Violet Lehner was a radical even among national socialists, but even she had to accept that in her system, money held a primacy that even influence could not always overcome.
Dealing with finances was the most unpleasant aspect of her management of the Reichskommissariat and going through the balance sheets, revenues, costs, was her most despised activity. It was unfortunately necessary, as the Reichkommissariat’s finances would be the final proof of her success or failure. Not her labor policy, not her purging of the corrupt liberals or returning order and stability: only cold and hard revenue numbers.
Kreuzung had gone through a prolonged period of waste, abuse and fraud that left much of its earning potential unrealized. Money had been thrown into pits like the ever-ballooning salaries of the K.P.S.D’s officers, cushy bureaucratic jobs for politician’s sons, and endless renovations to parks, thoroughfares and sports fields. While still crown jewel of Eisental, the layer of dust would take much effort to clean off Kreuzung. The K.P.S.D was shuttered; a variety of liberal politicians and their beneficiaries were parted with their wealth and scheduled to undergo public trials and execution; and several budgetary elements that were not useful to Violet’s aims were liquidated. In a few days Violet had secured tens of millions of reichsmarks in Kreuzung property and funds. But it was not enough to staunch bleeding; Violet needed to show she could improve the health of the patient.
That, in fact, she had the only real cure for the illness.
For this she needed real, recurring revenues. Key to her policies toward Rhineametalle and other corporations was financial subsidy. Violet conceded that she would help offset the demands of the labor union scheme through direct subsidies. All of the Rhinean corporations had enjoyed many years of aggressively stagnating wages and rising prices until their kettles boiled over and risked blowing up. Despite this many of them had balked at Violet’s solutions to the labor unrest. Many believed she had given up too much to the workers. This truculence could not be overcome with just influence; it had to be overcome with money.
She needed to prove that she was a better steward of the nation’s capital than the liberals were, by securing the revenue to placate the corporations and labor both, at least temporarily, so she could build up her power without either interfering. This meant she had to be careful to introduce measures that balanced both fortunes– an utter annoyance.
“When we take the rest of Eisental’s stations, there will be more expropriations anyway.” Magdalena suggested, clearly bored with talking about balance sheets. “There are liberals living cushy degenerate lives in Aachen and Stralsund whose wealth is already earmarked for confiscation. If we need more money, we could always sell or lease the properties forward to the corporations or to wealthy investors rather than keeping it for ourselves.”
Spoken like a discredited heiress to a major family. She knew something about money.
Not enough but something.
Violet glanced at Magdalena as if surprised she could do more than bark like an angry dog.
“Expropriations are a marker of instability. We can’t keep resorting to banditry forever.”
Nasser, seated at Magdalena’s side, crossed her arms and reiterated the actual reality.
None of the liberals had an endless amount of reichsmarks stashed away anywhere.
There was a finite capacity to armed robbery. Station politics did not make every liberal as rich as in Kreuzung, so there were diminishing returns on expropriation; and even for the most detestable liberals nobody would miss, there was always a trade of legitimacy and stability for every victim, no matter how small. Magdalena found it too easy to ignore this due to her origins. Violet and the Reichkommissariat had to transition to a semblance of order, and the sooner, the better, to get money moving hands once again.
“Nasser is correct. Right now, everyone in Rhinea is watching us like hawks to see if we fail; and because of our rhetoric we need to deliver security and economic stability. We have seized enough money to begin funding the National Socialist Labor Union scheme, which will be essential. That has bought us enough time for more reforms– but we will still need the reforms. Things have to change here.” Violet said. “It is not possible to keep running Kreuzung like a mafia den, whether the boss is Werner or whether it is us. We need order and normality; we need to increase production; and for both we need more money.”
“I have an idea for a somewhat unpleasant new investor.” Nasser said, crossing her arms.
“Oh, this ought to be good, if even you consider it unpleasant.” Magdalena said, grinning.
“I’m listening.” Violet replied simply, while looking down at her portable full of data.
Nasser tossed a hand through her hair slightly and smiled as if amused at herself.
“We should ask the Esoteric Order for direct investment. In fact, if the Esoteric Order could move its entire operations from Munich to Kreuzung, leasing expropriated property from us in the process, while also investing in personnel and bringing their fleet– it would solve a lot of problems. I understand this is not a simple task– but do we have anything to lose?”
Violet blinked, staring at Nasser. This was something of a surprise to her.
It had not occurred to her to further involve the Esoteric Order.
She was, in fact, de facto one of the leaders of the Esoteric Order now.
Based on the fuhrerprinzip, as a regional Reichskommissar, it was the Chairwoman of the Esoteric Order who had to listen to her and not the other way. But it was difficult to throw that weight around– Violet had made herself Reichskommissar and everyone else was for now just following along because she had resolved the ongoing crises. Trying to strong-arm the Esoteric Order now could just as easily result in them balking at her insolence.
“Magdalena, you were once part of the Blood Bund, right?” Nasser asked.
“Come now, that was a long time ago. My views have modernized.” Magdalena said.
“I am not calling you a racist– you have a unique perspective on our movement’s nature.”
Magdalena grinned as if her ego had been suitably flattered. “Ah, yes– there is a lot of friction and competition between people like the Blood Bund and the Esoteric Order. The Blood Bund, Neotribals, Traditional Fatherhood Front, those groups have the most simple and accessible ideas. They easily recruit young men by putting forward a narrative with simple enemies and outcomes– the Esoteric Order’s message is much stranger. You have to read to be attracted to the Esoteric Order, not just sate your wicked gut feelings.”
“But the Blood Bund and Traditional Fatherhood Front are not here.” Nasser said. “We are.”
“I understand.” Violet said. “We could sell it as opening Eisental up as an Esoteric front.”
“Indeed. The Esoteric Order has a lot of money, materiel and human capital.” Nasser said.
“True! We are its most powerful branch! Their resources should go to us!” Magdalena said.
An influence play with the Esoteric Order– if it succeeded, Violet would suddenly find her forces injected with a lot of money, additional manpower, technical and bureaucratic talent, and perhaps even some tidy additions to her fleet. It all depended on the pitch and whether the Chairwoman would accept her position. They had rarely spoken, she could count the times in her hands– Violet shared the ideology and the Esoteric Order explicitly supported her, but she didn’t need to show up for meetings to make use of their support. She had her own forces and acted on her own initiative while wearing the symbols, like a mascot.
The Esoteric Order was a tool that gave her legitimacy among a subset of fascists.
Access to militia, friendly logistical corridors, help with greasing palms and recruitment.
Because of who she was and who her sympathizers were, the Esoteric Order was the only faction that would support her. They in essence had done the preamble to the work she intended to finish– gathering fascist sympathizers outside the traditional demographics, in enough mass that the Blood Bund and other exclusive groups were forced to tolerate it.
Now, however, Violet had made a great leap– a branch of the Order ruling an entire region.
Could she dare to dream, even, of taking over the Esoteric Order completely at this stage?
“The Chairwoman was interested in helping organize the Zabaniyah. We might see eye to eye with each other more than we know.” Nasser said. “I would not make this suggestion if I did not think it would work– as much as I hate to share the glory with that bunch.”
Violet nodded her approval. “I’ll speak with the Chairwoman. We’ll see what happens.”
Magdalena raised hands behind her head and yawned, a bored expression on her black lips.
“In my opinion we should also see how much we get from the next round of expropriations. Where even are Hatta and Waldeck at right now? Where is Hadžić? Are any of them ready?”
“All of them are underway.” Nasser said. “We can’t expect results overnight.”
“I’m not.” Magdalena pouted. “I feel as though you think I’m an idiot.”
“Not at all. You are valuable for your abilities and in your capacity.” Nasser said calmly.
“She thinks I’m an idiot.” Magdalena turned a childish expression on Violet.
“Then show us all your learning and refinement and go organize the ORPOs.” Violet said, practically hissing disdain at Magdalena’s constant whining and pointing sharply at the door. “Bored of sitting around? We are preparing a sweep of the underground and you have experience with such things. Do note that you do not have carte blanche to slaughter all the homeless camps down there– just make sure the ORPOs don’t turn and run if their own shadows in the dark look too intimidating. I want an assessment on my desk tomorrow.”
Magdalena turned a sour look on Violet and then on Nasser as if expecting any sympathy.
Nasser shrugged at her with a particularly smug and cat-like expression.
Sighing, Magdalena stood up from her chair and left Violet’s office, looking rather gloomy.
“Vesna, are you threatened by her?” Violet asked. In front of her desk, Nasser grinned.
“Not at all. In fact, I do think she has become less racist. I should be asking you though.”
Violet smiled a little at that. “Don’t worry, my virtue will remain only yours to sully.”
With a preliminary plan for the next few days, Violet laid down her portable on the desk.
“I’ll be meeting with Volwitz, Rhineametalle and with the Esoteric Order.” She said.
She slumped back on her chair and sighed. Nothing was ever easy.
Nothing going forward would get any easier than it was even now. It would only get worse.
Through tired eyes, growing hazy, Violet looked on at the world around her.
That haze, tinged red like all the blood spilled and all the blood left to be spilled–
“Feeling the weight?” Nasser asked.
“I can handle it.” Violet replied, snapping out of her distraction. She sat up straight.
“I know you can. You’ve been through worse. But you are incredibly resilient.”
Violet felt her heavy heart eased ever so slightly by Nasser’s words.
Ever since she was a teenager, Vesna Nasser had been a supportive presence in Violet’s life. Nasser herself had been young when they met, albeit certainly older than Violet. Nasser was the one kindness that her father had ever afforded to Violet– a protector and keeper who could turn away her enemies, who managed her household, who found her opportunity in the world. Someone to strangle her to death should it become necessary– however, over time, the likelihood of being killed by Nasser grew fainter. Not because her father’s prerogatives ever changed but because Nasser herself would just not do it even if ordered.
Castaways in the world, their families destroyed, their futures compromised.
Until a fateful day, where a young Violet, a powerless captive without a name, said,
“Nasser, I want to be like you.”
Such was the pull of Destiny on the tiny, windswept candle flicker of a soul she had left.
I want to be strong like you.
I want to remake myself like you did.
I want to be feared like you are.
I want to be able to kill all of those who have wronged me.
Like you did.
She fell in love with Nasser; and her affection was returned.
From that painful past would spring the beautiful maelstrom of their future.
“Nasser, have I become like you?” Violet asked suddenly.
Nasser held her hand and answered with seemingly little time to ponder.
“I have nothing left to teach you, and now, I am always learning from you.” She said.
Violet felt gratified by the answer and relished holding the hand of her beloved.
She was not a scared child anymore.
Now, she was strong, feared, and had a power that would polish Imbria to a bloody sheen.
Several days after the Brigand’s departure from Kreuzung, the significance of which none of the Zabaniyah knew at the time; the Ritter-class Greater Imbria, the manta ray-like cruiser Mrudah, and a few supporting ships from the militia set off from Kreuzung. While the Mrudah was mysterious and eye-catching in design, and the Greater Imbria an already storied ship of a fine class, the militia vessels were boxy converted civilian designs.
One was a former container ship now carrying several dozen divers entombed within pods on its back, awaiting deployment; another an old refueler ship that served as a home base and supply vessel for the militia pilots; the third a mid-size passenger craft equipped with dozens of gas gun pods acting as a makeshift destroyer to intercept munitions on the fleet.
Underway to the destination in Aachen, the commander of the fleet, Standartenführer Imani Hadžić, ordered a review of the militias. Joining her in this task would be Sturmbannführer Heidelinde Sawyer, the star of the militia, and her adjutant, Rue Skalbeck. Sawyer underwent this inspection aware that she had received reinforcements who were on the young side; she had been told as much. The militia had been reluctant to spend its best men to assist Violet Lehner, who was not aligned with the factions that financially supported the militia.
