CHAPTER 6: THE ACCIDENTAL ARCHIVIST
Karin looked down at the neat stacks of file folders on the dark oak conference table, all stamped “FOREIGN OFFICE” and then, in script, dates rolling back years.
“Well, let me know if you need anything. I’ll let you get on with it!” the middle-aged lady announced, a bureaucrat who smiled primly and left her alone.
The King Peter Map Room was a large sunlit room, a sumptuous library filled with volumes on the most minute aspects of Dominion foreign policy, as well as a collection of maps dating back two hundred years. The dust motes rose from the stacks of file folders and danced in the streams of sunlight that poured in through the huge old floor to ceiling paned windows. Based on the layer of dust alone, she doubted it had been used in years.
Her career in international relations was off to a running thump. So much for connections, she thought, as she began pulling out the file folders, quickly reviewing them and assigning them to one of an increasing family of stacks, each destined for archiving based on a carefully outlined master list of labels the sans-personality under-secretary had provided her. Instead of the centre of activity the ministry had been under Foreign Minister Therese just a few months before, the place was now a graveyard, with all the really talented staff moving over with their boss, the new PM Therese, into Government House.
It could have been worse. Since returning from the holiday, she’d simply taken up her old room in the townhouse and the Ministry was close enough to walk to. If the cadetship hadn’t turned out to be half as glamorous or challenging as she’d hoped, it kept her busy—if only with archiving busywork like the kind staring back at her, in the form of musty old manila files. The staff were older but nice, not exactly the high powered policymakers and diplomats she’d imagined and more like a local council office with better interior design.
Gunnar had surprised her with a dozen red roses delivered to Ministry reception, which tickled the older women who made up the middle ranks of the Ministry. “Glad you’re back” it read and she wasn’t surprised when Mariela handed her a note on her return home, from Gunnar, asking her to meet him at Nord for drinks and dinner. Since then, they’d had dinner together when he was in town. When he was out of town, it was only because he was working on “mad deals” that would ensure trips to London when she departed in a few months. It was comfortable, it was good and it was going exactly as Karin had hoped.
Elise called a couple times a week from uni to “check in”. Her news about Gunnar was rewarded with gossip on the Christiansen sisters—Laura was thinking of grad school, while Sarah was seeing a British exchange student. Other friends were already interviewing for jobs after graduation, though Elise was in no hurry to make any commitments. “Publishing, probably,” she offered with no enthusiasm, “but maybe advertising. I just don’t know. I’d loved school—maybe I’ll just do a grad degree with Laura.”
“In what?” her best friend pressed, already knowing her mind.
“Well, I don’t know!” came the exasperated answer. “What difference does it make?”
Typical Elise, with her large, impossibly prosperous family behind any choice she made. As for her own family, Karin saw her mother as rarely as before, always busy at National Health Services. Paul was home more often. Since the election that had put Lucia Therese in Government House, his own safe seat in the Senate made him a target for unending political seduction attempts by the Opposition National Party, as well as by the governing Progressives. It all bored her to no end—big and small fish swirling about in the tiny fishbowl that was the Dominion political arena. It was why domestic politics were a black hole for her and she’d always been attracted to the wider world stage. She honestly knew more about the domestic politics of countries in Europe and North America than whatever was going on in the Dominion—which was usually related to commodities prices or the cost of shipping.
Now she realised how boring the Dominion’s foreign relations were as well. Based on the files she was reviewing, foreign affairs had less to do with intricate diplomatic dances than facilitating quarantining of visitor pets and granting tourism visas. She scanned through the top sheet on the hundredth file of the morning. A summary on the installation of a new well in Peru.
“Aid,” she said to herself, dropping it in small pile to her right.
When she’d asked if there was any more to the cadetship than archiving loose ministry paperwork, the Under Secretary had primly informed her that as they had never offered a cadetship before now, she had no idea what a cadetship involved. Until they came up with something else, Karin was informed, yes, it would involve archiving, which the permanent staff of the last few years seemed to have had little interest in. Karin didn’t blame them.
Advice not to visit Katanga due to ‘adverse local condition’. “Travel,” she noted, tossing it in a fairly tall stack in front of her.
A Dominion vote in the General Assembly in the affirmative for naming 2019 as the ‘Year of the Indigenous Languages’. Yawn. “UN.” It landed in a big pile on her left.
Scanning the next topsheet, she was confused. It was, except for sender, recipient, subject and date lines, almost entirely redacted. Thick black lines obscured the rest. Lazily, she began to place it in the small pile for “Intelligence” as it must have been a DIS request. But a quick double check revealed the sender as Royal Household, Security Detachment. Not strictly the DIS. Recipient was the Ministry, so fair enough, but the subject line simply read “Extradition Request, Azania”. It was dated five years’ previously. Where did this need to go? “Royal”? “Intelligence”? “Criminal”? She set it aside as she pressed on with the rest. She’d ask for clarification and let someone else decide. Still, as the afternoon ticked down to the end of the work day, the mystery file kept calling to her. Too many loose ends—and something had happened five years ago. The Dominion didn’t boast any international jewel thieves that she knew of. Before leaving for the day, she decided to uncover the mystery herself. But, who to call?
She picked up the secure land line phone, the only type allowed in the Ministry, and asked to be connected to the Palace.
“Private Secretary’s Office please—this is the Foreign Ministry. Me? I’m the… Archivist,” she replied. A few minutes later, she’d relayed her question to an assistant. “No rush—just need clarification on how this document she should be handled,” she assured the listener, “so if you could, please just leave a message for me if you might. Thank you!”
With that, she packed up for the day, pleased she could brag it had ended with a call to the Palace if anyone should ask.
CHAPTER SEVEN: SIGNS AND PORTENTS
Location: Ministry of Justice
Kongestad, Kongsborg Province
Major Astrid Bach waited in the austere conference room, reviewing her notes and re-checking her Powerpoint. She was still a bit confused by the protocol. She’d ben seconded to the Blomster Police Command via Justice, but should she have informed her superiors about this meeting before agreeing to present her findings? For a reservist junior officer, she still wasn’t sure about the ins and outs of military procedures, at this level any way. For her, it had originally meant an easy “A Way Forward For Women” military scholarship and not having to take on a workstudy job at Dominion State U, not a foray into real combat or a career in military intelligence!
