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Panenske Brezany, 1 July SY103LT

Come the First of July, I was the one who called Rupert at 4pm. Since I’d seen him on Manira, I’d talked to Claire and told her that my brother and I had finally met again. While she wasn’t hugely happy about it personally, in general she also seemed strangely relieved. A discussion with Grey on the subject of renewing my acquaintance with Rupert had also taken place, and even he didn’t think it was an entirely bad idea, having finally appreciated the back-channel our contact represented.

The previous day, I’d also spent several hours with my Prime Minister and his Cabinet, discussing Veils Five and Six. That was a more difficult conversation, but they hadn’t rejected the possibilities I’d talked with Rupert about out of hand (not that I mentioned his name, of course). I’d have to have a word with Wilhelm about them, as well, though, given that he was the actual Kaiser of the Reich, rather than its shadow leader.

“Guten Tag, Robert,” Rupert said, smiling, as he answered my call, “come on through.”

He’d had things laid things out on the terrace beside the French windows into the main sitting room: table, chairs, an awning against the bright July sun and an excellent spread of food. Oh, and a member of the Honour Guard standing beside the window: a man with Reinefarth on the nametag on his uniform and Obersturmbannführer insignia. Ebert’s replacement?

As I arrived and looked around, I breathed in the smell of roses on the air, and looked down over the grounds. The blend of the English garden and the Teutonic precision with which it was execute always struck me. Behind me, I heard the French window open and turned to see a beautiful woman with almost white-blond hair down to her shoulders and stunning blue eyes. Her left hand was holding that of a little boy, who seemed to be walking confidently.

“Papa,” said the toddler, and she let him go and he wrapped his arms around Rupert’s knee. My brother picked him up, then propped him up with one arm, and kissed the woman on the cheek.

“Silvie, this is my brother Robert,” he said, “and these, mein Bruder, are my wife Silvie and our son, Sigmund.”

“Your Majesty,” she said, politely, although she didn’t attempt to curtesy or anything awkward.

“Please, just Robert,” I answered, offering her my hand, and was struck by her firm handshake. I also noticed that she had the signet of a Reich Doctor of Magic on her little finger. “We have a habit of leaving titles at the door when Rupert and I meet.”

“Unless you’re particularly angry with me for some reason,” Rupert said, with a chuckle.

“That one works both ways.”

“Papa?” asked the little boy, and I realised he was staring at me, trying to puzzle out who I was.

“This is your Uncle Robert,” Rupert answered, “say hello.”

“Hello Uncle Robert,” he said, and reached his arms out to me. Rupert nodded, and I took the boy from him. He was a solid little person, but had a very sweet face. Even when Rupert is wearing his usual features, rather than the ones I saw the first time we met (which prove we’re close to identical twins), there’s a similarity between us, especially around the eyes. Sigmund had inherited that in full measure.

“He’s beautiful,” I said to them both, and I felt a distinct lump in my throat as I gently set him back down on the ground.

“Thank you,” Silvie answered, “he’ll be two in a few days.”

“Shall we sit?” Rupert suggested, “I was thinking that you could spend some time getting to know each other a little before I have to take my brother away to discuss some business matters.”

And thus began probably one of the strangest meetings I’d ever had with Rupert. Silvie was smart, funny with a wicked sense of humour, and completely unlike the sort of woman I would have expected my brother to be attracted to. As well as being an expert in investigative and forensic magics, due to her prior career as a Kriminalkommissar in the Kripo, she was very well educated about music: apparently she was cellist, and it sounded like she and Rupert played together on occasion.

Moreover, despite my misgivings about his being brought up in the household of the RFSS, Sigmund was utterly delightful. It had been a long while since I’d spent any time with a two-year old, and it was refreshing seeing him running hither and yon, and trying to encourage Rupert – and me – to play with him. Seeing how they interacted, I became more comfortable that opting not to challenge my brother for custody of my son was the right decision.

When Rupert eventually succumbed and chased off after him down the terrace steps (followed by Obersturmbannführer Reinefarth, who looked resigned to the exercise), Silvie and I moved our chairs around to watch them. I could see genuine love on her face for both her husband and her son.

