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BLACK CHAMBER

by S.M. Stirling


 

CHAPTER NINE:

 

Schloss Rauenstein
Kingdom of Saxony, German Reich
September 12th, 1916(b)

 

Horst von Dückler thought he knew why the conference started in a grim frame of mind, for all that the room was large and bright with afternoon sunlight and smelled pleasantly of coffee... real coffee... being handed around to the participants. And for all that the talk was mostly of victories won after a long hard struggle.

They were all men of war, and even Privatdozent von Bülow had seen combat in his youth. And they had all seen weapons grow steadily more deadly. The oldest among them had watched while the Dreyse needle-gun replaced the muzzle-loading musket, and the younger had seen U-boats and airships and aero-planes, machine-guns and cannon that could throw shells the weight of an elephant twenty kilometers. Then clouds of poison gas drifting across the ghostly, cratered tangles of barbed wire on the Western Front among the million-fold rotting legions of the unburied dead.

But a regiment being obliterated in minutes by a single mortar round... that is something else altogether. And so is the thought of whole cities destroyed by the same means. Almighty Lord God, even to think of what a few battalions of heavy artillery could do with those shells is enough to make you blanch, much less a Zeppelin fleet or... what we have planned for the Americans.

Horst put it from his mind; he had work to do. Various aides to the supreme commanders used maps and summary reports to outline the war situation, and he carefully stored the precise data. For once it was even more encouraging than the newspapers, which was probably a unique event in the history of war. That put him in a better mood, exhilarated and keenly anxious at the same time. After two years of titanic effort and terrible sacrifice from Belgium to the Pripet Marshes, from the Baltic to the Persian Gulf, the glittering prize of victory and safety for his Fatherland and Volk was so close...

And he was uniquely placed to know how grave the danger was of it being snatched away at the last moment.

Hindenburg spoke at last: “So. The Russians we have broken; they have agreed to send emissaries to Brest-Litovsk to negotiate a separate peace. But in the meantime our advance continues and their forces melt away from desertion or mutiny.”

“We tore their hearts out when we trapped their main armies in Poland last year,” Ludendorff said, obviously proud.

Justly so, Horst thought.

It had been Ludendorff’s plan to drive for a double envelopment from north and south on a huge scale instead of just pushing them back as von Falkenhayn had wanted, a risky gamble that had paid off a hundredfold when the Russians’ frantic retreat failed by a hair to prevent the hard-marching pincers from closing in their rear. A Kesselschlacht—cauldron-battle—was the ideal to which German commanders always aspired, and that had been the largest in all recorded history. Germany had brought off a number of encirclements since the war started, mostly in the east: the original attack on France had been intended as an even larger cauldron, but it hadn’t... quite... succeeded. Verdun had, though at terrible cost.

Risky. But oh, the triumph when it works! That is how armies are broken and nations beaten into dust.

“This offensive of Brusilov’s was their last throw of the dice. An act of desperation—der Mut der Narren, the courage of fools. When it was crushed and the best troops they had left with it, what remained of their will to fight evaporated,” Ludendorff finished.

“It has become almost comical, in the East,” Colonel Nicolai added. “We send a battalion and a few field guns down a railway line, they take the station and make prisoners of the Russians who have not run away, and then we repeat the whole process.”

Hindenburg nodded, ponderous and implacable: “There will be no real negotiations, only our Diktat imposed with the point of a German sword to their throats. Russia will be thrust back to the borders of four centuries ago, to those of barbarian Muscovy, and within those they will be our vassals and pay tribute as and when we demand it. The rest, all her rich possessions, the Baltic, Poland, the Ukraine and the Caucasus—perhaps even Central Asia—we will dispose of as we see fit.”

Which means either annexation to the Reich or German colonial governors or puppet governments we control under new monarchs taken from our nobility, as seems most convenient to us, Horst thought. We lost millions of our best to the United States in the last century, because we could not give them homes or bread here in Europe. Now for our volk... lands to settle, lands to rule, lands to exploit for what we need without depending on the seas the Anglo-Saxons control, all without leaving the shelter of our German flag or the protection of the German sword.