Astrid sprang to attention, saluting instantly.
Hanne Ingrid, the Minister of Defence and the ultimate power in the Dominion military establishment, gave her a cool nod and Astrid slipped into an “at ease” position.
“I still do not understand why we aren’t having this—well, whatever it is — in Grimborg or the MOD!” The question was addressed to her host, Minister of Justice MaryBethCarlene, and it was just shy of rude. It was well known that, while they shared a loyalty to the current PM, they were considered future rivals for the big job should it become available.
“Because this is a criminal matter as of now, Ingrid. And because my security is better than yours.”
The older woman stiffened at that, then sat down. “Well, that’s highly debateable and you’re the lawyer, not me MaryBeth. Let’s go—I have a Defence Council meeting in an hour at Government House.”
“Very well. There was an assault in Blomsterby three weeks ago. The particularities seemed odd to the investigators as the crime seemed to bear indications it was… political in nature. Given the cross over between terrorism and national defence, I was asked to request a military intelligence expert to consult. Major Astrid was seconded. We were most grateful—a veteran of recent field action AND an intel analyst! What she’s going to share with you has only been recounted to myself—that’s it.”
Hanne re-considered the young officer. “Recent field action, major?” she asked, more intent now.
“Sallopsgangdalen, Northern District, Minister. It was really nothing,” she added, “just a failed PRF raid on a farmstead.”
Now Minister Hanne smiled. “You are being too humble. That may have been a turning point in the PRF’s little attempt at a ground war. They seemed to have gone back to ground since then. It was fine work, Major.”
Astrid nodded uncomfortably. “May I, Minister?”
Hanne nodded. “Do proceed, Major.”
Astrid tapped the mouse. “The Blomsterby attack, as Minister Carlene has said, contained elements that were peculiar to say the least. The victim, a Julie Abildgård, was returning home after closing down the café she worked at part time. It is considered a ‘safe’ part of the city and she was no more than a block away from her flat when the assault began. A bag was placed over her head and she was carried away by several men into a nearby office building under construction. There she was stripped, raped three times and subjected to being photographed afterwards.”
Hanne glowered. “This is what the PM has been fighting against all her life—wanton violence perpetuated against women. Unfortunate, but not uncommon.”
Carlene drew circles on the table. “Actually QUITE uncommon. Rapes have dropped to a fifty year low in the last few years, Ingrid. But do continue, Major.”
Astrid nodded. “The victim couldn’t identify any of her attackers but she believed there were at least five, maybe as many as ten.”
“And they all raped her?” Hanne pressed.
Astrid shook her head. “No, Minister. She was raped three and only three times and she believes it was by the same man. She smelled the same smell each time. She believes it was a Primevan.”
Hanne rubbed her brow. “So now we come to it. Well, this must happen from time to time. It doesn’t necessarily mean it was political in nature. More like bad luck on the part of the poor victim.”
“Ingrid, there hasn’t been a Primevan on Dominion rape in thirty years. It’s extremely rare,” the Minister of Justice stated unequivocally. “There were a flurry of false reports thirty years ago and back but there hasn’t been a prosecutable case since then. I’m not saying it doesn’t ever happen, but that we haven’t carried any charges through to a successful prosecution.”
The MOD turned to the young major. “That doesn’t mean it was political, though—does it?” It was stated as a fact, the options too disagreeable to contend with.
The major tapped the mouse and another image appeared on the screen. It depicted a woman in a police clinic, head obscured but blouse raised. Between her breasts was the unmistakeable five pointed star of the PRF, drawn with a bright red ink. “I’m afraid it does,” she informed Hanne.
“There’s more. There’s, well—there’s this.” Astrid pulled the half tattered magazine from her satchel, dropping it on the table. “This was found dropped a block away. But we’ve discovered other copies.”
Hanne’s eyes bulged as she flicked through the pages. “Other copies in Blomsterby?” she barely managed to ask, eyes riveted to the images on the slick pages.
“Other copies across the Dominion,” Minister Carlene answered. “This trash is being distributed throughout every major urban location, always found in Primevanneighborhoods. And it gets worse. Major?”
Astrid held the attention of two of the most senior officials in the Dominion but wished she could be anywhere else. “This was just the first reported attack.”
“There have been others,” Hanne grimly acknowledged.
“Thirty-nine reported attacks in the last two months. They may have been others. The Minister,” she nodded to MaryBeth, “ has placed them under a media blackout so as not to cause undue panic. In each and every case, the victim has been between eighteen and thirty, a Dominioner female and while the attack as always involves a group, I believe the rapes are only committed by one of the group. Every victim is finally photographed in multiple, uh, poses.” The pinpoints on the Dominion map clustered in cities and towns like tiny red daggers.
“How many murders?” Hanne asked.
Astrid shook her head. “None. And there’s one more common element to the ritual. Each victim is forced to swallow a pill. Toxicology tests have identified it as Levonorgestrel— the so called “Morning After” contraception pill.”
“This is new to me,” noted MaryBeth. “What do you make of it, Major? Where are we now?”
Astrid shrugged. “I’d only be speculating, Minister—”
Hanne slapped the table. “Then speculate, damn it!”
Astrid jumped. “Very well. I believe this activity may be a PRF cell ritual. PRF recruitment, we believe, has spiked in recent weeks, the same period in which that,” she pointed at the copy of ‘MINX’ magazine, “starting getting distributed. It is a recruiting drive, I believe. And the attacks are an initiation rite which is the pay-off. Join up and get a free rape. Several of the victims seemed to think they were attacked by someone who knew them. Not a specific name, just a sense. Because every attack was planned to the minute. Travel routes, times, addresses—the attackers knew it all. It wasn’t random—it was premeditated in every aspect.”
MaryBeth shook her head. “Why would the PRF willingly expose themselves as rapists? It doesn’t make sense, Major Bach.”
“With respect Minister, because it conforms to the recent shift in PRF ideology. The new leadership has expelled the old moderate wing. They aren’t interested in co-existence or power sharing. They want total control of the Dominion,” Astrid insisted.
“But who? The Primevans are a concept, not a people. Africans, Indians, Arabs, Chamorros and every other imperial troublemaker the British wrapped up and transported here. They aren’t an indigenous people—the Europeans settled the Dominion—they were dumped here!”
