Borchardt had said that if they really wanted to see a meltdown among the Greek populace they would lock the door around the side of the building that was the entrance to the office where the applications for travel visas and work permits were processed. That was an incredibly cynical take, but Louis suspected that Borchardt was probably correct on that score. The present outrage that they were seeing was largely performative and if he had to guess, Louis figured that the Greeks would not be too comfortable if they had to depend on the Russians as their only allied power for long. His mother’s family was Russian, so he knew that it was never a relationship of equals. Sooner or later, the Russians would call in the debts and the Greeks would basically find themselves as tenants in their own country. The Russians had wanted the Bosporus for centuries and if they could get it by helping the Greeks beggar themselves in their crusade against the Turks so much the better.


    The oddest part for Erich was that it was as if Finike had never happened. The men who had died there had been replaced and the Company had gone about business as usual. There had been a debrief, but the written reports had been submitted and that had been the last he had heard about the matter. Hauptmann Dunkel had told him that they’d had a job to do, and they had done it, that was all.

    Oberfeld Muller told him not to worry about it, everyone had seen that he had done his bit and they had saved the Medics, so the mission had been far less pointless than usual. Erich had been told what the lot of the Marine Infantry was when he had been in training in Cuxhaven. That they did the dirty, thankless jobs so that their betters wouldn’t need to ever have to think about what was being done in their name. Erich was getting quite an education about what that really meant.
    Part 142, Chapter 2563
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Three

    28th May 1976

    Köpenick, Berlin

    The new fingerless cycling gloves were a crocheted black mesh on the back with a double layer of leather on the front protecting Sophie’s hands and reducing the shock felt through the handlebars. Aunt Marcella had given them to her. She had told Sophie that she wanted to see her wow the entire world when Sophie wore them in Montreal in July. That had been the high point of the week and Sophie was glad that she had them as she rode her bicycle up the cracked asphalt of the road to the top of the hill. Sprocket was riding in his basket that had been reattached to the front cargo rack. The slow progress upward didn’t interest him. He preferred when Sophie was riding fast so that he could have his nose in the wind.

    Today, she was on her ride to the top of Müggelberge and back, something that she did often because she enjoyed it. Visiting the ruins of the old observation tower and restaurant in the middle of the forest was a nice change from the frenetic movement that defined Berlin. Recently, the forested range of hills had been declared a National Park, protecting it from development. This was not without controversy as it was seen as further closing off the borders of the City of Berlin. The outward expansion of the city was increasing being limited by such efforts. Sophie didn’t mind though. It gave her a nice place to ride to and the final climb was one of the few that she found much a of challenge.

    The State had torn down the old observation tower to keep people from climbing it even if it was unsafe several years earlier, so Sophie could only imagine what the view must have been like. She could only catch glimpses of the river on one side, the lake on the other, and the City to the north-west through the trees. When she arrived at the tower, she unclipped Sprocket from the leash that held him into his basket and lifted him out. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he started sniffing everything in sight. Many people in this neighborhood walked their dogs here, so there were probably a lot of things for him to smell.

    Sitting on the weathered concrete of the tower, Sophie was admiring the view as she listened to the sound of distant traffic on the wind and the birdsong from the trees. Everything was distant here, which was far better than her daily life. It was her life which was the problem. When the story about her riding in the Berlin-Kiel-Berlin Audax came out there had been a sudden amount of interest in Sophie’s life. It had only taken journalists a short amount of time to learn about her childhood. The worst part was they had interviewed her teacher who had described exactly what she had seen. She described Sophie as this poor little girl wearing old, tattered clothes and always seemed to have unexplained bruises. That much was the truth, but why had she felt the need to mention the food? How the teacher had known that Sophie had stolen pieces of fruit or bread from her when she thought no one was looking and that she had left it within easy reach quite deliberately. Sophie didn’t want people to know of that part of her life.

    Sprocket jumped up onto the foundation in an astonishing feat because it was considerably taller than him at and lay down at Sophie’s side. If only more people could be like Sprocket who never judged Sophie nor asked probing questions. Sophie knew that it was only a matter of time before some enterprising journalist tracked down her mother and not be aware of how destructive and manipulative she was. That would be dreadful as it was all too easy to see the sort of narrative that people would glom on to. While Sophie’s mother only shared a similar name as one adopted by a famous actress’ stage name as a coincidence, she was all too good at putting on a show. How she was poor and put upon, how her only daughter had refused to talk to her for years. The public would eat that up and press for reconciliation. Sophie knew full well that it would all be performative at best. In the movies or on television, people like Elke Sommers got their just deserts. This was real life though, so she had done well in the years since Sophie had been removed from her custody at the request of the Princess Royal and the former Empress. Sophie was disgusted by that. It was very predictable how that reunion would go. Elke would swiftly learn that Sophie wasn’t going to get rich by going to the Olympics and then it would be going right back to how it had been before. Now it would only be worse because Sophie knew that wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

    At the same time it was like what her friend Annett had to say about the woman who was her biological half-sister who she had learned was incarcerated in Oranienburg. Nan had said that until she confronted the daughter and enabler of her mother’s rapist, she felt that couldn’t truly move with her life. All Sophie knew was that if she never saw her mother again it would be too soon.
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    Part 142, Chapter 2564
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Four

    5th June 1976

    Near Oranienburg, Brandenburg

    It had been a decade since Nan had seen Gudrun and those years had not been kind to her. Being a culprit in one of the most notorious crimes to have occurred in Bavaria, especially one that had involved several children, had made it so that Gudrun had needed to be kept in protective segregation for that entire time. She had eventually needed to be transferred entirely out of Bavaria. This was because no one wanted a repeat of the Red Nanny incident where the woman who had been seduced into helping the NKVD infiltrate the Old Winter Palace had been killed by her fellow prisoners. The sort of protective custody that Gudrun was enduring had been likened to being buried alive and Nan felt she deserved every last second of it.

    “What do you want?” Gudrun demanded through the chicken wire glass that was the partition in the visitor’s room. When Nan had first considered that she might want to confront Gudrun, she had asked around about how it might be arranged. It had turned out to be absurdly simple, ironically because Nan was the closest thing to family that Gudrun had left. Nan had laid it on thick, saying that she only wanted a chance to make peace with her estranged half-sister. That was nonsense, of course. Nan was not interested in peace so much as making sure that the past was well and truly gone. The fact that Gudrun had never once called Nan by her name spoke volumes.

    “That’s no way to talk to me” Nan replied, “I would think that you would be happy to talk to anyone these days, or at least anyone who isn’t looking to stab or strangle you.”

    Gudrun gave Nan a withering look. “Just tell me what you want, or I leave” She growled at Nan. Little did she know that Nan was just getting warmed up.

    “I came to tell you the good news” Nan said, “I was able to be the first one in my class to sit the Abitur and pass, a year early. I am starting University this autumn, wasn’t Trade School to learn to be an Office Secretary the best you could do.”

    Nan saw Gudrun bristle at that, which is what she had been hoping for. Yes, living well was often the greatest revenge, though in Nan’s case it was living at all.

    “My sister Nella, well, my sister through my adopted family bet me that I couldn’t pass it yet” Nan continued with a smile, “I proved her wrong didn’t I.”

    “So what” Gudrun said.