“Ertti says that you’ve agreed not to fight us for Sigmund,” Silvie said to me, “thank you.”

“How much do you know?” I asked, turning away from my brother towards her.

“Probably more than he realises,” she answered, “he’s told me quite a bit about the relationship between the two of you, but he often forgets that before I was his wife, I was in a detective, and damned good at my job.”

She looked at my expression and smiled. “You’re surprised.”

“Somewhat.”

“I imagine you’ve always thought that all he wanted in a lover was a pliable body, no brains required, and no questions asked…no, don’t bother to answer that, I can tell I’m right.”

I couldn’t really even deny it, as she was spot on.

“There’s more to him than that,” she continued, “yes, the sort of woman you have in mind would appeal to him as a one-night stand, of which I’m well aware that there have been many. But they could never be a equal partner.”

“The whole concept of Rupert having an equal partner is still one I’m getting used to,” I commented.

“Really?” she said, surprised, “while I like to think I fit that description, I’m certainly not the first. Have you never heard of Traudl Lange?”

“The name’s familiar. She was one of the early SS Knights, if I remember rightly.”

“The very first. She helped him to set up the Order, and was its first Priestess. As I understand it, she came from Outside…from wherever it was that you originally hale from, before Ertti was…how did he put it…manifested?”

He’d actually phrased it like that to her?

“She was his first lover, and his first love. They were well matched, from what I’ve learned of her, and she most certainly wasn’t just a pliable body. She was his partner and his equal. Ruthless, driven, linked in the cause of establishing the Reich and the SS within it. They were together for about twenty years. They were even married in the eyes of the SS, if not the Reich Imperial Council. She set the standard for the kind of woman he can respect as a partner.”

“He never even mentioned her to me.”

“I suppose there’s no reason why he would have done,” she says after a moment’s consideration, “I get the impression that your private lives didn’t come up very often in your conversations, even before you were estranged.”

“No,” I answered, although talking about my brother’s love life with his wife wasn’t exactly comfortable, either, “you’re the first person he cares for that he’s ever introduced me to.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. He finds it hard to show weakness or vulnerability, and even harder to trust.”

“So why mention Traudl?”

“Because, in the end, it was the fact that they were unable to have children that led them to separate. She later married again, and had a daughter called Sophia. From what he’s said, that was when he realised that it was him who was unable to have children by natural means, not her, and it hurt him. That’s why your decision to let him have custody of Sigmund was so important. To both of us. But I find myself wondering why you made it.”

“That’s not the easiest of questions to answer…but for some very complicated reasons, I realised that maybe he needed to be a father. That perhaps it was the next step he needed to take in his evolution.”

“Evolution from what? The 2D manifestation of everything that you hated about yourself that you first envisaged, to what he is now: a living, breathing, thinking being, with his own loves, hates, friendships and motivations?”

“He really has told you a lot,” I answered, startled at her perception.

“I listen,” she answered, with a smile, “I’m curious. Did you really believe that was all he was?”

“For a long time, yes, I’m ashamed to say,” I admitted.

I looked over at where my oh so straitlaced brother was helping Sigmund fly a paper plane, sheer joy on both of their faces. Reinefarth was standing nearby, always on guard. And yet, even as recently as Verrien, he’d seemed content to wear the role I’d assigned him: I particularly remembered our conversation, on that occasion (before the whole sorry throat-cutting incident) on whether he was able to care. Had I always misjudged him? From what Silvie had said about his relationship with Traudl, maybe there really had been more to him than I realised from the very start, but with me he’d maintained the façade he thought I expected.

“One of the first rules of policework. First impressions are important, but don’t let them inform your entire outlook on a case. There’s always more below the surface.”

“Fair,” I answered, with a chuckle, “so how did you two meet?”

“It was on a murder case about ten years ago. I was never satisfied with its conclusion, notably the suspect presented to me, and we clashed on the subject.”

“You argued with him to his face?”

