Arc 1 Intermissions [I.3]

Election Night

Polity: Duchy of Rhinea (“Rhinean National-Socialist Republic”)

Naval Strength: Rhinean Defense Force (In flux), Volkisch Movement (~400 ships)

As the night wore on and the votes were tallied, the crowds marching through the streets of Thurin station grew ever volatile. Protesters and counter-protesters clashed in each borough. Because it was a square arcology-type Station, the upper classes of Thurin had no “upper level” to fleet to that would have seen nothing of the fires and riots. Instead, the police presence was stretched thin guarding the gates to the government district and to the wealthy properties north of the city.

Much to the anger of the protesting crowds, the authorities gave a clear preference to “right-wing” figures, defending them from crowds with high security including riot forces and even Divers at their homes and neighborhoods. Meanwhile, just that morning, a “left-wing” member of the Constituent Assembly was assassinated by a member of the Volkisch movement. There was no official protection for people who were known supporters of the “left-wing” agenda in Thurin.

Philosophically, both sides claimed that what was at stake was the soul of the nation.

Concretely, the night’s vote for Governor was taken as a referendum.

Rhinea’s hereditary Dukedom had become politically and economically powerless over the years. Increasingly, private industries became fiefdoms of their own, particularly large institutions that made key goods, like Rhineanmetalle and Volwitz Foods. Enterprises began to provide the lion’s share of employment and standard of living and in turn commanded a greater share of the nation’s wealth. Aristocrats invested in Enterprises and ignored their dues to the Duke.

While in other Duchies the governing aristocracy, the Duke and his closest Lords, had used personal investments, political alliances and military threats to remain firmly in control, in Rhinea, Duke Pfefner had inherited young and was too timid to spare himself becoming a figurehead. The moneyed class had de-facto control and the nation liberalized around the rule of the Purse. Contract and profit took over for blood. Rhinea was increasingly bourgeois, rather than aristocratic.

They paid dues to the Imperial crown and enriched their own coffers; who would care about the Duke?

Rhinea’s upper class made a gesture of sharing their economic control by allowing the population of Rhinea’s stations to vote for a chief executive to manage “ducal” affairs, as well as voting for members of the aristocracy and corporate boards to serve as politicians in a legislative Assembly. It was this system that brought the acrimonious situation in which the station found itself.

Everyone knew the election was a referendum based on the three candidates available for Governor. Ossof Heidemann, a stakeholder in Volwitz Foods turned political activist, ran for increased democratic reform and liberal, Post-Imperial government. Adam Lehner, a right-wing politician from a bourgeois background, assembled a coalition of military, academic, religious and middle-class people with a message of nationalist populism. Karl Schlieffer stood for status quo; an aging ex-Admiral who sought rapprochement and to continue the unity of the Empire in some way.

As far as the streets were concerned it was a contest between Lehner and Heidemann.

“It is time for the people of Rhinea to stake a claim on that which the idle, the ennobled, and the ignorant demand to take from them! For far too long, our land, food, labor and treasure have supported the lives of bloodsucking parasites! Real Imbrians rise to retake Imbria!” shouted Lehner.

“Rhinea has more than enough food, fuel and shelter for all of us! But the Empire is a relic of darker times and inefficient governance! We need greater democratic control of our resources! We should, all of us, give and get our fair share, so we can prosper together!” said Heidemann.

Everyone agreed that the Empire’s days were numbered in Rhinea. Konstantin von Fueller was dead and Erich von Fueller couldn’t protect Vogelheim. Pure-blooded aristocrats were fleeing the state, afraid of populist violence no matter the political winner. And yet, history had two paths.

Heidemann courted the nascent liberal political awakening. He received the begrudging support of more radical left-wing forces inspired by the student anarchist wave in Bosporus, but he did not acknowledge them for fear of inciting the average Rhinean into Lehner’s arms. So, with dark irony, there were anarchist riots essentially happening for him, sans his actual support.