    “I would say that is extremely good for a girl deemed pedestrian and of low intelligence even as he did his level best to keep me ignorant” Nan said, “That was what your father wrote about me in his journal as rambling and incoherent as it was. That was the excuse for…”

    “You have no right to talk about our father that way” Gudrun hissed at Nan interrupting her, her eyes blazing with rage.

    “Your father” Nan replied, “To me he is nothing more than my mother’s rapist, the man who deemed me unworthy of existence and would have killed me if my mother hadn’t stopped him.”

    “He was a great man whose ideas were ahead of their time” Gudrun said with far more certainty than the situation warranted.

    “You mean the quasi-scientific theories around eugenics that have largely been discredited?” Nan asked, “I know that you’ve been kept quite isolated, but even you have to know about that.”

    “What do I care about the poison that the Jews spread through their insidious works?” Gudrun asked in reply, “The Sciences are just rotten with them and their scheming.”

    It was something that had not changed about Gudrun. Nan remembered that Anti-Semitism was just one of Gudrun’s bigotries and the answer for everything wrong with her life or anything she didn’t understand. The fact that she had found herself locked away had clearly changed nothing. Nan wondered how Gudrun would react to her having learned a whole lot from Herr Shikongo, the African man who had been the Personal Chef in charge of her adopted family’s kitchen staff for as long as Nan had lived with them. While Nan wanted to fly airplanes, she knew her way around a kitchen because Shikongo had been a willing teacher. It was something which she was profoundly grateful for. There was also Frau Frank. The inadvertent chronicler of Nan’s adopted family had always been kind and understanding to the times which Nan had difficulty in a social situation. Something which had happened more often than Nan cared to think about. Finding out that she was Jewish had been key to helping Nan get past the stupid prejudices that she had unconsciously picked up.

    “That is a load of steaming manure” Nan replied, “And you know it.”

    Gudrun just glared at Nan through the glass.

    “There is something which I feel you should know” Nan said, “My mother felt that you were just as much a victim of your father as we were. She was never a threat to you, but you murdered her anyway.”

    Nan saw the blood drain from Gudrun’s face. The one thing that she had tried to say over and over was that she had just been defending herself from Alina Pfenning. The Courts had obviously disagreed. When Nan had talked about this conversation with Nella and Sophie, Nella had told her that she ought to lean into Gudrun’s refusal to take responsibility and just tell her the truth. Sophie had just told her not to bother even coming here. Nan had done as Nella had suggested and clearly it was not something that Gudrun had been prepared to hear.

    “Go away” Gudrun said, trying to regain her former bluster.

    “Admit it” Nan said, “You threw your entire life away for a madman’s ambitions.”

    Gudrun just stared at Nan refusing to say another word before the time for the visit was up.
    Part 142, Chapter 2565
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Five

    12th June 1976

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    It might have been a mistake for Kat to have her office facing the back garden. If it had overlooked the street, perhaps she could have seen trouble coming before it darkened her doorstep. Not that it would have helped, because it seemed like if most of the trouble that entered her house had an appointment these days. Today’s trouble was the direct result of her sneaking away from the SAS Training Camp in Brecon, Wales on Christmas Eve way back in 1943 and coming home. Then Major David Sterling had been forced to take the blame for Kat’s disappearance. Today, thirty years later, she had been forced to make room in her schedule for Brigadier Sterling because he felt that she owed him a favor after all the trouble Kat had caused him during the war.

    This had come at a bad time for Kat. Charlotte had asked for her help with Annett, or Nan as she preferred to be called, who she felt was making questionable decisions. The girl had apparently made the choice to shorten her education, which was a bit of surprise for everyone. Kat was aware that it was possible to skip ahead in grades, but that was difficult to do, and she had only seen it successfully done once and that had been done with the stated intention of joining the Military. Nan had not done that. Instead she had taken advantage of the bureaucratic nightmare that had resulted from her childhood. To put it simply, no one knew exactly how old Nan really was. When she had first been rescued, a medical examination had only been able to determine that Nan was between five and seven years in age. Louis Ferdinand and Charlotte had just celebrated her birthday on the same day as their biological daughter Antonia’s to make her feel like she belonged. Eleven years later, Nan had told the Gymnasia’s Headmistress that she was eighteen and that made her eligible to sit the Abitur. While that wasn’t technically a lie, Kat understood that Nan could just as easily be sixteen as well.

    There had also been Nan’s conversation with Gudrun Himmler. She had pulled no punches from what Kat could tell by reading the transcript from the recording that the Prison’s Administration had taken from one of the hidden microphones in the visitor’s area. “Admit it, you threw your life away for a madman’s ambitions” Nan had said, matter or fact. Apparently, her much older half-sister had refused to continue the conversation.

    Kat understood exactly how Charlotte felt about having a daughter who was asserting herself into the wider world in such a manner. Being torn between feeling proud of what they were trying to do and wanting to strangle them for being so pigheaded in how they were going about doing it.

    “Herr Sterling is here” Gunther von Something or the other, Kat’s latest aide whose name she couldn’t be bothered to remember said as David Sterling himself walked in behind him.

    “Prefect von Mischner, mind if I call you Katherine?” Sterling asked with a smile that one would normally associate with Used Car Salesmen or shady Politicians. “Still looking lovely after all these years.”

    “What do you want?” Kat asked in reply as Sterling looked at the photographs on the wall.

    “Where was this taken?” Sterling asked, tapping on a picture frame.

    “That’s my nephew Manfred in Argentina” Kat replied, “He was with the Panzer Corps during the Patagonian War.”

    The picture was of Manny sitting in the passenger seat of a VW Iltis that had been modified for use by the 7th Reconnaissance Battalion of the 4th Panzer Division. It was instantly obvious why that picture had caught Sterling’s eye.

    “Ripping a page from my book” Sterling said with a devil may care grin.

    “The Motorized Cavalry Units borrowed heavily from the tactics you perfected in Ukraine and Russia” Kat said, she was not about to tell him that the Panzer Cavalry she had mentioned had taken great effort to fix the most glaring flaws in Sterling’s tactics when he had attacked Russian Airfields and Logistics hubs during the Soviet War. Mostly that was in form of the latest incarnation of the 8-RAD armored car, the Luftpanzer V, and vastly improved radios.

    “These were also a brilliant idea” Sterling said picking up one of the last of the original scare cats which Kat kept as a souvenir. “The Russians would piss themselves at the mere sight of them.”

    Now Kat knew that Sterling wanted something from her. Why else would be paying her a compliment like that? It was just that she would need to wait for him to get around to it in his own sweet time.

    “That was sort of the idea” Kat replied as Sterling sat down in the chair across from Kat’s desk.

    “I remember when you arrived in Brecon” Sterling said, “We had just finished with the Sevastopol Campaign and Fleming springs this girl on us. We thought we knew everything, so we weren’t interested in listening. Then you disappeared and we learned that you were in Wales because you had killed five men while putting down a palace coup. You should have seen Paddy’s face when he heard that.”

    Kat knew that Sterling was talking about his subordinate during the Soviet War, Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne. Even by the extremely loose standards of the Special Forces Community, Mayne had been regarded as being completely insane. David Sterling had been able to keep him pushing in the right direction right up until Mayne had taken on impossible odds once too often during the final days of the war. Winning the Victoria Cross in the process if winning was even the right word to use.

    “It was all such a lark back then” Sterling said, “Youth wasted on the young and all that.”

    Kat waited patiently for him to get to the point.