“And France bleeds to death from the wound they took at Verdun, and still more their attempts to retake it,” Ludendorff said. “They no longer have any offensive capacity against us. I did not like General Falkenhayn’s butcher-strategy there, but I must admit it worked. With the Crown Prince in command, of course.”

Colonel Nicolai spoke: “Our latest reports indicate widespread refusals to advance among the French troops in Foch’s present attack against our positions on the Chemin des Dames line, though they will still fight hard on the defensive. The death of General Petain was as great a loss to them as Verdun itself; now there is no one who has the confidence of the soldiers. Joffre they have come to hate as a blind fool who spends their lives to no purpose, but there is nobody to replace him in supreme command.”

Ludendorff inclined his head to the intelligence chief. “Any peace we grant France will ensure that they too can never threaten the Reich again; they must acknowledge our hegemony in Belgium, give up the Briey ore-fields and the coast down to Dunkirk and most of their African colonies, do no trade with the English, and pay us indefinite yearly reparations that will leave them nothing for an army or navy of their own. And which will pay much of the cost of ours.”

“It will take them a little time to realize they have no alternative but to accept these terms,” Ludendorff went on. “Meanwhile the English still strike us heavy blows on the Somme, which is the only reason we have not crushed the French altogether, but we have hurt them even more badly in return. They are paying the price for the small army they had before the war. We destroyed that army in the advance to the Marne, and at Ypres, leaving few to train their rush of volunteers.”

He inclined his head to von Bülow. “There the help of the Institute’s special munitions projects was crucial. That we had thousands of gas shells ready, even the crude early ones, enabled us to eliminate the Ypres salient and drive forward to the edge of the Channel ports before they could develop countermeasures. The English armies that confront us now are brave and numerous and not too badly equipped, even their Indian sepoy mercenaries fight with savage determination, but their volunteers are clumsy and ill-taught, and our U-boat blockade chokes them ever more tightly.”

“Yes, Herr General,” Nicolai said. “But that leaves us with the Yankees. They have been determined on war since the spring. Rather, Roosevelt wished war from the beginning, and now has manipulated their public opinion to the point where most support it, and now he feels he is ready for it.”

Tactfully, he didn’t mention the sinking of the Mauretania; Horst thought that the Americans would have entered the war even without it, but possibly—crucially—later than this year. He’d been there when the news came through. It had been fantastic arrogance on their part to imagine that their citizens could blithely sail into a war zone on a British ship carrying military contraband and be immune from attack, but the ugly wave of hate and thirst for revenge had been real enough to raise the hair on the back of his neck. With enough wealth and power you could afford such arrogance, and make others take it seriously too.

We accepted that our invasion of Belgium would bring in the English, but counted on it allowing us to destroy France before they could intervene in force. Then our U-boats were to choke the English before the Americans enraged by the sinking of their ships could intervene in force. There is a pattern here and it is one we must break. Our Project Loki will not enrage or frighten any other Great Power into war against us... but only because we are already fighting every other Great Power on earth except the Austrians, who are not greatly powerful. Germany is very strong, but are we strong enough to make war on the whole world at the same time?

Then he shook himself mentally.

But it’s not the whole world, not anymore. As the General said, we’ve broken the Russians; they’re out of the fight and we can take what they make and grow and use it for our own purposes. The French are broken too, or nearly so. England bleeds, and totters and chokes. We can crush them one at a time. Frederick the Great did the same thing when he took Silesia—it looked as if Prussia would be ground to powder between France and Russia and Austria, but then there was a change of Tsar in Russia and it came out right in the end. Otherwise I would be an Austrian. Brrr!

The head of Abteilung IIIb continued, giving Horst his cue:

“I will let my agents on the spot outline the difficulties and possibilities there,” Nicolai said. “Hauptmann von Dückler will begin; he has been surveying the United States and its preparations in person and through subsidiary agents since the spring, at great personal risk.”

