This scene contains violence and death.
Nocht Federation — Rhinea, Cafe Liberté
“I’m going to meet someone, you can go now.” Cecilia said.
Behind her, Dreschner snorted. “I wasn’t following you. I have someone to meet too.”
Cecilia turned her head back from over her shoulder and flounced along.
Her ability to acknowledge and ignore him on a whim seemed to cause him consternation.
He was red in the face half the time she peeked back. It didn’t matter; in fact it was funny.
Rhinea’s streets had changed in their character since last she had seen them up close. She drove through in official cars or in cabs every so often, but from the ground one could see things had gotten a little meaner. There were lines at recruitment offices, and some at soup kitchens too. Once pristine streets were just a little dirtier. There was a dearth of infrastructure workers and infrastructure work; slowly, but surely, everything and mostly everyone was going into the war. In the market, prices were creeping up. Rationing was not yet in effect, but shoppers spoke jokingly of getting their meat fresh while they could.
Crossing into the beautiful, upscale new quarter, she saw nylons at the boutiques going up in price, as the materials were used for war. She saw many women at the restaurants and at the wineries and in the park, alone or with others like them; Cecilia liked the image but she knew deep down the majority of these women were not dating each other. They were keeping each other company for lack of their boys, who had all been plucked away to war.
Come to think of it; almost all the shops had women workers now.
Even in the fine arts of men, like the jewelers, chefs, sommeliers; all women now.
It was a nice change of scenery, but it was not for a good nor natural cause.
She wondered if that man back there was embittered by all of this.
To remain behind when the whole nation seemed to want him dead somewhere else.
Behind her, Dreschner continued to walk, his eyes fixed forward.
Did he notice any of this? Did he not see his hand in it? Or was he trying to ignore it?
Then again, Cecilia had a hand in all of this now too.
On the first floor of the Hotel Meridian was a little place called the Cafe Liberté that was special to Cecilia, and Agatha too; they had met there as teens, when no place other than an pricey Frankish coffee shop operating out of a second-rate Hotel would hire a poor teenager with a thick “foreign” accent. Her accent had smoothed out; and she was hired somewhere far better now. But this was still the place everything had started for them.
At the front of the Cafe, leaning on a pillar, was a young woman in uniform.
As always, Cecilia paused to consider as much as she could consider beneath notice.
This girl had mousy hair, and glasses, and was smoking a cigarette out of a little tank tin.
Short and skinny and a little dry but with the sort of innocent cuteness that was tempting.
Cecilia paused for a moment, and Dreschner moved past her.
He approached the woman and her face lit up.
Dreschner seemed to soften up a little as he looked at her as well.
Cecilia felt a strange sense of urgency, part serious, part comedic, and stepped forward.
“Pops, c’mon, you can’t, you’re not–”
She tugged on his coat.
“Oh, now you know who I am?”
He half-turned to meet her with a quizzical expression.
Cecilia shoved him a little with her palm.
“One step back, jeez. You get in people’s space too much.”
“Good god.” Dreschner snorted.
“Anyway, you’d better not be doing anything untoward, okay?”
“Look, she’s not your type at all–”
“What are you saying?”
Dreschner shot her a suddenly furious look.
Cecilia raised her hands defensively and backed away with a nervous grin.
She wasn’t sure anymore if she had been teasing him or chiding him seriously.
Behind both of them, the woman in question raised a hand.
With a good-natured smile on her face, the uniformed girl asked, “Um, what is–”
“Karla, meet my dirty-minded, no-good daughter Cecilia.” Dreschner said suddenly.
Cecilia shot a hand past Dreschner and shook this “Karla’s” hand with a smile.
“Pleased to meet you, I hope my insufferable, disreputable, tantrum-throwing old man has not yelled at you too much for wearing your shoes wrong or some other minor thing.”
“Um, he really hasn’t–”
“Please don’t mind my embarrassing, childish, amoral adult daughter’s loose tongue.”
“Cecilia! You’re late!”
Everyone’s heads turned toward the cafe entrance.
Karla’s face lit up; Dreschner raised an eyebrow; Cecilia felt like she’d sink into the earth.
Standing at the threshold was Agatha Lehner, famous movie star and model and fashion icon. Her entire person begged to be noticed, she practically blew the air out of the atmosphere. Bold red lips, bouncy blonde hair, shockingly bright blue eyes, perfect skin; her dress filled the beholder with awe, filmy black mesh halfway over the breast, brilliant red elsewhere in fiery waves that hugged her body tight down the waist, the hips, modern and showy, almost scandalous, and slitted to reveal long, shapely legs wrapped in nylon.
