"You must have children of your own," said Catharina.
"Hundreds," said Van Drouten absently.
-"Standing In His Light"
It was a cold night in Amsterdam. The chilly air made patterns on the windows foretelling the frost that would come in a few days' time. The men around the table were warmed by the fire, though; they debated recent events with the quarrelsome eagerness of schoolboys.
A woman--the young, genteel, lady of the house--came in from the kitchen with her serving-maid. They carried coffee and ginger biscuits; the smell of steamed sausages followed them through the door. The visitors at the table turned gladly to the food.
The serving maid went back to the kitchen after setting her tray down. The woman did not. Instead, she said "Well, then," her voice brisk and friendly. "Shall we start?"
They were mortals, of course, sitting at her table, artists and writers, philosophers all. She had always been a patron of the arts, but more mortals ate at her home now than before. No cyborg ventured out to this part of Europe if they could help it.
Not these days, under the shadow of war.
Van Drouten moved through the stacks of crates in the attics, cleaning. Most of the clutter was gone now, removed to the basements or distributed to the last Facilitators while moving items out of her sector of the world was still viable. The attics were large, and split into section after section. Many of them were parts of the other mansions along the Herengracht, blocked off in the 15th century and long-since forgotten by the people who lived underneath.
The sloping ceilings had finished edges, and had been kept in good repair. But gathered along the sides of the walls of that first room were stacks of cots of all models and makes, in wood and metal, bakelite and polyvinyl chloride.
She sighed, set the last of the empty crates for holding foodstuffs down, and looked at the empty space.
They'd need blankets.
The phone rang, and Latif did not jump. His hand hovered over the top of the receiver for a moment, though, waiting for the readout on the caller identification system. He'd jury-rigged it from a few documents he'd downloaded and Suleyman's old electric typewriter.
With the second ring the signal was captured and converted to the telephone number, and clicker-clacked out. Behind Latif's eyes, a red light flashed as he overlaid the number against phonebooks from the era, but he picked up the phone before finding a match. He knew the city code, and only one person would call him from Amsterdam.
"Hoi, Van Drouten," he said, cradling the cumbersome phone automatically between his ear and shoulder.
"Latif!" she exclaimed, as if she wasn't the one who'd been calling him. "I thought you'd be out inventing."
"I am," he told her, settling back into his seat. "We have new trade routes opening up that we need to utilize before France gets stopped up. I'm mapping."
"Ah," she said, a fond and satisfied word that made him grimace a little. "And Ayo?"
"She's a free spirit," Latif informed her. His laugh was not entirely amused. "And you?"
"It's quiet here -" Latif heard some shuffling over the phone "- calm before the storm. We have a few last minute deliveries coming in, though."
"Oh?" Latif asked, feigning disinterest.
"Just some knick-knacks here and there, before those awful Nazis come and confuse everything. I was wondering, though, I'm running low on hair dye and once this all sweeps over I'm not going to be able to--"
"Of course," he murmured, peaceably. "You're color fifty-two?"
"You're a dear, Latif," she said. "Come visit, sometime, after this mess?"
"I'll see if there's a job going to Amsterdam," he agreed. "Talk to you, Van Drouten."
"Tot ziens," she replied, and the phone line went dead.
He remembered, two centuries ago, drinking coffee at her table. Fifty-two, they'd decided then, subvocalizing as he helped her draw out plans. She'd be able to filter over a thousand children through to houses she knew wouldn't be raided -- most everyone owed Van Drouten favors -- and house fifty-two in the extensive smugglers' attics. Those were better numbers than they usually worked with--one from a fire here, or two from a kidnapping there.
He hung up the phone and went to talk to Suleyman.
"Mevrouw!" Gusta called from the ground floor, and Van Drouten pushed out of her room, dusting her hands off as she took the stairs two at a time. The doorbell had just rung, and Gusta -- her serving maid of twenty years, third generation -- had opened it.
A set of cardboard packages were outside, large and heavy looking. "From Morocco," said the man transporting them. "Sign here, please, Mw Van Drouten?"
Van Drouten signed, and with his help moved the heavy boxed packages into the main room. Once he was gone she picked up the three packages and finagled her way up the stairs, Gusta opening doors for her. "Morocco, Mevrouw?" she asked, suspiciously.
