Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 145, Chapter 2616
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Sixteen

    20th April 1977

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Tatiana looked around the courtyard garden of apartment building that her Great Aunt had lived in for the last several years. It had been the intention from the start that the tenets of this building would be elderly and that was reflected in every aspect of the place. It allowed them to maintain a level of independence while still receiving as much assistance as they needed. That That included sitting in the small common garden on a sunny spring afternoon. Aunt Marcella had insisted that they bring lunch downstairs because it was too nice a day to spend indoors. Tatiana couldn’t help but notice the looks of approval that she received from the other residents as they walked past. Getting grandchildren, or in Tatiana’s case a grandniece, to visit of their own accord was apparently difficult.

    “I saw your mother in the paper” Aunt Marcella said, “She was at the royal wedding in Bucharest.”

    “I know” Tatiana replied, not wanting to talk about her mother.

    “The bride and groom were a handsome couple” Marcella said, “I think that Louis Junior really favors his father, so he will probably need to keep a close eye on his hairline.”

    Tatiana personally found all the male members of the German Royal family to be all cut from the same cloth; tall, lanky, and somewhat awkward in appearance and manner. Still, there were laudable aspects. Louis Ferdinand Senior had retired and had become a patron of the arts. He had also spent a great deal of time involved in the establishment of Médecins Sans Frontières.

    “Speaking of hair, have you thought about growing yours back out?” Marcella asked, “Before you had cut it so short you really were quite lovely, this on the other hand makes you look severe.”

    It was an old conversation that Tatiana wasn’t interesting in having again. It was a practical consideration, caring for long hair while traveling was difficult. Aunt Marcella was clearly of a different opinion, she saw it as one more thing that Tatiana had done to spite her mother. Considering all the other things that she had done over the last few years for exactly that reason it wasn’t hard to see why. So many of those things seemed rather stupid in retrospect and that was an annoyance. While Tatiana knew she wasn’t stupid, the evidence to the contrary that was piling up was sort of hard to ignore.

    “I find it easier to take care of” Tatiana replied, “Especially if I am somewhere where I cannot wash for a few days.”

    Marcella smiled at that.

    “Your brother told me about the job offer you received” Marcella said, “Working for the Foreign Service will make it so that you will get paid for your adventures.”

    “I guess” Tatiana said. Aunt Marcella had no way of knowing about the conversation that she’d had with Asia a few months earlier. That her use to the BND was at an end now that the American FBI was on to her. Despite the protestations of the U.S. Government about the Rule of Law, terrible things happened to the BND’s people if they were caught. The job offer from the AA was a consolation prize, for taking minor risks that involved spending a summer working as a waitress in Boston and the Speaker of the House of Representatives inability to keep his hands to himself. It was hard not to feel as if someone was playing an elaborate prank on her.

    Montreal, Canada

    There were times when Henriette was confounded by the wild contradictions that Marie represented. This was one of those times. On one hand she was incredibly shy around people, on the other, when Marie felt compelled to say something it was as if it was something that she had been thinking about for months. It was always a surprise when that happened.

    The Montreal Ladies Athletic Club had been enjoying a renaissance with the Olympic Games last summer and how the Club had been discovered by University students over the last couple years. The days when Henriette and Marie were the youngest ones present, if they didn’t have the place all to themselves were long gone. With the increased membership, Ms. Strike the Club’s founder and owner, was using this as an opportunity to refurbish the existing facilities and expand into additional space in an adjoining building. Strangely, she had asked for Marie and Henriette’s input towards her plans, and most surprising of all Marie had a number of ideas.

    Sure, there was the traditional gymnasium facility and swimming pool, but there were other, more modern machines, yes, machines, and exercise routines that had grown in popularity in recent years. Now that the Club was attracting younger members there were those with small children, Henriette for example. What could be done to accommodate them?

    That last part was something that Henriette would never have thought to ask, or probably had the courage to do either. It was the next turn that the conversation took that really surprised Henriette as Marie and Ms. Strike talked about cultural differences between Canada and Germany. Some of the things that Marie didn’t have a problem with, and apparently had regularly done, would have left Henriette completely mortified. Then came the understanding that the reverse was certainly true as well. She had seen Marie’s reaction towards tiger’s tail ice cream, but that didn’t really seem like a fair comparison.
    Part 145, Chapter 2617
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Seventeen

    1st May 1977

    Richthofen Estate, Rural Silesia

    “Momma told me to stay away from Zwei” Ingrid said as she looked into the stables through the bay doors, a fair distance away, as Niko was using the stiff brush on the horse’s side. Attending University in Breslau meant that he was back living at home, his seven-year-old little sister was a part of that.

    Zwei was had been bred for endurance and the ability to survive rigors of life of a Cavalry mount. A mild temper and easy nature were not necessarily a part of that. There had been complaints about how Zwei would not hesitate to kick or bite if he was agitated. He had been a good horse to have across the thousands of kilometers they had traveled together in Argentina and Niko had gotten to know Zwei extremely well during that time. That was why Niko was willing to cut him a lot of slack. He couldn’t help but noticing that the head groom and stable hands seemed relieved when he was on hand to care for Zwei himself though. Having Ingrid keeping her distance from the horse was probably better for both of them.

    Completely unaware of any of this, Zwei was proving that when all was said and done he was a horse like any other as he was leaning into the brush. No matter how the horse behaved towards others, he knew Niko and was inclined to cooperate. Especially if it got him a good brushing like this.

    “The two of us have an understanding” Niko replied as his put the stiff brush into the bag of tools and switched to the soft brush. This one was for brushing off sensitive areas like Zwei’s face and ears. Ingrid watched for a few more minutes but grew bored and skipped off. If Niko had guess, once she figured out that her big brother wasn’t going to get kicked.

    Niko hummed as he worked, enjoying the simple task after exercising Zwei on a Sunday afternoon. He had learned that there had been a very practical reason why his grandfather had acquired Zwei from the Heer. As an official Cavalry mount, Zwei could be used by Niko when he was serving on the Staff of the Marshal of Silesia. Having a horse meant that he wouldn’t have to walk everywhere as archaic as it seemed.

    It was a bit bewildering to learn that had been arranged ages ago, shortly after he had returned from Argentina. The Marshal of Silesia just happened to be Dietrich “Tilo” Schultz, the father of Niko’s best friend. Bas found it funny but to Niko it was more of his grandfather’s contrivances. For as long as Niko could remember he had been told about the network of friends, enemies, and acquaintances that his grandfather and father negotiated. It was all about keeping the House of Richthofen at the top of the heap. By sending Niko to be the Aide of Tilo Schultz it was sending a message about the role that the Schultz family was going to play in the future.

    Oddly that was typical of the situation that Niko had found in Argentina and why he had done so well there. He had been within a similar system his entire life. Sure, there was the equivalent of the Landtag there even if it wasn’t as powerful, but the money behind the Politicians was represented in smoke filled rooms where a place at the table was everything. The local Don’s grandson going to work for the General in charge of the Military District would be a perfectly ordinary occurrence. Would the Santa Cruz Province of Argentina look like Silesia politically in fifty or sixty years? He had no idea.

    Putting the soft brush aside, Niko carefully inspected Zwei’s hooves. Using the pick to remove any debris lodged in them. Niko could tell that Zwei’s hooves would need to be trimmed soon. The local Ferrier knew Zwei quite well by now, having asked Niko when he was planning on holding the exorcism to send the horse home the last time they had talked. The trim and shoeing were not going to be cheap.


    “I don’t get why Friedrich and Louis insisted on this” Kat said as she sat at the old kitchen table that Fritz Shafer, other Bladesmiths, and their apprentices used in the breakroom of the workshop.

    “Because you have been putting this off for years, Katze” Schafer said as he placed a cup of tea on the table in front of her. There were few people who stilled called her by that nickname from a lifetime ago and he was one of them. “The Emperor told me that you would turn this down or refuse to play a part in the design. So I was to use my best judgement and the result is to be presented to you in a special ceremony next week.”

    It was just like them to spring something like this on her.

    Kat looked at the object of her objections laying on a cloth on the table so that she could get a good look at it. A small sword made of the pattern welded steel that Shafer had helped to popularize over the last few decades. In this case a pattern of stars and leaves in black and silver that ran the length of the blade. It had a rosewood handle, while the hilt and handguard were of blued steel with bear crest of Berlin and Kat’s personal tigress crest on opposite sides of the pommel inlayed in gold. It was supposed to be the Sword of office for the Prefect of Berlin. It was beautiful, the perfect counterpart to the karambit she had carried for years.
    Part 145, Chapter 2618
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Eighteen

    16th May 1977

    London, England

    The man she had known as John Ellis had given Sarah the manuscript and told her to wait until the heat died down and then to present it to a publisher along with the proof that it was real. The thing was that the way he had checked out, the heat as it were, was nothing short of hellfire. Anyone who had been close to John had been subjected to a staggering amount of scrutiny and Sarah had kept the manuscript hidden under the upright piano in her apartment where it was impossible to get to without lifting the whole thing off the floor.

    Then life had happened.

    Karl Zöller finding out about Johan and the sore feelings that had stemmed from that. Johan learning that he had an extended family through his biological father had also been a complication because Sarah had the fear that she was going to lose her son. They had so much more to offer him than she did. The entire time Johan had been going to University and he had studied Business Administration despite Sarah’s insistence that he study what he cared about as opposed to what she saw as an obligation to her. Eventually, when Johan had finished at University, he had received a job offer of the sort that only came along once in a lifetime. An entry level job in the business portion of the Berlin Philharmonic, which Johan was uniquely suited to. Then Johan had met Kertu…

    That was when life had flown at Sarah so fast that she had hardly been able to keep up over the next few years. Then she woke up one day to learn that she had a grandchild on the way at the same time the club, which had always operated on the margins, was hopelessly drowning in a sea of red ink. If Sarah even wanted to close the place down, she was going to need resources that she didn’t actually have.

    There was one thing that she had though that the whole world would pay through the nose to get a look at and after nearly five years, things had grown about as cold as they would ever get. As John had instructed her, she had sent a taste to various London publishers so that they would be chomping at the bit to get a crack at the actual manuscript. The thing was that Sarah herself had taken a look at the manuscript that she had kept hidden for so long and it revealed a side of her father that she had never known. Sure, for her whole life she had heard about his duplicity and manipulations. Finally, it told the story of what it was like inside one of the BND’s Hunter/Killer teams, and how that same team had engineered the sequence of events that eventually led to the destruction of the Russian Army and the collapse of the Soviet Union, all while sabotaging American ambitions. It was small wonder that John had urged caution and advised her to go to London. Many of the details in the manuscript were of things that her own Government would do anything to keep secret.

    “This will authenticate the manuscript” Sarah said as she handed the folder to the potential publisher. “And I have other copies of these materials.”

    John had warned her that they would try to screw her over and that she was in possession of something extremely valuable to them. It was important that she leverage that to keep control of the matter. Sarah didn’t think that she would get every single thing that she wanted, not even for a second. Getting them to bid against each other was key.

    “We are prepared to be extremely generous if this pans out” The Publisher said.

    Yeah, they were going to need to be.

