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BLACK CHAMBER

by S.M. Stirling


 

CHAPTER THREE:

 

Luchthaven Nummer Één
(Airport Number One)
Amsterdam,
Koninkrijk der Nederlanden
(Kingdom of the Netherlands)
September 5th, 1916(b)

 

The great floating hanger below had been fabricated in New Jersey and sent over to Amsterdam in naval transports during February, heavily escorted by American warships—both for safety’s sake and as a calculated thumb in the eye of the Kaiserlich Marine, daring them to do anything about it. The assembly had been completed in the spring, with the hanger resting in a basin dredged off the main canal to the ocean and looking nearly identical to its counterpart in New York except that a giant Dutch flag was painted on the exterior... ironically, in the same red-white-blue colors. Originally the hangar had been intended for London or Portsmouth, but the war had intervened and the Netherlands had eagerly bid for the privilege. Not only because of the commercial advantages for which they always had a keen eye, but because they were a small neutral who desperately wanted the diplomatic support of a large one. They must be dreading the moment the United States declared war on the Central Powers, with the fates of Serbia and Romania and their own Belgian neighbor before their eyes.

The San Juan Hill came into the wind with a long low circle over the Dutch capital, its great teardrop shadow scrolling across a flat sprawl with a glint of canals and streets of high narrow brick houses. Here and there were a cluster of larger, newer structures or the church-spires that dominated any skyline except in Chicago and New York; avenues and electric trams and thronging traffic; and then a sprawl of warehouses and modern docks and ships from everywhere.

The sun was westering, an hour or two from setting, and the long golden-gray light turned the city into a dream of Old Europe. It made you think of explorers setting forth in big-bellied, well-gunned galleons, and returning—when they did—with their sails beaten to rags, laden with gold and silks, furs and spices and pearls and brags.

Luz sat with Horst on the observation deck, patting her mouth with a gloved hand as she yawned, with a broad-brimmed hat before her on the table and her suitcase and hatbox resting ready to hand. She felt a little underdressed because her knife and automatic pistol were back in their receptacles in the suitcase, under the false bottom and its cover of trashy romances, adventure stories and naughty French poetry. Not that she was going to fight her way into a neutral kingdom, but...

...I’ve always got me, she thought with what she considered pardonable pride. Considering what I did stark naked and armed with two glasses of tequila, that statement covers a great deal.

The steady throb of the engines changed as they were throttled down until they barely balanced the wind from the west, and the airship sank towards the surface of the water as gas was loosed from the valves along the upper. A thunk sounded, and out of the corner of her eye she could see the towing-cable falling away from the bow of the airship, turning thread-thin and then caught with a long turntable-mounted pole on the aft deck of the tug. Hooking it up took a few minutes, since it had to be done with exquisite care not to damage the fragile frame of the San Juan Hill.

When weight came on the line there was a subliminal shiver through the deck beneath them. The motion of the airship changed as the hawsers fore and aft held it rigid, a quicker almost-fluttering feeling and then a stillness as the engines were cut for the first time since they left New York, a noise so accustomed you heard only its sudden absence. A large hose dropped down as well, now that they were within fifty feet of the surface, and a pump throbbed as it drove water into the ballast tanks. The dirigible slid into the cradle and the dozens of ground-crew sprang to lash it down with ropes through the eyelets set into the lower ribs. Looking up Luz could see that they were great blocks of the more expensive incandescents in front of reflective panels, not arc-lights of the type usually used for large public spaces or big industrial buildings.

Her parents had both been adults before they lived in a house with electric lights, and she’d seen the world grow brighter every year.

“Our mothers and fathers were born in a world lit only by fire, as it was from the beginning of time,” she said. “And we have... this.”

Horst nodded agreement to the point. “My father only put in electric light at the Schloss when we added a power plant for the sugar-beet mill.”

