On Holiday for 2 weeks so I just spent the last 6 hours reading this timeline, probably the best timeline on here that I have read, even if Britain isn't a major power! Well done :)
 
I haven't commented in a long time, but this is absolutely a pleasure to read the more 'fictionalized' accounts of the Pandoric War forming.

As always, I can comment on America, and the One Carolina movement is fascinating and a nice TTL echo of the effect of the Southern USA's greater culture - I actually knew a black lady in the Air Force from Oklahoma City who commented that she felt that burg definitely had a minor yet southern twinge to it (!). And yet of course the split between the *Deep South and the rest of the "Souths" (*Appalachia, *Ozarks, *Chesapeake) is fully open here the way we can divide the Northern USA into various sub-regions (Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, New England... yada).

Furthermore? Nice touch on the talk of the West versus the East - heck, that 'magnificent desolation' is exactly the kind of language geographers and historians of that time used in describing the Great Plains! It's still always fun to see the parallels of the various parts of America both then versus now and OTL vs TTL.
 
Furthermore? Nice touch on the talk of the West versus the East - heck, that 'magnificent desolation' is exactly the kind of language geographers and historians of that time used in describing the Great Plains! It's still always fun to see the parallels of the various parts of America both then versus now and OTL vs TTL.
IOTL the phrase "magnificent desolation" was coined by Buzz Aldrin when he first stepped onto the Moon.
 

Thande

Donor
Part #230: One False Step

The country’s official name is: GERMAN FEDERAL EMPIRE (DEUTSCHES BUNDESREICH), short form GERMANY (DEUTSCHLAND)
The people are known as: GERMANS. Very occasionally ‘BUNDESGERMANS’ to distinguish from German-speakers outside the Bundesreich.
Capital city: Dresden (1.1 million)
Largest city: Hamburg (1.2 million)
Flag: A white cross with green in the top left and bottom right cantons, and blue in the top right and bottom left cantons.
Population: 48 million.
Land area: ca. 29,600 lcf.[1]
Economic ranking: Currently ranked 6th, having risen sharply into the top five around the midpoint of the nineteenth century as it industrialised but has since been overtaken by those countries with greater natural resources from colonial programmes.
Form of government: Federal limited constitutional monarchy. The monarch’s de facto power depends less on what the constitution says and more on how successful their policy interventions have been perceived. With what is widely regarded as the failure of the Kulturkrieg, the current Bundeskaiser has been forced onto the back foot by the Bundestag. The situation is further complicated by the federal nature of the German state and the fact that it is composed of five lower-level monarchies, High Saxony (more properly translated into English as Upper Saxony, but the misnomer has stuck), Low Saxony, Billungia, Swabia and Bohemia. These kingdoms themselves have varying balances of power between king and Diet, ranging from the near-absolute monarchy of Billungia through High Saxony, Bohemia and Swabia to the fiercely parliamentarian crowned republic of Low Saxony. The King of High Saxony is the eldest son of the Bundeskaiser and therefore also the crown prince of Germany as a whole, whereas the other monarchies have their own royal lines, not all of whom are branches of the House of Wettin.
Foreign relations: Despite French paranoia of the hostility of a united Germany, following the Unification War and the defeat of the Isolationsgebiet, in the absence of any common foe to unite against, divisions emerged—between monarch, Bundestag and people, between central government and federal kingdoms, between classes and their political parties, between religious and linguistic groups—which have hampered attempts to create a coherent German foreign policy. More recently (from the 1880s onwards), as limited consensus has been reached on many of these questions, Germany has forged an alliance with Danubia (helped by a royal marriage) based largely on mutual defence and military cooperation—which has also extended to Danubia’s existing ally Poland. However, German attempts to pressure Bavaria into the so-called Pressburg Pact have failed, in part due to reluctance on the part of both Danubia and Germany to fully remove their mutual tariff barriers.
Military: The German military is considered to have some of the best equipment (and the industrial base to supply itself) in Europe. Training is more variable and influenced by the highly federal nature of the state, with High Saxon troops generally considered to be the best regulars but elite groups are often recruited from the fringes, in particular the mountaineering Alpentruppe from Swabia.
Current head of state: Bundeskaiser Johann Georg (since 1872) (House of Wettin) (usually given in the original German form by convention)
Current head of government: Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor) Alois Dörflinger (Populist Alliance) (since 1890)