    “I’m sure that you’ve heard about the latest dust up between the Greeks and the Turks?” Sterling asked, “The Russians are behind it, the whole stubborn, vindictive lot of them.”

    “I am aware” Kat replied.

    “They are after all the marbles” Sterling said, “It’s just the last few decades have taught them a thing or three about how to play the game and while your Chancellor is reluctant to involve the German Army in foreign entanglements, they decided now is the time to act.”

    “Why aren’t you speaking with your own Government?” Kat asked.

    “That is the rub” Sterling replied, and Kat had a sinking feeling about where this was going.
    Part 142, Chapter 2566
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Six

    18th June 1976

    Montreal, Canada

    After so long, life had fallen into a routine that took a great deal to stray from. That was the lot of a pensioner as Sir Malcolm had discovered. Sure, Margot still had her ambitions, but Malcolm knew their horizons were getting smaller. Why else would one of the highlights of week would be watching gameshows on Friday nights? Events in the world were certainly happening with them passively observing. There in Montreal, the Olympic Summer Games were intended to be a showcase on the international stage while south of the border, the Yanks were already starting with the Bicentennial celebration that would start on the 4th of July and continue for most of the summer. There was a vast contradiction in that which was absolutely jarring. It made Malcolm consider a bit of escapism in watching people trying to ask the right questions after being given the answers to be exactly what they needed.

    As they watched, the contestant, a young man named Alfred who said that he was a student at Cal Poly lost badly in the final round. Even the host of the show, Art Fleming, seemed surprised that such a spectacular flameout had just occurred. Margot just watched with a satisfied look on her face, as if what happened had just confirmed something which she already knew. The game show ended, and the Evening News came on. The lead story was international news. The Greek Prime Minister giving a defiant message to the League of Nations, while his Italian counterpart was complaining about the Greeks causing trouble on Rhodes. Then the news story cut to the war that was raging between the Greeks and the Turks. Artillery strikes, machine gun fire, trenches, and barbed wire. It saddened Malcolm to see that while the airplanes and tanks were considerably more advanced, to him it looked the same as the bloody Arras Front from decades earlier.

    Mercifully, the next segment was local news stories. The latest in boring debates about city planning and highways. Then came the next segment. It had become popular to get “Man on the street” commentary, if for no other reason than for people to get the inadvertent comedy from the sort of things that the average man tended to believe right up until he made a complete fool of himself by repeating it. In this case, the reporter was interviewing a young woman who he had stopped, asking about the street closures and snarled traffic caused by the Olympic preparations. She might have been reasonably attractive if she could be bothered to put in the effort, which was why she had probably been picked in the first place. The thing was that she clearly couldn’t be bothered to put in much of that effort. Bleached blond hair with about an inch or so of dark roots showing and vacant brown eyes. She was also wearing a tight shirt that left her midriff exposed and baggy blue jeans which Malcolm knew were fashionable summer clothing these days which made him feel incredibly old. The young woman saw no need to stop chewing the gum in her mouth as she answered the reporter’s questions.

    “So, me and my friends were coming back from Longueuil, and we get stuck on the bridge, aye” The young woman said, “And I was telling my friend Henni that we never get stuck there in the middle of the day. And she said that…”

    “So, traffic is a problem for you” the reporter asked, interrupting her.

    “Well, duh” The young woman said, “Any hoser would know that.”

    “Have you considered using transit options?” The reporter asked.

    “Me and Henni were on the bus” The young woman said, “That count? Those get caught in traffic too you know.”

    “You didn’t mention that before” The reporter said, the frustration growing in his voice. The perils of live television Malcolm thought to himself, right before a thought about the young woman gelled in the back of his mind. He knew that she was a master of disguise, but to actually see it like this.

    “You didn’t ask, yeah” The young woman said, “As I was saying, my friend Henni said to me that…”

    The segment abruptly ended with it going back to the Evening News Anchorman. “Well, there you have it” He said awkwardly.

    “What is with children these days?” Margot asked, “When I was young I wouldn’t have been caught dead looking like that in public.”

    “I remember what you were like when you were young” Malcolm replied, “You were quite daring in those days.”

    Margot gave Malcolm a look with a half-smile as if she fondly remembered who she had been. Then that vanished as the present returned to the fore.

    “I had at least the pretense of decorum” Margot said, “That girl came across as having the brains of a cocktail napkin.”

    “I got the impression that it was an act” Malcolm replied. She would have needed to stay in character, whatever her motivations had been in playing that role.

    “You have always liked to think the best about people, despite having seen many of them at their worst” Margot said, “At least Marie is trying to be better than most of her peers. God knows that girl had the terrible example of her mother while growing up, it’s a miracle that she didn’t turn out like that.”

    This was one of those times when Malcolm held his tongue in the interest in domestic harmony. Still, he was going to have a few questions for his granddaughter the next time he saw her.
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    Part 142, Chapter 2567
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Seven

    20th June 1976

    Mitte, Berlin

    The cover for this meeting of the Principles of the Order of Louise was the sort of thing that most men would not be interested in. While the formal Summer meeting of the Order was coming up, Kat found that they had a great deal of business to discuss before then and quarterly meetings had become far more about the social aspect rather than the actual business.

    They also didn’t want there to be eavesdroppers even if that was mostly in the form of tabloid journalists these days. Occasionally the Order drew the attention of various intelligence agencies, both foreign and domestic. That was to the point where Kat had overseen sweeping the ballroom of the Charlottenburg Palace for listening devices. Of course, the BND and the BII had proven about as trustworthy as the American CIA or British Military Intelligence. So, finding someone to conduct the sweep had proven to be a challenge. Explaining this to Kris and Asia, both high ranking in the BND, had proven to be a bit of a challenge. They understood quite well the way which they were seen by their superiors, at the same time they were reluctant to admit that the focus of the BND wasn’t always where it actually needed to be.

    The house where Kat’s goddaughter lived was a safe enough place to hold today’s meeting though. Few would have known that the meeting was even taking place and would have simply accepted that they were here for the stated reason, visiting Zella’s infant daughter Irina.

    Despite Zella having made some extremely questionable choices over the last year, she seemed to be emerging from that. A couple months earlier when Zella had moved into the townhouse that her parents weren’t using, she had invited her paramour and his family to stay with her. Kat had found that to be another questionable choice when she had first heard about it. Seeing the dynamic between Zella and Yuliya, Yuri’s mother and his half-sisters had eased Kat’s concerns. Yuri’s stepfather seemed to be more concerned with how the move would affect his one-man plumbing business and they were still trying to figure out the logistics of that. His skills had already proved invaluable as they had worked to make the house livable after it had sat vacant for a considerable period of time. Their reaction to Suga’s arrival with her own daughters, Mirai and Alexandrine in tow today had been one of complete surprise. For Irina, she found herself the center of attention of her “Aunties.” All of whom were going to be taking a keen interest in what she would be doing in the coming years.

    Those were just the preliminaries, afterwards they spoke at length about the latest gossip in the Imperial Court. Finally, once Kat was certain that any unfriendly ears would be bored to tears by the conversation she brought up the real business of the Order today; what the Scotsman had told her and how they could use that information to their own ends. A major consideration was the piece of information that David Sterling had learned somehow. That the Greeks had a secret ace in the hole which would complicate anything anyone else tried to do. That was namely the HS Alexander Ypsilantis, formerly the SMS Goeben which the Greeks had managed to capture intact during the first round of their wars against the Turks. Kat’s son Malcolm had assisted her in confirming that the drydock that the Greeks had moved it to years ago was seeing a great deal of activity. No one thought for a second that old Battlecruiser was anything but completely obsolete, which was why no one had paid too much attention to it. Still, the fact that no one else had anything like her and used smartly, only had to get lucky once to decimate the Italian ships off Rhodes or the British and German ships off Cyprus.