Astrid nodded. “I agree but the recent chatter on social media and offline conversations indicates and new syncretistic tone—”
Hanne shook her head. “A what?”
Astrid backed up. “Sorry, Minister. I was a sociology major at uni. Syncretism is when a new identity springs out of a range of older concepts. The language coming out of the PRF is filled with trigger words that indicate they are attempting to establish a new identity for everyone in the Dominion excluding the original settlers.” She referred to her notes, reading off the phrases rapidly. “Forging a future, bonds for strength, unity for mastery—they go on like that. In the new PRF philosophy, everyone gets a place at the table—except Dominioners.”
“What the hell is a ‘Minx’?” asked Minister Hanne, pointing at the rough handled magazine.
“Slang for a female Dominioner. The PRF are pushing a new term for Dominioners—‘Minions’. Minx is just shorthand for a… sexually promiscuous Dominion woman,” Astrid reluctantly translated.
The Minister of Justice had grown increasingly agitated and now it was spilling over. “I still don’t get it! PRF cells recruit with porn featuring Dominion women—”
Astrid jumped in. “We don’t think that it was locally produced—”
“Fine—but the intention is clear! The porn promises rape rewards and PRF recruitment skyrockets.”
“We estimate urban PRF cells to have grown two hundred percent in the last month alone,” Astrid noted.
“OK, OK, but in aid of… what? Other than these assaults, we haven’t experienced any major security incidents. What are they going to do with all these new recruits?” Carlene demanded.
Ingrid Hanne paled. Astrid nodded at the unspoken conclusion.
“Again, I speculate, but I believe the recent attacks are tied to a central strategy. First, they establish the basis on which the coming war will be fought,” Astrid explained.
“And that is?” the Justice Minister pushed.
“That the Dominion will belong exclusively to the Primevans, including… Dominion women,” Astrid suggested as neutrally as she might.
“Go on.” Carlene’s face was as wan as her fellow Minister now.
“Second, they will use the larger cells to fill out field units—as well as to expand their underground activities. The hardier, more fit cell members will join the uniformed guerrilla units in the bush, jungles and mountains. The others will remain behind to commit terror, collect intel and otherwise support PRF initiatives. But the underlying impact of the recent attacks have already accomplished more than the PRF could have ever hoped for.”
“And what is that, Major?” the MOD asked wearily.
“They have begun to erode the confidence that Dominion security forces can protect our citizens. The first victim—Julie Abildgård—has quit her job, abandoned her university studies and returned to her home, a rural village. Each attack—regardless of media blackout—will ripple outward. We’ll see more, not less, of these types of attacks moving forward. The PRF has also established ground rules. As barbaric as their rape strategy is, they restrict it to adult women. I’m still a bit confused about the contraception pill though,” she scanned her notes. “I’d have thought forcibly impregnating Dominion women might have spread even more terror. Children from interracial unions are extremely rare but I thought I might visit a mission which tends to the few there are. It’s called,” she flipped a notebook page, “St. Olaf’s. I’ve left several messages but no answer yet. I thought I’d take a trip to consult with the staff on—”
The two ministers locked eyes simultaneously and Astrid, alarmed, stopped abruptly. Finally, the Justice Minister turned to her.
“What the Minister means is… St. Olaf’s was destroyed a few months ago,” Hanne filled in.
Astrid shrugged. “Well, someone on staff must be available. I just need to know more about how Primevans view children with Dominion mothers or—”
“Everything—and everyone—at St. Olaf’s was destroyed. It was a deliberate operation to erase the mission and its purpose,” Minister Carlene reluctantly explained. “The PRF radicals were trying to provoke us at a very crucial point in negotiations with the remaining moderate wing. The PM thought it best not to make the attack public. It was an isolated community and roads to and from it have been dynamited to prevent any media types from investigating. This is all classified highest level and you will treat this information accordingly.”
Astrid nodded, shaken to the core. “Then they’ve already begun thinking about their future headaches. A half-Primevan half-Dominion presents a host of complications. They can’t permit a mixed child to be born in their ideology. It explains the pill.” She directed her gaze to the MOD. “Minister, I’d like to request assignment to the CIG. I believe my perspective might prove useful.
CIG was the MOD’s new pet project—the Counter Insurgency Group, a joint agency task force designed to collect and analyse PRF-related intelligence across all Dominion services. Astrid knew her timing was perfect.
“Agreed. Dismissed for now Major—but check in with my office for a follow-up briefing tomorrow morning. Fine work.”
As the young major gathered her materials and closed the door, the two senior female politicians considered what they’d been presented.
“This is getting out of hand. This is getting way out of hand,” Hanne shook her head.
The Justice Minister demurred. “Your major was just speculating. And you got your new budget request. The PRF are just malcontents. Ninety percent of Primevans have no interest in this kind of insane race war.”
“I need to tell the PM,” the MOD rose. “You coming with me?”
“Yes—but you know what she’ll do with this information, don’t you? Nothing! She’s so stuck on this negotiation track! We both know how idealistic she is. What did you make of all that?”
Hanne shrugged. “We dredged up what we could with the PM’s new quotas. The General Staff is still furious about having so many new female officers. Believe me, the major is one of the brighter sparks. As for her conspiracy theories, well… maybe the live fire gave her the vapours. Or she’s got an incredible imagination. In any case, the PRF IS all over this latest activity. You’re right about Lucia though—I’m just not sure what we can do,” the Minister of Defence concluded glumly.
MaryBethe smiled fiercely. “We design a second track—one that is the ‘stick’ to Lucia’s ‘carrot’. Something that the PRF will finally understand. I’ve spoken to Jorunn and she’s all on board with taking a harder line.”
Hanne nodded thoughtfully. Senator JorunnBenedicte had been an outspoken critic of the Prime Minister’s ‘dovish’ approach to the PRF in recent weeks, claiming the resistance movement had made a major dent in the Dominion’s economic prospects for the coming fiscal year.
“I see. This is why you wanted me to come to you,” Ingrid suggested.
“Yes. Jorunn’s in my office. Let’s have a word now. She’s got some ideas I like and I’m sure you have your own as well. But the PM mustn’t know about it. She has to have complete deniability.”