Then he looked up into the vaulted vastness of the hangar himself. “That is good practice. Hydrogen goes up, and you don’t want high-temperature naked arcs there where it’s leaked and mixed with the air. Plenty of ventilation panels, too. The Yankees have good engineers, damn them. We have airships just coming into service bigger than this with more lift, built specially for a... special mission. But the design is very similar to this.”

“You’ve flown often?” Luz said admiringly—and, mostly, honestly. “This was wonderful, but it’s my first time.”

Horst grinned, indicating the lounge with a sideways flick of the wrist—she recognized a mensur-swordsman’s gesture. “The ones I’ve flown on before are much less comfortable than this—flying at six thousand meters to stay above the ceiling of the enemy fighting-scouts; freezing cold, and sucking on an oxygen tube and still feeling as if you were smothering for hours on end. And in Flugzeugen, but those I have piloted myself.”

“Ah, and what’s that like?” she said enviously.

She could have gotten into a flight-school course, since the Chamber encouraged you to pick up any number of skills and some field operatives did fly, but she’d never found the time, and it was harder for a woman to do so without attracting notice anyway. Male operatives could just be dropped into the Army Air Corps training system with cooked papers, but sending her would be like tattooing dangerous Black Chamber female spy on her forehead for the duration of her stay, while dozens of regular-Army blockheads memorized her face and then blabbed.

“Flying a Flugzeugen yourself,” Luz clarified.

Flugzeug translated literally as flight-tackle or flight-stuff and meant what in English was called an aero-plane, a heavier-than-air winged craft of the sort invented by the Wright brothers. That had been in ’03, but nobody had paid much attention at the time except for a few like her father, not for years afterwards. Then suddenly six or seven years before the war everyone was talking about aero-planes; she’d seen that flight in North Carolina grow more important in retrospect as she grew up herself.

A dreamy look came into the man’s pale eyes as he remembered.

“Noisy, rough, dangerous... magnificent!” Horst said. “This—“ his foot tapped the deck “—is like sailing. A Flugzeug is like flying yourself, as close to being a bird as is possible for a man. Like an eagle, like a bird of prey! Like riding a lively, ah—”

Lively woman, Luz supplied with an inner raised eyebrow; Horst had forgotten exactly who he was talking to for a moment, speaking as if to another man, which was even a complement in an odd way.

We’re both very tired; they’d been spelling each other, which meant some sleep—but not enough of it, and frequently interrupted.

“—a good horse, but much better. Louder and with bad smells, but... glorious.” He chuckled. “My father was a captain of Uhlans when we beat the French in 1870, and his grandfather the same at Leipzig and Waterloo when we crushed Napoleon a century ago. He was vastly disappointed that I would not be a horse-soldier, but the day of men sitting on the backs of animals and poking each other with pointed sticks is past, even if some of the elders won’t admit it.”

“You have a point,” Luz said. “The Yankee aero-planes—and armored war-autos armed with pom-poms and machine guns—have hurt us badly in Mexico, and they have swarms of both now, thousands. They can make it impossible to move in daylight in open country, across the deserts and plains where in the old days the vaquero was lord. The war-autos run down bands of mounted men and kill their horses with exhaustion even before the fighting, and then machine-gun riflemen who can’t hurt them except by accident. And the flying scouts pinpoint our bands of fighters and attack from the air with more machine-guns and bombs and mustard-gas, while motor-trucks bring gringo infantry up ten times faster than marching speed. And even in the mountains where vehicles cannot go the air scouts can see much—they can guide foot soldiers or mounted infantry and bomb and machine-gun the camps of los guerilleros unless there is thick forest. We have to move in darkness, make no lights nor show smoke, and hide in daytime like mice from hawks.”

Horst asked some keenly specific questions; she supplied a few anecdotes which were convincing because they were true, with her simply reversing the viewpoints. The only problem was that most of the ones she’d been involved in ended with all the revolucionarios dead or kneeling with their hands on their heads as a preliminary to a new career turning large rocks into small rocks while helping to build Mexico’s first good road network.

