This scene contains racism, graphic violence and death.
44th of the Postill’s Dew, 2031 D.C.E
Federation of Northern States, Republic of Rhinea — Eiserne
Fruehauf fell in an unforgiving cold alleyway, and jarringly, without transition, she woke in a shabby couch in a room furnished with little else besides, the fireplace dangerously close. She feared she was being thrown in and burned, disposed of like the hated thing that she was, and panicked, and fell from the couch and squirmed uncontrolalbly.
Two figures approached her suddenly and touched her and spoke soundless words.
Fruehauf struggled against them. Her senses had not fully returned.
Her vision wavered, and when it set, and the blaring tinnitus in her ears gradually settled, she could see and hear a dark-skinned, dark-haired woman and another. She focused on the first, an object of a dreadful fear, and she panicked and pushed her away and bashed herself against the couch trying to escape without standing from the ground.
Finally another woman, blond-haired, blue-eyed, seized her and forced her still.
“Come to your senses!” She shouted in Fruehauf’s face.
Freuhauf stopped struggling, and her eyes filled with tears, and she gasped for breath.
Over the course of several minutes Fruehauf slowly came to. She averted her gaze from the Ayvartan woman and from the Nochtish woman who clearly understood and resented the way she treated the former. Fruehauf felt deplorable but steeped in that and did not allow herself to mutter any apologies. She well and truly wished she would just be discarded instead of afforded fake kindness, and so she became more forceful.
“Just give me a ride to the Hotel Reich, if you want to help.” She mumbled.
“Who do you think you are? I’d throw you out on the street if it wouldn’t constitute murder at this point!” said the Nochtish woman. “Are you listening to this?”
She turned to the other woman, who shook her head and smiled weakly. “I’m not unused to this, don’t worry. I think she’s just disoriented. Aren’t the soldiers all supposed to come tomorrow? If she’s here this early there must be some other reason isn’t there?”
“I’m not going out of my way to make it my business for this ingrate.”
Fruehauf felt bitter but she didn’t allow herself to indulge in any insults either.
“I’m from the unlucky 13th. Everyone hates my unit so we’re here early, so that there won’t have to be a walk of shame in the middle of the festivities.” Fruehauf said.
Though the Ayvartan woman did not understand the reference, the blond understood.
“The 13th Panzer? I guess that makes sense. It’s awful cruel, but it makes sense.”
She seemed to ease off Fruehauf at that point and Fruehauf hated her pity.
“If you won’t murder me then just drive me to the hotel. I don’t want to stay here.”
Both of the women were wearing robes over short gowns, and Fruehauf allowed herself the scandalous thought that they were cohabitating sapphics, a concept at once both well known and widespread and damned as a taboo. Since she didn’t know their names, or where she was, and was unlikely to be given either, so she guessed there wasn’t any danger in them meeting her like this. She couldn’t report anything even if she suspected, not that she would at any rate, no matter how bitter. Or maybe they were just that bold.
Not that she was going to report them; what good would it do for her? She was as bad.
“Fine, I’ll drive you there if it’ll get you out of my hair.” said the blond.
“Okay.” Fruehauf said. She sounded so bratty, and she hated it. But she couldn’t help it.
“Please take it easy ma’am,” said the Ayvartan woman.
Fruehauf didn’t even look at her. She was too gentle and Fruehauf hated that also.
Federation of Northern States, Republic of Rhinea — Hotel Reich
“Ma’am, this may be our only chance for a long time.”
Across the street from the Hotel Reich, among many cars packing the side of the road, there was a long, sleek black limousine with tinted windows. Though this vehicle served quite a life as a government vehicle, on this night its government markings, on its rear window and along the sides, had been covered by black strips of adhesive tape as a shoddy disguise. The limousine was lightly crewed: there were only two passengers and a driver. The VIP, a voluptuous blond woman in a black mink coat and a veiled hat, sat in the middle seat away from the windows. Across from her was an assistant in a skirt suit.
“Ma’am, I’ll go. I’m sure he’ll understand and acquiesce to a meeting.” said the assistant.
She was a young girl, unremarkable save for her devotion.
