Storm Front (Twilight Of The Gods I)

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Chapter Four
Wieland House, Berlin

17 July 1985 (Victory Day)
“And where have you been all day, young lady?”
Gudrun grimaced as her mother’s voice echoed out of the kitchen. She might be eighteen years old and a university student, having passed the hardest set of exams in Germany, but her mother still talked to her as though she was a little girl. It just wasn't fair, particularly when her thoughts kept returning to Konrad’s broken body. But she had no choice, but to swallow it and stick her head into the kitchen.
“I’ve been with Hilde, watching the parade,” she said. Her mother was bent over the oven, cooking something that smelt heavenly. “Watching the soldiers trooping by...”
“You should have been here to help,” her mother said, straightening up. “I don’t recall saying you could leave the house.”
“I’m eighteen, mother,” Gudrun said. When she was a mother, she was not going to keep her daughters locked in a gilded cage. “And...”
“And as long as you live under my roof, you follow my rules,” her mother said, sternly. “I have told you, many times, that you are to ask before you go out, particularly this week.”
Gudrun sighed as her mother turned to face her. Adelinde Wieland was tall and blonde, but her hair was slowly shading to grey after bringing up four children on a policeman’s salary and what little she could claim from the government. It had often baffled Gudrun how people could compare her to her mother, although Grandpa Frank had been heard to claim that Gudrun was the spitting image of his wife. Her mother’s face was very different from Gudrun’s and her hair a shade or two lighter before it started to go grey.
“I have a boyfriend, mother,” she said. She felt an odd pang at the memory. Adelinde had never really approved of Konrad, but her husband had approved the match. “I’m not going to get into trouble.”
“That’s what they all say,” her mother said. “A soldier in a pretty uniform, perhaps a glass or two of beer... who knows what will happen?”
Gudrun felt her face heat. Her mother could be uncomfortably blunt at times; she still cringed at the memory, years ago, of having her mother explain where babies came from and why she should be very careful until she was actually married. There was a black market in contraception, she’d been told, but condoms and American-made pills couldn't be purchased unless the user already had three children. University student or not, Gudrun had no idea where she might obtain any condoms, let alone how she might convince her boyfriend to use one. Men could be such idiots at times.
She shuddered. Konrad wasn't going to recover. It was unlikely, the nurse had said, that he could survive without the machine. And even if he did, he’d be unable to do anything with her. Part of her even wished she’d pulled the plug on him before leaving, even though it would probably have set off alarms. Her boyfriend deserved better than to remain a vegetable for the rest of his life.
“I’m glad you’re thinking about it,” her mother sneered. It took Gudrun a moment to realise that her mother had seen the shudder and misinterpreted it. “Go take Grandpa Frank his dinner before your father comes home. He’ll want to eat as soon as he arrives.”
Gudrun groaned. “Mother, can’t Johan do it...”
“Go,” her mother ordered, pointing at the tray. “Now.”
There was no point in arguing with her mother when she was cross, Gudrun knew from bitter experience. There were two younger boys in the house, yet they never had to do any cooking or washing up. It didn't seem fair, somehow; she picked up the tray, swallowing the curse that came to mind when she saw the bottle perched next to the covered dish, and headed for the door. She’d once dumped the beer down the sink, hoping it would make Grandpa Frank more pleasant, but her mother had been furious. Gudrun had never dared do it again.
She walked slowly up the stairs, stalling as long as she could. Grandpa Frank’s room was at the far end of the corridor, forcing her to walk past the room shared by Johan and Siegfried and her own door before she reached her grandfather’s door. Johan had complained, loudly, that he hadn't been allowed to move into Kurt’s room, now that his elder brother spent most of his time in the barracks, but their father had flatly refused to allow him to take the empty room. Gudrun smiled at the memory. There weren't many advantages to living in a patriarchal household, but watching her brothers forced to share a room was definitely one of them.
“Come,” an imperious voice bellowed.