“What do you two have in mind?”
And, as the two Ministers made their way to meet the Senator, already waiting for them in the Justice Minister’s private office, the outlines of a ‘second track’ soon became more tangible.
CHAPTER EIGHT: THRONES AND DOMINIONS
“Niles, get the garden,” Hannah snapped, pointing at the rainbow blanket of flowers that graced the grey stone foundations of Dronninglund Summer Palace. The cameraman, long used to her imperious nature, sighed and obeyed, capturing what would make glorious B roll.
“Amazing, Your Majesty,” she said, taking the flower offered by Queen Karla.
“A Red Clover—the national flower of the Dominion,” the casually if expensively dressed monarch explained.
“May we continue the Palace tour inside, Your Majesty?”
“OF course!” The Queen was perfect for the camera. Naturally poised, she imbued a quiet grace and authority that was the real thing, Hannah noted. She’d grown up a lower middle-class striver in Essex that had always posed as a proud commoner but she’d always harboured a fascination for her own royals. Now she was chatting with one in real life and she had to restrain herself from gushing too openly. Not only was she a commanding woman, but she was also an attractive one as well. For a woman in her mid-forties, she had an amazing figure. Her curly red mane—ok, perhaps that was touched up by the royal hairdresser if there was such a person—crowned a well proportioned face with classic cheekbones, intelligent blue eyes and a smile that could convey approval or withdraw it, depending on her whim. Hannah and Niles followed her at a respectful distance into the Palace that was her home.
“The Palace and grounds, as well as the Winter Palace in Jernbjerg, was financed by a fund raised by private citizens and was granted to the House of Sellander in perpetuity. King Oscar 1st was coronated as the Dominon’s first constitutional monarch and my family has resided here ever since.”
Niles swung the shoulder-mounted camera around the Grand Foyer, capturing the many portraitures and landscapes.
“From the air, the Palace looks like a plus symbol, with four equally sized wings. I live in the North wing. When Katrine, Crown Princess Katrine, is in residence, she stays in the East Wing, though, like all girls her age, she likes her space and is more often in the Winter Palace. Princess Sofie is in the West Wing and the South Wing is reserved for functions and guests. Grand Duchess Frida, my sister in law, can be found in her residence at Molsand House, when she isn’t traveling, which, to be honest, is more often than not.”
Hannah responded with her earnest interviewer nod. As they walked through the long, wide hallways deeper into the Palace, she noticed smartly uniformed staff- maids, butlers, messengers and footmen, Hannah guessed. Not one Primevean, she noted.
“Your Majesty, your beautiful home must require lots of love and care to maintain it properly. May I ask about your staff?” Hannah queried.
Queen Karla’s smile trimmed, then widened. “We have a Head Gardener, he has two assistants, a Head Groundskeeper—I think he has a couple of assistants. There’s a Stable Master and two stable Boys I believe. The domestic staff includes the Head Butler, Head Maid, their various assistants, the Royal Messengers—two of those at the moment. My Ladies in waiting—well, as you can tell, the Palace is home to many Dominioners who we are proud to call our royal householders.”
“And for security?”
“We have a Royal Security detachment which I’m very pleased to say has the most boring job in the country!” Queen Karla laughed, opening a large oak door. “Please, come in and sit. This is my private office.”
Hannah did so, taking the visitor’s chair across the Queen’s large cherrywood desk. Behind the seated Queen were huge windows sharing yet more gardens, now being tended by gardeners in immaculate white overalls. They looked more like a cricket team than labourers.
A woman, perhaps a little older than the Queen, suddenly appeared at the door. She’d caught sight of the smartly dressed woman earlier in the tour, who had seemed, until now, content to observe.
“Lady Greta, my Private Secretary. Greta, this is Hannah Claydon from GNN.”
The two shook hands briefly. Lady Greta offered a perfunctory smile and returned to her post at the door.
“My right hand,” the Queen explained. “I’d be hopeless with Greta. She’s more conversant with royal etiquette than I am! We’re cousins,” she added.
“Do you live here in the Palace, Lady Greta?”
“As Her Majesty requires me,” the Private Secretary replied. “Though I maintain a home at Dagstad Hill as well,” she added.
“You mean a mansion! She can’t wait to escape the drudgery of the palace for her beautiful Dagstad,” the Queen needled. “I can’t blame her—it is one of the most beautiful homes in the Dominion.”
You’ve never been to Infinity Bay, Hannah wanted to say.
“May I ask your thoughts on Her Majesty’s current government?”
The Queen’s manner grew instantly formal. “As you know, we support the people’s elected representatives and place our trust in their judgement. With this said,” she continued calmly, “let me say this.” Here she spoke not to Hannah but directly to the camera. “We have noted, with much pleasure, how the current Prime Minister has advanced the opportunities for Dominioners with her “A Way Forward For Women” initiative. We approve of the effort and, as you know, I have established the Queen’s Women’s Guard Regiment in support of it.”
She paused, then, continued to speak directly to the invisible audience. “We also are in complete support of the Prime Minister’s outreach efforts to ensure that Dominioners of ALL backgrounds may enjoy the blessings of our fair homeland. The Dominion is, and always has been, a beacon of prosperity. It is high time that prosperity and opportunity of all types be available to every Dominioner—not just descendants of the original settlers.”
Hannah was tempted to probe this but instead, she gestured towards the oversized oil of a ruddy, red-haired man of middle age to the Queen’s right.
“May I ask about King Oscar?”
The Queen grew solemn, as did Lady Greta. “Of course. My dear husband—such a tragedy to have lost him at such a relatively young age. We still miss him and always will.”
“It was quite unexpected, wasn’t it?”
“Most unexpected. SUND as a matter of fact—Sudden Unexpected Natural Death. A heart condition no one could have even tested for. It has been five years now and we’ve all done our best to move on with our lives, as” Queen Karla looked up at her husband’s smiling visage, “he would have wanted us to.”
Hannah took a patent Claydon leap. “Your Majesty, have you ever considered re-marrying?” she asked, hoping it wasn’t pushing it too far.
The Queen took it with good humour. “Well, Hannah, you never know, do you?” she teased. “But for now, I can assure all my subjects that the Queen is NOT dating,” she announced with mock solemnity, which reduced Hannah to laughter. It would make a great soundbite for the interview promo spots!