    It was mid-morning Sunday before Sir Malcolm managed to get a chance to talk to Marie Alexandra about her little performance on the Evening News. The trouble was that this was after observing his granddaughter go to Church as Margot expected. He realized that what Marie was doing in front of her grandmother was exactly the same, a role she was playing, complete with a costume and carefully rehearsed behavior.

    “I thought I saw you on television on Friday evening” Malcolm said, “The Evening News, talking about getting stuck in traffic presumably on the Victoria Bridge.”

    Marie gave Malcolm a look with a vague smile as she was clearly formulating what she was going to tell him in reply.

    “Are you certain about that?” Marie asked. Careful to avoid lying to him.

    “It was clever how you changed your appearance, and I didn’t recognize you at first” Malcolm said, he had consulted with an expert he could trust who worked for the RCMP Special Branch about what Marie must have done. Her appearance wasn’t the extent of it though. She had the mannerisms, slang, and accent of a young woman from Montreal down perfectly. Malcolm’s hope was that she wouldn’t play games with him once she knew she had been caught in the act.

    “Oh” Marie said with a shrug.

    “Is that all?” Malcolm asked, “You’ve nothing else to say.”

    Marie gave him a look that suggested that he was intruding.

    “I don’t like who I am most of the time” Marie said, “Is that really so hard to understand?”

    That wasn’t what Malcolm was expecting to hear. That seemed to be a very strange reason for playing such a potentially dangerous game.
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    Part 142, Chapter 2468
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Eight

    9th July 1976

    Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport, Schönefeld

    There had been many times in which Sophie had traveled to compete in cycling events and this wasn’t the first time that she had flown to Canada. This was entirely different though. Next week, the Opening Ceremonies of the 1976 Summer Games were to take place in Montreal and Sophie was going to participate in them. It felt like all of Berlin was there to see her off as she walked into the airport from where Doug had dropped her, Kat, and Ziska off. Of course, Sophie knew that it wasn’t just about her. There were dozens of others in the National Team boarding the same flight. There were camera flashes going off and shouted questions at the various athletes.

    “I wish I could go with you” Ziska said, “This will be such an adventure.”

    Kat had a quizzical look on her face after she heard Ziska say that. “It’s going to be an even bigger circus when you arrive in Montreal”

    A few minutes later, Doug caught up with them and Sophie was surprised to see that he had been joined by Tatiana and Malcolm. The two of them were working towards advanced degrees at University. Tatiana in Anthropology and Malcolm in Computer Science. This was at the end of the University term, so they were probably extremely busy but had still taken the time to come here.

    “You have your tickets and passport? The money I gave you?” Kat asked as they walked though the maze of corridors and concourses that made up the International Airport. This wasn’t the first time that question had been asked. The last time had been in the back garden back in Tempelhof before they had even boarded the car to go to the airport. “Douglas’ parents are going to meet you at the airport in Montreal with Marie. This is going to be a long flight, so I’m sure all you will want to do is sleep.” This also wasn’t the first time that had been mentioned. Kat had heard about some of the things that tended to happen in the so-called “Olympic Village” where the athletes resided during the games. Keeping Sophie from having some sort of misadventure had prompted Kat to make other arrangements, which was probably a good idea despite Sophie being loath to say so herself. There was also Doug coming to Montreal in time for the Opening Ceremonies.

    Eventually, they came to the gate where Sophie could see the big Focke-Wulf “Graugans” airliner through the big bay windows and suddenly this seemed extremely real. With her suitcase having been checked, all she had was her old bookbag which had everything she would need on the flight and for when she landed in Montreal. Separate transport had been arranged for the bicycles that were going to Montreal, which Sophie wasn’t exactly thrilled with. She caught a bit of movement and saw that a team of mechanics was working on prepping the airplane for the long Transatlantic journey. The scale of the turbofan engines was instantly apparent when Sophie saw one of the mechanics walk by one, they were absolutely huge.

    After a round of hugs and well-wishing Sophie made it down the jetway and found her seat. To her profound annoyance, some genius in the airline had seated her in the middle seat between Nikolaus von Richthofen and Sabastian Schultz of all people.

    “We need to switch the seats around” Nikolaus said the instant they saw Sophie, “Unless you fancy the idea of Bas climbing over you if he needs to get up.”

    It was impossible to argue with Nikolaus’ logic. Still, the idea of sharing a confined space with someone as big as Sabastian was not one Sophie liked. At least she got the window seat out of the deal.

    Like on every other flight that Sophie had ever been on, there was a safety lecture before the doors were closed and the plane pulled away from the gate.

    “What do you know about the Blackwoods?” Nikolaus asked as the plane taxied towards the runway.

    “What about them?” Sophie asked in reply and saw that Sabastian was just as interested in that question.

    “My grandfather was a guest of Sir Malcolm Blackwood when he visited Canada years ago” Nicolaus said, “Apparently Bas and I are staying in the guest rooms at his house.”

    Sophie remembered how she had taken great pains to avoid Sir Malcolm’s wife because Margot Blackwood was among those in the British Empire who hated all things German because of the First World War. Nikolaus was the Prince of Breslau, a member of the House of Richthofen, and the eventual heir to the throne of Silesia. It would be nearly impossible to be more German than that. Fortunately for him, Nikolaus seemed to have not inherited Manfred von Richthofen’s nose.

    “You might want to play up how you are a Prince” Sophie said, “That might keep Frau Blackwood somewhat agreeable… And Sabastian should probably keep his mouth shut.”

    “That last part is generally a good idea regardless” Nikolaus said.

    “You two are a laugh riot” Sabastian grumbled right before the plane’s engines roared as they were brough up to full power making further conversation impossible. As the plane accelerated down the runway, Sophie tried to figure out how the sudden changes in her circumstances changed things. The answer was probably, not really. She had known Nikolaus and Sabastian since she was eight and knew that if nothing else, they would draw the inevitable disapproval of Margot Blackwood away from her.
    Part 142, Chapter 2569
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Nine

    10th July 1976

    Montreal, Canada

    It wasn’t until Margot actually met Nikolaus and Sabastian that she realized that Douglas had put one over on her. He had told her that it would be wonderful if she played hostess to a trio of young people from prominent families in danger of making some extremely poor life decisions. That had played on her desire to be morally superior, but the icing on the cake was the two young men were a Prince and the son of a Marquis whose families would be very appreciative, which certainly played on Margot’s ego. Sir Malcolm knew the truth was that two of them were recent graduates from the Wahlstatt Institute, an elite prep-school in Silesia and were starting University in Breslau next autumn. The girl, Sophie, had actually visited their house a couple of times in the past, but Margot had hardly noticed her. With them among the youngest of the athletes representing Germany, Katherine had been understandably concerned and had made arrangements that the made things considerably simpler in that chaperones would not be needed for the nearly impossible task of keeping teenagers out of trouble. Sophie being essentially Marie’s little sister. While Nikolaus was Marie’s cousin by blood, he said that he considered Sabastian his brother in every way that mattered. That basically made Malcolm and Margot family to all of them which would certainly make things easier.

