The car pulled into Oakenwald’s drive three hours past midnight. With a start, William Dreiser jerked himself awake; he was a mild-faced man in his thirties, balding, with thick black-rimmed glasses and a battered pipe tucked into the pocket of his trench coat. Sandy-eyed, he rubbed at his mustache and glanced across at the Draka woman who was his escort-guard. The car was a steam-sedan, four-doored, with two sets of seats facing each other in the rear compartment. Rather like a Stanley Raccoon, in fact.
It had been two weeks’ travel from New York. By rail south to New Orleans, then ferryboat to Havana. The Caribbean was safe enough, rimmed with American territory from Florida through the Gulf and on through the States carved out of Mexico and Central America a century before; there were U-boats in the South Atlantic, though, and even neutral shipping was in danger. Pan American flying-boat south to Recife, then Brazilian Airways dirigible to Apollonaris, just long enough to transfer to a Draka airship headed south. That was where he had acquired his Security Directorate shadow; they were treating the American reporter as if he carried a highly contagious disease.
And so I do, he thought. Freedom.
They had hustled him into the car in Archona, right at the airship haven. The Security decurion went into the compartment with him; in front were a driver in the grubby coverall which seemed to be the uniform of the urban working class and an armed guard with a shaven head; both had serf tattoos on their necks. The American felt a small queasy sensation each time he glanced through the glass panels and saw the orange seven-digit code, a column below the right ear: letter-number-number-letter-number-number-number.
Seeing was not the same as reading, not at all. He had done his homework thoroughly: histories, geographies, statistics. And the Draka basics, Carlyle’s Philosophy of Mastery, Nietzsche’sThe Will to Power, Fitzhugh’s Imperial Destiny, even Gobineau’s turgid Inequality of Human Races, and the eerie and chilling Meditations of Elvira Naldorssen. The Domination’s own publications had a gruesome forthrightness that he suspected was equal portions of indifference and a sadistic desire to shock. None of it had prepared him adequately for the reality.
Archona had been glimpses: alien magnificence. A broad shallow bowl in the edge of the plateau. Ringroads cut across with wide avenues, lined with flowering trees that were a mist of gold and purple. Statues, fountains, frescoes, mosaics: things beautiful, incomprehensible, obscene. Six-story buildings set back in gardens; some walls sheets of colored glass, others honeycomb marble, one entirely covered with tiles in the shape of a giant flowering vine. Then suburbs that might almost have been parts of California, whitewashed walls and tile roofs, courtyards . . .
The secret police officer opened her eyes, pale blue slits in the darkness. She was a squat woman with broad spatulate hands, black hair in a cut just long enough to comb, like the Eton crop of the flappers in the ’20s. But there was nothing frivolous in her high-collared uniform of dark green, or the ceremonial whip that hung coiled at her belt. One hand rested on her sidearm, he could see the house lights wink on the gold and emeralds of a heavy thumbring.
“We’re here,” she said. His mind heard it as we-ahz heah, like a Southern accent, Alabama or Cuba, but with an undertone clipped and guttural.
The silence of the halt was loud after the long singing of tires on asphalt, wind-rush and the chuff-chuff-chuff of the engine. Metal pinged, cooling. The driver climbed out and opened the front-mounted trunk to unload the luggage. The policewoman nodded to the dimly seen building.
“Oakenwald Plantation. Centurion von Shrakenberg’s here; Strategos von Shrakenberg, too. Old family; very old, very prominent. Strategoi, Senators, landholders, athletes; probably behind the decision to let you in, Yankee. Political considerations, they’re influential in the Army and the Foreign Affairs Directorate . . . You’re safe enough with them. A guest’s sacred, and it’d be ’neath their dignity to care what a foreign scribbler says.”
He nodded warily and climbed out stiffly, muscles protesting. She reached through the window to tap his shoulder. He turned and squawked as her hand shot out to grab the collar of his coat. The speed was startling, and so was the strength of fingers and wrist and shoulder; she dragged his face down level with hers, and the square bulldog countenance filled his vision, full lips pulling back from strong white teeth.
“Well, it isn’t ’neath, mine, rebel pig!” The concentrated venom in the tone was as shocking as a bucketful of cold water in the face. “You start causin’ trouble, one word wrong to a serf, one word, and then by your slave-loving Christ, you’re mine, Yankee. Understood?” She twisted the fabric until he croaked agreement, then shoved him staggering back.
He stood shaking as the green-painted car crunched its way back down the graveled path. I should never have come, he thought. It had not been necessary, either; he was too senior for war correspondent work in the field. His Berlin Journal was selling well, fruit of several years’ observation while he managed the Central European section of ABS’ new radio-broadcasting service. The print pieces on the fall of France were probably going to get him a Pulitzer. He had Ingrid and a new daughter to look after . . .