“May I ask Her Majesty what she does for fun?”
The Queen was clearly enjoying the pivot. It was an opportunity to show her human side. “Well, I never miss an episode of ‘Hearts and Deeds’. Yvonne Kris is phenomenal—and isn’t it wonderful that the show is now in international syndication? I missed the first season of ‘Those Three Little Words’ so I’m bingeing those as well. That Milly is such a hoot! And if you haven’t seen ‘The Future Is Tomorrow’ with Paige Malvina… you have no idea what you’re missing!”
“And with those royal recommendations for your viewing queue, I’d like to thank Your Majesty for this generous peek into the world of the Queen of the Dominion,” Hannah wrapped it up. “Cut! Got that, Niles?”
The cameraman made an ‘OK’ sign and began packing up the lights and equipment.
Hannah followed the Queen and rose. “Thank you, Your Majesty. You’ve been wonderful. It will be a great segment on Backstage.”
“Pleased to do it, Ms. Claydon. Never let it be said that we have any media favourites,” she affirmed, indirectly referencing the state media broadcaster, DBC. “Bythe way, I thought the duelling interviews were brilliant. I watched both and couldn’t say who did a better job!”
“Claudia was very gracious. The Green Room segment was fun to do,” Hannah replied. The Landing Day Challenge had been a win for both Hannah and GNN and Claudia Veleska for DBC.
“Well, if that will be all…” the Queen smiled, ready to dismiss the newswoman now with the interview concluded.
“Well, I hate to ask, but I was wondering if you might give me your… thoughts on a… personal matter?” Hannah asked, uncertainly.
The Queen resumed her desk chair. “By all means.”
“As you know, I’ve made a commitment to GNN and, I hope, to the Dominion audience. I thought the best way to really demonstrate that commitment would be to purchase a home here.”
The Queen nodded, neutrally.
“Well, I’ve found a property in Infinity Bay,” she continued.
“A glorious location! You’ve done well!” the Queen complimented her.
“Unfortunately, my solicitor’s advised that, as I’m not a citizen, I’m not able to buy the place.”
Queen Karla’s prim smile, the one that graced the stamp on every piece of Dominion mail, now silently addressed the newswoman’s conundrum.
“I see! Is this true, Greta?”
“That’s the law, Your Majesty,” came the dutiful advice from her Private Secretary.
Queen Karla cupped her chin. “That’s a tricky one then! There might be a solution, but before we discuss that, I’d be interested in discussing… royal interests. On an off the record basis, as you journalists put it?”
“Of course, Your Majesty!” Hannah replied, warmly. We’ve begun the dance, she thought. “Niles, take the van back to the studio. Start putting it together—I’ll be back in an hour, ok?”
“On it,” the English import said, already out the door. He was good, and she was glad to get him assigned to the new GNN Dominion bureau. He also kept his mouth shut, which was always a plus in a studio monkey.
“After my responsibility to the Dominion, I must also see to the health of the monarchy—an institution central to our national identity. As such, I am always keen to see the institution shown in the most positive light.”
Now Hannah offered a neutral smile.
“Like any family, we have our good and bad days. I should be grateful that future GNN coverage accentuates the positive, as it were. I’m aware, based on your career history, that you might be inclined to cover the more sensational activities of the royal family. The recent dramas involving my daughters for example.”
Hannah knew exactly what she was talking about. The overseas tabloids had picked up on the royal sisters battling over the same hedge fund boyfriend. It was juicy stuff but hardly reputation killing. Still, Karla was a mother, as well as a queen.
“And, as you know, my sister in law—the Grand Duchess– has a long history of… public missteps.”
She’d known her simply as ‘Frida’ while rooming with her at DNU. The royal connection had impressed her until familiarity did its usual damage. The skinny girl with the bad skin and the classic Sellander red hair had been a tolerable roomie whom she had helped cheat on her exams in exchange for royal gossip. She’d since matured into a regular in the gossip rags, with her outrageous behaviour and numerous affairs with Euro-trash jet setters.
“You aren’t asking me to suppress news, are you, Your Majesty?” she pointedly asked.
The Queen looked at Lady Greta and there seemed to be a silent conversation between the two. Finally, she answered.
“Of course not. Simply that your coverage be… balanced. In order to display some independence, the DBC has, in recent years, been less… balanced. While they remain supportive of the government, the monarchy allows them an occasional target on slow news days. Don’t get me wrong—Claudia and I have a fine relationship. But that doesn’t always ensure the monarchy is shown in the most flattering light.”
“I see. How could you help me do that?” Hannah innocently queried, already seeing some angles.
The Queen brightened. “Exclusive coverage of our many charitable and civic activities. The opening performance of the Royal Theatre—from inside the Royal Box. Or ghosting Crown Princess Katrine as she opens the Stillhavn Flower Festival, for example. Dominioners would love it.”
Hannah nodded. “I think we could agree to that.”
The Queen nodded to her Private Secretary. “Very good. There’s another personal favour, if I might…”
Hannah almost blurted “Go for it!” so impressed by the Queen’s chutzpah. She nodded invitingly instead.
“My Queen’s Women’s Guards—would you mind appearing in a special Dominion United Services Show for them? The girls would love to meet the Dominion’s newest media celebrity and you’re such a role model!”
Hannah saluted. “At your service, Your Majesty. Now, about my… situation?”
Lady Greta appeared at the Queen’s side and whispers were exchanged. Finally, the Queen turned back towards Hannah.
“In my office, I am permitted certain privileges. Our annual Honours List is being compiled now. In addition to the requests from the PM, I’d be happy to add my own—Dominion citizenship for yourself—in recognition of your career accomplishments and in opening a new window to the world for the Dominion.” Lady Greta nodded—it was no doubt her own spin on the offer.
Hannah had got what she wanted… almost. “Well, that’s very generous and I’m be most honoured! To avoid any misunderstandings, might I suggest the citizenship be categorised as ‘honorary’?”
The Queen and her aide exchanged more whispers.
Now Lady Greta replied on behalf of her Queen. “It would be a distinction without a difference, Ms. Claydon. You’d still hold full Dominion citizenship, but if that’s how you’d prefer the announcement to read, it won’t be a problem. I take it that would eliminate your barriers to property ownership?”
