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Berlin, The Reich, 16 April SY099

Sitting in my study this evening, I’ve finished going through the memory gem that my brother gave me a couple of days ago, after I fixed up his busted knee, and I’m left with one major thought in my head. What the heck do I do now? There’s a lot I’ve been keeping from Robert, but at this point, I’ve reached the conclusion that one of my biggest secrets is probably out. Maybe THE biggest one. After we’d met with Andrew, I’d been off my game and let something slip to my big brother, and if I know him at all, he went looking for it.

One of the memories had involved the Messenger, as I think of our correspondent from the future, and others being given some kind of memory block by Robert, at my request. Apparently I needed them to be protected sufficiently to stand up to Rupert Delatz’s scrutiny, and I didn’t believe I was up to the job. The trouble with that being so important to me in the future, is that when either of them see it now, the need to know will be like a red rag to the pair of bulls I happen to have as siblings. So out of a sense of self-preservation, I also had to find out what it was. Being a memory of a memory of a whatever, that ended up being easier than I had expected. And if I can do it…

If Robert learns about it, he’ll probably understand. If Rupert Delatz does…well, that, as they say, is VERY BAD INDEED.

I stand up and head for the sitting room, to pour myself a stiff G&T.

“Dinner’s ready, Misha,” Iris calls from the dining room, “ Are you coming?”

But I find myself lacking in appetite all of a sudden. When I don’t answer, she comes looking for me, and finds me staring out of the window, drink in hand, watching the April rain falling on the lawn.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, concerned.

“I think we’re blown.”

“What?”

“I think that there’s a good chance that Rupert Delatz knows about Matthias.”

“Oh Christ,” she answers, suddenly turning as pale as I feel, “How? We’ve always been so careful. So has he.”

“Plain and simple bad luck,” I answer, turning and looking at her, “I have to warn him that he’s probably compromised, and I can’t do it using the cards.”

“What about the rest?”

“I don’t know. It’s possible that if I can get to him first, the rest may not be affected: we run it as a cell system, for a reason. But I have to go now.”

“Do you want me to come with you?”

“No. If this goes pear-shaped, I’m relying on you to get the word out to the people who need to know, and you have to keep Laurence safe.”

“How are you going to get to Berlin? If you can’t trust the cards?”

“I think I can get away with going through to a place. My brother is good with the cards, but he can’t spend his entire time monitoring them. He has a job to do stomping defenceless little Shadows under the jackboot. Plus, I think he’s still out of town on Verrien, currently.”

“And you know that how?”

“Long story.”

“Be careful, Misha,” she says, putting her arms around me.

“I’ll do my best,” I ask, and kiss her forehead before stepping back out of the embrace and heading for the door.

I go upstairs and change into a grey shirt, dark jacket and pair of smart casual trousers, then spend a few minutes adjusting my appearance. A little extra height, a change in gait, lighter hair and eyes, sharpening the cheekbones: all in all, a bit more Aryan, if you will. Then I go over to the safe and get out Reich ID I’d been given by Matthias a few years ago, in case of emergencies. This definitely counts as one of those. I slip it into my jacket pocket. Right. Ready as I’ll ever be.

Taking a deep breath, I bring to mind a Trump of a grove of trees in Imperial Park, check it’s all clear, and transfer through. Here, it’s a sunny spring evening, and I see families enjoying the weather. Children are running around on the grass, and over to the side I hear the creak of swings. I look at my watch. 7.15pm, so there’s a good chance that he’s still in his office in Wehrmacht Staff HQ. Time to act like I belong.

I stride out of the trees towards the path, and then head for the nearest exit, which also happens to be the one nearest the Reichstag. Towering over even that, I see the Great Hall of the Reich – so large, that it apparently has its own weather system in the dome. As always, when I’m in Berlin, the sheer scale of the architecture overwhelms me: but then, that was rather the point when a Shadow of Albert Speer was brought in to design it. It makes me uncomfortable. Give me Sable City any day.

Down the road, left at the Criminal Court – and yes, I hope I’m not about to be hauled in there in the near future – then across the river and into Wehrmacht Platz. I pause outside the door of Staff HQ, take a deep breath, and walk inside.

They love their marble in the Reich. The interior is almost as impressive as the outside. I cross to the reception desk and present my ID.

“Guten Abend,” I say, putting on my best arrogant Nazi persona, “Elias Werner for Matthias Fischer. Quickly now.”

“Yes, Herr Oberst. I’ll ring up for you immediately.”

I give a curt nod, and wait, hoping that I’ve guessed Matthias’s schedule correctly, or else this is about to get embarrassing.