The VIP frowned, her lush red lips almost shining through the veil.
Even covered up, she was too easy to spot. Everyone was already always looking for her in a crowd. She was too big, too popular, too beautiful. Her life was not hers to hide now.
“This is stupid.” said the VIP. “What can I do, even with his help?”
“We can find dirt. We can sabotage Lehner.”
The VIP laughed bitterly. “Here I am, ‘sabotaging’ the father of my child.”
“I understand you’re anxious ma’am, but the way he behaves, the way he treats you! It’s horrible, it’s scandalous. I detest it. I agreed with you before, when you said you wanted to get revenge. Ma’am, you deserve revenge on him. He doesn’t deserve what he as.”
Agatha Lehner wondered if she’d hooked another girl with her charms, without even wanting to. Kind of like with Cecilia– would she leave too? But Cecilia hadn’t been unwanted. She could delude herself as much as she wanted. But she loved Cecilia. Perhaps this girl who had admired her for long, had grown to feel that way too.
What was with the women of this nation and their repressed, hopeless emotions?
Agatha wanted to shout. But she was so exhausted by everything.
“Go.” She said finally. “He’ll think it’s a trick. He won’t ally with us. But go.”
Nodding, the assistant left the limousine without even taking her coat.
Agatha reached out to her reflexively. Whether she wanted to warn her to take her coat, or to grab her and kiss her out of wanting a woman to kiss; she wasn’t certain which would have happened. Neither did. So quick was her assistant, so precise, that she was crossing the street before any more could be said. But not before Agatha could miss her.
Outside, the wind was picking up and driving the snow so that it seemed to fall in arcs, like the fire of a howitzer. They had a full blown blizzard on their hands, but there were still people out and loitering, because the event at the Reich was just that grand. Agatha’s young assistant squeezed between the cars and moved toward the crowd at the doors.
She bumped into a man, and was barely able to say she was sorry before darting on.
Pushing her way through a crowd apparently growing denser, she found, in the lobby of the Reich, that Bertholdt Stein was preparing to leave. His entourage surrounding him, and cameras and microphones ensnaring them, they moved meter by meter to the doors. Reporters hurled questions at him from every which way, flashed him without a second’s hesitation, encircled him from all sides for his image and his words.
At this sight, the assistant panicked. She was too late.
This was not a case of a woman in a professional capacity who feared failing her boss in a task that could have granted her promotion. She would have stopped and give up if so. However this young woman had a sense of empathy toward a fellow woman, perhaps deeper than empathy, and she was smitten with justice and the belief she could carry it out. Bertholdt Stein was certainly privy to the gossip, to the slow humiliation of Agatha Lehner, her disappearance from banquets, her husband’s meetings with other women.
Surely Stein, if he was a real man, would at least agree to a meeting. To listen to her.
Fueled by this irrational desire, the assistant hurled herself through the crowd.
“Herr Stein!” She cried out. “Please sir! I need to talk with you.”
She burst through, found herself directly in front of the man and bowed her head.
Shocked, Stein and his entourage paused to take stock. The crowd pulled back a little.
All of those eyes were on her, and she could scarcely do more than stare and stammer.
It was only when the gunshots rang that she was able to get out another word.
Actions, once undertaken, cannot ever be fully recovered or undone.
In every decision there is the tragedy of the effect caused and the context lost.
Were it possible to step backward through the dimension of Time and arrive at any moment, one would still possess no means to change the future, but merely to create a new and different future through new and different actions. Were it possible to return to a moment in time, one would still fail to understand the fullness of its context, for every detail from the breaths taken and the sights seen, are impossible to recreate as a whole.
Historians work with visions, dreaming into the past. Like dreams, there is a skeleton of the truth, but when one considers the magnitude of everything that encompasses humanity, one realizes how simplistic that which we see as total truly is. One never comes close to the true enormity of the past; one can only create a nonfiction of it. One can reproduce the facts that one has and inject prejudice into them; and call it truth.
Ponderous “what if’s” are viewed as unprofessional, but where there is time, every historian projects their own prejudices to the past and wonders, had the item that vexes them personally been removed from a scene, could life have turned out better then?