Gudrun flinched - she’d never worked out how Grandpa Frank could tell when there was someone waiting outside his room - and pushed the door open, wrinkling her nose at the stench. As always, the room was an odd combination of orderly and disorderly; the bed looked neat and tidy, but there were beer bottles lying on the floor and the remains of a snack sitting on the bedside table. Grandpa Frank himself was sitting in an armchair, reading a newspaper and drinking from a half-full bottle of beer. Gudrun’s stomach turned at the thought of helping the disgusting old man to the toilet, although - to be fair - he’d never seemed to have any problems staggering out of bed and doing his business as far as she knew.
“Victory Day,” Grandpa Frank said. “You must be very proud.”
“Yes, Grandpa,” Gudrun said. She’d never been sure just who Grandpa Frank thought she was, half the time. Half of what he said made no sense at all. “But my boyfriend...”
Her voice caught. Grandpa Frank was... a cripple. No, not quite a cripple, but he needed a wheelchair if he wanted to leave the house. And Konrad wouldn't even have that, if by some dark miracle he survived. He...
“The paratrooper,” Grandpa Frank said, darkly. “I heard he was planning to become a policeman. It’s no place for a young man.”
Wonderful, Gudrun thought. The paratrooper-turned-policeman was her father. He thinks I’m my mother.
She eyed her grandfather carefully as she placed the tray on the table beside him. Grandpa Frank’s mood changed rapidly; she’d seen him go from maudlin, mourning his long-dead wife, to angry and raging at the world within seconds. Only his daughter could talk sense into him when he was angry; Gudrun honestly didn't understand why her mother allowed the old man to stay in the house. Grandpa Frank had come alarmingly close to clobbering Johan’s brains out when the younger boy had snuck up on him for a dare.
“My boyfriend didn't take part in the parade,” she said, flatly. It was honest enough, to be sure. “I miss him.”
“Just stay faithful to him,” Grandpa Frank advised. “It’s no service to a decent lad to trade him in when another one comes along.”
Gudrun felt her cheeks heat. The idea of Grandpa Frank, of all people, giving her relationship advice was horrifically embarrassing. She honestly had no idea what he’d done in the war, but he’d had enough nightmares to make it clear that it had been something thoroughly unpleasant. Maybe he’d been in Stalingrad, during the brutal house-to-house fighting, or invaded Moscow towards the end of the war. He was certainly old enough...
But mother won’t let us ask him any questions, she thought. And she slapped Johan when he tried.
“I’ll do my best,” she said. She stepped back from the older man, never taking her eyes off him. “I hope it’s good food.”
Grandpa Frank ignored her as he took a long swig from the bottle and started to mutter to himself in a dialect Gudrun didn't recognise. Careful to breathe through her mouth, she looked around the room, picked up the used plates and cutlery and headed back downstairs to the kitchen. Her mother was waiting, hands resting impatiently on her hips. Gudrun rolled her eyes as her mother pointed to the sink, then emptied the plates into the bin, put the dishes in the water and washed them hastily. Grandpa Frank never seemed to finish a meal.
Too busy drinking, Gudrun thought, as her mother started to hand out more tasks before she could make her escape. And trying to drown his sorrows.
She looked at her mother, who was just taking a tray of sausages out of the oven. “Why do we keep Grandpa Frank here when we could send him to one of the veteran homes?”
Her mother turned and gave her the look that generally preceded a hard slap. “When your father and I are old and grey,” she said coldly, “will you look after us or will you send us to a home?”
Gudrun flinched. “Of course I’ll look after you...”
“My father practically raised me since my mother died young,” Adelinde said. “Whatever his flaws, and he has many, he managed to raise a daughter despite never remarrying. I cannot put him into a home to die, young lady, and you’re being thoroughly unpleasant to suggest it.”
“Yes, mother,” Gudrun said, feeling tiny under her mother’s gaze. “I’m sorry.”
“And we get an extra stipend from the government for taking care of a veteran,” a new voice said. Gudrun turned to see her father standing there, wearing his policeman’s uniform. “It isn't to be sniffed at, you know.”
“Herman,” Adelinde said, tightly.
Gudrun gave her father a hug. “How was work?”
“Your daughter was out with a friend half the day and your eldest son has yet to return,” Adelinde said, before her father could say a word. “I expect you to speak to them both after dinner.”
“Yes, dear,” Herman said, as he let go of Gudrun. “Gudrun, speak to me after dinner.”