Lehner, meanwhile, was known to be a darling among the Volkisch Movement. They were a motley collection of violent people. Conspiracy theorists, free-market capitalists, pseudo-science believers, militants and patriots, and an odd contingent of “leftists” who had been swayed to the rather different conception of “the working class” that was at the crux of Volkisch populism.

This was Lehner’s “National Proletariat,” the Volk for whom he enthusiastically fought for.

These were the “counter-protesters” exchanging blows with the “rioters” on the streets.

Above these demonstrations, video screens blared up to the minute election updates. Voting had begun that afternoon and was essentially completed before night. One particular detail that had agitated the rioters was how long the tallying was taking. Everyone voted by machine. Results should have been tallied very quickly. Both sides accused the other of vote fixing.

Thurin’s streets raged with protests. Beneath the large, looming broadcast screens and the pale light of false star-lamps on the black steel sky, lit by the dim pink and blue neon of shop video-signs and the red and yellow of holographic directional signs, street markers and pedestrian warnings. The two sides waved signs, screamed slogans, and made sudden, opportunistic attacks.

Particularly ferocious were the confrontations in Hertha Park. Atop the grasses and around the trees there was enough open space for a massive battle line to form. A sparse force of police stood with the Volkisch “counter-protesters.” Across from them, the leftist “rioters” had fashioned shields out of chassis pieces of overturned vending machines, lids ripped off the tops of municipal cleaning robots, and any other boards of polymer or thin sheets of metal they could scrape together.

For weapons the leftists had anything they stole or scavenged that could be swung, as well as balloons full of paint or, for the craftier and more resourceful people, makeshift incendiaries. Meanwhile, it was no secret that the police had simply handed the Volkisch riot shields and vibro-batons in matching quantities and essentially deputized them to contain the “rioting” in Thurin.

Hiedemann himself made no comment disrespecting the integrity of the election, or police conduct.

From the Lutz Hotel south of the central district, closer to the heart of the insurgency but not so much as to become directly involved or associated, Heidemann urged the rioters to calm down and return home a single, solitary time. This was his only communication with the rioters, delivered at the end of an election night speech thanking Thurin’s elections committee.

“I admire their courage and professionalism on this occasion.” He said about Thurin’s authorities.

This did little to assuage the crowd. Skirmishing continued to flare up across the city.

Hertha Park in particular remained on the verge of exploding.

Everyone who wished to remain uninvolved hid in their apartment rooms.

At the doors to the hotel, the small amount of police officers there were given an order to relocate to Hertha Park, officially to shore up reinforcements since the Lutz was away from the violence. A small group of liberal protesters and a token presence of leftist militia replaced them. Not at all at Heidemman’s orders, but because they collectively thought they knew better than the old man what he needed at the moment, and conspiracist thinking was at all time high among them. They essentially became the only security detail Heidemman had beside his campaign staff.

Midnight neared, and Hertha Park continued to deteriorate. Amid the dim, ethereal scene of Thurin’s nighttime cycle, the protest lines that had been jockeying for position finally and irreversibly collided. Shields smashed into unguarded bodies, pipes and vibrobatons swung and clashed. Scant firearms, stolen or smuggled in by both sides, went off in the distance. Cops within the rioting fired gas grenades that went up into green and yellow clouds among the warring sides.

There was blood, there were bruises and broken bones. Both sides took terrible wounds.

At first, the leftist side outnumbered the right-wing. They had an enormous crowd, and whenever someone was pushed back, clubbed, pepper sprayed, gassed, or otherwise routed, they had helping hands who could surround and protect them from further attack, if not with fighters then at least with supporters. Even when the only opposition was unarmed, the numbers were so out of proportion that individual right-wing attackers could not penetrate the left’s ranks. Because they themselves had no better organization than the left, they went on the defensive very quickly.

Police prepared to escalate their presence as the violence started to grow out of control.

