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“The Righteous Stuff” – Chapter 7

September 24, 2009

The Righteous Stuff

by Jeffrey D. Waggoner

based on characters and situations in the

“Domination of the Draka” novels written by S.M. Stirling


CHAPTER 7

DELERY HIGH SCHOOL

CATAWBA COUNTY, OHIO

OCTOBER, 1944

“Come on, Al, you have to ask her!” Jerry Meyer was badgering Allan Northfield again, for the hundredth time, as they walked home after school.

“I don’t have to do anything, and I don’t think she likes me, anyway! Forget about it, Jerry!” Northfield was thinking about “her” despite his protests. Esther Landry, daughter of a prominent real estate man, one who had made a killing in the market since the Army came to town, wouldn’t be interested in the likes of him.

“Umm, Al…what if I told you that Lois already talked to her.” Meyer was looking up at the sky, at nothing.

“Jerry! She didn’t! Tell me she didn’t!” Northfield stopped short, a real look of panic on his face. “She wouldn’t do that on her own…did you put her up to it!”

“Maybe, a little. But you’d have a great time! And you could double with us, so there’s no real reason for you to be upset…”

“What if she says no…”

“She won’t. Look, Lois told me. The fix is in. She likes you, and she’ll go to the dance with you. All you have to do is ask.”

“ ‘All I have to do is ask.’ Right. Sure. It’d be easier to enlist in the Army than call Esther Landry!” He snorted, put his hands in his pockets and started walking again. “And besides…I don’t have the money to go, and I don’t even have a decent coat to wear. I can’t ask my dad. You know what the government price controls have done to the price of tomatoes. He said his crop was bigger than last year, and he only got about seventy-five cents on the dollar from last year’s prices. It’s probably good that I’m staying with Myron…one less mouth to feed.”

“Umm, Al…what does my dad do for a living?”

“He’s just about the biggest lawyer in town. All the military guys come to him for everything.”

“He’s also about your size, and wears a suit every day to work. You should see ’em, Al. Lined up in his closet like soldiers. He must have twenty black suits. I’m sure he’d loan you one. It’s only two dollars to get into the dance. And we could all eat dinner at my place.”

Al had to admit that Jerry’s “place” was more impressive than the restaurant of the Island Lodge, the biggest hotel in town. The mansion sat right across the road from the municipal beach, with beautifully-sculpted grounds and huge white pillars on the front porch. In a town full of dour German and Eastern European immigrant families, who believed in doing everything themselves, it was probably the only home that had a real live gardener to tend the flowers. The house was a three-story Colonial, with at least a dozen bedrooms and a foyer like something out of a movie. The dining room table probably seated twenty around its impeccably polished surface. Jerry’s family was the only one in town to have a full-time cook, as well.  The ritual that was the Homecoming dance wasn’t as big a deal to those who defined the social institutions in DeLery’s Landing. Maybe this will work…but she’ll say no, anyway.

MCPHERSON PLANTATION

OUTSIDE DAMASCUS

SYRIA PROVINCE

DOMINATION OF THE DRAKA

NOVEMBER, 1944

Jaeger sat on the front porch of the mansion, on the top step, to one side of the ornate double doors. He looked out at the grounds, at the scores of serfs working the fields, the grounds, the long drive leading to the house. He was less intimidated than that first night a year ago, but still couldn’t get used to the sheer number of people it took to maintain the plantation. It took half that number of serfs to maintain his whole airbase, most likely, but then, the base was not built for entertaining or impressing the highest levels of Draka society.

Then again, maybe McPherson just likes big things, Jaeger thought. The scale of the estate was huge in every respect, from the high ceilings on each floor in the mansion to the oversized barns and outbuildings. But McPherson was a large man, who knew that many of the people in his circle were intimidated by size, if little else. His family had been Draka practically since the Founding, but instead of settling in Archona or Diskrapur, or even Cape Town, with the “old money,” he was out here, in Syria, which had been a significant part of Draka civilization for only about fifty years. He wasn’t the second son; he had plenty of reason to stay in the south.

But here he was, and here was Lillybeth as well. She could have been bitter, particularly with her household duties. Her mother had been dead for five years, and she had grown into the role of hostess of the McPherson plantation much more easily than Jaeger would have expected. He had seen her dozens of times since, and she never gave any indication she was unhappy in her life in Syria.

Of course, she had friends, from school and from her father’s friends’ families, and they had all reached an age where they could move about with some degree of freedom. She was never lonely, and certainly didn’t lack for male companionship, either.

For some reason, though, she really had taken to Jaeger. Maybe it was the wildness of the test pilot image, although nothing could be further from his real life; maybe it was his somewhat harsh and uncultured speech from growing up on a backwoods plantation in Kenia Province. Maybe it was simply his lack of pretentiousness.

Now there was a thought! There was no doubt that Jaeger wasn’t nearly as polished as Lillybeth’s elite group. He didn’t see much reason to affect such airs, either. He really liked her, but he wasn’t head-over-heels in love with her. While he would miss her if he didn’t see her any more, he knew he would eventually be transferred out of the program, back into combat. There were pilots being lost every day in the meat grinder that was Eastern Europe, and he expected to be recalled any time now.