Gudrun nodded, hoping he couldn't see the amusement on her face. She'd been taught, in school, that a wife was to be obedient to her husband, cook his dinners, have his children and treat him like a king. Whoever had written the stupid textbooks she’d been forced to read, she was sure, was either a man with a female penname or a woman who’d never actually married anyone. Adelinde didn't even pretend to be obedient to her husband. The household was her realm and God help anyone who questioned her right to rule.
“There was the usual run of pickpockets and other trouble-causers,” her father added, picking up a biscuit from the jar while his wife’s back was turned. “A group of children ran riot in the square, but someone very high up ordered that they were merely to be sent back to school rather than face punishment. It was quite strange.”
“Poor kids,” Gudrun said. She’d been lucky to escape a full Victory Day parade while she’d been at school, but she’d had to stand for hours for smaller parades and, by the time they were finally dismissed, she'd been aching and sore. “Are they going to be all right?”
“Probably,” her father said. “They...”
“Gudrun, take the potatoes and put them on the table,” her mother interrupted. “Herman, if you’re going to stand around here, take the bottles of beer and put them by the plates.”
“Yes, dear,” her father said. “Shall I give Johan the big mug?”
“Probably not,” Adelinde said. She normally banned alcohol from the table, save for Grandpa Frank. But this was Victory Day. “I don’t want him drinking too much and winding up being sick over my nice clean carpet.”
Gudrun winced inwardly as she carried the potatoes out. Johan and Siegfried were already sitting at the table, looking as though butter wouldn't melt in their mouths. They might as well be twins, she’d often thought, although Johan was blonde while Siegfried was brown, taking more after their father. He was growing up quickly too, she noted; he was the baby of the family, at twelve, but he'd already lost his childlike appearance. Like everyone else at school, he’d been forced to exercise on the playing fields until he’d shed every last trace of fat from his body.
“That looks good,” Johan said, eying the potatoes with interest. “You think mother cooked them in gravy?”
“Go ask her,” Gudrun snapped. Johan needed to learn, the sooner the better, that she wasn't there to answer his every whim. It was a service to his future wife. “And seeing you’re just sitting there, why don’t you put out the knives and forks?”
“Do it,” their father agreed, stepping into the room carrying a pair of bottles in one hand. “If you want to be lazy, you can go join the Luftwaffe and sit on your bottom all day.”
“I like flying,” Johan protested. “I’m going to sign up for the Luftwaffe next year.”
Gudrun smiled. “You might not learn how to fly,” she needled. She’d looked up the figures when one of her fellow students had started to date a pilot. “For everyone who gets accepted for pilot training, there’s three or four who get accepted for work on the ground. That’s not quite as impressive.”
Johan’s face fell. “But I’m a natural pilot.”
“The Luftwaffe needs more than just pilots,” their father said. He gave Gudrun a look that sent her scurrying back into the kitchen, just as Kurt arrived, still wearing his uniform. “And if you learn how to maintain a fighter jet, Johan, you will have something to build on when you return to civilian life.”
“I’m going to become an astronaut,” Johan said. Gudrun could still hear him, even over the sound of sizzling sausages. “If I manage to do well as a pilot, I can put in for space training and go to the moon.”
Gudrun smirked as she took the sausages and carried them back into the dining room, her mother following her with the vegetables. Johan was hardly alone in wanting to fly aircraft - a third of the boys she’d known in school had had the same ambition - but the odds were against him. And if he did manage to join the Luftwaffe without actually becoming a pilot, he’d be forever branded a REMF, rather than a fighter. His chances of winning the hearts and bodies of countless girls, as he had seen on television programs, would be sharply reduced.
“This is Victory Day,” her father said, once the food had been served and the beer had been poured. “Let us remember, just for a moment, how we became the most powerful nation in the world.”
Now tell me, Gudrun thought. Is that actually true?
It wasn't a pleasant thought, but it had to be faced. The state had lied, at least once, and no matter how much she tried, she couldn't think of anything that disproved her theory that Konrad wasn't the only wounded soldier to be kept away from his family. And if the state had lied once, who knew what else it had lied about? How much of what she’d been taught had been a lie? She was pretty sure they couldn't have lied about basic maths - she could prove that two plus two equalled four - but it was a great deal easier to lie about the social subjects. Had there really been a great war?