Fighting went on inconclusively for what seemed like hours to the protesters. Fires started to rise and spread, police vehicles were captured and overturned. From many wounded, the night managed a few dead. Then, with blood still pooling on the ground in Thurin, the results came in.

45.4% Heidemann.

49.1% Lehner.

Lehner was broadcast widely as the projected winner of the election.

He was winner beyond any margin of error.

Due to the chaotic situation, this information took some time to disseminate to the crowds.

As the realization set in, the rightists started to grow emboldened.

And the massive crowd of Heidemann supporters began to falter.

Those who had been only chanting slogans or carrying signs for Heidemann stumbled first. They had been buoyed enough by the confidence of their peers to stay in the crowd, not engaged in fighting but able to bolster the leftist presence. These people started to peel away from the press of bodies, demoralized by the turn of events and unwilling to join a greater uprising. They had made themselves believe that the chaos of this night was permissible because it would end with Lehner’s defeat. Anyone on their side throwing a punch was throwing it for Heidemann.

Unable to see a world where they could resist the Volkisch without their political leader, they retreated. Only the militant leftists remained, a front line left without hope of reinforcement.

When the rightists saw the thinning of the crowds, they capitalized on the fear and disorder and pressed their attack. Now that they had the advantage of numbers, they could throw themselves into the leftists without fear of being overwhelmed. Cowardly as they had been when outnumbered, they grew ferocious against weakened prey. Those right-wing attackers who had individually been powerful grew more so, and rightists who didn’t dare throw a punch before now joined the fight.

That night would be bloody for the leftist remnants in Hertha who stuck with the uprising.

Once the night turned in the Right wing’s favor, police activity dropped dramatically.

Open murder was essentially sanctioned in Hertha Park by the retreating authorities.

Soon as the news reached him, Heidemann moved to announce a concession.

“If I can’t change the outcome, I can at least try to stop the violence.” He said to his staff.

He came down from his hotel suite, hoping to deliver a speech in the street outside.

On the way down, he met with the grim-faced crowd of leftists who had come to the Lutz.

Heidemann could not look them in the eye. He started to move through them.

They had nothing to say to each other. It was farcical for the anarchists to remain there.

However, the weight of history was dropping on all of them. Nobody knew what to do.

Then into the flagging fire of their wills, a young woman spilled a tank of gasoline.

“Drop your weapons and back away from the old man, now!”

From around the corner, a small group came running in to confront Heidemann.

Those accursed black uniforms awakened the spirit of the anarchist defenders on sight. They immediately formed a protective ring. Heidemman’s supporters grabbed him and pushed him and his staff back up to the door of the Lutz as the anarchists positioned themselves on the street to protect them. On the landing from the door to the Lutz, a confrontation suddenly brewed.

A squad of Volkisch had arrived at the Lutz: led by a recognizable young woman.

Heidelinde Sawyer, sporting a riot shield and a vibro-baton, stood at the front. She was flanked by a skinny, red-headed young woman holding on to a large weapon. And around them were four men in uniform. Likely they were all former Navy. Like Sawyer herself, a lot of the Rhinean Defence Force had defected to the Volkisch. Very few Navy defectors joined the leftists that night. It came to pass that one side had riot gear and the other improvised weapons.

“We’re taking Heidemann into custody. Drop your weapons and leave.” Sawyer said.

Before her stood at least fifteen leftists, armed with makeshift shields, knives and clubs.

“We’re not giving up shit to you.” Said one of the leftists. “You bastards aren’t the law to us.”

At Sawyer’s side, the young woman accompanying her put on a sadistic grin.

“Listen to the boss lady, unless of course, you wanna show me a little red tonight.”

Sawyer grunted. “Make yourself useful and apprehend Heidemann.”

Her companion stepped forward. In her hands, she held what looked like a miniaturized Diver weapon. Though it resembled a jet lance, the pole did not appear to be coil-driven, since coil weapons had not been produced small enough for a human to wield. Instead, it had a thick handle like a vibroblade and trigger, attached to a magazine at the base of the spear. Those magazine-fed cartridges fired unfolding, arrow-like stakes. It was a Jet Harpoon, an expensive military weapon more common to K-9 boarding units, intended to shred humans without damaging ship interiors.