“Go up, please, Herr Oberst,” the receptionist says, and hands me a visitor pass.

“Danke.”

I turn on my heel and head for the lifts. Matthias meets me as the doors open on the fifth floor.

“Elias, good to see you,” he says, pleasantly, although it’s obvious from the expression behind his eyes that the smile is just for show, “my office is this way.”

We head down the corridor, his boots clicking on the marble while my brogues are a little less noticeable, until we reach the heavy oak door with his nameplate on it. He leads me through an empty reception room and into his office proper. He shuts the door and then turns towards me, looking less than happy.

“I told you not to come here unless it was an emergency.”

“Believe me,” I answer, “it is. I’ve come to warn you that there’s a good chance that the Reichsführer-SS either already knows about your involvement in our business, or is going to find out in the very near future.”

German is a great language for swearing in, as Matthias promptly demonstrates for me.

“How?” he says finally.

“As I said to Iris, plain and simple bad luck. He recently came into possession of some highly sensitive information from an unexpected source, and I believe he’s entirely capable of breaking one particular part of it down, which I’m afraid implicates you.”

“Is this information why he downed tools and rushed off to Verrien four day ago.”

“It’s related. Do you know if he’s still there?”

“He came back this morning, and one of my people mentioned to me that he has a new scar on his throat from an attempted assassination.”

“Hmm. That’s a pity.”

“From your expression, would I be correct in deducing that you might know something about that?”

“Tangentially, yes, but that’s not the problem right now.”

“Except that his demeanour is going to be even more charming than usual for a few days, and if he’s looking for someone to strike out at…”

“Then the first thing you need to do is tell Daniela,” I suggest, and he nods.

“Because he’ll go for her and the children first. By the gods I hate that man.”

“Are they in Berlin at the moment, or at your place in the country?”

“In the country, thankfully.”

“At least that might slow him down, assuming he doesn’t have a Trump of the place.”

“Not that I’m aware of, although he probably does have the local Gestapo office.”

“We should go.”

“We need to sign out first,” he answers, and grabs his coat and hat from the stand behind the door.

He locks up, and we walk down the corridor to the lift, making sure not to hurry. Three minutes later, we’re back outside in Wehrmacht Platz. We head for the shade of the Criminal Court, then he brings a Trump to mind and we transfer. We arrive in the hall of a fine half-timbered building. More than a hunting lodge, but not as grand as a mansion. It feels…homely.

“Matti?” says a pretty dark woman, coming into the hall just after we arrive. I’ve seen pictures of Daniela Fischer, but I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her in person. Matthias and I keep things on a strictly business footing.

“Get the children and the bags I keep packed in the bedrooms,” he orders, “you need to go and visit some friends.”

“Right now? I don’t understand.”

“I’ll explain later,” he snaps, but then his expression softens, “please, just do what I ask.”

She looks at both of us, obviously trying to work out where I fit into things, but then sees his resolve and heads upstairs, calling for the children. They have a teenaged son, a girl who’s of an age with Laurence, and a lad who just turned ten.

“Where are you sending them,” I ask.

“I have no intention of telling you that,” he answers, “but they will be safe. I have a friend who will protect them.”

“Understood.”

They’re back downstairs within five minutes, which impresses me, but then, I shouldn’t be surprised that a canny operator like Matthias would have a bug-out plan for his family. I feel him bring a Trump to mind and open the call. He’s guarding the identity of the person at the other end, but I have a fleeting impression of a dark-haired man. Seconds later, his family are gone, and we’re standing alone in the hall.

“By the gods, I need a drink,” he says, and heads for the living room. I swear this family runs on alcohol. Me included.

“So what now?” he says, after he pours us both a glass of schnapps, downs his own and pours a second, “how certain are you that the wheels are about to come off?”

“About 90%,” I answer, “what do you want to do? Wait here? Go back to Berlin and tough it out?”

“I don’t know. I wish you knew for sure that the system is compromised.”

“I don’t think it’s the whole system, but I’m pretty certain that you are. There’s also a possibility that he might figure out Marthe Geisen’s part in all this.”

“At least she’s only a section leader, but I need to alert her, and like you, I need to do it in person. Wait here.”

He tosses off the second schnapps, brings a Trump to mind, and is gone. I find myself almost understanding why brother Robert was annoyed with me when I transported him home from Murchison, when he didn’t want to go. I don’t know how long Matthias is going to take, but to pass the time until he returns, I grab a book from his bookshelf, then refill my own shot glass and sit down to wait. Fifteen minutes, and he still isn’t back. Twenty, and I hear shouting and car doors slamming outside. I glance out of the window, and see three SS staff cars in the drive, along with my brother. The other one. The one I don’t like as much. I guess that confirms that he’s found the memory.