And this was the opportunity of a lifetime . . . The United States was going to have to hold its nose and cooperate with the Draka if Germany was to be stopped, and a newsman could do his bit. His meek-and-mild appearance had been useful before; people tended to underestimate a man with wire-framed glasses and a double chin.
He glanced about. The gardens stretched below him, a darkness full of scents, washed pale by moonlight; he caught glints on polished stone, the moving water of fountain and pool. The house bulked, its shadow falling across him cold and remote; behind loomed the hill, a smell of oak and wet rock, above wheeled a brightness of stars undimmed by men’s lights. It was cold, the thin air full of a high-altitude chill like spring in the Rockies.
The tall doors opened; he blinked against the sudden glow of electric light from a cluster of globes above the brass-studded mahogany. He moved forward as dark hands lifted the battered suitcases.
Dreiser found Oakenwald a little daunting. Not as much so as Hermann Goering’s weekend parties had been at his hunting lodge in East Prussia, but strange. So had waking been, in the huge four-poster bed with its disturbing, water-filled mattress; silent, smiling, brown-skinned girls had brought coffee and juice and drawn back the curtains, laying out slippers of red Moorish leather and a gray silk kaftan. He felt foolish in it; more so as they tied the sash about his waist.
The breakfast room was large and high-ceilinged and sparsely furnished. One wall was a mural of reeds and flamingos with a snowcapped volcano in the background, another was covered with screens of black-lacquered Coromandel sandalwood inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl. Tall glass doors had been folded back, and the checkerboard stone tiles of the floor ran out onto a second-story roof terrace where a table had been set. He walked toward it past man-high vases of green marble; vines spilled down their sides in sprays of green leaf and scarlet blossom.
Irritated, Dreiser began stuffing his pipe, taking comfort from its disreputable solidity. There were three Draka seated at the table: a middle-aged man in the familiar black uniform of boots, loose trousers, belted jacket and roll-topped shirt, and two younger figures in silk robes.
Good, he thought. It made him feel a little less in fancy dress. All three had a family resemblance—lean bodies and strong-boned faces, wheat-colored hair and pale gray eyes against skin tanned dark. It took him a moment to realize that the youngest was a woman. That was irritating and had happened more than once since he had entered the Domination. It wasn’t just the cut of the hair or the prevalence of uniforms, he decided, or even the fact that both sexes wore personal jewelry. There was something about the way they stood and moved; it deprived his eye of unconscious clues, so that he had to deliberately look, to examine wrists and necks or check for the swell of breast and hip. Baffling, that something so basic could be obscured by mere differences of custom . . .
The elder man clicked heels and extended a hand. It closed on his, unexpectedly callused and very strong.
“William Dreiser,” the American said, remembering what he had read of Draka etiquette. Name, rank and occupation, that was the drill. “Syndicated columnist for the WashingtonChronicle-Herald and New York Times, among others. Bureau chief for the American Broadcasting Service.”
“Arch-Strategos Karl von Shrakenberg,” the Draka replied. “Director of the Strategic Planning Section, Supreme General Staff. My son, Centurion Eric von Shrakenberg, 1st Airborne Chiliarchy; my daughter, Pilot Officer Johanna von Shrakenberg, 211th Pursuit Lochos.” He paused. “Welcome to Oakenwald, Mr. Dreiser.”
They sat, and the inevitable servants presented the luncheon: biscuits and scones, fruits, grilled meats on wooden platters, salads, juices.
“I understand that I have you to thank for my visa, General,” Dreiser said, buttering a scone. It was excellent, as usual; he had not had a bad meal since Dakar. The meat dishes were a little too highly spiced, as always. It was a sort of Scottish-Austrian-Indonesian cuisine, with a touch of Louisiana thrown in.
The strategos nodded and raised his cup slightly. Hands appeared to fill it, add cream and sugar. “Myself and others,” he said. “The strategic situation makes cooperation between the Domination and North America necessary; given your system of government and social organization, that means a press policy as well. You have influence with ABS, an audience, and are suitably antiGerman. There was opposition, but the Strategic section and the Archon agreed that it was advisable.” He smiled thinly.
Dreiser nodded. “It’s reassuring that your Leader realizes the need for friendship between our countries at this critical juncture,” he said, cursing himself for the unction he heard in his own voice. This is a scary old bastard, but you’ve seen worse, he told himself.
