Train of Thought 10
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Rostock/Sable Palace, 30 November SY123LT
As I’ve mentioned before, my father had spent a couple of years in the Reich, back in RY115-117, during which we had begun to research the practicalities of his theory that if a proto-Pattern construct could be built, it could be a very powerful source of energy. The Reich Energy Research Institute was founded to allow us to explore his theories, and by the time I was looking to recruit Joscelin Kennard, the RERI had been in operation for five years or so, and the Kaiserin Elsa had been launched carrying the first-fruits of our labours.
The battery systems on the Elsa were good, but I realised that they could be better, which as I’m sure you can realise, was why I wanted to get hold of Kennard and his supply of Godstone in the first place, and why I went to all the trouble I bored you with in my essay on the Origins of the Rostock Massacre.
Given their very specific requirements, proto-Patterns weren’t the only area the RERI facility worked on to find better and more efficient sources of energy. While I worked primarily with Kennard in Lab #1 (when I had the time), others were studying the Godstone we now had ample samples of, and potential ways to empower its storage. We even had Standartenführer Latz, a mech-tech mage in her own right and well-suited for the job, putting some consideration into whether Delwin’s blood magic approach had any merit at all.
All was going well until somehow, my least favourite nephew found out where we were and what we were doing. I suspect he found out via his bastard Creation, and, of course, he jumped to the least favourable conclusion about our activities that he could. In the final analysis, I suppose the whys and wherefores of how he learned about the RERI don’t really matter, as they don’t change the fact that Andrew the Butcher murdered over a million people in his zeal to kill just one.
I’d actually managed to get home to Paneneske Brezany on time for once on the evening of 30 November 123. We were coming into the time of the shortest days and the run-up to the Year-End Festival, and a loving family and a warm hearth have a lot of appeal at that time of the year. We’d finished a rare family dinner, my son had been put to bed by the nanny and I was reading to him, when I felt a Trump call. I opened up the link, and the first thing I heard was explosions and gunfire. The non sequitur was startling.
“Herr Reichsführer,” Standartenführer Latz said, as I answered, and she looked unusually panicked, “we need help.”
I put down the book (a rather sanitised version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales – after all, Berthold was only six), and walked out of my son’s bedroom, calling to Silvie as I went.
“Report!” I said down the link to Helena-Maria.
“The RERI facility has been breached. They’re going for the labs.”
I cursed roundly at that. Not least because, being in a Pocket Shadow, it shouldn’t have even been possible to breach the facility. Also, I could distinctly hear machine gun fire in the background. Except, machine guns don’t work on Magica Superior by mutual agreement between myself and Robert, so how the Hell were they working now?
“Who are they?”
“I don’t know, Herr Reichsführer. I don’t recognise the uniforms. Sir, please…”
“Five minutes. I’ll be there in five minutes,” I answered, and cut the call. By then, Silvie had arrived.
“What is it, Ertti?”
“I have to go, and I could be late. I’ll sleep at the Castle tonight.”
“Of course, my love.”
“Say goodnight to Berthold for me.”
“I will. Be safe.”
“I’ll try my best,” I answered, kissing her goodbye, and then headed off down the corridor.
As I walked, I Trumped Walter Reinefarth and ordered him to assemble the on-duty Honour Guard in the hall. Knowing time was of the essence, I didn’t bother changing out of the civvies I’d put on when I arrived home. I just grabbed my sidearm and holster from my office, clipped my Honour Dagger to my belt, and joined Reinefarth and his team downstairs.
“What is it, Herr Reichsführer?” Reinefarth asked as I strode over to join him.
“The RERI facility has been breached,” I replied, “reinforce the wards on the Guard, and then we’re moving.”
Like the good little soldier he was, he didn’t argue. Plus, being one of my Priests of Protection, the wards he put around his people were a step above the norm. I did likewise, and then I brought Helena-Maria’s Trump to mind. Seconds later, she opened the call. Around her, I could see smoke and dust in the air, but before I could say anything, or even offer her my hand, there was another explosion, a burst of pain from my protégé, and the link broke. I tried to raise her again, but there was nothing. The card wasn’t warm, but neither was she answering.
Cursing, I brought Kennard’s image to mind and tried to connect.
“Herr Reichsführer?” he said as he answered. I could see he was in Lab #1, and even he looked concerned.
“Bring us through.”
He extended his hand, and I sent the Guard ahead of me, then stepped through myself.
The first thing I noticed was that we weren’t in a Pocket Shadow any more. Someone had yanked the RERI back into “normal” space. The list of people who were able to do that was very short. Robert was at the top of it, but this didn’t seem like his modus operandi, given the machine gun fire that was even clearer now. Ditto Roland. Ditto the Sisters. Which left either Andrew or his Counterpart. Having never personally pissed off Andreas Delatz, this time around at least, that narrowed the field to one.
Another explosion rocked the building almost as soon as we arrived, and once again I could hear the chattering of light machine guns, interspersed with bold action rifles and handguns. If anyone could get bloody machine guns working on Magica Superior, of course it would be my least favourite nephew. Being at the wrong end of a demonstration of asymmetric warfare is never a good thing, and I knew that we were on the wrong end of this one.
“Report, Standartenführer Kennard.”
“They hit about ten minutes ago,” he answered, “I was here when I felt the first explosions. We’ve been working to keep the proto-Pattern construct stable ever since.”
“Any idea of the identity of the attackers?”
I turned and looked at Reinefarth. “I need information.”
“Yes, sir,” he answered, then turned to the others, “Bonner, Taube, Falk. Go and find out what the Hell is going on. Report back as soon as you have the information. Stark, Raskob, stay here with me and the boss.”
A round of sharp salutes later, and the three of them were gone.
At that point, I took a moment to look around Lab #1. As well as Kennard, I saw two of the lab techs, neither of whom looked particularly happy to be there, but who were watching the control panels like hawks. Then I saw a look of fear cross the face of the one on the left.