    Still, Nikolaus and Sabastian showing up at the airport wearing the uniforms of the Wahlstatt Institute, which coincidentally looked almost exactly like those worn by Germany in the First World War, must have been a shock to Margot’s system. The next shock was that Sabastian spoke English that to Malcolm’s ears had little to no accent. He said that it was because his mother was from Washington State. Malcolm got the impression that Sophie Sommers was fairly typical of the girls that Katherine took into her care, equal parts fragile and ruthless, which was evident in how she had made it as far as she had in the world of competitive Cycling. Factoring all that in, Malcolm’s conclusion was that he would need to have a long talk with Douglas when he and Katherine arrived next week, and to keep Margot from disowning their son in the meantime.

    Presently, Malcolm was listening to the four of them in the kitchen sitting around the table talking with each other, getting caught up, laughing, and joking while enjoying a late dinner. As much as it pained Malcolm to admit it, Marie looked happier than he had seen her in months. He wondered how they were able to have this conversation after having spent the whole day before in the air. He knew that he would want nothing more than to sleep for a week if he were in their place. They also had news which Marie had not heard. That their older cousin, Manfred the Younger and his wife were expecting. That was an extremely interesting bit of news.

    State Route 11, Yukon River crossing, Rural Alaska

    This operation had turned out to be everything that First Sergeant Mullens had been threatening them with for months. Mario’s entire Battalion had been parachuted into a remote part of the Alaskan interior just south of the Brooks Range and ordered to walk back to walk back to Fort Wainwright outside Fairbanks.

    They should have known something was out of the ordinary was up when they had been issued with old Garand derived M-9 rifles in the place of the Stoner M-10 Rifles they had trained with. The next day as they had been boarding the old C-47 Dakota Transport planes, word had gotten around that the 6mm cartridge that the Stoner fired would only serve to anger the wildlife that lived in the region. Mario had learned in a hurry that he missed the light weight of the Stoner. The M-9 was a big chunk of wood & steel and was anything but light. M-9 also kicked like a mule as Mario had discovered when he had practiced shooting his rifle. Then he had seen the size of the pawprints of the bear which had crossed the trail ahead of them and he wondered if even the .30-06 was enough to do the job if he really got into trouble out in the boonies of Alaska.

    That set the tone for the rest of the long walk back to Wainwright. It seemed like everything they encountered would either try to eat them or attack them. As if to add insult to injury, helicopters from Wainwright had arrived, disgorging men who collected the parachutes and wished them luck before they had flown off to the south. The offer had been made to go with them, but if you did you would no longer be welcome in the 11th Airborne. Later as he joined the others on the long slog south and east, Mario had been annoyed with himself. There he was being offered an easy way out, yet he had not taken it.

    Days later. Or at least Mario assumed that it had been days because the sun never seemed to completely set here this time of the year, Mario saw that he was on the approach to a bridge that crossed an impossibly wide river. There was a pickup truck coming the other way and Mario saw the faces of an Alaskan Native family staring at the hundreds of Soldiers who were walking down the road.
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    Part 142, Chapter 2570
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Seventy

    12th July 1976


    The oversized envelope containing legal documents arrived presumably from the lawyers representing Gudrun Himmler addressed to Nan. This was shortly after the family had made the move to the Summer Residence. Things were already unsettled and showed little sign of improving in the coming days, so the letter was not a welcome development.

    Nan looked through the documents trying to make sense of them. Of all the things that Gudrun might have done, this was not something that Nan had expected. She was claiming that Annett Pfenning was not only not her half-sister, but no relation of hers at all. The most troubling part was that the explanation was all too plausible. That apparently Heinrich Himmler had not considered himself good breeding stock for his own twisted experiments over what he had deemed personal failures and poor attributes. Gudrun said that he had resorted other means and for Nan that raised a lot of questions that could never be answered. There was also no way to know if Gudrun was even telling the truth. And was she even aware what she was basically saying about herself? It hardly mattered because this changed nothing about Gudrun’s situation beyond the demand that Nan not be allowed to bother her in the future.

    “Give this woman exactly what she says she wants” Charlotte said after she looked through the documents. “She has all the time in the world to scheme about how to needle you, make you come to her with the questions this raises when it doesn’t matter because she has no intention of answering them. I think you should use her own words to forever separate yourself from her and her monstrous father.”

    Nan looked back at the papers in her hands. This went straight to everything that she had always assumed about herself. Since she had come to live with her adopted family, Charlotte had never hurt her, lied, or played her false. That had been almost all there was in her life prior to that.

    “But, what about the truth?” Nan asked.

    Charlotte smiled. “I am not saying that you should not continue to search for that” She said, “As much as I hate to use the word opportunity in this case, that is what this is. You’ve everything to gain and nothing to lose. This will make it so that whatever you do with your life, that woman will have no claim over you.”

    Constanța, Romania

    With the Greeks busy consolidating their gains on Anatolia and saber rattling at the Italians on Rhoads, Louis Ferdinand Junior had decided to take a few days to visit Margareta in Bucharest. That did come with a few strings attached though. Namely having to go to Constanta in his professional capacity to look over the newest ship in the Romanian Black Sea Fleet with his prospective father-in-law. The Romanian Navy also had a sizable Riverine Force that Louis had seen part of on the Danube and in the harbor at Constanta, but that wasn’t the focus of today.

    The Cruiser, with the totally unbelievable name, was brand new having only been commissioned a matter of weeks earlier. The NMS Vlad Dracula, which Louis had thought was a joke at first. The truth was that the ship really had been named for the actual Vlad III, despite being a cruel murderous psychopath, he was considered a national hero by the Romanians. That Irishman whose research consisted of little more than reading travel guides and Universal Pictures could get stuffed as far as the Romanians were concerned. Despite that the crew had painted a stylized representation of a bat on the side of the superstructure much to the annoyance of Michael, King of Romania, who Louis was on the tour of the ship with.

    Louis could see what was being implied about what the expectations for this class of two Cruisers that the Romanians had, were being named for the great heroes. The NMS Stefan cel Mare, named for Stefan III of Moldovia, was moored beside the Vlad Dracula. Louis could see that the Stefan was not entirely fitted out, with a great deal of work still needing to be done. From what Louis had seen of the Vlad Dracula, it was of a conventional design of mostly local construction with the geared steam turbine propulsion. The subsystems and weapons were mostly off the shelf with equipment nearly identical to that which was used by the SMS Grindwal. Louis quickly recognized names like Rheinmetall, Krupp, and Zuse AG.

    If it wasn’t incredibly obvious, countering the Russian Black Sea Fleet was the entire reason for the existence of the two ships. That was reflected in their design from the keel up. The Vlad Dracula had two of the 12.8-centimeter dual purpose autocannons identical to the one that was so effective on the Grindwal fore and aft. That suggested what the expected targets were. There was also what had come to be expected in the form of missile launchers and an extensive anti-aircraft battery.