Johanna hid a chuckle behind a cough. The elder von Shrakenberg grinned openly. “Back when our good Archon was merely Director of Foreign Affairs, I once overheard her express a fervent desire to separate your President from his testicles and make him eat them. Presumably a metaphor, but with Edwina Palme, you never know. That was in . . . ah, ’38. She’s a mean bitch, but not stupid, and she can recognize a strategic necessity when we point it out.”
He crumbled a scone and added meditatively: “Personally, I would have preferred McClintock, or better still, Terreblanche, particularly in wartime; he could have made the General Staff if he’d stayed in uniform. Just not on, though; the Party wouldn’t have him.”
Dreiser laid down his knife. “To be frank, General, if you hope to convert me, this is scarcely the way to go about it.”
“Oh, not in the least. How did Oscar Wilde put it, after he settled in the Domination? The rest of the Anglo-Saxon world is convinced that the Draka are brutal, licentious, and depraved, the Draka are convinced that outlanders are prigs, hypocritical prudes, and weaklings, and both parties are right . . . ”
Dreiser blinked again, overcome by a slight feeling of unreality. “The problem,” he said, “will be to convince the American public that Nazi Germany is more dangerous than your Domination.”
“It isn’t,” the Draka general said cheerfully. “We’re far more dangerous to you, in the long run. But the National Socialists are more dangerous right now; the Domination is patient, we never bite off more than we can chew and digest. Hitler is a parvenu, and he’s in a hurry; wants to build a thousand-year Reich in a decade. As I said, the strategic situation—”
Dreiser leaned forward. “What is the strategic situation?” he asked.
“Ah.” Karl von Shrakenberg steepled his fingers. “Well, in general, the world situation is approaching what we in Strategic Planning call an endgame. Analogous to the Hellenistic period during the Roman-Carthaginian wars. The game is played out between the Great Powers, and ends when only one is left. To be a Great Power—or World Power—requires certain assets: size, population, food and raw materials, administrative and military skills, industrial production.
“The West Europeans are out of the running; they’re too small. That leaves two actual World Powers—the Domination and the United States. We have more territory, population, and resource base; you have a slightly larger industrial machine.”
He wiped his fingers on a napkin of drawn-thread linen. “And there are two potential World Powers: Germany and Japan. Germany holds all of Europe and is in the process of taking European Russia; Japan has most of China and is gobbling up the former European possessions in Southeast Asia and Indonesia. In both cases, if given a generation to digest, develop and organize their conquests, they would be powers of the first rank. Germany is more immediately dangerous because of her already strong industrial production and high degree of military skill. This present war is to settle the question of whether the two potential powers will survive to enter the next generation of the game. I suggest it is strongly in the American interest that they not be allowed to do so.”
“Why?” Dreiser said bluntly, overcoming distaste. This brutal honesty was one of the reasons for the widespread hatred of the Domination. Hypocrisy was the tribute vice paid to virtue, and the Draka refused to render it, refused to even pretend to virtues that they rejected and despised.
The Draka grinned like a wolf. “Ideology, demographics . . . If National Socialism and the Japanese Empire consolidate their gains, we’ll have to come to an accommodation with them. In both, the master-race population is several times larger than ours. We’re expansionists by inclination, they by necessity. Lebensraum, you see. The only basis for an accommodation would be an alliance against the Western Hemisphere, the more so as all three of us find your worldview subversive and repugnant in the extreme. Of course, two of the victors would then ally to destroy the third, and then fall out with each other. Endgame.”
“And if Hitler and the Japanese are stopped?” the American said softly.
“Why, the U.S.A. and the Domination would divide the spoils between them,” the Draka said jovially. “You’d have a generation of peace, at least: it would take us that long to digest our gains, build up our own numbers, break the conquered peoples to the yoke. Then . . . who knows? We have superior numbers, patience, continuity of purpose. You have more flexibility and ingenuity. It’ll be interesting, at least.”
The American considered his hands. “You may be impossible to live with in the long run,” he said. “I’ve seen Hitler at first hand; he’s impossible in the short run . . . but an American audience isn’t going to be moved by considerations of realpolitik: as far as the voters are concerned, munitions merchants got us into the last one, with nothing more to show than unpaid debts from the Europeans and more serfs for the Draka.”
The general shrugged, blotted his lips and rose. “Ah yes, the notorious Yankee moralism; it makes your electorate even less inclined to rational behavior than ours. I won’t say tell it to the Mexicans…” He leaned forward across the table, resting his weight on his palms. “If your audience needs a pin in the bum of their moral indignation to work up a fighting spirit, consider this. You’ve heard the rumors about what’s happening to the Jews in Europe?”
Dreiser nodded, mouth dry. “From the Friends Service Committee,” he said. “I believed them; most of my compatriots didn’t. They’re . . . unbelievable. Even some of those who admit they’re true won’t believe them.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw the younger von Shrakenbergs start at the name of the Quaker humanitarian group.