“Sirs,” he said, “the harmonic readings are moving more and more out of kilter.”
I looked at Kennard, and we started moving, just in time to be rocked on our feet by another crash. The whole floor seemed to shake with that one.
“Bloody Hell,” Kennard commented, “that’s the biggest yet. They’re getting closer.”
“Reinefarth, guard the door,” I ordered.
He was moving in that direction, when he stopped to answer his comms, but gestured for Stark and Taube to keep moving. His subordinates started dragging cabinets across the floor to barricade the entrance to the lab, and then stood back, weapons at the ready, covering the door. Just for good measure, I threw a quick ward in that direction, to try to strengthen it further.
Then what Kennard had said registered.
“What do you mean, they’re getting closer?”
“The explosions. They’ve been converging steadily in this direction. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they had the plans of the building.”
I was liking this less and less.
“Sir, that was Falk,” Reinefarth said, after a moment, “They’ve met up with Sturmbannführer Holzmann, who reports that Standartenführer Latz has been taken prisoner by the attackers. They still haven’t managed to ID the uniforms.”
“Get him to describe them.”
Then the whole building shook again, and ominous-looking cracks appeared in walls facing the corridor. At which point I became aware of a high-pitched whine that I hadn’t heard before.
“Sir, the imbalance is getting worse,” Kennard said, urgently, “we need shut it down. The usual procedure is going to take too long. Can you help me?”
Cursing roundly, I crossed to where he was standing, to take a look for myself.
“Herr Reichsführer,” Reinefarth said, almost at the same time, while Stark and Roskob remained alert near the door, “Falk reports dark blue uniforms, Sable-style rank insignia, but a national badge of a torch and crossed swords.”
Well fuck. That confirmed my earlier suspicion.
“Technocracy troops,” I informed him, and he relayed the message.
I hadn’t seen them in action, but I knew from experience from his Vindex days that if my LFN had anything to do with them, they’d be damned good. I would have preferred it to be New Oceania forces. They were tough, and not entirely human, but at least they didn’t hate me personally. I took a moment to reinforce my own wards even further, as well as Kennard’s, then turned to the problem at hand.
“Let’s get to it,” I said to Kennard, while Reinefarth put himself between us and Stark and Roskob, all three of them aimed at the door.
The physics of proto-Patterns are very delicate, and at that point, relatively early in their study, the process was more hit and miss than it would be later, once I was more familiar with the technology. Everything needed to be in exact balance, and the equipment in exactly the right positions relative to each other, or they would start setting up interference patterns, not unlike the larger-scale version that we had seen at the Centre before Elementis was created. Kennard and the techs were right: the effects of the explosions hitting the building and the subsequent upheavals, had knocked them out of kilter.
Knowing there wasn’t anything else I could do, we set to work, trying to shut the experiment down safely. The trouble was, even cutting what corners we could, which wasn’t many, it was probably going to take ten minutes. The next explosion, a couple of minutes later, was outside the door, and looking up, I could see cracks extending across the ceiling, and a chunk of masonry detached itself to hit the floor. More to the point, that one hadn’t sounded like a magical explosion, so he was bringing advanced physical explosives to bear, even though, like the machine guns, nothing that powerful ought to work here. The tech level was usually capped at dynamite. I could also tell that the wards on the door had reduced in efficiency, and I didn’t have time to try to reinforce them.
We weren’t going to have ten minutes, and while I really didn’t like the idea of having my back to the attack, I needed to be watching the construct as we shut it down.
Then I clearly heard a far too familiar voice order “Another charge! If our target is on the premises, as our prisoner suggested, he’s going to be in there!”
Fucking Andrew was here in person. Yes, he’d had to have been the one who tore down the Pocket Shadow, but for some reason I hadn’t expected him to actually lead the attack once the RERI was breached. Thinking about it now, that was naïve of me.
Kennard and I redoubled our efforts, and when there wasn’t another explosion for a couple of minutes, I thought we might make it. I was wrong. When the next charge went off, the doors blew back, only stopped from flying through the air and crushing Stark and Roskob, by the cabinets. As soon as they could see our attackers, the two Guards opened fire, but they’d barely got off a couple of rounds each before they were cut down by machine gun fire. Then, the breaching party were pushing aside the cabinets and forcing their way in.
“Keep working,” I ordered Kennard, “I’ll try to protect you.”
I threw up a set of general barrier wards between myself and the proto-Pattern construct, and turned to face the breachers. As I did, Reinefarth stepped forward and opened fire, but like his subordinates, he was met by machine gun fire, and was knocked back as the impacts hit him. He fell limp at my feet. I couldn’t immediately see any blood, and I hoped that his wards had held.
And there he was. My psychopathic nephew, in the flesh.
“Hello, Uncle Rupert,” he said, standing in the doorway, looking directly at me, “what an unpleasant surprise.”
He was wearing a helmet and body armour that was well up the tech-scale from anything we had, and had a Bren gun was cradled in his arms. The ten people flanking him were similarly attired, and none of them seemed to have suffered much more than scratches thus far. I recognised one of them, Joachim Berger, the youngest child of my late lover, Traudl Lange and the man she married after me. His presence at my LFN’s side proved something that I’d suspected for a long time: that Berger had been responsible for Andrew’s escape from my custody, back in ‘79.
“Andrew,” I said, trying to keep my voice as level as possible, “Joachim.”
At that point, I felt Kennard turn away from the proto-Pattern construct, towards his uncle. I saw his puzzled expression as he recognised him, and before I could tell him to stop, he’d stepped through the barrier wards. Moving faster than I would have thought possible – far faster than me – my psychopathic nephew fired a burst from the Bren straight into Kennard’s face. Not all the bullets hit, but he went down with a look of honest surprise on what remained of his face.
“What the fuck?” I said, staring first at Kennard and then at Andrew in shock. As I did, I noticed that Berger also seemed surprised at what his boss had done.