He nodded, and for a wonder didn’t act as if tactics were beyond a woman’s comprehension without using spelling-blocks and crayons and very simple words. When he spoke it was soberly:

“This is valuable intelligence. We have used motorized fighting vehicles and troops carried in motor-lorries in cooperation with aircraft on the Eastern Front, against Russia and Rumania—there is more space there on the great open steppes than on the Western Front. In the West, the French and English have a division for every few kilometers and so do we, both locked in place by barbed wire and machine-guns with interlocking fields of fire while the artillery hammers without ceasing—that has gone on since our first attack stalled on the Marne in 1914, though we came so close to Paris... The eastern steppes are rather like your Mexican deserts and plains in that respect. The Chief of the General Staff and the First Quartermaster-General understand the possibilities in the East.”

That referred to the duo of Hindenburg and Ludendorff who’d been running the German Army—and Germany, whatever the Kaiser or the politicians thought—since von Falkenhayn stood too close to a stray howitzer shell at the opening of the Verdun offensive back in February and left nothing to be found but his feet, still in his jackboots. Before then they’d been the hammers of the Russians, lords of OberOst and commanders on the eastern front. And Colonel Nicolai of Abteilung IIIb was their man.

Horst smiled: “Even horse cavalry can be useful in the East, though the men fight on foot more often than not even if they ride to battle. But we have little rubber and much less petroleum to spare than the Yankees... though that may change soon, Gott sei Dank.”

Aha, Luz thought, sipping at her tea; she’d known about Germany’s shortages, but not any hope of bettering them. That’s interesting, isn’t it? If true and not just whistling in the dark. Everybody boasts but Germans make it an art-form.

“You haven’t told me precisely what we’re doing next,” she said. “It’s getting to the time where I need to know if I’m not to be a burden.”

Horst thought for a moment, then nodded. “Yes. You are no ordinary... agent.”

Ordinary woman, Luz thought without much heat. Meaning I’m not featherbrained or hysterical. Thank you so much for making a special exception for me, Horst. I remember Rebecca Grunstein at college with metaphorical smoke coming out of her ears and going literally beet-red once when someone told her she was hardly like a Jew at all. You could see her thinking: So, that’s a complement?

The basic attitude to her sex was common enough in America, despite Uncle Teddy’s well-known liking for spunky girls who shot lions and rode their horses like maenads across hill and dale. It was much stronger among Central Europeans, particularly the landed nobility. Horst was actually much more flexible than she’d anticipated, but then by Junker standards he was an eccentric and an iconoclast.

“We must go from here to the Fatherland,” Horst said. “To a Schloss in the eastern marches...”

Luz clapped her hands together and made a round-eyed expression of innocent-imbecilic delight, as much to hide the slight stab at the knowledge that soon she would be wholly in enemy territory and in constant danger of death by torture as for the devilment of the thing. But the devilment was tempting enough:

“Horst, darling! You mean you want to take me home to Silesia and introduce me to your mother and father!”

Stark horror greeted that statement. Then she dissolved in laughter and put a hand on his. “I’m sorry... very sorry, Horst, but the expression on your face... oh, Madre de Dios... if you could only have seen yourself...”

The German glared at her for an instant, then laughed unwillingly himself and ducked his head in the seated equivalent of a heel-click.

“Was I so transparent? I am sorry if I offended.”

“Transparent as glass, sweetie—I took you by surprise. No, really, Horst: you are a magnificent specimen of Germanic manhood and intelligent as well—”

If rather boring in bed, though with instruction that might change.

“—and I have enjoyed our time together and look forward to working with you, but even if it were possible, which it is not, I wouldn’t marry you for all the potatoes in Silesia. And if I remember my geography lessons, there are a lot of potatoes in Silesia.”

“Sugar-beet,” Horst said dryly. “My family’s estate is mostly in sugar-beets, and we have a refinery and distillery. But I take your point, Elisa.”

She nodded. “I have my own country, my own cause, and my own plans for my life... in the unlikely event I live much longer. I’m not a silly girl who swoons over a handsome face.”