"Yes, dear. Here, let's see." She pulled open the first package with her pocket knife, to find a case full of blankets packed tight--fifty to the box, she guessed, probably military issue. The next box had dried goods and information in Latif's spiky handwriting of further shipment checkpoints where she could probably buy some more dried goods to prepare for the winter famine of 1944. The last little box had packets of hair dye, the type the Facilitators used when going under cover. Van Drouten smiled.
"You don't use hair dye, Mevrouw," said Gusta, suspiciously.
"True," Van Drouten agreed. "Let's go make some dinner, shall we?"
There was a burst of static and Van Drouten hit the side of her receiver.
"Hi, Dr. Zeus-in-the-Lowlands," came the chipper voice in 20th Century Cinematic Standard. "This is Abban, as always, and with me this May 10th is our German war correspondent Carl."
"Hey," said Carl, after an awkward moment.
"Big day today in Europe, isn't it, Carl? They just switched old Churchill into the Prime Minister position in England, and the Battles of France and the Netherlands will be starting in a few hours. Right, Carl?"
"Agents in the Lowlands are generally in no danger. Review your mission packets again to make sure you avoid danger zones. And everyone, remember: Rotterdam is under evacuation. If you're not out now, get out."
"Haha, yes," Abban agreed with a hard swallow. "And now for some classic tunes you alllll love!"
Yellow Submarine started playing, and Van Drouten switched the receiver off. There'd be some Preservers seeking shelter from Rotterdam any day now.
In all of her circles, people were angry and scared. She had artist friends who agreed with the Nationalist Socialist Party's artistic ideals of returning to idealized Greco-Roman art. But even they were still enraged by De Nederlandsche Kultuurkamer enforcing those ideals on them. She spoke to them of their worries, and of her worries, and purchased pieces of their work here and there that collectors in the future would pay thousands for.
She was a patron of the arts. And if maybe, just maybe, she'd netted enough loyalty that they wouldn't betray -- might even aid -- her cause? Well, that was a benefit she was willing to take advantage of.
Three years ago Van Drouten had befriended a young woman who worked in Amsterdam's orphanages, making small donations and baking cookies for the children. When the roundups started in Amsterdam she went to visit her. The detainment hospital for the adults was across the road from the orphanage, and Jewish children had started being pushed in through the orphanage's front door, big yellow stars pinned on their little shirts.
When they were alone, in her office, the tender-hearted Mevrouw Schuyler said, quietly as she could, "I haven't an idea what to do, Mw Van Drouten."
"Let's talk at my house tonight," Van Drouten replied, warm and comforting. "You can meet some of my artist friends."
There was never a quiet moment, now. The children she was keeping with her stayed in the attics, where it was safe, but Van Drouten was always going from place to place. She was organizing and politicking, accepting Preservers on the run from the war. They had museum valuables preemptively stolen before the Nazis took them away forever.
The treasures in the basements were worth thousands, those in the attics worth even more.
During the night -- her only free time -- she would read from storybooks in the attics to those who were still awake from fear, or nightmares, or merely because they were children who wanted to hear a story. She was quiet so as not to wake those sleeping, but calmly certain of the quality of her soundproofing. She and Gusta and the older children took care of the little ones, made sure everyone ate enough without eating too much, and distributed blankets.
The last four might ruin them. Fifty-six children were in Van Drouten's attic, instead of the necessary fifty-two. But Meneer Vogel had not been able to accept the last four, and she could not take them back to Mevrouw Schuyler. She had prepared for the Hongerwinter of 1944 with non-perishables for the past five years, but she had always prepared for minimum requirements for fifty-two children and Gusta.
Van Drouten would confess to feeling a wave of relief when little Anne gave out to an infection she didn't have the medication to cure. She was one less mouth to feed, after all, once they buried her in the courtyard.
Still, they survived. They were skinny and underfed, but healthy and alive and learning from the old textbooks in the attics. They were going to be something, when they got out of here. Van Drouten would make certain of that.
The 24th century records show that the Netherlands were the country hardest hit by the Nazi invasions, losing seventy-five percent of their Jewish population and much of their cultural heritage. The ineffectual historians of that century speak harshly of the Dutch government for fleeing to England and opposing the Nazi occupation, when they care to remember the Nazis existed at all. If they government had stayed, surely so many people would not have disappeared.
But those whom history records as disappeared, history assumes to be dead. Any good agent knows that where recorded history leaves holes, any number of clandestine things can happen. Most of the children Van Drouten helped to rescue moved to America and the Scandinavian countries. The mortals recall the motherly woman and the handsome African youth who found them papers.
The cyborgs remember every one.