Jaeger had completed test programs on eight aircraft in the last year, and fortunately had not had to eject from any more planes. He was truly a machine himself in the air, flying the exacting test programs with such precision as to astound the engineers. He assumed that some of the other pilots were jealous, but cared very little about that. He was always somewhat of a loner, and had few friends among his fellow pilots. He got along with them well enough, joking with them before flights and so forth, but didn’t see much reason to develop strong friendships there, either. He was there to fly, to experience the true joy only being in the air could give him. He’d tried to explain that feeling to Lillybeth, but she just laughed lightly at his stumbling for the words.

He expected to be recalled to the Front at any time. The news was only somewhat favorable, even by Draka standards. The Nazi war machine was as formidable a foe as the Draka had ever faced; and the Draka were drawn into the conflict late, with little preparation. Archona had hoped to sit this one out and pick up the leftovers, or attack the weakened winners in Europe. The occupation of Europe was always in the Draka plan; it was never planned that it should be attempted so soon. Perhaps in the mid-Fifties or so, chunks of Eastern Europe could have been carved off, piece-by-piece. By 1960 France could join the Domination, Britain a bit later.

The Draka had overrun the remains of the Ottoman Empire and raced through Greece and Poland. Hungary and most of Austria were now under their control as well. Russia had been a mess before the Draka entered the conflict and the reports coming through were few and conflicting. It sounded as if civilization had completely broken down. Once the Nazis were dealt with, Jaeger expected the Russian occupation to be relatively conflict-free. They’d be chasing down bushmen for a long while, though.

“Yo jus’ sittin’ heah wool-gatherin’?” Lillybeth asked playfully as she came out the front doors and skipped down the steps. She was dressed in riding clothes today, chamois jodhpurs and a thick flannel shirt, and polished high riding boots.

“Just thinkin’, is all.” Jaeger replied as he stood up. She put her face up for a kiss and he did, but lightly, and quickly, so the serfs working in the front yard wouldn’t see.

She pouted. “Is that all I get, after all this time?” Then she smiled. “Ah guess Ah’m still kinda intimidatin’ to the big, tough, flyer boy!” Come on, let’s go ridin’!”

Jaeger had learned to ride as a boy – living on a plantation, you practically had to – but he was never a big fan of horses. They seemed to have minds of their own, and he liked his transportation to do his bidding. Still, he had to admit that the estate was beautiful. The gardens were carefully kept, the fields painstakingly tended and irrigated. He found he was very interested in the irrigation system, which had turned this area into such an Eden.

He sort of remembered his father talking about the desalinization plants on the Mediterranean when he was a boy. They were similar to those used to provide water for his father’s fields in Africa. But the sheer size of the pipes, valves and pumps was incredible. The main feeder water line that came from the coast was over three meters in diameter. Even once it arrived at the plantation and split, the smaller pipes were at least two meters in diameter. It was a measure of McPherson’s status that a single line had been installed all the way to the plantation just for his use. Jaeger did wonder about a backup pipeline, but then decided it was so carefully tended that it probably didn’t require one.

“You’re a chatterbox today, for sure,” Lillybeth chided him.

“Sorry, Lilly, Ah was jus’ admirin’ the fields an’ infrastructure. It’s pretty impressive, no mattah how many times Ah see it.” The horses walked on down the broad service path between fields of winter wheat.

“Well, some day it might all be mine, and what in the world would a girl like me do with it?” she replied, but with amusement in her voice. She never seemed to take her status very seriously.

“Jus’ what do you want to do?” Jaeger asked.

“You mean when Ah grows up?” She laughed, a light, musical sound.  “Ah don’t know. Ah’s spent most of mah time takin’ care of Daddy and his social activities. Ah don’t think much about the future, Ah really don’t.” She frowned a little. “Next year Ah have to do mah Service. They’ve let me put it off as long as possible, since Daddy needed the help so much. Ah don’t even know where Ah belongs there, but I expect someone will tell me.”

“That they will,” Jaeger agreed. “But you really have no plans beyond that?”

“Well, Daddy will have to manage without me for at least two years. That’s been taking up a lot of mah time – teaching the staff what he needs and wants. They try, they do – but they don’t know him like Ah do. One more season of balls and dinners and such, and Ah can go to the Service with a clearer conscience.”

Jaeger looked at her with new respect. He knew she took her duties as the woman of the household seriously, and seemed perfect for the role, far beyond her years. He was a little surprised he was allowed out with her unchaperoned, though, with her being barely twenty and he being almost ten years older.

“What?” she asked, as she noticed his expression.

“Ah was jus’ thinkin’ how you seem to be the older of the two of us,” he said. “Ah never have to think about more than mahself and maybe the plane Ah’m in. You have – ” he waved his arm, encompassing the fields and the main house beyond – “all this.”

“Freya’s sake, Gus, don’ get so deep-thinkin’, hey? It works out, it does. Come on – race you to the house!” She snapped the reins lightly and her horse took off at once, and Jaeger managed to get his to try at least to keep up. She always won these races. He was beginning to thing she won everything, every time.

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