Since the 44th of the Postill’s Dew, many have wondered about the assassination of Bertholdt Stein, and what could possibly have been done to change its cruel reality.
Many men have picked one of the several meetings that Stein had after which he could have left the building peacefully and lived to fight another day. A popular prejudice, for those who know of it, is that the meeting with Alicia Kolt was valuable and necessary; beyond that, it is a product of the historian’s bias which of the various consultants, lawyers, men of faith, and other persons with no valuable words, could have been axed.
It was perhaps the final meeting that was most tragic and frivolous, most vexing.
Many men in their bias would judge the woman who held up Stein until he was shot.
They would have cruel words for her, because they would call her and the deep-seated feelings that she held, ‘irrelevant’, ‘pointless’, ‘frivolous’. They would wonder aloud if she was a plant, or if she was Bertholdt’s mistress, or a young woman he took advantage of who desired some satisfaction. She would be utterly picked apart by history, destroyed.
Her connection to Agatha Lehner was mercifully destroyed in the process as well.
After all, what control or influence could one woman really exert on another one.
At any rate, as soon as the guns went off, Agatha was driven away and disappeared.
She was never connected to the scene nor did she connect herself to it, out of fear.
A nameless assistant would take blows in death that no even the shooter himself did.
Niklas Todt knew he was sick, and he knew he was part of a society that was sick.
To a point, Todt flew close to the substance of things, but he kicked off of the planet he was orbiting and became a moon to the truth, never touching it, never colliding. He hovered around truth and made violent tides that disfigured its surface. Nothing more.
Todt believed Nocht was being eaten from within, and he correctly identified that his lot in life was impoverished, marginalized, steadily drained: but not by warmongers and industrial vultures and capital kings who hoarded the wealth literally bled from civilians and soldiers alike. Todt blamed the peace movement, those cowards who tried to steer them from glorious victory; he blamed the subhuman Ayvartans, the mongrel Lachy, the barbaric Loups, and other such peoples whose conspiracies undermined the livelihood of those he considered truly human; he blamed the leftists and intellectuals and elites, now a singular class, unified out of the distortions of his own brain, for undermining an idealized Nochtish culture through the moral degeneracy of their scarcely-read words.
In his mind, he was part of the most hated, harassed, censored group of men on Aer.
In Todt’s life, the singular moment that politicized him was the frog pin that he had received at an Achim Lehner rally, years ago. Political commentators called him and other Lehner voters “Frogs,” who croaked and bleated in tune with their master, who let Lehner think for them so they wouldn’t have to. They let Lehner talk to them about science and progress and a new age for Nocht, about a utopian Nochtish vision were men armed with the greatest intellects in the world, the highest technology, the most iron-clad moral clarity and strength and a perfect roadmap of ideas, would finally solve the problems of civilization and become immortal. Todt had never felt both so angry and so elated. He was part of something; there was finally a place he was not alienated from. He listened to Lehner along with his fellows, and he believed, and he psyched himself up. And yet, that place was ridiculed and besieged. Todt believed he had to fight for it now.
That was as much as his manifesto had to say.
Beyond that, his physical actions were known.
He took his brother’s gun and he made it to the Hotel Reich.
For a long time he was a heavily psychoanalyzed cadaver.
Scholars would interrogate him in absentia for ages.
It was vexing!
He must have known the ramifications of what he was about to do. That there was no way he could escape, no way he would be acknowledged as the hero he saw himself to be. No way his movement would not alienate him for their own sake. And yet, on this score, history would fail. They never truly saw what lurked inside Niklas Todt’s head.
He was a ghost, and he would haunt history and those who lived in it.
A grey Oder Olympus parked across the street, near a black limousine.
None of the people in either car knew how close or how distant they were then.
With a huff, a young woman charged out of the back of the Olympus and crossed.
“Good riddance!” shouted the driver.
In the next instant, there were gunshots from inside the Reich.
Immediately, the black limousine took off, so fast it almost hit the Olympus.
Shocked, Cecilia Foss and Ramja Biswa stepped out of the car and stared at the street around the Hotel Reich. People fled in a panic. A human mass emptied out.