I’m tempted to bug out myself, but I can’t. I have to tough it out, as the chances are that Matthias is going to Trump back here, eventually, rather than call me directly, and Rupert & co. can’t be here when he does. Plus, I need to buy him enough time to contact Marthe, get her out and spike the cards if necessary, as well as put any contingency plans he has into action.

Time for the acting job of my life.

I cross to the mirror over the fireplace, and by studying my reflection, I become Matthias Fischer. I can hear my brother in the hall, yelling at one of the staff, and I know I need to get Rupert out of here. One more schnapps for the road, and I stride out into the hall as if I own the place. Which, wearing this face, I do.

“Reichsführer Delatz,” I demand, imperiously, “what’s the meaning of this intrusion?”

“Generaloberst Fischer,” he answers, coldly and looks straight at me.

I smile inwardly as I see that Robert got him good. The part-healed scab on his neck is a good inch and a half long, and I he’s covered up the bruises with something to make them less obvious. He’s having to tough out healing as he’s not allowed to let anyone know he’s a shapeshifter. Especially his present companions. Apart from his two bodyguards – a man and a woman – every one of them is wearing Forstapo insignia, .

Then I look at the man beside him, who seems to be in charge of the Forstapo detail, and I’m looking into my usual face, albeit a bit younger. The man Andrew mentioned, I’m guessing. The nametag on his uniform says Weber, and his rank insignia identifies him as an SS Gruppenführer.

“Generaloberst Fischer,” Rupert repeats, “some information has come into my possession which requires me to bring you in for questioning. Do you intend to resist?”

Off to the side, I hear Weber mutter “Oh, please resist” under his breath. If he is my son, I rather suspect we aren’t going to get along.

“I’m sure this must be a misunderstanding,” I say with confidence, ”so by all means, let’s go somewhere to discuss it.”

Rupert actually seems rather taken aback at my willingness to accompany him, and perhaps a little disappointed. I’m just glad that my shifting is good enough to hide just how nervous I am right now. This could go badly in so many ways, even if my own contingency plans get set into motion in good time.

I turn back to the butler, who Rupert was yelling at a short while before. “Inform the mistress that I’m going down to the Gestapo office to have a polite word with Reichsführer Delatz. I hope to be back in a couple of hours.”

“Yes sir,” he answers, smartly, and beats a hasty retreat back below stairs. I don’t blame him in the slightest. In fact, I wish I could do the same thing.

“Shall we?” I say, and head for the door, which also has the advantage that none of his goons can slap a pair of cuffs round my wrists without looking petty.

Slightly off balance, my brother falls into step beside me, with his men trailing behind us. Once outside, Weber opens the back door of one of the staff cars and indicates for me to get inside. I oblige. He climbs in the other door and sits beside me, while Rupert takes the wheel. Interesting.

We set off in convoy down the driveway, our vehicle in the middle, but as we reach the entrance to Matthias’s estate, I see a Trump gate open in front of us, and we drive through. Slick. I see why Robert is concerned about Rupert’s abilities with the cards. We arrive in the courtyard of an impressive, gothic schloß, and I realise we’re at Hradcany Castle in Berlin. About the only positive thing about this is that it isn’t PrinzAlbretchtstraße 8.

We get out of the car, and he walks me inside, which causes a few heads to turn as the face I’m wearing is recognised. Sadly, rather than heading for Rupert’s office, which I’d half-hoped we would as a courtesy, given Matthias’s rank, we go downstairs. As interrogation rooms go, it’s quite a comfortable one, with decent chairs and a solid wooden table, but there’s still no doubt about what it is. Rupert comes inside with me, along with the bodyguards. He indicates for me to sit, and then takes the chair directly opposite me. The woman stays by the door, while the man is behind his principal, to the right. I’m aware of a mirror in the side wall, which I’ll put good money on is two-way.

Once we’re sat, he looks straight at me, and I feel him bring the weight of his mind to bear against mine, as he says: “Tell me everything you know about the Underground Railroad.”

Oh. Oh this is bad. I feel the pressure as he tries to break through my shields, and I realise that his mind is as strong as Robert’s. Then I wonder why I’m surprised at that. I’m going to be able to hold him off for a bit, but I don’t have a cat’s chance of managing it indefinitely.

“Why do you think I have anything to do with it?” I ask, trying to buy some time, especially when I see a brief look of confusion cross his face as he realises that his initial assault wasn’t successful.