Horst looked miffed for a moment—it really was a bit deflating to be told your noble blood and cleft chin and youthful stamina were disposable—and then made a gesture that was half a salute. He was probably slightly relieved too, which had been her intention. Besides the sheer artistic pleasure of deceiving someone by telling them the precise truth.

“I have never encountered a woman like you, Elisa,” he said. “You are a true warrior, in your way. I shall regret our parting.”

Far more than you think you will, dear Horst, probably. And for entirely different reasons than nostalgia about the feel of my legs wrapped around your waist, she thought, and said aloud:

“I thought it best to be honest... well, as honest as possible,” she said; which, oddly enough, was... honest.

Die Ehrlichkeit der Spione,” Horst said ruefully; the honesty of spies. “It is a drawback of intelligence work.”

“I can tell you,” he went on, “that this is a project of vast potential on which you will be fully briefed—and potentially it will give your country a real chance to throw off the Protectorate the Yankees have imposed on it. Ireland too will have a chance to strike for its freedom. Details I cannot yet provide, of course.”

“Of course,” she said with a smile.

You didn’t, until you absolutely had to, for the same reason soldiers didn’t get issued ammunition until they were actually going to shoot.

“And Germany will at last have its rightful place in the sun. Our immediate problem is that the Dutch are running only a few passenger trains across the frontier. And all of them start before noon. We must spend the night here in Amsterdam. Trying for the frontier in an automobile would be entirely too risky if the enemy... any of six or more enemy intelligence services... have any hint of our presence. Autos are not nearly as common here as in America, and less so now with wartime limits on petrol.”

“At least we may get some sleep tonight,” Luz said. “If I’m going to spend a whole night and the following day awake, I can think of more agreeable ways to do it than watching two English spies watch me with murder in their eyes.”

Horst barked laughter. “Are there many women in Mexico like you?” he said.

“If you mean in the Revolutionary Party, no,” Luz said. “I like to think I’m one of a kind.”

In point of fact the ones she’d met had all been boring fanatic prigs, like their male equivalents but worse; not counting ordinary soldaderas, who were often cheerfully carefree. But then, the revolucionario women she’d met had all been trying to deceive or kill her or both, and vice versa. It did make her feel more satisfied with her work, considering that she was thwarting such a bunch of pickled puritans. The Protectorate was no paradise, but it was certainly an improvement on the Porfiriato and doubly so on the charnel house the revolucionarios and their mixture of vendetta and theory-schooled grudges and sheer bandit lust for spoils had made of whatever parts they controlled... And unlike them, Plenipotentiary Henry Cabot Lodge and his people were prepared to let those who didn’t want to openly support the Intervention regime just keep their heads down and mouths shut while they got on with their lives and stayed out of politics unmolested.

Now that vengeance wasn’t a question any more she really rather liked Mexico and most of its people again. Not as much as California, which she loved, but more than, say, the essence of flat gloomy dullness that was Ohio or even worse, Indiana or worst of all, Illinois. Her own particular concept of eternal damnation would be an endless January in Chicago with the wind off Lake Michigan whistling down the Burnham Plan’s grand new avenues. Though a sticky summer there when the winds brought the unforgettable scent of the Union Stockyards north was a close rival.

And the Germans have no conception of how to handle a beaten enemy except to grab them by the throat and squeeze until the victim’s eyes pop out; witness Belgium or Serbia or what they call OberOst. I suspect that Mexico and Ireland would find it a jump from the frying pan into the fire in a world where Germany did have its place in the sun.

“I hope the Englishman and his Gunga Din don’t manage to make trouble immediately,” Horst said. “They should be freeing themselves by now; it was fortunate we got them back into their own compartment without notice. I was a little surprised that they did not struggle more when we did—perhaps you had terrified them too much! You would terrify me, I can tell you, if I had my hands tied and you were scowling at me and holding that barbaric Spanish knife.”

Luz grinned. “Don’t worry, sweetie. I dropped a few hints with the staff when I gave out the final tips.”

“Hints?” Horst said, alarmed.

