Arrogance and Empire - An Alternate 7 Years' War Novel - Part 11 - 1890-1900

Mexico is turning into like vietnam. What is the technology level in this period are there weapons that have appeared early like the m1903 Springfield and m1895 browning machine gun like that? Glad your continuing this story hope your doing well and fine!đź‘Ť
Always glad to have someone following. I needed a few months to recharge my batteries at the end of last year.

I think the rifle technology is very similar to OTL (both China and the US use version of Mausers).
 
Chapter 93
January, 1897

East China Sea, twenty miles west of Okinawa


Cutting through the cold waves of the East China Sea under the sputtering petrol engines of his ungainly craft, now mercifully released from the torpedo destroyer’s towline, the commander of the USS Whitehead pulled tugged his thick sweater across his throat. Weeks prior, Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur suffered a long spell in the makeshift naval infirmary as a result of a serious nasal and chest infection brought on by near-constant exposure to the cold winter winds of the East China Sea.

Yet, when the Whitehead’s mechanics managed to repair several serious leaks within the novel vessel’s superstructure over the past month, there simply was no way that the Lieutenant would allow his command to depart the dubious safety of Shanghai’s harbor without himself at the helm.

Receiving the orders from an overwhelmed aid to Admiral Dewey to sail two days prior…well, be towed two days prior…across the East China Sea towards the western approaches to Okinawa, along the primary sea-lane providing supplies from Columbia to the Republic. Unsurprisingly, this had drawn the attention of the Imperial Navy, eager to sever the flow of goods to their rebellious southern provinces. Dozens of torpedo boats and torpedo destroyers sortied out from northern ports over the past months with the intent of savaging the ephemeral Columbian lifeline…with some measure of success.

“Dozens of Columbian supply ships, fuel tankers…even a full troop transport…have been sunk in the past few weeks, Lieutenant,” the harried Staff Officer explained, repeatedly looking down upon his desk within the Columbian navy’s accommodations in Shanghai towards a ponderous stack of paperwork, “The Admiral has been forced to dispatch over a dozen torpedo destroyers to patrol the East China Sea to counter these attacks…”

“Sir…” MacArthur objected, his voice still hoarse from his illness, “the probability of the Whitehead encountering an Imperial destroyer…”

“Are very low, as I am well aware, Lieutenant,” the officer nodded, finally deigning to offer the sailor his full attention. “However, the Whitehead’s…heroics…at the battle of the East China Sea, including sinking a capital ship, has apparently proven a cause célèbre in Columbia and the Secretary of the Navy wants to utilize the submersibles to their full extent. Apparently, loitering about Shanghai waiting for another battle to pass by is not adequate for the Admiralty…”

Seeing no point in further objections, MacArthur merely accepted his orders in the face of his reservations that the high probability of breaking down in the turbulent East China Sea would spell certain doom for the Columbian vessel and crew. Though deeply proud of his command, the young officer conceded that the still-embryonic technology should not yet be left to its devices in the harsh environment.

Assuming the sole position upon the conning tower sharply emerging from the sea, the officer merely gazed out into the grey evening, not a single vessel sighted for hours as the ship chugged about at seven or eight knots in the gathering gloom towards the coastline of Okinawa (despite his orders, MacArthur was NOT planning on remaining out of sight of land. Should the diesel engines break down…again…he wanted to be close enough for the batteries to carry his command to safe harbor).

“Captain?”

The voice echoed slightly from beneath his perch, down into the shallow bowels of the ship, MacArthur recognizing the voice of the Master Chief, his defacto second-in-command.

“Yes, Mr. Bernard?”

“Two hours, sir.” The petty officer need not elaborate. The watch was typically restricted to two hours, not for the comfort of the lookout but due to the need for the crew to routinely escape the cramped conditions below. Tarrying even a single moment created resentment, even against the commanding officer.

“Of course, Mr. Bernard,” MacArthur replied evenly, already regretting his impending descent into the dungeon-like interior of the USS Whitehead. The “common area”, where the crew worked, ate and slept, comprised barely enough room to stand up. Fumes, both mechanical and biological, grew increasingly intolerable by the hour. The officer already vowed to his command that the vessel would remain out at sea (always within sight of land) for three days before “reporting to Okinawa harbor”.

Alighting the ladder and gesturing towards his relief, the Lieutenant stated, “Nothing on the horizon, Mr. Bernard, and Okinawa is to port…”

“Aye, sir!” The petty officer tipped his cap before rapidly ascending the few rungs of ladder to relative freedom. Concealing his grin at the enlisted man’s eagerness to escape the gloom of the USS Whitehead, the vessel’s skipper trod the three steps forward past the boiler into the relative expanse of the common room/torpedo room (engines were aft) where two sailors snored within the hammocks hung from the ceilings just above the racks of torpedoes along the hull while two mechanics puttered with some equipment under the stark glare of a lamp. Further fore was storage, the head and galley.

One gazed up as the officer approached, nodding, “Sir…”

“As you were, Masters,” MacArthur waved the man off. “What are you and Hayes up to?”

Helplessly, the man gestured towards the array of metal components spread about the floor, “We can’t seem to get this filter working properly…”

“The same problem, eh?” Too much of the submersible’s components were untested. Far too many might fail at any moment.

“Keep at it, Masters…”

“SIR!”

The excited shout reverberated throughout the vessel, the echoes awakening the hands slumbering in the hammocks. Recognizing Bernard’s voice, the officer rose and half-sprinted the handful of paces towards the conning tower, below which lay the helm. Though not recommended, it was…possible…for two men to share the confined space, at least for a short period.

Climbing the rungs with alacrity, the officer squeezed alongside the Master Chief into fading light of the gathering dusk. Without awaiting permission to speak, the sailor merely pointed southeastwards, where the silhouette of a vessels broke along the horizon some four miles forward, illuminated by flames.