    Montreal, Canada

    The Ladies Athletic Club had convinced Elina Belova, a Fencer who competed at the Olympic level the year before to come give a demonstration. Hilda Strike, who had been pressing Marie Alexandra to take an active role in the Club’s community had insisted that she be present.

    Everyone in the Club knew Marie by now, she had overheard them talking about “That quiet girl” and knew that they were referring to her. It just proved what they knew. Marie’s mother had told her for years that listening was far more important than filling the air with nervous chatter. That much had proven true. She had also told her that eventually you come to a moment when you need to act.

    Watching Elina gleefully use her foil to snatch the sword out the hand of those who volunteered to face her was becoming annoying for Marie. This was supposed to be fun for everyone, but all that was being demonstrated was that Elina felt she was better than them. Admittedly, she probably was, but it annoyed Marie regardless. Marie knew that she was badly out of practice and her main opponent over the years had been her cousin Niko. Then her mother had beaten into her head the real nature of fighting, how she needed to be brutal and ruthless against opponents who would almost always be bigger and stronger than her, she had lost all interest in that sort of thing.

    Putting on the coat and mask, Marie squared off with Elina. Elina attempted to use the same trick on her not knowing that Maire knew how to maintain a proper grip on the foil. While she was still surprised, Marie went on the attack and scored a touch. Marie was aware that she had an audience, and they applauded her action. What she couldn’t see was Elina’s face through the mask, but the set of her body suggested that she wasn’t going to underestimate Marie again. So, Marie was going to get beat soundly in points. Not that it mattered though, in Marie’s thinking she had already won.
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    Part 145, Chapter 2619
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Nineteen

    2nd June 1977

    Paris, France

    Being in the headquarters of the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure was like having an itch that he couldn’t scratch for Thomas Lachapelle. He belonged in the field as opposed to the stuffy Paris offices of the organization. The Director wanted a word with him while he was passing through Paris.

    “I don’t like coincidences” The Director said, “And we are supposed to believe that these two things are completely unrelated?”

    While Thomas knew better than to tell the Director that the two events he was talking about were completely unrelated. The family in question had been a thorn in the side of France since time out of mind, so nothing could be taken for granted. They were looking at two photographs taken several days and thousands of kilometers apart. In the first was of the family Matriarch receiving a sword similar in style to a French épée that was clearly designed to be a weapon. In the second the youngest daughter was proving that she was proficient in exactly that same sort of weapon.

    “We cannot tell if Katherine has been in recent contact with her daughter, or even if anything should be read into this matter” Thomas said, “Until we get information suggesting otherwise the best course of action is continued observation.”

    “Your father would have had that information by now” The Director replied.

    Thomas tried not to react to that. His father had warned him that he had frequently needed to blow smoke up the Director’s ass all the way back when the Director had been a mere Supervising Agent. Keeping track of the Tigress and her children without landing in hot water was a nearly impossible task. There had been incidents when they had discovered that they had failed in rather spectacular fashion. It was just fortunate that the Tigress had a sense of humor, though that was cold comfort to those who found themselves on the receiving end of it. The lengthy recording of Katherine von Mischner’s mother-in-law complaining about Katherine after their listening device mysteriously ended up in that particular room had been a source of embarrassment for years. And that had happened right as she had ordered snacks for the surveillance teams. Thomas’ father had the ill fortune of being the team leader when they had basically collided with their CIA counterparts in the middle of the block when they had tried to leave. So, Thomas had heard all about the Tigress from the time he was a child.

    “My father’s example is one that I am trying to live up to, Sir” Thomas said. It was better than telling him that the obsession with one family while they had the entire BND acting as if France, and French ports in particular, was there solely for the convenience of German shipping was a stupid waste of resources best used elsewhere. Thomas suspected that the BND used the movements of the Tigress as cover. With all eyes on her, who knew what deviltry was occurring when no one was looking.

    “As well you should” The Director replied.

    Mitte, Berlin

    When people imagined what Kat did, presiding over a City Planning meeting was not what any of them had in mind. Mostly it involved her trying to keeping the shouting matches from devolving into fistfights.

    Presently, she was listing to two red-faced grown men behaving worse than toddlers as they were arguing about land use and transportation policy. Since Kat had been forced to learn about this issue and many others, she had come to envy Paris. The French Capital was atop a vast network of catacombs which meant that most of the development was occurring outside the City Center. The Center of Berlin had been saved for a long time by the city having been built on what was essentially a swamp, with the city spreading out. Now with technology having caught up with it and the city reaching the limits of outward expansion, it was now moving upward. While no one expected Berlin to ever reach the towering heights of the Frankfurt skyline which had buildings planned that might one day rival New York, it had sparked intense debate that the Berliners handled the same as they always did, mostly yelling and shouting.

    The U-Bahn fire had sharpened the contours of the debate as key portions of the subway network had needed to be closed for weeks and that had heavily taxed the rest of Berlin’s transit network. The neglect of the transit system over the prior years had cost dozens of lives and the investigation was revealing that several other S-Bahn stations were going to need to be heavily renovated to keep that from happening again. Kat remembered seeing articles about “The City of Future” decades earlier and her personal observations of life in the distant year of 1977, the future looked nothing like anyone seemed to have imagined. There were no airships, jetpacks, or flying cars. The present looked a whole lot like the past in most respects. Things that no one had thought of like the perverse counterintuitive reality of induced demand and how that related to traffic snarls or the endless debates about who paid for what and how the pie got sliced were on no one’s mind.

    Looking over, Kat saw that Aurora Capa-Taro was checking her watch again. She had hired the dear friend of her goddaughter Zella to help manage her public persona. The trouble was that there were many demands of Kat’s time, and they tended to run long.
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    Part 145, Chapter 2620
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Twenty

    11th June 1977

    Richthofen Estate, Rural Silesia

    The clatter of the épées with the thrust and parry had been going on for some time as the point was not to score a touch, but merely to get the timing down. Niko was aware that Mathilda and Ingrid were watching from the bench on the edge of the concrete pad was on one part of the courtyard between the main house and the smaller outbuildings. The stables, kennels, guest houses, and servant’s quarters mostly. They were treating this like a game where they might have a turn. This being a warm June afternoon, Niko could feel the sweat dripping into his eyes as he thrust his épée at the midsection of his opponent and she failed to block it. As he felt the sword bend, he knew that he had likely just given Marie Alexandra another bruise even though she was wearing a protective coat. Marie seemed to be in a similar state to Niko as she took off her mask and walked off the injury, mostly to her pride. Niko took off his own mask as he picked up the cloth covered metal canteen and took a sip before handing to Marie. The water had taken on the faint taste of powdered lemonade that Niko had mixed in it back when he had been in Argentina.

    Niko was always looking for someone to practice with, at least someone other than Bas who was somewhat less than reliable at times and it seemed like he always resorted to trying over-power his opponent. That was why Bas was actually good with sabers or singlesticks, but hopeless with anything that required finesse. He said that Fencing wasn’t his thing and Niko agreed with that much. However, Niko wasn’t interested in his friend’s suggestion that they do something else like say Boxing, where Bas would have the absolute advantages when it came to weight and reach. No thank you, Niko wanted his teeth to remain in his head.

    He was still a bit surprised that Marie Alexandra had asked when she had arrived in Silesia a few days earlier though. The world of competitive Fencing was a small one, so he had heard all about how she had scored a few touches on Elina Belova. For an athlete who had medaled in the Summer Games last year, having a rank amateur score against you was embarrassing. Niko knew the truth about how Marie was far more than an amateur, that had hardly mattered though because Marie had lost interest in martial arts in general after her mother made a point of showing her the more lethal aspects. Marie had told Niko that wasn’t who she was when he had asked.

    Something must have changed.

    “Have you ever been dragged somewhere by someone easily twice as big as you?” Marie asked in reply when Niko had asked earlier. Of course not, except for perhaps Bas. That was clearly different though. Niko When Niko looked at his cousin critically, he saw that while she was only six or seven centimeters shorter than he was, he weighed at least twenty-five kilos more than her. Niko’s mother said that Marie was actually underweight as a result of having inherited Aunt Kat’s build and Uncle Doug’s metabolism. That meant that she was unable to put on weight even with only moderate exercise at this stage of her life. Bas, being true to his nature as a member of the Schultz family had pointed out that it was a nice way of saying that she didn’t have much in the way of tits or an ass. Marie’s response to him saying that had been to let Opa’s latest batch of Akita puppies into Bas’ room in the early morning hours.

    That said, Marie finding herself in a situation which she had been powerless to stop must have been scary. Even as Niko had that thought that it occurred to him that his mother had once told him that there were good reasons why she had issues with her heart for example or Aunt Kat had seen to it that her youngest daughter was prepared to kill if necessary. The world was frequently not a kind place, not for anyone really. Particularly for those who needed to be protected but were preyed on instead.

    “Let’s try that again” Niko said, a bit annoyed that Marie was so out of practice. There had been a time when she had actually been better than him. “Except remember to keep the point up.”

    They were using the set of Fencing épées that were part of Opa’s extensive collection of weapons. They had debated about the best swords to use as they had looked at the various cases. Marie had joked about them using one of the half-dozen sets of dueling pistols and then asked where the zweihänder broadsword had come from. “Opa gets them as gifts” Niko had replied. Though considering the nature of Opa’s relationship with the other prominent Silesian families, there was a better than average chance that someone was trying to tell him something by giving him dueling pistols. The zweihänder was a work of art though, clearly the masterpiece of a team of craftsmen during the Sixteenth Century in what had been the Holy Roman Empire. The engravings and inlays on the handle, hilt, and wide handguard made of bronze were incredible. As was the steel of the serpentine blade. What made it even more impressive was that it had all been done with hand tools. Opa said that it was pretty to look at, but it had nothing on the Richthofen sword. Which was a plain looking Cavalry saber based on the Nineteenth-Century Blücher pattern. It was a proper Trooper’s sword. Opa said he wanted those who carried it as the König of Silesia to see it and remember exactly where they had come from.

    As Niko put his mask down, he watched as Marie did the same as he prepared for the next round. This time, she went on the offensive and for once her form was perfect and her épée slipped past Niko’s guard and he felt the point hit him in the ribs.
    Part 145, Chapter 2621
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Twenty-One

    17th June 1977

    Richthofen Estate, Rural Silesia

    Tatiana had heard that Marie Alexandra had only been home for a couple of days before she had traveled on to Opa von Richthofen’s house near Breslau. She had decided that she needed to catch up with her, but the demands of completing her Masters in Anthropology and nailing down the details of the job she had been offered in the Foreign Service had consumed a great deal of time. Today had been the first day she’d had a chance to get away and she was a bit annoyed that the academic schedule at the University that Marie attended in Montreal ended the Spring Term in May while she remained in class until early July.

    Tatiana found Marie in the library sitting in a pool of sunlight let in through the leaded windows with dust motes dancing in the light. Of all the things that her sister might have been reading, Marneschlacht und Tannenburg by Generaloberst Hermann Ritter von François was not what she was expecting.

    “Not really the sort of thing you should be doing with a holiday” Tatiana said as Marie looked up. “Shouldn’t you be at the beach or having an adventure somewhere.”

    “That is your thing” Marie said, “After the last two summers, doing a whole lot of nothing sounds good.”

