This story segment contains sexual content.
44th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Nocht Federation, Republic of Rhinea — City of Junzien
Chocolate prices were becoming outrageous these days; Cecilia Foss grumbled silently to herself as the sweet shop owner fussed with her gift wrap behind the counter.
She couldn’t believe it was fifteen marks just for chocolate hearts in a gift box.
“It’s because you import it, right?” Cecilia asked. “From Kabau. So it jacks up the price.”
Her Frankish accent was noticeable regardless of how much played it down, and it drew the man’s attention for a moment. But he made no point of it except perhaps in his own mind.
“Yes ma’am. Shipping’s bad, you know? With the war and all.” He replied.
“I’m sorry, fifteen marks is just a lot more than I had intended to spend.” Cecilia said.
“It’ll be worth it once you and your gentleman crack this open.” He said cheekily.
Cecilia had no response for that. She drew the paper marks from her wallet and laid them on the counter, and the man pushed her red, heart-shaped, gift-wrapped box toward her.
“Come back after we’ve beaten the communists; Ayvarta’s prime chocolate-growing land. I bet you prices’ll go down and business will boom once we win, yessiree ma’am.”
The secretary deposited her chocolates in a paper bag and left the shop to wait for the trolley.
She dropped a 5-mark into a homeless man’s hat before boarding; he waved; she didn’t see.
Gentle snowfall dusted over the trolley as it descended the hill down Constitution street, toward the Hotel Reich. Cecilia held on to a bar overhead, standing between several commuters. She slipped the brown bag into her coat, and dropped off into the street while the trolley was still going, joining the crowds. Around the corner, the Hotel Reich extended into the gray sky.
In the lobby, Cecilia stopped by a pair of men in black suits and hats who were making full use of a refreshments table set out for potential guests. She showed them her government ID.
“She’s up on the Presidential.” One said. “Y’can’t miss it Miss F.”
“I’ll be staying for a while as we have business we need to hash out.”
“Don’t concern me none, Miss F. You take your time.”
Cecilia waved with the tips of her fingers and left their side, taking the elevator. Reich was a fancy locale, but it didn’t make any impression on her now. Gilded handles and knobs, glossy wood floors, silk curtains, every surface intricately tiled and carved and etched; she had seen this before. Ostentatious decoration lost its effect the hundredth time; or far earlier.
The Presidential Suite was its own floor. From the elevator, there was a landing hall with a bench and a water dispenser, where two Schwartzkopf sat around reading and listening to a baseball game on the radio. She approached them, and they waved; they were familiar faces. Eintz and Schapel did not require anything from her, they knew her to be trustworthy.
“By the way, do not disturb; I’ve some important work with the first lady.” Cecilia said.
“S’already done Miss F.” Eintz said. “Mrs. A told us she’d throw us out the window if we set foot in the room without her explicit permission. We know good ’nuff to believe ‘er.”
Cecilia smiled and nodded, and did the same little finger wave for the men before departing.
Past the little hall, a set of wooden double doors lead into a large foyer with a chandelier, flanked by fish tanks. There was a tea room, a living room, a kitchen, a hot indoor bath, all in their own branches of the suite. Cecilia produced her chocolates, held them behind her back and cut straight to the bedroom door. She knocked on it exactly six times before waiting.
It unlocked; the knob turned and the door opened. Behind it appeared a buxom woman in a bathrobe with a bored-looking expression. Her robe was out of order, exposing some of a breast, some of her pleasantly curved hip, a bit of belly, a plump thigh; her bouncy, wavy, golden hair was collected behind her head, and her lips sported a recent coat of crimson.
“Ta-dah!” Cecilia thrust out the chocolate gift box toward the woman with a smile.
“Chocolates?” Agatha Lehner said dimly. “Are you a teenage boy or a grown woman?”
Cecilia chucked the box over Agatha. It landed on her drawer, knocking things off it.
“Teenage boy then.” Agatha turned her back, marched back to bed, and dropped face-down.
“Tu m’as démasqué.” Cecilia said. She was mildly amused, mildly aggravated.