 Her opponents shook at the sight of it.

Unlike Sawyer, who wore riot armor and padding over her black uniform, sans helmet, this woman menaced the crowd in nothing but a black Volkisch uniform and peaked cap. A playful, mocking expression played about her lips, and her wine-red hair was collected into an ornate bun with two little brown sticks made to look like wood. But on a military salary, they had to be fake.

As she stepped in front of the crowd, she swung her weapon to scare them.

Sweeping in a harmless arc between herself and the anxious mob around Heidemann.

Seeing their terrified reactions made her titter with joy.

“Who do you think you people are?” Heidemann yelped, sweating bullets.

Again, the woman accompanying Sawyer put on a grin.

“Ever heard of the Samurai?” She laughed. “Ancient warriors who could cleave opponents in half with a swing of their sword? It’s an old Hanwan legend. I’m like a Samurai of the streets.”

At that moment Sawyer rolled her eyes, instantly regretting her command decisions.

“I’m not letting this crazy bitch scare me!”

One of the leftists took a swing with a crowbar.

“Hazel!” Sawyer shouted.

In the next instant, Hazel caught the crowbar with her Jet Harpoon, blocking the swing. She pushed against the man who had attacked her, holding her weapon with both hands, pressing him with the blunt surface of the thick, cylindrical pole structure. Her speartip was pointed elsewhere as the two of them struggled, the man trying to push her back, her trying to push forward.

Two other leftists in the formation moved to support him, hoping to throw the woman back. At first the confrontation appeared almost juvenile, like the false blows of a random street brawl.

Then Volkisch Rottenführer Hazel Streichter pressed the trigger.

A stake went flying past the man Hazel grappled and stabbed through two leftists in the wings of the phalanx. It went right through their shields. They must have been polymer or plastic boards with no way to withstand the jet-driven stake. Blood spilled onto the steps of the Lutz.

Blood sprayed onto Heidemann’s staff and a speck upon his coat.

He looked at it with widening eyes and his body began to shake.

At the sight of his fallen comrades, the man grappling with Hazel fell back, shaken.

Hazel retreated a step and pointed her jet harpoon confidently at the rest.

“Anyone else want a taste of my steel?” She said coyly.

“Oh my god, Hazel, shut up! Just shut the fuck up and go grab him for fuck’s sakes!”

Sawyer stepped in front of her companion and swung her shield in a wide, brutal sweep.

That blow knocked back the remaining few leftists in front of Heidemann and his staff.

One more desperate phalanx cracked by the Volkisch that night.

Sawyer stood before the cowering crowd and two dying people.

She set her boot into an expanding pool of blood.

Her eye had developed a twitch, and the arm she had swung with was shaking.

Whether she was angry or mentally affected by the violence, no one knew.

“Listen. None of you are worth my time. You can return to your lives tomorrow like none of this crap ever happened if you leave my sight right now. Otherwise, I’m going to break every last fucking bone in your fucking bodies. Do you understand? All of you lost. Step aside. Now!”

“We can be more persuasive than that, Sawyer.”

Over Sawyer’s radio, a third female voice spoke up.

Around the corner, a sudden rumbling made the stones on the pavement shake.

All of the leftist crowd lost their will to defend the failed politician in that instant.

“Diver!” They shouted. “It’s a Diver! Disperse! We don’t have shit against that!”

Sawyer put up her shield and Hazel raised her weapon to guard, but nobody took a swing.

Rather than fighters, the people in front of them became panicked pedestrians.

Everyone suddenly abandoned Heidemann and ran in different directions past the Volkisch squadron. Even the press and his secretary had fled along with the leftist militants. They left behind nothing but Heidemann, and a pair of discarded corpses that had once been their comrades.