Hannah grinned. In her mind, she was already moving into the breathtaking clifftop mansion.
“It would indeed, Lady Greta.”
CHAPTER NINE: HOLLOW PILLARS
Overhead, smaller commuter planes, both airline and private, dove in and out of the blue, cloudless skies. Cupping his eyes, he even spotted a larger 727 emblazoned with Dominion Airline branding. He’d been to the South Pacific National Airport many times, but never as a customer. Primevans rarely flew. It was usually wearing the overalls of a ground crew, with a trash picker to complete the disguise. This time, he wasn’t there to map the airport or the positions of the planes—that work was now done by others. He’d chosen the location of the meeting in deference to the Sollopsgangdalen command. It was a desolate, waste ground just beyond the fenced perimeter of the airport, where Primevans airport workers left their bicycles. The small cinder block building, the only structure on that side of the airport, had been converted into a restaurant serving breakfast or dinner, depending on the arriving or departing shift. At midday, the ‘CLOSED’ sign faced outward. Dominioners could be counted on to avoid if at all possible. If he could make it there, the rest could as well.
“Gava, something cool for us if you please,” he asked, “then you better leave,” he advised. The portly proprietor he’d known for many years brought a bottle of iced water and a stack of plastic cups and left the building, locking the door behind him. The men gathered around the table quickly filled their cups. It was a hot day and the men drank greedily.
“Wahyu Tri,” he turned to the wiry man across from him, “welcome back to the fight!” He toasted with his glass.
“The Leopard is back in the hunt,” another said with admiration.
The small, tough nut of a man had escaped his Dominion accommodations yet a twelfth time and the Old Man wondered if he was exceptionally brave or entirely mad. Probably both. He was pleased though—his escape from the Dominion SuperMax reserved for the most dangerous PRF political prisoners meant he’d be able to train the flow of new recruits headed to Sollopsgandalen.
“I didn’t care for the menu,” he shrugged, inviting a round of chuckles.
“Thank you for—”
The knock at the door silenced them all. He stood up, walking quickly to the front door.
“The Leader said I should be here,” the arrival apologetically explained. He nodded, unlocking the door and admitting Kabemba Munda.
“It is right that you should be here. We were just starting. We only have an hour though. Come.”
He resumed his seat. The group nodded at the arrival. Everyone at this level of the party knew the Violin Spider.
“Since Comrade Munda is here, I should congratulate his working group on their publishing operations. Fifty thousand copies of “MINX” magazine have been distributed throughout the country and the effect has been… well, I think we all know what the impact has been!”
Smiles broke out amongst the group. Munda beamed. Reaching into his jacket, he withdrew a rolled-up magazine, laying it on the table. Underneath the ‘MINX’ masthead, a kneeling brunette, nude but for the dog collar and leash, cupped her smallish breasts, her face wet with tears. “I’m a bitch for PRF cock!” a starburst promised. In text below the image, read ‘Julie Abildgård, 19, Blomsterby—there’s more where she came from!”
“Our second issue! Designed locally this time. I received shipment last night and you should all see quantities delivered in your provinces shortly,” Munda announced.
“We only got a few hundred last time,” one party cadre complained.
Munda waved this off. “We’ve doubled the print run. Plenty for all!”
This was well received and the latest issue was passed around, compliments flowing around the table.
“If we might return to our agenda please!” he demanded and the group quieted down immediately. “Very good. Now, if we might get a headcount per cell—let’s go around the table.”
“Jernbjerg Assegais, four hundred twenty-seven!”
“KrydderlandetMambeles, five hundred and five!”
“OraniaMambeles, six hundred thirty-two!”
“BlomsterlandetRungus, three hundred twelve!”
“RodbjergNzappas, three hundred seventy-six!”
“SollopsgangdalenKpingas, four hundred three!”
“StillhavnSemes, one hundred seventy-nine!”
“Passatvinde Sjamboks, two hundred ninety-one!”
And, reporting on his own cell, “Kongsborg Mambas, one thousand two hundred and three.”
There were admiring whistles all around.
“It would seem our cadre has quadrupled in the past two months. The Leader is pleased with all your efforts, is he now Comrade Munda?”
The younger man nodded broadly. “I can assure you he is most pleased, comrades,” he affirmed.
“Now the question is what we will do with them. The Leader has a plan. He believes we have entered the period of escalation. He wants the fittest and most capable third of each of your cells to make their way to our base in Sollopsgangdalen over the next seven days. It is there where we will train and outfit our first regular units. The location is of course, known to only a few but your men will be given guides at the rendezvous points.”
This prompted foot stamping and grins.
“Will the fighting begin soon, Comrade?” one cell leader asked hopefully.
The Old Man nodded. “Soon, but only when our men are ready. The probes earlier this year proved less than successful. The Leader is always evolving our strategy. When ready, we will hit the Dominion positions with more success. In the meantime, the Leader also expects you to accelerate your local assignments. You will now report on progress please. Sjambok One?”
“Operation Broken Vows. Targeting wives of RDA officers for morale suppression. The wives of three lieutenants, four captains, two majors and the colonel of the 8th Regular Rifle Regiment taken and used thoroughly. All returned safely— after two days of generous mileage logged on their chassis.” There was laughter. “The message has been sent—no one is safe from the PRF!”
“Excellent. Assegai One?”
“Operation Hunter Gatherer. Random home invasions in upper-class urban neighborhoods. Fifteen break-ins, five single women, ten wives and six daughters—all,” he held up his palm, “all adults, per the Leader’s instructions,” he pledged. “We will harvest the chicks only when they come of age, Comrade—I swear it!”
The Old Man nodded. Failure to respect the Special Order, all knew, would result in court-martial and execution—by the PRF. Mambele One, if you please!”
“Operation Blue Evening. Targeting female police officers serving in Orania Police Command. Twelve officers ‘detained for questioning’ and photos and videos of all leaked on Dark Web with the help of our more technical cadres. So far, five resignations and five leaves of absence!”
“Fine work. Nzappa One!”
“Operation Trap Door. Infiltration and mapping of the Royal Defence Command. Half complete.”
“It is one of our most critical operations—and it must be finished within thirty days.”