And, of course, that also meant that neither myself nor Kennard were working on the construct any more.
“Keep going,” I yelled at the techs, hoping that they could help, but knowing as I shouted that they couldn’t. It needed either myself or Kennard manipulating the Pattern directly while they secured the containment.
“To be honest, dear uncle, I never expected to find you here,” Andrew answered, as he coldly and deliberately switched the magazine in the Bren and aimed at me, and I could see a fanatical gleam in his eyes, “I came for him.”
“Why? What the Hell had he ever done to you? I thought you were friends.”
“Emphasis on ‘were’,” he answered, “I’ve suspected that he was too dangerous to live for a long time, but when I heard he’d come to work for you, then I’m afraid he just had to go. A bit of a shame. I don’t particularly like killing relatives…but I’ll make exceptions if I have to, and two of them are in this very room.”
Then I heard the whining from behind me, and I knew the construct was spooling out of control. Even worse, I had no idea how long it would be until it overloaded and the energy contained within it was released.
“For fuck’s sake, you asshole. You have no idea what you’re messing with. Let me shut this down, or it’s going to blow, and when it does, it’s going to kill all of us. Including you and me.”
“What is it? Some kind of uber-weapon?”
“An experimental power source. A very dangerous one.”
“Nope, I don’t believe you,” he said, raising the Bren to cover me, “Walters, Cannon, Farley, grenades. Target the construct. If my bastard uncle is that interested in it, it needs to be destroyed.”
“Don’t be a fucking idiot,” I said, bringing a forked lightning spell to mind, just in case he was that crazy, “damage it any further and you’ll be releasing a significant proportion of the power of a bloody Pattern. It’s going to destroy this whole place unless I can shut it down.”
“Nope. Still don’t believe you.”
Beside him, some of his other men also brought up their weapons. Not Berger, though, I noticed. He looked about as horrified as I felt, which made me wonder if he was the only sane one of the bunch.
“Screw you, Uncle Rupert,” he answered, then ordered, “now.”
I launched my spell at them just as the first two grenades were lobbed high in my direction. The explosives hit the barrier wards behind me, knocking me forwards, straight into the burst of Bren fire from Robert’s first-born psychopath, whose finger was locked on the trigger of his Bren as he went down. Then the third grenade followed suit, and a huge chunk of the ceiling detached and fell into the guts of the construct, while the guns kept firing.
I landed on my stomach, which hurt like Hell and told me that the bullets had cracked ribs. Above me, I could still hear machine gun fire, but it didn’t seem particularly targeted. I heard the techs scream and the whining from the construct became deafening. At which point, the first licks of Pattern energy breached containment to burn my legs, and I knew that nothing could stop what was about to happen.
“What the Hell is that thing?” I heard someone say, followed by “Scheisse! Rückzug! Rückzug!…Full recall, all forces, full recall…”
I didn’t wait to see what happened next. I couldn’t get to Stark and Roskob, but Reinefarth and Kennard were just within my reach. I brought a Trump of the medical facility in the SS-Schule Haus to mind, then grabbed hold of both them, and we transferred. As we disappeared, I felt the link being almost overloaded by a huge burst of Pattern energy as the construct blew. Thankfully, I had the strength of will to keep us focused on our destination, otherwise we would have been as dead as everyone else in the RERI.
We landed at the T-port, just inside the front door, and I started yelling for help. As I heaved myself up into a sitting position, I could feel every one of the five broken ribs I’d suffered from the concussion impact of the machine gun burst. Plus my ears were ringing from close proximity to the grenades going off. Then I looked down and saw that beneath the layer of concrete dust, my jeans had been burned away below the knees, leaving blistering, but thankfully nothing more. It hurt like the devil, but my wards had held long enough, even against the Pattern energy, to avoid my legs being burned to stumps.
The trauma team arrived within thirty seconds. I couldn’t really hear what they were saying, but I tried to make it clear that they should assist my companions first. Gurneys were brought, and Reinefarth and Kennard were wheeled away. At that point, one of the orderlies reached down to help me to my feet. I complied slowly: I was shaking as I did, and my balance was off, but at least my legs held my weight.
He said something else, but I couldn’t really make it out, so he gestured for one of his people to bring another gurney. I shook my head – another mistake, but I caught myself before I fell – and instead indicated towards one of the triage rooms. Not sure what else to do, he put my arm around his shoulder, and supported me while I limped over to the room I’d indicated. I was probably more grateful than I should have been when he sat me down on the side of the bed.
This time I could hear him, albeit that it sounded like I was underwater.
“Sir, do you want me to contact Gruppenführer Gerlinde?”
Obviously, he remembered the old standing orders about bringing in Gerlinde whenever I turned up at the Schule Haus hospital leaking bodily fluids. Sadly, the fact that such a protocol exists indicates that it had happened for more often than it should, given my position in upper management. Still, while those instructions dated from before I was registered with the Forstapo (one of the few things I could actually thank my annoying little brother for), I couldn’t deny that my protégé’s help might be useful.
“Please, then help my companions. Leave the door open, so he can find me.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, promptly, and stepped outside to make a phone call, before heading deeper into the facility. I put my sidearm and Honour Dagger on the table next to the bed, and then started to see what I could do to make myself feel a bit more human.
Gerlinde arrived about ten minutes later. By then, I’d restored equilibrium to my ears and fixed the drum that had burst, and was working on the burns, as that was easier than the broken bones. He was out of uniform as well, I noticed, although his Pilot’s wings were on the collar of his shirt.
“I never took you for a shorts man, sir,” he said, with a chuckle, as he shut the door behind him.
“Not funny, Gerlinde,” I snapped.
Given his position as the oldest product from the time of my LFN’s incarceration, I give him a certain amount of leeway, but right then I wasn’t in the mood. He took one look at the probably murderous expression on my face, and was suddenly all business.
“I’m sorry, Herr Reichführer,” he answered, promptly, then looked around the room and saw what was missing, “where are the Honour Guard?”