“I don’t just think it,” he answers, “I know it for a fact. I’ve seen a set of Trumps belonging to an agent of the Underground Railroad, in which you figure prominently, along with a known agent of Sable, and several other individuals who are being rounded up as we speak.”

I try to remember who was in the set that the Messenger saw, knowing that it isn’t the same personnel in the Niedersachsen cell now as it was then…then as it was now?…. I also wonder briefly who the Sable agent he’s referring to is. Oh, right, that would be me. This would be a whole lot easier if I wasn’t having to keep my brother out of my head while I was doing it.

Who else did I recognise? Marthe’s husband Berndt was there, which is interesting given that he’s currently up to his eyeballs with the Forstapo. No sign of her, though, which makes me sad. I doubt she stepped down voluntarily. I think I remember Margarete of Emden, as well, but I’m not sure. Still, if it is her, she might be protected by virtue of being the Crown Princess of that particular occupied world, rather than part of the Reich forces assigned there. And the other three… I thank the stars as I realise that I have no idea who the other three are. They may not even be born yet.

Okay. This could be worse. Hopefully Matthias managed to get to Marthe and Berndt in time. If they get to safety, then maybe they can rescue Margarete, if she needs it. We’re going to have to rebuild the Niedersachsen cell, but at least it isn’t the whole organisation. I’m going to have to find a replacement for Matthias, though. Even if we do both survive this, he can never be involved again. Interviewing a suitable candidate is going to be entertaining.

Still managing to hold Rupert off, although I can feel myself tiring at the effort, I bury my memories of them all as deeply as I can, in the hope that it’s enough unless he really goes digging. Then I take a deep breath. Time to play this particular poker hand.

“I don’t believe you,” I say, looking back towards him, and see a look of uncertainty cross his fact, just for a second, “I don’t believe you have any evidence at all. I know you’ve always been jealous of the Abwehr’s independence from the RSHA and, as far as I can see, this is nothing more than a petty power play on your part…Herr Reichsführer.”

I put as much contempt into the title as I could manage.

“Out of politeness,” I continue, “I agreed to come with you, to hear what you had to say, but obviously it wasn’t worth my while. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be returning to home. My wife will be worried.”

I get to my feet, with all the hauteur I can muster, and step towards the door.

“Sit down, Herr Fischer,” he orders, but I ignore him and keep moving.

My hand is resting on the door handle when I realise that there’s a pistol pointed at my gut. Obviously it’s the week for the de Lacy boys to disagree with the Honour Guard. I stop, and turn slowly.

“Herr Delatz,” I say, coldly, showing him the same lack of respect as he just had me…well, Matthias, “you have no right to detain me without charge. You have no authority over me. I work directly for the Kaiser. Now order Obersturmführer Benedikt to lower her weapon and let me pass. This interview is over.”

But I make a mistake. I catch his eye.

“SIT…DOWN…HERR…FISCHER,” he orders, and suddenly I feel him blast his way through my shields. As I buckle to his command, and find myself back in my chair, the only satisfaction I have is the look of surprise on his face as he realises who I really am.

“What…the fuck…are YOU doing here?” he demands, and then he glances at his guards with a look of absolute fury on his face.

“Leave,” he says, and when they don’t immediately respond, he doubles the volume, “NOW.”

As they do as he orders (looking scared witless, I might add), he glances at the mirror, and adds, slightly less loudly, “You too, Dirk.”

I think I hear chairs being scraped on the floor the other side of the wall, then a door slams, and then silence. I feel the change in the air as he does something else…ward the room we’re in, maybe? Not being a sorcerer, I can’t tell for sure, but it would make sense.

“Well…well…well,” he says, suddenly ice cold, “it looks like you’ve finally grown some balls, kleiner Bruder.”

“I’m still Oberon’s grandson, even if both you and Robert forget most of the time.”

“That you are,” he admits.

“So how’s the neck?” I ask him, politely, because one should always ask after the health of one’s siblings, “it looks a little painful. You know, if you hadn’t decided to make it illegal to be an unregistered shapeshifter in the Reich, you would have been able to fix that days ago.”

I probably deserve the punch to the chin that he gives me, which is when I discover that he’s stronger than I am. I rub my jaw where the blow landed. At least it diverts his attention from the cards he may have seen.

“You are in so much fucking trouble it isn’t true, kleiner Bruder,” he says, suddenly calm. Glacial, even. “I have you bang to rights on charges of espionage and treason. Not to mention being a general smart arse without due care and attention. And don’t think that our blood relationship is going to save you.”