Horst rose and saluted, and went through the necessary honorifics. He wasn’t... overly... intimidated by reporting to Germany’s supreme commanders. The German army had always had a tradition of leaders listening to and learning from subordinates closer to the actual action, just as it had always encouraged the officer at the front to interpret orders flexibly—to take the knowledge of the commander’s intentions and fit it into the context of the ever-shifting variables of war. Blind obedience was for peasants or Russians.

“The problem we face is that the United States is both inherently stronger than the English, our only other remaining unbroken foe, and better organized. We fight this war in order that Germany may be unassailably strong for the great trials of the coming century through the domination of resources on a continental scale.”

Or at least that has turned out to be what the war is about, not least because you and General Ludendorff so decided. How long ago August of 1914 seems!

“But the Yankees already command a continent and have had generations to develop its resources. It is one thing to read statistics, another thing to see. I have ridden the railroads across that continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back, half a dozen times. For thousands upon thousands of kilometers nothing but fat black earth rich with wheat and maize, maize and wheat and potatoes and cotton and cattle and pigs—farm after farm, tilled by men of Germanic or kindred stock with the most mechanized methods, only possible on such large farms with broad acres. Raising not only food but strong sons to work and fight for America. Grazing lands running day after day as well, forests of fine timber equally vast. Enormous manufacturing cities, as if Essen had been multiplied by the score, belching smoke into the sky as they pour out steel and explosives. Mountains of metal ores of every type, mountains of coal, oceans of petroleum, all harnessed to a most formidable industrial machine with efficient management and abundant skilled labor. If these are all deployed against us, we face a struggle without limits and with... no foreseeable favorable result.”

“Resources and population are one thing, even industry capable of using them; their timely deployment as actual military power another,” Ludendorff said. “As witness the English. Their empire is vast and their manufacturing capacity still fairly considerable if technically inferior to ours, but...”

“With respect, Herr General, the cases are not comparable and the reason is President Roosevelt,” Horst said firmly but politely.

There was an unconscious stiffening. The Kaiser envied and emulated President Roosevelt. The rest of the German leadership took him very seriously indeed.

Von Bülow spoke: “With iron hand and iron will, he has mastered the chaotic energies of the Americans, and given them discipline,” he said. “Particularly in the last four years, when he has led an organized movement thoroughly inspired by our theories and methods. In some areas they have gone beyond us, as with their Ministry of Health and Eugenics.”

Horst nodded, though that appraisal of the Progressives was... not exactly untrue, but more than a little self-flattering from a German perspective. He spoke to add precise detail:

“More particularly, when he took office four years ago, the Americans had a hundred and fifty thousand volunteer soldiers and a militia.”

“Comparable to the strength of Bulgaria,” Ludendorff observed dryly. “Bulgaria before it mobilized.”

“A joke of Bulgarian proportions, yes, Herr General, though in his early terms of office he had seen to the foundation of a General Staff modeled on ours and planning for larger things. But by this spring, the Americans had six hundred thousand men in their standing army—nearly equivalent to our peacetime strength in 1914—and a million and a half trained reservists, besides a very powerful Navy. He used the conquest of Mexico to increase their army, and did so—together with General Wood, Chief of their General Staff and a very able man—in a way calculated to provide cadre for a further rapid expansion. Roosevelt is not only a clever devil with a broad knowledge of history, statecraft and war, he is good at picking able subordinates and knows how to delegate.”

“They concentrated on training staff officers, technical specialists, the organizational framework in general?” Ludendorff said. “These were prepared in numbers beyond what was strictly needed for operational reasons in their Mexican war?”

“Exactly, Herr General. Far beyond. The parts of an army that cannot be improvised rapidly, and their Reserve Officer Training Corps was also cleverly conceived. Now with conscription the recruits flow in to put flesh and muscle on those strong bones, and already they have three million men under arms, though many are still in the training camps. And it is not as it was with the English in 1914, with men in civilian clothes drilling with broomsticks and sleeping in barns and taverns. Everything was ready, from barracks and boots to heavy artillery; or the factories and plans and machine-tools were ready. Good weapons, often excellent ones, in abundance. In some areas, such as motor transport, equipment in quantities that we simply cannot match, all in the hands of fresh, eager troops drawn from a population larger than ours. We face a power as vast as Russia, but with European or better than European standards of development and efficiency, one which has carefully studied the lessons of this war.”