“The ones that were on duty? Dead, probably, with the possible exception of Walter Reinefarth. His shields should have held up, but I don’t know for sure. He’s down the corridor. Kennard, too.”
“Do you want me to contact Hauptsturmführer Rutger? Or the Herzogin?”
Johannes Rutger is Reinefarth’s deputy, for the record.
“No, just help me with the damage,”. I answered, feeling oh so very tired, as well as battered and bruised, “burns first, then ribs, if you’d be so kind.?”
In the years since I’d become a legal shifter, I’d worked with Gerlinde to teach him the skills he’d need as Head of the Forstapo. As a result, we slipped easily into the teaching rapport we’d developed during that time, and addressed the damage together.
“This looks like the result of a burst of machine gun fire bouncing off a physical ward,” he commented, as my ribs laced together under our combined hands.
“Your diagnosis is correct.”
“I was unaware that machine guns worked on Magica Superior.”
“Usually they don’t,” I replied, taking an experimental breath. Better. “Except, apparently, when being wielded by Andrew fucking de Lacy and his men.
“The RERI was attacked by forces belonging to the Technocracy.”
“I thought you headed home early today.”
“I did. Standartenführer Latz called me for help…” I looked at my watch, as I’d lost track of time, “oh, about an hour and a half ago. I have no idea what happened to her after that. The link broke when I tried to call her back.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to contact Hauptsturmführer Rutger?”
“Yes. Right now, what I want is change of clothes. Something comfortable. I also require something to keep me going, and then I want you to watch my back while I find out just how bad the damage at the facility is.”
“As you wish,” he said, snapping a sharp salute.
He reached into his pocket, got something out and placed it on the visitor’s chair by the door, and then disappeared using the Aurellian Pilot Logrus. I glanced over there, and as I suspected, he’d left a Pilot marker. Curious, I stood and went and picked it up. It was a small bar of metal decorated with intricate, almost Celtic spirals. I wondered if it was Gerlinde himself, who had engraved it, of his soon-to-be wife Silke, as it was more artistic than I’d credited him for. I put it back, and then got out of the way, just before he jumped back in.
“As requested, Herr Reichsführer,” he said, presenting me with syringe on a silver platter, along with a full tumbler of a clear liquid. A bag with the change of clothes was in his hand, which he threw onto the bed. I grabbed the glass first and sniffed it. It was probably some of the homebrew that Leon Stoltz, the Wewelsburg Kommandant makes in the still room I’m not supposed to know about, but I downed it anyway. The burn as it went down helped to wake me up somewhat. Then he stepped out while I changed, and administered the other item. The drug would help me stay focused as I sent a Pattern lens towards Rostock, while the booze would give me the nerve to look.
I destroyed the clothes and the syringe, and had just Trumped the tumbler and salver back to the Castle, when he popped his head back around the door.
First, I threw up a ward on the door – not that they’d been particularly useful thus far this evening. Then I download my memories of my encounter with Andrew and everything else I’d seen in the RERI into a crystal, to be used in evidence later. Once that was done, knowing Gerlinde could be trusted to watch my back, I sat down in the one comfortable chair in the room, while he sat in the visitor’s chair by the door.
I brought up the Pattern and started reaching out towards the coast, where Rostock was located. Part of me hoped that a miracle had happened, and it wouldn’t be as bad as I feared. I wasn’t expecting one, though…miracles rarely happen to the likes of me, and the fact that I’d survived both the grenades and Andrew’s bullets had probably used up my quota for some time.
As it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as I feared. It was far, far worse. Rostock had been a city of over a million people. There was nothing left. Nothing. Where the RERI had been, all I could see was a crater, almost 10km in diameter, which pretty much covered the whole area formerly occupied by the city, and was being claimed by the sea as I watched. It made what the Brotherhood morons had done on Manira look like nothing more than children’s fireworks. I made sure that this, too, was recorded for posterity in the crystal.
As I scanned the area, I could see that clouds of dust and water vapour had been thrown up by the explosion, and the air was choked. It wouldn’t be long until that was in the atmosphere, which in turn would affect the whole continent. There wasn’t anything I could do for Rostock, but at least I could do something about that.
I stopped recording, then set to work manipulating the wind and rain, and the dust itself, to bring it down to the ground, to settle in the new bay. It was hard work at a distance, but I was determined to try. Occasionally, I thought I felt someone else working similarly. Robert, probably, but I couldn’t be completely certain, and I couldn’t spare any of my concentration to confirm either way. Instead, I threw all my concentration and energy into what I was doing. I have no idea how long I worked for, but eventually I knew I’d done as much as I could. It wasn’t perfect, but at least Magica Superior was no longer looking at a nuclear winter any time soon. Maybe Robert and I could finish the job later.
I was about to pull in the lens, when I felt a jolt, and snapped back to consciousness with rather less grace than I’d intended. My heart was pounding as if it was trying to force its way out of my chest, and I could feel adrenaline coursing through me. Then I realised that the drug was still in my bloodstream, which it certainly shouldn’t have been by then.
“Thank goodness,” I heard Gerlinde say, as he saw that I was back.
“What did you do?” I said, gripping the arms of the chair as the blood thudding in my head distracted me. Then I took a deep breath and concentrated for a minute or so, to bring my heartbeat back to something approaching normal. I could still feel the drug, though.
“What did you do?” I repeated, and as I met his gaze, I saw that he seemed genuinely concerned.
“What…the fuck…did you do?”
“It had been three hours, and you didn’t seem to be coming back, so I gave you an adrenaline shot,” he answered, and he actually sounded scared, which isn’t one of his normal states.
“A light dose of the other. Nothing more.”
“You nearly gave me a bloody heart attack,” I said, staring at him, “never, ever do that again when I’m working with the Pattern, Gruppenführer Gerlinde.”
“No, sir,” he answered, smartly, “I’m sorry sir.”