Usually it was better not to attract any notice at all you didn’t have to.

“Yes, I said I’d overheard them having this terrible drunken lover’s quarrel, which ended up with them weeping in each other’s arms, battered and contrite, so they should be left alone for a tumble of reconciliation. That’ll account for the bruises, too, and any thumping and pounding as they wiggle out of the cords.”

The German nobleman stifled a shout of Wagnerian laughter. “Oh, Elisa, you are a treasure!”

“I thought it would make it more difficult for them to get much cooperation, or be taken seriously,” she said demurely, casting her eyes up innocently. “Technically it could get them arrested, but that’s too much to hope.”

“And of an Englishman, it will be believed, along with tying up and bum-switching.”

Luz nodded, carefully not mentioning the terrible scandal that had started a few years before the war when General Graf—Count—Dietrich von Hülsen-Haeseler of the Kaiser’s military cabinet had dropped dead of a heart attack in mid-dance while dressed as a ballerina and performing before the All-Highest and his cronies at a remote hunting lodge. It had spread from there in ripples of resignations, courts-martial and suicide among various high-and-well-born military men for some time. The French newspaper cartoonists had had a field day while the English-speaking world’s press had merely talked about unmentionable vices and made vague references to poor Oscar Wilde.

And Bryn Mawr is more less a singing-grove of the higher Sapphism, starting with President Thomas and Mary Garrett. People are people the world over. It’s really absurd the way people carry on about it, she thought; there was the theology, of course, but... Though I must admit the thought of the Kaiser and his generals frantically trying to get the limp corpse of one of their number out of a pink tutu and back into his dress uniform and six pounds of medals is rather funny. But it wouldn’t be at all tactful to mention it to Horst.

There were a series of echoing clanks through the fabric of the airship, a rumbling sighing sound—probably the hydrogen being pumped out of the gas cells so they could be thoroughly dried of condensate—and a flicker in the internal lights as the dirigible changed from its own power system to the exterior supply. A steward walked through playing the xylophone-like thing used to draw attention to announcements, and said:

“Ladies and gentlemen—mesdames et messieurs—Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren—mevrouws en mijnheers—”

The multilingual gist was follow me to disembark. She took Horst’s arm, forced herself not to snatch her suitcase back when a steward scooped it up, and they strolled down the spiral staircase to the forward ramp, now down and locked to the platform with the ship’s First Officer making polite goodbyes in a Deep South gumbo accent. Everyone who could afford an airship passage was important enough to rate that sort of thing.

She glanced up again at the huge silver-gray bulk of the dirigible and smiled to herself. The shark-fin control surfaces at the rear had the Stars and Stripes on them, the latest version with a forty-ninth star for Hawaii.

My first air voyage. And my first airborne fight and first airborne fornication, too. I wonder... no, human beings are human beings; someone must have done that already. Probably decades ago in a balloon. But I may be in the first hundred!

The stewards put their cabin baggage down beside them as the line passed the scowling Dutch customs officials checking documents—and several men in plain civilian suits whose thick necks and beady eyes and bowler hats blared detective of some sort for anyone with eyes to see. The uniformed officials examined the passports with meticulous care, sometimes calling in a plainclothesman; one even used a jeweler’s monocular on hers while two of his colleagues went through her suitcase, though they didn’t turn a hair when they leafed through the books. They probably had her classed as a loose woman anyway, since she and Horst were obviously a pair.

It was a comfort to know that the faked products of the Black Chamber’s American documents section used the very same materials as the State Department, and it stood to reason that Horst’s forgeries were as good since they’d probably been made up at the German Embassy in Washington.

“Between your armies on the frontier and the English battleships off the coast, the Dutch must feel as if they’re between a school of sharks and a pack of wolves,” Luz observed as Horst dispatched their heavy luggage from the cargo ahead to the railway station.