“Looks like I must be off.” Cecilia said. “It was unpleasant meeting you, pops. Adieu.”
Dreschner rolled his eyes. Karla took a step forward and tapped Cecilia on the back.
“Excuse me, Ms. Daughter ma’am, is that Agatha Lehner? Can I have her autograph?”
“Some other time, mouse-girl. It’s a private meeting.”
She had the nickname read on the girl’s cigarette tin, “Mauschen.”
Cecilia could put her keen eyes to both good uses and terrible ones.
At any rate, she had shot to shit her chances with cute little Mauschen. At Dreschner’s side, the girl was speechless at first, and then quickly as sour-looking as he was. Both of them stared daggers at her for a cold minute before storming off together elsewhere.
Agatha Lehner looked no more pleased with her than they were.
“What was holding you up? Who were those soldiers?” Agatha asked.
Cecilia walked past her into the Cafe. “There’s always soldiers, Aggie. I work for a king.”
“Messiah defend. You’re impossible.”
“I got you chocolates.”
“You really shouldn’t have.”
Despite everything, they sat down together in a little table by the window, and a cute waitress took their order. They had sugary coffees and little cakes, and Cecilia turned up the charm. She was all smiles, she maintained constant eye contact, and she was quick to flatter. In the span of few minutes between sitting down and having their first tastes of coffee, Agatha was about as buttered up as she would be before the night’s embraces.
“I know I look wonderful. You can stop that.” Agatha said.
“Oh, but I can’t help myself.” Cecilia said.
“You’re reminding me of him now.” Agatha said.
“Though I think on some level you encourage each other’s awful personality.”
“Achim is self-actuated every day, nobody winds his key. Every morning he wakes up and he just slams into our lives like the next disc in a jukebox, and right then and there he–”
Agatha sighed, and Cecilia giggled.
“To be honest, I expected you to turn me down.” Agatha said.
“Who would turn down a chance to meet the lovely Agatha Lehner?”
“You, countless times.”
Cecilia waved it off like a bug in the air. “Hey, listen, I have responsibilities sometimes.”
“Yes, to many other women whom you also tell that.”
“Savage.” Cecilia sighed. “Achim’s on some beyond top secret trip to the Far North.”
“Probably that dig site at the Loup reserve.” Agatha said. “It’s been on the news.”
“Something’s going on there, but who cares. Nothing that wins this war will come out of that ice. They probably struck gas there and Achim’s friends want dibs on extraction.”
“I suppose my husband’s corruption calls for top secrecy.” Agatha said bluntly.
“It’s fine, he’ll pardon himself.”
Agatha wasn’t laughing. She held her chin on her hands and stared out the window.
“Aggie, why did you call me here? I thought at first you just wanted to sleep over–”
“I do.” Agatha said, still not turning to face her. “I need that, right now.”
“I mean, not right now, we’re in public.” Cecilia said.
“Oh, you’re not that bold yet?” Agatha tittered.
Cecilia felt very strange being on the opposing end of such a sultry tease.
“You might convince me.” She said, mock-biting her lip a little, trying to fight back.
“Don’t be stupid. I was just joking. We’ll go to your apartment.”
“Yes. Actually I may be waiting on a phone call, but that’s fine, isn’t it?”
“It’s fine as long as I have your undivided attention afterward.” Agatha said.
“And I want your undivided attention right now.”
Agatha lifted her head from her hands and stared very seriously at Cecilia.
Before, her longing gaze out the window made her seem like an overgrown teen.
Now there was a gravity to her presence that unsettled Cecilia.
In the face of it, she couldn’t keep being the jokey, flirty vixen she styled herself as.
“Agatha, did something happen?” Cecilia asked. “What’s wrong?”
Agatha averted her eyes briefly, and crossed her arms in front of her chest.
“I’m going to need your help. And maybe more attention than I deserve, in the future.”
“That all? Agatha, if you want me, you can have me. Any time.”
She meant that more than sexually and she hoped that came across in her tone.
There was a sense of paired urgency and bitterness to those words. Cecilia had wanted to hear something like this for so long; in its absence, she just did whatever she wanted with herself, lived with abandon. She had come to realize long ago that she would not lead a happy life with anyone’s attention except Agatha’s. It took a multitude of people’s affection to add up to Agatha’s. Maybe that was an excuse; but she was ready to stop.
She was ready to stop for Agatha if Agatha was ready to stop for her.
“It’s not what you think it is. I’m not– I’m not going to make you happy, Cecilia.”
Cecilia did not know how to respond to that. Agatha looked like she was in tears.
“Cecilia, I’m pregnant. I’m pregnant with Achim’s child and he’s not here.”
Those words fell like a bomb between them, and Cecilia was shocked silent by the impact.