“I need to make copies of the evidence while its fresh.”
I brought out the recording crystal, then conjured two more – one for the Kaiser, and one for my brother – and downloaded the same images into them. As I concentrated, I could feel an attempt at a Trump call in the background, but I forced it down until it went away. When I was done, I put them to one side, next to my sidearm and dagger, and turned to face Gerlinde.
“What did you find, sir?” he asked.
“Nothing? As in nothing went wrong?”
“Nothing, as in everything’s gone.”
“The Port of Rostock and most of the surrounding countryside.”
“By the gods…”
Then I felt the stirrings of another Trump call and identified my caller as Wilhelm. It was probably him the last time, too.
“It’s the Kaiser. I’d better take it. Check in with the doctors about Reinefarth and Kennard.”
“Of course, Herr Reichsführer,” he replied and I dropped the wards to let him out of the room.
Once he was gone, I brought open the link. Wilhelm was in his office, looking annoyingly chipper compared to me, despite it being well past midnight by now. I could hear the radio in the background.
“Rupert, what the Hell is going on? Why weren’t you answering my calls?
“I was busy,” I snapped, then realised that I should probably attempt to sound reasonable, “I had other things to worry about and I couldn’t spare the energy.”
“My calls should be your priority, Herr Reichsführer.“
Nope, reasonable goes out the window.
“Not tonight…your Imperial Majesty…” I answered, putting as much scorn into the title as I could, “tonight you’re the least of my priorities.”
“What’s wrong? You look exhausted.”
“Have you taken a course in stating the fucking obvious that I didn’t know about?”
“I’m going to assume that your lack of manners is because you need some sleep, but you’re trying my patience, so I suggest you watch your tone,” he answered, angrily, “the radio is reporting an explosion in Rostock. Report…now!”
I grabbed one of the crystals, and handed it to him.
“The pass phrase is ’play’, to keep it simple for your tiny brain. Now fuck off and leave me alone, before I make you.”
And then I slammed the call shut.
I was going to pay for that, sooner rather than later, no doubt. Now though, I needed a drink. I’d just conjured up a bottle of schnapps and downed a tumbler full when Gerlinde returned.
“Sir? What did the Kaiser want?”
“My report,” I answered, hotly, “which he now has. I hope it give him nightmares.” He opened his mouth to speak, then wisely closed it again, “any news on the others?”
“Reinefarth is going to be fine. Like you, concussion injuries to the torso but his wards held. He’s not a shifter, though, so he’s going to have a slower recovery than your good self, unless we speed up the process.”
“Not tonight, but maybe later.”
He nodded, then continued, “Kennard suffered significant head trauma: the chest can spread the pressure better than the face under warding. On the bright side, he has a thick skull and he’s shifter, so that should help.”
“It depends if there’s actual brain damage or whether its superficial. I wasn’t allowed into the OR to check.”
“I suppose you wouldn’t have been,” I said, with a sigh, “and at least he’s walked the Pattern, so if he can get mobile enough, a new walk should do the rest. We’ll lose some of our research, but not all of it.”
“By the gods, Dominik, I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck.”
“You could probably get them to admit you.”
“Mainly, I just want my own bed.”
“With or without the lovely Herzogin,” he said, almost before he realised what he was saying, and regretted it immediately.
“Watch your tongue, Gruppenführer Gerlinde,” I snarled.
“I’m sorry, Herr Reichsführer. Forgive me.”
“Overstep once more, this evening, and I won’t bother to keep my temper in check.”
“Yes sir,” he said, and bowed his head in submission. It was like working with a semi-feral hound.
I paused for a few seconds before continuing.
“Sadly, I suspect my bed is going to be denied me for a while longer. I need to talk to my brother, and as I’m feeling pissed enough to ruin his night, and that of the entire Sable Royal Family right now, I think I’m going to pay him a visit. As I appear to be without the Honour Guard, would you care to come along?”
Wolfish definitely described the grin that crossed his face when I proposed that. I got to my feet, grabbed my weapons from the bedside table and stuck the other crystal in my pocket, then we headed out of the room. Once we were standing in the T-port, I warded the pair of us and we stood back to back. (I said I was pissed with them. Not suicidal.) I brought to mind a Trump of the Courtyard of Sable Palace – sadly this trick would only work the once, but what a once – and took us through. The alarms that started ringing as we arrived were all that I could have hoped for. Auguste de Lyon, Robert’s equivalent of Walter Reinefarth, was there in seconds, along with half a dozen of his men. I guess they don’t have to bother about sleep.
“Stay right there,” de Lyon ordered, “don’t move.”
And then I saw the look of puzzlement cross his face as he recognised me.
“Kindly wake his Majesty,” I said, as pleasantly as I could manage, “we have matters to discuss.”
“I shall do no such thing,” he answered, firmly, “you’re under arrest.”
“Have fun trying,” I replied, reaching for my sidearm, and almost hoping that he would. Behind me, Gerlinde moved nervously, scanning the ten men now surrounding us. Around the courtyard I could also see windows going up and half-familiar faces looking out. Seriously, if I’d teleported a bomb into the courtyard, rather than myself, the whole lot of them would have been dead.
“Herr Reichsführer,” Gerlinde said, quietly, “I’m beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea.”
“It’ll be fine,” I answered, “you’ll see.”
Then I looked back at de Lyon and met his gaze.
“Get…Robert…here…now,” I ordered, imposing my will on his, which was about as hard as ripping up a wet tissue, and I saw him waver. He was about to move, when I heard a voice from one of the doors leading out into the cloister.
“Uncle Rupert? What the blazes are you doing here?”
I broke concentration on de Lyon turned to see my rather less psychopathic nephew, William, step into the courtyard. Either he hadn’t been to bed or he was an expert at dressing quickly, as he was in jeans, a concert t-shirt for a rock band I actually rather like, and a pair of boots.