“How the hell did I miss that?” MacArthur cursed before adding, “Get back below and take the helm from Mr. Shaw…”

Disappointed at losing his watch so quickly, the experienced sailor nevertheless hastened to obey, shimmying down the ladder. Within moments, the officer overheard the Master Chief ordering the hands to battle stations. Grateful for the service of the wise old hand (Bernard was well into his THIRTIES!), the commander of the Whitehead gripped the binoculars his subordinate handed him prior to his hasty departure and stared southeastwards towards the flickering flames. Though night rapidly approached, it was obvious that the stricken ship was not alone, already settling in the water. Her attacker…assuming this was not some sort of accident…was nowhere to be seen.

For the next twenty-three minutes, the Columbian officer scanned the horizon, his sharp eyes seeking any form of threat. Unfortunately, within that time, the unknown ship slipped beneath the waves. By the time the Whitehead arrived, the expanding slick of flotsam and fuel oil despoiling the ocean, the vessel was gone. Night finally fell and virtually nothing could be discerned in the dark…

“Help us!” A weak voice reverberated over the lapping waves. “Help…!”

“Where are you?” He shouted before calling the to the helmsman to “Turn off the damned engines! NOW!”

Nearly a minute later, the rumbling engines chugged to a halt (always a nervous moment as MacArthur could not swear they would ever restart) and allowed the sailor to gain his bearings.

“Over…here…” the voice continued. “Starboard…”

Waving a lantern starboard, the sailor spied a pair of figures sprawled across the top of some immense container.

Calling to his Master Chief, the officer demanded, “Get two men up here! Survivors! I’m going into the drink off starboard!”

“Sir…! What?!!!”

But the officer was already out of the conning tower, his feet immediately dowsed by the mild tides lapping across the hull (only the conning tower typically remained dry…and that was never a guarantee) and dove into the frigid waters of the East China Sea across the hull.

Twenty minutes later, the shivering Captain accepted a cup of coffee from able seaman Thompson, his eyes locked upon the two forms bundled under a mound of blankets. One figure, an older man with a grey mustache, lay unconscious as another crewman sought to bring him around, moving the fellows legs in an attempt to renew circulation. The other, a narrow-faced youth probably still in his teens, fought to grip the mug.

Bernard, having been relieved again at the conn, demanded, “Do you know if anyone else made it off your vessel, Mr…”

“Thord-Gray”, the youth managed to stammer through chattering teeth. “Able seaman Ivor Thord-Gray…formerly of the merchant ship Seattle Sound…” He turned towards the still form of the older man and nodded, “This is my Captain, Roger Marley…” Though the sailor spoke English fluently, his accent spoke of Scandinavia. “We were sailing to Canton…”

“What happened, Mr. Thord-Gray?” The captain of the Whitehead added, amazed either man was still alive. Only a few minutes in the water left MacArthur exhausted. He couldn’t imagine what a longer period could do to the human body, even if suspended on that container.

The youth shook his head, “I don’t know, sir! We…we were in the galley, preparing dinner…and then an alarm bell was wrung. We…the majority of the crew…we never made it out of the galley before the whole ship shook like the devil. The noise…” The fellow’s blue eyes glistened at the memory. “By the time we made for the deck, the smoke was everywhere. Captain Marley shouted something about “the damned chinks” and then the boat seemed to shatter…another explosion…and I was in the water. Somehow…somehow…I found one of the crates of rice and dragged myself atop. When I saw the Captain in the water, I grab him, too….”

“And your crew, Mr. Thord-Gray?”

The man closed his eyes before replying, his voice mournful, “I…I called out but didn’t hear a response…from anyone. I see only a ship in the distance, sailing away…as the Seattle Sound broke in half, sinking…she sank in less than a minute!”

Patting the youth on the shoulder, momentarily fortified by the coffee, the Lieutenant assured him, “We will search for survivors until daylight…”

In the conning tower, two sailors now scoured the sea with a searchlight, calling out to any other potential survivors in the surf. However, MacArthur bore little optimism. The water was simply too cold this time of year and, by fate or good luck, the Whitehead was in position within minutes of the attack else misters Marley and Thord-Gray would not have lived another hour upon the high sea.

Though how the Seattle Sound had failed to note the approach of an Imperial vessel until too late to even summon the crew from their dinner remained something of a mystery, the fact remained that the USS Whitehead’s narrow hold bore two additional souls. Finding the development adequate reason to abandon the rest of his patrol, MacArthur determined to sail for Okinawa Naval Base upon one final (no doubt utterly futile) search for survivors at dawn.
 
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Chapter 94
January, 1897

Philadelphia


Having granted an informal level of unofficial recognition to the appointed Ambassador of the new “Reino de las Indias Occidentales Espanolas”, President Adlai Stevenson repeated almost verbatim the words he’d already expressed to Ambassador Garcia’s counterparts from the Philippines, Rio Plata and Nueva Granada:

“And, while it may take some weeks for Congress to approve Columbia and the Spanish West Indies’ Treaty of Amity and Engagement,” Stevenson murmured, eyes blinking heavily under the sharp flashes of cameras recording the moment for posterity, “Allow me to extend my most heartfelt best wishes to Prince-Regent Pedr….I mean, King Pedro I…”

Amid the chuckles of his nearby adjutants, the President gamely offered a grin for the cameras while shaking the Ambassador’s hand against the backdrop of the Presidential Mansion. Secretary of State Olney breathed a sigh of relief as Garcia expressed no offense as Stevenson’s gaff. He made a note to make inquiries if any of the reporters had noticed.

After a short question and answer session for the benefit of the press (Garcia proved mercifully brief in his remarks), the carefully orchestrated event was called to an end, the defection of the Prince-Regent of Cuba, Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo from Spanish Imperial rule proving a rare diplomatic victory for the beleaguered administration.

