Train of Thought 01
Sable Palace/Verrien, 11-12 April SY099LT
Once they were gone, I sat down with a stiff drink to try to figure out what to do next. A number of unprintable expletives went through my head as I considered the ramifications of sixty years of future knowledge: or, more to the point, as I imagined Rupert considering sixty years of future knowledge in his own armchair in his office at Hradcany Castle. We had to talk, but first I had to process the information myself. Preferably before he went on a murder spree against those he identified as being responsible for “future crimes”.
I started by separating the young woman’s actual memories from the history she had read in books, which wasn’t a quick job when dealing with sixty years of material. She did have first-hand knowledge of a number of potentially damaging incidents, although there was also quite a bit of interpretation of things she had heard of or read about second-hand. I was trying to balance the potential harm from one against the other when I felt the stirrings of a Trump call.
Of course it was.
“So have you had that pretty little thing shot for treason, yet?” he asked, mildly, as the contact firmed up, “it would be a shame if you had. She was a tasty little piece.”
“Unlike you, brother, shooting her wasn’t my first instinct,” I answered, “especially towards someone who says they’re my agent. Neither was sleeping with her my second, given that she believes she’s my granddaughter-in-law, for goodness sake.”
“Then more fool you,” he said, with a shrug, “in both cases. I can think of many amusing things that I…”
“What do you want,” I snapped, as his expression as he said that disturbed me.
“A mere courtesy call, Mein Bruder,” he answered, “to put you on notice that just because she isn’t here anymore, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t take note of what she had to tell me.”
“I got that impression when I spoke to her,” I answered, “after which she agreed to provide the same information to me…voluntarily.”
“Then, as the proverb goes, ‘we live in interesting times’.”
“You and I need to talk. Not over a Trump.”
“So where do you suggest? I don’t particularly fancy coming to Sable right now.”
“And likewise me to the Reich.”
“Then how about the place where it all happened? Verrien?”
“I believe it has a vampire infestation.”
“Afraid of a few creatures of the night, Robert?” he said, sarcastically, “I thought some of your best friends were vampires. You know, as they started out mortal and you couldn’t bear to watch them die of old age. No Pattern cure for them, and all that.”
I bit back a retort but I could tell that he knew he’d almost got a rise out of me from the slight smile that came to his face.
“On second thoughts, I’ll deal with Verrien myself…at a later date,” he said, with an air of finality.
“By doing what? Invading it?”
“If I don’t, you will,” he answered, with a shrug.
I just hoped that he hadn’t figured out that Will was there trying to sort out whatever the Hell happened that had brought us to this point in the first place, or that invasion was going to happen sooner rather than later.
“That’s exactly the sort of thing we need to talk about, Rupert. Sooner, rather than later, before either of us do something that both the other, and the Sable universe will regret.”
“What, the universe will regret me invading a pissant little Shadow like Verrien? That’s a bit melodramatic, don’t you think, Mein Bruder?”
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it…”
At that point, I was interrupted as Marion came in the door.
“Not now,” I snapped, trying to relegate Rupert backwards for a second as I did it.
“Please, Grandfather. It’s important.”
“Don’t mind me, Mein Bruder,” he said with a chuckle, and I got the distinct impression that he was happy to sit back and watch the show.
I looked back at Marion, and sighed. “What is it?”
“It’s Uncle William. He’s badly hurt. So is Francesco…wait, is this a bad time?”
“Off you go,” Rupert said, in the back of my mind “we can pick this up when you’re done.”
Before I could stop him, he broke the call, but I could hear him chuckling mentally as he did. Cursing roundly, I got to my feet and walked towards my granddaughter, feeling less than gracious.
“I’m sorry…” she started, “I thought you’d want to know. I didn’t realise…”
“What’s done is done,” I muttered, “you’d better lead the way.”