“Why are you here, Cece?” She moaned. “Doesn’t my husband have a big speech to give?”
“Mary Trueday is returning from Ayvarta, so I am a third wheel.” Cecilia said.
“And you weren’t a third wheel before that? You’re more of a fourth wheel now.”
Cecilia approached the bed, and delivered a firm slap on Agatha’s exposed buttocks.
Agatha jerked forward and groaned softly. She slowly turned herself over in bed, lying on her back and facing the secretary, her face flushing, her robe spread almost completely open.
“Mary is special; the way I see it, I’ve collected both the Lehners now, so it doesn’t count when it’s just us around. It’s different when I’m around her and Achim though.” Cecilia said.
Cecilia threw off her coat and started to pull off her bow tie with one hand while crawling onto the bed. She loomed over the actress, unbuttoning her own vest and shirt with one hand and tracing Agatha’s thigh and up to her belly with the other. In a fit of emotion she descended, sucked the woman’s lips greedily into her own, and then pulled back, whipping her ponytail.
“Don’t do that hair thing, you look ridiculous.” Agatha said softly. “It turns me off.”
Cecilia moved her hand down Agatha’s belly and clutched between her legs.
Agatha moaned, her hips bucked, her back straightened out. She gripped the bedsheets.
“Subtle enough? Cecilia said, grinning, nose to nose with the President’s wife.
“Enough to make me feel a little guilty.” Agatha said, between soft moans and gasps.
Cecilia licked her lips, glancing across the woman with an impish, hungry grin.
“Don’t be. Take it from me; we’re all sinners in this circle, but none more than he.”
* * *
Lehner checked his watch and then the tracks. Despite the old Junzien station expanding its services, that familiar scene, standing on the platform with bated breath, always seemed to recur. There were many trains coming and going, but it was never quite the train he was waiting for — the train that was carrying her to the city for one of those rare visits.
He was flanked by two of his black-hatted Schwartzkopf agents, keeping an eye out.
When the train finally pulled up to the station, they opened the door for him, and ushered him into the silver car, just like when he was a kid. They departed to their own train and left him to his devices. Inside the Presidential car, it was the same as before: the kitchenette, the couches, the table for four. But Sultzer wasn’t there and neither was Nore this time. They couldn’t be, anymore. Instead a lovely woman with earth-tone skin and bright green eyes awaited him.
Kaiserin Mary Trueday; known as Sarahastra Ayvarta II before her conversion.
She looked absolutely stunning — her long, green dress had a sleek silhouette, boasting a complex, bustled skirt and a form-fitting bodice shaped like numerous fronds over her breasts, and delicately baring her slim, brown shoulders. Her black hair had been collected on the sides of her head into braids that met at the back. A dab of pigments on her lean, striking face and lips accentuated her features. She smiled placidly when he arrived and waved at him.
Lehner sat across the table from her. “Hey, is that thing here? Tell her to go.”
He waved dismissively toward Mary’s solid black shadow on the couch.
In an instant it became noticeably thinner. He didn’t catch where it went exactly.
“She’s out now.” Mary said. “She’s got better things to be doing anyway.”
“Good. Creeps me out. I prefer good old fashioned, solid, fleshy murderous goons.”
Mary performed an exaggerated shrug. “You must admit she’s been useful.”
Lehner shrugged too. “Didn’t see her around two years ago when I needed knees capped!”
Mary smiled. “How disrespectful. You should think of her as a mother to us.”
“Ugh. Nobody wants their mother in the room when they’re fooling around.”
He leaned over the table and kissed her, briefly but passionately. Theirs was a long courting, and these brief tastes were enough to sate them until greater privacy could be afforded. They had gotten it down to a science over years of scarce meetings. Things had escalated when the old man and the old woman finally left the picture — but they didn’t want to push it too much. After all, Mary had a reputation to maintain; and Lehner had a lovely wife to placate.
“So, how was home?” Lehner asked. “Everything you thought it’d be?”
“I’m afraid Mamlakha is not exactly what I consider home.” Mary said.