    If only that were true, Tatiana thought to herself.

    “Waiting tables in Boston is hardly adventure” Tatiana said aloud, after keeping that a secret for so long she was just tired. She knew that Marie had always been a willing conspirator in the past, telling her felt right. “More like a brutal slog.”

    Marie looked like she was trying hard not to laugh when she heard that.

    “Does Momma know?” Marie asked, “In the United States too, she must have been furious. She hates the Amis.”

    “She doesn’t know, and I would prefer it stayed that way” Tatiana replied.

    “You told everyone that you went backpacking in Spain” Marie said, “And wouldn’t you stand out in Boston? You don’t exactly blend in.”

    “Of course, you would think that” Tatiana said in English, using the accent that she had practiced until it was flawless. While she couldn’t speak with an American accent, no one would think about an Irish accent in Massachusetts.

    And Marie found that absolutely hilarious.

    Tatiana watched as her sister nearly fell out of her chair she was laughing so hard. There was nothing else to do.

    “Don’t let Jack Kennedy hear you talk like that” Marie said as she regained her composure.

    “What is this you are reading?” Tatiana asked picking up and flipping through the book Marie had put down, changing the subject.

    “Niko was reading it” Marie replied, “He made it sound interesting.”

    “Is it?”

    “The author has a very high opinion of himself and the men under his command at Tannenberg” Marie replied, “Hindenburg and Ludendorff, not so much.”

    Tatianna remembered that from History Class when she had been attending the Gymnasia. How the Reichstag had been forced to reassert itself against Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and how that fed directly into the Spring Revolution in 1921. It wasn’t an accident that the Government had been so willing to negotiate with the leaders of what was essentially a student uprising. They had been looking for an excuse to reform the system themselves. Looking at the publishing date, Tatiana saw that it had been printed in 1920, right in the midst of that turbulent period of time.

    “Did you talk to Opa about this?” Tatiana asked.

    “You know him” Marie replied, “What is there to say, I was there.”

    Marie did her best impersonation of Opa’s voice when she said that last part, as silly as it sounded there was a great deal of truth to it. Opa von Richthofen had seen a lot of action in the early part of the war as a Cavalry Officer. Then, once the war had bogged down into trench warfare the Heer had made him a Supply Officer. It was small wonder he had jumped at the chance to become an aviator even as insanely dangerous as that had been at the time.

    “This is his copy of this book” Tatiana said, “He was the one who stocked most of the books in this library.”

    Marie just smiled at that. Opa was technically their Great Uncle through marriage, he and his late wife had always made them welcome in this house. The library had been a part of that with every family member having contributed over the years. There were hundreds of books that they knew were his, mostly on the subjects of Military and Natural History, Conversation, Ecology, Hunting, and Classical literature. There were Romance novels that had been Oma von Richthofen’s when she had been alive. The Science-Fiction and Fantasy were from Albrecht. And there were a number of Sports journals that doubtlessly had been left by Nico and Bas. No one knew who had left the Cowboy novels, at least no one who would admit it.

    “You need to get reacquainted with Mathilda and Ingrid if you are planning on staying through the weekend” Marie said, “Last week when I was practicing Fencing with Niko, they wanted me to teach them some moves. They really are quite adorable.”

    “I think that Mathilda might take exception to being called adorable” Tatiana said, “She’s what, sixteen now?”

    Marie just shrugged.

    Tatiana remembered what it had been like when she had been sixteen. How terrible it had been. To be called adorable by an adult cousin would have been the least of it, though it certainly would not have helped.
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    Part 145, Chapter 2622
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Twenty-Two

    20th June 1977

    Richthofen Estate, Rural Silesia

    The office which was used to manage the household and the estate was between the kitchen and the laundry room. The compressors for the walk-in cooler and the freezer could be heard through the wall, and it practically shared space with the pantry. Whenever Ilse wasn’t at the University in Breslau, she was usually found there. Today was no different.

    The sudden silence after the prior weekend was a bit jarring. Tatiana and Marie Alexandra had been visiting while Mathilda had come home for the weekend. Niko, Bas, and Ingrid were always around these days. The result was that the house had been full of life and laughter for a couple days. Now that it was Monday, Katherine’s daughters had left for Berlin, Mathilda and Anna had gone back to Tzschocha, Niko and Bas were in Breslau for the day, and Ingrid had gone to school.

    “It was nice having the children around for a few days” Manfred the Elder said to Ilse who had come home early today to enjoy the rare family meal while everyone happened to be home. There were delightful smells coming from the kitchen, so Manfred was actually looking forward to lunch. That was a rare thing these days as he had discovered that he just didn’t have the appetite that he’d had as a younger man.

    Albrecht was in his office, formerly one of the guest rooms, meeting with Dietrich “Tilo” Schultz. Albrecht had suggested to Manfred that he appoint the Marine General to be Marshal of Silesia. Manfred had known Tilo since he had been a boy and his son, Sabastian, had been a fixture around the estate for the last two decades, basically becoming Nikolaus’ brother. He had been the Theater Commander during the Patagonian War and had done a credible job of it, achieving the planned goal of that conflict, and had worked closely with Albrecht who had been in charge of Naval Operations off the South American Cone during that conflict. For Manfred it was a question about the future. He had realized that many of his plans wouldn’t come to fruition during his lifetime, that had not stopped him because he knew that he was working for something larger than his individual ambitions. The rising fortunes of the Schultz family dovetailed neatly with that.

    Johan Schultz, Tilo’s father had been there in Jasta 11 at the beginning. That meant far more than most people these days could imagine. The Marine Infantry had once been the castoffs of the Heer, often sent to the Navy to get rid of various types of troublemakers, had evolved into a Jagger Corps of sorts. Light Infantry who specialized in amphibious warfare. Among them, the toughest of the lot were the elite Sealions. Manfred had noticed that Tilo wore the Sealion Career badge as a point of pride, and he had taught Philosophy at the Mürwik Naval Academy. Proof that he had the brains and was tough enough to play the role as Albrecht had suggested.

    Manfred didn’t pretend to understand the culture of the Navy that his son operated within. He knew that it had grown in importance as the interests of the Empire had gone further afield. Keeping the sea lanes open had fallen increasingly on the Fleet as the British Royal Navy had declined according to Albrecht. That seemed like a shocking thing to have happened. Then Albrecht had said that the current Grand Admiral of the HSF was about to be appointed to be the Commander in Chief of the OKW, which in many ways was even more shocking. When Manfred had asked Albrecht who the replacement of the Grand Admiral would be Albrecht had gotten cagey, choosing his words with care. Manfred had played that game since long before Albrecht had been born, so he knew exactly what was going on.

    As disappointing as it had been for Manfred to watch his son join the Navy after his work as a Student Researcher at University had been deemed too important to allow Albrecht to enter the military during the Soviet War. Him being in contention for the top spot in the Navy’s High Command almost compensated for that. If only Albrecht had joined Luftwaffe Manfred wouldn’t have anything to complain about. After all, he had been the Commander in Chief of the OKL during the Soviet War. Nikolaus seeming to be well on his way to becoming a Cavalry Officer more than made up for that.

    “I doubt that you would have wanted to put up with them for more than a few days” Ilse replied. She knew that he was referring to the children who had grown up on the estate itself. He had few other grandchildren, but because of the circumstances they only came around on holidays or when their mothers wanted something.

    “I don’t mind them during the summer holiday” Manfred said, “Of course, they spend most of their time doing things outside.”

    “I’m surprised that you had nothing to say about that” Ilse said, “I’m sure you saw what Niko and Marie were doing.”

    “Last I looked, Nikolaus was competing in the Modern Pentathlon” Manfred replied, “And while Marie might not be interested in competition, I heard about what she managed to do in Montreal last month.”

    Ilse gave Manfred a look that basically said what she thought of that. She remembered his reaction years earlier when Marie Alexandra had soundly beat Nikolaus. The thing was that there had been a few changes since then and Manfred had come to see how that incident had taught Nikolaus an important lesson.

    It was then that Ingrid entered the house with Nikolaus. With the enthusiasm of a child, she was talking at Nikolaus about what she had learned in school that day, that it was the longest day of the year, how the teacher had seemed like she wasn’t interested in being there that day, what Mathilda had said that she was going to do to celebrate it being the first day of summer… Nikolaus, long used to his little sister’s ways just nodded to his grandfather and mother as he walked past from the laundry room.
    Part 145, Chapter 2623
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Twenty-Three

    11th July 1977

    Langeoog Island, East Frisian Islands

    It had been almost two years since Marie Alexandra had been here, though she had often fantasized about it. The warmth of the sun and the water which was cold even during the warmest days of summer were a part of that. Most of all though, Marie liked that no one here judged her, or even took much interest in her for that matter. The heated swimming pool and facilities at the club in Montreal was comparably luxurious, but they had nothing on the wide sandy beaches and grass covered dunes around her mother’s house on the edge of Langeoog town. She was mindful of the tide as she took her morning swim, not going out too far.

    It wasn’t quite the tourist season yet and it was a weekday, so Marie had the beach to herself as she waded out of the water. Tatiana had said that she was on holiday, so her being awake before noon was not part of the plan. After spending a few minutes laying in the sun to dry off, Marie pulled on an oversized red sweatshirt with McGill University Est. 1821 across the front in white letters with the University crest. She was enjoying the feeling of the loose sand between her toes with each step. She had purchased the sweatshirt at the University bookstore months earlier. Marie remembered how the clerk had told her that it was a wonderful gift for her boyfriend. It was double extra-large tall, so it was easy to see why that assumption had been made. Marie had just smiled and had not bothered to tell her that she was getting it for herself.

    Marie remembered the conversation with Hilda Strike and Henriette about going to the beach here on Langeoog back in April. Yes, the attitudes were different but that was hardly something to get hung up on. Henni had been totally embarrassed, which seemed rather strange. It was not as if anyone were asking her to do anything.

    Stepping onto the covered back porch, Marie was greeted by Sprocket who was overjoyed to see her. “Where did you come from?” Marie asked, though it wasn’t as if the dog could give her an answer. He stared up at her, wagging his stubby tail.

    Marie figured that she already knew the answer, so she wasn’t surprised when she saw Sophie and Angelica sitting at the table in the kitchen eating either an early lunch or late breakfast. Sprocket went back to his spot under Sophie’s chair, presumably keep an eye out for any bit of food that might get dropped.

    “When did you two get in?” Marie asked as she walked through the kitchen.

    “Mum told us that you and Tat needed our help having fun” Angelica said with a smile. She obviously knew that was complete rubbish but was enjoying the prospect of needling Marie. It was far more likely that Marie’s parents were more than pleased to have an empty house until Sophie and Angelica decided to come home.

    “We rode the train into Wilhelmshaven with the connection to Bensersiel” Sophie said, “We had to wait for the first ferry out to the island, Momma didn’t tell us about that part.”

    “Or that there are no motor vehicles allowed on the island” Angelica added.

    There were quite a few surprises in store on this island for anyone who wasn’t expecting them. Not all of them were pleasant. A major one being that Tatiana and Marie had been planning on going into Wilhelmshaven that afternoon to get food for the week. The two girls were going to have to decide whether or not they were up to going back so soon.