Grandpa Frank fought in the war, she thought. He was hardly the only old man with a military background. She had several friends who had elderly relatives living with them or staying in veteran homes. So there must have been a war. But what really happened?
She ate her food slowly, barely tasting the sausages and potatoes as she thought. What could she do? Konrad’s family might make a fuss, if she told them the truth, but it was equally possible they’d report her for sneaking into a hospital. She could keep it to herself, yet the part of her that loved Konrad wanted to do something about his case. But what? If she tried to protest herself, she’d wind up in an asylum, if she was lucky.
“I need to speak to you,” her father said, once the dinner was over. Gudrun had been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn't noticed that the meal was coming to an end. “You too, Kurt.”
Kurt gave Gudrun a sharp look as their father rose to his feet. Gudrun shrugged; their father might know they’d slipped out of the house, but he didn't know where they’d been. As long as they stuck to the cover story, they’d be safe. Or so she hoped. If the nurse Kurt had been trying to flirt with reported their presence, after he stood her up, the SS might start looking for a pair of intruders. And if they got lucky, they might catch her before she could tell anyone what they’d seen.
Two more days of parades, she thought, and then I can go back to university. And then...
She sucked in her breath. Officially, the university was politically neutral. Unofficially, students talked all the time. They were, after all, among the smartest people in the Reich; many of them had worked hard to escape conscription by passing the exams and winning a place in the university. And almost all of the students would know at least one person in the military. How many students had seen a relative go to South Africa and not return?
But it wasn't something she dared discuss with Kurt. Who knew which side he’d take?
Talk to the students, she told herself, as she led the way into her father’s office. She had a feeling her father would just tell them both off, but there was no point in dawdling. And then decide what to do next.

Chapter Five
American Embassy, Berlin

19 July 1985
“Well,” Ambassador Samuel Turtledove said. “Thoughts?”
Andrew allowed himself a smile. Ambassador Turtledove had no time for the persistent rivalry between the Office of Strategic Services, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defence Intelligence Agency, to say nothing of the military itself. They were, after all, right in the heart of Berlin, in the first building that would fall if war ever broke out between the North Atlantic Alliance and the Third Reich. There was literally no time for inter-service rivalry or disagreements. Everyone in the room was cleared to hear everything up to TOP SECRET and beyond.
“It was an impressive show,” he said, as he accepted a cup of coffee from the Ambassador’s aide. “I counted over thirty long-range heavy bombers in a single fly-past. They certainly look as though they can reach New York.”
“Assuming they don’t get bounced halfway there,” General William Knox pointed out. The military attaché frowned down at the photographs the observers had taken during the parade and placed on the table. “We still have fighter bases up and down the east coast, despite the best efforts of Congress. The Brits have their fighters too.”
“One would assume the Brits would have other things to worry about, if war broke out,” Andrew said, mildly. “But I tend to agree. The long-range bomber isn't a major threat unless they build them in far greater numbers.”
“Which leads to the obvious question,” the Ambassador said. “Can they build them in far greater numbers?”
Andrew looked at Penelope Jameson, who shrugged. “The German economy is a mess, Mr. Ambassador,” she said. The CIA had attached her to the Berlin Office as an expert in economics and charged her with gauging the strength of the German economy. It wasn't a task Andrew envied her. “I honestly think that most Germans are unaware of just how badly their economy is performing, certainly when compared to ours. Funding a few hundred long-range bombers would be very difficult right now.”
“Particularly as they would be of limited value in South Africa,” Knox said.
“Perhaps not,” Andrew said. “They can fly well above the Stinger-A’s range, can't they?”
He smiled as Knox - and Robert Hamilton - grimaced in unison. The OSS had been pressing the President to send Stinger-B and Stinger-C missiles to the South Africans, even though there was a very real risk that one or more units would fall into German hands and be reverse-engineered. He understood their concerns, but there was a very real opportunity to bleed the Germans white using the missiles. Shooting down a handful of heavy bombers would hurt the Reich more than killing a few hundred soldiers on deployment.
And if war does break out, he thought, there will be fewer bombers to make their way to New York.