However, what she saw when she stepped into the hall of the refueler ship shocked her.
Arrayed in neat rows before her, dressed immaculately in their uniforms, as if for parade.
Were a hundred or so teenage boys whose ages Sawyer could not have begun to guess.
All were shorter than her and only a few were formidable in their stature.
They knew how to stand all along the corridor of a ship in a disciplined formation.
Did they know how to fight, however? Sawyer’s heart was skipping beats.
Was she meant to preside over the slaughter of all these lambs?
When she asked for warriors to take up the crusade alongside her?
“Hmph. How interesting.” A cruel laugh.
Imani Hadžić walked out in front of the boys with an expression devoid of sympathy.
Standing beside her, Sawyer thought her eyes looked– hollow.
Mentally, Sawyer compared her to the only other Shimii she knew, Victoria–
And there was no comparison.
Victoria was a horrible little gnat, but there was no question that she had a warm heart in her chest. They had fought all the time, she had wanted to turn her into paste more than once, but that was feeling, they shared some kind of emotion. Hell– Sawyer might have even considered her almost like a friend, once upon a very long time. Maybe even more than friends– No— nothing like that of course– Sawyer was not like that at all–
Imani’s face however was so frighteningly devoid of even a bit of warmth.
When she grinned at the boys it was the cruelest expression Sawyer had ever seen.
Was she enjoying having all these kids in front of her? What would she do?
The two women in their uniforms stood quite formidable in front of these teenagers.
But in Sawyer’s mind this was nothing to savor. How would these kids be of any use?
“Heil. I am Standartenführer Imani Hadžić, your commanding officer. Congratulations: you must all be excited for a chance to contribute to the nation’s victory. If you are not, that is a pity– you will be thrown into the fire whether you object or whether you yearn for it. I suggest that you get used to two things in the sea: privation and death. Let me see all of you– ha ha, so small, but you can all pull on a stick right? You can press buttons?”
Imani made a gesture with her fingers as if highlight how diminutive she found the boys.
Though she herself was not so tall, in her position she may as well have towered over them.
She paced in front of the boys, tracing the length of their formation, hands behind her back.
Sawyer stood stone-faced, trying not to let her discomfort and disgust show.
Rue Skalbeck was silent a step behind and beside Sawyer, holding a portable computer.
What was the point of this? She hated these idiotic displays of rank.
Sawyer scanned across the faces of those assembled. Most had no expressions at all.
As Imani began to pace back from the other side of the assembled boys, however–
Sawyer caught one of the boys in the front putting on a face, averting his gaze.
Just as she did, Imani must have also. Her pacing sped until she stopped in front of him.
“Do you have anything to offer the class?” Imani said mockingly. “Or are you bored?”
For a moment the boy made eye contact with her. He broke eye contact quickly.
He scoffed at her, audibly, directly.
Maybe he fancied his chances. He was a bigger boy, heavier set than others.
Leaner, a bit taller, buzzed blond hair. He stood out just slightly from the others.
Like all the rest, however– he bled vividly red.
Without warning, Imani drew her truncheon and beat the boy beside the head.
One swift strike turned his legs to jelly and overturned the rest of him.
Hard enough that the crack of the impact reverberated across the hall.
Flecks of blood marred an adjacent boy who visibly struggled not to lose his composure.
In the second row, the boys backed up enough to allow the struck-down kid room to fall.
He came to settle on the floor, disoriented, making a motion as if lying down to bed.
Twitching as his eyes closed. Sawyer watched the scene play out with muted horror.
“Does anyone else have any objections? Anyone else want to be so brave? Are you against being commanded by a woman? Or by a Shimii perhaps? Are you against serving a faction of the Esoteric Order?” Imani looked around. Nobody replied. After the attack the boys restored their formation with a gap for their fallen comrade. Everything was silent for a moment save for breathing and the mechanical buzzing as Imani activated the vibration mechanism inside the truncheon, increasing its potential for internal injury. “You will find that the only thing that matters here is power. Whether or not you have a weapon, I can assuredly kill everyone in this room. None of you are old enough to gauge my power but rest assured, I am the deadliest soldier you have ever seen. That power of violence hangs over all of you. Let that be what drives you forward. Prove to me that you are good for anything, and perhaps your neanderthal parents will see you return a decorated soldier.”
Imani pointed her truncheon at one of the boys, whose eyes drew wide at the attention.
He said nothing and broke out into a nervous salute upon being acknowledged.
“You, boy– take your comrade to the infirmary. Whether or not he survives, you will be promoted from Kadet to Schütze from now on and have a semblance of command over this miserable lot. However, if he survives, you will be promoted one more time to Sturmmann, and he will be your adjutant. Do you have any objections?” Imani grinned again.
“N-N-no ma’am. I will do as you command unquestioningly and see to his recovery. Sieg Heil!” The boy saluted, and then dropped to the ground and lifted his fallen ally up as quickly as he could. It was clearly difficult for him to manage the wounded boy alone. Around him, the other boys very briefly stared at him but then returned their eyes forward.
Imani smiled as she watched him struggle. She turned to the rest.
“There are forty Sturmvolkers and a hundred of you.” Imani said. “Or I should say, there are thirty-nine available now. Be good little boys for me, and you will earn those combat spots and show the Blood Bund and Traditional Fatherhood Front that you are the big strong alpha men you were taught you would be. Show this Shimii woman that you can stand on your own. While the rest of you can support the brave warriors among you; not so glorious, but beta men are also necessary. As for me– remember well that this is a matriarchy. I do not need any of you but you need my good graces to survive. Learn to live under my heel.”
Laughing raucously, Imani turned her back on the boys and waved dismissively.
Sawyer could hardly stand the theatrics any longer and followed after Imani.
Stopping her near the bulkhead into the chute connecting the ships.
“Hadžić– Standartenführer, what are you doing? They are teenagers!”
Imani looked at her over her shoulder with narrowed, inexpressive eyes.
“Do you want a beating as well, Heidelinde?” She said in a tired monotone.
Sawyer tried to control herself. She thought of laying hands on Imani–
–but even she in her most wildest rage could see there was something in Imani.
An immense pressure that crushed whatever will to fight she could muster.
And left her paralyzed with– fear. It was fear. Unfathomable, sudden, intense fear.
That Shimii became as if a black– no– green–? a radiating icon of despair–
“Ma’am– with all due respect– this is not– we cannot–”
She could hardly finish a fraction of a sentence before Imani interrupted her.
“You are a member of the militia too– you know how things work, don’t you? Or maybe you are not cut out for politics. Of course, we were never going to get Rhinea’s finest. The Militia is being opportunistic– the reason we got these boys is as punishment to them, and leverage against their families. We are all being used. If you care about them then it is up to you to whip them into shape. You have a few days. Don’t let them disrespect you. All that they have known, all their lives, is that the one who beats them owns them. Do what you must.”
Without a word more and without letting a word in edgewise, Imani crossed the bulkhead.
Leaving Sawyer behind on the militia ship, her heart sinking with apprehension.
Whoever beats them, owns them.
Traditional Fatherhood Front– Blood Bund– Sawyer knew what it was like.
Not that her parents were ever part of those factions– but they acted like it.
She closed her fist, gripping so tight that she thought she might burst her own hand.
That crack from Imani’s baton as sharp in her mind now as the sounds of the beatings she herself had received, as a child, in school, in the military, all throughout her life. That first option taken to control her until it was taken near exclusively. She thought that the idea that she was now in the position of beating children as she was beaten was absurd and cruel and disgusting, and even worse that the children would be her main troops in this campaign.
However, she also knew, in the deepest, most helpless parts of her soul, that this was the tradition that she was fighting for. This is what she stood up for, this was the source of her power. It was a dark but inexorable part of the glory and triumph that the Volkisch Movement promised. Without this she had nothing. She would be nobody again.
Nothing but a speck in the shadow of all-mighty beasts like Imani Hadžić.
At her back, Rue Skalbeck drew close. She stood behind Sawyer and very close to her.
She could not show sympathy in front of the boys. But Sawyer appreciated her presence.
“It will be what it will be.” Sawyer said, feeling trapped. Cursing everything internally.
Was this truly the power she had struggled so hard to achieve?
One day after the Brigand’s arrival at Aachen–
In a dark cargo loading dock in Stockheim, a certain lieutenant shut her eyes with agitation.
Her fists clenched tight. Feeling a shudder across her skin. “Chief Petty Officer–”
At her side, a sprightly Loup woman lifted a finger and wagged from side to side.
“No, master! Rottenführer. Remember?” Her tail wagged twice as fast as her finger.
“Rottenführer.” The Lieutenant– or in this parlance, the Obersturmführer— felt her mouth turning sour saying that wicked word. She sighed. “I don’t think this uniform fits me.”
“Ah, but master, it is very close to your size! And it’s been meticulously prepared!”
She ran her hand over the collar, and pulled her tie, which felt like they might strangle her.
And the armbands, cutting her limb in half with their vile symbols.
“No– I mean– ideologically, it does not fit.” Her tone grew even more uncomfortable.
“Of course. I, too, am not a fascist. But I know you will agree to its operational usefulness.”
Unfortunately, yes– she had to agree that it would be exceedingly useful to the operation.
That is, if they could pull off the plan without being caught and throwing the whole thing.
Aatto Jarvi-Stormyweather paused and adjusted Murati Nakara’s tie with a smile.
“That severe expression will do you good. Few Obersturmführer have reasons to smile.”
“Aatto– This had better be worth it, or I– I will put you on leave for a week.”
“On leave–? No–! Master, it will absolutely be worth it.”
Owing to the fact that Valeriya and Illya had a much more dangerous area to infiltrate, the mission to reconnoiter the Volkisch Gau office in Aachen was given to Murati and her too-loyal adjutant. Their stated objective was simply to ascertain the level of readiness and defenses of the Gau and whether they were making any overt combat preparations. Aatto had more ambitious plans, but Murati was dubious about the prospects. Initially she was worried they might be disqualified for such a mission immediately by their race.
North Bosporans were rare and dispersed within the Empire after the ethnic mass deportations that followed the failed General Strike. However, the Volkisch in Eisental were apparently an eclectic bunch with Shimii leadership. Aatto herself assured the Volksarmee that among the broader Volkisch movement, outside of factions like the Blood Bund, it was not impossible for there to be Loup, Volgian, Bosporan and even Eloim membership. Aatto and Murati would not stick out just because of race if they wore the uniform.
“I worked for the Rhinean Navy and transitioned seamlessly to the Volkisch, master.”
“Great. Good for you. Now– stop calling me ‘master’ already.”
Race was only the most basic and surface level worry Murati had about the mission.
In her mind, they had agreed to walk into a fortress of the enemy.
No– not merely a fortress. A charnel house; a torture chamber. In Murati’s mind the Gau office must have been like hell itself, a vile shelter where all the most unspeakable crimes against humanity and dignity were being carried out. Bestial people without logic or compunction would be there and they would see through Murati’s ruse immediately.
She was a person with correct and righteous thoughts and bearing.
They would see that she was not a participant in their bacchanalia.
“Master, this is an unprecedented opportunity for us.” Aatto assured her. “While this Gau remains new and understaffed, it is vulnerable. We could snag the details of their plans for the station government and even the local logistics picture without incurring too much risk!”
“Too much risk relative to what? Risk of burning if I spark a lighter while doused in oil?”
“I understand your caution– you are of course, a highly observant and deliberate person.”
“Ugh. Quit flattering me. Don’t act so disgusting when we’re in public.”