    “Well, you made it” Marie said, as she was aware that she could feel the salt on her skin, and she smelled like seaweed. “If you could excuse me. I’m sure that the two of you will have no trouble entertaining yourselves.”

    Sophie and Angelica went right back to whatever they had been doing before Marie had walked in. With that she closed the bathroom door.


    If she couldn’t spend the summer doing what she wanted, spending it with her little sister on Langeoog was a welcome alternative. Tatiana had just forgotten the plural nature of that, how she had more than one little sister.

    Tatiana was reminded of this when she woke up to a dog barking and the sounds of talking from downstairs. With a great deal of annoyance, she crawled out of bed.

    Wiping her nose with the sleeve of the red flannel nightgown she had slept in. It had been a gift from her mother, despite being frumpy and unflattering it was extremely comfortable. That was probably why all of Kat von Mischner’s daughters got them as Christmas every year.

    Catching a glance of herself in the mirror. Tatiana saw one of the key disadvantages of having short hair. It stuck out in weird ways where she had slept on it. Padding down the stairs on bare feet, Tatiana was aware that Sophie and Angelica were in the kitchen, she was doing her best to ignore them. There was water running in the bathroom, which explained where Marie was.

    It was fortunate that Marie had exacting standards when it came to coffee, and it was an extremely potent blend. Tatiana didn’t care that it had cooled to almost room temperature, she poured a cup and sat down at the table. It was then that she remembered that there was no food in the house. Marie had said that they needed to go get more. The dog was sniffing around her feet, so Tatiana knew that she wasn’t the only one who was having a disappointing morning.
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    Part 145, Chapter 2624
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Twenty-Four

    8th July 1977

    Washington D.C.

    Normally, Nixon was too busy late into the night to bother watching television. Tonight was a bit different because he was going to need to be aware of what had been said in a couple weeks when he was to have a meeting with the guest on this show. Sure, he could have someone watch it and provide him with a synopsis but that wouldn’t exactly give him a feel as to what was ahead.

    “From the NBC Studios in sunny Burbank California!” Ed McMahon read aloud, “Here’s Johnny!”

    With that Johnny Carson walked out on stage to a cheering crowd with the band playing. The showman in Nixon recognized a good introduction when he saw one. As the introduction concluded, Carson launched into his monolog. The subject tonight was Baseball. The winning record of the Los Angeles Dodgers so far this season and how the fans were already preparing for the dead last finish in the pennant race. It was okay though, because the President was supposed to be providing dirt on the San Francisco Giants at any time.

    Nixon was annoyed that and the numerous other jokes along those lines that had become the common parlance among late night comedians. The idea that he had done something untoward when he had broken up that German spy ring in the days leading up to last year’s election. The detail that Gerald Ford had inadvertently been up to eyeballs in that mess had been a happy accident that Nixon had stumbled across a few months earlier. It was exactly like what Napoléon meant when he said that you should never interrupt an opponent when they are making a mistake.

    The monolog ended and Carson was doing a gag spot for the fictional sponsor of tonight’s episode, Acme Dog Food, specially blended to for all stages of your dog’s life. Including a new extremely special formula for dead dogs. The visual gag was a clearly fake dog locked in rigor mortis with all four legs pointing up into the air.

    “Now, we have a returning guest tonight. The Kaiser’s sister, the Imperial Princess Royal of Germany, Doctor Kristina Alexandra Yekaterina Tatiana von Preussen, how is that for a double-barreled name. And people wonder why she goes by Kiki” Carson said, “You might not remember, but we had her on way back in 1963 when we were still out of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. If I recall correct she had an interesting time in New York and even namedropped the Moondogs, before anyone on this side of the Atlantic had ever heard of them.”

    A photograph of Kristina playing her viola with Bob Dylan playing guitar appeared. The crowd recognized this as being from what had become a legendary recording and there was wild applause. It seemed that Kristina was popular with this audience. Nixon knew all too well that Burbank was hardly representative of the United States.

    With that introduction, Princess Kristina walked out on stage. If you asked most of the American public what a princess looked like, the image in their minds would think of Princess Aurora from the Disney film.

    Kristina looked nothing like that.

    She was a relatively tall woman in her mid-thirties, sharing a lanky appearance with her brothers. The glasses she was wearing looked like they were military issue, and her hair was curly brown where it wasn’t showing a bit of grey. At least she had decided not to wear the uniform of the German Medical Service tonight. Nixon recalled that she had done that in prior public appearances when she had visited the United States and that had caused the religious crazies in the Bible Belt to blow a gasket. Instead she was wearing a sundress that was a perfect fit for visiting Southern California in July.

    “Welcome… Am I pronouncing this right?” Carson asked, “Generalarzt von Preussen?”

    Carson mangled the unfamiliar German word.

    “Generalarzt” Kristina replied, “It just means that I am the Chief Surgeon of Ulm Military Hospital.”

    “How does that compare to what you said the last time you were here?” Carson asked, “You said you held a rank equivalent to an Army Captain.”

    “That was long time ago” Kristina said with a smile, “A Generalarzt is comparable to say, a Brigadier.”

    The audience was clearly not expecting that answer.

    “And whatever happened to that young man you were seen with on the cover of Time Magazine?” Carson asked, taking back control of the conversation. The cover of Time Magazine filled the screen and a much younger Kristina was seen kissing the young man in question.

    Kristina smiled at that. “That would be my husband Ben and he is right over there with Nina and Louis, our children” She said, and the camera panned over to a man in the audience wearing a military uniform. There was girl raptly watching her mother on stage and a little boy fidgeting in the arms of an older woman. The briefing materials that Nixon had been provided said that was Fianna Dunn, an Irish National who had worked as a nanny for Kristina herself decades earlier and had come back to play the same role with Kristina’s children.

    “He is in the German Army?” Carson asked.

    “Luftwaffe Reserve” Kristina replied.

    “And who is the ranking Officer?” Carson asked.

    Kristina gave him a look that suggested that she didn’t think that was an appropriate question.

    “It doesn’t work that way” Kristina said.

    All marriages were negotiations, Nixon could only imagine the sort of ticklish dealing that went with both husband and wife being ambitious in their respective fields. What Carson didn’t know was that Benjamin von Hirsch’s real career was that of a Professor of Astronomy. His Reserve status was a means for advancement in that field. His wife, who had an active Commission in the German Medical Service, not only outranked him but also had considerably more time in grade.

    “Well, okay then” Carson said, “Your children, a girl and a little boy are here tonight?”

    Kristina seemed relieved that the conversation was back on more comfortable ground.
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    Part 145, Chapter 2625
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Twenty-Five

    9th July 1977

    Los Angeles, California

    A decade earlier there had been a joint exercise between U.S. Army Special Forces and German Kommando Spezialkräfte. Apparently, there had been more to it than that. Like so many other things in Ritchie’s professional life, Lucia had only learned fragments of what had actually happened. Kristina von Preussen had apparently been in charge of the medical component of that exercise and had insisted that every effort be made to minimize casualties. When she had learned that Ritchie had gotten into LAPD she had sent him an armored vest like the ones that the German army and Police used. That single action had likely saved Ritchie’s life, as much as he tried to be nonchalant about what had happened during that school shooting. As much as Lucia might have been inclined to be jealous, after all Kiki as she preferred to be called was a part of that same secretive world that Ritchie had operated in, Lucia understood that she owed Kiki a great deal. Who knew that Lucia would find Ritchie’s return to the Army to be a relief? Considering his tendency to be at the center of the action, whatever action that was she shouldn’t have been too surprised by that.

    Today though, Lucia couldn’t believe her eyes when the strange German Princess decided to accompany Ritchie and Mario who was in town on leave as they came into the Ralph’s where she worked. They were there to get beer, food on the list that Concha, Ritchie’s mother had given them, and soda for the kids. With it being Saturday afternoon, Lucia understood that she was likely to find her house was a three-ring circus. It had been different when Concha had lived in the San Fernando Valley, but Mario’s Enlistment bonus had come through and they had used to the money to make the down payment on a house a few blocks away from Lucia and Ritchie’s in Highland Park. While that had been nice on days when Lucia had needed someone to watch the kids, it meant that she had Concha along with a number of Ritchie’s nieces and nephews around at least a few times a week.

    The two men wearing the sort of suits that businessmen wore, who accompanied Kiki everywhere, just watched with detached amusement. Lucia understood that no matter how these men presented themselves, they were not businessmen. The Store’s Manager stood in shock as Lucia rang up the items as Kiki paged a copy of the National Enquirer and talked with Mario and Ritchie about all the details that the magazine had gotten wrong. Not just with the Hohenzollern Family, which Lucia had never heard of until Kiki used that term, but the Italian and British Royal Families as well. Queen Elizabeth knew how to drive a Tank and her clash with the Prime Minister wouldn’t end how William Whitelaw imagined it would? Prince Amedeo of Italy was a good friend of her Brother Louis Junior. Despite his reputation of being stiff and rather conservative, King Umberto had always been kind to Kiki and her sisters.

    It was Lucia’s understand that Kiki had seven brothers and sisters, which meant that she understood negotiations that came from being a part of a large family. Lucia could easily understand that much. Again, there was the aspect of her career though. So she knew exactly how to talk to Mario while for Lucia that had been a bit awkward. It seemed that there was something about the experience of “Jumping out of perfectly good airplanes” put them on the same wavelength.

    As Lucia finished ringing up the groceries, Steffi Bader, Kiki’s Personal Secretary paid for them as they were being bagged. “Before they notice what is actually going on” Steffi said with a smile. Lucia noticed that it was Kiki’s Credit Card that Steffi was using, and that Steffi was authorized to sign for any of her expenses. It seemed that Kiki had a bit of experience in sidestepping male egos.


    “There I was, in deep shit up to here” Tony said holding his hand up to somewhere over his head. “Someone had tipped off the gang I was doing business with that I was undercover. To say that they take that sort of thing personally is an understatement.”

    For Ben, the company he found himself drinking beer with was sort of a novelty. Richard Anthony “Tony” Marin and Michael “Big Mike” Washington were friends of their host at this party they had been invited to. They were real life Detectives of the sort that Ben had only seen in movies and the stories they told were like something right out of a movie as well.

    “I was out of bullets and running out of time when Ritchie rolls up in his car” Tony continued, “These guys who had me cornered were heavy dudes, like shot callers, they had nothing on the Army Man. The glass on his car was coming apart because of all the bullets, but he didn’t care, he comes out with a goddamned shotgun and boom… boom… boom… Anyone stupid enough to have a gun pointed anywhere in his direction got a blast. Then when he was out of shells he drew his pistol and kept right on going.”

    “Army Man?” Ben asked.

    “That’s the name that Ritchie earned for himself with the Department” Mike said, “The name that everyone calls you whether you like it or not.”

    “You might get called the Professor or simply Prof” Tony said.

    “Actually I already got a name like that” Ben said, “When I fly with the Luftwaffe I get called Ritter, short for schwarzer Ritter, Black Knight.”

    “Where was that?” Big Mike asked, “Anywhere I might have heard of?”

    “I would think so” Ben replied, “Korea, Argentina, most recently over Anatolia.”

    “So you are some kind of ace?” Tony asked.