We walked rapidly through the palace to the infirmary where her husband was treating Will. My son was sitting shirtless on one of the beds, where Malcolm had obviously been examining him. He looked pale and sick, and there was a nasty gash down his right side. Francesco was off to the side, a jagged sword wound through his abdomen, and I could see he was in a stasis bubble.
“I’m sorry, Your Majesty,” Malcolm said as I came in, “I wouldn’t have disturbed you, but there’s something badly wrong with Prince William, and I’m damned if I can figure out what it is. I hoped you might have some ideas.”
That worried me. Malcolm is a bloody good doctor in his own right, and has patched me up on more than one occasion. So for him to be at a loss…
“Let me take a look”.
“See to Cesco first,” Will muttered, “I tried to put him in stasis, but he got it far worse.”
“Whatever ‘it’ is, I’m not going to be able to do much for him, Will,” I answered, “you know that.” I turned to look at Marion and Malcolm. “Marion, I need you to go to Francesco’s place, find his manservant and then call me.”
She seemed puzzled, but thought the better of querying my request. “Of course. I won’t be long.”
As she departed, I turned my attention back to my injured son. It was a deep cut, probably from the same sword that injured Francesco, and he seemed to be getting greyer around the gills as I watched. I opened up my healing senses and took a look. Some kind of blood curse, I thought, but it wasn’t like anything I’d seen before. It certainly wasn’t the same kind as the Family can cast. I could see why Malcolm was baffled.
“What happened?” I asked, as I analysed the injury further. I detected both Francesco’s blood, and another of his kin in the wound, presumably from the blade that had stabbed him. Plus something else. Some kind of dark Broken Pattern construct.
“I’d rejoined the bits of that Broken Pattern, but in doing so we were transported into the basement of Philip le Bel’s castle, and he was still there. Cesco and I ended up on the wrong end of his sword, although he didn’t survive the experience, either. I don’t know what the hell he had on the blade but Christ…I only just got us out of there,.”
And thus started the changes. As far as I understood from the memories I’d seen, if Will was right about killing le Bel, it meant that he was dead a good fifty years too early, with all the ramifications that might have. Still, that was a problem for tomorrow.
“It’s cursed,” I answered, returning my attention to my patient, “as well as healing it, I’m going to need to do a purification ritual on it. Malcolm…”
“I need silk bandages, candles, salt and fresh water. Preferably from the lake.”
“On it,” he answered, thankfully not querying such an odd request.
I turned back to Will and saw the pain on his face.
“Let me give you an anaesthetic,” I commented.
I touched my hand to his temple, and he collapsed like a sack of potatoes onto the bed. That was probably for the best, looking at him. Will isn’t normally one for showing when he’s in pain, so the fact that he couldn’t hide it was of deep concern. While I waited for Malcolm to return, I grabbed a beaker from the side then used my shifting to corral Francesco’s blood and draw it out of him, decanting it in the container. Then I checked to see if that had helped. As I studied it more closely, I could see that the Broken Pattern curse was acting as some kind of virus, trying to insinuate its way into his very being. The only thing stopping it was his Pattern imprint. About the only positive aspect that I could see was that Verrien wasn’t one of the Black Broken Patterns.
Black Broken Patterns. Blast it. Rupert. What the Hell was he doing right now? Should I call him back?
That train of thought was broken when I heard Will moan in pain, despite the anaesthetic, and I turned my attention back to my patient. Shortly afterwards Malcolm came back with the supplies I’d requested, but moments later I felt the stirrings of another Trump call. Thankfully this time it was Marion.
“I’m here, Grandfather,” she said, and I could see Roger on the edges of the link.
“Let me get him,” I answered.
I crossed to where Francesco was lying and picked him up gently, then returned my attention to the Trump link.
Roger joined her in the contact, and I passed his master through to him.
“There’s a stasis spell on him, currently,” I commented, “you’ll need to take it off before his…treatment…is likely to do any good. Marion can do that for you.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” he replied, politely, and looked at Marion.