From around the same corner where the Volkisch squadron had come from, a Diver ambled over the cobblestones. A black and red Jagd model with a pair of black antennae sticking out of the head. This Diver resembled its pilot somewhat, as the voice on the radio was none other than Rue Skalbeck’s, coming from inside this machine. Nobody would dare stand up to this machine’s jet lance, and the machine guns on the shoulders also presented an insurmountable challenge.

After the peak of violence and emotion that it had seen all night, the Lutz was silent again.

“Ugh, what a drag. That was barely a proper fight at all.” Hazel lamented.

“Strip off your uniform and go to Hertha Park if you just want a fight, dumbass.” Sawyer said. She jabbed hard on Hazel’s chest with her baton, asserting physical dominance. “You’re not in a fucking gang anymore. I don’t care how much you run your stupid mouth while carrying out my orders, but when I tell you to do something, you do exactly that without fucking theatrics.”

Hazel raised her hands up. “I followed your orders! I was trying to disperse the crowd–”

“I didn’t tell you to fire your weapon!” Sawyer shouted. “I told you to apprehend the old man! He’s standing there listening to this fucking tirade, so go do it! Or is that so fucking hard?”

“Fine, fine, fine!”

With an exaggerated sigh, Hazel walked over to Heidemann. Since the Jagd appeared, the old man backed up against the Lutz’ locked doors. Employees must have closed the doors behind him when the confrontation began. Everyone had abandoned him to the claws of the Volkisch.

She grabbed hold of him brusquely with one hand, much stronger than she looked.

“Old man, if you don’t want to die, cooperate, ok?” Hazel said.

She lifted the tip of the jet harpoon to his face, grinning violently at the defeated man.

Sawyer shouted again. “Watch your trigger discipline you stupid fuck! We need him alive.”

At Sawyer’s continued, very loud insistence, Hazel dragged Heidemann over to the group. Their men grabbed hold of the old man and cuffed him, and put a black bag over his head, muffling his protests. If he said anything coherent, nobody was listening. At that point, he was an object.

“We’ve got him. Rue, get us a ride out of here.” Sawyer said into the radio. She then turned to the men. With some disgust evident in her expression, she pointed a shaking finger at the bodies. “And someone clean that up. I don’t care about the blood, but dispose of the bodies immediately.”

On the radio, Rue’s voice sounded again.

“Roger. City seems to be quieting down, judging by police radio chatter.” Rue said.

“Good.” Sawyer said. “Keep your eyes on those sensors of yours.”

“I’ll keep you safe.” Rue said. Betraying perhaps a bit more emotion than intended.

Soon a boxy electric coach arrived. Hazel nonchalantly stuffed Heidemann in the back.

Sawyer took control, leaving behind their men to take care of the scene as they drove off. In her Jagd, Rue followed as best as she could. Their destination was not too far off. They were going to the Rhinean News Network’s main building, a tall, daunting spire in the city’s southwest.

Lehner’s family owned R.N.N., and it was there that he awaited the delivery.

When the bag next came off Heidemann’s head he was in a twentieth-floor office.

Sawyer, Rue and Hazel stood alongside the night’s ultimate victor, Adam Lehner.

Blond-haired, flashing a smile full of white teeth, a lithe man with a delicate complexion.

He hardly appeared the militant type in his silk suit, black tie and shiny shoes.

He seemed like just a different kind of dandy than the hedonistic aristocrats he hated.

He was Governor of Rhinea. And he was the unifying mind behind the Volkisch.

Flanked by black military uniforms who carried out his will all through the night.

He had Heidemann seated across from his desk. There were a lot of model ships in the office, in cases, in bottles, atop the desk. They were all old models. There was a certain exhibited fondness in the decorations for the old Koenig-class Dreadnought, with its beaked prow and winged fins. It was one of these models that Lehner picked up and turned on his fingers.

“What is the meaning of this, Lehner? Does winning a vote put you above the law?”

