“Anyone who has ever visited The Persian Cat in Vienna knows that there is no creature more deft, more supple, more responsive than a high-class courtesan,” Madame Waschbaer said. “And, as any who have attempted to cross me or my girls knows, there is no creature more dangerous and resourceful when angered.”

“Well, yes.” Inspector-General Baumkopf said, uneasily shifting in his mirror-polished boots. “So I’ve…heard, in any case. But still, what a remarkable ascent, from the whorehouses of our nation’s capital to sailing above the front lines for His Imperial and Royal Majesty’s Aviation Troops, hm?”

“I think you’ll find that it’s quite a remarkable ascent from anywhere to flying in a heavier-than-air machine, Herr Baunkopf,” said Waschbaer. “Even your men.”

The madame and the inspector continued strolling along the line of Albatros D.III biplanes turned out for inspection. The latest fighter designs from the Empire’s erstwhile ally, they were newly-built by KUK Waggonfabrik. Baumkopf gave a curt nod to the women and aircrews standing at attention in front of their machines before turning back to Waschbaer. “Yes, I’m sure,” he said. “But I wanted to see how and know why. That’s why I came myself instead of sending an assistant.”

“Well, the how you’ll see in a moment, when we fly a sortie,” said Waschbaer. “No demonstrations, this will be a live-fire exercise, a special delivery to our dear enemies across the lines. No wasted fuel or girls’ lives.”

“And why?” Inspector-General Baumkopf jabbed his swagger stick at the nearest pilot, Erna Pichler. “We do not see fit to put His Imperial and Royal Majesty’s delicate flowers on the front lines, so why do they fly above them?”

“Why, to release more of His Imperial and Royal Majesty’s strapping young lads to die for their country in the Russian mud, of course.”

“And why…er…why empty the brothels? Surely there are virtuous women who could serve and not-“

“Oh please, Inspector-General,” scoffed Madame Waschbaer. “Call a spade a spade. You may call the girls dancers, courtesans, prostitutes, whores, whatever you like, it is nothing they haven’t heard before.”

“Why…courtesans?” Baumkopf continued, looking uneasily over Erna Pichler’s various and sundry assets with a foreboding sense of familiarity. “You say they are deft, and supple, and all that, but-“

“But they are also tough,” the madame shot back. “That toughness is what will win them glory in this war while freeing your boys to be in a frozen trench someplace. And, if you’ll pardon my Francais, these girls are used to men getting screwed over thanks to them.”

Baumkopf, red as a cherry tomato, sputtered in response.

“Relax, it is a joke,” said Madame Waschbaer. “I am a commissioned officer in His Imperial and Royal Majesty’s Aviation Troops if you wish me brought up on charges for speaking so freely.”

The inspector-general continued walking past Erna, who gave him a smile and a wink, continuing the inspection almost automatically.

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