I’ve never seen him like this, and suddenly I understand exactly what Andrew was saying the other day, about when the gloves come off. For the first time, I realise that I’m out of my depth, and there’s a distinct possibility that I’m a dead man: or, at the very least, I’m going to be occupying Andrew’s old cell for the foreseeable future.

“Where’s Matthias Fischer?” he says, firmly and clearly.

“I have absolutely no idea,” I answer, and it’s satisfying to watch as he realises that I’m telling the truth.

“But you know where he was a couple of hours ago, don’t you…’Oberst Werner’.”

Ah, of course. If he was already suspicious of Matthias, he have had someone watching Staff HQ. I’d thought I’d been careful, but the Reich has two heads of intelligence, and I was currently caught between the particular brand of rock and hard place that they represent.

“Are you going to rip it from my mind, the way you did that young woman’s memories the other day?” I ask, quietly.

“YOU know about THAT?”

“What can I say. I talk to my brother…my other brother…the one I like much better than you right now. In fact, I’m actually a little surprised that I haven’t heard from him today.”

I’m expecting another punch on the jaw, but instead he grabs my wrist then stabs a syringe into it. Apparently he’s faster than I am, too.

“Ow…what the heck…?”

“That’s just a little insurance, dear brother,” he answers, and a few seconds later I realise that whatever he jabbed me with is trying to turn off my shifting, and cause me to revert to good old me. Well, I might as well let him think it worked, and I relax back to my own form, as he continues, “Does Robert know you’re here?”

“If he doesn’t already, I imagine he will quite shortly.”

At least, I hope he will. Iris knows to contact him if the shit hits the fan, and the faecal matter is definitely flying around right now.

“So, back to my original question. Where…is…Matthias Fischer?” he repeats, slowly, “where did he go after you got to his home?”

“I don’t know any more than I did two minutes ago,” I answer, although that’s closer to a lie. Again, I probably deserve the punch, but this one is noticeably harder.

“Then a different question. Where is Fischer’s family?”

“He didn’t tell me,” I answer.

“So you do admit you saw him.”

“You’d already figured that one out.”

“How did I not know how fucking annoying you are, kleiner Bruder?”

“It’s not like we’ve often met on social occasions,” I answer, with a shrug, “not being invited to your monthly tea parties.”

“Those won’t be happening again any time soon,” he growls, “but then, I suspect you know that, as well. You seem rather well informed about recent events. And before you look smug about that, bear in mind that without our monthly meetings, dear darling Robert won’t be able to plead your case to me.”

“I wouldn’t expect him to. I have my own friends.”

“Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

“No,” I reply, “because I’m reasonably confident that you’re bluffing.”

“Oh, you are, are you?”

I shrug, with a nonchalance I don’t really feel, but seems to surprise him.

”So what now?” I ask, “more threats? Or do we move to bargaining?”

“What can you possibly have to bargain with?”

“Well, let’s see. In case you haven’t realised it, I’m a diversion. By now I suspect that Matthias has got in touch with some friends of his own to explain how you’re trying to discredit him. Again. After all, I believe it’s common knowledge that you’ve been trying to destroy or assimilate the Abwehr for at least twenty years. How do you intend to prove that this isn’t just another attempt?”

“You’re still the one who is in Berlin, in disguise, and obviously working against Reich interests.”

“Not me. I look exactly like myself. Okay, you might get me on false ID, but that’s a rather lesser charge, I imagine. More to the point, it was Fischer that everyone saw you bring in.”

“He wasn’t seen to leave.”

“Hmm. True. On the other hand…”

At which point I feel Trump energy around me, recognise Matthias’ style, and I mentally thank the Protector of Little Brothers to Immensely Powerful Godlike Beings.

“Ah. That’ll be my lift.”

Methinks this is a trick that’s only going to work once, and by tomorrow the Trump warding on Hradcany’s basement is going to be rather better. Now, though… I reach over to Rupert and grab his sleeve before I let my caller pull us out of there.

“What the fuck?” he says, as he lands in an ungainly heap on what appears to be a very expensive carpet. I do a bit better, and manage to arrive standing, my hand clasping Matthias’. We’re in some kind of boardroom, but the marble theme is continued on the walls.

“Thank you for the assist,” I say to Matthias, almost at the same time as I hear a voice I don’t know chiding “Language, Herr Reichsführer.”

I let go of Matthias’ hand and turn to see Wilhelm König, Kaiser of the Reich, accompanied by someone I only half recognise but feel I should know. Something about him screams “lawyer”. Hoo boy. I’m either in the deepest shit I’ve ever been in, or the Protector of Little Brothers is working overtime on my behalf. From Rupert’s expression, though, if looks could kill, all four of us would already be dead.