“I may be a bit busy with Will for a bit, so you’ll need to contact someone else if you want to get back the quick way,” I said to her, and she nodded.
“Not a problem. Look after him,” she replied, and broke the Trump link
Barely had she hung up, than I felt another, stronger contact. Rupert again.
“Are you ready, Mein Bruder?” he asked, although he was masking his background from me, which gave me some cause for concern.
“I’m going to need to call you back,” I answered, “for God’s sake don’t do anything precipitous until I we’ve talked.”
“If you’re bringing God into it, Robert, I’ll do whatever I damned well like,” he snapped, and the contact broke.
Blast the man. Sometimes he could act like a petulant child. I sighed, and turned back to Will. His colour wasn’t any worse, but neither was it any better.
“Time to get to work,” I said to Malcolm, and we set to it.
I devised a ritual of purification on the fly, and then set to work trying to heal the esoteric damage, while Malcolm dealt with the physical. I was glad I’d taught him the ins and out of shifting others to heal them, as it made the process easier. Even so, it took a couple of hours before I was satisfied that Will was going to be okay, and ensuring our success had required activating my son’s own inherent shifting, to boot. It was definitely a relief to see his colour returning.
“You look beat, Robert,” Malcolm said.
“I feel it, but I rather suspect my evening isn’t done yet,” I answered, “I have an unpleasant conversation that I can’t avoid in my immediate future. Let me know if there’s any change in his condition.”
I left the infirmary, and decided to grab a shower and a change of clothes before calling Rupert back. My brother acting like a brat was the last thing I needed just then.
Of course, the best laid plans of mice…
The shower was fine, but afterwards I foolishly lay down for five minutes, and when I woke up it was dark. Beside me, I could hear Claire’s soft breathing. I glanced at the clock on the bedside table. Nearly 4am. I swore to myself again – I’d left Rupert to his own devices for almost 12 hours, and God knows what trouble he could have gotten into in that time. Cursing silently, I hauled myself upright and dressed in a turtle-neck shirt and some dark trousers. I also realised that I was starving. I hadn’t refuelled after helping Will.
I headed for my office via the kitchen, where I grabbed a sandwich and a large coffee. Then I sat down on one of the large, comfortable leather chairs beside the fireplace and brought Rupert’s Trump to mind.
“You’ve deigned to call me back, have you,” he snarked as he answered. I still couldn’t see his background.
“The delay wasn’t intentional,” I answered, slightly defensively, damn the man, “where are you?”
“Oh, you’ll see when you get here,” he replied, and offered me his hand. I stood up, downed the coffee, took a deep breath, and went through.
I arrived on top of the gatehouse of a castle that looked like Schloss Neuschwanstein, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, and giving off a distinctly Bram Stoker/Nosferatu vibe. The wind was blowing, it was drizzling, and I could smell burning. Looking out to sea, and sharpening my eyesight, I could just make out an islet with a ring of burned stone at some distance. The bloody lighthouse that was responsible for all this?
Bringing my attention back to the castle, I could smell black powder in the air and, looking down there was blood in the courtyard, along with far too many Waffen-SS uniforms for my liking. Beside me, Rupert was accompanied by two young men who, from their neat black and silver uniforms and insignia, were members of his “Honour Guard”, the group of misguided individuals who served as his bodyguard. They snapped to alert the moment I appeared. Their nametags read Ebert and Walters.
“What have you done?” I asked, looking at him.
“I told you I’d deal with Verrien,” he answered, lapsing into German, as was his wont when we met somewhere he considered to be his territory, “and I have. The place has been…defanged. You’re welcome.”
“It’s only been twelve hours.”
“Time, tide and unattended Broken Patterns wait for no man, Robert,” he answered, smugly, “plus, the advantage of my deciding to accompany Oberstgruppenführer Peiper on this mission is that I could make the time flow more beneficial to our aims. My compliments to William on dealing with the arcane aspects of the problem first, though. That made things a lot easier.”