Colonel Nicolai took over smoothly. “We must strike before this strength can be deployed against us. The Breath of Loki, as you have seen, is an ideal weapon to deny an area to the enemy. We will use it to strike massive blows from the air against the English and the French, and tactically via guns and minenwerfer on a large scale at the front. What the operational plan turns on, though, is our ability to use it to bottle the Americans up on their own continent. High-capacity ocean ports are yet another thing that cannot be improvised. They require both favorable geography and heavy investment over many years; hence each is a potential choke-point, far more so than any single railway line or bridge. With the help of the Navy, especially the secret capacity developed over the last year, we can do this long enough to establish our hold on all Europe. Then...

Festung Europa!” von Bülow said. “Against such fortress walls, even the arrogant and reckless cowboy Roosevelt will hesitate to throw his troops. Behind that wall, we can consolidate our strength and prepare for the day when we can break out to control the World Ocean.”

The naval representative nodded sagely; it was the newly ascendant Admiral von Hipper, in charge since Tirpitz’ fall.

“And here another of the Institute’s programs, that of the Hülsmeyer group and their Project Heimdal, seems certain to bear valuable fruit this year or early in the next. The North Sea after the white nights turn to the short black days is a murky place to fight. If we are able to see and the enemy cannot...”

Silence fell. Ludendorff caught Hindenburg’s eye; the older man nodded with a Jove-like somberness, and then the younger spoke:

Project Loki is hereby authorized to proceed to full operational status, then.”

The Admiral spoke: “If we begin immediately, L-Day can be set for twenty-two to twenty-six days from this date. The first part of October. Those vessels intended for the most distant targets will sail first, of course. Immediately, in fact, if word is sent after this meeting. The final attack order can be broadcast.”

“Now is the moment to drive home the sword,” Ludendorff said.

“Agreed,” Hindenburg said. “You are authorized to execute the attack.”

The discussion finished with detail-work; Horst remained mostly silent, as that was the Navy’s bailiwick and as everything was apparently at a high state of readiness. He wasn’t surprised; this was the Kaiserliche Marine’s chance to do something decisive, even if not yet with their so-expensive battleships. When the generals had left and the gathering broke into knots, Nicolai took him aside.

“Captain von Dückler, I am tasking you with the northernmost element of the attack on the US, against Boston and its navy yard and port facilities. Yours will be the responsibility for guiding the crew to shelter with our local allies after the devices are planted, and seeing to their evacuation along the paths you previously established.”

“Thank you, Herr Oberst!” Horst said joyfully.

Given his familiarity with the country it was also a job he was fully qualified to accomplish.

There would be ten separate but simultaneous attacks. Halifax, which was in British Canada; then Boston, New York and its associated harbors, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile and New Orleans in the US. If most of them came off as planned, the US would be effectively cut off from Europe for six months or more, its plans completely disrupted. If all of them did... the prize was dazzling, and the glory unlimited.

“Saving the crew is of high priority, Captain von Dückler,” Nicolai said. “They are picked men, brave men, volunteers specially trained; and you yourself are a valuable agent, a weapon in our hand. But neither they nor you are the highest priority, not in a war in which thousands of brave men die every day.”

“That is understood, Herr Oberst,” Horst said gravely. “If I must, I will trigger the launching mechanism with my own hand. Victory is never cheap, not a great victory such as this.”

And I will cry long live sacred Germany as I do it, Horst thought. Or perhaps just Scheisse... but I will do it in either event, and that is what matters; then I must trust that the merciful Lord God and His mother will not deem it suicide. But if I must lose Heaven for Germany... that too.

Nicolai stood silent for a moment. “This woman Carmody will be useful in moving your party overland to Mexico, and in arranging the arms shipments to revitalize the guerilla war against the Americans... you have not allowed yourself to become infatuated, I hope.”

“Of course not, sir!” Horst said indignantly... and with a stab of guilt he thrust down firmly.

Entranced, yes, but not infatuated. Elisa was right; we could no more make a life together than a tiger and a shark could.