Like the gentleman I like to think I am, I reach down to my brother and offer him my hand. If his look had held any more hatred, I would have combusted on the spot, but he takes it and I help him up.

“I’ve been hearing some very disturbing stories, Rupert,” the Kaiser says calmly, looking at my brother, and then gestures towards the boardroom table, “and I’m hoping you can bring some clarity to the matter. Why don’t we all sit?”

I’m happy to comply, if truth be told. I’m feeling pretty wasted, given the combination of running on adrenaline since I got to Berlin, my patent Matthias impersonation, and trying to hold off my brother’s mental assault. Rupert seems less keen, but even he can’t defy the Kaiser in front of witnesses, at least one of whom works for Wilhelm directly. I almost have to admire him for the way he pulls himself up to his full height and meets the Kaiser’s gaze, completely unflinching, before crossing to the table with considerable dignity.

“What sort of stories?” he asks, suspiciously, as he sits down, and rests his elbows on the table, hands joined.

Matthias sits directly opposite him, and I plonk myself down on my co-conspirator’s left. Moments later, the others sit in a couple of seats on the other side of Matthias from me, and I notice the lawyer put a leather attaché on the table beside him. A brief with a briefcase, who knew? More to the point, not a bottle of booze in sight. That’s got to be a first for a de Lacy family gathering, which I was quickly realising this was.

At which point, it occurs to me that Rupert has been isolated, and this suddenly feels like a Board of Inquiry. The irony of the fact that I’m on the accusers’ side, when I have absolutely no business being here at all, almost makes me laugh, but I manage to get my poker face back on in time.

“What stories, you ask,” the Kaiser continues, “well now, let’s see. First, about half an hour ago, Conrad called me to inform me that Matthias had sent his family through to him, as he feared for their safety.”

So the lawyer was the dark man on the other end of the Matthias’s Trump? Interesting. Given his familiarity with the Kaiser, which is obvious from his body language, he should be a good protector for them if whatever line of bullshit Matthias has in mind here doesn’t work.

“As a retired Auslands-Heer General in good standing, he also expressed his concern that this may be another round in the duel that you and Matthias have been engaged in since I appointed him chief of the Abwehr. After all, you’ve never hidden the fact that you feel that his organisation should come under your control, not mine…which is, of course, why that’s never going to happen while I’m still breathing.”

Oh, that sounds like it’s tempting fate.

“Then, a short while later, Matthias contacted me himself to inform me that you were trying to arrest him for treason, and that he believed you had taken a foreign national, the brother of the King of Sable no less, into custody, without any form of official extradition. Conrad, remind me what that’s known as in law.”

“Kidnapping,” answers the lawyer, promptly. He seems uncomfortable with the undercurrents in the room, and I know how he feels. I’m fast coming to the conclusion that this is the current round in an ongoing pissing match I don’t want to be anywhere near. This is going to make a fun after dinner story the next time I see Robert, which strangely I’m more confident is going to happen than I was half an hour ago.

“That’s right,” the Kaiser says with a nod, “kidnapping. Thank you.”

“I was acting on reliable information that…” Rupert begins, but before he can finish the sentence, the Kaiser cuts him off with a gesture.

“I’m still talking, Herr Reichsführer,” he says, with such aplomb that my brother’s feet are metaphorically cut out from under him and he shuts up immediately. “Thank you. As I was saying. Finally, here you are in the company of the said brother of the King of Sable who, it must be said, looks a little the worse for wear. Duke Michael, it’s a pleasure to meet you at last. I apologise for the circumstances. ”

“Um, likewise?” I answer, rather hesitantly, unsure what else to do.

“If you wish to deal with the bruise on your chin, then go ahead. Don’t mind us.”

He offers me a genuine smile, and then turns his attention back to my brother, while I do what he suggested.

“Now you can speak, Rupert,” he continues.

“I was acting on reliable information that Herr Fischer and Herr de Lacy are running the Underground Railroad that helps criminals, shapeshifters and other undesirables escape Reich justice. It is my duty, and that of the Formannehmen Staatspolizei under my command, to use all means necessary to put a halt to such misguided and treasonous activity.”

“That is a very serious accusation,” says the lawyer…Conrad, “I trust you have hard evidence?”

“A set of Trumps.”

“And do you have them on you?”

“They’re in my office,” he lies, smoothly, “perhaps you will allow me to go and get them”.

“And give you time to forge evidence against me?” Matthias asks, “I don’t think so.”

