This scene briefly contains sexual content.
42nd of the Hazel’s Frost, 2030 D.C.E
Federation of Northern States, Nocht — Rhinea
She awakened to an atmosphere of heat and sweat, but also cold, clinging to her skin. Once the haze of pleasure had blown out of the room with the central air, it left behind the staid reality that followed a fantasy. She was back in the world, a person once more inhibited, and she could hardly stand the disappointment and tedium she felt then.
It was the least delectable part of the transgression: dealing with the consequences.
“Why do I keep doing this to myself?”
Cecilia Foss mumbled to herself as she stared into the placid face of the very nude woman in front of her, peeling the woman’s legs off her waist while at the same time gently extricating herself from the arms of her sleeping boyfriend, just behind her. It had become almost a talent, a series of acrobatics, to retrieve herself in such situations. Making sure not to awaken anyone, she slowly left her bedmates, gently stirring behind her.
Surveying the scene, there were a lot of cigarettes, a lot of drinks, a lot of discarded rubber. This was a hotel room made for thrashing, thank God; she was certainly not going to pay any fees for it. She recalled all too clearly the reason for all this. She wished she didn’t; in short it was stress, greed, hunger and neediness and loneliness. Perhaps not so short.
It was an important date, too! And she had blown it off to fuck a computer and her boy.
“Ugh. I’m the worst. God damn it. She’s waiting; Agatha’s going to be waiting.”
She found her leggings, her heels, her skirt and blazer, and the rest of it, strewn about the room. Her brassiere was nowhere to be found; Cecilia glanced over the bed with misty eyes, shook her head, and stubbornly dressed without it. God knows she needed it, but life wasn’t always so forgiving. She dressed, patted everything down, took a quick trip to the restroom to wash her face and apply a coat of lipstick– and the moment she turned around again, making to leave the bathroom, there she was at the door. Cecilia sighed.
“It’s so like you to hit me and run like this, Lia. This must be the millionth time.”
Gretchen had on a fake, coquettish pouting face, her short, curly brown locks greatly disturbed, her body wrapped in her partner’s discarded button-down shirt. Dangling from her fingers was Cecilia’s brassiere. Seeing it again, Cecilia kind of wanted it back; it was big, lacy and cute and firm and having walked a few meters without it she dearly missed it.
“I’m losing my touch. I didn’t expect you to be awake.” Cecilia said.
“No, trust me, you’ve still got your touch.” Gretchen said, winking at her.
Cecilia averted her gaze. “Usually I’m enough for the women I’m seeing.”
Gretchen scoffed and rolled her eyes. “So you can fuck everyone, but everyone has to–.”
“Yes, it’s not fair but it’s how things work around here.” Cecilia interrupted with a grin.
She could not help but feel a little bit jealous of the rings on their fingers; just a little.
Not because she wanted the same; she just didn’t want people in her life to leave her out.
Though judging by the current events, she would not have to worry about that too much.
Gretchen flicked the bra at her, and Cecilia caught it.
Casually, she started to undress again so as to put it on.
“Where are you off to now? Three-timing me?”
“You can’t really call it that? At any rate, I’m meeting a friend.”
“Just a friend?”
“She’s a special friend, but yes. She’s married.”
“Wow. Do you realize what you just said?”
She was married in a way nobody else Cecilia slept with was “married.” Even these two.
It was commonly said by the conservatives that Nocht had lost god, had lost marriage, had lost itself in the frenzy of power and industrialism. Its institutions were a shambles as were its ethics. For the state was only war and killing, the sex of machines; for the treasury, there was only plunder and privation, the sex of economy; and for individual people, whatever indulgence was their sex. Cecilia was not the average Nochtish citizen.
She had never had a faith in anything to begin with.
She told herself, she was a simple person. She just wanted to have fun, pure, easy fun, with whatever pleasure she set her sights on. She found things and took them because she wanted them and because she could. Difficult things to get, became games to be won.
But in the end even the difficult things remained simple.
Or so she thought; but the way her stomach churned and her heart trembled when she thought of meeting Agatha Lehner, after all she had done, after all that had been done to her, to both of them. It was not simple at all. It was the most complicated thing for her.
Achim never made her feel that way.
She thought he would; but he never did. He was simple, just like her.
Simple and comforting in his simplicity, which is what she liked about him.
She had known Agatha longer; and she only became more complicated with time.
“I’m still here, you know.”
Cecilia tried to move to the door, lost in thought.
She was nearly face to face with Gretchen.
Gretchen was complicated too, but in a simple way.
“I’m not going to let you dine and dash this time.” Gretchen said.
She leaned forward, pulled Gretchen in by the tie around her neck, pilfered from her man.
She took her sloppily painted lips into her own luscious red embrace.
“I’ll see you later. Alone.”
She spoke as her tongue parted her lover’s, and she walked off at the same time too.
Gretchen made no argument.
Nocht Federation — Windsbach, Haupt Radar Center
High atop the mountains separating Windsbach from the northernmost Republics, was a snow unlike anyone had ever seen, even in the mountain villages. However, the signals technicians at the Windsbach Haupt Radar Center did not see this snow fall, silver and swirling like ribbons from the clouds. Since the war began they were on long, rotating shifts that did not end until one was sure, with perfect certainty, to be replaced for at least twelve hours with another restless soul awaiting the slaughter come out from the sky.