To avoid being seen walking out of the ships dressed in Volkisch Uniforms, the Brigand discretely requested the assistance of sympathetic (and entrepreneurial) Stockheim sailors to smuggle them out. To all the world, they walked out of the Brigand in their ordinary uniforms, went down a corridor into Stockheim, and that was that. Instead, however, they were led to a cargo elevator, a popular entryway for smuggling. They changed clothes into the captured uniforms by the dim light of an LED panel and pretended to be coming in for an inspection, after which, they simply left Stockheim as anyone else would.
And then entered Aachen as a pair of Volkisch officers, with forged IDs to boot.
“Aren’t they authentic? Being an intelligence officer has many perks, master.”
Aatto had been indispensible. This mission would not have happened without her.
When she suggested the idea, the captain initially balked and the commissar accused Aatto of wanting to set a trap– however, Aatto had made so many preparations up front that the idea felt genuine. She had written up detailed materials on Volkisch conduct within the Gau offices, typical shift compositions, and even printed several items and modified others using a stitcher machine; sans certain specific security implementations on the items which not even Aatto could replicate. She had done everything to make the mission viable.
“The Aachen Gau office has been a token administration with a skeleton crew for months. Violet Lehner will likely accelerate its expansion now. We have a narrow window to exploit.”
Framed in that way, and with all the preparations she made, and the more that she was capable of, the Captain and Premier overruled the Commissar’s concerns and allowed the mission to go forward. While they were busy preparing for the United Front talks, several members of the crew were running away missions, and Murati would be no different.
“Aatto– did you spend so much effort to authentically modify this uniform because–”
“Master, my motivation is to impress my new officers and prove my worthiness.”
Not because she wanted to see how Murati looked in the black uniform?
Murati glared at her but ultimately sighed and accepted things.
None of the uniforms they had captured were higher ranking than Rotteführer.
Aatto had somehow freestitched correct markings on a captured uniform to identify as an Obersturmführer, roughly translated to Murati’s senior Lieutenant role. Both Kalika Loukia and Khadija al-Shajara, who were resident experts in clothing design, thought Aatto’s embellishment looked extremely authentic to the intelligence photography they had previously collected of various Volkisch uniforms. The garments passed a visual predictor scan from Zachikova– even the colors were matching hues to a typical uniform.
Aatto must have committed all of these small details to memory. She was incredibly sharp.
Her labors meant they had the intelligence, equipment and means to carry out their mission.
When Murati looked at her, she did feel that Aatto was being sincere in her behavior.
Against her better judgment, she would trust her new adjutant and pursue this task.
“Aatto, you did not use any tricks to convince the captain, did you?” Murati asked.
“Hmm? Master, the Captain is immune to volshebtsvo.” Aatto said, smiling gently.
Murati sighed deeply. She ran her hands over her face with exasperation.
“We will scout the place and leave at the first sign of trouble.” She said, resigning herself.
“Of course. I will follow you orders to the letter. You will see my professionalism at work.”
Thus– the course of fate brought them into the City of Currents dressed all in black.
And wearing some unsavory armbands and uniform decorations.
Murati took her first steps into Aachen in the guise of the Obersturmführer. She had come up with the name Ami Ravana for her assumed identity, while Aatto took on the identity of Ilma Suomi-Fertilefield. Their cards were real as far as they had the correct template for a Volkisch ID and included pictures and false personal data. They had chips in them too, taken from the cards of the soldiers Murati killed, but the data in those chips would be recorded as the men who once held them, so it would be easy for anyone to look at the records after the fact and realize the infiltration. As soon as they saw a door that required swiping their IDs they would need to consider the risks before doing so and escape shortly thereafter.
“Aatto– I mean, Ilma. Is it just me or are people staring?” Murati whispered.
“No, they are staring. You’ll get used to it.” Aatto confirmed.
Under the massive atrium at the base of the Aachen central cylinder, a crowd of people shot passing glances at Murati and Aatto as they entered the station from Stockheim. When Murati met anyone’s eyes in passing they would immediately tear their gaze from her. That uniform, the black jacket, the armbands, the jackboots– it was a symbol that inspired terror in everyone around them. Murati felt something that she was very unfamiliar with.
In the Union her uniform was something that was common and ignored, most of the time, but there were a few people for whom the uniform was something to admire and respect. Particularly among very young people and very old people, Murati would occasionally get a smile or a wave or even a cheer as she went about her days in Thassal.
There was no such cheer in Aachen.
All of the staring, at her uniform and the peaked cap, was critical, nervous, and fearful. They walked through the crowds like a knife plunged in skin, a deepening wound. Nobody would even dare come close, minding at least half an arm’s distance from the pair. Everyone was aware of them. Murati had never felt more seen by the people around her than donning this uniform. She had to steady her breathing and make herself remain calm. Some part of her, inexperienced with such clear animosity all around her, wanted to panic and flee.
When such feelings struck her– she adjusted her cap, marked with an iron eagle in front.
For something to do with unsteady fingers. It dispelled some of the stress.
Aachen was a very beautiful station. The Atrium area reminded Murati of the Bubble in Thassal but many, many times larger and more spacious and much more lavishly designed. Its beautiful centerpiece and the sweeping paths around it to the various platforms containing shops and businesses; Murati had to admit it was stunning, almost otherworldly in its intricacy, like a planetarium filled with commercial spaces– but it was also undoubtedly a waste of space. There had to be an allowance for some beauty, for some creativity, in designing homes and workplaces, but this was too much. Building Aachen this way precluded the possibility to allow in so many thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands. A more enclosed and simpler tiered space could retain some of the beauty and color but allow for more people to live and work and have a place in the station.
Murati had seen a few different locations in the Imbrian Empire now.
Each time she felt, in the sight of the grandiose architecture,
–that the Empire’s rulers loved metal more than they could ever love people.
That the aesthetics of the metal was much more a concern than its use by human beings.
Turning her head down from the high-rising atrium, Murati led Aatto to the elevators.
Their destination was in the second tier of the cylinder, above this particular atrium. The Core Station of Aachen had a massive vertical commercial district as its base, and above it, there was a shorter, smaller tier that contained facilities, a park and the access points for maintenance work. Above that central tier there was a second, smaller commercial district that played host to its own centerpiece atrium, and at the highest tier, was an exclusive high-class residential area that also housed several government facilities. Much like Kreuzung, this highest tier also had its own small seaport for luxury vessels like yachts.
Below the Aachen cylinder there was also an underground area, but that was not Murati’s concern for now. She touched the button on the elevator’s control panel corresponding to the central tier and joined the dozens of other elevators moving up and down the chutes from one level to the next. Inside the elevator, Aatto set her back against the wall and wagged her tail gently. The two of them let themselves breathe now. There was no surveillance inside the public elevators so they had a moment to relax.
“What’s on your mind?” Murati said to her. Mainly to try to get out of her own mind.
She expected Aatto would respond with something frivolous and headache-inducing–
And found herself a bit surprised at how candid her adjutant became.
“I was thinking about this uniform.” Aatto said, pulling on her collar patch. “When I started working, I was inducted into the Rhinean Navy. They trained me well and I’d never have to go home again so it felt like a good deal. I had a talent for intelligence work. Then the Volkisch took over. So, I worked for them, in the same office, doing the same things as before. Tagging CCTV footage, reviewing computer logs, chasing down sources, assisting arrests. It never meant much to me. Back then I told myself it was all the same thing.”
“At some point you decided to rebel against the Volkisch, didn’t you?” Murati asked.
“On a whim– I think more than anything I just wanted to see things change. I was not a good person like you, master.” Aatto said. “For so long everything has been the same for me. Whatever abuses I suffered or even any I inflicted had already been circularly carried out untold millions of times already. I wanted to overturn things. To cause chaos. I thought the liberals would have such fury for the Volkisch that they would shake the earth. In the end nothing happened, and I gave up the hope– and you captured me after that.”
Murati laughed a bit, both at Aatto’s almost whimsical selfishness, but also at the very idea.
Liberals never fought for anything– but when they did it was some form of status quo.
“You picked the wrong group for chaos. Did they ask you for some chaos donations to their chaos campaign? How has chaos polled recently? Did it perform well at the election debate?”
She had some sympathy for Aatto, but to her, it read as a foolishly uninformed fantasy.
Aatto shared a little laugh with Murati as the elevator ride wound on.
“Yes– I see my errors from the reading I am doing now. Truth be told I hardly understood the nuances separating liberals and communists. All I saw were symbols and slogans. I am glad to have met you master. I wear this uniform again as part of a rebellion that matters.”
Aatto smiled at Murati and Murati felt that it was the return of her pointless flattery again.
Murati was not upset with Aatto, but rather, she suddenly felt uncomfortable about her role.
Here was a somewhat unformed being who wanted so badly to be shaped by someone. She had been abandoned by the world. Had it not been Murati, would Aatto have made herself the perfect servant of a far more horrible ‘king’? Was there something inherently wrong about someone being so malleable; was it an overreach of Murati’s to take this ‘pure’ vessel and allow it to be influenced so thoroughly by her own thoughts? Should she not attempt to make Aatto an individual again, rather than trying to shape her like this?
Individual– that was a loaded word in leftist politics, but teaching Aatto and trying to right her course, made Murati challenge her own thinking more. It was easy to speak to her own convictions with the implicit knowledge that someone would push back. Being accepted uncritically made her feel as though she was transgressing in some way.
As if she was violating Aatto with her certitude.
It made Murati wonder if she was truly fit for her own military and political ambitions.
At times she wondered whether what she was doing really constituted good communist thought and praxis. She once attacked the world with unyielding conviction that she was the most correct. Now that she was responsible for those ideas and their expression in someone else, it made her second-guess herself. Was she teaching Aatto ‘right’?
Should she be the teacher?
In her mind, Aatto was like a pupal insect being dipped in Murati’s red ink.
Could Murati bear the sight of the crimson butterfly that might emerge from that cocoon?
What if she went astray? Would that condemn Murati and her beliefs?
What if Aatto’s wings, heavy with the ink forced on her, suddenly dropped her to oblivion?
It was different from the mecha pilots– they had come to Murati with formed convictions.
Giving orders to soldiers was different from teaching someone how to view the world.
Far, afar above the rank of Lieutenant on a ship, there was the rank of a Leader, writ large.
Had Murati ever been on some level the same as Aatto now was? She wondered that too.
Murati had devoured the writings of her own leaders studiously– their words formed her.
How did Daksha Kansal or Bhavani Jayasankar bear raising whole nations in this manner?
Could Murati take the place of those righteous predecessors who were responsible for her?
“Master– I mean, Obersturmführer. We have arrived. The Gau won’t be too far from here.”
Aatto’s voice and the opening of the elevator doors shook Murati out of her brooding.
There was no time to resolve that now– it could not be resolved so instantly.
She had to trust in herself, and in Aatto as well. Aatto did have some conviction.
After all, she had chosen to follow Murati.
There was only so much worrying she could let herself do on someone’s behalf.
Regardless of the philosophy and the hypotheticals–
At that moment Murati could only put one foot before the other and carry out her mission.
Her hands reached up to her peaked cap and adjusted it once again.
“Aatto, I just wanted to say that I am sorry.”
“Hmm? For what, master?”
“I thought of you as a thing– an object, in the abstract. It wasn’t right of me.”
“Um. I am not sure I–”
“Don’t worry. Let’s get going. Just– you’re doing good so far. Keep it up.”
Murati stepped out of the elevator, trying to keep up the black-iron bearing of a fascist.
Aatto followed behind her, with initially hesitant steps.
But she caught up quickly, and then, she kept the pace silently and seriously.