“You bloody fool,” I snapped, “do you have any idea how this is likely to change things? The future?”
“I think we both know that particular U-Boat sailed the moment you sent your son here to defuse whatever aberration caused that lighthouse to flicker into the future in the first place,” he answered, “how does the argument go? The act of observing changes the nature of that which is observed? Something to that effect, anyway, and he not only observed, but actively modified what he saw.”
Sadly, he wasn’t wrong, but I hoped that there was still time before things became unfixable.
“I can’t deny that,” I admitted, “and it’s one of several reasons why I’m worried about unintended consequences right now. The Sable universe is a complex system. There’s no way to guess what effect what’s happened here today might end up having on the rest of Sable. But I believe that if you and I work together, not against each other, we may be able to make sure that the effects of that are mitigated.”
“I’m sure you’re exaggerating,” he said, with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“Am I? Let me suggest a scenario. What if Obersturmbannführer Ebert here, who might otherwise have ended up saving your life in the future, had been killed during this attack? What would have happened to you, down the line.”
“Irrelevant. As you can see, he’s alive and well.”
“Don’t be facetious, Rupert,” I snapped, “you know what I mean. How many of your men died in this action?”
“We brought a force of 400 men, and we had around 10% casualties, dead and injured,” came a voice from behind me, and I turned to see a tall man striding towards us, wearing the insignia of a high-ranking general in the Waffen-SS. I looked at him in shock, realising that I recognised him. We’d met in the Ardennes in World War II on Terra Magica. I was also sure I remembered him dying shortly thereafter.
“Obersturmbannführer Peiper?” I asked, incredulously.
“OberstGRUPPENführer Peiper,” he corrected, “Colonel de Lacy, what a pleasant surprise.”
“The feeling is not mutual, I assure you.”
“You seem surprised, Mein Bruder,” Rupert commented, “surely your briefings from the ever-so-reliable General Graham have informed you that Joachim, here is the Head of the Waffen-SS.”
“Of course they have,” I answered, “but I hadn’t put two and two together. I’ve not had the…pleasure of meeting the General in person since Sable was Created.”
“As we’ve discussed in the past, without having access to the same methods of acquiring generals as yourself, I had to make other arrangements. For your information, the esteemed head of the Waffen-SS is the Kaiser’s paternal half-brother, as is the now-retired Generaloberst Berthelmes of the Auslands-Heer.”
Which made them my sons. Marvellous. I looked at my brother, and then back to Peiper.
“10% casualties, so forty men, give or take. How many of those are dead?”
“I don’t believe that’s any of your business, Colonel,” he replied, blatantly ignoring any other rank I might have been entitled to, then looked over at Rupert, who nodded. Peiper sighed and answered my question. “Twelve.”
“So that’s twelve people who should still be alive, but whose stories ended today. Their children will no longer be born…their grandchildren…”
“What are you talking about?” he began, but this time Rupert cut him off.
“Later, Joachim. Your report is received with thanks, and now I need to speak with my brother, here.”
“Yes, Herr Reichsführer,” he answered, snapping a sharp salute, and then heading back to the nearest staircase back to ground level. As he did, I felt the rain getting heavier.
Rupert looked pensive for a moment, as he watched Peiper go, and then shrugged.
“I am willing to hear what you have to say, Mein Bruder. Shall we go somewhere more comfortable to discuss this, rather than standing out here in the rain?”
I nodded, and he set off towards the building where it intersected with the level we were on. I fell into step beside him, with Ebert and Walters a couple of paces behind.
“You know, I’d forgotten that we met Joachim during the War in our old life,” Rupert commented, “but perhaps that memory stayed with you, and not me.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it a meeting,” I answered, “he murdered most of the squad I was with, and used me as the fox in a chase through the forest with his cavalry group. The only thing missing were the hounds.”
“Us, Robert. I was part of you then.”