    That brought the thorny situation on the Black Sea to the forefront of Louis’ thinking. You had the territorial aspirations of the Greeks with the backing of the Russians on one hand, the anxiety felt by the neighboring countries on the other about being stuck between two expansionist powers. There was an informal alliance between Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Georgia to act as a counter, but Louis was a bit concerned about the implications of that. You only needed a glance at a history book to understand the problems that interlocking alliances could create, particularly in the Balkans.
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    Part 142, Chapter 2571
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Seventy-One

    17th July 1976

    Montreal, Canada

    Marie was stewing in her seat as she watched athletes parade past to the sound of music as she replayed the conversation with Suga in her mind. She had been warned that there would be moments when reality hit her over the head, this was one of those moments. She really wished she had been able to nail down her plans for going home over the Summer Holiday before the Olympics started as opposed to being busy doing other things until it was too late. As it was, she was unlikely to go home this summer and would have to wait until Christmas.

    For years, Marie had considered her mother’s attitude about sex and pregnancy to be a bit much. Then she saw what happened when Henriette met Sabastian Schultz and was instantly wishing she had a couple buckets of ice water on hand. Seriously, had Henni’s brain completely turned off or something? Didn’t she realize that Bas was nothing but trouble? Or was it because of that? Marie was telling all of this to Suga and Birdie who had arrived a couple days earlier and they found that amusing as they watched the Opening Ceremonies from the VIP box in the stadium’s grandstands. While Freddy had sent his regrets that he wouldn’t be in attendance, his younger brother Michael had agreed to come in his place. As if there was anywhere else on the planet that Michael would be having been a booster of the International Olympic Movement for decades. Presently, Michael was explaining to three-year-old Philipp what was going on as the torch-lighting took place. Birdie’s contribution to the gossip was that she was pregnant again. From the way she watched her husband and son as they watched the proceedings, it was easy to see how that had happened. While a Gaucho wasn’t available, the Canadians had found an actual Cowboy from Alberta much to Michael’s delight. He was a man in his 40’s who looked like he had spent every moment of it outdoors as he rode his horse into the stadium at the front of the parade followed by a marching band playing the Canadian National Anthem. It was funny the sort of things that became traditions.

    “What sort of woman is this Henriette Lane?” Suga had asked.

    Marie had explained at length how Henni was warm, smart, and how her family had opened their door to Marie when Margot got to be too much. Suga had just smiled and said that Marie was not going to lose her friend. Marie had not mentioned the most shocking part, Alice, and how Henni being a single mother had not been a deal breaker for Bas. That was at odds with what she had always thought of him. When Marie had asked Henni about what was going on, she said that nothing was and that she needed to lighten up.


    “Track and Field for fuck’s sake Bas” Niko said as the finished their march to the area where the athletes who were going to compete in the games to watch the Opening Ceremonies after they had finished their part in them. “That is why you are here, what you worked so hard for, remember?”

    “Yeah, and?” Bas asked. And Niko really wanted to deck him at that moment.

    While Niko was regarded as something of a place holder, someone who would competing in the Pentathlon to round out the team. His last name and being an actual Prince made it so that he also drew some media attention to a sporting event that was normally outside the main focus. It was different with Bas though. He was expected to do well in the Decathlon and show himself as a rising star. The trouble was that a few days earlier, he had met a girl and it seemed like all of his focus went right out the window.

    The American who was supposed to be Bas’ greatest competition smiled and waved as he walked past. “Something is off about that guy” Niko said. In the past, Bas might have snickered and given his own opinion. There had been rumors floating around about the Russian team in particular with the Americans in second place and some disqualifications had already been handed down. Niko was certain that normally Bas would have an opinion or three about matters like these, but today he just shrugged. Niko couldn’t help but notice that Bas was getting the evil eye from the Coach which mean that Bas was going to get yelled at if this didn’t change in a hurry. The trouble was that was exactly the wrong thing to do because Bas would just dig his heels in. Niko knew from experience that sometimes you needed to let the horse have its own head.

    “Think Henriette would be impressed by a medal?” Niko asked.

    “I don’t know” Bas replied.

    “Not all girls are like that, but my understanding is that they like seeing guys win” Niko said, “Especially when they win big.”

    Niko had no idea if that was true or not, despite everything he had been through over the last few years he was absolutely clueless when it came to women. Seeing Bas take a bit more interest in what they were doing certainly made him hope that he had got it right.
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    Part 142, Chapter 2572
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Seventy-Two

    21st July 1976

    Montreal, Canada

    The first few days of the Olympics were marred by further disqualifications. A Coach from the German teams had been caught dumping syringes and bottles containing residue of proscribed drugs into the Saint Lawrence River and anyone remotely connected to that man had gotten scrutinized twice over with a few of the members of the Track & Field team getting axed. Fortunately, Sabastian had not been a part of that circle, but it showed just how seriously they were taking doping this year. Sophie recalled some of the tests that she had been subjected to in the weeks leading up to the games and knew that nothing was considered outside the realm of possibility. Then one of the Russian competitors in the Modern Pentathlon, of all things, had been caught with a modified foil that would electronically record a touch if it merely got near an opponent. Suddenly, there was a whole lot more riding on those who were not seen as tainted by the various revelations. Or if Sophie was being particularly cynical, those who had not gotten caught yet.

    This was the first year that they were holding Women’s Individual Road Cycling as an Event and there wasn’t much interest until the press caught wind of the events that had occurred during training between Sophie and her old rival Connie. It was just cutting comments and not subtle put downs, but this was exactly what they had been looking for. An honest to God rivalry between the best of their respective countries, that it was between a German and an American, so much the better. Then they found out about Sophie’s biography and that was just rocket fuel. That Sophie was from Reinickendorf which someone had told the American press was mostly housing estates, which were called projects in the United States. Sophie had tried to issue a statement correcting this by pointing out that she had lived there before the old decaying apartment tenements had been torn down to build the housing estates. That had not helped matters any and that stood in stark contrast to Connie, whose seemingly idyllic childhood in a Wisconsin suburb could not have been more different. While the American press had just shrugged at this news, the rest of the world had put in print that Sophie was a tough competitor who had fought hard to get where she was. That basically implied that the opposite was true with Connie.

    What all of that meant was that by the time the race on the hilly Montreal Bicycling circuit was about to start that morning, Connie looked at Sophie with pure loathing. Looking over at the gathered crowd near the start/finish line, Sophie saw that her most of her adopted family, Kat, Doug, Jo, Tat, Kol, and Marie were watching. Doug was pointing a camera at her, making the most of his press credentials. Aunt Marcella’s poor health meant that she had not been able to travel but had sent a letter with Kat telling Sophie that she was really looking forward to watching her on television.

    Then suddenly, the race began, and Sophie knew that it was everything that she had worked for over the last few years. Still she understood the strategy as she took her place in the middle of the pack as started what would be the first of several laps around the circuit. The start of the race was going downhill but after the first turn it became the arduous climb up Mont-Royal in the center of Montreal, Sophie had been told that she would need to be patient and conserve her strength for the final lap. The result was that the initial race wasn’t that exciting as it slowed to go up the hill. It was a twisty road with a cemetery on one side and a park on the other. Sophie ignored the various methods used to follow the race, including the helicopter overhead as she reached the top of climb and shifted gears to speed up going down what was called Remembrance Way, then was the next climb after a sharp right-hand turn, then several turns before the fast run east through the campus of the University of Montreal. To Sophie’s surprise the course was lined with students from the University many of whom were cheering her on specifically. Then the next climb was though a neighborhood full of stately homes as they went over a different part of Mont-Royal. It was then that the course went back to the wide avenue where the race turned around near the start/finish line.