    “A few times over” Ben said and saw the blank look on Tony’s face added matter of fact. “I’ve downed twenty-eight Chinese and Chilean planes in two conflicts.”

    “You must have a story or two of your own” Big Mike said.

    “You could say so” Ben replied.
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    Part 145, Chapter 2626
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Twenty-Six

    13th July 1977

    Fort Irwin, California

    Going to Disneyland with Nina had been difficult enough. Massive crowds of people, the heat, the novelty of being at Disneyland wearing very thin for them after a couple hours. And that had been even before things had taken a surreal turn.

    Supposedly, the castle that sat in the middle of the Park had been based on Neuschwanstein Castle, Kiki didn’t see the comparison. The rides themselves seemed like they were a case of diminishing returns and it felt as if the Teacup ride had been designed to make people violently ill. Perhaps it may have been better if they had visited during a different time of the year.

    Eventually, they had found themselves taking two rides repeatedly, the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean. For no other reason than the respite that those rides offered from the brutally hot summer day in Anaheim California.

    It had been in the Haunted Mansion when the floor drops down in a clever elevator that was a part of the ride that a man had recognized Ben. Ben said that he had no idea what it had been all about, but while everyone else was listening to the recorded voice over the intercom asking if the room was stretching out this man started yelling at Ben. It was incoherent with Kiki unable to understand what this man was going on about. Something about how Ben had no right, and why didn’t people understand what he actually was. Disney’s security hustled the man off before Kiki’s own people acted, which was probably just as well.

    Riding home Ben had said that they needed a couple days to rest and get their bearings before tackling the rest of the country. Kiki had already decided that she needed a break from the tour, but sitting around the hotel didn’t have a whole lot of appeal for her. Ritchie’s invitation to Fort Irwin, the U.S. Army conducted it’s Desert Training which he worked out of much of the time had held her interest. The U.S. Army had no objections to her presence, though Kiki wouldn’t figure out why until she got there. Simply put, Fort Irwin was where the U.S. Army sent people if they had really angered someone. Ritchie’s Special Forces Group a part of the California National Guard Division that operated in the Mojave Desert regardless.

    What Kiki had noticed as soon as the helicopter that had taken her to Irwin from Los Angeles touched down was unmistakable for anything else. If the U.S. Army had been training to take on her Heer and Marine Infantry in Patagonia, this would be where it would have happened. She had certainly seen enough to the Patagonian Steppe when she had spent weeks walking across it to recognize the similarities to the American South-West. The real difference was that it got much hotter here. It had to be at least forty degrees as Kiki made her way from the helipad to the building that housed the Base Administration. If she had to guess, Ritchie was probably aware of that detail on some level. There were rumors that the American Green Beret had been seen throughout South America acting as advisors for the last several years and Ritchie was one of them.

    Thankful for the air conditioning, Kiki followed her escort into what turned out to be a conference room. There were a number of men present. That included Ritchie who did not look particularly happy to be there.

    “Welcome to Fort Irwin, General von Preussen” The man with the most stars on his collar said.

    “Well… Thank you” Kiki replied, doing her best to be diplomatic. She knew that whoever had set this up had made certain that whoever she dealt with would outrank her.

    Kiki recognized him from her briefing by the BND as Lieutenant General Keith L. Ware, his rank equivalent to a General of Infantry. He had come to the world’s attention a few years earlier when he had commanded the California National Guard’s 40th Division when the Los Angeles region had been consumed to a series of crises. He had come up in the world a bit since then, as the Commander of the American Continental Command. That meant that the Continental United States, Canada, and Mexico fell under his jurisdiction. Apparently, the Canadians and Mexicans had a very different opinion on the matter. Ritchie had made a few comments that implied that the 40th Division kept a close eye on what was happening in the Mexican States of Baja California and Sonora. It would of been stupid to assume that the Mexican Army didn’t have their own people keeping an eye on what was happening across the border in California and Arizona, but Kiki knew better than to bring it up.

    The other men present were Major General Stuart, the current Commanding Officer of the 40th Division and Colonel Adams, the Base Commander of Fort Irwin. Them, along with their respective staffs, made for a rather crowded room.

    “Warrant Officer Valenzuela extended this invitation at my request after that unfortunate incident on Monday” Ware said.

    “I figure that was some man bothered by the heat and whatever he might have had to drink” Kiki replied.

    “For starters, there is no alcohol allowed at Disneyland” General Ware said, “And there was more to it than that.”

    “I also know that not everyone in America particularly likes me or my family” Kiki said, a bit annoyed by this. Threats were a fact of life for someone in her position, it was something she had lived with since she was a child.

    “This has to do with your husband, Professor von Hirsh” Colonel Adams said.

    “As I am sure you are aware, he serves your country in the capacity of a Reserve Officer in the Luftwaffe” General Ware said, “When his commission was active he flew fighter missions against the Chinese and Chilean Air forces.”

    “What does that have to do with anything?” Kiki asked.

    “The pilots in those planes he shot down were not necessarily Chinese or Chilean” Ware replied and Kiki had a sinking feeling that this might have something to do with the sort of political nonsense that complicated everything.
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    Part 145, Chapter 2627
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Twenty-Seven

    15th July 1977

    Portland, Oregon

    Tonight was different than her other public appearances. Having reporters shouting the same stupid questions at her or being told that she was not what people imagined when they pictured what a Princess looked like. Sorry for not looking like Aurora from the Disney movies, Kiki thought sourly to herself. She wondered what the people saying that would think if they met Kiki’s friend Aurora. If some of the things she had heard about Walt Disney were true…

    Kiki pushed that thought out of her mind to focus on the present moment. While she had wanted her appearance on American television a week earlier to be informal, tonight was different especially after what had happened over the last few days. On the Tonight Show she had only been representing herself. She was wearing the powder blue Officer’s dress tunic of the German Medical Service with the Medals and Orders pinned to it as well as the cornflower blue beret with the silver pin, the Rod of Asclepius in a wreath. It was Kiki’s hope that it would help express the importance of what she had to say as her speech tonight would doubtlessly be recorded and minutely examined in the days ahead.

    The German American Society of Portland gave Kiki polite applause as she was introduced. She had no expectations when her plane had touched down a few hours earlier. Nancy Jensen had described Portland as a gritty industrial city that was somewhat socially backwards even by American standards. A friend of Nancy’s from University had lived in Portland and Kiki got the impression that something about that had left a bad taste in her mouth. Out of respect though, Kiki had left it at that. There was nothing making Nancy perform the role she played for Kiki’s family.

    If anything Nancy going to Silesia and being the Lady of the Manor as it were with her husband in Oppeln would be far easier managing their public image. Nancy said that Kiki’s family made her job easy because unlike some other families she could mention, they had actual jobs and knew the price of milk and bread. That was mostly true, though in the case of Ria considering herself an Activist and Michael calling himself a Producer of films and television shows, there was a bit of wishful thinking involved.

    What Kiki had seen of Portland was a city baking under summer heat during the drive from the airport to the hotel. Her brief meeting with the Mayor of Portland had been cordial, though something about that man gave Kiki the creeps.

    With that delightful thought in mind, Kiki stepped up to the microphone.

    “Thank you for your kind invitation to speak with you tonight” Kiki said into the microphone. “Normally I have a prepared speech that I give at events like this one, but that feels inappropriate.”

    Kiki had been thinking about this since the conversation she’d had with General Ware, the FSR career badge she had worn for years, and the games that national agencies played against each other. While she understood the reason for all that, the conversation with Ware had suggested that the regular Military had grown weary of it. There were also those caught in the middle who didn’t deserve to become collateral damage.

    “As my introduction suggested, I am an Emergency Surgeon” Kiki said. She was aware that her career was controversial among some elements of American society. That was something she was used to by now. In Germany her career, marriage to one of the New Junkers, her choice in religion, and so much more were not without controversy. “Primum non nocere, the very first line of the Hippocratic oath in Latin, First do no harm. As a Field Medic and later in Medical School, those words were a key part of the Ethics Courses that I was required to attend. While that is well understood how that relates to treating an injury, a broken bone or laceration is obvious as is how to treat it, there are far more insidious harms that happen.”

    Kiki could see the crowd was getting fidgety. They were probably wondering what she was getting at.

    “What harm has been done to the people in this room?” Kiki asked, “Those who have fallen under suspicion through no fault of their own? The entire purpose of organizations like this one is to create avenues for dialog, so that nations with shared interests could avoid exactly what has happened over the last few decades.”

    With that Kiki knew that she had probably just made several enemies, but at least they would have cause. Ordinary people getting stomped on because of their last name or where their great-grandfather came from was absurd. She wasn’t about to mention what Ware had told her about how some of the planes that Ben’s Wing had shot down may have had American pilots behind the controls and the survivors had been left imbittered by the experience. When she had discussed that matter with Ben, he had said that there had been times with they had gone against fliers who were better than most. There had been rumors, sure, but everyone knew that digging too deeply into those would have long reaching consequences. Kiki had read the reports produced by the High Command, the ones that would absolutely terrify the public if they were ever published, so she was all too aware of what those consequences were.

    “The sort of wars that occurred nearly every generation between world powers are a luxury that we can no longer afford” Kiki said, as absurd as the idea of war being a luxury sounded to her own ears. “If we allow those avenues of communications to be closed it is inevitable that misunderstandings will occur, rivalries will fester into hostility, and in this era where nuclear weapons are a reality, war between powers is nothing less than mutual suicide.”
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    Part 145, Chapter 2628
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Twenty-Eight

    17th July 1977

    Langeoog Island, East Frisian Islands

    “This is just how it goes” Tatiana said when she found out that Marie wasn’t feeling well. “I doubt I need to tell you that we all get to have a bite at that apple every few weeks?”

    Sophie wasn’t stupid, but having seen Marie in her bedroom hugging Sprocket… She didn’t object Marie having her dog. Sophie remembered how the prior winter when she had been sick with the flu, Sprocket had been a great comfort. That was sort of his purpose.

    “Are you sure there isn’t more to it?” Sophie asked.

    Tatiana looked annoyed by that question.

    “This isn’t Momma’s house in Tempelhof” Tatiana said, “It’s harder to hide it when you have a bad day.”

    Sophie gave Tatiana a look.

    “This is sort like when you found out that Momma and Poppa told Alida Burbach that you had been forgoing training until your schooling situation was resolved” Tatiana said, and Sophie couldn’t believe that she had just said that. How could the two situations be remotely comparable?

    When Sophie had gotten sick last winter, she had been warned that a serious case of the flu like what she had might have a long recovery and that she might not be aware of the risks until they developed into serious problems. Serious as in cardiac arrest or multiple organ failure. So, she was to rest and start training anew when she was medically cleared. That had been all well and good, except Sophie had woken up one day and realized that months had passed. It turned out that Katherine and Douglas had felt that spending time just being a teenager was good for her. Besides that, it was true that her school had suggested that her sitting the Abitur just yet would not be a great idea and had recommended that she attend a University Preparatory program until she was ready. Sophie understood that all the training ahead of Montreal had not been without cost and that her grades had suffered. She just had not been so charitable to her foster parents at the time. She found her reaction to that, there had been a lot of anger and pouting involved, to be a bit embarrassing.