“If it had been you in the driving seat, not me, you would have probably joined him on horseback to pursue a different quarry,” I answered, “don’t think I haven’t heard the stories of your hunting parties out of Bremen.”
“Malicious rumours, nothing more,” he said, with another dismissive wave, and then opened the door into the top floor of the gatehouse, and we stepped inside out of the rain. The room showed the predations of time and past occupation by less-than careful residents. However, the rushes on the floor were fresh and Rupert had obviously brought in some of the furniture. I walked over to the fire burning in the grate and warmed my hands. It was almost cosy.
He indicated for Ebert and Walters to wait by the door and gestured for me to sit. Then he conjured up a pot of coffee from somewhere, and poured me a cup.
“You look tired,” he said, more quietly, “is William okay?”
“Not great, but he should be alright,” I answered, curious whether he actually cared about the answer. In that, he surprised me.
“Good,” he replied, with a nod, “I have a great deal of respect for your second son, Mein Bruder, unlike his elder brother.”
Well, I shouldn’t be surprised that he’d learned about Andrew, the Technocracy and the Machine, if I had. I supposed we’d get to that in a bit.
“What had actually happened to the Broken Pattern here?” I asked, diverting the subject for now.
He took a drink of coffee, and then replied: “To be honest, I’m not entirely sure WHAT was going on here. Part of it had been displaced out to that islet I saw you looking at when you first arrived, but how that happened? I’m as much in the dark as you. And I certainly can’t work out how that place was linked to the future. Maybe it was something to do with the vampire who had taken up residence here.”
“Of course, whatever weird arcane thing happened, it didn’t stop you invading here with great dispatch. I thought you said you’d deal with it at a later date…”
“I lied,” he answered, with a slight smirk, “so sue me.”
“Yes, you did,” I answered, with a sigh, “and I wish I was surprised. Let me ask you a question. Do you care for this Creation of ours?”
I saw the double-take, and he looked genuinely puzzled. “Of ours? Not of yours?”
“Ours,” I admitted, “yes I made it, and yes I chose to cut it off from Amber and the rest of our idiot Family, but over the years I’ve come to realise that you are as linked to the Sable universe as I am, much as that makes me uncomfortable. I chose to give you form…”
“I’d like to think I chose this form, not you.”
“You know what I mean,” I retorted, then cursed myself for being baited, and tried to moderate my tone, “And you, in turn, have run with the opportunity you were given to make something that appeals to you, if not the rest of us. So…do you care for what you’ve built?”
“Care is an interesting word,” he replied, “it raises the philosophical question of whether a being such as myself is capable of caring.”
“Why not? I don’t control your emotions and your feelings: those are all yours. For example, you’re a musician, like myself, I believe? A violinist, and a good one.”
He shrugged, then nodded, obviously unclear why it mattered.
“Without feelings, music is merely a mechanical exercise,” I continued, “you need emotions to move beyond that, and by all accounts you play with real passion. Plus, it was very clear that our visitor remembered that in the future you have a wife and family who you love. That you were happy. That you had friends. So yes, I believe you’re capable of caring, if you choose to.
“Which brings me back to my question. Do you care for this Creation? For Sable and the Shadows it formed?”
“I would not want them to cease to be, if that is what you mean, even if they aren’t quite to my liking from a political point of view,” he answered, finally, “but I don’t quite see why a discussion of my emotions is relevant.”
“We have been given an insight into the future, and the problems ahead of us, but I’m not sure how much we dare to change before the Sable universe, as we know it…as she knew it…is altered irrevocably, and circumstances result in the people and country I love becoming either unrecognisable or gone altogether. Before any chance you have of that family is lost.”
“On the other hand,” he said, after a pause while he considered what I’d said, “maybe a possible family in the future is less important to me than changing things now to my benefit, and that of the Reich. I mean a Peace Treaty? Come on.”
“What would be wrong with concluding a peace?” I asked, and for a second, he actually seemed surprised at the question, “a lot of lives would be saved in both our nations.”