“It will be, Comrade,” came back the confident response.
“It better be. Rungu One!” he snapped.
“Operation Bad Trip. Targeting Western tourists at Club Pacific. Attacks limited to theft only and warnings that Westerners are no longer welcomed. Almost fifty thousand kroners in currencies, jewellery, watches and other sundries. Bookings now down by fifty percent—and still falling.”
“Good. No physical harm—the Leader doesn’t want any pretext for interference from Western powers! Kpinga One?”
“Operation Fallen Angel. Design, collection and curation of a model brothel for research purposes.”
At this, there were snickers, soon suppressed by a grimace from the Old Man. “Continue, Kpinga One.”
“Eight candidates located and approved. Collection will begin whenever the Leader gives the order.”
“Continue to ghost. You will be contacted when the time is right. Seme One!”
“Operation Bald Eagle. Targeting female minions at the Royal Technology and Arts Academy. The President of the Student Body, the President of the Student Senate and the captains of the female soccer, gymnastics, volleyball and basketball teams. All taken, each given ten lashes and their mounds shaved. Told to warn the rest of the university bitches that any minx found with an unshaven mound in the future would receive a proper PRF punishment.”
“Results?” the Old Man pressed.
“Once the word got out, there was a local run on disposable razors. I doubt there’s a curly hair left on campus!”
The Old Man smiled. “Then a good result and another message sent. And to finish—Mamba One,” he pointed to his chest, “ Operation Friendly Persuasion. Targeting female aides and members of Parliament. Rape, videos, then blackmail. The Prime Minister has lost several key votes requesting additional funds for security and defense.”
All nodded in admiration, marveling at what had been achieved in so short a time.
“We are hollowing out the pillars of the Dominion. When we begin to strike at them openly, they will crack,” he proclaimed.
Kabemba Munda, who had remained quiet but attentive, now felt compelled to add an additional achievement. Holding up a hand, he spoke.
“I am in awe of all of your efforts, comrades. You are building a sturdy foundation for our coming war,” he nodded towards Wahyu Tri, and continued. “May I add my own Operation Useful Idiot to your mighty mountain of achievements?”
While the Old Man disapproved of sharing too much in even such restricted gatherings as this, the Chief Ideologue deserved kudos on Useful Idiot. The party funds invested were minimal and the embarrassment the Women’s Partnership for Peace was causing for the PM and her ruling party was significant.
“Please do tell, Comrade,” the Old Man invited, which the proud party leader was more than happy to do.
CHAPTER TEN: WHITE QUEEN’s GAMBIT
Karin had never seen a door that was designed to disappear once closed. After she’d been deposited in the room by her two abductors, she’d been so disoriented that she couldn’t be sure which spearmint painted wall the door was even on. Then, focusing, she knew it had to be the one facing the metal bunk. She’d run her fingers around it until she’d found the seam, then run her fingers around the rectangular shape. Not that the knowledge was of use, but after six or so hours, boredom had overcome fear and she had nothing else to do but satisfy her curiosity.
At first, when she felt the firm hands lift her from behind and dump her into the waiting van, she’d assumed it was a PRF kidnapping attempt—except the two black-suited men were as white as she was. She had been making her walking commute to the Foreign Ministry when she had been scooped up, in broad daylight, so shocked by the brazenness she was dumbstruck. She’d never ever been manhandled in such a way. The back of the van was empty and windowless. The drive, on the highway then off road, only took an hour. When the van door opened, she assumed she was in an underground garage, but the hood jammed over her head prevented her from guessing much more.
It must be late afternoon, she calculated. Had anyone at the Ministry noticed her absence? She doubted it. She’d been working Archives alone, barely exchanging more than a “hello” with anyone and it wasn’t as if she was being paid. Would anyone really care if the intern assigned to make-work decided to skip a day?
She wanted to pee but the metal toilet, though gleaming, didn’t appeal. She had no doubt there was a camera that was capturing her every movement. She wasn’t about to expose herself in front of some unseen observer. She was getting hungry too. And thirsty. And angry.
When the door finally cracked open, Karin was utterly unprepared for the identity of her captor.
“Karin, I’m so sorry about all this.” Though she’d never personally met her, the PM’s face popped up on a screen about every ten minutes. Now that face was creased in an uncharacteristically embarrassed expression, Karin had never seen on tv. Before Karin could even rise, the middle-aged woman, attired in a tailored cream pantsuit, sat beside her, sharing the metal bunk. In her lap, she held a sheaf of paperwork and a pen.
“We had to be sure. Absolutely sure. National security and all,” the PM explained nonsensically.
Karin shook her head. “I don’t understand anything you’re saying.”
Lucia Therese nodded. “I can explain,” she waved her hand, “all this. But before I do that, you’ll need to sign this.” She dropped the document, perhaps twenty pages long, on the bunk, placing the pen on top of it.
Karin scanned it. “So, I agree not to sue for false imprisonment and basically give up all my rights under the State Secrets Act? What is this?”
PM Therese merely shrugged. “You need to sign this. Then, we can talk.”
Scowling, Karin obeyed. “Prime Minister, I’m trying to be polite but—”
“Yes, alright. Come take this,” she raised her voice. That seemed to summon a wide shouldered black suited man, who retrieved the thick document and left the room, though this time the door remained opened.
“I remember. What about it? I was only trying to get clarification on how to file it! It wasn’t like I was trying to have a catch-up chat with Queen Karla or anything!”
The PM patted her knee. “I know that. But your call triggered a red flag with Royal Security. They assumed, because you were calling from Foreign that you were asking on my behalf.”
Karin shook her head. “That’s a little micro, isn’t it? Checking up on an intern and all?”
“The extradition request was withdrawn immediately but the original file was obviously still on file. A small detail no one noticed at the time. Of course, I was in the dark. I was just a back bencher in the Opposition five years ago but no one else, outside the Royal Household, knew anything– even Olsen, who was the PM at the time. When you made your call, the Queen was concerned the whole episode would come out. So, she called me. I came directly from the Palace, where we pieced together what had happened—that it was a fluke that resulted from lazy staffers and a too-thorough intern.”
Karin’s jaw dropped. “You spoke with the Queen—about me?”
“By way of your query, dear. Yes, you could say that.”