“Is she?”

Horst sighed, still feeling a tug of wounded... yes, vanity, I should admit that.

“No, sir. She is... extremely self-contained and does not allow personal matters to interfere with her mission.”

Nicolai raised a brow. “Unusual in a female; more often they are preoccupied with petty personal concerns. Perhaps she will also be useful in keeping the Whelan girl from collapse; it will be convenient to have the two females on the same ship, less disruptive, since we must make use of them at all. Whelan is naïve and wedded to childish scruples, but some use may be gotten from her for the Fatherland; and hers are the contacts in Boston itself. That will be a delicate matter. They must evacuate the crew quickly, and before they realize what the nature of the Loki weapon is. They might baulk if they realize the effects... cannot be contained strictly to the naval installations, which is their current impression.”

When they realize it will destroy their city and presumably their families, Horst thought. And the extent to which we have deceived them. Though they were most willing to be deceived!

Nicolai continued: “It may well be necessary to silence the girl at a crucial moment. She knows too much.”

Horst couldn’t altogether hide his distaste, but answered stolidly: “I understand the military necessities, Herr Oberst, you may rest assured as to that.”

After all, I am going to be killing thousands... no, certainly tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of women and children. What is one more?

 

@@@

 

“You do have to eat, Ciara dear,” Luz said gently, noticing that the girl was merely pushing things around her plate. “Think of something different. Something that gave you pleasure.”

That meant not thinking too much about the food itself; thin potato soup that might once have been frightened by the corpse of a chicken waved above the pot, followed by rubbery schnitzel encased in limp dingy crumbs, gray noodles in nameless sauce, excessively boiled potatoes and cabbage, and something that disgraced the name of apple strudel. All accompanied by that suspicious bread and margarine that someone had tried to make without using animal or vegetable fats. You needed fats to make glycerin, and you had to have glycerin to make explosives.

It all represents German cooking about the way an accordion-man with a trained monkey represents Italian opera. Though there is enough of it, at least, so stop whining, Luz—you remember sucking on pebbles because there wasn’t even any water, por Dios.

It was seven now, and the sun was touching the western hills. Long golden spears shot through the high narrow windows of the hall that served as the officer’s mess, catching on a gilded antler now and then as they lanced across the high spaces, or the halberd of a motionless man-at-arms in a niche. She had to admit there was a certain melancholy magic to the long northern twilights.

Either the food situation in Germany was very bad, or the high-ranking here were being ostentatious about not escaping from the tribulations of ordinary folk, or both. She suspected it was both, from the way everyone else was tucking in as if this was better than their ordinary fare. From overheard bits of conversation the visiting heavies would be leaving tomorrow morning, doubtless off to approve of some other evil plot.

Tomorrow I’ll have an opportunity to pump Horst, Luz thought. Probably in both senses of the word, which will be fun. Nothing like that for taking your mind off something unpleasant.

Right now he wasn’t all that far away, but he was deep in conversation with Colonel Nicolai and the Herr Privatdozent, kept to a level lost in the buzz and clatter off the high roof. The two women, and one extra man, were at the end of one of the long trestle tables. Luz was keeping an eye on the civilian; he was unmistakably an American, of a particular sort, which meant that she should learn more. There was no way on God’s green earth he could be up to any good in this company.

“Did your Auntie Colleen tell you stories when you were a girl?” Luz asked. “My parents did, one or the other or both, nearly every night. That was always my favorite time of the day; it was how I learned to read.”

“Stories? That she did!” Ciara said, a little more cheerfully. “She’d often come over and cook for us, and tell us stories later in the parlor. Or we’d visit at her flat, lying on the rug before the coal fire with the cats, and she’d read to us—there was this book by a man named Curtin, when we were small. The Shee an Gannon and the Grugach Gaire was my favorite of those, and Colm most liked Fin MacCumhail and the Fenians of Erin in the Castle of Fear Dubh. She had Hans Christian Anderson too, and Peter Pan, and others... And Auntie Treinel had this lovely book of Grimm’s tales, it must have been forty years old even then, and she’d read them to us—translating as she went. Odd and bloody and exciting they were, not the version like boiled potatoes with no salt you see today.”