“Very loudly, in the middle of the squad room,” she said, with a chuckle, “and I think that was when he first thought I might be worth his effort. Even then, it wasn’t until several months later that we became lovers. Before we married, I enjoyed the attention but I wasn’t so naïve as to believe that our relationship would last, so I was surprised when he asked me to be his wife.

When he told me that he wanted me to be the mother of his child, to be fertilised in vitro and then carried to term, I came to the obvious conclusion: that the only reason he had married me was to give him a legitimate heir in the eyes of the Imperial Council. Nothing more. But I could understand a business arrangement when I heard one, and I agreed to be the donating mother and carry the child. After all, being in the RFSS’s good books seemed to be a wise move, and being his wife gives me a certain amount of prestige.”

“Do you still believe that this is a business arrangement?”

“No. I’m not even sure it was true initially – I may have been guilty of first impressions, myself – but since Sigmund was born, the change has been more obvious. I wasn’t sure what kind of father he’d be, given his reputation, but…well, you’ve seen them together. What do you think?”

“He certainly seems to have taken to the role,” I admitted, “do you love him?”

“Yes,” she answered, without hesitation, “and for his part, I believe he cares deeply for me. Does he love me? I’m not sure, but I know he loves our son.”

“He’s lucky to have you.”

“Or perhaps, I’m lucky to have him,” she answered with a shrug, and turned back towards where Rupert and Sigmund were. The little boy was obviously getting tired, and I could tell that my brother was on the point of bringing their game to an end.

“I’m glad I made the decision I did,” I answered, then reached into my pocket and got out my Trump, which I handed to her, “But please, if anything changes. If my brother gets bored of his new role, or if he ever gives you reason to be afraid of him, tell me.”

“I don’t believe he will,” she answered, “but I will remember. Thank you.”

Over on the lawn, Rupert picked up Sigmund and came back to us.

“I hope you two have had the chance to get to know each other,” he said.

“We have,” I answered, as Silvie stood up and took the boy from my brother.

“It’s time for his nap,” she commented, “and I know that you have business to discuss. Robert, it was good to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

“Sigmund. Say goodbye to your uncle,” she said to her son. He looked at me sleepily, then lifted his hand – his left, I noticed, like Rupert and I – and waved. I squeezed it gently to say goodbye. Then he put his head on her shoulder, and his eyes closed.

“I’ll see you at dinner,” Rupert said, and gave her a kiss on the cheek before she headed inside. He watched her go for a few seconds, and then returned to the table. He rang a bell and asked a servant to bring us a fresh pot of coffee.

“Well?” he said, once our cups had been refilled, and we were seated once more.

“I like her,” I answered, “I really do.”

He smiled, and I could tell he was pleased with my approval.

“She said you met ten years ago, on a murder case. Chairman Urs, by any chance?”

“As it happens. Our first conversation was a disagreement over the identity of the person who confessed to the crime compared to that of the person who actually did it. It took some persuading to convince her to let matters drop…none of it horizontal, before you ask. I was impressed by her. After that, we occasionally bumped into each other at concerts, and I finally asked her to dinner. The rest, no doubt, you can figure out.”

“I will admit, when you said that you thought Sigmund needed his Uncle Robert in his life, I didn’t expect you to let me meet him this quickly.”

“In truth, I wasn’t sure myself, but in the whole new spirit of co-operation…”

“Thank you. You seem happy.”

“I do believe I am,” he said, “maybe the young woman was right about that, after all.”

“I’m glad.”

We made small talk over coffee for a few minutes, and then he got to his feet.

“Walk with me. We need to discuss business.”

I drained my cup and stood to join him, with Reinefarth moving into position in case he was needed. We headed down from the terrace and into the gardens, and he led me through the rose garden and into a grove of trees to one side of the lawn. Ash, birch and rowan, I noticed, and I felt wards as we crossed the boundary. This was some kind of working space, although I didn’t detect any sign that it had ever been used for the darker rites that were held at the Wewelsburg. In the centre was a ruin – or maybe mock ruin – within which stone benches were set into the walls. It was strangely quiet, with no birdsong. I also noticed that without being asked, Reinefarth had stayed outside the wards.