    Sophie lost track of time as she rode the first couple of laps, then she completed the circuit again and noticed that there was growing excitement. A glance at the clock revealed that she had made it to the final lap of the race. This had been the part that she had been saving her strength for as she peddled hard up the climb up Mont-Royal to break out of the pack. She wasn’t the only one though, a few others were breaking away including Connie. They crested the hill and descended in the highest gear before making that hard turn towards the university. Sophie realized that she was completely disregarding safety as she ran through the course. Getting ahead and staying there was all that was important.

    As Sophie made the final descent on Avenue de Mont-Royal, it had become a real battle for first as she, Connie, and a pair of other riders who she didn’t know were racing only a few centimeters apart. They were French and British according to colors of their jerseys. As they made the final turn onto the final avenue Sophie pushed herself harder knowing in the back of her mind that there would be a price to pay for this later. The others kept pace as they made the fast turnaround on the avenue to approach the finish line. It was then that something happened which would be examined again and again in the coming years. Connie collided with Sophie. A photograph would reveal that the front wheel of Connie’s bicycle basically folded in half as she lost control and went down hard just a few meters from the finish line. Sophie only heard the clatter as she crossed the line while struggling to keep upright. There was cheering as Sophie skidded to a stop as the French and British riders crossed the line.

    Looking back, Sophie saw what had happened to Connie who was getting to her feet. One of her knees was badly scraped and the way she was holding her arm suggested a potentially serious injury, her bicycle was not going another centimeter. It was the despondent look on her face that stuck with Sophie. She had wanted to win, but not like this.
    Part 143, Chapter 2573
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Seventy-Three

    22nd July 1976

    Montreal, Canada

    Sophie had gotten a gold medal yesterday which made Niko happy, he knew that if anyone deserved that honor it was her. That had come as his chances of getting any medals at all had grown further out of reach. He was going against older, stronger athletes who had more experience in the cross disciplines required for Modern Pentathlon. It wasn’t that he was doing badly in the events, it was that there were others who were simply better than him. That had grown apparent during the Equestrian of the first day when Niko had made what he had thought was an extremely good run in the Cross-Country Riding event only to come in third place.

    Niko had had a brief bit of hope on the second day when Boris Onishchenko had been disqualified when he had been caught cheating, then found himself facing a British Soldier with two decades of experience on him in Fencing. He had made Niko look like a rank amateur and had made short work of him. While Niko had done much better in the other matches knew that he would need to place far higher than he had in Fencing to overcome the Swimming event, which was his weakest event on the fourth day. To his amazement, Niko had beaten the entire field on the third day at the Shooting event. It was tradition to use the Service Pistol of the host nation and the Canadian Army used a licensed version of the Walther P66 much like the one that Niko had trained with and carried throughout his time in Argentina.

    The Fourth day hadn’t been as bad as Niko had feared it would be. He had come in second on the Three Kilometer Cross Country Run on the Fifth and final day of the Pentathlon and when the points had been tallied. In the end he came in fourth place overall with the German team barely edging out Sweden for the same fourth place finish. The worst part was that he had been doing it in front of his family and Bas’ who had flown in just to watch him compete. Niko had known that he had been facing long odds from the start, that didn’t mean that he liked to have such an outcome though. He was also at loose ends for until the Decathlon started the next Thursday, and he could watch Bas hopefully do better than he had. Perhaps he could go join Marie who had been dragooned into playing babysitter for a teenaged gymnast based on her language skills despite Romanian being a language that Marie didn’t actually know…

    “Well, the man of the hour” Niko heard his grandfather say with a smile. It wasn’t just his grandfather, but his father, and Bas’ father as well. As if to add the exclamation point, Niko’s little sister Ingrid was peaking out from behind his father. He had no idea when he had picked up the habit, but Niko found himself snapping to attention whenever he was in their presence. An Admiral and two Field Marshals was at least a metric ton of brass.

    “Hardly” Niko said, “You can’t hear that?”

    God Save the Queen was playing as Jeremy “Jim” Fox, the same British Soldier who had beaten Niko so soundly in Fencing received a gold medal. The response by Niko’s grandfather was to laugh.

    “He reacted exactly as you said he would Opa” Mathilda, who he had noticed until she spoke said.

    “My God Niko” His father said, “You came in fourth at this level at the age of eighteen, give yourself a bit of credit.”

    “He just hates to lose” Opa said, “I would expect nothing less.”

    “Four years isn’t a long time as these things go and I’d wager that you’ll do better in Moscow” Tilo said. He and Aunt Nancy had arrived in Montreal with Bas’ sisters and had gotten a bit more than they were expecting. It had only been a few minutes before they had learned about Henni because Bas, that idiot, had told them. According to Gretchen, they were uncertain about how exactly to react to such a completely unexpected circumstance. There was also what Tilo had just said about Moscow. That was a real possibility, wasn’t it.


    It was hard not to feel sorry for herself. Connie had left Berkley where she had been attending the University of California for Montreal with high hopes. Now only days later she was going back with her arm in a cast after having blown the race inches from the finish. She remembered what had happened in vivid detail, her trying to lunge past Sophie Sommers at the last possible second. Sophie been so focused on crossing the line that she had hardly noticed the collision while Connie had the handlebars wrenched around in her hands and the light-weight front wheel of her bicycle had collapsed as force had come from a direction it had not been built to take. Next she thing knew was the feeling of her body hitting the pavement and the sickening sound of bone snapping. Even if by some miracle she had been able to get back on her bike and cross the line it had already been too late as the pack of riders was crossing at that point. She had gone from being one of the leaders to dead last in an instant.

    Finally, there was the photograph.

    The newspapers had played up how it had been an exciting race with an unexpectedly close finish. The photograph that had run with that was of Sophie Sommers looking back after she had realized what had happened. Connie might have expected the look of smug superiority that Sophie always seemed to have at the end of a race. Instead, she looked dismayed and concerned . Connie had not noticed that at the time and Sophie had vanished into a crowd of her supporters seconds later.
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    Part 143, Chapter 2574
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Seventy-Four

    25th July 1976

    Montreal, Canada

    It was a party celebrating Sophie’s win and bidding Niko a better next time and the house was crowded. It being a Sunday, Sabastian had been given the opportunity to get a bit of rest after the relentless training schedule that he had been subjected to.

    There was an incredible amount of irony in what had happened to Margot over the last several days. She wanted to be the center of attention, able to throw her weight around and be well regarded even if it was in a relatively small place like Montreal. And she had gotten exactly that. However, in process she had her home invaded and occupied by those she had long regarded as enemies. First there was the good press Margot had gotten for opening her house to three young athletes to help keep them out of trouble after the rumors regarding some of the things that had happened in the Olympic Village in Munich four years earlier. But it was after that when things had gone sideways.

    Margot had been subtly pushing Marie Alexandra to introduce her to Queen Elizabeth of the British Empire because of what that audience would do for her social standing. All while not knowing that she had been the subject of gossip between Elizabeth, Suga, and Marie’s mother for years. It seemed that because of that Elizabeth wanted nothing to do with Margot even while the rest of the world had beaten a path to her door. Even if this was largely because of the presence of her Marie. This was because Marie had been tasked with minding Sophie and Nadia Comaneci, both of whom had suddenly become international celebrities because of their performance in their respective Olympic events. Perhaps Margot could have handled Michael of Bohemia and his wife Alberta showing up, but the German Kaiserin and the families of Nikolaus and Sabastian had proven to be a bit too much and not just because Suga was Japanese.