All of them had been reared as adults on the nihilism of “the bomber will always get through.” And yet, their job was to stand defiant against it. Should the bomber come, they had to know when, from where, and what it sought. They had to deliver the unspoken retribution that nearly always came to the bomber that “got through.” Scrambling fighters, summoning air defense. These were part of their responsibilities. They had to protect the civilians too, by sounding the air raid sirens and alerting the fire brigades.
Like diviners from ancient times, they had only their scrying glasses: the massive FREIJA radar arrays, top of the line technology, hooked up to glowing green displays that pulsed with eldritch life inside the cold steel bunkers. While Ayvarta slowly toyed with short ranged mobile ground radars hiding in puny trucks, Nocht gambled its money on colossal stationary radars with incredible range and power. Untold amounts of energy flowed into the FREIJA arrays, and their signals could cover vast quadrants of Nocht’s sky and coast.
Inside the FREIJA bunkers, the technicians watched the green light pulse, and they waited.
For the long-timers, the magic had worn off. Their own planes showed up on the radar too, though nowadays, practices had evolved such that advanced warning was given to them to prevent panic and disarray. Seeing those blips made the possibility of an enemy blip far less mythical. Those were hunks of metal in the sky too. Newcomers were glued to their cathode-ray tubes, as interested in them as children had become with Television.
On that fateful winter day of the 42nd, radar technician Helmut Weigel sat in front of his CRT and saw nothing. He waited for hours, he ate his lunch at his desk, he read a book, nervously peeking at his station radar between pages to the point it almost became a character in stories. He looked over the energy output, checked the temperature and atmospheric pressure readings, and pored over various other gauges every thirty minutes.
His shift passed; he declared his intention to stand so as not to startle anyone.
From the upper floors where the military officers congregated, a young woman in uniform came down and urged him to stay in his seat. His replacement had an accident.
“You will have to stay here.”She said. “We’ll procure food and a chance of clothes, and I can stay here for fifteen minutes while you wash up. But you must come back to work.”
Helmut did not protest. What had he to go back to? He lived on his own in the village.
“What kind of food can I get?”
That was his only question, to which the young woman did not reply. She urged him out.
Once he was clean and had on a fresh shirt, coat and a change of pants, he sat back down.
Until a replacement could be found, he was on shift. He would keep working.
He stared at his screen, and saw a dozen blips all clustered together.
On his desk, just below all the gauges, he turned a page on his book. He was almost done with it, but he had another in his suitcase. Helmut loved fantasy adventures, with brave heroes and nasty goblins and mysterious dames. He put one back in his suitcase, retrieved another, and spread it open right in front of his monitor. He saw the blaring blips again.
Helmut put down his book, and he stared dumbfounded at the screen.
Coming in from the east were dozens of bombers.
Hundreds of them.
Helmut stared until the green glow burned in his retinas.
He reached for the telephone at his side.
“Hello? My CRT is broken. Can you send someone down here?”
Procedure dictated he describe the problem in detail–
But on the other end, an engineer too cheerful to have work simply said, “Sure!”
And then they hung up on him.
Helmut stared back at the screen. They were not going away.
Those blips were moving.
He ripped a piece of paper from the side of his workstation and found the numbers for his counterparts in various other stations. Every week they performed a comprehensive data corroboration drill, where Helmut and all of his colleagues in Windbach would call their doppelgangers in Junzien or Tauta or Ciel, and compare readings where their signals met.
“Hello, this is Helmut Weigel, station #13 Windbach. My station’s catching a large concentration of enemy aircraft coming in east-southeast at latitude–”
Helmut described everything he needed to and while he did, he heard an eerie echo from every station around him. People rattling off coordinates and latitudes on the phone, the sharp twisting of the rotary dials, the incredulous chatter between every stations.
“I’m afraid I don’t see anything on my end Helmut. I think you’ve got an ACS fault.”
Automatic control system, the mechanical network that kept the gauges running and regulated the current between stations and dishes, and so on. To so casually say that the entire FREIJA system in Windbach was broken to so fundamental a point put Helmut greatly at ease. Around the room, there was a great heaving sigh of relief as more information came in. No other overlapping stations saw the cluster. It was just ACS.
“Radar techs can go home! We’ll request patrol flights to cover the gap.”
That same girl from earlier, who told Helmut to stay, was now ordering everyone to go.
People grabbed their coats, lined up at the door, and made their way out.
Until the stations were fixed there was no use keeping extraneous staff around.
Outside though, the radar technicians paused all at once, considering the landscape.
Blowing in the wind, all around them, was a snow of silver ribbons mixed in with white.
Helmut held out his hand, and he caught strands, like Hollyday tinsel.
He wanted to report it, right away. But at the door to the bunker, he met with disdain.
“Just go and don’t cause any trouble.”
Helmut was speechless.
Aluminum. He wanted to say that word.
It had a radar signature. They had to know, right?
Why was aluminum falling from the sky?