Minutes later, having returned to the privacy of his office, sank into the depths of his chair, Stevenson muttered to his Secretary of State, “Well, that was a few hours I wasn’t pilloried by the press…”

Olney’s, his typical constipated expression etched across his wife features, replied defensively, “The apparent dissolution of the Spanish Empire can only assist our efforts in New Spain…not to mention China…”

Waving the protestations aside, Stevenson clarified, “I understand, Richard, I truly do, that the round little Spanish Queen’s stupidity has led to Civil War at home and rebellion abroad…but that doesn’t seem to improve the situation in New Spain. Every report arriving from Puebla and Leon paints the same picture. Lacking supplies…or the means to transport them…and now these outbreaks of disease…”

“Soldiers always complain, Mr. President,” the diplomat objected. If Hannibal could march elephants over the Alps, I fail to see why our Generals can’t attack cities twenty miles off…” Not a military man, Olney’s relations with the General Staff had reached a low ebb as the Secretary of State condemned the army’s lack of action in New Spain. It had reached a point that the President was forced to intercede between the military and civilian camps.

“I only wish we could support our men better than we have,” Stevenson added guiltily. “These officers were promised reinforcements, thousands of horses, camels and mules…and yet we have sent so little.”

“China is the priority, sir. You know that as well as I.”

The Secretary of State was confident in that claim. Spain was hardly a threat to Columbia’s interests. It was only a matter of time before Guatemala, Peru and Chile joined the other former colonies in independence. Chile, in particular, was signaling a willingness to go their own way…though no formal declaration had arrived in Columbia from the Prince-Regent. There was certainly no threat of reprisal by the metropolis, not with the destruction of the Spanish Imperial Fleet and the rebellion at home. The only remaining question on that front was if Spain itself would collapse before the remnant of her Empire.

With a sigh, Stevenson looked upon the clock and commented, “Ten more minutes until the Secretary of the Navy arrives for his appointment.”

Sensing his dismissal, Olney inquired, “Do you expect Congress to vote within the month on the matter of recognizing the independence of the Spanish West Indies?”

“Congress shall do what they want in their own time. Even our friends don’t seem to care as to the impact of their legislation on my administration. Perhaps if I commented upon the business opportunities in Cuba…and Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo…”

“A fine idea, sir.”

“Yes, if they care nothing for my opinion, the cries of their constituent manufacturers and traders may well force their hand.”

The Secretary of State grinned, rising from the chair opposite Stevenson’s desk. Perhaps he could still catch Ambassador Garcia and slip a few comments regarding the potential value of Columbian exports into the evening editions…
 
Chapter 95
January, 1897

Sandouping Village, Hubei Province, Southern shore of Yangtze


Prince Zaitian ducked back into the hastily dug trench as the screaming projectiles arced over the protective crest of the knobby peaks only to explode in midair upon encountering the barren branches of the normally verdant mountainside. Shards of metal carved a path through the denuded winter foliage as if seeking out purchase in flesh. The Prince could only hunker down in the defensive position only recently seized from the enemy observers.

Cursing, Zaitian belatedly noted that this particular “trench” had, in fact, been utilized by the Republican rebels as a shithole, the stench of even frozen offal and piss making him gag.

Still…the Prince dared not evacuate the foul hole, desperately clinging to life.

Why the hell didn’t I heed the warnings about that damned….what did the Colonel call it again? The youth thought desperately. A “grenade bomb tube”?

Zaitian rather doubted that the rebels referred to the weapon as such but determined at the time that it mattered little. Upon forcing the relatively narrow confine of the Yangtze opposite petty village of Sandouping, several examples of the odd devices falling into Imperial hands. The Prince, somewhat overwhelmed by his first nominal “command”, paid little attention to the odd pipe-like device from which explosives were shot skyward only to plunge back to earth upon the invaders. An invention of a local armorer, the contraption was intended for use along rugged mountain terrain or amid the trenches now stretching east to west along the shores of the great river.

In the background, the Prince overheard Colonel Xi ordering “skirmishers” forward to root out the handful of rebel defenders seeking to hold the Imperial assault in the valleys and prevent a breakout into open land southward.

For all the terror of the bombardment, the Prince recognized that the invasion was going well, far better than the botched and bloody affair a few months prior when the Imperial forces effectively marched headfirst into the teeth of the enemy defenses. Chastened by the failure, the Imperial Generals…though which survived his cousin the Emperor’s rage…rapidly adjusted their invasion strategy to reflect these realities. No longer focused on attacking the heavily populated…and defended…cities, the Imperial forces opted to cross the Yangtze in remote areas such as this non-descript mountain village. Though the rebels had nominally “garrisoned” the length of the river, reality prevented the southerners to dispatching more than nominal forces along the remote, inaccessible ridges of the Yangtze where supplying such large bodies of men proved almost impossible.

Of course, this meant that the Imperials, having forced the bitterly cold river, would no doubt struggle to retain their purchase on the south bank.

Only belatedly did the Prince realize that the bombardment had ended, as did the cracking of bullets in the distance.

“Your Highness?” The voice emerged from above. Zaitian looked up from his huddled fetal position to note the Colonels standing above, his face twisted slightly at the stench. “The rebels’ position has been taken. Our forces are even now marching inland along the pass.”

“Of course, Colonel,” the Prince nodded, managing to extricate himself from the foul pit. Taking the first full breath in far too long, Zaitian gagged slightly, staring down upon his uniform in dismay.

“We’ll arrange a clean uniform, Highness,” the Colonel promised, no doubt as eager as Zaitian to escape the stench.

Assigned as an “observer” to Xi’s Regiment at his own request, the Prince knew the experienced and capable officer was likely to keep him alive as war convulsed the Middle Kingdom. Though his volunteering for a “combat position” in the Emperor’s service was lauded by many of the Mandarin’s courtiers, in truth Zaitian had an ulterior motive: the desire to avoid the rapidly degenerating situation at court.