Heidemann broke the silence first. His voice was desperate, pleading. Defeated.

Lehner shot a glance at him from behind his desk. He was still fixated on the ship model.

“It’s so funny to me that I beat you in the vote. It’s convenient, but so funny.”

He set the model down on the desk, and turned a bemused expression at Heidemann.

“All this time, you’ve been thanking the electors, talking about running a clean race and having pride in our institutions. You had so much confidence in our institutions, our fucking institutions, and look where you are? It was so incredible to me how much we weren’t even playing the same game. I was on an entirely different board, and there you were, going on video every day talking about decorum and respect. Thinking that you would stop me with votes? By voting?”

Lehner burst out laughing. Heidemann could not muster up a retort.

The Volkisch leader turned to his subordinates as if expecting them to laugh with him.

Sawyer and Rue made no expression. Hazel cracked an uncomfortable little grin.

Lehner quickly turned back to Heidemann with a shrug.

“That’s the difference between us. I’m a go-getter. I’m an innovator. You left your entire future up to others to hand you. I went out, I put together the plan, the money, the people, the gear– I made it happen.” Lehner circled around to Heidemann’s chair and gave him a mock sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “It’s funny that I won the vote, but it wouldn’t have changed anything. Wow! Bag him up again.”

Lehner turned his back and began to pace near the broad glass wall at the back of the room.

When Heidemann started to protest, Hazel put a black bag over his head again.

This muffled his voice, but he started kicking, and trying to swing his cuffed arms.

“Sawyer, can you please?” Lehner said, clearly starting to become irritated.

Stepping up behind Heidemann, Sawyer pushed Hazel aside and knocked the old man in the back of the head. He slumped forward, his bagged head hanging. He struggled no more. He was out cold. That one strike wouldn’t kill him alone, but it had knocked all sense out of him.

“Thank you.” Lehner said. He turned to his retinue, putting his back on the gorgeous view of the city at night, that they had from such a high place through such expansive glass walls. “Everything is working as planned. The nobles have fled from Thurin, Weimar and Bremen. Some of the old-school Navy went with them, but we got about 400 ships on our side. A majority in the Constituent Assembly declared themselves for the Volkisch. We will motion to refuse to sit non-Volkisch members for supporting the riots or the nobles — whatever makes sense. So now what I want, is I want this guy to vanish like the nobles did. Nobody can find a trace of him.”

“Understood.” Sawyer said simply.

“I don’t care if you kill him, frankly, but you should. You’re going to, right?”

Lehner crooked an eyebrow at them, waiting for a response.

Sawyer did not even blink. “I have no sympathy for him. We’ll dispose of him.”

“Solid. Love that response. I’m pleased with you all, you know? I’m gonna make you all big deals here. So much of the Rhinean Defense Force has been running around like their dicks are on fire; leave it to the militia women to be the most trustworthy fighters I got.” Lehner said.

“We’re all behind you, Fuhrer.” Sawyer said. Her characteristic passion was missing.

Despite her seeming lack of enthusiasm, however, she followed orders to the letter.

At the moment, that was the best that Lehner had access to.

He had defectors and militia, and he would have to cobble them together into a new Navy.

Just after the destruction of Vogelheim, Rhinea’s aristocrats began to flee. Sizable portions of the Rhinean Defense Force, the territory’s contingent of the Imperial Navy, fled too. Half joined the Volkisch Movement outright. Whether the rest ran away as individual ships, organized under the fleeing aristocrats or outright defecting to other territories, the fact of the matter was that the new Volkisch government had lost many troops without even engaging in any hostilities. Sawyer and her flotilla were one bright spot amid this chaos. They seeded the fear that routed the nobles.

Lehner turned an amicable grin on Sawyer.

“We’ve got the gear, the discipline, the training, the morale. We just need people. And you three are a great starting point. Sawyer, you already have many achievements under your belt. I’m keeping a close eye on you. That’s why I wanted you in the city while all of this happened.”