From the elevator banks, they exited out onto the main thoroughfare through the park. It was the biggest shock of bright green color Murati ever had in her life; she did not know where in the Union she might see something like this outside of a paint mill. There were several trees planted in dirt and media plots that were being chemically maintained. They were tall, bushy, and bright. Signs on the tree plots warned the passersby to stay off the dirt or be fined. There were so many trees and the design of the tier, with a lower ceiling, more sunlight LED clusters and stronger climate controls and air circulation, meant that they did not need to be sealed in individual bubbles and could stand out amid the paths.
There were benches where people could sit, some of which were located under the branches of the bigger and older trees. Surprisingly few people took advantage of this. Perhaps to them, the trees were such a normal sight now that the modest crowd merely glanced at them as they walked the paths. Murati had to pretend not to be stunned. With the park as a starting point the structures of the tier fanned out from it. Murati saw container parks and garages in the distance, fenced off. There were office buildings and their workers seemed to make up most of the foot traffic, on their way to and from lunch in the lower district.
At the far end of the park, Murati spotted the fascist flag marking their destination.
Stepping out of the shade of the trees, into the shadow of the Aachen Gau office.
Save for the flag, the building was nothing so terrifying, just a metal and plastic rectangle, two stories high and blending into the walls of Aachen’s middle tier. It was an office building, like any other office building save perhaps for the deeds it sheltered inside of it. Six steps from the ground level took the entrant to the lobby door; there was also a plastic ramp. Long, inscrutable glass windows and the darkened glass doors allowed those in the Gau to see out to the world but no one outside to look back at them.
It was the silence and lack of activity that made the Gau office look particularly eerie. Unlike the nearby offices, nobody had come in or out of the building since Murati and Aatto began to approach it, and nobody was sitting on the steps or meandering outside it. Whether this spoke to its lack of occupants or the discipline of those inside Murati did not know and Aatto could only guess. Perhaps that vile flag served to ward ordinary people away from the place as well. Murati felt her heart pounding. Would it be too conspicuous for them to try to visit the office now? What if it was almost abandoned, or even closed off entirely?
“Aatto, should we just step in? Do they even take visitors?” Murati asked.
Aatto nodded her head. “It’s a government office, master– they are supposed to handle permits and IDs and such. In Aachen, there’s still the liberal government providing services for now– but still, even in a complicated situation the Gau must maintain the pretense that it is the legitimate government of the station. We should be able to just walk inside.”
“Alright. I’ll lead the way– but you better be right, you know that?” Murati whispered.
“Something wrong? Can I assist you officers?”
From behind both of them, a woman’s voice rose up suddenly.
Murati froze up for an instant. At her side, Aatto glanced at Murati for a brief moment.
Expected to play the part of leader, Murati made herself turned around quick but calm.
Coming face to face with a seemingly formidable character all of a sudden.
“Obersturmführer, and Rotteführer– I’m Rahima Jašarević. Pleased to meet you, herr–?”
“Ami Ravana. This is my assistant Suomi-Fertilefield. It is our pleasure, milord.”
Despite the suddenness of the intrusion and Murati’s initial reaction to it, she found that her voice was not failing her when it came time to address the woman, and that her hands were not trembling when they shook Rahima’s. Maintaining outward composure despite the drumming in her chest, hoping the deep pulses did not transfer through the black gloves on her hands. On the steps to the Gau Murati held the gaze and hand of an important guest.
There was no turning back now.
Rahima Jašarević– a tall woman, her uniform was tailored to an exacting standard, fitting her frame perfectly and Murati guessed it was even natural fibers. All in black, the double-breasted coat buttoned over a white collared shirt with black pants and high boots. Pinned to her ample chest was a gold medal with a black hooked cross and a red and white tassel. A gold chain over her chest connected to a patched-in silver shield badge with a sword and moon sigil, situated on the side of the forearm close to the shoulder. She wore two armbands, one with the hooked cross and the second with the black sonnenrad.
Her manner was initially imperious, but when she met Murati’s eyes she smiled a bit.
Despite the fascist implements Murati had to admit that she was a comely woman, her light-brown skin unblemished, a hint of shadow and eyeliner on an otherwise unmanicured expression, with a long, sleek nose. She was tall and broad-shouldered, and her hair fell over her shoulders, swept away from her eyes on one side and with orderly bangs on the other. Some of it was collected into a braid on the side with the swept-up bangs. Her ears were tall and straight and trimmed with a fluffy tuft of fur on the tips, and her tail was bushy.
Murati had the immediate impression that she was shaking the hands of someone powerful.
However, the armbands, the medals, the arm shield, these said nothing about her rank.
There were no pips on her collar, nor lines on her lapel or shoulderboards to indicate rank.
That impression of power came from her demeanor and presence as Murati observed it.
She thought of trying to ask Aatto telepathically what rank this woman supposedly had.
However, Rahima was staring straight into her eyes. What if she saw the red rings?
Because she had been caught off-guard, she had not yet chanced to study Rahima’s aura.
“Forgive me, I had gone on a walk to clear my head.” Rahima said. “Did I happen to miss an appointment?” She let go of Murati’s hand and then quickly shook hands with Aatto instead.
“Not at all, mein herr. We just happened to arrive now.” Murati said.
“Indeed, herr Gauleiter, you are right on time.” Aatto said.
She gave Murati the briefest glance as she spoke.
Now Murati knew the rank.
In front of them stood the highest political leader of the Volkisch locally within Aachen. Their Gauleiter, an old High Imbrian rank revived by the reactionary intelligentsia that literally meant land leader. Each Gau was ruled over by a Gauleiter as their fiefdom.
Not only that– but she was also a Shimii Gauleiter. They put a Shimii in charge here.
Something unprecendented as far as Murati knew. The Zabaniyah’s agenda at work.
Aatto recognized her rank. Aatto had informed them of the Zabaniyah. Did she know her?
Murati felt a fresh shock work its way through her system, suppressing it with all her will.
Rahima Jašarević was a seriously and extremely dangerous person to have met.
However, they had shaken hands and breached the matter of their acquaintance.
Regardless of how Murati felt the game was on. Their uniforms had passed muster.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Ravana, Suomi-Fertilefield. Unless something has come up while I was away, my schedule should be clear. While I intended to work at my leisure, I am at your disposal. We could talk inside or out. Whichever you prefer.” Rahima said.
From what Murati could make out, Rahima did not seem to be armed.
Murati and Aatto were not armed either. They were not masquerading as combat troops.
Right now, they had an opportunity.
Rahima could lead them inside and give them an ironclad excuse into the depths of the building. Depending on the layout of the Gau office and where Rahima took them, they might be able to get access to useful records. Murati had already come up with a decent cover story. However, this was also their last chance to run away without obstacle. Once they followed Rahima inside, escaping her grasp would become a messy affair.
So far, she had neither balked at their races, nor at the state of their disguises.
Nothing ventured; nothing gained.
“We have walked a ways already– given the choice, I’d prefer inside, herr Gauleiter.”
Aatto nodded along to Murati’s suggestion. Rahima nodded at them.
“This way, please. Follow me.” Rahima said.
She walked past Murati and Aatto and through the double doors, tail swaying gently.
Past the doors, there was a small lobby, sparsely decorated, with an impression of brown wallpaper, a false wooden counter, and a green carpet on the floor. Chairs on one side, for those waiting. It was a lobby that seemed to presume few people would ever visit the building. There were vacant spots on the walls that were clearly empty holographic picture frames projected onto them. There was a fake plastic plant with white flowers.
Behind the counter there was a bored-looking teenage girl.
When she caught sight of the Gauleiter she put down a small portable slate and sat upright.
“Milord! Welcome back! I hope you had a really awesome walk!” She said.
By her voice and stature Murati thought the receptionist had to be underage.
“It was lovely, Wiebke.” Rahima said. “No one came in while I was out, I presume?”
Behind the glass shield on the counter, Wiebke shook her head vigorously.
“Nope! Uh! If I saw someone I would obvies let you know!” She said.
Her little black beret with its black sonnenrad badge nearly fell off her head.
“Very well. Keep up the good work.” Rahima said. Another little smile on her lips.
Rahima stepped up to the door out of the lobby and pressed her hand on the wall.
Easily as that, the door opened, leading into a dark brown hallway.
“When you leave, remind Wiebke to lock it behind you.” Rahima said gently.
Murati could hardly believe how casually the Gauleiter had allowed them inside.
Without so much as a glance askance Murati followed behind Rahima, Aatto alongside.
Behind them the door shut again.
From the lobby, a hallway with a few closed doors opened up into a broader room. There were a dozen cubicles in the room under yellow-and-white sunlamp LEDs, with the fake brown wallpaper a continuing aesthetic theme. The cubicles were divided by cheap white plastic dividers enclosing each space. There were plastic stick-notes put up everywhere on those plastic dividers. All manner of hand-written chicken scratch had been laid thickly upon each and Murati could not understand them. In the Union there was almost never cause to read someone’s handwriting in a work setting. Beyond the cubicles there were two other hallways, and a small nook with a coffee machine and a snack table.
“Where were you stationed before, Obersturmfuhrer?” Rahima asked.
An easy question to foresee that Murati and Aatto already worked out answers to.
“My tasks have required me to remain on the move, milord.” Murati said.
“I see. In your travels, have you seen a smaller Gau office?” Rahima asked.
By her tone Murati figured she was making small talk. She did not sound too serious.
“I’m afraid I’ve hardly seen Gau offices of any size, milord.” Murati said.
“Understood. This one is barely established– that’s my job now.” Rahima said. “I am wondering– were you sent here to assist us in expanding operations? Most of my subordinates are recruits. I assume I would have heard of you being assigned here.”
Her tone was still not confrontational, but the choice of words caused a spike in anxiety.
“I’m afraid I am still only passing, milord, and will not be remaining here.” Murati said.
“We are part of an oceanographic survey, milord.” Aatto added. “For the logistics corps.”
Rahima held a long pause. Murati dared not look at her face while their words settled.
Then there was a sound of sliding plastic from one of the cubicles that interrupted them.
From around a corner that they were about to turn, a young woman stepped out in front.
“Forgive me, lord Gauleiter! I– can I– may I request your assistance in a certain matter?”
She was another Shimii, a skinny girl with short, curly blond-hair and very fluffy golden ears between which she wore a garrison cap. Of course, emblazoned with a hideous sonnenrad like the rest. Compared to Rahima, she was a diminutive girl, and her demure posture in front of the Gauleiter served to accentuate the differences even more strongly. She could well have been another teenager, but Murati read her as someone of age, perhaps only barely. It led her to wonder why so many young people were wrapped up in this.
“Let me take a look.” Rahima said, beckoning the girl.
From the girl’s dainty hands, she took a portable computer.
On the screen there was a form with several fields and a lot of numbers.
Something to do with finance or inventory– Murati did not want to appear too interested.
“I’m– I’m not able to get it through the computer’s error correction–” the girl began.
“It’s not passing error correction because it’s wrong.” Rahima said. “Did you double check that you applied the correct formulas? Or you might have plugged in the wrong set from the databases into the final form. I don’t have time for this right now; but I can look later.”
Rahima handed back the portable to the girl. She spoke calmly; she did not appear upset.
Nevertheless, the girl bowed her head and apologized–
“Shimii do not bow their heads. Don’t bow to me or anyone.” Rahima said sternly.
She reached out and with her fingers gently lifted the girl’s chin, so their eyes met again.
“Yes– I’m so sorry lord Gauleiter– I just feel so– after I got this nice job–”
Rahima looked upon the stuttering girl with great pity, as the girl looked back in terror.