The Tongzhi Emperor’s agitations grew greater by the day. Men of great stature and family were being routinely removed from office, several arrested…and rumored to have been executed. Be they soldier or bureaucrat, few possessed immunity to their Emperor’s rage (his moods whispered to be addled by venereal disease).

As the heir to the childless Tongzhi Emperor’s throne (again, his infertility likely a consequence of syphilis), even Zaitian’s position…or life…lay at risk within his mercurial cousin’s court. Among the hundreds of thousands of volunteers and conscripts, soon to number in the millions, flocking to the Emperor’s colors, Zaitian counted himself among to the few to volunteer for service as the safer alternative to life in the Forbidden City.

Disgusted by the stench of offal clinging to his person, the Prince attempted to affect a mien of calm as he picked his way through the riverside mountain pass towards the relative open land further south. Exactly how the Imperials would manage to sustain a supply line over the coming months through such harsh terrain remained an open question.

However, the Imperial Army had already achieved more in Sandouping…and other similar avenues of entry into this cursed “Republic”…than the murderous general assault of months prior.

Across the expansive length of the Yangtze, over a million Imperial troops assembled to break the embryonic southern nation in its infancy.
 
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Chapter 96
January, 1897

West of Nanjing


“…Jesus!” Yelped Private Hans Czinka as a bullet cracked into a tree barely six inches from his head. Ducking behind the ravaged edifice, the soldier attempted to merge himself into the wood as the cacophony of combat proved almost deafening.

“Third squad!” Roared 1st Company’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Stevens, from a few dozen paces away. Czinka managed to pry his face from the moss-covered timber to note the young officer frantically gesticulating through the unnamed forest’s dense undercover. “Third squad! Head through that ravine and flank these bastards!”

Oh, shit.

Czinka was third squad.

Corporal Pandev, a Chicago-born Slav, emerged from the smoke, practically crawling through the mud and slush apparently common to a January morning in Jiangsu Province, and commanded with a trace of an eastern accent, “You hear the man! Third squad on me!”

The stocky non-com slithered into the slight ravine as Czinka and eight of his fellows of 1st Company, 2nd Regiment, 5th Brigade hastened to follow…though not out of an eagerness to renew the assault upon the Imperial soldiers thick as mosquitoes throughout the mountainous thicket of woods. The depression provided a measure of protection from the ongoing firefight.

Only days prior, 1st Company remained in semi-comfort in their Nanjing quarters, spending three days under a barracks roof within the city, followed by three days in the trenches. For the past few months, the peace was broken only by the occasional desultory shell lobbed across the Yangtze and perhaps the pounding skull received at the hands of a bitter New Year’s Day hangover.


Unfortunately, the Imperials had other plans.

On January 1st, as the Columbian soldiers shuffled back into the trenches, a general assault along the length of the great river commenced. Unlike the previous expedition, which had been repulsed with such bloodshed, the Imperials appeared to have learned their lesson. Rather than crossing into the teeth of the allied defenses, namely the cities, the Imperial troops instead crossed at dozens of remote locations, often lightly defended and at a remove from communication, supply and reinforcement.

The Republican soldiers in particular were incensed at the assault as it coincided with the observed birthday of their…savior (?)…Hong on January 1st. Initially, the Columbians assumed the date was chosen to catch the allied soldiers off-guard on New Year’s Day. No one was entirely sure if the timing of the attack was deliberate or serendipity…but that mattered little to observant God-Worshippers certain their faith was once again under attack. After days of prevaricating, unsure if the enemy assaults were but a distraction to thin the defenses from the littoral cities, the allied General Staff finally ordered 2nd Regiment from the trenches to once again march into the countryside.

Unfortunately, the Impies had learned from their previous campaign: this time gangs of saboteurs had slipped across the river over the preceding weeks to cut telegraph lines, blow up bridges and burn lengths of precious rail track. Already suffering a terrible disadvantage in such industry, the southern republicans would struggle to keep the creaking machinery moving even without the disruption.

Along the length of the Yangtze, allied troops marched through the winding mountain roads with little distinction from their forebearers a century prior. Fortunately for 2nd Regiment, their own tramp through the muddy lanes ended but twenty-four miles west of Nanjing.

Unfortunately for the 2nd Regiment, this was because Republican scouts report enemy soldiers had reached the southern shore of the great river only hours prior. Even as rumors spread throughout the rank and file that their actions were being mimicked by panicked allied troops the length of the riparian system, the Columbian soldiers exited the westbound roadway to pick their way inch by inch into the hilly woods of Jiangsu before finally encountering the enemy within the dense thickets of conifers.

“Now, dammit!” Cursed Pandev, already skittering beyond Czinka’s vision.

Eager to reach the relative safety of the gully (fortunately dry at the moment though a sudden thaw would no doubt bring a torrent of water), Czinka rapidly followed the Corporal’s fouled butternut uniform for several minutes, the near-constant crack of gunfire lending impetus to keep his head down. Having already lost track of time and distance, the private was startled to find he’d barreled his head into the suddenly stationary non-com’s boots.

Grunting an apology, Czinka belatedly pulled his head up slightly to examine his surroundings only to find little illumination in the narrow crevasse. Barely into mid-morning, it appeared that the soldier’s day was not going to get easier.

“Czinka!” Pandev hissed, the Corporal twisting about to face the still-prone enlisted man. “Take three men…and git behind that series of logs to the right! I think we can take the bluebellies by surprise in a cross-fire!”

Chancing a quick glance above the rim of the gulch to get his bearings, Czinka was surprised to see several dozen figures but twenty yards distant. None appeared to be paying the slightest attention to the ravine, instead the Imperial “bluebellies”, so named for their navy-blue uniforms in the western style, concentrated their rifle fire upon 1st Company’s position.