“They’re not exactly equipped for tactical support,” Knox said, after a moment. “Their smart weapons are considerably inferior to our own.”
“We think,” Andrew reminded him. “The gauchos probably didn't know how to use their weapons to best advantage.”
“They would have set up a display and shown off their merchandise if they could,” Penelope said, quietly. “Their economy took a hit when the Falklands War went so badly for the side using German weapons.”
“Serve them right,” the Ambassador said. He cleared his throat. “Was there anything new in the parade, any potential game changers?”
“Probably not,” Andrew said. “The latest tank design was a modified Panther VII, their main battle tank. I don't think we have to worry about a revolutionary new tank appearing on the battlefields in a few years.”
“They also modified a handful of older Panzer XIs,” Hamilton added. “It’s hard to be sure, but it looks like they took off the main guns and added several machine guns to the vehicles.”
“Probably for counter-insurgency work,” Knox grunted. He picked up one of the photographs and held it out. “We know they’ve been taking losses in South Africa, Mr. Ambassador. My best guess is that they’re adapting their weapons and armour to cope with the threat.”
Which isn't likely to go away anytime soon, Andrew thought. The blacks know they have to fight and perhaps die, rather than doing nothing and certainly dying.
He shuddered at the thought. The Reich’s population might be blissfully unaware of what had been done in their name, but everyone else knew all too well what Adolf Hitler had unleashed upon the world. He wouldn't have bet a rusty dollar that the blacks would survive for long, if the Nazis claimed the country. They’d be herded into concentration camps and brutally murdered. Indeed, there were factions in South Africa that would happily support such a final solution, heedless of the possibility that the Nazis would shove them into the gas chambers next.
The Ambassador cleared his throat. “Do you feel it’s likely they will double down in South Africa?”
Andrew hesitated. “They made a mistake getting involved,” he said. “We know that - and I suspect they know it too, now. But I think their leadership will be reluctant to retreat from their positions in South Africa. They’d see it as an admission of weakness.”
He looked up at the map. The Reich bestrode the continent like a colossus, bright red ink soaking the land from Dunkirk to Kamchatka. And yet, their control over their vast domains was tenuous, in places. The settlements in Germany East were plagued by partisans, the Vichy French were restless and even their allies were looking for alternatives. Andrew was sure that Turkey, at least, would jump ship if there was a reasonable chance of getting away with it, while Italy and Spain wouldn't be far behind. Binding their economies to Germany had been a deadly mistake.
“Economically, they must be reaching their limits,” Penelope said. “All my models suggest Germany will have to make major cutbacks within the next five years.”
“Your models may not take reality into account,” Knox pointed out. He’d never liked Penelope, although Andrew had never figured out why. “Surely they know how to fine-tune their own economy.”
“An economy is not a military unit, sir,” Penelope said. “Nor is it a piece of balky machinery that can be fixed. Fine-tuning an economy is simply impossible and trying to control it leads to disaster. The communists discovered that in 1942.”
She took a breath. “My models are, if anything, optimistic,” she added. “I gave the Germans every advantage I could think of, sir; I assumed a level of central understanding and control that, quite frankly, is beyond the realm of possibility. And yet, all of my models indicate a major collapse in less than five years unless something changes.”
Andrew frowned. “They could be spoofing your results.”
“They could,” Penelope agreed. “We have always had problems gauging the true power of the German economy. However, if it was as good as they claimed, they’d have a much larger moon base and a few hundred additional spacecraft to stake their claims to the asteroids.”
“True,” Andrew agreed.
“It's also beside the point,” Knox said. “Is the likelihood of war any stronger than it was two years ago?”
Maybe that’s why he doesn't like her, Andrew thought. He understands the machines and tactics of war, but not economics.
“The last set of discussions I had with the Foreign Minister were unenlightening,” the Ambassador said, calmly. “He lodged an official complaint about our meddling in South Africa, I lodged a complaint of my own about German weapons shipments to radical factions in Latin and South America. We had a long argument that boiled down to mutual denials that anything was actually happening.”
“And so anyone on the ground will vanish, if they get caught,” Andrew said.