Rupert looks at Matthias, and then back at Conrad, who shrugs apologetically.

“I’m sorry, Rupert. I need to see the evidence for an accusation of this magnitude. Doubly so as it’s against both a known rival of yours and a nobleman of a foreign power.”

“Herr de Lacy came here in disguise, with intent to undertake espionage and treason,” my brother insisted.

Conrad’s keen eyes scan the room again, then rest back on Rupert, and he seems to have a look of genuine sympathy on his face. “I see Duke Michael sitting here, plain as day, with no sign of a disguise. Proof. I need proof to take this forward. Surely you realise that.”

Just at that moment, I almost feel sorry for my brother.

Almost.

“Advocate Berthelmes,” Matthias says, very slowly, “I would also draw your attention to another factor in this case, which may contradict the Reichsführer’s stated aim in this enquiry.”

He stands, and I see him get out a pocket knife and click the blade into place. Then he leans over, grabs Rupert’s wrist, much as my brother did to me earlier and about as easily, then pushes the back of his hand into the table, and makes a deep cut across his palm. Deep enough to damage tendons, if my medical instincts aren’t mistaken. I hope Rupert doesn’t play the piano.

The action is so quick that my brother  doesn’t react immediately, and that delay is enough that both the Kaiser and Conrad Berthelmes see the cut begin to heal. As he realises that, Rupert actually goes white. Matthias has played this one beautifully. A masterclass in pissing on his enemy from a great height.

“You might as well heal up the scab on your neck, as well,” I say to him, helpfully, “I think the cat’s out of the bag.”

“You’re a dead man, kleiner Bruder,” he says, a promise in his tone that scares the Hell out of me, “you and my other fucking brother, both.”

As we watch, both the slash on his hand and the scab on his neck disappear, and he looks with pure, unbridled hatred at Matthias and myself. “I imagine you think you’ve won?”

“I’d be more inclined to argue that you’ve lost, Herr Delatz,” Matthias says, calmly.

“Are none of you going to ask Herr de Lacy here what he’s doing in the Reich?” Rupert asks, incredulous. He looks over to the lawyer, first, but while the other man still looks sympathetic, it’s obvious that he isn’t sure what to say.

“Actually,” says the Kaiser, calmly, “I think I know exactly why he’s here. You see, I’ve had my suspicions about Matthias’ extracurricular activities for a while, and Duke Michael certainly appears to be a probable candidate for the Sable end of those activities, given his reputation as a healer of shapeshifters. Admittedly, I can’t figure out what brought him here today, as such an action would seem to go against their usual caution, but I rather think that both of them are guilty of exactly what you’re accusing them of.”

“But…”

“Still talking, Rupert,” he chides, gently, and my brother gives him another look of pure hatred, “to continue, despite my aforementioned suspicions, given the lack of evidence you have to support your accusations, and the fact that your own status is suddenly in question, I think it’s best to let this drop, don’t you? You have brought your concerns about Matthias’s involvement in this business to my personal attention, and I am completely sure that, as of this moment, his association with that endeavour is ended.”

My co-conspirator looks at the Kaiser, speechless, and now I understand how Wilhelm has managed to hold onto his position for nearly 100 years. He’s actually a match for Rupert, and I like him all the more for it.

“No arguments, Matthias,” Wilhelm says, quietly, “but in return, I give you two things. First, I promise to ensure that the RSHA no longer casts covetous eyes over the Abwehr, on pain of Imperial displeasure; and second…Conrad, do you have that paper I asked you to draw up a couple of years ago?”

The advocate reaches into the briefcase sitting on the table beside him, and pulls out an official looking document. “This one?”

“Yes, that’s it,” he says, with a nod and hands it to Matthias, “this is a Writ of Acknowledgement, which states that I, Wilhelm König, Kaiser of the Reich, acknowledge Matthias Fischer, as my son, born within the Lebensborn system.”

Matthias looks dumbfounded. “I didn’t know.”

“You were never supposed to,” Wilhelm answers, “however, I’m not oblivious to the ambitions of the Reichsführer, so I felt it was worth having some…insurance. Conrad kindly petitioned the Imperial Council for me and here we are.”

He looks at Rupert. “And now for you,” he says, levelly, “Conrad?”

The advocate reaches into his briefcase and pulls out another piece of paper, which he slides across the table. I burst out laughing when I recognise it. In contrast, my brother’s expression turns to thunder when he realises what it is.

