He was King Wilfred and he ruled both the house and the kingdom of Lüderitz from his seat at Elbemund. Crowned in just after the Austro-Prussian War at the grand hilltop Felsenkirche, he inherited his father’s hard work in building the small kingdom of Lüderitz into a modern nation within the German Confederation.

His was not always an easy reign. Wilfred had supported Lüderitz’s independence in the face of increasing Prussian encroachment, which hadn’t been a popular idea among either his subjects of his neighbors. In the end, after the whirlwind events of the Franco-Prussian War, he had to settle for quasi-independence under the suzerainty of Prussia and the new German Empire, much like his fellow monarchs of Bavaria and Württemberg.

In the absence of a proper kingdom to rule, King Wilfred instead busied himself with his great loves: architecture and horse-breeding. A program of civil improvement, that not incidentally featured many grand buildings in the king’s favored architectural style, was the hallmark of his reign and Elbemund in particular was among the newest and most modern cities in the empire at the program’s end, albeit on a smaller scale than Berlin or Munich. And Wilfred’s thoroughbreds were in such demand that at Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the entire German delegation rode Lüderitz steeds.

Wilhelm prided himself on his accessibility. The palace was open to all comers, provided they met certain minimum grooming standards, and royal audiences took up a substantial amount of his time. The King was also fond of riding about town on his beloved horses without any bodyguards, inspecting building works, chatting with his subjects, and noting improvements to be made.

World War I was a disaster for Lüderitz and Elbemund, just as it was for the rest of Germany. Several of the king’s grandsons perished as soldiers, sailors, or aviators, and his position on the General Staff saw his name attached to unpopular measures even as Wilfred himself was largely bypassed by professional soldiers, becoming a schattenkoenig much as his suzerain Wilhelm II was a schattenkaiser.

King Wilfred’s main legacy to history is his death. He was in the Königspalast when the German Revolution spilled onto the streets, led by soldiers and sailors on leave. Determined to put an end to the unrest, Wilfred rode out on his favorite charger, again without a guard, to meet the revolutionaries. He demanded that they return to their barracks; they demanded that he abdicate. The conversation grew heated.

A sailor on a rooftop shot Wilfred’s horse out from under him. Enraged, the king returned fire with his pistol…and the crowd set upon him. When troops from Weimar arrived to restore order months later, they found Wilfred, twenty-second of his line, where he had been left: on a gibbet, the only ruler in the German Empire to die in the revolution.

For years afterward, his death was held up by both communards and fascists as an example of the futility of negotiation. Cameos of King Wilfred were often sent as gifts—and subtle warnings—to those perceived as lacking steel in their political convictions. Most notably, Eugen Leviné received a Wilfred cameo as a gift from Ernst Toller just before ordering the deaths of hostages he had taken for the Bavarian Socialist Republic in 1919.

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Weber, carried only by the wind, alighted on the steeple of the Königkirche, still the highest point in the Free and Hanseatic City of Elbemund.

Dusk was coming, but it was still possible to see clearly what was going on in the streets below. The Red Spartakists had erected barricades out of trolley-cars and whatever else they could find for blocks surrounding the Königkirche and were firing from positions behind them and in many of the old row-houses along the Kaiserstraße. Men of the Freikorps apposed them, many still wearing their old uniforms from the front, though Weber saw veterans and sailors in uniform among the Spartakists as well, fighting with red armbands and the weapons they’d borne into four years of slaughter. The cracks of rifles and pistols were broken up by the staccato coughs of Spandaus or the new machine-pistols.

Men of the Reichswehr could be made out by their stahlhelms painted with bright republican colors. They wore gas masks and manned heavy artillery batteries which they fired in support of the Freikorps, and assault brigades moved with precision to ourflank the Spartakists. But in places the Freikorps were attacking the Reichswehr; Weber saw at least one artillery battery cleared out by a man with a machine pistol and turned back on its previous owners. Künstler had been right; the Freikorps were only siding with the Republic out of convenience, and they clearly saw the heavy weaponry as a great prize that could be used once the Red Spartakists were cast down. They probably had starry-eyed notions of driving onto Berlin and shelling President Ebert out of his office and installing His Majesty Wilhelm in the smoking crater that resulted.

Air raid sirens rang over it all, a pall of noise to go with the smoke, and in the distance the neon and thumping jazz of Rotlicht could still be perceived. Weber, slumped against a gargoyle, wept bitterly at the sights, the sounds, and the scents from below. He had to get out of Elbemund, to go further than he had before, to hide and remove himself from the violent conflagration working its way across the city.

He had only begun to toy with the idea when a far-off buzzing attracted his attention. Noisy specks were incoming on the horizon; after a moment, Weber saw that it was a formation of Fokker D.VII fighter planes. They bore the bright-colored cockades of the Entente, but from newsreels and posters Weber recognized that the pilots wore German gear. The formation broke apart as he watched; a group made a strafing run on Spartakist positions and several went down in flames, riddled with heavy machine gun bullets from the Reds or the Freikorps.

The remainder zeroed in on the Königkirche. Weber had been spotted, and he barely had time to move before the gargoyle on which he’d been leaning was shattered by incendiary bullets.

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She walked along the darkened street, wary of patrols, darting from pool to pool of lamplight. Her handler was camped out in the darkest and dingiest exurb of Berlin by necessity; the information that was being passed through him was sensitive enough to change the course of their mutual struggle, and explosive enough that the police weren’t the only concern.

If she or her handler were caught, they’d never make it to the secret police interrogation cell. The citizens of Berlin would tear them to pieces with their bare hands.