Despite having no inclination whatsoever to abandon the relative safety of the ravine, Czinka merely nodded. Those were his friends these bastards were trying to kill. Worse, a second glance revealed the Impies carrying forward a wicked-looking machine gun.

With an odd detachment, the soldier acknowledged Pandev’s order, the intention plain. With the three appointed soldiers in tow, Czinka skittered out of the trench, crawling low towards a series of long-fallen trees, already rotting into the rocky soil of the steep hillside. By some miracle, the quartet arrived without detection, the relieved souls once again attempting to meld themselves into the frigid mud.

“Wait for Pandev to open fire!” Czinka reminded his cohorts. Only belatedly did the soldier wonder why he’d been chosen to command this group. Yes, most of the lads were younger than he…but still. No one ever tabbed him before for leadership of any task beyond privy construction.

Receiving their acknowledgements, the group lapsed back into silence, their fingers nervously clenched upon their Springfields. Like the Chinese standard rifles, the Springfields were but copies of the exceptional Mauser…though the enemy reportedly had a better model.

As the bullets continued to fly overhead…many no doubt fired from the weapons of unseen allies fifty to a hundred yards distant…Czinka’s mind strayed just long enough to regret being unable to say goodbye to Kanoelani prior to the Regiment’s departure. No one knew if the Regimental medics would follow the infantry westwards or remain in Nanjing…

At this moment, the soldier heartily prayed “his gal” was far…far…removed from this gristly and terrifying position.

“NOW!”

The “signal” emerging from the Corporal’s throat could hardly be mistaken even had Pandev and his remaining cohorts not risen from the gulch to open fire into the Imperial flank. Without bothering to issue an “order” to his own trio of soldiers, Czinka emerged from his own position to anxiously rest his own weapon atop the thick, fallen tree trunk, his barrel cast back and forth towards any “bluebelly” in sight.

One crack followed another…and another. Within moments, the soldier was reloading another five-round clip.

He again sought out targets among the rapidly panicking Imperial soldiers seeking to retaliate through the dense underbrush towards this new, unseen threat.
 
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Chapter 97
January, 1897

Guangzhou


Witnessing the scowl upon the visage of the petite woman storming through President Sun’s offices, the army of adjutants and functionaries wisely opted not to challenge Shi Ping as she approached the door to Sun’s inner sanctum.

To her surprise, the recently installed electric lighting system had yet to fail this humid afternoon. Among the first in China to receive this latest of western technologies, Shi Ping recommended the President withhold his approval for installation for fear that a fire might spread from the electrical wires and instill even greater chaos within the government.

But Sun Yat-Sen simply replied, “It is the latest advancement, Ping, and China shall not fall further behind the west. What would our noble allies think should they walk into my office to find it illuminated solely by candlelight?”

Of course, the plain young woman considered acerbically, the damn “miracle of modern technology” repeatedly failed over the past weeks.

But poor wiring was not the source of Shi Ping’s ire today. Upon Dr. Sun’s calm acknowledgement of her gentle knock on his door, the agitated senior aide entered into the President of the Republic of China’s inner sanctum. Seated primly behind his desk, the slight figure in thin wire glasses merely gazed in barely concealed amusement at her obvious distress. At typical, a mound of paperwork piled precariously upon his expansive but simple desk.

“I take it that your meeting with Governor Wu went poorly?”

That the President could react so calmly to the news proved both reassuring and infuriating to the adjutant. Outraged, pacing back and forth before Sun’s desk, she spewed forth, “The damned uniforms…and supplies…even weapons! They are sitting in a warehouse not five miles from this building! And damned Wu merely sneered at me and stated…you won’t believe this!”

“He stated that such war material has been procured from the Guangdong taxpayer and will be presented only to “his countrymen’s brave defenders”!” Shi’s outrage could not be contained. “Guangdong hasn’t carried a fraction of her share of the nation’s defense! What does the idiot think will happen if Jiangxi and Hunan fall?!”

With a sigh, Sun rose from his desk to approach the broad window bearing a view of the city, his face pensive. Shi continued heatedly, “Governor Wu…well, MOST of the provincial governors to be fair…still view the national government as a temporary evil to be tolerated until the “troubles” are over. He wants nothing more to be President of his own independent Republic…perhaps even Emperor. Emperor Wu of Guangdong!” The bitterness in the woman’s voice pained her mentor.

Turning his gaze upon his adjutant and friend, Sun managed to affect a calm mien despite his disappointment matching hers, “Yet we must continue, Ping,” he interjected as Shi’s anger ran its course. “Every day, upon each failure, we must renew our commitment to forging a true unified nation.”

“And with every day, the petty collection of provinces approaches extinction!” Shi objected heatedly.

“He has been voted governor…well, at least by the Guangdong convention. What would you have me do?”

“Remove him from office!” The adjutant cried, leaping forward towards the President of…well, not a true Republic, but an assortment of provincial governors fighting as desperately against his attempts to centralize the nation…and weaken their own position in the bargain. Wu possessed the added incentive of twisting the knife into Sun’s back after the President effectively confiscated Guangdong’s Governor’s Palace for national requirements. “If the Provinces cannot cooperate on getting shoes and rice to our soldiers at the front…”

“No, Ping, this I cannot do,” Sun shook his head before returning to his desk. “We cannot subvert democracy in order to save democracy. I will not…I CAN not…summarily depose an elected governor…”

“Then the nation is doomed,” Shi replied morosely. “The Mandarin outnumbers the Republic three to one in souls…and ten to one in industry. Failure to cooperate in utilizing what resources we DO have, as that oaf Wu serves as but the latest example, will result in annihilation!”