It would go out on an overnight freight and be waiting for them wherever they were going. There would be inspections here and again when entering Germany, but there wasn’t anything in them that would excite suspicion, or at least not in hers, unless the observers were far better than she expected. She managed to see part of the address he scribbled and imprint it on her mind without being obvious: Schloss Rauenstein, Königreich Sachsen.

Those endless lessons in Kim’s Game did come in useful. The name didn’t ring an immediate bell, which wasn’t surprising since there were thousands of Schlösser in the German Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian one too for that matter, and even in Baltic Russia where the nobility were mostly of German descent.

The term covered what the English word castle implied and more besides; everything from modest manor houses to Mad Ludwig’s fairy-tale creations, sitting on Bavarian mountaintops like spun-sugar neo-medieval fantasies on a baker’s shelves. Sachsen—Saxony—meant far southeastern Germany, and at a guess it would be away from the major cities like Dresden and near the border with Austrian Bohemia. Mountains and forests, mostly... a very good place to hide things from Entente or American eyes. The fairytales from those parts were heavy with werewolves, and witches in gingerbread huts eating stray children. A few days further east and south and it was leshy and vampir.

Horst nodded a bit complacently at the thought of the Dutch sweating about the German armies on their flat, indefensible border, his smile turning slightly...

Wolfish, Luz thought. He really is a dangerous man. He’d be even more dangerous if he didn’t underestimate me—or women in general. Not alone in that, alas, but sometimes... quite often in fact... it’s useful.

“This country is an absurdity, anyway, a bad historical joke,” he said. “The so-called Netherlands language is just a dialect of Low German with a flag and a little play-army suitable only for walloping wogs in Asia. Logically this place should be part of the Reich; the trade connections and colonies would nicely complement our present holdings.”

“So is English a dialect of Plattdüütsch,” Luz pointed out. “With some Danish and a lot of French added. And I suppose the British Empire would nicely complement the Reich’s present holdings too.”

“That may take a little longer than attending to the Netherlands,” Horst granted with an air of deep thought, then winked at her.

“And Austrians are just Germans in three-quarter time?”

He laughed outright at that. Careful, you could really like this man, she thought; he had his full share of Prussian military stiffness, but he could take it off when he wanted to... and he didn’t always take himself seriously, either. Don’t start liking people you may have to kill and certainly have to lie to and betray.

She was almost sure he’d have added something on the order of the time of small states is past, this is the century of great empires next, which was a political commonplace these days what with Mackinder and his geopolitics and Heartland Theory being so popular. Uncle Teddy adored Mackinder and so did the Kaiser and his professors.

That he didn’t meant Horst had remembered in time he was talking to someone who was a Mexican revolutionary who wanted to throw the gringos out and have a social revolution too, and allied by blood and politics to Irish nationalists. It did show a certain elephantine tact on his part. Even an intelligence operative probably wasn’t bare-faced enough to pretend that the Reich had any interest in promoting national independence for weak countries except as a tool of war policy, the way it had used the Ottomans to proclaim an Islamic holy war against the European colonial empires. Except in Germany’s own empire, of course.

The Turks must be very trusting sorts.

The area outside the hangar was still a chaos of new construction that would eventually be the aerial equivalent of a major train station, piles of brick and girders and half-liquid soil and half-made pavements and holes full of water and a web of scaffolding and cranes. It smelled of coal-smoke and dirty brackish harbor-water and the peculiar scent of glutinous much-used European mud dredged from canals that had received everything you could think of from a great city for generations beyond count. Horst set his Homburg on his head, whistled sharply and flagged a motor-taxi—a French-made Renault, boxy and black with an almost comical little ten-horsepower engine under a miniature bull-nosed hood—and the driver sprang out to put their suitcases in the compartment.

Something caught her eye, and she stretched and yawned again, looking behind her casually for an instant. Two men, reading newspapers, ordinary middle-class suits with narrow ties and turnover shirt-collars and bowler hats... who put the newspapers down simultaneously and moved forward behind someone else.

“Horst, don’t look around, but there are two men by the entrance who are following... not, us, but that fellow who looks like a professor from Leipzig. They’re not Dutch, I think, or German.”