“Field Marshal de Lacy. Excellent. Shall we head inside and wait for your father? The library is…” I paused, then indicated one of the sets of French doors, “that one, I believe,” and I started towards it. De Lyon moved to stop me, but halted at a gesture from William.
“Go and get the King,” he said to the older man, “I’ll keep them busy for now.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“Sir,” Gerlinde said, cautiously, as we walked into the library, “I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you seem rather too familiar with Sable Palace for the liking of some in the Reich.”
“You already know, I visit here once every couple of months,” I answered, “it shouldn’t be a surprise.”
Then I looked sat myself down in Robert’s favourite armchair just as William came in to join us. Gerlinde was more cautious, and stood to the side of my chair, looking about him warily. He was taking his role as my honorary Guard seriously, I noted.
“What the Hell is this about, Uncle Rupert?” William asked
“I’ve come to report a murder,” I answered.
“The City of Rostock. Population, over one million.”
“By your fucking brother Andrew,” I answered, realising that I just wasn’t in the mood to keep up the game.
The look on his fact was priceless, but before he could answer, Robert walked in, fully dressed and covered in dust. He looked as bloody awful as I felt.
“But you…” I pointed at my brother, “you already knew that, didn’t you?”
“What the…” William started, but Robert shook his head.
All he said was “Scotch?” then he crossed to the drinks cabinet and filled four tumblers. William took his first, and held a second while Robert brought the others over to us.
“Gruppenführer Gerlinde,” he said as he handed one to my companion, “it’s been a while.”
“At least you’re not handing me the Master’s bleeding body this time,” Gerlinde answered, in a tone that suggested a shared joke. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, especially as it appeared to be about me. “Good morning, Your Majesty.”
Robert looked at his watch.
“Yes, I suppose it is. I’d lost track. Will, I’m not sure if you’ve met your nephew, Dominik Gerlinde, before.”
“No,” came the answer, and he even offered his hand. Dominik took it, a little nonplussed, before William stepped back. Then Robert came over and handed me another glass. I met his gaze, and just for a second, I found myself wanting.
“You’re high,” he stated, his tone matter of fact, nothing more.
“I had work to do. It helped.”
“It probably also helped you tell the Kaiser to take a running jump and then throw all caution to the wind and Trump into the Quad in the middle of the night. Usually you aren’t that reckless. But I suppose you have a valid reason, tonight.”
Then, without another word, he took his own glass back from William and they sat down opposite us.
“How do you know I’d had words with Wilhelm?” I asked, curious.
“Because he called me about thirty seconds after you hung up on him. You should probably apologise to him for that.”
“I don’t feel inclined just now,” I answered.
“No, you probably don’t,” he said, quietly, “unlike you, however, I was willing to give him a rough rundown of what I’d found at Rostock.”
“I sent him my report. If he called you that quickly, he probably just hadn’t bothered to look at it by then.”
“He probably thinks it’s going to explode in his face. Is it?”
“Too many people died tonight for me to try to assassinate the Kaiser, however much I wanted to just then.”
I felt Gerlinde tense beside me, as I said that. I looked up at him, and gestured for him to take the seat beside me, rather than keep looming.
“What were you doing at the Rostock facility, Rupert?” Robert asked, once Dominik was settled.
“Some work into energy generation, transfer and storage.”
“And you were being helped by Joss Kennard?”
“You know about him?”
“Second-hand. Michael keeps in touch with one of Andrew’s people, who also happens to be his Michael’s son. It came out that Andrew had spent some time on a world called Keillour, with a crazy genius called Joss Kennard, who can Channel energy better than anyone he’d ever seen before.”
“Our annoying little brother strikes again.”
“When he told me that, it prompted me to go and talk to Rallissa again, and ask her what she knew about the place. It was an enlightening conversation.”
At that point, William and Dominik looked at each other, trying to figure out whatever code we were talking in. It was as if they’d found common ground in an instant.
“After everything that’s happened in the last twenty-four years, Rupert, what possessed you to poke that particular bear?”
“The good of the Reich.”
“And a tumble between the sheets with the lovely Frida Ragnarsian had nothing to do with it?”
“Well that’s all worked out well, now, hasn’t it?”
“It was working out just fine until your psychopathic son blew the place to shit,” I retorted.
“You can prove it was him?”
“I knew you’d ask,” I replied, and threw him the memory crystal, “that copy’s for you. The trigger is ‘no, I won’t believe a word of it until I see it with my own eyes’. But I think that’s wrong, isn’t it? I think you know damned well that I’m telling the truth.”
He said the trigger phrase, and the projection of what I’d seen in the RERI, from the moment I had brogues on the ground, began to play. I let it do so without comment, while I addressed my Scotch. By the time he got to my scans of the crater, I had helped myself to another and put the bottle on the table between us.
When it was done, Robert deactivated it.
“Oh Christ,” he said quietly, obviously shaken by what he’d seen. Off to the side, William’s face had gone white, and even Dominik had traded his usual sardonic expression for something colder.
“I must admit, that’s pretty conclusive, he continued, “I’m sorry Rupert. I really am.”
“Bren guns?” William said quietly, which was an interesting takeaway, but I guess he is a Field Marshal so how his opponents are armed has more priority than for some people.
“Bloody efficient ones,” I answered, “and C4 or some equivalent. Plus modern grenades, unless I miss my guess, given that they brought down a concrete ceiling. Your fucking brother is far to au fait with making technology work on Magica Superior that shouldn’t.”
“So it appears,” he answered.
I nodded, then turned back to Robert.
“What I want to know is did Sable have anything to do with this?”
“We did not,” my brother replied, formally.
“Could you have prevented what happened?”
“No, we could not. It’s not as if Andrew checks in with me anymore. I didn’t even know what was going on until I felt what must have been your Pattern construct die, but by then it was too late.”
“So you went to investigate…that’s where you’ve been?”
“As did you…from afar, at least. I could feel you working while I was trying to piece together what had happened.”
“There was nothing to piece. I was trying to stop a nuclear winter.”