“What is this place?”

“Somewhere private, where we can talk, and where I cannot come to harm,”

“Hence your shadow waiting at the boundary? Ebert’s successor?”

“Yes. I wish I knew what had happened to the bodies of Lukas and his compatriot who died for me on Manira, though. They appear to have disappeared when you rebuilt Martyr’s Island. I appointed Walter as his replacement a couple of days after we did our work there. Thankfully, he likes small children – he has a wife and son of his own.”

“How do they feel about his new job?”

“Probably not happy, but I don’t go out of my way to get members of the Honour Guard killed. That would make recruitment rather difficult. Do you want to conjure up a bottle of whisky and some glasses…I know you seem to be able to do that on a whim, while all I come up with is schnapps.”

I concentrated for a moment, and there they were.

“Excellent.”

He poured, handed me a glass, took a drink from his own and then sat down on one of the benches. I did the same, and we savoured both the Scotch and the silence.

“The Lighthouse Data,” he said, finally.

“Yes.”

“Action points. One, was Veil 50 the destination of the energy from the Maniran Broken Pattern? Have you had a chance to look into that?”

“No. I’ve spent most of the last three days talking to my government about the agreement we discussed for Veils Five and Six. Have you spoken with Wilhelm?”

“We had dinner last night. It was surprisingly cordial.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Did he have a view?”

“He is going to put our partition suggestion to his Cabinet.”

“It’s a good start,” I commented, “You’re right, we do need to go and look at Veil 50 at some point. For you, though, I’d suggest that first thing you need to do is talk to Roland, and perhaps Rallissa. After our initial miscommunication on Verrien, I believe we need to be on the same page about what was, and what will be, and what could be. Rallissa is the way to do that. Plus, Roland is the one you need to talk to about walking the Aurellis Logrus.”

“And why would I wish to do that?”

“Other than to keep up with Michael and I?”

“A valid point.”

“I think it would do you good.”

“I thought becoming an Aurellian God was the last thing you wanted me to do.”

“The last thing I wanted was for you to be God of Communications, true, but there are other Aspects, and in the old timeline, the one you were originally given was Protection.”

“Protection of whom?”

“It was on the basis of the Reich, I always believed. After all, isn’t that in the SS Oath?”

“Yes. But do you want the Reich to be protected by an Aurellian God?”

“I guess that’s why you were given the Aspect…but it certainly wasn’t your entire remit. You need to protect anyone who asks you…even me. But that’s what gives you an interesting outlook on life. Plus, it expands your horizons somewhat, given that if people pray to you, you actually have to help them.”

“That sounds aggravating.”

“It can also be rewarding, if you let it be. It’s the payment for whatever abilities your particular aspect gives you.”

“Like ALB’s ability to Trump around like Brand after the Font of the Four Worlds?”

“ALB?”

“Annoying Little Brother.”

I shook my head.

“You’re going to have to get over that eventually.”

“No, I don’t believe I do,” he answered, and it was hard to tell if he was serious.

“You know, one of his Aspects came from you.”

“What, Communications? If it did, it certainly wasn’t by my choice.”

“No, the other one…sometimes Aurellian Gods pick up a secondary responsibility, so I have both Teaching and Investigation.”

“As if he needs more than one, given the power that being God of Trumps gives him.”

“The Logrus obviously thought he did. Protector of Lesser Siblings to Immensely Powerful Godlike Beings – apparently it felt ‘Little Brothers’ was too restrictive an audience.”

Rupert looked at me for a moment as he processed that, and then burst out into genuine laughter.

“I admit it,” he said, a little while later, “that’s strangely entertaining. So the Aurellian Logrus has a sense of humour?”

“At times it seems to,” I answered, “going back to Roland, though, I believe that improving the links between our end of the universe and his may be useful as the threats and opportunities from the Lighthouse Data work their way through. We still don’t know what’s going to happen with the Machine and the Technocracy, or what the Hell the Brotherhood might do in Veil 50, but co-ordinating our efforts with Roland’s people might help.”