Scornfully: “Thinking the little ones will be scarred for life at a fright.”

Treasure Island?

“Oh, yes, and I wanted to be Jim so badly! And then we moved on to Twain, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, reading them together and talking about them. I reread them again a little while ago and for all the games and make-believe and boy’s naughtiness they’re deep and sad.”

Now that’s very perceptive, Luz thought, and went on aloud:

“Twain knew his business and no mistake. He’s wiser when he’s showing boys at their foolishness than many a solemn man is with a thousand ponderous pages of conversations in parlors and ballrooms. Henry James, for example.”

“Oh, him,” Ciara said, and rolled her eyes. “But still, that raft trip down the river is like a happy dream in some ways...”

Ciara paused with the fork halfway to her plate. “And that was cunning of you. I’ve actually eaten half of this. Not much of a treat, but I’ve had worse and I feel better for it.”

“What’s more, I ate half of mine without noticing either. Thanks!” Luz said.

She’d managed to get the schnitzel down, gristle and all, and the rest was mostly just dull. When it was finished she felt... not hungry any more, which was the minimum basic function of food, after all. Like all those locomotives being fed bad wartime coal, she could get the work done.

“The mind and the body can’t really be separated, you know,” she said. “The one affects the other equally. You were hungry, it was just that your mind was getting in the way.”

“Auntie Treinel is a splendid cook,” Ciara said, smiling fondly at the memory. “Her Sauerbraten of a Sunday was fine, and her Schweinshaxe. So it’s not that we’re in Germany that makes the food here so dreadful.”

“They’re short of everything, ladies,” the man said; he’d moved a little closer after pushing away his plate. “Hungry as my people were in sixty-five. More credit that they don’t let it stop them.”

He inclined his head and mimed lifting the hat he wasn’t wearing. “Robert Edward Daubigny, of South Carolina, happy to be at your service,” he said. “Pardon my forwardness in introducing myself, but we’ve been thrown together by circumstance. And in a common purpose.”

Luz and Ciara both inclined their heads slightly and shook hands warily; no matter the circumstances, you always had to be a bit cautious about friendliness with an unknown man. His grip was firm and strong; the hand didn’t have a workingman’s calluses, but Luz judged he was a hunter, and rode a good deal, which accorded with the outdoorsman’s complexion. From the slight dent in his nose, he’d probably played college football too, or possibly boxed as an amateur.

“You’re an American, sir?” Luz said coolly.

“A Southron,” Daubigny said. “Here as a representative of a brotherhood struggling for liberty for my people, as you valiant ladies are.”

He was a slender whipcord-tough man in his late thirties, deeply tanned, with a rather archaic-looking pointed chinbeard and mustache of dark brown, longish hair cut above the ears, and hazel eyes. His well-styled beige linen suit was bespoke and probably comfortable where he came from but would be chilly here soon enough, and he wore it with a black string tie; the whole effect was almost comically regional, like an illustration of a Kentucky Colonel in an adventure novel. The accent was definitely Southern, but not the hush-ma-mouf gumbo one you usually heard, nor the hard upcountry hill-and-holler rasp that was so common in the Army: he said heppy for happy and didn’t drop the r-sounds except after a vowel. In a way it was reminiscent of a very, very old-fashioned English way of speaking, with an overlay of modern British public-school speech as well.

South Carolina low country. Charleston, she thought. Upper-class Charleston, old family.

What was it Lincoln had said about the state of South Carolina? She’d learned most of his sayings, not least because Uncle Teddy considered him the greatest of all Presidents.

¡Ay! That was it! ‘Too small for a country, too big for a lunatic asylum’.

“I understand that the lovely young lady from Boston represents the Clann na nGael,” Daubigny said. “Fellow sufferers from the hand of the descendants of the Roundhead Puritans, with their insufferable meddling and unwillingness to leave anyone alone to live as they please. And you, Miss Carmody, are of the Mexican Revolutionary Party.”

“And you, Mr. Daubigny?” Ciara said, unexpectedly bold.