“It’s fine. We can work on the numbers later. We have all the time in the world.”
“Yes. I’m so sorry. Thank you for your great kindness.”
Despite Rahima’s attempts, when the girl scurried back to her cubicle, she was still shaking.
Murati watched the whole scene silently.
Turning over Rahima’s words in her head– and everything she knew about the situation.
How did they have ‘all the time in the world’ to get the Gau’s paperwork straight?
Why did Rahima so casually endure these young and incompetent subordinates?
Wasn’t the operation of a Gau more important than this? Wasn’t it more urgent and dire?
Hadn’t she just earlier said that her task was to see to the expansion of this Gau?
She was unsure of whether this was owed to Rahima’s character– or that of the Gau itself.
“Forgive her. She’s a– provincial girl. But she is a fast learner.” Rahima told Murati.
Murati nodded silently. The Gauleiter led them past the cubicles down another short hall.
Briefly, Murati glanced back at Aatto.
Her adjutant looked stoic and professional, following behind without expression.
When she met Murati’s eyes, she put on a very small and very quick smile.
Murati furtively returned her eyes to the Gauleiter’s back.
“This is my office. We can discuss matters here without anybody listening.” Rahima said.
Laying her hand on a panel near the door, Rahima opened it and welcomed them in.
Her office was only a bit more furnished and decorated than other rooms they had seen, false green wallpaper and projected tapestries with fascist symbols on the walls.
Amid the falsity, Murati’s eyes were drawn to a shelf of physical books. Recent treatises on demand-side economics; fundamentals of the liberal enlightenment written in the 800s After Descent, during the crisis of the Late Nocht dynasty and the economic decline of the Dukes; pop science about the late Surface era crisis and the source of the corruption, likely all junk; more than anything there was a variety of Shimii clerical work both Rashidun and Mahdist. Nestled among all these works, and sticking out slightly, was Adam Lehner’s own book, “The Art of Struggle in the Enlightened Age.” When Murati arrived in Kreuzung, among the many little things she read once she had access to Imperial networks and time with which to read, were various pieces of Volkisch ideology. This risible volume by the so-called Fuhrer was the largest and most influential collection of fascist bilge.
“Admiring my bookshelves? Are you a reader yourself Obersturmfuhrer?” Rahima asked.
“Yes. I’m curious whether anyone would object to your ‘collection.’” Murati asked.
“Because of the liberal books in it? Well, it’s important to understand everything I can.”
“Really? Would you put Mordecai on that shelf too?” Murati asked suddenly.
Shuddering under her skin. Aatto averted her gaze. Had she had gone too far now?
But a fellow fascist would question this, surely? All the liberalism on display?
Rahima simply smiled as if amused.
“I’m afraid I have not had the opportunity to read Mordecai, but that is not to say I am not interested. Obersturmfuhrer Ravana, being open-minded will give you insight into anyone whom you must defeat, or anyone whom you must befriend. You can still keep your goal, and your prey, in sight, while learning from them. Remember this well.”
She reached out and poked Murati in the chest, before taking her place behind her desk.
It was a fake wooden desk, upon which there was a tidy plastic divider with a few folders of stonepaper sheets– so much pulpwork for a computerized operation. In the middle of her desk, she kept a fold-out portable computer with its own screen, likely because the fake wood desk was not equipped with a touchscreen capable of serving as a thin client display.
“Now then, how can I assist you two? What is this survey about?” Rahima asked.
“We apologize that we could not communicate preemptively.” Aatto said, speaking up.
“I am afraid this is common enough not to be worth apologizing for. I’ve received little communication from Kreuzung on all manner of things so I can just add your situation the pile. They are busier with show trials than giving direction to their upstart Gau.” Rahima said.
“Then the situation has little changed since we last got on a boat. Pity that.” Murati said.
Since Rahima was being aggrieved she would pretend to be similarly aggrieved.
Both of them could be put-upon civil servants of the fascist bureaucracy together.
“Before I joined the movement I was an oceanographer.” Murati said, speaking with ease her rehearsed excuses. “Since then, I have been working with the logistics corps. We are very few in number– me and my adjutant have been running around in a great haste. We specialize in testing the agarthic salt levels and pseudo-ion reactivity in the water. Both are very important to the wear and tear on jets and piping in ships. Skilled water management, and the right data, can extend the lifespan of a supply ship by as much as twenty percent and dramatically improve maintenance efficiency. And we need every pfennig we can get.”
Murati did not have to wait long for the reaction to her pitch.
Rahima was clearly a good listener, and thus a quick responder to speech.
“Too true. Is my input required for this? If you need any access, I’ll see what I can do.”
“We were hoping to take a quick look at your environmental records before we started in the hopes that the data is current. With oceanography nobody takes it seriously enough, but I am hoping Aachen at least ran a survey every five years. As you may know, pseudophysical data is released by request for commercial bodies but not public.” Murati said.
It helped that Murati was married to an oceanographer and heard similar spiels from her.
“I’m unfamiliar with such things, but my staff can help you fetch any data.” Rahima said.
“Many thanks.” Murati said. “We also of course visit here today as a measure of respect.”
“I appreciate it, but I don’t mind having my toes stepped on. I’ve been in your situation.”
“For us, we need to make sure to request permission rather than forgiveness.” Murati said.
“Ah yes– the fuhrerprinzip. Well, you have my permission, Ravana.” Rahima said.
So far, so good. But the office was in such disarray that the bounty might be minimal.
Even if they got access to some unsecured computers, or ran off with a box of files, would anything be worth the trouble? How much data was being kept in this office versus some server in Kreuzung? Would they even have anything useful for a war, like intelligence sources or planned logistics routes or force dispositions? Nevertheless, the gambit had not been for nothing– Murati felt she had some much more valuable questions and answers about the Volkisch in Aachen now. She answered the basic question of their current posture.
“It’s interesting that the Reichkomissar would allocate resources for this.” Rahima said.
“The Reichskommissar is very data driven.” Murati said, a quick and vague excuse.
Her blood started to run hot again. As it did whenever Rahima seemed to contradict her.
“True! You know, I actually had the exact same impression when I first spoke to her.” Rahima said. “She already had thoughts about the local economy in Aachen and the situation with organized labor in Stockheim. Threw around a lot of numbers as she spoke. I was quite impressed– I suppose that this survey is just another part of her meticulousness.”
Once again, the tension in her chest lifted one it was clear Rahima was not too skeptical.
Rahima opened up her computer and began to type into the integrated keyboard.
After booting it up, she typed a bit more, then sat back, shut her eyes and sighed.
Aatto and Murati respectfully observed her silence for a few minutes.
Murati hoped dearly to be dismissed and allowed near some data to steal, but–
–instead, Rahima lifted her gaze again and fixed Murati a strong look.
“Ami Ravana– would you have time for a bit of small talk?” She said.
“Of course, milord.”
She just had to internalize what it meant to be a fascist and she could easily keep up a chat.
From her own readings, and from Aatto, Murati had learned a lot about the Volkisch.
By now she knew enough about them that she could distill it through her own personality.
As she made a good communist student, she could pretend to be a good fascist student.
“Why did you choose to join the Volkisch Movement, Ravana? You, a North Bosporan?”
In an instant, it was as if Rahima had stricken with a hammer the glass of Murati’s façade.
Her mind raced to procure any semblance of a respponse.
That was the question, the ultimate question anyone would have asked– and to be asked by of all people a Shimii, who joined the Volkisch Movement herself despite everything that had happened to her people. It was a question Murati had little answer for, a question that puzzled her. What could possibly be fascism’s attraction to the minorities that had spent hundreds of years under the heels of the Imbrian Empire? How was it that they saw fascism, led by Imbrians, in solidarity with brain-dead racists like the Blood Bund, and thought that not only would they be welcome, but that they would be helped? To Murati it was self-evident that it was an incoherent set of excuses for convenient mass violence.
How was the party-state different from the Imbrian Empire? How was the fuhrerprinzip any different from the divine right of a king? Could they not see the empty promise of a One Volk? Furthermore, how was it that Shimii were now part of the so-called Volk?
How could Rahima become a Gauleiter?
In that room in that instant Murati was not going to decipher any of these questions.
Reaching deep inside of her heart, she thought, genuinely, about her own position.
Why would she ever become a fascist? What would it take to drive her to that?
“National Socialism presented the only way I could overcome my powerlessness.”
She was vague in her words– but there was a painful history behind them.
In the Union it was easy not to think of herself as a racial subject, vulnerable to depredation.
However, over twenty years ago, in the living memory of many people and even herself as a small child, the Imbrian Empire decided the vast majority of North Bosporans had to be lifted from their namesake place in the north of Bosporus to the far southern colonies. They were already a small people, in the grand scheme of Aer’s races, not very fecund, and heavily concentrated. In an instant they were made slaves almost to the very last man, woman and child. Only those who were connected and wealthy and exceedingly loyal, the collaborators, the snitches, the compradors, only they were spared and remained in Imbria.
North Bosporans, as a mass culture, now existed largely only in the Union.
Aatto had told her that the Volkisch would allow a North Bosporan into their ranks.
Much as they had allowed her, a Loup, to continue working for them.
And as they recruited Rahima to a supposedly high position of power in their organization.
Murati found her dishearteningly evil and honest answer in the midst of those facts.
It seemed that the Volkisch Movement answered exclusively to nakedly wielded power.
So, to avoid being erased from the world; for the power to resist her own destruction.
That was the sole, filthy reason she would have ever worn this horrible uniform.
A reason that must have presupposed communism not to exist– that was the only way.
She could not air that thought. In this situation, she was wearing the black uniform already.
“Good answer.” Rahima said. “I can sympathize with it. And so does the Reichskommissar. She asked me that same question, you see. So, I was curious what others like me would answer.”
I am nothing like you. Murati said in her mind what her lips could never allow to escape.
However, she was surprised that the Reichkomissar, Violet Lehner, had brought it up first.
That woman was exceedingly politically dangerous. She was nothing like Adam Lehner.
“Very well then, Ami Ravana and Ilma Suomi-Fertilefield. It was a pleasure to meet you.”
Murati and Aatto moved to exchange farewells with the Gauleiter, their tensions easing–
Until suddenly, behind them, the door to Rahima’s office opened as if of its own volition.
That sound of sliding metal sent shivers across Murati’s back and electricity into her limbs.
Someone casually unlocked a door which few people should have had access to.
“Herr Gauleiter, I apologize for making you wait before and then dropping in suddenly.”
A smooth and slightly accented voice; that of a confident woman, almost playful in tone.
Murati and Aatto both turned their heads, trying to hide the tension they suddenly felt.
For Murati, because any intrusion was a complication in a plan that was going well, but–
There was a brief flash of panic in Aatto’s eyes that caused Murati’s heart to sink.
She did not understand the meaning of it, but the contrast to her previous calm was enough.
“No apology necessary. I was the one who threw your plans into disarray after all.”
Rahima stood to meet with the woman who had arrived and introduce her.
Aatto had managed to hide her expression, and Murati held herself steady; the woman who interrupted them had an eerie air to her presence. Like them, she was dressed all in black, with a military coat worn over a white shirt, along with a skirt and leggings. Her peaked cap had a badge bearing a silver skull and crossed bones, rather than the more common hooked crosses, sonnenrads or iron eagles they had seen other fascists wearing. Her armbands had a black sonnenrad and hooked cross, however, same as others. Her shoulderboards were present, but entirely blank, and the patches on her collar were also present, but also blank. On her sleeves, there were patches depicting an eagle with a hooked cross.