Helga Fruehauf rushed inside out of some soldierly sense of justice.
Even she did not know what she was doing, but the sound of guns activated something in her. She charged through the doorway and found herself facing the back of a disheveled, wild-haired man shooting wildly with one-handed grip. He hit a woman in front of him twice, swung his arm, hit two men, and then he hit finally laid waste to his actual target. Bertholdt Stein got to say to nothing, not even to beg, not even to stop; he was struck in the stomach, and the recoil rode the other shots up, to the chest, to the neck twice.
Fruehauf threw herself forward, barely thinking.
She wrestled a surprised Todt to the ground.
They fumbled with the gun for what was an eternity to those trapped around them.
Fruehauf and Todt both had the insane strength of adrenaline on their side.
But Todt took control of the gun, because Fruehauf was herself, too sick, too drained.
Had she not been so mistreated for the past several months, had she not been on the razor’s edge of life and death even as she walked through that door. Then perhaps.
After all she suffered, she tragically could not withstand any more abuse.
Todt shot Fruehauf in the chest, and, wide-eyed, unbelieving of her situation, she fell.
As Fruehauf died, unremarked upon and unknown, Todt stood back up.
He turned the gun back on Bertholdt Stein and his entourage.
There was a resounding click. His magazine was empty.
That click, like a dog whistle, awakened something primal in the surrounding people.
Todt dropped the gun, and he was beset.
Dozens of people lunged for him, punched him, kicked him in a mob. He was brought to the ground, and beaten with furniture, beaten with the strong steel paperweights of the front desk, beaten with the hard snow boots of visiting guests, beaten with furniture. His face was smashed out of shape, his bones were crushed, his organs stamped to a pulp, he was beaten and beaten and beaten and beaten and beaten like his blood was for painting the floor. Men and women, wealthy guests and poor hotel workers, all destroyed Todt.
His green frog pin turned red and black and seemed to be swallowed by his own flesh.
All of the pain of the human race seemed to be inflicted upon Todt in that one instant.
Everything else was forgotten. Many crucial details would just, be forgotten.
Everything but this aberration, this act of God against their fake peace.
Fruehauf was beyond the help of a hospital, and yet, nobody even offered.
Stein had been practically dead on the spot, losing both heart and artery.
“Oh my god!”
Ramja and Cecilia stepped through into the hotel, minutes after the final shot.
Fruehauf was dead on the floor, away from the mob taking revenge on Niklas Todt.
She was ringed in a tidy circle of blood, like a macabre piece of art.
Ramja covered her mouth in shock, tears bursting from her eyes.
Unlike her people in Ayvarta, she was still innocent and unknowing to bloody violence.
Cecilia grabbed hold of Ramja and tried to pull her away.
She was not innocent to violence; and therefore she could at least shield her partner.
She took her back home, where they wept, huddled together, breathed deeply.
Back home, where they lived. They would live. They were alive. Shocks could pass.
Though they had seen something sudden and shocking they were unprepared for, they could manage to live through it. Nobody was lucky; but they were luckier than some.
For everyone, it was over and one. In an instant, and without satisfaction.
Ambulances came with nobody to heal. Everyone who was hurt was hurt to death.
Police came with nobody to question. Everyone who could explain was too dead to do so.
It was messy, sudden, random, despicable and vexing. Vexing! Who could understand?
There was no moment of grandeur where every life touched by this connected to form a tapestry with meaning attached. There was nothing revelatory; everything was just swallowed in the silent trauma of moving on and forward every day in a sick society. Everyone felt helpless to do anything except hope there would be no more shocks.
If there was one historical angle that could be concrete in year 2031, it was the impact on the presidential race. And yet election analysts, wary of politicizing the incident or implicating the President, which would have been dangerous and unfair in their view, were brief and nearly silent on the matter of Stein, and the politics of the election year.
All that anyone knew was that the constant of the Solstice War was extended yet again.
Could the Solstice War have been ended by Bertholdt Stein in 2031-32 Nocht?
That would remain a question for the idle time of the historian, not for the profession.