“Assuming such a thing is even possible, given the nature of our relationship: the fact that the Reich exists to preserve your sanity and I exist to expand its reach.”
“Obviously, it is possible, because it happens. Unless you think she was imagining it.”
“In her world, it has been in place barely five years…is that long enough to see the true effects of what it might do to either of us? It certainly sounds like I was getting soft and weak.”
“Because you had people you cared about? I’d call that evolution, not weakness.”
He sat back in his chair and we both attended to our coffee for a couple of minutes. I had to admit, it was some of the best I’d drunk in a long time. He must have noticed my expression, as he stood and refilled both our cups before retaking his seat.
“If you’re considering that concluding a Peace Treaty earlier might be positive, then aren’t you proposing doing exactly what you’re trying to persuade me not to. Change the future? Would that not have a significant effect on the Sable universe? Would it not alter things irrevocably?”
“But, I’d argue, for the better.”
“As it seems sitting here, now. And yet, I would also argue that the Reich capturing Verrien early, with the intention of wiping out the Night Kin would also make things ‘better’. But you didn’t seem to agree. So what is ‘better’?”
I sighed, because damn it, yet again he had a point.
“If we’re discussion the possibility of trying to change things for ‘the better’,” he continued, “there are a number of potential problems that I would address long before considering concluding a Peace Treaty.”
“Manira and New Oceania, for one. Stopping that particular fuck-up before it happens would seem to be an excellent use of the Reich’s resources. Plus, it has the added benefit that the Broken Pattern there is one of those linked to the Black Pattern in the basement of my delightful country residence, and therefore belongs to the Reich by right. And let’s be honest, Sable has given the place up for lost.”
“It’s been the bane of both our nations for many years, given how many of our people, on both sides, have gone native there and rebelled. Sable was just the first to realise that ‘because it’s there’ isn’t really a good reason to throw more good troops after bad,” I replied.
“Perhaps if it became part of the Reich, those problems would cease. As I said, it’s linked to my Pattern.”
“You tried to take it in, what, ‘25, ‘43 and ‘54? And it seems like you had another go later on. None of which worked out well for either the Reich, or those you sent to command it after you took it. What makes you think that moving in now, which is what you seem to have in mind, would be any more successful?”
“This time we’re forearmed. Obviously there’s something about that particular world that needs studying and purging. Plus, I’ve never led the assault myself, which I intend to rectify. And surely, for the sake of the Sable universe and what comes later, it’s better that I do it than, say, the as-yet un-manifested Master of the Machine.”
It had been inevitable that we’d get to that eventually, and I felt myself wince at the thought.
“I see that you also believe we have a more pressing issue that we need to resolve, one way or another. The Machine. In some of our past meetings, over the years, I remember you wondering whether Andrew was still alive, as you’d lost track of him.”
“And you always dodged the question.”
“I’d prefer to think of it as choosing not to answer, ,” he said, with a shrug, “because when all’s said and done, I enjoyed the power that knowing something you didn’t gave me, and the uncertainty it caused you.”
“That was petty, and cruel.”
“But aren’t I supposed to be petty and cruel, Mein Bruder? Isn’t that part of the persona you chose for me?” he shrugged, then drank some more coffee before continuing, “ Alas, now that particular cat is out of the bag, because you know that at some point in the future he Creates the Technocracy…and its bastard counterpart, the Machine.”
“How long?” I asked, and I could feel anger at the revelation, “How long have you kept that from me?”
“At least twenty years,” Rupert answered, a strange chill in his voice, “and during that time I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s a rabid dog who needs to be put down.”
“Are we talking about the same person?” I asked, incredulous.
“Oh yes, Robert,” he replied, “time and time again, over the last couple of decades, Andrew – or as he prefers to call himself nowadays, General Vindex – has proven himself to be as much of as a butcher and war criminal as you consider the likes of myself and Oberstgruppenführer Peiper to be.”