Shaking his head, the President merely stated, “I shall make this…uncooperative behavior…the center of my next speech to the National Convention. They will see reason, Ping. They must…”

Wondering if Sun’s passivity may doom the nation, Shi Ping merely nodded angrily and departed as swiftly as she came. Stomping through the corridors of the former Guangdong Governor’s Palace, the young woman determined to do…something…about Governor Wu regardless of Sun’s admonitions.

But what? She wondered. There had to be a way to shoulder aside Wu and his ilk without openly defying the President’s will.

Shi Ping was determined to find it.
 
Chapter 98
January, 1897

Philadelphia


“…this is…quite disappointing…Ambassador Von Strove,” Secretary of State Olney managed to spit out between clenched teeth. “Naturally, should the Czar change his mind…”

“You shall be the first to know, sir,” the Russian emissary mercifully inserted, already rising to his feet to depart Olney’s office.

Gathering his dignity, the Columbian escorted his guest to the door, nodding for his adjutant to retrieve Von Strove’s coat and cap. As the door closed upon the Russian’s back, Olney nearly sunk to his knees, the nigh-chronic pain in his chest. Only with great effort did the Secretary of State managed to stagger back to his desk, his breath coming heavily.

Olney considered summoning his aid…but what was the point?

Did James possess a cure for the weakness and pain?

Leaning back against the stiff timbers of his office chair, the sixty-two-year-old Columbian began to suspect he would not make it to sixty-three.

Given how many of his immediate predecessors occupying this office died within its walls (three in the past twelve years collapsed at their desks) and the soul-crushing string of diplomatic failures of his own short tenure, the Secretary of State rather suspected he would not buck the trend.

Why the hell isn’t the Czar willing to even discuss an alliance against a common enemy?



Tuileries Palace, Paris

Staring out the window of the Emperor’s private offices had long been a soothing experience to Napoleon IV’s longtime aide. Unfortunately, the comforting symmetry of immaculately maintained gardens was marred by the mob rampaging back and forth across the property. Precisely where the army was remained a bit of a mystery. Only the Palace Guards remained to protect the primary urban residence of the French throne.

The loyal soldiers, witnessing the mood of the thousands of rioters, chose discretion as the better part of valor and wisely retreated to within the Palace, blockading the doors as best they could.

The aide wondered just how long the Parisian riots would continue. Facing upheaval over the course of the past few months over his government’s provocative policies ranging from linguistic reform to, as always, the lack of true democracy in France, the typical heavy-handed repression failed miserably upon the mutiny of tens of thousands of national guardsmen…and even some regular regiments.

The assortment of protesters represented the full spectrum of French society from Conservatives irritated at France’s steady collapse towards global irrelevance to Socialists and Anarchists supporting…whatever the hell Socialists and Anarchists supported. Spurred by the ongoing success of rebellions throughout the moribund Kingdom of Spain and dozens of German Principalities, the once-ascendant power of France succumbed to the wave of outrage convulsing half of Europe.

Of course, the aide conceded, much of the near-universal public censure might have stemmed from the apparent impunity that Franco-Spanish North Africa, both disgusted and encouraged by the stagnation of their colonial masters, pronounced a referendum in January to determine whether or not to proceed with independence. That they dared to do so represented the depth to which the perception of French and Spanish power had sunk.

Riven by political faction, ideology, and general resentment against the degeneration of the French state, the nation collapsed.

Shaking his head at the waste of it all, the aide turned back to his Emperor…who snored peacefully upon his divan, passed out within hours of inaugurating “private party” he’d held among the fashionable artistic elites of the garish new “Impressionist” movement. Examples of their grotesque work littered the office walls and floors even now. The aide tried to keep an open mind but found the child-like scrawlings and dabs upon the canvas a pale contrast to the Old Masters.

The bulk of the artists, viewing the twisting tendrils of smoke rising above Paris, fled the Palace to seek out family and friends.

The Emperor, cut off from his weak, corrupt and incompetent Ministers by the riots, shrugged and drank himself into a stupor. Gazing down upon the sprawling form of Napoleon IV, the aide briefly considered smothering the useless, indolent monarch with a flood of his own vomit, no doubt burbling at the base of Napoleon IV’s throat.

No one would know.

It would be so easy.

For France.
 
Chapter 99
January, 1897

Jigokudani, Central Honshu


The young Nihonjin woman merely stared dumbly at the baffling sight below, shaking her heavily hooded head, “I…have no words…”

Bound head to toe against the frigid winter weather in whatever scraps of cloth the petty band could find, it was difficult to even identify the forms of the adolescent partisans against the stark backdrop of the local mountains coated under a foot-deep layer of powdery snow. For days, the youths had travelled south along the spine of Honshu in hopes of finding succor against the wave of repression inflicted by Joseon soldiers upon their homes at Han command.

Only a few weeks removed from a successful attack upon a heavily laden military rail convoy, the Nihonjin patriots were forced to helplessly witness the destruction of their village…and five adjacent towns…from afar as retribution for the deaths of hundreds of Han and Joseon solders upon that train. As the vehicle carried war material south towards the larger cities of occupied Nihon, it seems a reasonable target for the Nihonjin patriots. Weeping upon the sight of their homes torched to the ground in the dead of winter and the public executions of five hundred local villagers, the partisans dared not return if only for the safety of their families (those which yet lived).

The only female and the strongest willed of the band, Sato Keiko managed to gather the blubbering and squabbling village boys from their stupors and resume command.

“What will we do?” Takeo whined; the normally boastful older boy suddenly no longer so self-assured.

“The Mandarin must be made to pay,” she’d replied at the time. “And the only way to do so is with weapons. Yoshida-San stated that he has…had…contacts to the south, men and women who smuggled in our explosives near Wakayama…” Yoshida had provided supplies to the youths for months.