“I’m glad, because we promised that bit of the continent its independence and all.”
Mary laughed delicately. “You look energetic Achim. I’m glad to see you.”
“I can’t be anything but energetic with you.” He said. He dropped the act, for her. He didn’t need to affect his voice. He didn’t need to be snappy and quick with her. She would see through it. She saw through a lot of things. For her, he was happy to drop every pretense.
“I’m glad. I don’t want a partner in crime who is anything less than energetic.”
She was dropping her own act too. She was a lot more wicked than people thought — almost as much as he. Put together, their corrupting influence on each other was simply delightful.
He reached out his hand and took hers over the table, stroking her gently.
“Is your speech prepared for tomorrow?” She said.
“Yeah. Cecilia helped write it. That woman is incredible.” Lehner said.
“In more than one way?” Mary giggled.
Lehner laughed. This was not a shameful thing to them. It was casual. They barely had to comment on it. Both of them lived rather lively existences. They were the hungry sort.
“Hard to believe this is really happening though.” He said. “We used to fantasize about being prince and princess in the South; we’re finally returning to the beginning.”
“I like to see it more in terms of the future, but I agree.” She replied. “I knew my throne would be returned to me eventually. So far I have seen nothing to contradict this.
“Good. Both of us get to have what we want; the big chair, your gold vaults, everything.”
Mary cocked an eyebrow at him. “Oh, is the big chair really all you want?”
“I could settle for it.” Lehner said teasingly.
“That’s not the wanton man I know.” Mary said sternly.
She sidled across the semi-circular couch surrounding the table, until she was right next to Lehner, and she climbed on him, and pressed her forehead to his. He rubbed against her.
“Mary, I love you. I want you to know that. You’re– you’re really important to me.”
Lehner put his arms around her and pulled her into a mutual embrace, arm over back, cheek to cheek, chest to chest. He felt her presence on him, felt her weight, her warmth.
“There is nobody else with whom I would commit these sins.” Mary said, stroking his hair.
It made everything stand on end, but he controlled it. From her, he just wanted this touch.
He was wanton and hedonistic. He hoarded life’s pleasures, he consumed and devoured. Sex was fine; but in a way, it was being able to hold her like this that he truly desired. To hold her without the judgment of Nore or Makemba between them; to walk hand in hand with her regardless of status, of morality or ethics. Money was great; power was delectable; there was certainly an allure to his status. But he told himself, this was what he wanted.
He wanted this; he wanted her. He wanted it all. Nothing was stopping him now.
45th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Nocht Federation, Republic of Rhinea — City of Junzien, Audible Hall
President Lehner’s State of the Northern Federation Address
Free peoples of the Federation of Northern States.
I am honored to speak with you today.
The State of the Northern Federation is strong, and growing stronger. Through swift, judicious action we have averted the economic gloom that seemed inevitable four years ago.
When I took office, I promised I would revolutionize the way our government works. No more abstractions; no more guesswork; no more arcana. My administration faced reality: we gathered data, conducted inquiries, performed scientific research. We didn’t look at a cloudy sky and pray for rain. We went to the source, found the water, and brought it to the field.
That’s what we promised and what we delivered, economically, militarily, and socially.
Today, our prospects as a nation have never looked brighter.
Financial and regulatory reforms have made available money and material to industries that are creating thousands of new jobs and turning out absolutely necessary equipment.
I am proud to say that Nocht is home to the most advanced industries on the planet. Our medicine, our machinery, our transportation, are second to none, and growing.
Our focus on our heavy industry has paid off, with new factories sprouting all across the Federation, linked by rail and ports and roads that facilitate the flow of our nation’s lifeblood.
Our military is stronger than ever. Two years ago, I foresaw how dangerous the world was becoming and I committed to improving our military, opening more military jobs, improving military industry. We now have one of the largest, and definitely the strongest, army in the world. Our air force is not too far behind, and the Bundesmarine is rapidly improving.
Growing our military is a commitment to protecting our future. I am proud of our men in uniform, and I am proud of the civilians who support and supply them.