“There was something to piece in the crater. I found the remains of your construct. It would have been quite brilliant, if it had worked.”
“It did work…”
“I know, until my son blew it to shit,” he answered, without a trace of irony, “where did the idea come from?”
“Why am I not surprised?” Robert said with a sigh, “I thought you knew better than to follow our father’s crackpot schemes by now.”
“Crackpot…brilliant…either could be argued,” I replied, “however, the implementation was mine. Those ideas helped us to power the Kaiserin Elsa, which I know Sable has been trying to get its greedy paws on since she launched.”
“No denials on that one,” William commented, “that ship is a beauty.”
“We like to think so,” Dominik interjected, breaking what had been an unusually long silence for him.
“But the Elsa isn’t powered by a Pattern construct,” Robert pointed out.
“No,” I replied, “That wouldn’t be practical.”
“So what the Hell were you and Joss Kennard messing with at Rostock?”
“More to the point, given the damage you’ve just shown us, was it really a power source, or was it a weapon?” William added, proving that he was following a lot more of the metaphysics than Dominik was. Thinking back to Verrien, I remembered that he was far better with the Pattern than my protégé. I should probably fix that, eventually.
“It was really a power source,” I said, turning to face him, “Yes, it could have had applications the other way, but they were a long way from development. Our aim was to see if we could come up with a better, more efficient method of generating energy than merely spells.”
“What’s wrong with spells?” Robert asked, “they’ve worked find for over a hundred and twenty years. Longer if you include Terra Magica.”
“The Reich is much bigger than Sable,” I answered, “we would love to find a way that no longer needs so many of our mages dedicating their lives to keeping the boilers running, so they can work on other things.”
“You and I have never known the mind-numbing boredom of spending four hours a day casting the same spell over and over again. Neither has William, here. Who knows what they could do if they weren’t stuck in that particular rut.”
“But why experiment with something so volatile? Robert asked.
“Because if it had worked, it would have been a game changer.”
“If you had succeeded,” William commented, “would you have let Sable have the technology?”
“We’ll never know now,” I answered.
“I suppose we won’t,” he replied.
Then I looked back at Robert.
“When you went to inspect the devastation, did you realise that your son had caused it?”
“No. I didn’t even know for sure that he was there in person until I saw the crystal, but I could feel traces of the Nexus in the ruins. My assessment was that a number of people had edge-walked in, and then departed in a panic about twenty minutes later. It also appeared that a senior initiate had taken down the wards around your facility. What was it? Something from your Protection Aspect? I saw other traces of that elsewhere in the ruins.”
“A full-on Pocket Shadow.”
“Interesting. If I’d realised that, I would probably also have figured out that it rather had to be Andrew,” he concurred, “anyway, when they departed, they left a hole in the fabric of reality where they jumped out. I didn’t feel Andrew’s hand in that, but from what you showed us in that crystal, it’s quite possible that your lightning bolt took him out of the picture.”
“Knowing my luck, however, probably not permanently.”
“No, it won’t be permanent, even if the strike was fatal, which isn’t guaranteed. I’ll ask Michael to see what he can find out. He has the best lines of communications with Andrew’s people. He should be able to ascertain what happened…I’ll let you know either way.”
“Much appreciated,” I replied, trying not to sound sarcastic, “I would ask you to find out whether a prisoner they took is still alive. Standartenführer Latz. If she lives, I’d like her returned to the Reich.”
“Who is she?”
“Another of my scientists…oh, and your first-born maniac’s daughter.”
“If she wishes to be returned, then I’ll see what can be done. If she doesn’t, I won’t force her.”
“I suppose that will have to do.”
“You said they left a hole in reality,” Dominik asked, “what do you mean?”
“How au fair are you with the Pattern?” Robert asked.
“You’re familiar with Shadow shifting, though?”
“I don’t wholly understand what the Technocracy’s edge-walking technology is, but as far as I can glean, rather than moving though Shadow the way a Pattern initiate does, Nexus users seem to skirt the boundaries of Shadow. Their arrival left traces that I recognised when I was there. Either their hasty departure, or perhaps that and the Pattern construct blowing up punched a hole through the boundary into the Water Shadows.”
“That explains why it was flooding so fast,” I commented.
“Probably,” he replied, “I’m surprised you didn’t see it.”
“I’m not as familiar with the Nexus as you apparently are, and I was too busy trying to…”
“To stop a nuclear winter, for which I thank you. I stayed to patch the breach, although you and I should check together, at some point, to finish the job. Mending damage which breaks through into a different elemental sphere isn’t something I’ve had much experience with.”
“I didn’t even know it was possible.”
“Then you should see it for that reason, if nothing else.”
“That makes sense,” I conceded, “I’d also like to propose making sure that edge-walking onto Magica Superior is no longer possible. And to double-down on the ‘no automatic weapons’ clause.”
“The second I support wholeheartedly. The first I’ll need to think about.”
We lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, and I could tell that both William and Dominik were watching us like hawks.
“Are they alive?” William asked, breaking the silence, “your Guards, and this…Joss Kennard?”
“Reinefarth, is, yes,” Dominik answered, “the other Guards were wiped out by the explosion. Kennard…that’s up to the gods.”
“And you, Uncle Rupert?” my nephew continued, and actually seemed to be concerned about the answer, “that burst hit you pretty hard.”
“Dominik and I have dealt with the damage,” I answered, and my companion nodded, “but thank you for asking.”
“Rupert, why couldn’t you leave Kennard and Keillour well alone?” Robert asked, quietly, “it would have been far better that way.”
“Roland knew about them through Sian and then Leyton. Andrew was also aware, as he’d been there when he and Kennard were still friends. I couldn’t afford not to. To be honest, I’m surprised you didn’t try to meddle there yourself.”
“I’d hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. I hoped he’d become King-Creator if Denmark and remain in obscurity.”