Her cap and the lighting of the room partially shadowed her blue eyes which then moved between Rahima to linger on Murati and Aatto. As a woman Murati found no fault in her qualities. Like many of the other fascists she tended her appearance well. Glossy red heart-shaped lips with a slight pout, on a very fair face with a short nose and a soft contour to her cheeks. Her wavy, beige-blond hair was tidy and voluminous and worn long. She was just shy of Rahima and Murati’s height and had a curvy figure flattered by the sleek cut of the uniform. There was a fruity but also oddly chemical scent around her, perhaps a perfume.
As Murati scrutinized the woman, she suddenly heard Aatto’s voice in her head.
Master, this woman is a member of the Volkisch special forces! That skull indicates the “special detachments.” We must be very careful what we say to her! She may not be easy to fool.
It was not so much hearing a voice speaking in real time, as it was that Murati understood the information Aatto communicated in a few seconds and associated that information as being delivered by her voice. In a blink of her eyes, faster than she could fear anew, she came to fully understand the danger that they were in. But she could not break eye contact with the newcomer lest she appear suspicious; Murati held firm and hid her anxiety as best she could.
Absentmindedly, she fixed her cap, and then just as absentmindedly, she saluted.
Aatto saw Murati salute and joined her a second later. Had she done right?
There was an excruciating instant of silence while the woman looked them up and down.
“At ease, Obersturmführer, Rottenführer.” The woman finally said, with a haughty drawl.
“The Obersturmführer is a very proper officer.” Rahima said, backing Murati up.
The woman grinned.
“Not hard for me to believe. I have found it is often the case that the unconventional folk are the ones most disciplined and adherent to the rules. They are the ones with something to prove to the rest. But Obersturmführer, you have nothing to prove to me right now.”
She reached out to Murati’s saluting hand and with a gentle grip–
And pulled it down into her own two hands, patting it condescendingly.
With a sudden air of menace and a hint of cruel delight as she continued speaking.
“Or do you? After all– I don’t recall a meeting with an Obersturmführer in the itinerary.”
To hold Murati’s hand, she stepped closer into her space until they were face to face.
Those bright red lips and that grim, enshadowed glare locked directly onto Murati’s eyes.
That hand which was holding her might as well have been a gun aimed at her stomach.
Those eyes like knives driving through her, cutting the skin of her and exposing blood.
Murati felt her teeth wanting to clench and the cold, stale air in her unblinking eyes.
As if her life depended on it, she held the gaze of the skull-bearing fascist without flinching.
Trying to convince herself that she had not been seen through so easily–
“I was as surprised as you about their visit, Bernie, but– only surprised, nothing more.”
Rahima stepped in and held the woman’s shoulders, as if guiding a misbehaving child.
“You and I have better things to do than an impromptu inspection right now.” She said, massaging the woman’s shoulders. For a moment the woman looked puzzled about the touch but silently allowed it to continue. “Obersturmführer, this is Hauptsturmführer Bernadette Sattler. She is my new bodyguard and head of security for the Gau. As you can see she takes her job very seriously, so I urge you not to cross her.” Rahima winked. “At any rate, she and I have important business which must necessarily interrupt your own. I welcome you to make use of the Gau office as you need for your tasks, I have already sent a message to my staff about your visit and what you are clear to access from them.”
“As you command, Gauleiter.” Sattler said, still fixing a curious gaze on Murati.
“Thank you kindly, herr Gauleiter.” Murati said.
Without betraying a hint of the overwhelming gratitude and relief that she felt right then.
After some perfunctory goodbyes, and an exhortation to lock up after herself, it was over.
Rahima led Sattler out of the office and continued with her business unseen.
Like a storm that evil woman had come, and she had gone without sinking them.
For a few minutes they waited around just to make sure she would not come back.
Soon, to their own nervous and elated bewilderment, they felt it was all but confirmed.
Murati and Aatto had been left in the silence of Rahima’s office without any supervision.
Immediately both of them turned to Rahima’s portable computer.
“Master, I memorized the typing she did! I think I know what the password is!”
“Aatto, you are some kind of genius. Get that computer unlocked.”
From the interior pocket of her coat, Murati produced a small green board.
On one end there was an antennae, on the other a serial port, and between, were set the nanometer die chips that made up the board. It had some internal storage, as well as hardware encryption. This gadget had been modified by Braya Zachikova, the Brigand’s resident computer and electronic warfare wizard. Murati looked for a serial port and stuck the board to the computer.
Aatto sat on the desk, cracked her fingers, and tentatively set them on the keys.
Murati stood between Aatto and the sight from the door, keeping her eyes fixed on it.
Her heart was racing, but she was grinning like a fiend.
She had a mad and bloodthirsty satisfaction. Those fools, those complete morons.
Within moments, Aatto’s face was lit up by Rahima’s monitor, now past the login prompt.
“Ah, master, the cute little antennaes girl is on the screen now.” Aatto said.
A surly voice responded. “Huh? I don’t want to talk to you. Where is your ‘master’?”
Murati beckoned for Aatto to stand and take her position relative to the door.
She sat behind the desk and looked into Rahima’s computer.
On the screen, a tiny Zachikova could be seen pacing up and down the desktop.
“There you are. So Aatto did not betray you. Confirm the encrypted connection.” She said.
“Done.” Murati said, flicking her finger at a notification on Rahima’s screen.
“The transfer will take a bit to bounce through back to us. Are you sure you’re safe?”
“We are safe, don’t worry. Just focus on covering your own tracks.” Murati replied.
“Alright. You’re dead to us if that pervert does give you up to the Volkisch, be-tee-dubs.”
Murati felt a twinge of annoyance. “Stop berating my adjutant and do your job, Ensign.”
“Suit yourself.” Said the Mini-Zachikova, her last words before the transfer began.
On the screen, a progress bar showed a Mini-Zachikova and a crab digging in the sand.
“Master– you stood up for me.” Aatto said. When Murati glanced up from the computer screen, Aatto leaned towards her, smiling, ears wiggling, tail fiercely wagging and fanning air.
“Turn back around and be quiet.” Murati grumbled, wanting to entertain none of that.
Aatto did as instructed promptly and without complaint. Her tail thumped against the desk.
Judging by the progress, it would be several minutes before they transferred everything.
Hopefully Rahima was the kind of person to keep her encryption keys in a saved text file.
Sitting in the Gauleiter’s chair with time to spare, Murati began to rummage through her effects, being careful as possible to return anything to its place and cause minimal disturbance. From the plastic divider she picked out a folder and rifled through the papers inside. They were office planning documents. A list of open positions needing to be filled, a current office roster with hand-scribbled pronounciations of each worker’s names, photos and floorplans of suitable locations for a potential new and bigger Gau office than this one, costs for various supplies and what vendors might fulfill the orders.
There was an impromptu office survey where Rahima apparently asked everyone for their favorite snacks and put down the results for each person. She had underlined halwa and the name of the person who had suggested it, a certain Yasmin Bahram, rank Anwärter. Putting down that folder and picking up a second one, Murati found herself thumbing through what appeared to be a sketchbook. Incredulous, she flipped through the pages. Some were full of doodles, but there were a few busts drawn from life, full of detail including their clothes. There were cheerful Shimii girls wearing intricately shaded hijab; an Imbrian woman with heavy brows in a uniform, her hair in a bun partially visible behind a cap; a man with a strong jaw in a military officer uniform, with no Volkisch symbols in sight. And–
Violet Lehner. Partially looking over her shoulder as if incidentally glancing at the viewer.
Murati recognized her face from recent public broadcasts from Kreuzung.
Her hair was slightly swept as if she was in motion, but her face had a pensive expression.
Like a disdainful high-society girl, a princess, staring back at the paupers.
“Waste of stone-paper.” She murmured to herself, closing the book on the young woman.
Murati put the folder back where she had found it. She checked the transfer on the screen.
Not even close to the halfway point. She sighed, tension mounting in her.
Next, Murati checked the drawers on the desk.
She found basic supplies– paper, graphite, reusable tissues, a cleaning spray bottle. Another drawer had a box of jerky sticks, a bag of hard ginger candies, and three pouches of caffeinated vitamin drink, the Gauleiter’s own snack hoard. The next one she opened was a small drawer near the top, at the right-hand side. There she found an object she did not understand at first because it was deliberately overturned. When she picked it up, she found that it was a digital picture frame laid face-down. Deeper into the drawer behind it– was a compact synthestitched pistol, entirely non-metallic and concealable.
No point in touching it, and Murati did not dare move a piece so deliberately hidden.
On the picture frame, there was a beautiful elven woman with very pale blue hair.
Murati set the picture frame face down in the drawer and closed it. She checked the screen.
Almost halfway through–
and then a knocking on the door that caused her back to stiffen and her hands to freeze.
Her mind fogged– the world felt like it was moving in slow motion.
Each round of knocking felt loud enough that it pounded the insides of her chest.
The longer they went without answering, that knocking remained steadfast–
“Lord Gauleiter? May I come in? I think I got the papers corrected now!”
Aatto turned back around to Murati.
Silently as she could, Murati stood and slid the chair she left closer to the desk. She stood beside Aatto, both of them covering up the portable computer and the device stuck to it with their bodies. Murati thought she recognized the feminine voice that was speaking into the room, even muffled as it was through the door. She gestured for Aatto to get the door and Aatto looked back at her as if for further confirmation before she carried out the task.
When the door opened, a young Shimii woman in a pristine uniform walked through.
In her shaking hands was a portable computer she proudly wanted to show.
It was the girl from before, who had interrupted them in the cubicles.
Finding Aatto and Murati in the room and not Rahima, she stopped in her tracks.
“Oh! I’m– I’m very s-s-orry. I thought the G-g-gauleiter was in her office.” She said with a stammer. “My name is Yasmin Bahram. I work in data entry. Do you know– where she–?”
“She left on an errand. We’re looking after the office momentarily.” Aatto interrupted.
“An errand? I– I had no idea she would be leaving– did I read the itinerary wrong–?”
This typist was so skittish, Murati felt like she was on the verge of screaming at any second.
Her heart was still pumping fast. She might have been as nervous as the girl was.
“It was sudden. Bernadette Sattler had some business with her.” Aatto continued.
“Oh! Ms. Sattler– yes, I completely understand now–!” Yasmin replied, still stammering.
Her eyes broke contact with Aatto. Murati felt relieved. Just a credulous and silly girl.
“I’m afraid we don’t know when she will be back.” Aatto said.
“Ah, I see– I’m sorry– thank you. I’m– I’m really sorry to have bothered you both.”
Yasmin hugged the portable to her chest and bowed her head to the two of them.
With a grunt, Murati stepped forward of the desk, beckoning Aatto to take her place–
And tipped the girl’s head up again, much to her surprise. Her tail shot upright.
“What did the Gauleiter tell you? Shimii do not bow their heads to anyone.” Murati said.
For a moment, she questioned what had overcome her. She was playing the part, but–
It was also annoying for this girl to put on such undue deference toward fascists.
For her to be such a pathetic enemy after holding their lives in her hands for an instant.
“I’m sorry, Obersturmfuhrer!” She said. “It’s just– this job is so important– I don’t want to screw up. I send remittances to my family. Someday, I think, if it’s Councilwoman Rahima– I mean, Gauleiter Rahima– we’ll all be able to live up here instead of just me. I really appreciate the opportunity. Ah– oh no, I’m saying these unnecessary things– forgive me–”
“Stop apologizing.” Murati said. “This– this behavior ill befits a member–”
She hardly knew how to finish the sentence. It was too ridiculous to say any more.
What was she even trying to say to this girl? Be more like a fascist? It was pure nonsense.
However, Yasmin seemed to catch on to Murati’s meaning, even in its half-finished state.