There was seconds of fidgeting, nervous silence before the real bomb dropped.
There was no shadow, no screaming propeller, it came from so high above.
Cecilia saw it, like a meteor, a fleeting instant before the detonation.
She could not dive for Agatha, could not take her in her arms and defend her like a hero.
When the bomb hit the middle of the street and exploded, and the shockwave burst through the glass, and the facades of the buildings around them rocked and crumbled, and the fire and smoke and force flowed through like a storm they collapsed, at once, apart. Cecilia was hurled bodily, and Agatha seemed to just fall and disappear in a flash.
Helvetian Confederation — City of Rodoma
Beneath the statue of the Her Majesty Of Equilibrium, a great golden woman holding the world in her scales, a much smaller, much less golden woman appeared, in a fur cap and coat, dyed a brilliant blue. Her shimmering golden hair swayed behind her in the stiff winter wind. On her sharp ears hung earrings shaped like the scales of balance, and the scales were also represented in a gold brooch that pinned the coat over her breast. She appeared beneath the statue to a solemn crowd all of whom held their hands up.
Out of respect they extended the ‘peace sign,’ index and middle finger raised above all.
Millennia Alsace, the new prime minister of the Confederation, stood behind a podium, and held her hands up in a double peace sign. There was no cheering yet, but there were smiling faces. Everyone had worked very hard to safeguard her place after the sudden resignation of the current office-holder and the snap election needed to replace her.
She was the youngest, and some would say, most radical Prime Minister Helvetia had seen.
“Peace-loving Helvetian folk of all walks of life! I beseech you on this day, in our beautiful country that has pledged to battle remorselessly for the fate of this blue globe upon which we stand. Steel yourselves to be saviors of the world, for the tide of time is sweeping us to battle! I announce today, on the 42nd of the Hazel’s Frost of 2030, a historic day in a historic year; I announce that the Helvetian Confederacy is declaring war on the Federation of Northern States, the Empire of Hanwa and the Kingdom of Lubon!”
There were gasps among the people in the park. A crowd numbering in the thousands had gathered for the speech, a speech about the fate of the world and Helvetia’s visionary role in it. Everyone had hoped for discussions, sanctions, diplomacy, the peace that Helvetia had hoped to weaponize against the warring powers of the Globe. They expected reason and instead, it seemed, Helvetia had fallen into the same madness as the rest of them.
“I understand your trepidation! Did Helvetia not promise the world and its people that it would strive for World Peace, for Global Reason, for Friendship Among Nations? Helvetia has struggled against the tide of war for many long decades, not because it was profitable, but because it was necessary. However, as we have labored, the world has slid farther into chaos. It has to be seen, that the methods we have so far employed have not reversed, but accelerated the decline of national bonds! Helvetia is disdained and friendless in this world of wars; we sat by as Nocht consumed the once independent island cultures of the New Sea, we spectated the Hanwan atrocities against the Kitanese, all for their naked greed; for untold generations we allowed the torment of the Svechthans at the hands of our lost brothers and sisters in Lubon; and when the Svechthans fought, we condemned them?”
Millennia shook her head to the crowd, as if personally chiding them for this act.
“Once there are no more small nations, no more exploitable peoples, for these warmongers to consume, what will happen then? Who will our peace-loving Helvetia stand with? No more! It is clear that World Peace will not be achieved by a spectator. Helvetia is taking a new direction in this age of wrath. We will no longer stand idly by. Empire builders who seek to consume the entire world under their Flags will be resisted and stopped! We will not accept one world for one people! Each Nation its own world! Each people their own masters! I say to all who style themselves World Dictators, to the Lehners and the Kagus and the Vittorias of the world; you have an enemy in Millennia’s Helvetia!”
Millennia’s tone of voice rose to a fevered peak, a clear passion rumbling through her.
She raised her hands into the air in the double peace sign and then closed them into fists.
“FOR WORLD PEACE!”
All at once, her passion flowed through the crowd, and the peace-loving Helvetians accepted it. Helvetia would join the Solstice War; and little did they know, as they spoke, that their military was engaging the Allied nations on multiple fronts, flying bombers over Nocht; and even invading the Kingdom of Mauricia on their own borders and soil. For the fuel that had to be denied to the Allies, for the Fuel Helvetia needed to be part of the Pact.
Unknowing of the world’s complexity, satisfied with its simplicity, the crowd shouted the campaign slogans, and steeled themselves in their hearts for the sacrifices that lay ahead.
“WE’RE STRONGER WITH HER! WE’RE STRONGER WITH HER!”
Though on the podium her face was solemn, deep inside, Millennia Alsace was smiling.