All of them keep us safe. They keep the prosperity of the Federation well guarded.
Prosperity that we can expect to last for a long time.
We have made it easier than ever to access all the fine things in life. Record numbers of people are owning homes, buying cars, taking out loans to start their own businesses. Never before have so many opportunities been given to hard-working men and women to get an education, a job, and reap the rewards. You put in the sweat, Jack, and I’ll always have your back.
I talk often about mathematics: here the mathematics are simple. By cutting red tape, lowering taxes, expanding private industries and giving them incentives to conduct efficient work, we have reached new levels of production and economic prosperity.
The numbers are there. You can even go look at them.
And yet, despite our internal prosperity, we are still part of a wider world, and we cannot look at ourselves alone. We have been blessed with resources that make us a leader among nations, and those resources are now being called to complete a crucial task.
There are events transpiring in the world that deserve your attention. Until now my lips were sealed on these events overseas, to protect our men in uniform. It was never my intention to mislead you, but when you sit in the big chair, well, there are considerations.
Here are the facts you’ve been waiting for as to the events of the past three weeks.
On the 18th of the Aster’s Gloom we coordinated with our allies to launch a series of military actions against the Socialist Dominances of Solstice with an aim to liberate its territories and establish a new popular government with Mary Trueday as one of the heads of state.
We started the fight with a limited deployment. Reinforcements are now on the way.
We hit the communists hard with new techniques and new equipment that has helped to minimize our casualties while rapidly advancing and overwhelming the enemy.
Over the course of the next two weeks we liberated vast swathes of territory.
I dare say, folks, we’ll be sweeping the place up in a year.
Already we have liberated the massive lands of Adjar and Shaila in the south of Ayvarta.
There is dancing on the streets in Bada Aso, in Knyskna, in Dori Dobo!
Freedom reigns in Ayvarta for the first time in decades!
Even as we speak, the White Army of civil war fame reassembles in the liberated lands to take back their homeland from the communists. In the territories freed from the tyranny of the communists, a fervor for freedom rises that will sweep the red despots well away! People are organizing freely, finally able to exercise freedom of speech, assembly, expression!
They are grateful to us, and they are willing to join our fight. It is a fight for their very lives.
Just like we back our own people when they are hurting, we must support the people of this once-great nation, who have been suffering under the yoke of totalitarian communism.
Over the course of the Ayvartan Great Terror of 2008 to 2014, these men and women; young professionals, clergy, politicians, scientists, even children, were driven from their homes for resisting the communist encroachment on their lives and livelihoods. Those who remained did so under a dogmatic government that threatened their liberties if they dared oppose it.
Tyrants like Daksha Kansal killed millions for their crooked ideology!
Communism has the blood of untold millions on its hands!
We committed, during the civil war, to fighting this! To backing a legitimate government!
We did not fulfill this commitment at the time, when we well should have.
When we hosted Empress Mary Trueday, and thousands of refugees during those heinous events over twenty years ago, I believe we also committed to doing right by them when the opportunity asserted itself. As Ayvarta grew more militant against its neighbors, operations in Cissea and Mamlakha were launched in 2026 through 2029, first by President Kantor, and then finished by myself. Ayvarta proved itself a threat to peace and freedom.
We recognized the Socialist Dominances of Solstice under President Kieselman. This was nothing less than a mistake, a grave mistake. The Socialist Dominances of Solstice is a rogue state. We should not have negotiated with these terrorists. We should have isolated them. President Kantor began to take measures; and I greatly accelerated them.
We let people come to harm by our inaction; and I refuse to allow that to happen again.
The Federation of Northern States is done biding its time in the face of terror!
The Hydras are a massive destabilizing force in our world. They have launched cowardly terror attacks on us and on our allies. They condemn our form of government and laugh at our civil liberties. They hate us for the fact that we are free and thriving without their ideology.
And they subject their own unwilling people to their cruel and inhuman discipline.
We’re putting the brakes on that nonsense.
We will not fear the Ayvartan terror any more.