“It is winter! And that is three hundred miles south!” Another boy objected, still sniffling upon witnessing the execution of his grandfather that very morning, unable to intervene for lack of arms.

“So?”

Silences pervaded for a time. Lacking any place to go as almost certainly a few of the villagers must have given up their names in hopes of saving their own lives, each knew in their heart they must abandon the only hoes they’d ever known.

“And you know where Yoshida-San’s contact lives?”

“Of course not! He would never put himself in such danger!” She replied heatedly. “But I know how to contact him…” This was a bit of an exaggeration as the true contact with the southern Nihon resistance, Yoshida, had been executed at random that morning, fortunately without the Joseon recognizing his importance.

Within hours, the band commenced their march towards the southeastern coast of Honshu, picking quietly through mountain, woods and remote villages towards the reputed center for Nihonjin resistance some three hundred miles away. Quietly, Keiko doubted they’d make survive the trek…but what other choice did they have but to fight on?

The Mandarin apparently now waged war upon the Russians, the Columbians, the Columbian client states to the southeast and, reportedly, their own citizens. If the Han could not be thrown off at this moment, when could they?

A third of the way into their journey, as the soles of their boots had long since worn through, the bitter cold splitting their skin upon their feet, the partisans reached the mountainous region of Jigokudani, littered with hot springs. The latter would hardly have been notable…had it not been for the snow monkeys apparently escaped the winter doldrums by emerging from the forest heights and entering the steaming springs as if they were paying customers.

“What…how…” Takeo stuttered, equally stunned to see dozens of snow monkeys seated within the waters, enjoying an “onsan” or hot spring bath. “Are they just allowed to do this?”

Shaking the odd sight from her mind, Keiko gestured down a winding, snow-covered lane towards a handful of homes in the distance, each apparently withstanding the bitter cold via the billowing spirals of smoke emerging from their hearths.

“We must find food here,” she stated calmly. “Perhaps even shelter…”

“We have no way to pay,” another member of the band shivered, his frail, undernourished body visibly weakened by the long journey. It was a miracle none had grown seriously ill.

“That hardly matters. This is for our country. If need be…we will take the provisions we require to reach the east coast.”

“I did not form this group to steal from our people!” Takeo objected heatedly, though with an air of resignation. Starvation did not appeal to him either.

“We shall ASK,” Keiko clarified, “…before we take. Either way, we must reach Wakayama…”

At that, the girl turned her back upon her companions, commencing her march down the remote country lane, the odd sight of monkeys enjoying a winter onsan lingering within her mind. She wondered as to the state of the world in which snow monkeys might enjoy the simple pleasures of life even as humans were murdered by the thousands.

No one for poetic or philosophic thought, the girl put aside such pointless musings and prepared herself to rob the villagers blind to garner what she wanted.
 
Chapter 100 New
February, 1897

West of Okinawa (Columbian Protectorate)


“Damn it!” Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur shouted up the ladder towards the Master Chief as the roiling sea battered the USS Whitehead back and forth. “Bernard! Git that towline cut NOW!!!”

The commander of the Whitehead’s words were nearly drowned out by the explosive discharge of the torpedo destroyer USS John Paul Jones’ main guns in the distance. Against the fading evening light, the Columbian ship pulled away from the submersible.

After weeks of repair (mainly patching leaks) in Okinawa upon escorting two survivors of the merchant ship Seattle Sound, the Whitehead was summarily ordered back across the East China Sea to Shanghai upon MacArthur’s pleading with the Admiralty not to dispatch the still-experimental vessel back onto patrol duty.

“The engines simply are not reliable enough, Admiral Grant,” MacArthur asserted as he stood at attention across the aging sailor’s desk. “And the vessel may face swamping in rough seas…which is ALL seas around these waters…”

Fortunately, Grant was considered something of a traditionalist and could not quite reconcile the new technology to his hard-earned theories of naval warfare. Indeed, the commander of the Okinawa Naval Base resented “wasting” resources repairing “that contraption” anyway.

“So be it, Lieutenant,” the Admiral nodded indifferently. “You may report back to Dewey in Shanghai. Maybe he might put you to use…”

Two days later, a towline was attached to the John Paul Jones, also assigned to Dewey’s Shanghai station. Grateful not to risk the passage alone, MacArthur merely thanked Admiral Grant for his assistance and departed without further comment, a second pip on his collar as his promotion to First Lieutenant had finally arrived.

Unfortunately, on day two of the journey, the John Paul Jones spotted an Imperial commerce raider along the horizon. Signaling her charge that he intended to engage, the somewhat amusingly baptized Lieutenant Commander James Jones (most sailors suspected the assignment to be a prank among some staffer in the Naval Department) abruptly cut the towline on his end even as his weapon’s commenced firing upon the distant target.

Unfortunately, the Whitehead’s crew belatedly reported the absence of their axe and Mr. Bernard was forced to saw through the thick rope now weighing the vessel down with a small pocketknife. Finally, the Chief called out, “Away, sir!”

Almost immediately, the vessel’s struggling engines palpably picked up their pace by a full knot.

“Bernard, get down here!” MacArthur called out from the conn, “All hands, prepare to dive!”

“Aye, sir!”

By the time Bernard closed the hatch and shimmied down the ladder, MacArthur already had raised the periscope and called out to the helmsman, “Dive, Mr. Simpson! Dive!”

Within moments, the creaking submersible slid slowly beneath the waves, the stench of diesel already heavy within the iron hull of the Whiteside. The flickering artificial light proved a pale shadow of even the final embers of the sun’s dying rays above the surface. Keeping a close eye upon the battle engaging a half mile distant (the periscope finally repaired), MacArthur waited expectantly, praying that the dueling destroyers would veer back in his direction. Capable of only eight (nine if they pushed the experimental engines) knots, the Whitehead could not hope to match the rapid maneuvers of the swift destroyers.