“This, dear uncle, in case you don’t recognise it, is a Forstapo registration document,” Wilhelm says, calmly, “Fill it out. If cousin Dirk or my nephew Dominik ask how long you’ve been unregistered, say that you were severely injured in an assassination attempt on Verrien, and that activating your shifting was the only way to save your life. It isn’t particularly far from the truth, after all. Moreover, I believe the two other individuals who were present when the attempt occurred are going to keep their mouths shut, and it’s not as if Oberstgruppenführer Peiper is going to gainsay you, when his own paperwork isn’t up to date. In fact, you might suggest he rectifies that in the near future, as well.”

“How…?” Rupert begins, his expression still stormy.

“Genetics. Something we study a lot in the Reich. I know my father is a shifter, a very good one, as is Duke Michael here. I’ve assumed you are, as well, for a long time, although I had no proof until a few minutes ago. In fact, I suspect that you’re one of very best shifters in the Reich, which I find both delightfully ironic and amusingly hypocritical. At a more basic level than yourself, Joachim and Conrad are my paternal siblings and, as I mentioned earlier, Matthias is my son. All related, all “tainted”.”

“Before you ask, I’ve had this discussion with Wilhelm, too,” Conrad says, with a slightly ironic smile, “both of our paperwork is filed in a very deep cabinet in Forstapo headquarters. The same one yours will be put in shortly.”

“And I’m absolutely sure that Matthias isn’t going to spill the beans, for the same reason” the Kaiser says, looking my former co-conspirator, who nods.

“More to the point,” Wilhelm continues, “I would say that this whole incident is evidence of why we should reconsider our attitude towards shapeshifters, don’t you think? But perhaps that’s a conversation for another day.”

“What do you propose to do with Herr de Lacy,” Rupert asks, still obviously furious.

“Duke Michael,” Wilhelm corrects, mildly, “send him home, I imagine. I have no quarrel with him.”

“Are you going to order him to abandon the…our endeavours as well?” Matthias asks.

“He’s a Royal Duke of a Sovereign nation other than the Reich. I have no right to order him to do anything,” Wilhelm says, with a shrug, “but I do suggest that he leaves Berlin as a matter of urgency, and doesn’t come back unless he has a very good…legitimate, reason.”

He looks at my brother once more. “Cede the round, Rupert.”

Rupert casts a last glance around the table. As has been the case throughout this little board meeting, only Conrad seems to be even remotely sympathetic to his plight.

“Of course, My Kaiser,” he says, through gritted teeth, “I live to serve the Reich.”

“So glad we agree,” answers Wilhelm, “Good night, Herr Reichsführer.”

Accepting his dismissal, we watch as he departs with as much dignity as he can muster, and I realise that throughout this whole conversation, despite the fact that we all knew what we were talking about, the only person who mentioned Mathias’s and my mutual endeavour by name, was Rupert.

Then my nephew looks at the rest of us. “Gentlemen, time to call it an evening, I believe.”

Conrad and Matthias stand almost in tandem, and head for the door together, leaving me with Wilhelm. I thank him, and am just saying my goodbyes when I feel the stirring of a Trump call. Robert.

“I’m sure we’ll meet again,” Wilhelm comments, with a smile, and then he makes his way to the door. I open up the call.

“Michael,” Robert sayds, “are you okay? Iris contacted me. She’s worried.”

“All good,” I answer, and then I see him pause, and I realise he’s looking through my eyes at my surroundings.

“What are you doing in the Imperial Council Room?”

Wait, he recognises the Kaiser’s boardroom?

“Long story, but I was just about to leave. Bring me through?”

He reaches out his hand and I take it and step into the sitting room of my place in the city. Iris is there. I see a look of relief cross her face, and I hug her. There’s no sign of Laurence, but I guess it’s past his bedtime by now.

“Berndt and Marthe?” I ask my wife, as I let her go.

“Upstairs, with their children, in one of the guest suites. Margarete decided to stay in Emden, but she has her mother’s protection. What about Matthias?”

“Smelling like roses, while Rupert’s shovelling shit out of the stables, but we’re going to need to do some recruiting,” I say, and cross to the cabinet to pour myself a G&T, “still, that’s three hours of my life that I never want to go through again.”

I take a drink, and eye my favourite chair longingly. I can feel the adrenaline high I’ve been on subsiding, and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to crash sooner rather than later.

“Go sit. I’ll get one for myself,” Iris says, “Robert?”

“Scotch, if you’ve got it.”

“If?” I say with a chuckle, and watch as Iris pours him a hefty measure of his favourite MacAllan. Then they join me by the window.

“Okay, you two,” Robert says, “it’s confession time. How long have you been running the Underground Railroad?”

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