“We do it too,” Hamilton reminded him. “Any German advisor caught in Panama goes straight into a black prison for interrogation, not held for trade.”
Andrew nodded, ruefully. The threat of mutual destruction - Germany and the United States each had over 10,000 nuclear warheads - had made it impossible for either side to risk seeking a final war to decide the fate of the planet. Instead, Germany had started running weapons and supplies to radical groups in Latin America, while America had supplied Russian, French and South African insurgents with weapons of their own. But German brutality made it impossible for them to end the war on anything other than total victory, while the United States could use a combination of hard and soft power to convince the undecided to support the Americans. Mexico was more peaceful than it had been in years; Panama, the scene of a brutal insurgency, was calming down...
But the Germans can’t afford to treat anyone as equals, he thought, darkly. They have to exterminate their enemies to win, which makes it impossible for their enemies to surrender.
Knox looked at Penelope, sharply. “What happens if the German economy does collapse?”
“It’s hard to be sure,” Penelope said. “I think we’d be looking at something akin to the Great Depression, but probably a great deal worse. The German economy is more integrated than ours was in the thirties.”
“And then they will go to war,” Knox said, grimly. “Hitler saw war as the solution to Germany’s woes. War will distract their people from their empty bellies.”
“They’d have to be out of their minds,” Hamilton said. “We have the AMERICA SHIELD, do we not?”
“The system isn't perfect,” Knox reminded him. “If the Germans throw every last one of their missiles at us in a single volley, will the shield stop them all?”
“We’d certainly have a better chance of survival than they would,” Hamilton snapped. “What the bombs didn't destroy would be wiped out by their slaves afterwards.”
“And a full-scale nuclear war might well destroy the entire world,” Penelope said. “Nuclear winter will finish off the survivors.”
Andrew shook his head in grim horror. “Perhaps they won’t see it that way,” he said. “They may view mutual destruction as a victory, of sorts.”
The Ambassador held up a hand. “What are their alternatives?”
“Cut their cloak to suit their cloth,” Penelope said. “They’ll have to make massive - and painful - budget cuts.”
“Which they can’t, for political reasons,” Knox commented. “They’re committed to trying to keep up with us.”
Andrew sighed, inwardly. The Germans had been fearsome - and they still were - but they’d also been very good at projecting an illusion that they were stronger than they were. The CIA had yet to recover from taking some of the German claims at face value, back in the sixties, and terrifying Congress into authorising a colossal military build-up. Now, it was the Germans who were struggling to stay in the race...
Assuming we’re correct, he reminded himself. The buggers have got themselves caught in an elephant trap.
“Maybe it would be a good time to propose limits to military spending,” the Ambassador said, calmly. “Let them off as lightly as we can.”
“It was tried, back in the seventies,” Knox said. “We caught them cheating.”
“Back when it looked as though we would lose Mexico,” Hamilton said. “We faced the same dilemma the Germans are facing now. Do they cut their losses and admit defeat or up the ante?”
He shrugged. “Our ability to influence their decision-making process is rather limited.”
“I have to speak to the President,” the Ambassador said. “Do we try to take advantage of their problems or do we commit ourselves to doing nothing?”
“Unless the Germans become more reasonable, we can’t really do much more than we already are,” Andrew said. “We cannot trust them to honour any agreement they make; they cannot take the risk of being backed into a corner... sir, the Reich is hellishly unstable. If it goes down, it could easily go down into war.”
Penelope leaned forward. “We could offer to mediate peace in South Africa.”
“We’d have problems finding a solution everyone involved could live with,” Hamilton said, darkly. “The South Africans themselves will want to remain Top Dog in the manger for the rest of eternity, while the blacks will want - at the very least - self-rule and an end to the apartheid system. And the Nasties will want to exterminate the blacks and probably add South Africa to the Third Reich.
“Remove the German forces and the South Africans will either have to flee the country or be brutally murdered by the blacks. Stop supplying the blacks with weapons and the Germans will probably shove them all into gas chambers - if there are any left alive by the end of the war.”