No, thought Luz. I should have expected it. She may have led a sheltered life by my standards, but she also ran a bookstore. She had to talk to anyone who came in, and deal with salesmen who develop faces of brass as a professional necessity.

He inclined his head. “I, Miss Whelan, am an emissary of the brotherhood which fought the Northern occupation of our lands until they agreed to restore at least a minimal degree of community self-government and the protection of white womanhood. The noble Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Ciara stared at him blankly. Then...

“Oh. That was after the Civil War...”

“Properly the War of Northern Aggression, Miss Whelan, but yes.”

“There was a cinema last year about it,” she added.

That was D.W. Griffith’s masterpiece, Birth of a Nation, a dramatized history of the Reconstruction period that was just slightly biased, full of leering Negro rapists, corrupt Northern carpetbaggers preying on the bones of the fallen South, evil scalawag collaborationists, and the heroic defenders of Dixie in those rather comical outfits of white sheets—which had a striking resemblance to the pointed hats and masks penitentes wore when parading through the streets in Holy Week in the Latin countries.

Luz had heard Uncle Teddy cursing a blue and damning the film and its creator comprehensively in that way of swearing he had without using obscenity or scatology—and not knowing she was in the Director’s waiting room in Washington. The irony was that it was a masterpiece, the first one she’d seen that really convinced her that moving pictures could be an art form like drama on the stage.

Like much great art it was causing no end of political trouble, though, and there was enough of that down in Dixie anyway. For all that his mother had been from a Georgia planter’s family and that uncles of his had fought for the Confederacy, Uncle Teddy had been loathed there ever since he’d invited Brooker T. Washington to dinner at the White House, and refused to let Jim Crow into the Federal Civil Service—when he’d had some Negro civil servants and their wives to a White House social along with their white colleagues the screams of outrage and defilement had been deafening. They’d have hated him for nominating a colored man as chairman of the 1884 Republican Convention in Chicago, if most people hadn’t forgotten that he’d done it.

It had gotten worse lately, with the rumors (which she knew were perfectly true) about a new Federal Elections Act to enforce the post-Civil War amendments... especially since these days the Federal government had the power to actually enforce laws whether the locals liked it or not, and a formidable patronage and presence everywhere. But reports from the Southern division of the Chamber headquartered in Atlanta hadn’t been her specialty—she’d operated in the Protectorate, and then retrained for Europe in New York. She hoped the specialists were on top of it, and the FBS was ready to act.

Because even if this R.E. Daubigny represents nobody but a few lunatics mumbling slogans and stories about befo’ de woah at each other over their mint juleps on the verandah of some decaying mansion amid the moonlight and magnolias, it’s still a few lunatics ready to commit outright treason. In which case, Dixie will be getting a taste of what we in the Black Chamber, and the FBS, and the Army did in Mexico. ¡Y justo el jodido que esos cabrones se merecen!

“The Klan has been revived,” Daubigny said. “Secretly, for the most part. But we have powerful friends and allies in many of the State governments and National Guard units.”

Luz recognized his tone, and the gleam in his eyes; fanatics were something she had long unpleasant experience with. Unfortunately he didn’t seem to be technically stupid, something else you could usually tell quickly. And he was obviously an educated man. Intelligence, education and fanaticism were a dangerous combination; it made for someone who could convince themselves they were right in doing absolutely anything, and who could think up quite ghastly things to do.

The Herr Privatdozent, for example, will do quite literally anything for Sacred Germany, and use all his technical brilliance and organizational skills to do it. He’s a monster, but he wouldn’t be a bad old abuelo if it weren’t for that, and the bees planted in his bonnet by misunderstood Nietzsche. Greed and cruelty can be satiated, but idealism never tires. It’s bad ideas that make for the great crimes, not bad character in individuals. Not that I should take too lofty a tone. I’m perfectly willing to do almost anything for America, after all.

She remembered standing unmoved as the figures in their ragged clothes were pushed towards the edge of the trench and the machine-guns brought up.

It’s a narrow path to salvation, almost is, but it’s what I’ve got.

