Issac locked the door of his room and leaned against the wall beside it, watching 0sc4r slowly making rounds of the room. When the automaton was reasonably certain there were no listening devices in the room, it nodded, and Issac slide down the wall to sit on the floor. Getting through the embassy had been harder than getting through skyport. There he was still supposed to be a foreigner, so a faux pas or two could be excused easy enough, but at the embassy he was allegedly among his own countrymen. It was a constant pressure on his mind to remember all the things he would be expected to do as a German and a member of the foreign minister’s office.
He’d had to be on constant alert for any little tick or slang that might give him away, had to constantly strain to remember the massive stack of intelligence papers the skymarshal had forced on him, detailing the political climate in Berlin and throughout the Kaiser’s Empire, which he had to pretend to be an expert on. He’d found that he could deflect most questions about “his opinions” on whatever issue by saying “as an officer of the Kaiser’s foreign ministry, I’m afraid I can’t comment on that,” but that could only take him so far. He’d ended up in a half hour conversation with the regular German ambassador, asking after mutual friends that Issac had never met (unless you counted examining their codes), having to piece together in his head the scraps of information he could recall about those people named in the dossier on the German diplomatic corps and the whatever context he could pick up from the ambassador. Fortunately, Baldrik, the ambassador, was a man who did most of the talking in his conversations, so there had been plenty of room to just shrug, grunt in agreement, or chuckle knowingly to keep the conversation going as if Issac knew what the man was talking about. He’d made a few slip ups. Assuming some person called ‘Jakoba’ was a woman, rather than an affectionate nickname for a particular male officer Jakob, whom he was expected to know because “Oh, everybody knows Jakoba.” He’d managed to excuse himself from that by blaming the long trip, but he still wasn’t convinced he hadn’t blown his cover entirely with that slip up.
“Mr. Schultz?” Issac was so exhausted it took him a moment to realize 0sc4r was speaking to him, using the German name he’d been given for the assignment, “Mr. Schultz. I think we should *click* go over Skymarshal *click* Winthrop’s notes for the meeting *click* tomorrow.”
“Yes of course,” Issac heaved himself up from the floor, brushing his jacket off. He reached absentmindedly for his notebook before remembering that he’d had to leave it aboard the ship. He sighed.
“Here you are, *click* sir,” 0sc4r held up a brand new notebook and pen.
“Thank you, 0sc4r,” Issac mumbled before correcting himself. It’s a machine, it doesn’t need your thanks. It’ll tell you that itself if you ask it.
“The Skymarshal *click* instructed me to remind you *click* you are not to use any codes or cyphers in your notes that would be *click* problematic if the notebook were left behind.”
“Of course, of course,” Issac said opening the notebook. It was not a notebook he would have picked out himself. The leather of the cover was too thick and stiff, and the paper was quite coarse. People who did not take notes found it difficult to imagine how particular Issac was about the medium he utilized. The paper, the pen, the cover, all meaningless, trivial things in their own right, but they mattered to him. Every imperfection, every deviation from the ideal case, was a roadblock that kept ideas from being fully conveyed onto the page.
Alas, all of his favorite notebooks were full of his own notes. Notes on cracking German codes (or making better British ones). He would have to make do with these. He scribbled a few test lines, then he drew a small grid. He spent a few minutes concocting a new cypher for his notes, nothing too complicated, just enough so a man looking over his shoulder couldn’t read it. He glared at the grid until it was burned into his memory, then he tore the page out, struck a match, burned the paper and lit his pipe.
“Go ahead then, 0sc4r.”
0sc4r dictated from the automaton’s impossibly accurate memory the dossiers Issac had been given the other day, laying out the political situation, the people who would be at the meeting, and a hundred other things that ‘Herr Schultz’ would be expected to understand should they come up (which they would almost certainly not).
Since their revolution, the Turks had begun to rebuild and revitalize their empire. With their new, ungodly twisted version of the Janissary, they had pushed back into the Balkans in the later half of the 19th century, possessed of a fire not seen since the days of Suleiman. So fearsome was the new Ottoman lion that the Hapsburgs, that august and ancient house, had finally been brought low, forced to join themselves fully to the new rising Empire of Germany. Today the Sultans and the Kaiser were on good terms politically, but many Austrians in the Kaiser’s empire remembered well the terrors of the Islah Savaşi, the War of Reclamation as the Turks called it.
Today the Turks controlled everything South of the Danube, including Belgrade, and this was where the Italians became involved. The new King of Italy had a vision of bringing all the Adriatic into his sphere, to complete the acquisition of all that had belonged to that Serene Republic, Venice. Those territories along the eastern shore of the Adriatic were Turkish holdings now, and this was quickly becoming a problem.
The Turks accused the Italians of supporting local dissidents, while the Italians accused the Turks of supporting pirates in the air and sea of the Mediterranean.
The Germans had managed to forge a tentative alliance between them all the same, on the grounds that the Italians hated the British, and the Turks the Russians, far more than they hated each other.
It made a certain sense. The Ottomans had perhaps the deadliest land army in the world (if not the largest), the Italians built some of the best flyers in the world, and the Germans had the money to finance both of them. If they could put aside their mutual mistrust and hatred, there would be no power in the world that could stand against them.
Things were going well for the Kaiser’s alliance so far, but the Balkan’s were flaring up again, and rebels there were starting to inflict real damage on Janissary operations there. This meant the Turks were increasing the military presence there, which made the other two nervous. This meeting was supposed to be a simple chat to calm everyone’s’ nerves.
Issac’s job in making sure that didn’t happen was simple: make each side believe the Kaiser values them more than the other. Hopefully, emboldened by the Kaiser’s support, they would do something stupid when the Skymarshal made her move in…Bosnia was it? Somewhere in the Balkans. Issac pushed that out of his mind. Better if he not even think about that. Focus was needed on the task at hand.
So Issac listened to 0sc4r go on and on and on and on.
He listened until he fell asleep at the writing desk.
0sc4r momentarily considered waking him, but he had orders from Victoria.
“Advise him; Protect him; Watch him; Above all just take care of him, 0sc4r.”
So 0sc4r did not wake the professor, instead he lifted him with calculated gentleness, laid him onto the bed, and tucked him under the blanket before moving to the corner to wind down for the night.