“But then, what is the ‘whole episode’ you’re talking about? Who was the extradition order for—and what was it for?”
“Akilah Onwudiwe, a maid in the Royal residence.”
“So, what was it she was supposed to have done?”
“Karin, Royal Security is fairly convinced she poisoned King Oscar.”
Karin gasped. “But that was a heart attack! That’s what Queen Karla said!”
Therese nodded. “And so thought we all, myself included. I’ve only just learned this hours ago. Her Majesty made the decision at the time to propose an alternative… narrative for public consumption.”
“But why?” Karin demanded in anguish. “Why let a murderer get away with it? Why–”
The PM’s level look silenced her. “Because Her Majesty knew the act was a deliberate provocation by the PRF, one that would create a wave of revulsion and hate against Primevans. An assassination would have touched off an avalanche of repression that the PRF must have hoped would generate a backlash and an uprising.”
“She gave up her husband to keep the peace,” Karin gasped.
The PM nodded. “An amazing, selfless woman. So instead of taking the bait, the Dominion mourned and gained a new Queen, one who has earned respect across the board and who has been a strong supporter of my own initiatives.”
“Buy why didn’t the PRF just take credit?”
“The moment was lost. They were boxed in by the Queen’s move. Who honours an assassin? No one. They lost and could only hope the Dominion’s first queen would prove an even weaker figurehead than her husband. Instead, she’s proven a remarkably able and popular Head of State.”
“What happened to the poisoner?”
“Dominion Intelligence Service believes she’s back in country and working with the new PRF leadership. Akilah Onwudiwe , the Angel of Death, as she’s known. One day…” she trailed off grimly.
“My God!” Karin was hearing the unthinkable. “The PRF murdered King Oscar—and got away with it!”
The PM sighed. “I wish I could say it was the worst they were capable of. Poisoning a monarch is positively quaint compared to their more recent tactics.” Then, realising she was opening a line of inquiry she didn’t wish to expand upon, she added “It is why the path to peace is so narrow. We must do everything possible to avoid open conflict. Thousands of innocent Dominions—of all colours—would become victims.”
“I won’t say anything. You can count on me,” Karin promised.
“If you do, you’ll be in prison for a hundred years, my dear—or so the covenant release you signed says so!”
“No, I mean—well, I just would never. Please tell the Queen I’d never betray her.”
“I will. And I trust you. Let’s get you out of here. I want you to drive back to the capital with me.”
“Yes, Ma’am! But first… could I visit a restroom?”
Ten minutes later, the black SUV, in a caravan of five, as well as five motorcycle police escorts, were headed back to Kongestad.
“I had no idea they were going to dump you with such drudge work. Frankly, I’m mortified.”
Karin shook her head, enjoying the smooth, cool ride. “No Ma’am, it was fine. Really! I didn’t ask my mother to pull strings to begin with.”
“Nonsense. She never asks me for anything. And we St. H girls stick together, don’t we?” The PM winked.
Karin felt butterflies. The PM knew she’d attended St. Hilda’s as well!
“And DNU grads as well, though I never got a Rhodes Scholarship! Congratulations, my dear!”
Karin beamed. “Uh, thank you, Prime Minister!”
“Have you considered what you’ll do after you complete your studies at Oxford?”
“Not really. I’m fascinated by international affairs. I’ve been a big fan of yours,” she noted, trying not to come off as fawning.
“Well, I did start in the Foreign Service, it is true. Then politics, then the Cabinet. Now, as PM. Perhaps a career in public service might suit you as well.” She tapped Karin’s shoulder. “Our first Rhodes Scholar Prime Minister?”
Karin blushed. “Oh, I don’t know, I mean, I’m—”
“You’re a Vester and your mother’s daughter, Karin. You should set your sights as high as you can. Your father—what a man! I can’t tell you just how jealous we were when he started dating Christa! Bjorn Vester! Even as fierce a feminist as I was couldn’t help but swoon in that man’s presence!”
Karin nodded. “Yes. I miss him a lot,” she admitted.
“I never married. It was the price I paid I suppose for all this,” she rubbed the black leather seat. “Look, if you’re interested, perhaps we can find something more stimulating that archive duty.”
Alert now, Karin listened.
“How would a transfer to the PM’s Office suit you? You’d get an insider’s view of things. Might be interesting to a smart, ambitious young woman.”
“That would suit me just fine, Prime Minister,” she replied as calmly as she could manage.
“Nothing glamourous, I assure you. It would be a fair share of coffee orders, making copies and all the rest of the nonsense that goes on in any workplace. But instead of quarterly reports or marketing campaign reports, we’re dealing with the People’s Work. If that’s that, report to Mr. Frandsen, the Permanent Secretary at Government House tomorrow morning.”
Karin had avoided the Primevan man distributing coupons for some new café, as she did all such street flyer distributors. She was only a block away when the white van began following her, the only observer to her collection was the Primevan hawker. Mamba173 was of Tamil heritage, of which he was proud, but he primarily considered himself a “Prime”. He dropped the stack of outdated coupons in a bin and walked to a bus stop. Three stops later, he waited for the crosstown bus, which pulled in on schedule.
He waited for the passengers to get off— working class Dominioners and Primevans alike—then boarded the bus. The uniformed driver turned his way—a Primevan wearing a dapper cap bearing a gold badge embossed with text that advertised “Kongsborg Transit Authority.”
“Sir, does this bus stop at Langesforden Place?” he asked, holding up a piece of paper as if proving he had a destination.
“Excuse me,” announced a burly Dominion man, clad in mechanics overalls.
Mamba173 quickly moved aside, head bowing. “Sorry, Sir!”
The man didn’t respond, hunting for a preferred seat.
The bus driver took the paper. “You need an East Side bus—try Number 16 over there,” he advised, pointing across the street at another stop.
Mamba173 nodded, walking off the bus. The driver still held the small piece of paper and tucked it away inside the pocket of his blue uniform shirt. In an hour sitting on a diner stool, he’d leave the paper after drinking a quick cup of coffee. Thirty seconds later, the man sitting at an adjacent stool,the driver of a garbage truck, would palm the paper and sweep it into his pants pocket. In this way, Mamba1 would learn of Karin Vester’s interesting commute just as the PM’s caravan was dropping her off at the family townhouse.