    Nikolaus’ grandfather just happened to be one of the most recognizable men in the world and was well known to be an unapologetic Nationalist. Sabastian’s father was the highest-ranking member of the German Marines as well as part of the Naval High Command in Kiel. There was that wild girl who was the ward of the Richthofen family. Mathilda Auer’s unabashed perspective on the world and beliefs which she claimed were those of Pre-Christian Germany, which was debatable, but it violently clashed with Margot’s more Catholic than the Pope stance on such matters. Finally there were Anna and Gretchen, Sabastian’s younger sisters who seemed to have inherited the Schultz family’s tendency towards being the nexus of complete chaos and Margot had made herself a common enemy by suggesting that neither of them were “Good girls” within their hearing and Marie knew instantly that was a huge mistake. Aunt Nancy was keeping tight rein on her daughters, but Marie knew that they were just waiting for a chance to make Margot eat her words.

    Margot looked like she was about to have a nervous breakdown as Michael took over the parlor to hold an impromptu presentation ceremony to take the chance to award Niko, Bas, and Sophie among others the German Sports Badge in his brother’s place. It awarding those was something that Michael had done at every Olympics to not just members of the German team, but anyone else who wanted one as well. The German Sports Federation still needed to approve the awarding, but Michael could take care of that with a phone call. It was felt that just getting to the Summer Games was enough to get them the award in Gold.

    Marie watched this with detached amusement as everyone had gone into the formal dining room for luncheon that had been planned for that day. Her grandmother had gotten more or less what she had wanted out of the Montreal Olympics and was completely miserable as a result. Marie figured that there was a lesson she should be learning from this. Seeing how her mother seemed to be enjoying how Margot’s focus was elsewhere, Marie figured that was who she would probably need to ask and hopefully as far from her grandmother’s ears as possible.


    Something about the interaction between Sabastian’s father and Henriette’s own was, to use that right word, strange. It was like if they had known each other, if only by reputation, for a long time. She had suspected for years that her father was far more than just an Insurance Salesman. Sabastian’s father was in the German Navy’s Marines but was known for being far more than that. A published author who had written several books about Buddhism, Moral Philosophy, and his own adventures in the Far East, Dietrich “Tilo” Schultz was a figure who got your attention.

    It had been when Henriette had gone looking for her father for her mother when she had heard the men talking on the back porch smoking cigars and had overheard the words “Jay Tee Two” used followed by laughter. Despite not knowing the context, something about the way Tilo said them suggested that was something which she was not supposed to know. Beyond Sir Malcolm and Tilo Schultz, there was also Niko’s father and grandfather were also present. Bert Lane seemed perfectly comfortable in this circle.

    “Yes, Henni?” Henriette’s father asked when he saw her.

    “Mom told me to tell you that they are serving cake” Henriette said, “And every one of you too I guess.”

    “Thank you” Bert said, “Tell your mother I’ll be along.”

    There was something about her father as he spoke to her… Like if there was a side to him she didn’t know.

    Pushing that out of her mind, she retreated back to the kitchen and the comfortable familiar.
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    Part 143, Chapter 2575
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Seventy-Five

    2nd August 1976

    Montreal, Canada

    It was like the party had ended and the guests were having trouble getting out the door even as the cleanup had begun when the Olympics ended on the first of August. The whole world had come to Montreal and now, getting a flight out of the city was a matter of waiting your turn. That meant that they were waiting a few days until the flight they had booked to take them home left. Not that Bas objected too much to spending an extra few days in Canada if going to see a movie with Henriette was something he got to do in the meantime. Things had gotten better at the Blackwood house since Mrs. Blackwood had locked herself in her bedroom and had only allowed her husband and housekeeper to speak with her. Marie, who actually lived there, said that this was probably the best outcome for everyone. Bas figured he would never understand the dynamic of that household.

    Bas considered everything else that had happened over the past couple weeks as he walked down a pleasant tree-shaded suburban street. It was a summer weekday so other than the sound of children playing in the nearby park, distant traffic, and the buzzing of insects it was quiet. To Bas it should hardly be a surprise that it had turned out that Niko was incorrect about a few things. His mother had told him many times you love people because they are imperfect, not in spite of that and Niko was not perfect. It had turned out that Henriette wasn’t impressed by the Silver Medal that Bas had gotten, not in the least. He also didn’t understand Niko’s problem with Bruce Jenner. Sure, it had turned out that the American had beaten out Bas on points, but it was the same as what had happened to Niko, Bas was simply going against someone who did better than him that day. Hardly something to get sore over. Niko had basically implied just what he thought about Jenner a few times until Bas had told him to drop it already. While he liked his best friend’s loyalty, it wasn’t helpful.

    The was also the weird sort of reaction that had happened when word got out that despite Sophie having brought a half-dozen bicycles to the Olympics, the one she had ridden to win a Gold Medal was generic, the frame bought from a wholesaler back in Berlin, Sophie suspected that it was originally been made by Brennabor but wasn’t really sure and comprised of parts from many of different sources with her using whatever was on hand that worked. Her other bicycles were of similar provenance. Bas understood that the bicycle manufacturers were hoping that they would find their name attached to her ride and had been sorely disappointed. Strangely, the answer was both yes and no. With frames by Diamant, Brennabor, or Rose, along with parts made mostly in Germany, Italy, or Japan.

    Knocking on the door of the Lane house, Bas saw that the housekeeper seemed happy as she let him in. The house had an open floorplan where the kitchen and parlor, living room here Bas corrected himself, were one big room with a vaulted ceiling. The formal dining room was beyond, but only separated by a set of French doors. To Bas’ right was Robert Lane’s home office and Bas could feel Bert’s eyes on him as he stood there awkwardly.

    On Bert’s desk was an open folder with a pile of photographs, the one on top was of what looked like a dozen rangy looking men lying face down on a road somewhere with their hands cuffed behind their backs. Bert himself was signing several official looking forms before he looked up and saw Bas. Closing the folder and putting into a drawer of his desk, Bas heard Bert look the drawer before getting up. That was in keeping with something that his father had warned him about; that Robert Lane was not what he seemed and not underestimate him for a second.

    “Pleased to see you again Sabastian” Bert said mildly as he shook Bas’ hand. “Henni told me to tell you that she is going to be down in a bit. That gives us a moment to talk.”

    There was a story that Manny had told Niko and Bas about how Suse Rosa’s father had threatened to drive Panzers over him if he took advantage of his daughter. General von Knispel could make that happen too and no one would say word about it afterwards. Bas really didn’t want this to be one of those moments. Glancing up at the framed medals from Bert’s career in the Canadian Army, Bas could see that he had received most of the medals for bravery and service available to an Officer in the British Commonwealth as well as several from Allied countries. That was including the highly recognizable Knights Cross of the Iron Cross which was often given to Foreign Officers and Enlisted Ranks in the place of Royal House Orders because it sidestepped the issues of Social Class and Politics. There were campaign medals from the Soviet War, South Africa, Mexico, and Korea too. Henriette’s understanding was that he was retired and currently sold insurance. Those Medals and Orders told a different story. Someone like that never really retired, much less worked a pedestrian job in an office somewhere.

    “My mother told me that that I should give Henriette the upmost respect” Bas replied. His mother had actually told him that because Henriette was a single mother, she would do what was best for Alice and Bas would have to respect that or else he would be given cause to instantly regret it.

    “Good advice” Bert said, “You would be wise to remember it.”
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