An Agent's First Encounter: Or, a 1983 Doomsday Tale through a Visiting Person's Eyes
Linz, Austria, Alpine Confederation. 14 October 2009.
Jonatan Herz waited patiently, sitting outside a coffee house not far off from the Austrian capital’s Hauptplatz while wrapping his jacket close to himself. His eyes glanced casually about the various old buildings and stores around him, some of which he recognized if still patched with scaffolding. It was only in the last 15 years or so that any semblance of normalcy fully returned to this corner of the Alpine Confederation. In fact, the coffee house itself was part of some sort of attempt at reviving a Wiener custom. One that died with the city, he thought uncomfortably as he sipped his cup. Despite his training and distance from his lost home, the story behind it still seemed too familiar. As is this world. And yet…
“Ah, there you are!”
The young man watched as an Alpine Militia officer no older than his twenties approached him, flushed despite a feeble attempt to act formal. Yet despite that, there was an air of authority that could only have come from a nobleman’s upbringing.
“I guess you’re Leutnant Steiner, ja?” Jonatan asked in German as he stood up and offered his hand, pausing for a moment. “I’m Leutnant Herz, just arrived from Eisenstadt. It is a pleasure to meet you in person.”
“T-The pleasure is mine,” the other man replied meekly, shaking his hand before clearing his throat. “As it is w-with the approval of your request. Forgive me. It’s been unusually cold lately, and I’ve had a small setback trying to find this place.”
“With respect, Mein Leutnant. But weren’t you the one who chose this venue?”
“Bitte, C-Call me Franz. And true, I have. Um, would you like to continue this inside?” The officer sighed as he adjusted his greatcoat. “Sorry again, I must be becoming more like Herr Edelstein. I have to say you even look a bit like him, but I digress.”
Jonatan fought back an urge to bite his lip upon hearing the name. For a very brief moment, images flashed of his childhood. It had been another time. Another world. His true employers, it seemed, forgot to mention a particular detail about his assignment. Even his foster father seemed to leave it out before sending him to this place. Scheiße, just stay focused, verje meg!
With a soft nod however, he tried to smile.
“Ja. It’s nothing. After you.”
He had to hand it to the Alpine aide. The fact that they were able to find a nice spot close to the windows and that there were fewer patrons than usual with none the wiser spoke more for the officer’s connections and acumen than what his relatively low rank suggested. Or his appearance. To his relief, the paperwork was surprisingly small for such a “vital duty,” as the aide-de-camp to Herr Roderich Edelstein described it. Even if that name still bothers me.
“You have to understand,” Franz explained. “All this, um, came on such short notice ever since we were able to identify her. A few weeks ago, actually.”
“As I understand it, her name’s Julia right?” Jonatan asked nonchalantly while glancing outside. Of course, he had read the short, hastily compiled dossier the Alpine officer provided: a young, female orphan barely past 10 years old in appearance from the Sopron Frontier Territory. Exact age classified, parents unknown. It sounds so familiar. He frowned. “I take there’s more to her than just that.”
The aide sighed knowingly as he leaned closer. “You’re perceptive, ja? Sehr gut. Makes my job easier. But, um, this - all of this isn’t exactly standard procedure as you might have guessed. More so than than the duty you’ve just been given. In fact, as far as the top brass here and in Vaduz are concerned, all of this is not, um, in the books. Officially, we are not here.
“And neither are they.”
As if on cue, Jonatan noticed a pair approaching the coffee house. As the two entered, he forced back an urge to cringe. One of them was a tall, bespectacled man in an old suit barely covered by a greatcoat, carrying himself with all the distinction and honor of someone far older than his age suggested. The other was a young, frail-looking girl in an old country dress and muffler, her green eyes wide and gleaming.
Nein…Nem. Not now! As he stood up along with the aide, he found it harder to keep up his façade; even after all these years and his training, he had to force himself to even look at them straight. The girl in many ways looked so much like his late mother, right down to the smile on her face. To say nothing of the man who was by any accounts her new caretaker, right down to the peculiar bit of hair protruding from his head. And father. He has to be.
“Grüß Gott,” the aristocratic figure known among some as Austria greeted cordially before giving a crisp salute. “My apologies for missing this venue as well, Lt. Steiner." He then turned towards him. "My name is Roderich Edelstein. Bitte, pardon us for these less formal circumstances.”
“None taken – Mein Herr,” the new aide replied formally, though with a strained hint. “Leutnant Herz at your service. And it is an honor to be given this assignment.”
For a few moments, the figure’s purple eyes seemed to narrow, staring into his as if trying to sense something. Jonatan resisted the urge to look away as he saw glimpses of a realm that had endured for many centuries, even beyond the atomic flames known as Doomsday. An empire, a soldier, an officer, bureaucrat, artist, pianist, lover, husband and countless others all rolled in a single being that bore - and witnessed - the memories of an entire country. And a-a father. He’s dead…Nein, this isn’t him.
It was then the young man realized. Nothing could replace his loss, his experience or true parents, let alone his true identity. His foster father had been right. The Nation before him looked and even acted the part but in the end wasn’t exactly him. It can't be him! Just another possibility. Ja...has to be! The notion still didn’t remove the pain, but it definitely made it more tolerable. But if Herr Edelstein noticed anything at all, it didn’t show in his face.
“I don’t recall seeing you before, Leutnant. Though it must be my memory playing tricks with me as is this attempt at reviving a Wiener tradition. But I digress.” The figure nodded ever so slightly before gently bringing the girl forward. “Now, allow me to introduce my d-I mean, my new ward, Sopron.”
The young lady grinned at him as she reached out to him. “Guten napot!” she greeted in an accent that sounded much like his own mixed with his mother’s. “It’s nice meeting you, Leutnant Herz!”
Jonatan managed a soft smile as he shook her hand. In another time, she would have been his sister. Then again, in some other time, Wien would still have been the capital. The bombs here and back when many not have fallen. They might still be here alive. But perhaps for now, it wouldn’t hurt...
“Bitte, Fraulein Julia. Call me Jonatan. I’m sure we’ll get along very well.”