“The tyranny in Washington that crushes Mexico and Central America—that conspires with the British oppressors of Ireland—that tries to tear up the bargain that ended Reconstruction in our own country—”

Daubigny seemed to realize he was getting a little loud. With a shy smile he ducked his head.

“Let me just say that there are patriots all over the South ready to resist to the last drop of blood the threat of mongre—”

He stopped, cleared his throat, and went on: “—threat to our cherished honor and way of life. We’ve taken up the name of the first Klan, to show that we aspire to the heroism of our fathers and grandfathers.”

Aspire to take on someone who outnumbers you three to one and go down to heroic defeat? And he was probably about to say threat of mongrelization. Then he realized on the fly it’s not the most tactful possible thing to say to a purported Mexican revolutionary, who’s probably a mestizo herself. Which I almost certainly am in fact, even if the Arósteguis would rather face the Inquisition’s rack than admit it. The really ironic thing is that this gentleman’s ancestry almost certainly includes some Negroes too, given the number of octoroons who moved a few hundred miles, changed their names and blended in over the centuries. I saw that old book from the ‘fifties at Bryn Mawr, the one that the abolitionists published, full of escaped-slave notices from Southern newspapers with descriptions like blue eyes, blond hair, freckles, will attempt to pass himself off as a white man. There’s nothing more amusing than watching a man run faster and faster in an attempt to escape his own sweat... except when he’s willing to kill to do it.

“And did you see the... demonstration... this morning?” Luz asked.

“I participated in the clean-up operation afterwards,” he said.

“You went into that stuff?” Ciara cried, shocked and impressed.

“In a sealed protective suit,” Daubigny said casually, obviously not averse to mentioning he’d done something that took nerve. “Gruesome work, but educational. A few of the German naval officers I came over with were there too. We arrived just too late to see the actual use.”

“You didn’t miss anything worth seeing,” Luz said, and mentally gritted her teeth at his patronizing smile that made allowances for the squeamishness of women. “Not unless you have very odd tastes.”

“When you’ve thought as long as I have about revenge, Miss, the prospect of finally achieving it strengthens the sinews.”

“Revenge?” Luz said. “I have... personal reasons for what I do, but an American?”

Daubigny flushed. “My father lost his leg at Fort Wagner when he was sixteen years old. All four of his older brothers died, at Second Manassas and Antietam and Gettysburg, and one of hunger and disease in a Yankee prison camp. Sherman’s bummers, scum disgracing the name of soldiers, burned our home on the Pee Dee where six generations of my family had been born and buried, shot my grandfather down like a dog—an old man, helpless and unarmed—when he tried to stop them, and threw my grandmother out in the clothes on her back. She died by the road of hunger and despair. That was what my father came home to, he himself all that was left of our family. Three thousand acres of the best rice land in the world, and now it’s gone back to the swamp it was before my family spent two hundred years reclaiming it—”

With just a little help from the slaves, solo un poco, but I see your point, Luz thought. The Aróstegui family would probably put it exactly the same way.

“—good for nothing but hunting as it was to the Indians. Yes, Miss Carmody, I have personal reasons too.”

Then he paused, looking down at his hands. “I must admit... the bodies... it did remind me of some things in Poe.”

Luz felt memory stir, but it was Ciara who quoted:
And the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all,” she said softly.

Luz decided to switch to something a little less inflammatory, not to mention depressing; the Masque of the Red Death was far too good an allegory for the picture her mind painted of the Breath of Loki unleashed on a city of humankind.

“You arrived by U-boat?”

“How did—“ Daubigny began, then nodded with a smile, and tapped a warning finger alongside his nose. “I won’t say a word to that, except to note that you are as clever as you are beautiful, Miss Carmody.”

“It’s still very difficult to detect a submarine that doesn’t attract attention by attacking,” Luz said. “We have strong allies, now, ¡gracias a Dios! Ones who can sail into the enemy’s very ports undetected.”

That’s it! she thought, smiling at him as he nodded again. Somehow they intend to deliver the Breath of Loki by submarine!

She was making progress. Not enough, and getting the information out would be somewhere between difficult and...

Between difficult and very difficult. There is no impossible. Not with this!

 

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