He walked close to her and poked her in the chest playfully.

At that moment, his eyes settled on Rue Skalbeck, standing inconspicuously with Hazel.

He looked at her with a crooked little smile.

“And this one is interesting to me. Hah, some of our guys would be pissed. Name?”

Sawyer stiffened up.

“Rue Skalbeck.” Rue said. She replied in a strict monotone.

“She’s with me, Fuhrer.” Sawyer said. She was starting to raise her voice. “She’s fine.”

Lehner ignored Sawyer’s remark.

He eyed Rue’s antennae.

“Why did you get these installed? Did you need them? Are they an augmentation?”

“Hartz Syndrome, sir.”

Anyone paying closer attention to Sawyer than to Rue would have seen discomfort in her face. She was unsettled by Lehner’s sudden attentions on her subordinate, but there was nothing she could say about it. Lehner continued to hover around Rue. Rue herself stayed expressionless. Her hands could be seen to shake slightly, but she mastered herself well under interrogation.

“Tell me about your condition, Skalbeck. What brought you here?” Lehner asked.

He was testing her. He had to already know what it was. It was impossible not to.

Hartz Syndrome was an uncommon but well-known neurological development issue that afflicted many people in the Empire. While it was extensively studied, there was no biological cure that could prevent or revert the symptoms. There was simply something in a certain percentage of children that caused poor development of the brain and audiovisual senses. Cybernetics were the only way to save those children. Brain cybernetics were extremely dangerous. Hartz sufferers had an appalling death rate under the knife. That Rue was standing before them at all was a miracle.

She described that miracle directly and without emotion.

“Rhinea Medical College used me as testing material to develop new surgery methods, so I was able to get my corrective augmentations that way. I received cybernetic lobes; biosynthetic eyes; and the antennae act as cybernetic ears in a sense. They help me maintain my balance and allow me to pick up sound. My cybernetics help process audiovisual data that my brain alone lost the ability for. Due to Hartz, I was not able to complete my studies as a teen. So, after my recovery, I joined the Navy, and I studied part time so I could complete my schooling there.”

Lehner was nodding his head all along as Rue described her ordeal.

He clapped his hands together once.

“So, you studied while completing your training? What prompted you to do that?”

“After I regained the fullness of my faculties, I wanted to make up for the time I lost.”

Her response made Lehner clap his hands even more.

Sawyer sighed with relief.

“Amazing. Wonderful. Inspirational, even. You gave your body up for science! Holy shit. I have talked with a lot of our rank and file, Rue, believe it or not. I’ve seen so many sentiments of patriotism and self-sacrifice. But I’ve never seen someone sacrifice to that degree. Holy shit.”

Lehner reached out and gave playful, soft smacks on Rue’s cheek like she was a child.

“See this girl? In my ideal world, every inferior being would work as hard as she did.”

He turned to Sawyer with an elated expression. “You got really lucky with this one.”

“Sir?” Sawyer asked. She had flinched when he referred to Rue as an inferior.

Lehner continued to speak, gliding around the room in a passion.

“Despite all that was set against her, she never whined and bemoaned her situation. She never begged someone else to take pity on her and give her a handout. At every turn, she fought, she sacrificed, and she paid her dues. She sacrificed for the National Proletariat. Rue Skalbeck has given back to society. She’s not perfect, but she is exemplary. Sawyer, keep this critter close by.”

Rue was speechless, clearly mortified. Her jaw hung just a little at this description of her.

“Yes, sir.” Sawyer said. Her fingers curled up into fists.

Lehner did not notice this. He returned to his desk and sat on it.

“You’re all the future of our movement. I’m so proud of all of you. Great job tonight.”

He yawned. He checked his watch. He glanced over to Heidemann with disgust.

“Anyway, all of you can go now, we’re done here. Take him.” Lehner said, nonchalantly.

Without a word, his subordinates silently, obediently, took Heidemann out of his sight.


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