Dignity & Distance

An old but well-maintained car containing the women pulled up to the servants’ entrance. The American and his new companion had accompanied them part of the way before they were dropped off in some foothills several miles from the base.

There was a watchtower overlooking the gate, manned by two soldiers and equipped with a heavy machine gun.

Two more soldiers manned the gate, doing perfunctory examinations of the identification papers of everyone going in—until the car with the women pulled up.

In terrible French, the one on the driver’s side asked Angelique about her companions and she stuck with the cover story.

The one on the passenger side said he thought Victoria was pretty but too pale for his tastes. The other responded he didn’t care about that, just how good she was at doing something unladylike with his genitalia.

The one on the passenger side took notice of Aissa and asked her for her name, but Angelique explained the girl was mute.

The soldier sighed and said Aissa didn’t interest him if she didn’t scream. The other soldier chastised him for being too picky about women as he stepped to the gate and opened it.

*****

After parking the car, Angelique led them into the base’s main building, which appeared to have been a chateau before the Germans took control.

She thought the interior was childishly designed; its current owners overdid it with expensive-looking artwork as well as their symbol being stamped on virtually everything—clear signs of nouveau riche.

Angelique led them into a small room where they changed out of their everyday clothes into their work uniforms. The Frenchwoman urged them to change quickly as the Germans liked to “accidentally” walk in on the women.

Victoria looked around and saw there were no windows, so there was no direct sunlight available to drain her of her strength. She knew she should just allow the Germans to see her and her companions in their underclothes, but over two centuries’ worth of proper behavior simply could not be thrown away.

“Go ahead and change,” she said to the others. “I won’t let them in.”

Because there were other women in the room beside her companions, she said it in French to maintain her disguise.

The other women exchanged worried looks. They were used to the boorish behavior of their occupiers, so anything out of the ordinary was cause for fear.

She wrapped her hand around the knob just as it rattled on the other side, quickly followed by utterances of surprise in German.

The Germans tried turning the knob again, but there was nothing on the earth that could overcome her strength except for another member of her own kind.

The utterances turned from surprise to annoyance, and a fist pounded on the door.

“Sorry,” she said in French. “The knob seems to be stuck. I can’t turn it!”

She looked back at the other women, who had stopped in the middle of changing to stare at the member of their gender who was somehow holding back the efforts of some very determined Germans.

She gestured for them to finish, and that snapped them out of their stasis.

The pounding increased in its intensity, and she knew she would have to let them in, but not before she saved the other women from this assault on their dignity.

Once the other women finished, she let go of the knob and instantly assumed a meek demeanor, casting her eyes submissively downward.

The door slammed open and several Germans stormed in, rifles at the ready.

*****

Harold and his unshaven companion—whose name was Marcel—moved quickly as they dared through the foothills to make their way to what the Frenchman said would be a good spot.

The good spot turned out to be a small cave, just big enough for the two of them to fit in.

Harold approved; there was no way anyone could sneak up on them from behind, and the cave was deep enough for him to use his rifle scope without fear of sunlight catching it and kicking up a glare.

He unrolled his rifle, released the catch on its bipod, and settled it gently on the cave floor, ensuring it was stable before looking through the scope.

He had never used scopes before joining the Army, and they took some getting used to. When he was first issued one, he took it apart to understand its inner workings. He quickly discovered it was inadequate for his needs and spent his spare time constructing one more suitable.

When he first used it, his platoon sergeant told him he was not authorized to make any changes to his equipment without prior approval and threatened him with a fine of two months’ pay if he damaged the rifle in any way.

He asked permission to try out the scope before getting slapped with the fine. His platoon sergeant agreed, but only if Harold could hit a target at a mile and a half with every single bullet in the magazine.

Harold agreed and not only did he hit the target, but every shot was also in the innermost circle.

His platoon sergeant never said another word about making unauthorized modifications.

*****

The hardest part for Victoria was maintaining her meek demeanor. Were the circumstances any different, she would ensure they never again interrupted a woman as she changed clothes.

They pushed her back into the room with the others and ordered all of them to strip naked.

Another angry voice joined in; an officer demanded to know what they were doing.

They stammered out an excuse about ensuring security, but he pushed it aside, telling them they would have their chance to see a woman in her natural state at the end of their duty shift.

After he ordered them out, he turned back to the women.

“Pardon,” he said in an acceptable accent, then left.

Victoria changed and followed Angelique out with Aissa in tow.

“Don’t do that again,” the Frenchwoman said in a low tone out the side of her mouth. “If you do, I will kill you myself.”

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