“A lovely idea,” I answered, “but it was never going to happen. Keillour is at 100 South, 90°, and is sitting on one of the two Southern Godstone veins.”
“So in the equivalent position to the Technocracy in the North?”
“Exactly. And I wonder how much of a coincidence that is,” I commented, “if you had to go to Rallissa, I assume your first-born maniac hadn’t mentioned the place to you.”
“He had not.”
“When the Collectors overloaded and tried to destroy the Shadow, he was there and provided the Jewel energy to bring things under control.”
“Did the overload result in a Denmark Power?
“No, that’s at Eilean Shonan, under the control of Duncan Graeme, with potential connections to the Nexus due to the fuckwit being the one to stabilise the place, and their relative positions on the Inside.”
“Without Denmark, was Kennard working for you voluntarily?”
“He still has Denmark. It just isn’t a Power. But yes, he was working for me voluntarily.”
“Although he’s probably regretting that now,” Dominik snorted, from beside me.
“I’ll just be pleased if he recovers enough to regret it,” I answered, too tired to snap at him, “Robert, can we carry this on another day? I’m tired, I hurt and I need sleep – and you don’t look much better.”
However, before he could answer, he lifted his hand and obviously opened up a Trump link.
“Yes…yes I’ve seen it…yes, he’s here…I can’t speak to that…I’m afraid I can’t speak to that either…are you sure that’s the wisest course of action…yes, I understand why you feel like…no, I suppose there is no doubt…don’t worry, I’ll make sure he knows. Once again, please accept my condolences.”
And then he broke the link.
“Wilhelm?” I asked.
“He’s watched the crystal?”
“He has. That was a courtesy call, to tell me what action he intends to take about it. I don’t agree with him, but I understand why he wants to do it.”
“Do what?” William asked.
“Declare war on Andrew and the Technocracy.”
“Crap,” my nephew exclaimed, downing his Scotch and getting to his feet, “I need to warn the Staff Council. Dad, Uncle Rupert, Gruppenführer Gerlinde, will you excuse me?”
“Go,” Robert said, and William headed for the door.
“That may be the first thing Wilhelm has done lately which I actually agree with,” I commented, as he departed.
“Starting a war on two fronts? That doesn’t always work out well,” Robert asked, and I saw Dominik nod in agreement, “especially when there’s a major difference in technology.”
“Your psychopathic offspring slaughtered over a million people without a second thought,” I answered, “something has to be done about him, and if you aren’t willing to do it, then we need to.”
“Andrew did that. Not the Technocracy. Not his people. Would you punish the nation for the actions of its leader?”
“Then how about this? You capture him, and bring him to us, so we can give him the trial he deserves. I imagine our annoying little brother could do that in his sleep. And then we’ll throw him in a deep, dark cell where he’ll never see the light of day.”
“Or execute him and have done with it,” Dominik commented, “save on food bills.”
“Sadly, that won’t stick…” I said to my protégé, “I’ll explain why when we get home.”
“I imagine from the fact that you’ve made that proposition, that the irony of it has passed you by?” Robert commented, in a suspiciously mild tone which caught me up short.
“What do you mean?”
“If he hadn’t spent time as your prisoner, all those years ago, then he wouldn’t have become the man who destroyed Rostock this evening. You made him what he is, Rupert. Not me.”
“Really? Are you sure about that?” I answered, trying to haul myself off the back foot I suddenly found myself on, “I’d take that back a step further, to when he blew his brains out on the beach and you ‘fixed’ him. At least he would have stayed dead that time, if you’d left well alone.”
Robert looked at me as if I’d struck him. Which, I suppose, I had, but I didn’t regret it. His own comments had hit rather too close to home for comfort as well. The staring match lasted a good minute and a half, before he finally broke eye contact.
“Wilhelm asked me to give you a message.”
“He’s holding a press conference at the Rostock Crater tomorrow, which is when he intends to declare war on the Technocracy. He wants you to be there with him. He’d also like to speak with you beforehand. I suggest you call him before he calls you.”
“I’ll take it under advisement.”
“After that, probably tomorrow evening, you and I should to take another look at the damage and see if there’s anything else we missed or might be able to do.”
“I’ll take that under advisement, as well.”
“So be it. By the time he addresses the nation, he will have received Sable’s formal letter of condolence on the terrible tragedy that unfolded at Rostock this evening.”
“Terrible tragedy my ass,” I snapped, getting to my feet. I was too tired to keep up the fencing match any longer.
“A lot of things led to this, Rupert,” my brother said, following suit, “and there is blame on both sides…”
“And here was I thinking you’d grown out of being a sanctimonious prick,” I said, coldly, “one million people dead, Robert, because he wanted to kill one man, and he wouldn’t listen to reason when I tried to stop everything going to shit. The blame for that is squarely on him.”
Then I turned to Dominik, “Get us out of here. I’ve heard enough.”
“Of course,” he answered, and brought the Pilot Logrus up. Seconds later, we were back at the Wewelsburg.
“Are all your meetings with King Robert like that?” he asked, as we stepped off the stone just outside the gate.
“That was frostier than usual. But then, the circumstances were difficult.”
“William seems decent…for a Sablelite.”
“He’s one of the good ones,” I answered, “I suspect that, under other circumstances, you and he might even get on.”
“I doubt I’ll be socialising with him enough to find out.”
“No, I suppose you won’t. You should get home to Silke. She’ll be wondering where you are.”
“I’m staying here tonight.”
“Will you call the Kaiser?”
“Tomorrow. Probably at about 11:55. Definitely not tonight. I need to sleep. If you have a spare moment in the morning, though, I’d appreciate it if you would see what you can do for Reinefarth, as I’d like him back on his feet sooner rather than later.”
“What about Kennard?”
“If you have the time, but I think he’ll take longer to heal.”
“I will do as you ask.”
I saw him step back onto the stone and concentrate for a moment, and then he was gone. Moments later, I brought a Trump of my quarters upstairs to mind, and jumped to my rooms.