After a moment’s reflection, she straightened, looked up, took her portable under her arm.
And raised her hand with the fingers joined and outstretched, in the fascists’ salute.
“Yes ma’am! I will conduct myself with the dignity of this office! Sieg heil!”
Murati raised her hand to cover her eyes. A murmured, anguished little breath left her lips.
Yasmin put her arm down, confused. “Did I do something wrong again?”
Behind Murati, Aatto spoke up. “You raised the wrong arm. But it’s the spirit that counts.”
Nowhere near what bothered Murati about the whole situation– but it was a nice save.
With a cheerful demeanor, Aatto encouraged the girl and warded her off from the office. Murati watched her and wondered how many times Aatto must have acted as the office big-sister to some no-name fascist idiot– she looked too natural and spoke with too much ease to have just been acting. Aatto had worked in offices like this before, no-name no-place offices where there were no gallows and no torture chambers. She was an intelligence officer– but this did not mean what was in Murati’s brain, the red mist of bloody murders, the black breaths of excoriated bodies. Just bedraggled office workers and stacks of bureaucratic minutia that any organization needed to account for to function.
Some part of her was angry about it.
This was not a fortress– Murati had not stormed a castle full of braying demons.
It should not have been this mundane.
Her pragmatic voice told her that it was useful information to know.
But her ideological side was embittered by what she saw.
When Aatto shut the door anew, careful not to cross it herself, she returned to Murati.
“Master, check the progress. I’ll keep watch. You’ve done splendidly so far.”
Murati did not reply. She turned to the desk and walked back around it.
Sitting on the chair, she found the Mini-Zachikova and the crab had both found something.
“Transfer complete. I reset the device logs. Get out of there now.” Zachikova said.
Murati pulled the exfiltration device from the computer and back into her inner coat pocket.
“We are leaving.” Murati said.
Aatto nodded her head back at Murati. They closed Rahima’s laptop.
Her desk looked undisturbed to casual inspection. It would have to be enough.
It was impossible to know what to expect, as easy as it had been to enter.
They had been lucky to chance upon Rahima, but would it be the same on the way out? They exited out of the office onto the cubicle room, where there was lively chatter. Yasmin waved at them from the snack table. They waved back. Crossing the cubicles, there were no more interruptions. Down the hall, out the door and back into the lobby.
Aatto walked up to Wiebke’s front desk and explained the situation.
Obediently, Wiebke locked the door behind them, and bid them a good day.
Indeed– it was as easy to leave without Rahima as it was to enter with her good grace.
At first, upon crossing the double doors, and finding herself under the green again–
Murati felt a creeping paranoia.
There had to be something– someone trailing them, something on to them or after them.
She stopped under the shadow of a tall green tree with a broad crown.
Looking over her shoulder, there was no one.
Not the demonic grin of Bernadette Sattler with a gun to Murati’s lower back.
Neither a disappointed Rahima, ashamed of having been fooled.
There were not even the workers coming and going from before. It was past lunch now.
Stopped in the middle of the street, Murati breathed in and adjusted her peaked cap.
“Mission accomplished, Master.” Aatto whispered close to her.
Murati looked down at her boots. She crossed her arms, catching sight of her armbands.
“Right. We won’t know whether we got anything of value until we return.” She said.
She started walking before Aatto could say anything else. Her adjutant dutifully followed.
They made it to the elevators without being intercepted. Murati let herself believe now.
Home free– they had infiltrated the Volkisch Gau office. In and out cleanly.
For all the good it had done– hopefully Zachikova would find something useful.
It felt like she shaved a few years off her life from anxiety for little gain.
At least they knew how weak the Aachen Gau was now.
“Master, I have a question for you.” Aatto said, as the elevator rode down.
“Aatto, after all of this, you’ve earned one question.” Murati said, half-jokingly.
Aatto had been fantastic. There would have been no mission without her.
There was a concern that Aatto would orchestrate all this to feed Murati to the Volkisch.
But she had remained sincere throughout– she was really and truly loyal to her ‘king’.
On some level Murati had already known this. Now, however, she believed it.
“Master, does desperation and destitution disqualify a person from commiting injustice?”
Aatto fixed Murati with a serious gaze as she delivered that question.
There was hardly time for the air to settle between them–
“Of course it doesn’t.” Murati answered. Immediately and without any doubt.
Her voice was far more certain than her heart, but ultimately, that was what she believed.
She was human– of course she had conflicting feelings about things from time to time. Despite everyone’s belief that she was some kind of communist automaton, Murati had a heart and feelings, and she could be moved. She was so angry at everything she saw that she almost wanted to weep but she would not. It was injustice in itself. All the sensational torture that Gau did not commit, it instead committed a mundane torture.
And someday, it would even go on to do both.
Murati knew; as much as she pitied lowly workers, her resolve was clear and necessary.
“I’ve always known, academically, that I might have to confront ‘ordinary’ people in this mission. Teachers, typists, couriers, what have you– there are all kinds of non-combatants participating in agendas of horrid violence without lifting a weapon. I’ve known this and now I’ve seen it. Yes, I am sorry for Yasmin Bahram if that is something you’re after hearing, and I wish she and her family could live peacefully– but they have chosen to assist the monsters oppressing Eisental for their own benefit. There are many more destitute, desperate people who will be deprived of lasting, meaningful freedom for the remittances she needs. All she does is mess up typing reports from databases. But she’s still a direct participant within fascism. She’s still my enemy– is that what you were getting at, Aatto?”
Though she spoke confrontationally, Aatto only smiled upon receiving that response.
“The resolve of a King I can admire. Had you faltered– I would have abandoned you.”
“Go on then, abandon me. You’re already in uniform and everything.” Murati shot back.
Aatto’s ears and tail instantly stood on end. “Ah– it was a joke master– merely a joke–”
She almost looked like she had tears in her eyes. Murati sighed and patted her shoulder.
For someone who had showed such a strong side of herself sometimes, she was very fragile.
“I was also joking. You did good, Aatto. I don’t want to lose you. Let’s go home now.”
She held Aatto’s shoulder in a friendly gesture, and pulled her closer, smiling.
Aatto beamed brightly at her. “Yes, master! Back home!” She cheered.
Violet’s meeting with the Volwitz representatives had gone about as well as it could.
Passions flared and tensions rose, but in the end, the food conglomerate had few choices.
Volwitz was under a lot of pressure.
The Heidemmann family once had the major share of Volwitz, a megacorporation that grew to absorb a majority of food production, processing and distribution in Rhinea, as landed nobles declined against the rising noveau riche. Ossof Heidemann went into politics, and eventually became the patriarch of the family and thus, de facto in control of Volwitz, with clashing interests. A liberal who argued for individual personal freedom and economic stimulus to fund education and opportunity for all– except for the Shimii, Loup and Južni communities who constituted most of his farm labor. Liberals, ever the hypocrites.
Then, Heidemmann lost the election and suffered the petty retribution of Adam Lehner for daring to oppose him. Agents of the Volkisch Militia under Lehner’s orders made Ossof disappear and launched reprisals on many other members of the Heidemann family. Their time was over– the members that survived went into hiding and their properties and funds were expropriated. Officially, the family was tried and sentenced for corruption.
However, Volwitz was still the king of food in Rhinea even after this chaos.
Everything that the Heidemanns owned of the megacorporation reverted back to the main legal-economic body of the company and the shares were quickly snapped up by other wealthy claimants who had been waiting for an opportunity. The Rhinea National-Socialist Republic could keep boasting it had completed a ‘Revolution of National Awakening’ but the fact of the matter was that the system of capitalism remained intact. There would be no nationalization of Volwitz, as much as Adam Lehner despised the company.
Much like the other megacorporations like Rhineametalle, if there was sufficient disruption of Volwitz’s operations, there would in turn be significant disruption of critical supplies to Adam Lehner’s hasty war with the Royal Alliance. Volwitz owned the farms that grew the food, the plants that packaged it, and the supply vessels that distributed it to stations. Adam Lehner could make all the threats he wanted, he could accuse the megacorporations of sabotaging him, he could rage on television and deliver any number of big speeches– there was no plan in place for the expropriation of Volwitz for the foreseeable future.
Not with the Volkisch tied up in a stalemate of a war.
Violet herself was in the exact bind with them as her idiot father.
Her revolution necessitated that the Shimii now working for Volwitz saw their lot in life improve enough to earn their loyalty and incorporation into Nasser’s Zabaniyah forces and the bureacracy of the Reichkomissariat. For Nasser to ‘free the ummah’ it was necessary that Violet bring Volwitz to heel, but Volwitz was ready to pull out the card of shortages and disruptions and price fluctuations. She ultimately forced them to accept the National Socialist Labor Union scheme on primarily Shimii work farms, in exchange for not extending it to primarily Južni sites. Violet was not interested in the plight of the Južni minority; and the Shimii represented the majority of farm laborers anyway, so it was still a win.
In addition, she committed to subsidizing more food preservation and long-term storage in Eisental order to combat “shortages and fluctuations.” These reserves would have to be produced, processed and then sold by Volwitz, and then the storage itself would be managed directly by the Reichkommissariat and the National Socialist Labor Union. For Volwitz it was a very lucrative contract in a time of great uncertainty for them.
They had no sensible reason to turn it down; and with reichmarks in their eyes, they agreed.
Short term, those new facilities would be good, national socialist union jobs for Shimii.
Long-term, this would completely blunt the nature of Volwitz’s threats and leverage.
She was not a fan of food processing– but she would tolerate it for her ultimate goal.
Once she had enough food stockpiled and was ready to begin her crusade, Violet could start by eliminating Volwitz and seizing their considerable assets in the Reichkommissariat, riding out the death throes of the corporation through the use of the very reserve that they would help her construct. Then the farms would be completely national socialist, owned by the Shimii as part of Violet’s volksgemeinschaft. After Volwitz– the other megacorporations, as well as her father’s decrepit little fiefdom in the core Rhinean territory. Once her close enemies were returned to the marine fog, her farther enemies would be next.
Until her Party-State spanned the Imbrium and became the new order of the world.
For now, such things were only lofty dreams, however.
She looked down at her desk and swiped on her portable to put away the Volwitz meeting notes and minutes. She brought up the notes she had prepared for her meeting with Rhineametalle. Not quite knowing what to expect; this meeting was arranged very suddenly after she had already talked to various other representatives of the firm’s interests. If it would be about the National Socialist Labor Unions, she was ready for that. She and her office had been crunching numbers all week. She could talk about whether any taxes or duties would be introduced, or about new procurement contracts.
Then, at the appointed hour, Maxine Kramer walked in through the door.
Spokeswoman for Rhineametalle– she and Violet had a strong working relationship.
They were meeting at Werner’s office, where Violet hosted any important guests.
Though she preferred quieter side offices for real work, she had to keep up appearances.
“Heil, Reichskommissar. May I clear some space on your desk?”
Violet blinked. She gestured to the desk, wondering what this was about.
Maxine had a portable computer with her which she brought to the desk and propped up.
With the monitor facing Violet, she switched it on.
“It is my honor and pleasure to introduce, our CEO, Edmund Schmitz.”
On the monitor, appeared the face of a man with a thick plastic breathing mask.
He sat on a very plush-looking red chair, surrounded by a variety of partially out-of-view medical instruments, like a heart monitor and pumping machines. Though he was evidently dressed in a fine suit, which was mostly offscreen, Violet could see that there were tubes going into his chest a bit conspicuously. What she could see of his face outside the mask had spotted, sallow skin and heavily sagging brows, almost entirely hairless.
When he spoke, there was barely sound at first, then a machine replicated what he said.