The general nodded. “They are true, and you can have the Intelligence reports to prove it. And if the Yankee in the street isn’t moved by love of the Jews, the Fritz—the Germans—plan to stuff the Poles and Russians into the incinerators next.” He straightened. “As a guest, of course, my house is yours—ask the steward for anything you wish in the way of entertainment or women. Good day.”
Dreiser stared blankly as the tall figure limped from the terrace. He looked about. The table faced south, over a courtyard surrounded by a colonnade. Cloud-shadow rolled down the naked rock of the hill behind, over the dappled oak forest, past fenced pasture and stables, smelling of turned earth and rock and the huge wild mountains to the east. The courtyard fountain bent before the wind, throwing a mist of spray across tiles blue as lapis. The two young Draka leaned back in their chairs, smiling in a not unkindly scorn.
“Pa—Strategos von Shrakenberg—can be a little . . . alarming at times,” Eric said, offering his hand. “Very much the grand seigneur. An able man, very, but hard.”
Johanna laughed. “I think Mr. Dreiser was a bit alarmed by Pa’s offer of hospitality in the form of a wench,” she drawled. “Visions of weeping captive maidens dragged to his bed in chains, no doubt.”
“Ah,” Eric said, pouring himself another cup of coffee. “Well, don’t concern yourself; the steward never has any trouble finding volunteers.”
“Eh, Rahksan?” Johanna said jokingly, turning to a serf girl who sat behind her on a stool, knitting. She did not look like the locals, the American noticed; she was lighter, like a south European. And looking him over with cool detachment.
“Noo, thank yaz kahndly, mistis,” Rahksan said. The Draka woman laughed, and put a segment of tangerine between the serf’s lips.
“I’m married,” the American said, flushing. The two Draka and the serf looked at him a moment in incomprehension.
“Mind you,” Eric continued in a tactful change of subject, “if this was Grandfather Alexander’s time, we could have shown you some more spectacular entertainment. He kept a private troupe of serf wenches trained in the ballet, among other things. Used to perform nude at private parties.”
With a monumental effort, Dreiser regained his balance. “Well, what did your grandmother think of that?” he asked.
“Enjoyed herself thoroughly, from what she used to cackle to me,” Johanna said, rising. “I’ll leave you two to business; see you at dinner, Mr. Dreiser. Come on, Rahksan; I’m for a swim.”
“This . . . isn’t quite what I expected,” Dreiser said, relighting his pipe. Eric yawned and stretched, the yellow silk of his robe falling back from a tanned and muscular forearm.
“Well, probably the High Command thought you might as well see the Draka at home before you reported on our military. This,” he waved a hand, “is less likely to jar on Yankee sensibilities than a good many other places in the Domination.”
“It is?” Dreiser shook his head. He had hated Berlin—the whole iron apparatus of lies and cruelty and hatred; hated it the more since he had been in the city in the ’20s, when it had been the most exciting place in Europe. Doubly exciting to an American expatriate, fleeing the stifling conformity of the Coolidge years. Be honest, he told himself. This isn’t more evil. Less so, if anything. Just more . . . alien. Longer established and more self-confident.
“Also, out here and then on a military installation, you are less likely to jar on Security’s sensibilities.” Eric paused, making a small production of dismembering a pomegranate and wiping his hands. “I read your book, Berlin Journal,” he said in a neutral tone. “You mentioned helping Jews and dissidents escape, with the help of that Quaker group. You interest yourself in their activities?”
“Yes,” the American replied, sitting up. A newsman’s instincts awakened.
The Draka tapped a finger. “This is confidential?” At Dreiser’s nod, he continued. “There was a young wench . . . small girl, about two years ago. Age seven, blond, blue eyes. Named Anna, number C22D178.” The young officer’s voice stayed flat, his face expressionless; a combination of menace and appeal behind the harsh gray eyes.
“Why, yes,” Dreiser said. “It created quite a sensation at the time, but the Committee kept it out of the press. She was adopted by a Philadelphia family; old Quaker stock, but childless. That was the last I heard. Why?” It had created a sensation: almost all escapees were adults, mainly from the North African and Middle Eastern provinces. For a serf from the heart of the Police Zone, there was nowhere to go and an unaccompanied child was unprecedented.
Eric’s eyes closed for a moment. “No reason that should be mentioned by either of us,” he said. His hand reached out and gripped the other’s forearm. “It wouldn’t be safe. For either of us. Understood?”
Dreiser nodded. The Draka continued: “And if you’re going to be attached to a paratroop unit, I strongly advise you to start getting into shape. Even if it’s several months before the next action.”