“You’ve pretty much given up on the idea of keeping things unchanged, haven’t you,” Rupert commented.

“It’s more that I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no point trying to shut the stable door now the horse has well and truly bolted. What we’ve done so far has brought various things forward, and I suspect that doing that in a controlled manner may be more successful at not destroying everything we know than adhering to a past that’s already changed. On the subject of which…have you tried to go Outside lately.”

“Outside?”

“Back to the multiverse we started out in.”

“I’ve had no reason to.”

“I thought you always enjoyed being the Earl of Walsingham in Thelbane.”

“I’ve had other more pressing things to worry about since the young woman came to visit us.”

“I suppose you have,” I conceded, “well, while you and I were in our…disagreement phase…Roland and I brought his Logrus Inside, which has led to the forming of a single unit. We did it with the foreknowledge that in the old timeline, this led to the ripple effect that ultimately needed to be patched with the Technocracy/Machine. We hoped that bringing it in earlier, and knowing the risk, might avoid that problem.”

“Even as a way of trying to avoid Andrew’s bastard Power being required, and by extension, getting the Machine, that seems like a major change. Why didn’t you mention it when we were talking in your office a couple of weeks ago, or on Manira.“

“We still don’t know if it’ll work in perpetuity, although it’s been five years now, and it’s looking hopeful. If we’re wrong, though, or time decides to fight back, then the whole question of what should be Created in the Centre will become more relevant. In the meantime, having formed the “Inside”, as it were, with the exception of Pattern and Logrus transports, we’re in our own little bubble. As a result, if we ever want to re-establish links with the wider multiverse, then the Aurellis Transport System is one way to do it.”

“That’s the ‘Broken’ version of Roland’s Power?”

“Yes. I’ve spoken to Roland about the possibility of deploying it in Sable already, and we’re considering the best way of implementing it.”

“Did the Reich having access to it come up at all in your discussions?”

“Only in passing, for one major reason…it needs Pilots, and Pilots need to be shapeshifters. Sable has those in abundance. The Reich…not so much.”

“I suppose not.”

“I would be willing to bet money on the fact Roland would like the issue of the treatment of shifters at least considered before he gave the Reich access. I know that there is willingness in Imperial circles to address that, or Wilhelm wouldn’t have convened the Berthelmes Commission a few years ago, but I’ve not heard any more about it, though.”

“The policy of the Forstapo is not to co-operate,” Rupert answered, “indeed, they’ve taken the fact that the subject has even come up very personally, and are less than impressed about my personal status in that regard. Thus I am not always welcome in their discussions.”

“If they disagree with you, I would have thought you’d just replace the leadership. It comes directly under your purview, after all.”

“Johan Hartwin has served faithfully as head of Amt. 8 for some years, and for the most part does a good job. While I have something of a reputation for caprice, and randomly removing my department heads on what some people consider a whim, behind the scenes, there has always been a reason. Hartwin hasn’t given that to me, yet, albeit that he’s skating on thin ice. The trouble is, if I were to remove him, Dirk Weber would be his natural successor, and he is even more fanatical on the subject than Hartwin is, for reasons I’ve never understood. My future choice to take over the reins is far from ready.”

“Young Gerlinde, presumably.”

He nodded.

“Is there anything to stop you, personally, publicly agreeing to co-operate with the Commission. Then, if Hartwin and Weber disagree or try to gainsay you, you have firmer grounds to get rid of them both.”

“You’ve got better at thinking outside the box over the years,” he said, grudgingly.

“Well, bear in mind that if the Reich could demonstrate that it is even seriously changes to its treatment of shifters, it’s possible that Roland might agree to connect it to the ATS, but not necessarily using native Reich pilots. At least until you can persuade your subordinates that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.”

“Which are?”

“The biggest one I can think of is keeping up with the Joneses,” I answered, “or phrased more politically, if Sable has access to it but the Reich doesn’t, then the Reich is at a serious disadvantage, especially given that even allowing for the changes in Veils Five and Six, the Reich’s territory is more spread out than Sable’s. You could even sweeten the deal by suggesting using Forstapo officers as the first native Pilots, but make sure they’re controlled by someone you trust.”