Andrew shuddered. The South African Government had imposed a complete lockdown on newsmen travelling to South Africa, but a handful of intrepid reporters had made the long journey to the front. They’d sent back horrific stories and pictures, including one of hundreds of villages being firebombed from high overhead and refugees gunned down mercilessly. It had shocked America, particularly the black population. The President might find it politically impossible to stop sending weapons and supplies to the insurgents. He’d be deserted by every black congressmen and senator in the country.
“And if the Germans do abandon South Africa, the chaos will spread to Germany South,” he added. It might not be a bad thing - Germany South was the world’s largest source of uranium - but it would definitely worry the German leadership. “And then it will spread upwards into French and Italian territory.”
“The Germans would be wise to consolidate what they’ve got,” Penelope said, flatly. “If they try to hold on to their entire empire, they’ll likely lose everything.”
“They seem to disagree with you,” Knox said.
“I’d be surprised if they truly understood the problem,” Penelope said, mildly. “I’ve met a great many political and military leaders who refused to even try to understand economics.”
Ouch, Andrew thought, as Knox’s face flushed with anger. A palatable hit.
The Ambassador tapped the table sharply. “I’m due to speak with the President tomorrow,” he said. “Do I advise him, then, to do nothing and just wait for the Reich to fall apart on its own?”
“I suggest you advise him to take some extra precautions, just in case,” Knox advised. “If they’re planning to strike against us, they’re not going to tell their own people until the rockets are in the air. Putting the air and missiles bases on alert might make the difference between survival and destruction.”
“They’d just be committing suicide,” Penelope argued. “It makes no sense.”
She had a point, Andrew knew. The Reich and the NAA didn't share a border. They might be able to launch an invasion force across the English Channel, but getting the Wehrmacht to Washington DC was a fool’s dream. They’d have to contend with the United States Navy, the United States Air Force, the Royal Navy and the Canadian Navy. Andrew privately doubted the Germans would get halfway across the ocean before every last one of their ships were sunk. The Germans could make America miserable - tracking down Nazi sleeper cells was a persistent headache for the FBI - but they couldn't invade and occupy territory.
“They may not realise the truth,” Hamilton said. “Or they might not care. Just because they look like us doesn't mean they think like us.”
Andrew nodded. He’d seen what passed for education in German schools. It was long on physical exercise and quasi-military training, short on teaching boys and girls how to be anything other than interchangeable cogs in a machine. He still shuddered at visiting a school, one day, and watching the children mouth their hatred of non-Aryans. The only good thing about the whole affair was that the pictures they were shown of Jews were so horrifically caricatured that the children wouldn't recognise a Jew if they saw one.
“See what else you can gather from your sources,” the Ambassador added. “Maybe we can find a way to let them down gently.”
“They’d hate us for making the offer,” Knox said.
“They’re already placing orders for more computers and other advanced electronics,” Hamilton added. He looked at Penelope. “How long can they pay for them?”
“Unknown,” Penelope said. “But the Reich’s stockpile of foreign currency is quite low. I’d advise the sellers to make sure they get cash in advance.”
Knox scowled. “Does that not present a threat to us?”
“Possibly,” Andrew said, before Penelope could say a word. “But you try convincing the corporations that they shouldn't sell their outdated crap to the Germans.”
The Ambassador finished his coffee and rose. “I’ll see you all after I speak with the President,” he said, checking his watch. It was nearly midnight. “Until then, goodnight.”
Andrew smiled as he departed, followed by Knox. The military attaché would have his own report to write; Andrew, thankfully, could put his off until the following morning, when he’d had a chance to think about what he’d seen. Hamilton finished his own coffee, then headed for the door himself. Andrew watched him go, then looked at Penelope. She looked tired and cross-eyed.
“I plan to go for a walk in a couple of days,” he said. He wasn't asking for a date, although he knew that some people wouldn't be able to tell the difference. “Do you want to accompany me?”
Penelope hesitated. Andrew understood. No real harm would come to them, they’d been warned when they accepted the posting, but the SS sometimes harassed American visitors to Berlin. It was no great secret that spies were based in the embassy, even though Andrew, Hamilton and Penelope herself had cover stories that should explain their activities. The SS might hope that harassing the Americans would lead them to German traitors.
“It might be fun,” she said, finally. She understood what they’d be really doing, all right. A young couple out on a stroll would attract less attention than a man on his own. “Why not?”

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