    When Tatiana entered the bedroom, she saw that Marie was as Sophie had described her, sitting cross-legged on the bed and hugging Sprocket as he were a Teddy Bear. “Heard you felt like shit Mialexa” Tatiana said. That was the pet name that Tatiana and Malcolm had given Marie Alexandra when she had been an infant, mostly because a pair of five-year-olds had a bit of trouble with many syllables. They were the only ones who still called her that. Marie was wearing that red sweatshirt with her University’s name on the front and a pair of what looked like military surplus trousers. Their mother had encouraged them to wear that during the summer in years past. The difference was that rather than just crudely cutting the trousers off just above the knees, Marie had expertly hemmed them. That was something that Tatiana had never had the patience to do, but Marie seemed to enjoy.

    With that Marie let Sprocket, who had been keeping her company go. He trotted for the door, a minute later Tatiana saw him catch up with Sophie and Angelica who were headed out to the shore. It was a Sunday afternoon, so there were more people on the beach then there had been before. They had all been making the most of staying at the beach house, knowing that next month would be a height of tourist season and the islands would be crowded until September came. They would all be going elsewhere for the rest of the Summer Holiday.

    “Just what Aunt Marcella would call the joy of being a woman” Marie replied her hand on her belly the location of the cause of her problems today. “And how will make us long for menopause, then we will miss it.”

    “That sounds like something she would say” Tatiana said, “Of course, you know Momma would say that it is a good thing because the alternatives can involve lots of complications.”

    “Fortunately, that would be impossible” Marie said, without elaborating.

    Tatiana had once overheard their parents talking about Marie and some of the things that they suspected about her. It was obvious that she was a shy introvert and a late bloomer. The less obvious things though, those were harder to nail down because she was so shy and from day to day it was difficult to tell if you would be dealing with the same person.

    “Do you ever think that you might be at risk of becoming her, Tat?” Marie asked.

    “Who?” Tatiana asked in reply.

    “Our mother” Marie replied, “I see her, all the accomplishments, being the Prefect of Berlin, advisor to the Emperor, yet she is completely miserable because she would rather be with Poppa exploring Africa, Australia, or the Amazon Basin.”

    That was only one of Tatiana’s worst fears, no big deal.

    “I think about that all the time” Marie said.

    “More like worrying about it” Tatiana replied, “Her secrets, the black moods she hides from the public, some of the things that Poppa has said happened… That time she went to that spa in Switzerland wasn’t simply a vacation.”

    “I know about her depression” Marie said, “And you forget that I was there too, when she was gone for all that time and Poppa wasn’t telling us anything.”

    Marie didn’t know the half of it, Tatiana thought to herself. And somehow she knew that enlightening her little sister would not make anyone happy.
    Part 145, Chapter 2629
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Twenty-Nine

    20th July 1977

    Mitte, Berlin, Germany

    “Dear God, what have they done this time?” Was a sentiment that was often heard around the Reichstag these days as Heinz Kissinger had go to ever greater lengths to keep the Governing coalition from coming apart at the seams. Helene had played the game long enough to know the rules. If Kissinger were smart he would have called for an election months ago, before the Government had devolved into a three-ring circus. Now he was having to cater to the far-right minor parties who even the most extreme members of the National Liberals considered a bunch of complete nutcases.

    This time it had to do with the appointment of General Hans-Joachim Marseille to Command the OKL. A few years earlier, the SPD led coalition had made a point of blocking that very appointment. It had nothing to do with how General Marseille was a capable Pilot and Commander, being one of the last Aces of Soviet War still in uniform and a history making Test Pilot. That was all well understood. However, his long history of womanizing, insubordination, and what could only be described as reckless behavior that was never quite bad enough to get him Court Martialed had been a key consideration. Now, he had been appointed overall command of the entire Luftwaffe and Helene suspected that members of the minor political parties had pushed for that for no other reason than to stick it to the Opposition.

    Oddly, Helene herself saw nothing wrong with him per say. Her father had told her about how there were no doubts about where Hans-Joachim Marseille’s loyalties lay, the Luftwaffe itself. The only quibble was that he was a Fighter Pilot, meaning that he might not be the sort of strategic thinker that the Service Branch needed. There was a reason why after Helene’s father had retired the commanders of the Luftwaffe High Command had been Bomber or Transport Pilots with the exception of Emil von Holz, who had been a Paratrooper with the Luftwaffe Airbourne and Ground Forces. Long term strategy and Logistics were key considerations, ones that Fighter Pilots might not have thought about as much. At the same time, the Luftwaffe had once been the project of Oswald Boelcke and Helene’s father both of whom had famously been Aces during the First World War. These days they were regarded as having been men of vision. So Helene was willing to give General Marseilles the opportunity, provided that the various lawsuits and investigations didn’t catch up to him first.

    Lake Superior

    After days of public appearances in the Pacific Northwest and the Upper Midwest, Kiki was heading for the East Coast. While she could have flown directly to Washington D.C., spending a few days relaxing beyond the easy reach of the public had been appealing. Steffi had heard about a transportation line belonging to a mining company that apparently was renowned for its accommodation for travelers looking for something off the beaten path and not in any kind of hurry. She figured that was the sort of thing that Kiki would be interested in. Kiki had been scheduled to be in Minneapolis anyway, so she had inquired about it and had found herself on the phone with the President of the Oglebay Norton Company and he had been delighted to sell her on a berth on the Flagship of their Shipping Line. The only catch was that she meet with the Board of Directors when she arrived in Cleveland, Ohio. Kiki knew when she was getting chatted up as a potential investor and it was obvious that was what was going on.

    The ship itself was not at all what she was expecting. Kiki had thought that it would be like one of the Motor Barges that plied the inland waterways of Europe, particularly the Rhine and Danube. Instead the SS Edmond Fitzgerald was huge, 222 meters in length and 23 meters in beam. She had been taking on a load of iron ore when Kiki had arrived at the harbor in Superior, Wisconsin with her small entourage in tow. Captain Crawford had made a point of welcoming Kiki aboard and he had instructed one of the ship’s Officers to give her and Benjamin a brief tour as the loading of the ship was completed and she cast off.

    Now, in the early morning hours with sleep proving elusive and needing fresh air, Kiki was leaning on the rail watching the dark landscape to the South, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan most likely, pass. There were the lights from communities along the shore and Kiki could see the bright beam of light from a lighthouse off in the distance to the east. She realized that she really did miss traveling in this manner. On the Meta and later on the Epione all her problems had been distant. When she had first gotten back from Korea after the Sino-Korean War that had been exactly what she had needed. Now with the pressures of actually running a hospital and having a family that she was trying to keep from falling apart, it was what she needed again even if it was just for a few days.

    A Sailor, one of the crew, walked past and he gave Kiki a respectful nod. Apparently, the Captain had told the crew to be on their best behavior while she was aboard. Still though, there was a bit of respect beyond that. It made her wonder exactly how much the men of the crew knew about her.
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Thirty

    26th July 1977

    Washington D.C.

    When Richard Nixon had been briefed about Princess Kristina earlier that month the CIA and State Department Experts had said that Kristina was an idiosyncratic woman who wasn’t always aware of the effect she had on the world around her. He had not quite understood the extent of that at the time. That changed when she had arrived in Cleveland to meet with the Board of Oglebay Norton Company, which dealt mostly in Mining and Transport in the Upper Midwest. Her reputation as a shrewd investor had grown since her dealings with Sony, Intel, and other technology companies a decade ago, she was also rumored to be an extremely wealthy woman because of that. The CEO of Oglebay had of course seen the opportunity that her presence represented. So, she had spent a few days aboard their flagship enjoying the best accommodations they could offer. Of course, as Nixon had noted before, Kristina was a shrewd woman. She had quietly observed the ship, its crew and Captain, and taken note of what she had seen of their operations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Seen the old faculties and aging equipment, the decay of the Steel Belt and how it needed modernization and investment to remain competitive. Then when she had gotten to Cleveland, she had told them that she was not personally interested in investing in their company. While that may have disappointed the Board of Directors, they had not been disappointed for long. Kristina had instead called the heads of the various German Steel Consortiums to see if anyone was looking for an opportunity that might involve a bit of risk because she saw the opportunity to get into that region cheaply. And doubtlessly pay Kristina herself a nice finders fee in the process. To the Oglebay Norton Company and others like it, this was like mana from Heaven.

    That was where the headaches for Nixon began. While everyone knew that Kristina’s assessment was probably correct. It even echoed the very sorts of things that Nixon and his allies had been trying to tell Congress for years. Now because of the Princess Royal of Germany being on tour in the Upper Midwest it was looking like the failure to invest in its own institutions and industry had provided an opening for interests who might not be as friendly to America. Nixon had seen it play out in Mexico where the intervention by the League of Nations had provided that sort of opportunity to German Industry. Canada had proven a bit more resistant, but most of the cars built by Volkswagen in North America came from assembly plants located in Oakville, just outside Toronto. Anyone who saw a map could see the issue. The next new assembly plant by VW, BMW, or Mercedes Benz could easily be on the site of a faculty abandoned by Ford or GM and it was easy for Nixon to see the public reaction to that development if that occurred. An angry mob with torches and pitchforks coming up Pennsylvania Avenue just for starters. Far more insidious would be what might happen if portions of the American steel industry became majority owned by a company based in one of the industrial areas of Western Germany.

    Nixon had sworn an oath to defend the United States of America from all enemies foreign and domestic, yet who would defend them from a “friendly business opportunity” with just a few strings attached. America had to either get better at playing this game or else they would find themselves under new management. That one Congressman from Washington, James Hendrix, a protégé of Speaker Stoughton who had managed to get a Bill passed into Law that protected domestic aircraft production as Lockheed had joined a strategic alliance with Junkers AG, an alliance that was looking increasingly less equal as time passed. The fact that Hendrix had managed to do that without the usual suspects screeching about Government overreach and interference with business spoke to his talents as a Politician. Perhaps it was time to see if Congressman Hendrix was interested in making a name for himself and stepping out from the shadow of his mentor in the process.

    Nixon pushed those thoughts aside as he greeted Kristina von Preussen, Princess Royal of Germany, along with her husband, Professor Benjamin Markgraf von Hirsch. They had two children, a daughter Nina, age 6 and son Louis Bernhard, age 2, but both of them had remained in the Willard Hotel while their parents were at the White House.

    “Princess” Nixon said in greeting as he entered the State Dining Room. He knew that she was here as a proxy for her brother tonight because Kaiser Friedrich IV seldom traveled outside of Europe these days. He was involved in complex negotiations with his neighbors according to the German Ambassador. Considering that Friedrich was an Attorney by training and had specialized in Contract Law, then his neighbors had better be prepared for a lot of hard bargaining. They probably needed to make sure that their wallets remained in their pockets as well the gold fillings in their teeth.

    “Mister President” Kristina replied with a smile that he noticed didn’t reach her eyes.

    “I understand that you had an interesting time on the Great Lakes” Nixon said, “Perhaps you would like to tell me about it.”

    “I would love to” Kristina replied.
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Thirty-One

    26th July 1977

    Richthofen Estate, Rural Silesia

    “Fraulein Auer is an opinionated young woman who is clearly not afraid to voice those opinions” Ilse read the letter from Mathilda’s school aloud. “That has proven to be a bit much for her Professors at times.”