“I see where you’re going, I think. Give command of the Reich ATS system to Dominik…it might work.”

“I may not like him, but you seem to trust him.”

“Hmm. It might work,” he mused, “but still, when all is said and done, why do you consider the ATS a priority, when there are other problems out there for us to solve?”

“It goes back to what I said about the Outside. If we want either of our realms to have relatively unfettered access to our old multiverse, then it would be of benefit if we both had a Gateway world on the Outside. I’m sure you saw mention of Murray in the Messenger’s memories. In the other timeline, Murray was Sable’s Gateway world, and was founded about ten years from now.”

“I don’t recall much in her thoughts about the Reich having an equivalent.”

“It didn’t, until much later. Fifty years or so. And ironically, when it did acquire one, it only came about because you and Delwin tried to do something bonkers which involved building mini-Patterns, and went about as well as many of Delwin’s projects. I had to step in and bail you out. The place was called Sanguine.”

“So?”

“So, I propose that you and I work together to build the Gateways. None of Delwin’s weird bollocks. Just casting two new iterations of our Pattern, one for you and one for me. After all, would you rather build a Gateway intentionally, and on an equal footing with Sable, or wait for Delwin to lead you down what could be an immensely dangerous rabbit hole, and have to ask me to bail you out.”

“Hmm. It is a valid point,” he conceded.

“The Gateways, we can deal with ourselves, if this appeals to you, whether or not you take the next step. You and Wilhelm should meet Roland together and talk through the ATS side of things, though.”

“I’ll take that under advisement. So, what other world-shattering things do we need to consider?”

“I think we’ve covered the major ones for now. We can’t go any further with planning for the Technocracy and the Machine until we discover if time is determined for them to exist somehow, and even whether a Centre Power is going to be needed. Scouting to Veil 50 is important – but I’m guessing not today?”

“No, I should get back to Silvie and Sigmund. But perhaps in a few days.”

“Give me a call when it’s convenient. And then I’d suggest building the Gateways as the second priority. Beyond that, while I have thoughts, it would be best if we don’t discuss them until you’ve seen Rallissa, and maybe walked the Aurellis. There’s no point raising issues, if you don’t agree with me that they are issues.”

“You obviously have one or two particular ones of those in mind.”

“Yes, but they’ll be hard to discuss until you’re on the same page as I am.”

“Fine. In that case, I’ll make an appointment to see Roland in the next few days.”

“I don’t think you’ll regret it.”

“Time alone will tell on that one. Then we can visit Veil 50 and see what we can find. I’d also like to look at the Centre area, to get a feel for it.”

“That makes sense,” I agreed, “with respect to our Gateways, I’d suggest we working things out together over the next…shall we say four or five months…with a view to building them by the end of this year.”

“You were the one who wanted to lock us away in the first place.”

“And now I’m wondering if I was mistaken. I’ve come to the conclusion that contact should be possible, without being dragged back into our Family’s squabbles. And if it doesn’t work…well, using Gateways and the ATS, we should be able to stop them coming here to bother us. They can leave a message at our respective doors and we can decide if we deign to answer.”

“You’ve become more cynical, mein Bruder.”

“Only with respect to the Outside.”

“I suppose it’s a start,” he said, with a chuckle.

“I think this has been fruitful, but, as you said, you need to get home.”

“Silvie may be wondering where we are, and I’m sure that Walter is, too.”

We downed what was left in our glasses, and I handed Rupert the bottle, which he took with amusement. Then I fell into step beside him as he headed back towards the boundary. Reinefarth was still waiting patiently for us.

“I’ll be in touch in a few days,” Rupert said, offering me his hand once we were back in the woodland. I could hear that the birds were singing around us once more.

“Until then,” I answered. Then, with a nod to Reinefarth, which he returned half-heartedly, I brought a Trump of my office to mind, and headed back to the Sable courtyard where, as always, Grey was waiting for my safe return.