“You’re late.” Her handler was standing in the doorjamb of a hovel, a lit cigarette drooping from his lip.

She scowled. “I’m absolutely on time. Stop trying to throw me off balance for your own amusement. And put out your cigarette; you’ll attract attention.”

“Always so fiery,” the handler chuckled. “I hope your information is just as incendiary.”

She handed over a slip of paper. “Straight from the lion’s mouth. Heinrich’s complete itinerary, including public appearances, maneuvers, and training exercises.”

The handler eagerly took up the paper. “You’re sure there will be no changes to it?”

“It is the final draft.”

“And what of security? Guards?”

The woman held out a second slip. “The complete security schedule as well. Surprisingly slight for a figure of national importance, one so vital to the Germans.”

“You realize that if it becomes known that you have passed this information on to the British-”

“I believe in what we’re doing,” she replied, cutting him off. “And I expect to be well-paid for my espionage.”

“Oh, you certainly, certainly will.” The handler was gleefully rubbing his hands together. “And in the meantime, we’ll arrange an ambush for Heinrich. Sudden and brutal, as befits someone who’s taken down so many of our boys in the field.”

And, sure enough, the attack went forward as planned. The morning after, the major American papers across the ocean trumpeted the events: GERMAN NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM MEMBER TOBIAS HEINRICH ATTACKED, LEG SHATTERED; UK STANDS TO WIN WORLD CUP ON NEWS OF BEST GERMAN PLAYER’S INJURY.

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“It’s an overstamp. You see this all the time in weapons that have been captured or changed hands.” Mayotte produced a jeweler’s lens from a drawer under the register and studied the rifle intently for a minute. “The overstamp says ‘Flieger-Selbstlader-Karabiner 15,’ which I think means ‘self-loading aircraft-carbine, 1915.'”

“So it’s a German gun? From World War I?”

“I don’t think so.” Mayotte said, still staring intently at the overstamp. “The magazine’s a snail type, but it’s all wrong for the Germans. The caliber, 7mm Mauser, sounds German, but the Germans only used it for imports and captures.”

Keith squirmed. “You’re leaving me hanging in suspense here.”

“Ah, here we go,” said Mayotte. “‘Fusil Porfirio Diaz, Systema Mondragon, Modelo 1908.’ That’s what the Germans stamped over. ‘Porfirio Diaz Rifle, Mondragon System, Model 1908.’ It’s a Mondragon.”

After a short blank stare, Keith cleared his throat. “No offense, ma’am, but that sounds like something that ought to be breathing fire in a fantasy movie more so than a long arm.”

“It’s Mexican,” Mayotte said. She removed a glove and touched the barrel; the first tingling sensations and images began to flow immediately. “The first semiautomatic rifle ever adopted into service. They were made in Switzerland by SIG but the Mexican Revolution and the fact that the rifles don’t much like dirt and rough handling got the order canceled.”

“And the Germans?” said Keith, eying Mayotte’s faraway expression with some unease.

The roar of a radial engine, the howl of the wind with the brutal nip of a few thousand feet altitude… “The Swiss sold them to the Germans,” Mayotte murmured. Her pupils visibly dilated as she talked. “They gave them to observers in two-seater biplanes to defend themselves.”

“And?

Racking the action, taking aim across the sights and the wind and the world at the French bastards, who’d been good enough to paint a bright target on the side of their plane… “Let’s see what she can tell us,” Mayotte whispered.

Spielmann’s notes were in a kind of quasi-German patois–whether as a function of his haste, his terrible handwriting, or the fact that Yiddish was his first language, I couldn’t say.

He would describe the things he found on the islands using a kind of code: A-D for the island, X for animals, Y for plants, Z for fungi, and the word “specien” for multiple captures and “speci” for singles. In lieu of a description, he provided a basic sketch.

AXspecien6, for example, appeared to describe a curious asymmetrical walking stick insect, which had three legs on the left but only a single large leg on the right (and, if the scale was correct, was 6-7 inches in length!). Ordinarily I would have dismissed such a finding as a single aberrant individual, but Spielmann apparently cataloged dozens. He even included sketches of larger, brighter females, smaller, duller males, and nymphs which apparently shed their legs as they grew.

You see, Britain and France both claim the totality of the area, and further claims had been advanced by Germany, Italy, and other countries late to the colonization game. King Xmube, you see, was no fool; he negotiated the treaty in front of representatives of every interested nation, declining to reveal his choice until the end. Furthermore, he added that it was to be renegotiated every year before agreeing to sign.

Xmube had the treaty text translated by a missionary, and signed the mineral rights in the Mdogo Triangle to Britain, the seaport and trade rights to the French, and the protectorate status jointly to the Germans and Italians. It was a morass, a mess, and Xmube took great delight in the confusion it caused.

Eventually, of course, the Europeans colluded with one another to settle their affairs and put Xmube out of the picture courtesy of an ambitious nephew. But his legacy was such fierce wrangling over such a tiny area that even today no one is sure who owns the Triangle and Xmube’s people live much as they always have–for now.

The man picked himself up, and tossed aside the mangled remains of his weapon. “My name is Tobias Schiller, but to most around here I’m ‘the Kraut.'”

Vincent had never heard of anyone embracing that term with anything approaching good humor. “You don’t mind being called that?”

“What, a ‘Kraut?’ No. In fact, I’ve come to embrace it as a useful shibboleth,” Schiller said, grinning.

“A what?”

A shrug. “It means way of telling one sort of person from another. Anyone who calls me ‘the Kraut’ has exposed themselves as a little crude, a little ignorant, and certainly no friend of mine. Useful when consorting with gangsters and machine guns both, wouldn’t you agree?”