Horst cursed quietly under his breath—German was a good language for that—and used the window of the cab as a partial mirror.

“You’re right,” he said tightly. “They’re French—you won’t see a Dutchman with a mustache like that, and one of them is dark as an Italian. Schluss mit lustig! Playtime’s over!”

That was exactly what she’d thought, but Elisa Carmody wouldn’t be equipped to make that sort of snap judgment of the rather subtle differences between Europeans. Horst went on:

“And that means they will be following us too; he’s heading to the same hotel. And he is a professor, but from the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft.”

The ears of her mind pricked at the name. That was an institution in Berlin that served as a central government-sponsored clearing-house and funding source for pure and applied scientific research in conjunction with universities and corporate labs, founded in 1911 and now working at forced-draft on Germany’s war-effort including dozens of secret projects. Several of them had given the Entente very nasty shocks indeed, and had impressed her own service, like the poison gas shells that had rained down on the British at Ypres, and the long-range submarines that could recharge their batteries while below the surface through extensible tubes.

Uncle Teddy had imitated the Kaiser Wilhelm with the American National Advanced Research Projects Institute during the reforms of the famous first Hundred Days after his 1912 victory—a lot of Progressive intellectuals were German-educated and admirers of the German theory of the State and German methods. Only Teddy’s Institute was larger and had more money and a more impressive headquarters in Washington; he’d said himself more than once that like most Americans he just liked things big. Then the Kaiser had pouted and replied in kind with a further avalanche of money to his Institute.

Wilhelm had hated Theodore Roosevelt since he made Germany back down in the Venezuela crisis of 1902 with a blunt threat of war. And he’d had a serious case of Teddy-envy for years, since the American President was all the things he wanted to be but wasn’t, starting with being a real soldier who’d charged to victory at the head of his troops and working on from there through great reformer to frontier adventurer and amateur scientist of real distinction. It had gotten much worse since Teddy’s triumphant return to power. He was known to grind his teeth at the mention of the Roosevelt name, and to have launched a secret project to find out if the Roosevelts had any German noble or royal blood in their backgrounds. He’d proven to his own satisfaction that they were descendants of the Van Rosevelts who’d been made lords of Oud-Vossemeer by William III, Duke of Bavaria, back in the late middle ages.

How Uncle Teddy laughed at that!

“Ah. I thought the Professor was the other strong possibility; you, him, and then the Westphalian Hog. And I couldn’t imagine either of them being codenamed Imperial Sword.”

“They haven’t spotted us,” Horst said, with a slight snort of Uradel nobleman’s agreement at her choice of nickname for the obese businessman. “But it is crucial that... that the academic person makes it safely back to the Fatherland.”

Aha, Luz thought. There were two agents. And the Herr Professor is less likely to attract the eye than Horst, especially with Horst around to attract the eye. I may have underestimated Colonel Nicolai... but the French, if that’s what they are, have made him...

‘Made’ was the term of art for penetrating a false identity.

...and not us. Of course, they might well have had previous experience with him. Scientists are very important in this war. It’ll be a pity if I have to put a stop to any agents of our prospective French ally, but our operations take priority... for us.

“If it’s the Deuxième Bureau de l'État-major general they’ll wait until night,” Horst said. “As a gesture to the Dutch. But they’re not going to let a target escape to keep the cheese-eaters happy.”

Luz kept herself from nodding agreement by an effort of will; her cover identity wouldn’t be as familiar with the workings of European espionage and counter-espionage organizations as she was. The Second Bureau of the French General Staff was notoriously proactive when operating abroad, as much so as the Black Chamber and much more so than the British secret service, whose head had been reduced to traveling around Germany just before the war with a false mustache plastered to his lip.

“Can you call for help?” she said. “Or get us all to a safe-house?”

“No. This operation was segregated and kept hermetically sealed from the usual channels. It was managed directly by... from Berlin.”

“Well,” she shrugged. “We’ll just have to manage, won’t we?”

 

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