People sleep peaceably in their beds at night

only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

George Orwell

I rode to the crime scene in the early morning calm of Magdeburg's streets. It was not difficult to find. The area, surrounded by the flickering light of torches, oil storm lamps, and at least one up-time flashlight, was in one of the worst-looking parts of town, and in a city that has been subjected to sacking and burning, that says a lot. The flashlight—one of the very few still left with some battery power—was being used sparingly, but it gave me a good idea of my goal. That was very fortunate because this area was far from our usual security rounds haunts around the riverside navy yard. I dismounted and left the reins of my "horse pool" mount in the care of one of the Marine military policemen who formed the outer cordon of the scene.

Some members of the city watch leaned on their pikes nearby, observing us, talking and joking in low murmurs, apparently without a care in the world. Their common seventeenth-century finery looked—now, to me—too ornate, especially contrasted with the simple subdued style of the up-time uniforms, armbands and weapons of the MPs and navy masters-at-arms who were present. Their disrespectful attitude towards the dead also bothered me but showed clearly that whoever was inside the area was no longer their concern. That made it one less turf fight for me. The young military policeman, on the other hand, was having problems dealing with their care-free stance and his clenched jaw and stern face failed to hide his contempt. In situations like this one, relations between military personnel and civilians tend to fray rather quickly, which, apart from the late hour, explained the absence of curious bystanders.

I nodded to the MP and murmured my thanks, purposely ignoring the watchmen as I entered the cordoned-off area. I saw more MPs and masters-at-arms and sensed the air of contained fury that emanated from them. I braced myself for what was waiting. I could now see two bodies on the ground and, long before I got close enough to see them properly, I smelled the coppery odor of blood mixed with the pungent smell of feces and urine, the ultimate indignity of death. Finally, I came close enough to make out the full details. A woman in a modest civilian dress lay facedown across the body of a man; she looked vaguely familiar. I racked my brain trying to place her. The man was in the undress greens of an enlisted Marine, a Private First Class by the single red chevron on his sleeve, and a stranger to me. Both were barely in their twenties, just children really; a young couple out on an evening stroll, not unlike dozens of others, and who, now, would never grow old. The scene filled me with sadness at the unnecessary waste of young lives and anger at the unknown killers. The area around their bodies had been blocked off with staked cords. It had helped to keep it mostly undisturbed but it still didn't answer my first question of the night. What the hell were they doing out here, so far away from the yard?

The owner of the up-time flashlight joined me and stood quietly by my side as I pondered that and many other questions, taking in the scene. Brunhilde Spitzer is a few years younger than I am, a comrade and more, from our Committee of Correspondence days. Brunhilde was not really her given birth name either; once she had been a camp follower and prostitute before heeding the message of Gretchen Richter, changing her name and starting a new life. Like Gretchen, you don't stand in her way. Perhaps that explained why she adopted the name of one of the Valkyrie warriors of the old tales; I have never inquired. I knew first-hand the power of that message; it had also changed my life, although in my case I got to keep my old name. When Admiral Simpson asked me to join and later lead what would become the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, I, too, followed Gretchen Richter's message and, emboldened by the love of a good woman, accepted and embraced the opportunity for a fresh start away from the petty thievery of my old life.

"Special Agent Spitzer," I said finally.

"Director Schlosser, I am sorry that I had to call you all the way out here this early in the morning. But I want a second opinion. You did much better than me at the crime scene investigation classes and I could use your advice. The night watch commander told me that they are our people, so this is our mess, sir." She addressed me in a formal manner that still barely contained her anger. There were too many non-NCIS personnel within hearing range, so we could not speak candidly. It was for the best; our exact opinion of the city watch and their officers was not for outsiders. Besides, we needed to maintain the professionalism that Dan Frost had drilled into us, and set an example for the young MPs and MAAs present. So I simply nodded in understanding.

The crime scene belonged to us now; it was our first major murder case.

****

When Admiral Simpson had put his group of civilian agents together, our primary mission had been to provide for up-time and naval personnel security as bodyguards—in naval parlance, force protection. In the beginning, Committee of Correspondence members had provided that service to the navy, by orders of Joachim Thierbach, the local committee chairman and who was assisted by Gunther Achterhof, my mentor. Even then, it was under my direction; a position that had first brought me to Simpson's attention. You could say that the good admiral had a personal interest in the subject, since French agents had tried to kill him shortly after his arrival in Magdeburg. In the maelstrom of the political scene of our newly formed nation, the United States of Europe, the navy could not afford to be associated too closely with one of the political factions. So the CoC was out and Simpson had approached me with a job offer. It had seemed simple enough: do the same thing for him that I had done for the committee, but now for pay. That was an offer that I could hardly refuse. Revolutionary fervor can go only so far in providing sustenance to the body or a roof over one's head, especially now that I had other responsibilities.

Our scope of responsibility continued to expand, in what I now knew to call mission creep. There was money to be made out of the business generated by the needs of a burgeoning navy and Marine Corps and the works of the shipyard, lots of it. Some parties were none too scrupulous in its acquisition. The local authorities were uncooperative at times and some were outright on the take. That was not news to me; I had similar experiences in my CoC days, but it caught Admiral Simpson by surprise, and he told me to take care of it. So, we found ourselves dealing with corruption, fraud, shoddy materials, and outright theft.

Naturally, a case could be made that putting me and mine in charge of those investigations had been akin to letting the fox guard the henhouse. After all, most of our agents had lived very interesting lives before joining, and not always on the right side of the law. I prefer to think that we possessed hard-won expertise on the subject matter that makes us very difficult to fool. Owing our loyalty to the navy that had given us a second chance; we could not be easily bought, either. It showed in the success of our efforts. I have to confess that there is some truth to the rumors that a visit from me or mine could ruin your whole day. The admiral had once commented that our idea of law enforcement would have given apoplexy to any up-time cop. I reminded him that he was no longer living there; besides, our growing notoriety meant that no one now dared to cut corners on materials or services bought by either the navy or the Corps.

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