He paused for a moment and a cold smile crossed his lips, “Perhaps that’s why he’s never got back in contact with you. Maybe he didn’t want you to know the truth about who and what he really is.”
“Well, do you really see him calling you up and saying ‘ Hi Dad. It’s been a while. I’ve become a mass murderer since I saw you last. What have you been up to?’,” he replied, lightly, and then his expression became colder, “not that I expect you to believe that, given the rose-coloured glasses you’ve always viewed him with, although I’d be happy to show you the proof.”
Could he actually be telling the truth? From what I remembered of Andrew, it didn’t seem likely, but all I knew for certain was that he’d walked out of my life and that of his children thirty years before, never to be heard of in Sable again.
“Mein Bruder, for the good of the Sable universe which you seem so worried about, I hereby state, without fear of contradiction, that your favourite son most definitely does not deserve to be rewarded with his own Creation, out of whatever misguided paternal guilt you might feel towards him,” Rupert continued, “in fact, I’d go so far as to say that even among our extended family, I can’t immediately think of a worse candidate to be allowed to Create.”
“Really? Given some of the others back on the Outside?”
“You’ve seen her memories on the subject of the Machine,” he replied, “and I can’t believe you like it any more than I do. So whether or not you accept my argument about his suitability, or otherwise, for the job, you can’t deny that the Machine only exists because Andrew chose for it to exist. And that’s even laying aside the fact that I find myself roundly embarrassed that I was…am…will be…whatever…taken in by the being that called itself Andreas Delatz.”
“What happened between you two?,” I asked, quietly, even if I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer.
“Why do you assume it was me?” he asked, but the innocent tone didn’t fool me.
“You’ve never liked him, but this mutual hatred is new. Moreover, you’ve kept the fact that you knew he was out there from me for years, and from your description of him and the young lady’s memories, he is a very different man in the future to the one I remember. Plus, if I recall my Latin correctly, Vindex means something like avenger or revenger, and that has some pretty specific connotations. Now bearing in mind that I shut the doors almost as soon as he left Sable, thereby giving the rest of our kin an alibi, that leaves a very short list of people on whom he might want revenge. Just you, in fact.”
“I’m flattered, but I would have thought pretty much all the Reich High Command should be on that list as well, from the Kaiser down. As well as that unpleasant little brat of his…Chartris, wasn’t it…he’s definitely more worthy of Andrew’s revenge than my humble self.”
“Stop bullshitting, Rupert,” I snapped, “I want to know what did you do to him, to make him into…how did you put it…’a rabid dog who needs to be put down, a butcher and a war criminal’. Before he left, he was no friend to the Reich, but his focus was Outside. And then, after things blew up with Regan and Chartris, he turned inward. He was hurt…angry… depressed…”
“Suicidal?” he interjected, and then he realised he’d given away more than he intended, and I saw him curse inwardly. Then he shrugged, as if it didn’t matter, “Okay…you’ve got me…evil Rupert and all that. Yes, he was my guest for some time. A few years, I think, but it was so long ago I barely remember.”
I inhaled sharply at that, and I felt an almost murderous flash of anger which I had to push back down in a hurry.
“In my defence…not that I need a defence for serving the Reich’s interests…it was obvious that you didn’t want him anymore. If you had, you might have taken steps to enquire after his wellbeing. As I recall, in times past when you two disagreed, one or other of you eventually got bored of the cold war and forced a reconciliation. But not this time. Why?”
“He told me not to,” I answered through gritted teeth, “I honoured his request. I just never expected him to be away for so long”
“And yet even as the years stretched out into decades, you didn’t make any effort to find him,” he said, with a shrug, and it was all I could do to restrain myself from punching him in his smug face, “believe me, Robert, I’ve put some thought into this, and the only conclusion I’ve come to is that you had washed your hands of him. After all, the whole situation must have been as acutely embarrassing for you as taking in Andreas Delatz apparently proves to be for me. Your favourite son killing himself over a woman and a brat. Or perhaps you felt some guilt over the situation yourself, given that you sided with Regan and Chartris against him on more than one occasion. So here we are.”