    Manfred the Elder snorted in laughter. Mathilda was doing well in school as far as getting good marks was concerned, just there were a few issues that the school felt her guardians, namely Ilse and Albrecht needed to address over the Summer Holiday. Unfortunately, Albrecht’s father was present as they were discussing the matter and Ilse didn’t exactly find his perspective helpful.

    “You approve of this sort of conduct?” Ilse asked her father-in-law.

    “If I felt that she was wrong, I wouldn’t” Manfred said. It seemed like his greatest joy these days was in watching his grandchildren drive his children insane.

    In the case of Mathilda that had come in the form of a pair of essays she had written that had reflected how she had conducted herself over the Spring Term. The first had been a couple thousand words about how she thought that Agamemnon deserved far worse than merely being beheaded by his wife after what he had done to their daughter, Iphigenia. Mathilda had then suggested several ideas for what Clytemnestra should have done instead that involved a lot more blood, fire, and screaming. The Professor found that to be rather disturbing. The Headmistress had been informed and she had called Ilse. That might have been the end of it, except a few weeks later Mathilda had employed her poison pen again. This time it was her opinion of the March family from a book she had read in English Class, and it had not been complimentary. Giving up your dreams and settling for mediocre domesticity unless you were conveniently dead by the end of the book, was how she had termed it.

    “What my father is trying to say is that Tilda is a modern young woman who can be a bit rebellious when it comes to the confines of a classical education” Albrecht said trying to be helpful, which made Ilse wish that his career had not kept him away from home so much over the last few years.

    “More like old fashioned” Manfred said, “Very old fashioned.”

    “What is that supposed to mean?” Albrecht asked.

    “Enough” Ilse said, more than a little worried about what Manfred might tell his son about the young woman who had inadvertently become their middle daughter. She found Mathilda absolutely exasperating at times, then there were others when she proved to be the best possible big sister for Ingrid.


    Mathilda was walking down the forest trail with sandaled feet listening to the sound of birds and insects, enjoying the smell of earth and the plants that surrounded them. While her cotton dress was perfect for the season, her friend. Or at least that was what everyone was calling her, Edmée, or Eddi as she liked to be called, was dressed almost as if they were back in school. Rounding out their little party was Ingrid and Mathilda’s dog Freyja. As was what had become tradition with them Mathilda and Ingrid were singing to the trees, trading verses as they walked. It was the sort of improvisation that Mathilda had once done with her mother, and she was happy to do it with Ingrid.

    “What is that song about Tilda?” Eddi asked as they concluded the song.

    “The changing of seasons, time, life, a bit of everything” Mathilda replied. She had tried to explain her singing to others before, but found that they generally didn’t understand or jumped to all sorts of strange conclusions. She had found it easier just to let the songs speak for themselves and not to include much about the religious aspects.

    “I think that it is very pretty” Eddi said as they rounded a bend in the trail.

    “Thank you” Mathilda replied and Ingrid gave her a gap-toothed grin.

    When Summer Holiday rolled around this year, Eddi’s parents had told her that they were going to be abroad and that she could spend it at the home of her Aunt like she had in prior years. The Aunt in question despised Eddi and her children tended to echo their mother’s sentiments. It was so bad that if it were possible, Eddi would have stayed in Tzschocha. Mathilda had asked Eddi if she wanted to go to Opa’s estate in a moment of weakness and Eddi had been acting as if she were the greatest friend she could ever have in the weeks since. It was something that Mathilda felt a bit guilty about, because she felt that she had not been a particularly great friend to Eddi.

    “Is this it?” Eddi asked, pushing her glasses back on her nose.

    “Yes” Mathilda replied as they descended into the small valley. They had spoken about this place over lunch and Eddi had wanted to see it. Even now at the height of summer the air grew noticeably cooler as they passed among the trees with trunks a meter or more thick. “Opa says that this place was ancient when Rome was just a settlement on the Palatine Hill and all of Germany once looked like this.”

    “I find that hard to imagine” Eddi said as they reached the tiny brook that flowed through the valley. Freyja, in the manner of dogs since the dawn of time, found a nice spot to sleep as her humans went about exploring the grove.
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Thirty-Two

    27th July 1977

    Over the Mid-Atlantic

    The Stewardess was happy that Nina and Lutz were not causing trouble at the moment. Lutz was asleep in Kiki’s arms and Nina had a couple coloring books out and that was drawing her undivided attention. It had been suggested that if Kiki wanted her quiet for a few hours she would acquire a 64-piece box of crayons for her, so far that had worked on this flight, but Kiki knew that there were still several hours ahead of them.

    As she had boarded the flight home, Kiki had been forced to conclude that the United States had changed since she had been there before and not for the better. Everywhere she had gone, there had been this feeling in the air, like if the entire nation was in a defensive crouch ready to lash out in violence at any second. According to news reports she had read things were supposedly looking up in America. Through a mixture of legislation and legal rulings, the country was finally living up to its highest aspirations. That wasn’t what greeted her once she had left Los Angeles though. It was like if people resented the idea that they might have to treat their neighbors as equals.

    When she had been preparing for this tour she had read a recent bestselling novel by Jerome Garcia, in it the Science Fiction author had gone on a bit of existential tangent when he mentioned that American life was defined by tiny boxes. You lived in a tiny box in the suburbs, you got into a different tiny box in the shape of a car to fight your way through traffic to sit in yet another tiny box in the form of an office. It was sort of hard not to see the obvious comparison to a prison cell that Garcia had made, and he had pointed out that everyone was completely terrified that someone might take their box, whichever one it was, away. It seemed that there was a fourth, somewhat larger box as well, the sort of neighborhood where they could insulate themselves from the very sort of reality they strived to maintain. Kiki had not gotten the chance to meet Jerome Garcia while she had been in San Francisco this time, but if his writings were a reflection on who he was, then he was probably an interesting man.

    It had been that passage of the book that had kept coming to mind as she had dealt with President Nixon. There had been an underlaying anger there. When he had mentioned the actions of the BND there had been no real heat behind it, it had been her dealings with Oglebay Norton that had what was at issue. She had seen the visible decline of industry in Upper Midwest in the form of shuttered factories and warehouses. The same thing had been happening in certain parts of Germany as mining had declined in the east and heavy industry in the west. How that had rippled through the economy of the region taking out dozens of other businesses in the process. In Germany, they had engaged in a process of modernization, reinvestment, and tearing down what couldn’t be saved. That seemed to be working, but to suggest that similar policy be pursued and demonstrating that it was possible had apparently stepped over an invisible line.

    That had just left Kiki exhausted. Just like the rest of the tour had and she was really starting to understand Kat’s attitude towards the United States. The only time that she had felt welcome had been when she had visited the Valenzuela family, and many Americans considered them even greater outsiders than she was. Tonight, she was going home, first to Hamburg and then the connecting flight to Munich. She would sleep in her own bed and just be with her family for a few weeks. Hopefully, her brother would not see fit to ask her for anything for a long time.

    La Massana, Andorra

    It was Marie Alexandra’s idea. After years of bullshitting everyone, perhaps Tatiana owed it to herself to actually see the Pyrenees Mountains. Of course, Marie rather pointedly told Tatiana that she had no interest in backpacking, not when there were plenty of perfectly good trains and buses over the mountains. That was perfectly in keeping with who Tatiana’s little sister was. She loved to explore, but only so long as there was hotel with full amenities nearby at the end of the day. And as much as it annoyed Tatiana to admit it, this beat waiting tables in Boston by a long shot.

    The choice to go to Andorra first also made perfect sense when looking at it from Marie’s perspective. The Principality was seated neatly between France and Spain, so it had a foot in both cultures. The chance to speak French and Spanish while shopping in Andorra la Vella and taking in the local culture was the perfect recreation for her.

    At Marie’s insistence, they had found a hotel in a mountain village outside the capital that was happy to have paying guests during the summer. All it took was a look around the lobby to see the paintings that were a part of the decorations, downhill skiing and tobogganing mostly, to see that was where the hotel made most of its money.

    Now, Marie was talking about what she wanted to do over the next few weeks until she needed to return to Montreal. They had an entire country to explore and so little time. That was certainly one way to look at it.
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Thirty-Three

    1st August 1977

    Camp Hale, Near Leadville, Colorado

    In the predawn darkness, it was cold at Camp Hale, even in the middle of summer. Mario had heard that there was even a chance that it could snow here in August. He had never thought that he would find himself with worse weather than the Alaskan interior, but apparently this was.

    “Pick your feet up Ramirez!” The Instructor yelled at him as he passed. In the high, thin air of the Rocky Mountains he could feel his head swimming as he continued the run, in full kit, including thirty pounds in his rucksack. Mercifully, the M-10 “Stoner” rifle they had given him was considerably lighter than the old M-9 Garand that was the mainstay in Alaska. Ritchie had asked him if he wanted to remain a grunt his entire career? The answer was an obvious no, and no one had said that improving his lot in the Army would come easy.

    The “Ranger Physical Assessment” was what they called this particular brand of torture and it was what made up the first week of the twenty-one-day training course. Sergeant Mullins and Mario’s brother Ritchie had told him that as a newly minted Specialist, he should accept the offer to go to Ranger School that he had been offered. Both Mullins and Ritchie had made it through this, so he had figured that that it wouldn’t be too hard. Besides that, even if he didn’t make it through the course due to injury or not making the cut just having volunteered for it would look good in his service record. If he completed the course and then didn’t get selected, he would still get to wear the Ranger tab when he got back to the 11th Airbourne. If a new LRRP team was being formed by the 11th Mario would be in contention to lead it with that tab. As it had turned out, this was turning out to be a lot harder than he had figured it would be.

    Camp Hale was home to the 10th Mountain Division and where those who sought entry into the elite Ranger Regiment trained. It was also part of the mysterious selection process for the Green Beret. So, the entire process was meant to weed out those who were incapable of doing the job. That meant that having the thin air play a key role in a physically and mentally demanding course was all a part of the process. Ritchie had told Mario about John Cassey, a Sergeant who had been in the 10th Mountain who had become a legend in the 1st Special Forces Group. Men from the Mountain Division certainly had a leg up in the selection process in that they lived here while those like Mario were merely visiting.

    Ritchie had also mentioned that he had been assigned to be a Gunner when he had done this. The weight of a light machine gun and belts of ammunition, the accompanying tools… Pure torture. It was with that pleasant thought that Mario finished that morning’s run. That meant that he would get a few minutes of rest before his instructors had a new task for him.

    Balderschwang, Bavaria

    Kiki had started to suspect something while they had still been in the United States the month prior. It had been what had been happening in the days since she had gotten back that had swiftly become impossible to ignore. By now it was something that she knew and understood all too well. The pounding migraines, exhaustion, and strange dreams. What all of that meant. That was how her body reacted towards an intruder of sorts that it both fought against and welcomed, which a simple blood test a couple days before had confirmed. Kiki had told no one other than Ben, until now, having invited Zella, Aurora, and Nora Berg to her house for lunch. They had known as soon as they had arrived that Kiki was going to tell them something momentous. This certainly qualified.