But there was always the chance that the battle might…

In a heartrending explosion, the USS John Paul Jones erupted in a spout of flames hundreds of feet high.

Damn, the young officer mourned. An explosion that size could only be caused by a chance strike upon her magazine. The USS John Paul Jones, the namesake of the new destroyer class claimed to be the best in the world, had fallen within minutes of engaging in her inaugural battle.

Though MacArthur’s mind (and stomach) churned with grief over the loss of all or most of the destroyer’s crew, he quickly recognized the opportunity likely to materialize within moments. He called out, “John Paul Jones out of action! I expect enemy ship to approach and finish her off. Let us get into position…”

Over the next several minutes, the Lieutenant guided the sputtering submersible ever closer to the nautical battlefield, the burning wreck of the John Paul Jones growing large in his periscope. Evidently, the vessel’s hull hadn’t been pierced.

Almost on queue, the Imperial vessel approached from afar, cautiously, as if suspecting a trap. However, seeing the obvious distress of the John Paul Jones, the Chinese ship almost sauntered forward, her forward gun cracking once…then twice.

They are using her for target practice! MacArthur thought in outrage. Aloud he growled, “Torpedo one and two?”

“Loaded, sir!” came the call from the stern.

Eyes glued to the periscope, MacArthur calmly ordered the submersible’s helm to alter course just enough to give the Whitehead a clear shot at the near-stationary Imperial destroyer, which appeared to be gloating over the death of the Columbian ship.

“Two more degrees…and….NOW! Torpedoes away!”

With the telltale clang of the torpedoes leaving the tubes, MacArthur ordered, “Reload and hold course at two knots!”

Barely four hundred yards distant, the enemy provided a target it was difficult to miss…but torpedoes were fickle. Both guidance systems and firing mechanisms could fail. By the time, the tubes were refilled, the effort was proven unnecessary. Both torpedoes impacted amidships, just below the enemy destroyer’s waterline. Lacking any armor of note, the ship immediately broke in half, the rapid sinking of the vessel creating a suction effect, pulling back any enemy sailors seeking to escape the destroyer.

“Target destroyed.”

The triumph of the moment was deadened by the grievous casualties of the Columbian ship. Minutes later, the Whitehead surfaced astride the burning wreck of the John Paul Jones. Her hatch sprung open, the submersible’s crew raced to the damp deck in hopes of finding survivors. As the evening turned to night, only four living crewmen from the vanquished ship were retrieved. Pulled below deck, the battered and shaken sailors were examined by the medic (who was also the mechanic’s mate) and proclaimed in moderately good health if not equally high spirits.

As the final sailor was taken below, MacArthur’s eyes widened in surprise, “Mr. Thord-Gray?!”

To his astonishment, the young Swedish sailor whom he’d retrieved from the Seattle Sound some weeks ago now slumped against the hull in exhaustion and shock, donning a soiled United States Navy crewman’s uniform.

With a wry smile, the youth nodded and replied, “Yes, Mr…I mean, Lieutenant MacArthur. It is I. Apparently, the heavens proclaim you to be my savior for the second time in a month…”

“What…? How…? When…?” The officer stuttered in shock. “When did you join the…?”

Only then did MacArthur recall the last conversation that he had with the master of the Seattle Sound and, besides Thord-Gray, the only survivor of his vessel. As the Whitehead lay in drydock for weeks, the officer took the time to visit the two merchantmen in hospital, if only to relieve the boredom. Okinawa’s attractions grew stale within a few outings on the town and MacArthur longed to get back to sea (his sailors would likely dissent but no one asked them).

On the third visit, Thord-Gray had been discharged and a short conversation with the wounded Captain informed the officer of the Swedes’ decision to enlist in the United States Navy. Apparently something of an adventurer, Thord-Gray was not inclined to miss a war.

“I was a Navy man myself once,” the Captain of the Seattle Sound stated from his hospital bed, “and still have some contacts in Annapolis. I’ve written a letter encouraging the lad to be tested for the Naval Academy…I know he’d pass with flying colors as Thord-Gray is among the most intuitive sailors I’ve ever met…but the lad stated he wanted to serve in the ranks until his application is process…however long that will take.”

Thinking little more of the matter, MacArthur bid the Captain good wishes and departed the hospital for the last time, assuming he’d never see the young sailor again. Though the days of the Navy simply recruiting (or impressing) sailors directly into their ranks had long passed with the advent of new technologies and centralization of the Naval bureaucracy, the Navy was granted some allowances to act independently in times of need. Apparently, that included some local recruiting to the colors.

Thord-Gray smiled and saluted smartly, “Able Seaman Ivor Thord-Gray, sir…and thank you for saving my life…again.”

The grin swiftly fell from the handsome lad’s face, and Thord-Gray continued, “I was assigned to starboard torpedo crew. We…Hayes and Jovic and I…were loading a fish when the entire world seemed to explode. I was somehow in the water with Jovic…we never saw Hayes again…and the ship was afire. We found two more crewmen but…”

It was obvious the youth (only a few years younger than the Lieutenant) could not continue and the officer patted Thord-Gray on the shoulder with a gentle murmur, “My condolences, Thord-Gray. But it appears the almighty…and the US Navy…has something in mind for you. Take some comfort in that…”

Leaving the sailor to his grim thoughts, MacArthur returned to the deck as waves continued to flow over her steel structure. Only the conning tower safe from inundation. Night having long since fallen, the Whitehead would depart in the morning for Shanghai. As luck would have it, the vessel had been towed closer to Shanghai than Okinawa else the officer might have turned back.

I suppose the Whitehead’s fragile engines shall brave the waves no matter what I wish, he considered, spirits low as he gazed upon the floating carcass of the USS John Paul Jones, housing the immolated remains of forty-seven Columbian sailors.
 
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