“Violet Lehner. Pleasure to meet you at last, a real pleasure. You are so much more colorful and beautiful up close. I am one of your biggest fans, you know? I wanted to congratulate you in person, for your fantastic work in resolving the Kreuzung crisis, and for your great plans to steer the ship right from now on. National Socialism is the missing link that Rhinean businesses have been needing for so long. Doubtless our offices will have disagreements in the coming months but know that we are aligned in the end. I have told your father as much– I will resist any attempt to stifle your disruptive innovation in Eisental!”
At first Violet was disarmed by all of this. The CEO of Rhineametalle, indeed.
Maxine had brought out a dying old man to deliver contentless platitudes.
She supposed this was how such an urgent meeting was thrown on her calendar suddenly.
Though Maxine was partially owned by Violet she was wholly owned by the CEO.
“For such an esteemed businessman to share this support with me, it truly makes me want to redouble my efforts. Thank you kindly, Mr. Schmitz.” Violet said, managing to smile a little.
Once more, the mechanical-sounding voice synthesizer delivered the man’s lines audibly.
“Ah, you truly have the vibrancy of youth, Ms. Lehner. Exactly what the Eisental economy has been needing, new blood, new ideas! Such an exciting time! I know it may sound hypocritical as an old man hanging on for dear life, but we needed to be giving more to the youth– someday, God forbid, but I will die, and I need to know our work won’t be squandered. I can sleep more soundly knowing we have a new generation of young people with a real entrepeneurial spirit. It is a shame about old Werner, but I know Kreuzung is in good hands. And National Socialism is what is going to supercharge our youth. I tell you, I’ve been hearing your speeches, and it’s so electric my dear. It reminds me of when the Emperor retreated from politics. That energy is good for business. It gets people spending, it gets the shares trading. Optimism, vibrancy, stability, momentum– that’s how we make money.”
Violet always felt a little strange talking to the heads of the major corporations because for the most part they only spoke in vague platitudes, whereas Violet wanted to talk to anyone about hard numbers and real concrete policy agendas. She had gone to school for the hard numbers behind all of these vague statements and what she discovered was that the vague statements were often where all the thinking stopped. Violet had certainly made some contribution to Rhineametalle’s stock prices, but it was pointless to mention something so incidental. It was hard, complex policy that would change Eisental’s fortunes.
Regardless, she had to put up with this semi-mummified geriatric for now.
“I am flattered, Mr. Schmitz. I hope we can continue to cooperate in this endeavor.”
“We certainly will. Well, Ms. Lehner, thank you for your time. I have the utmost confidence in you. Feel free to ask Maxine for anything, but I must be going now. I’m sure you know, running an organization is a 24/7 job– when I’m not talking about the business, or organizing the business, or reading about the business, then I have to be thinking about the business. That’s where I’m headed off to next. You take care now, alright Ms. Lehner?”
Smiling, Maxine switched off the portable computer, closed it, and took it in her arms.
“I apologize, Reichskommissar. I understand you might have found that a bit annoying.”
“It’s fine. All in a day’s work. Better than my talks with Volwitz.” Violet said.
Maxine bowed her head and took her leave, waving goodbye to Violet as she went.
Once the door closed, Violet sighed, shook her head, and swiped away her notes again.
“Ridiculous. The day I exterminate all those gerontocrats can’t come soon enough.”
Her last important meeting of the day was also the one most dire and necessary.
Using a monitor suspended on an arm on the desk, Violet connected to Munich station in north central Rhinea, the home of the Esoteric Order and one of the founding sites of fascism. On the screen, appeared an older woman in a lavish black dress with intricate synthetic lacework, wearing a headress that almost seemed like a mourning veil. Long, wavy brown hair fell down her back a great length, and she had a large brooch on her chest resembling Violet’s black sun disc symbols. She wore a lot of dark red makeup on her eyes, lips, cheeks, partially covering the signs of her aging and giving her an almost gothic appearance. Lieselotte van Westarp; the surviving founder of the Esoteric Order.
“Greetings, Violet. I am so pleased to see you. You truly are as beautiful as a doll.”
“I am flattered, madam van Westarp.” Violet said, setting aside the banality of those words.
As her name suggested, Lieselotte van Westarp was a demoted member of an influential aristocratic family, however, she was also the only influential Westarp left. Her family suffered many tragedies which ultimately left her in command of its fortune, which she used for the benefit of the Order. Whether she engineered these events herself, Violet suspected but would never be able to prove. Behind that sweet motherly charm was a schemer.
“I have been keeping abreast of developments in Eisental. The Esoteric Order counts many brave souls among its ranks, many warriors, many who have sacrificed for the development of the True Order, but none have fought so valiantly nor reached such great heights as you. During the Revolution of National Awakening, we were sidelined. Though we fell into line and recognized the Fuhrer for the greater good, I must admit, seeing the esoteric symbols flying in Kreuzung has lifted my spirits immeasurably. And for it to have been the secret daughter of the Fuhrer that secured this future– of course, it can only be the hand of Destiny at work here. Hearing your speeches in Kreuzung has given me chills.”
“Thank you. Your assistance was invaluable, madam van Westarp.” Violet said.
“Your intentions seemed so mundane at the time. But I never should have doubted you.”
For madam van Westarp to think that establishing a fascist Shimii militia was a ‘mundane’ intention within the Volkisch said something about the odd depths to which her thinking ran. The Esoteric Order was populist, collectivist, occult, millennerian; a pastiche of betrayed ideas that found succor in the form of an all-powerful nation to bring about quasi-religious transformation. These ideas failed to secure a place in the world after the election. Adam Lehner represented a pastiche of various groups but with very little of the Order.
Now Violet was the closest they had come to their great dream– the True Order that would unite all peoples under one state, one ideology, one identity and one community. A purifying transformation that would bring peace and prosperity between humanity, the natural world, and civilization, creating a New Fascist Man out of myriad individuals. An ubermensch not as one person but as a corporation of all humans under perfect guidance. A collective of one, a constellation of the singular, the many turned few, so much they could all share one name.
Gobbledegook, as far as Violet was concerned. But some of the rhetoric was useful.
At least it let her pursue a non-insane economic agenda and gather up untapped forces.
For now though she had to play at being something of a believer at least.
“Ma’am. I would like to discuss with you the deepening of that assistance.” Violet said.
Van Westarp smiled, as she had when Violet proposed forming the Zabaniyah years ago.
As then– they talked. About money, about people, about the future, about Destiny.
“Milord Gauleiter, I don’t know how you can tolerate the present state of the Gau office.”
“It confers a certain advantage– you’ll soon see Bernie. I am not unprepared.”
Despite Bernadette’s initial confusion, Rahima pressed on with confidence, assuring her that once they arrived at their destination she would understand what the new Gauleiter had in the cards for Aachen. Rahima hurried Bernadette through the central tier, down to the commercial area and below the atrium, through the outer rings– to Rahima’s own apartment, a lux double-wide that was quite tidy and looked moderately lived-in. She opened the door, and with a gentlemanly wave, ushered Bernadette through the door inside.
Bernadette stood at the door, looked at Rahima, and smirked, crossing her arms.
“Ahh. Well, well, Gauleiter, I do not object. Whether man or woman, power is attractive.”
Rahima laughed. “Let’s talk inside. I’m not completely against that but– it is not my aim.”
Back when she was part of the Rhinea Feminist Party, Rahima had saved up money for years to acquire a double-wide apartment about a twenty minute walk from the office. It was not only convenient, it was a symbol of her success. After Conny disbanded the party, Rahima soon became a Progressive Party councilwoman and was furnished with accommodations in the higher tiers, closer to the Aachen Legislative Council building. She retained her old double-wide however, since it was such a hassle to acquire any property in the core station. It came in handy to own a second home after her abortive bid for the governorship.
When she left the Progressive Party altogether, she wound up living down here again.
“Make yourself at home. I’ll be right back. Trust me– you’ll know when you see it.”
True to its name, a double-wide apartment was essentially two ordinary one-room spaces connected into one, rather than separated and sold or rented individually. From the front door, the apartment had a small space with a pair of couches, a set of shelves, a tea table with adjustable legs, and a kitchenette in the back containing a combination oven and a refrigerator. Through the door, was Rahima’s bedroom and bathroom.
She bid Bernadette to wait on one of the living room couches.
Bernadette did not really make herself at home. She sat on the couch and waited.
Before long, Rahima came back out of the room carrying a thick green case by its handle.
She set it on the tea table in front of Bernadette, who was surprised to see it. Two latches kept it shut tight, and the design had thick corners and spaced pieces of rubber padding that could soften impacts. It was waterproof, EM-proof, dustproof, had an integrated agarthic battery– when Rahima opened it up, Bernadette seemed to realize immediately what it was. An isolated computer with a ruggedized design. Unlike a thin client, this system was its own full computer that was not managed by the station supercomputer.
It was a backup device designed for emergency use.
After a few strokes of the keys, Rahima booted into a green-text, basic filesystem view.
“Don’t be fooled, it just boots into this. You can bring up quite a few handy programs.”
“Milord, where did you get this?” Bernadette asked, excitedly taking the keys.
Navigating the system, Bernadette would quickly uncover all the data already loaded in.
“Official records from the Aachen Legislative Council?” She said, clearly bewildered.
Rahima grinned a bit smugly. She had been waiting to unveil this for a good while now.
“During my tenure as Councilwoman I co-sponsored a measure to harden the station in case of disaster, one part of which was purchasing a ruggedized, isolated backup mainframe. State of the art and custom-made by Rhineametalle. This isn’t a thin client– it’s the size of a suitcase because it has full, self-contained hardware. Weaker than a station supercomputer, obviously, but good enough to help get a supercomputer back online after an issue. When I was deposed as governor, initially I just snuck in and stole it as petty revenge. I saw a chance and took it, and nobody stopped me. Nobody has even noticed that it is gone, so far.”
Rahima sat next to Bernadette on the couch and took control of the device.
She demonstrated that her credentials when she was Councilwoman were still logged.
Having never been wiped, the device was fully accessible to Rahima.
And it contained a trove of information about the station.
“It was last updated a year ago, just before my governorship, but it’s good enough.”
Bernadette turned to Rahima with a suddenly admiring look.
For a brief moment her face looked flushed. She composed herself quite quickly.
“I must apologize, milord. I assessed your strengths quite short of their true mark.”
“That’s fine. I like being underestimated. People being wrong is an advantage I can use.”
Rahima turned to the computer. With a few keystrokes, appeared a schematic of the station.
On that kitchen table, in front of the soft couches, the instrument of Rahima’s vengeance.
“Obviously, we weren’t going to get anything important done in that undercooked Gau office. Not only are the people there inexperienced, as much heart as they have– but the more people that are introduced into a plot the more points of failure. No; only you and I are needed for this work.” She patted her hand on the computer and on Bernadette’s shoulder. “We have access to heaps of data right here, and any new intelligence will also go here, into this device, and it will not be put down anywhere else. Are we clear? Maps, orders, lists, everything, it only goes into here. We will punch in to work at the Gau office each day, and perhaps visit another location to keep up the appearance of work and play– then we will spend the rest of the day here. Because of my race and rhetoric and my political positions I have been something of a tabloid darling. There is gossip about my nymphomania, and I assume this will continue– so most people will make wrong assumptions about us.”
She smiled, as if a bit proud of that sordid reputation. Bernadette grinned back at her.
Her initial skepticism was completely erased. She looked quite eager and pleased.
“Milord, in this endeavor, consider me your instrument. I will follow.” Bernadette said.
“Splendid. Then, as you once said to me over audio call– let us get to work, mein dame.”
Her long knife was still concealed, but the hand upon its sheath was set into dire motion.
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