    “Can I please be recording when you tell your superiors?” Zella asked, more like begging. “The looks on their faces will be priceless.”

    “This is why I was reluctant to tell you” Kiki replied. Actually, it had been Aurora’s reaction she had been worried about. After struggling through a series of miscarriages, Aurora had finally had her daughter Gisela, and even that had been difficult. After that it had been deemed medically inadvisable for Aurora to have any more children. Later, she had not taken it well when she had learned about Zella’s accidental pregnancy. “Besides, the Medical Service isn’t completely in the dark over matters like these.”

    “Yes and no” Berg said, “Yes, they are aware that women have babies, but the reality is that with you they are in totally uncharted waters. I think that Zella is right about their reaction.”

    Zella and Berg got a laugh about that as they went into the dining room where lunch was being served. In many respects, Zella had replaced Kiki as Berg’s surrogate daughter. As Berg had put it, she still loved Kiki and was proud of what she had become, but Southern Bavaria was a bit out of her way.

    “I think this is wonderful” Aurora said, “A little brother or sister for Nina and Lutz.”

    “And a cousin for Gisela and Irina” Kiki said, which made Aurora happy. Partly due to the current climate in the Empire and the resurgence of anti-Semitism, Aurora had embraced the Reform Jewish beliefs of her husband and that part of her identity. That had driven a wedge between her and her parents. Aurora also had a brother and sister who were much younger than her, who she had never been particularly close to. Kiki and Zella had become key parts of her family. Like all families there were times when they had disagreements and others, like this, when they came back together.
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Thirty-Four

    6th August 1977


    Getting the family together was such a complicated undertaking these days, time passed, and everything grew more complicated. Louis Ferdinand understood that much as he was accompanied on his walk through the forest that made up much of the expansive grounds of the Summer Residence by the young woman who was his oldest granddaughter. Louis had to struggle with how he thought of her still as a small child. He knew that despite Freddy and Suga’s best intentions, they not only thought of her as a child but tended to treat her like one as well. The additional pressure that came from being the designated heir meant that Mirai was being crushed under the weight of expectations that Louis felt had grown unreasonable on top of that.

    How many times had Louis heard Kiki complain about how lonely her childhood had been? For Mirai it seemed like it was so much worse because she was very different from her aunt. To the public, she had come to be seen as the severe, humorless figure. That was the unreasonable part. Why wasn’t Mirai allowed to just be a thirteen-year-old? Adult expectations should not be part of the equation. Worst of all, Mirai was showing signs of growing into a beauty when she got older and that would do her absolutely no favors. It could be argued that she had inherited the best features of her German father and Japanese mother, that wasn’t always to her benefit.

    “I hate it” Mirai said with far more venom than Louis might have expected.

    “You should really try to avoid hate like that” Louis replied, even as he said that he knew that it was a bit late. Mirai had already learned to conduct herself in this manner and that was something which was nearly impossible to unlearn. “Things are already vastly different from when your grandmother was your age. By the time you are Kiki’s age…”

    Louis shrugged at the end of that.

    Mirai stopped walking and glared at Louis. Despite how profoundly different Mirai was in appearance and personality from Kira the look in her eyes was one that he had seen whenever something happened that displeased his first wife. Kira had died years before Mirai had been born, but he recognized an echo of her when he saw one. How exactly had that happened?

    “The choice that Aunt Kiki was forced to make was unfair” Mirai spat out. “Getting forced out like that. Having to decide between her family or her work.”

    “Has it occurred to you that you are basing your opinion on incomplete information?” Louis asked, “Kiki’s choices were forced on her when she had to accept a promotion when she had already decided to leave the Medical Service and was having to live apart from Benjamin. While she wasn’t exactly planning on having another child, she had stopped actively trying to prevent the conception. It had only been something that they had been talking about before Albrecht mucked things up for them.”

    Mirai stared at Louis, she had a look of surprise on her face this time. Kiki had told Louis the truth after she had told him that she was pregnant, she had been happiest when she was managing a hospital near the Observatory where Ben was the Director. King Albrecht of Bavaria had upset the applecart and oddly, this was Kiki taking back control of her life. When she left to go on maternity leave this time, she was not planning on coming back.

    “That is one of the things about being an adult” Louis said as they resumed walking. “Things are never as simple as you might like.”

    Mirai frowned when she heard that. Louis remembered that her name meant “Future” in Japanese. Mirai Louise Kristina von Preussen was her full name. In Germany it was often thought to be a misspelling of Marie, while her middle names were that of her ancestor Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and her Aunt Kristina, two women who could be described as forces of nature, like a thunderstorm. Well, like the weather, the future happened whether you liked it or not.


    Amedeo Giovani, Prince of Naples and heir to the Italian throne certainly felt out of place. His father had practically ordered him to go to Germany after sulking around for months after having had to give up command of the RN Audace, the Destroyer that had been his first true love. The reason for that was that he was attending the birthday party of Princess Kristina, a woman who had very publicly rejected his older brother before his untimely, though many in Italy would argue fortuitous, death in an auto accident. Kristina herself had been born on Christmas Day, so she had celebrated her birthday sometime mid-summer since childhood. In attendance today would be several high-born women who Amedeo should probably get to know better.

    He could take a hint.

    Amedeo’s father made of point of mentioning that included Antonia Marie, the eighteen-year-old half-sister of the German Kaiser. That was to his considerable annoyance, he was more than a decade older than the German Princess and figured that he would have absolutely nothing to talk about with her. Sure, Amedeo had seen mention of Antonia in magazines, but that was the sort of thing that he had never had time for. Cosimo de Medici, his father’s Consigliere, had told him that the Princess was a pretty blond girl. He had been saved by Kristina announcing that she was pregnant with her third child, who would be a new addition to the family sometime next winter. That had drawn all the attention.

    In that moment, Amedeo envied Louis Ferdinand Junior, Kristina’s younger brother. His friend had been able to beg off this event because he was busy restructuring the Romanian Navy and hoping to get it done before either the Greeks or the Russians did something stupid. The risk of getting shot at was preferable to this. At least on the Black Sea the risks were well understood.

    “You don’t look like you are having fun” Amedeo heard a voice say. Looking he saw that it was a girl wearing a Luftwaffe Pilot’s helmet of all things.

    “I’m feeling a bit out of place” Amedeo replied, he was one of many guests who were here for diplomatic reasons. Regardless of whatever social considerations there were. “What is with the helmet?”

    “My sister Kiki gave it to me as a joke because I’ve been learning to fly” The girl said, taking off the helmet and revealing long blond hair.

    “Not an activity that I would expect that someone like you would be doing” Amedeo said, “What do your parents think?”

    “Poppa is the one who has been giving me lessons, so of course they don’t mind” The girl said with a happy smile.

    The Emperor Emeritus of Germany was well known to be rather proud of his status as a Flight Instructor. Meeting her meant that Amedeo could go back to his father and tell him that he had spoken to the German Princess.

    “Tell me more” Amedeo said, considering himself fortunate that the Princess wasn’t a complete bore.
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    Part 146, Chapter 2635
  • Chapter Two Thousand Six Hundred Thirty-Five

    7th August 1977

    Pamplona, Spain

    The Festival of San Fermín had ended weeks earlier, not that they would have been inclined to run with the bulls if they had present, and it was the height of summer. So there had been little going on in Pamplona when Marie Alexandra and Tatiana had arrived there after spending the prior week exploring small towns and villages in the Pyrenees mountains.

    The car that they had acquired in Barcelona after disliking how they had been at the mercy of other people’s schedules in Andorra, an old SEAT 850, needed a bit of help after having barely made it over the mountains. Marie being Marie, she had been totally flippant over the matter and assumed that they could just pay someone to fix the car. While she wasn’t wrong about that, any idiot with a wrench set could service an 850. That was a key part of the model’s enduring popularity in Spain. Tatiana had very different perspective, one that seemed rather idiotic after she had made her point. How many times had they heard that they should never allow themselves to be dependent on others? Even if it was to do simple repairs on a car.

    It had been much to Tatiana’s annoyance that Marie asked when exactly she was planning on having the car ready so that they could travel on to Bilbao. Or should she start looking at the train schedule? The truth that she was forced to admit to was that she had only disagreed with Marie’s course of action because Marie had been so fast to suggest it. So, Tatiana had to watch as Marie had a lot more success than she would have in finding the sort of Idiot with a wrench set who would fix the car and not try to rip them off. It was the anger over that which would lead directly into Tatiana’s next mistake.

    Since they were stuck in Pamplona until they got the car back on Monday, was Marie planning on attending Church? After all Pamplona was an important stop in the Way of Saint James, and while they had absolutely no plans to walk the pilgrimage themselves it would make Oma Blackwood happy. As it had turned out, reminding Marie of the sort of compromises she had needed to make to maintain the peace in their grandfather’s household had been precisely the wrong thing to have done. Perhaps if Tatiana had known what her sister was planning she wouldn’t have drunk most of a bottle of wine with dinner the night before. It was something that both Tatiana and Marie had indulged in since they had arrived in Spain, the sort of wine which fetched a premium in shops in Berlin was cheaply available in abundance.

    In the predawn hours of Sunday morning, Marie had dragged Tatiana out of bed. Forcing her to wash and get dressed so that they could go to the Cathedral. Tatiana understood why her sister was doing this, while they were on holiday no less, so she had grudgingly gone along. Tatiana had watched as Marie showed that she had become extremely good at doing the associated rituals while Tatiana smiled in the face of the looks of disapproval that she had received.

    Finally, they were walking back to the hotel. The old city, which dated back to Roman times, was coming alive. Despite it being a day of rest and all, the business of going about life still went on. There also were a number of tourists from around the world like them even if the height of the season in this part of Spain had passed.

    “Okay” Tatiana said, “Can we call a truce?”

    “There was never really a battle” Marie replied, which Tatiana knew was bullshit but didn’t call her sister on it. “I’ve gotten pretty convincing when it comes to the whole Catholic thing, so it was nice to have someone along who knows the real score.”

    Tatiana couldn’t help but laugh at that. Their parents had come from different religious backgrounds, and they had solved the problem by basically raising their children in a mostly agnostic household. Sure, there was Great-Aunt Marcella’s version of Christianity, which was technically Lutheranism but that had been a battle that Marcella had stopped fighting with their mother when she had been a teenager. Things were a lot more complicated with their grandmother in Canada who seemed to have an opinion about everything, including religion. For Marie to do anything else than play along would have been asking Margot Blackwood to make her life miserable for as long as she planned to stay in Montreal.

    “You could have clued me into that” Tatiana said, “That crowd back there seemed to be going out of their way to make certain they didn’t approve. Did you say anything to them?”

    “I didn’t mention you at all, beyond saying that you were my sister and that I had brought you along” Marie replied, “I had other things to consider, there was the whole thing about confession before…”

    “What could you possibly have to confess to?” Tatiana asked. To her that seemed absurd. She knew that her younger sister was extremely shy and the way she conducted herself, there wasn’t anything that she could possibly have done that the worst scolds in any church could take issue with.

    “Envy mostly” Marie said, “I feel it when I watch how you have no trouble introducing yourself to new people.”

    That was not an answer that Tatiana was expecting.