The Nocht Federation is a force for good in the world. We will take a multifaceted approach to isolating, overrunning, and ultimately defeating Ayvarta. Nothing less will do.
You may feel trepidation at the thought of another war, when our country had hit such a high point in this brief period of peace. I understand your fears. In the coming week, we will launch a campaign in the home front to build trust and support, and friendship with our allies.
It is my hope that once you have all the information in your hands, you will understand my position. You will understand that the time has come to rid the world of a great evil.
There are sacrifices that will have to be made to succeed. But I promise you that this deployment is being handled with the utmost care. We have our best troops, armed with the latest equipment, and meticulously planned strategy. Not a single mark will go to waste.
Militarily, we will defeat the Red Terrorism that has taken root in Ayvarta; and in the diplomatic, humanitarian realm, we will support and carry out the repatriation of all of the proud people that were displaced by the communists, so that their country may once again flourish in the international stage under their guidance, as it well should.
We have allies from two major nations who have committed to joining the fight.
We do not stand alone! Praise the Allied Powers of Hanwa and Lubon!
They are our brothers and sisters in this fight! They see the justice in our cause!
We are committed to the independence of Mamlakha, and the membership of Cissea into our Federation. We will fight today, so that we can reap the benefits of a more stable world tomorrow. We will fight today, so that tomorrow our children do not have to fear that they will be killed on the streets by anarchists and reds. We will fight today, so that all of the nations of the world can look to tomorrow in a spirit of cooperation and not animosity.
We will fight today, for a victory tomorrow! For a freer, more peaceful world!
Victory for Nocht! Put your fist to your heart, my patriots, and shout it with me!
Sieg für Nocht! Sieg für Nocht! SIEG FÜR NOCHT!
* * *
The Secretary smiled at her handiwork. “Ohh, it sent shivers down my spine, Achim.”
The Television was an enormous wooden apparatus on the opposite side of the room from the bed, just beside the doorway. It was as big as a jukebox, though the screen was about the size of an adult’s head. In its somewhat foggy cathode-ray tube they watched Lehner deliver his big speech in one of the three programming channels available, and the only one with regular programming, running communiques produced by the government. Neither of them had slept over for this, but it was a nice touch to wake up in time for the noon address.
It certainly beat watching optical illusions and other nonsense on the experimental channels run by the electric company, while they waited to cool off between their sessions.
Cecilia stretched her arm and smacked a wired panel on the wall, shutting the set off.
She sat up in bed, breasts bared, rubbing her eyes; she was naked, but there was nobody to see save for Agatha, lying beside her with her back to a pillow and a cigarette in her lips. She was just as naked. They had spent over twenty hours sharing this state of being.
“I wrote almost all of that myself.” Cecilia bragged. “Achim’s delivery completed it.”
“Congratulations.” Agatha said sarcastically.
“God, is there any time you’re not giving cheek? What did you think of it?”
“I’m not convinced by a word my husband says anymore, but I’m not the average voter.” Agatha said, blowing a little cloud. “I might be bias in that regard, you could say.”
Despite the air conditioning Cecilia was covered in cold sweat. Her blond ponytail had been ripped free, and her hair now hung long, and messy. She shook her head to clear the fog.
“I should go downstairs or something. I stayed overnight. It might look weird to them.”
“Who cares?” Agatha said. “Achim knows about this, doesn’t he? What can they do?”
Cecilia smiled. “I’ve not exactly made an effort to let him know. He probably doesn’t care.”
Agatha sighed deeply. “You and I are both the third wheels here. He already has his love.”
Cecilia snatched the cigarette from Agatha’s finger and took a drag herself.
“Don’t let it mortify you, Agatha. You were always more my type than him anyway.”
She made to stand up from the bed, but barely turned over the side when Agatha nearly jumped at her, pulling her back, marking her neck with a kiss. “Stay with me a little, Cece.”
“If you insist, Aggie.” replied the secretary. Agatha’s hands interlocked just over her chest. She raised her own hands, and squeezed Agatha’s fingers. She smiled. “Achim can wait a bit.”