“What did you do to him, Rupert?” I repeated, putting down my coffee cup, “I rather doubt he was your ‘guest’ by choice.”
“No, he was not,” he answered, “but you can’t blame me for taking advantage of a resource that you had discarded. His blood was particularly potent after his…restoration. It made him an excellent ritual subject.”
“So what? You tortured him to increase your personal power?”
“Torture implies that I wanted information out of him,” he stated, simply, “but that was the least of my concerns. I utilised the unique resource he represented for the good of the Reich. The personal power was an added bonus.”
As he spoke, I didn’t see the slightest bit of regret in his expression. Rather, he seemed pleased with himself, and that’s when I saw red. Before I realised what I was doing, I was out of my chair and diving at my thrice-cursed brother like a man possessed. The next thing I knew, we were both on our feet, my hands were around his throat and I was choking the life out of him. The look on his face was priceless.
Then I felt a blow on the back of my head, which caused me to loosen my grip, and I realised the Ebert and Walters were trying to do what he paid them to. Protect his sorry arse.
There’s just one problem with that. I don’t consider myself to be a great warrior, but compared to a pair of mortal guards? I elbowed one in the gut, then twisted his arm, breaking his wrist, and pulled the dagger at his belt out of its scabbard. I slashed at the other to make him back off, and was rewarded when I made contact with his upper arm. Then I spun back towards Rupert and tried to cut his throat. I’d made a convincing slash when I heard a shot, and I stumbled as my right knee gave way under me.
I tried to right myself, but I couldn’t stand and collapsed to the floor. Moments later, I felt the barrel of a recently-fired pistol on the back of my neck, positioned to blow out my spine.
“Just give me an excuse, Your Majesty,” came a quiet voice from behind me.
At that, the rage drained out of me, and nausea and shock set in. Then I realised that I had just dropped myself into very, very deep shit indeed. What the Hell had I been thinking? I glanced around and saw Walters off to the side, clutching his broken wrist, and Rupert looking down at me, completely expressionless. That scared me more than if he’d looked furious. Then, very deliberately, he put a hand to his own throat, as if to check the damage. I could already see bruising forming, and there was a satisfying amount of blood to one side of his jugular.
“Tut, tut, Mein Bruder…that wasn’t very civilised,” he said, coldly.
“Civilised doesn’t include brutalising each other’s families.”
“As I don’t have a family, beyond certain members of the SS, I can’t speak to that,” he replied, “and before you ask the inevitable question, my only regret is with respect to his actions since he escaped. With twenty-twenty hindsight, I should have been more careful that he never did, but I was feeling sentimental. That was obviously your bad influence on my thinking.”
Just then, I probably hated him more than I ever had before.
“Order him to let me go, Rupert,” I said, quietly and feeling as weak as a kitten
“Will you guarantee not to lay another hand on me if I do? No, I don’t think you will. Get out of my sight, Robert. Now. We can continue this discussion at a later date.”
“And how am I expected to leave with Obersturmbannführer Ebert holding a gun to my neck?”
“You will take him with you, and you will not harm him. And then I will call him and bring him home. Touch one more hair on his head, and there will be consequences. Now get the fuck out of here.”
I felt a wave of power from him as he brought up a mental Trump to mind, and to my extreme surprise, I found myself back in my office. I landed in an ungainly heap on the floor, next to my favourite leather armchair on the rug in front of the fire.
What the Hell?
And then, moments later, I saw an aura of rainbow light and the pressure of the gun barrel was gone.
I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I realised that any chance of getting him to listen when I told him not to change things was gone, with who knew what consequences for the Sable universe. I’d almost got through to him, and then I’d let my own anger blow that out of the water, as if that very place had corrupted my best intentions.
What in God’s name was I going to do now?