“My parents’ work is funded by the Empire and is under Imperial oversight.” Desiderata sat erect in her chair. “Why do you want to steal it?”
“Because I believe that when they are successful in combining Doctor Papaelias’ intellectual and hoplite serums into one, safe to use, super serum, they intend to take the results of their work straight back to the Hellane Supremacists and leave the Empire with nothing for its expenditure but the serious threat of a new war.” The man with the flesh red skin regarded her calmly. “You grew up in the Empire, Fraulein Reinhart. Do you think that its citizens deserve another Knechtburg?” The name of the notorious atrocity by Hellane forces against Terrencian civilians in the Great War spun metaphorically on the desk between them.
“Why do you think my parents are Hellane Supremacists and planning to do such a thing?” Her hands were tightly clasped in her lap. “They’ve made no secret of coming from the southern Empire and there is a lot of Hellane blood down there.”
“My investigations show that they were both born south of the border in the Hellascene.” He put two photographs on the desk in front of her, both obviously copies of older pictures. “Here is your father when he was still at school,” a serious faced teen, recognizably her father gazed up at them, “just outside Achenae when his name was still Tsoukalidis.”
Peering closely at the picture Desiderata could just make out that the writing on the blazer pocket was in Hellanic letters. She tried to remember where her father had said he’d gone to school.
“The second picture is of your mother with her sister, Dmitria Kostakidou, at the family holiday home just outside Salonika. As you can see, your aunt was an officer in an anti-aircraft unit while your mother was too young to serve during the war.” Just below his indicating fingers a girl and a young woman looked directly at the photographer, the girl in a straight, shin-length dress and summer shoes while the woman wore the uniform of a Hellanic Army lieutenant. “Both families were part of the new Hellanic ruling class that had taken Papaelias’ intellectual serum.”
Desiderata took a deep breath. It was possible that the pictures had been faked but the woman he said was her aunt looked like her sister Helena and their brother Josef. A fake would surely have used an image that looked more like her mother. “My parents were orphaned during the war-.”
“Three of your grandparents are still alive and living in the Hellascene,” her captor said calmly. “Your Grandfather Tsoukalidis was killed in the fighting when the Hellanic capital was overrun at the end of the war. Your Aunt Dmitria married after the war and now has eight children and three grandchildren. Your father has three younger sisters and they have sixteen children between them. Your parents are not as alone in the world as they tell everyone.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re going to steal-.” Facts crystallized into realization. “You’re Klaus Drasche!” Now she was on the attack, perched forward again on the chair. “You injected yourself with the serum, stole my parents’ work, trashed their laboratory and now, years later, you’re back for more?”
“I did not inject myself with the serum,” he replied heavily, “I was your parent’s experimental subject as were my friends and colleagues Ritter, Kuruc and Schliemann. The only difference between us was that they died of the serum and I didn’t.”
“I remember them,” Desiderata was still on the edge of her seat but suddenly subdued again. “They were all my parents’ assistants, like you, but they died in accidents. I went to their funerals. So did you.”
“Yes. Your parents set up those accidents afterwards to hide what they’d done.” His gesture with his hands that looked like they’d been flayed and left to dry in the sun was entirely self-inclusive. “The serum was a work in progress. That may be why they wanted to dissect me even though I didn’t die of it. I took steps to prevent them doing what they did to my friends and I to anyone else. The papers I took from their laboratory that night included the original dissection reports on the others.” He sat back in his chair and looked at her. “You were a bright child, Desiderata, and you are a highly intelligent young woman. I will give you a copy of my evidence for you to go through at your leisure in your room.”
“I see.” She hoped that she did. “So, what happens next?”
“You return to your room to read and otherwise entertain yourself.” He smiled again. “I believe the authorities will be expecting a ransom note, as I have you. I will be sending them another copy of my evidence.” He gave a self-deprecating laugh, “If I didn’t have you, I doubt Archduke Otto or Count Schtulvayer the Younger would read anything I sent them.”