– Taken from APPENDIX: GUIDE TO THE WORLD’S NATIONS AT THE EVE OF THE PANDORIC WAR, OCTOBER 1896, from
The World At War: From The Pages of The Discerner VOLUME I: THE GATHERING STORM (1981)

*

From: The World At War: From The Pages of The Discerner VOLUME I: THE GATHERING STORM (1981):

Lima, Kingdom of Peru
February 4th 1897


Mónica Chevalier sighed at her softly ticking watch. Late again. And on this of all days. She casually flexed her fingers and let the watch drop to its former position where it hung from her necklace, just above the hem of her daringly low-cut dress. She glanced around what the manager claimed was Lima’s Most Storied Bar, a courageous claim in a city like this. Still, what she’d heard about El Loro backed him up, far more than the more staid asimcons with celebrities that plastered the wall behind the bar. The night was yet young.

In the corner, a band played, locally recruited but seeming enamoured of the syncopated style of that new-fangled Jamaican Maroon music. Still, reflecting the situation (even though the war seemed a million miles from Lima) they incongruously applied that style to a Peruvian patriotic march. Mónica hid a smile at that: it was just as well they were playing an instrumental version, as she knew that seventy-year-old march had some uncomfortably contemporary lyrics about the glorious struggle against the evil Meridian oppressors and how the Infantes would soon take back Spain. Those sentiments were hollow now, decades after Spain had been retaken only to rebel again in turn, with independent Peru ever more closely aligned to her onetime foe the UPSA. People still played it. It was a catchy tune.

Mónica sized up the aeromen clustered around the bar, clinking glasses and telling increasingly incoherent and improbable stories, many with admiring young women draped around them. For a moment she toyed with the idea of finding one such aeroman and flirting with him to make Juan jealous when he finally arrived. She tossed the thought aside. She was still a beautiful woman, but that watch around her neck could not count years as easily as it could hours. Those brave (and/or foolish) young aeromen would not choose the maturity of a fine wine over a cheap gin and tonic.

So she turned away and spread a newspaper out on her table, though inevitably the conversation in the bar was focused on the aeromen and it kept leaking into the back of her mind regardless. The Lima Indagador was like many newspapers had become in member states of the Hermandad lately: though all the pages were printed together, the outer ones were composed and set locally, while the inner ones consisted of both text and images that had been transmitted from the UPSA by Lectel. Though sometimes they tried to hide the transition, in this case it was pretty obvious as the pictures on the Meridian-penned pages suddenly switched to rougher and cruder spot-grid [dot matrix] images as they had had to be converted to pure data and telegraphed up here. The tone was also subtly different, with the Meridian sections being both more professional but also more distant and vaguer, written to a whole continent rather than a city or a kingdom.

…didn’t know what hit him!” a distant voice said in a Spanish accent different from that of Peru. “Suraj Khan and all his men went running for the hills!” A slap. “And that’s when Gerhard here and his cielago chased them down!

Gerhard, Mónica thought dully. A German name. Not so surprising. The UPSA had a large German population, as to a lesser extent did the other Hermandad nations. They had faced some political discrimination, but it seemed that era was ending as everyone with Cobrist ideas had rallied to the same flag to elect President Monterroso.

“Si, I did,” said Gerhard. No real change of a German accent anymore, probably at least a second generation immigrant. “You should see my cielago, liebchen, my fledermaus as my old granddad would say…old Miguel here and his steerables are fine fighting men, but I leave them in the dust!” The two voices dissolved into a good-natured argument about the relative merits of their two craft, while in the background Mónica heard a cooing squeak as one of those tarts, doubtless the one Gerhard had called ‘liebchen’, pretended to be impressed.

With more viciousness than she had intended, she turned the page of the Indagador and frowned at the headlines. Lots of stuff about how The War Was Going Well; they were all used to it by now.There was a rather scuzzy picture of what the caption said was an American protgun, turned on its side and on fire, with a gun crew posing next to it. ‘Heroic Peruvian artillery crew destroys American invaders and protects our brave Carolinian allies!’ screamed a headline above.

Mónica was a historian, the first female history lecturer at the ancient University of Lima in fact, and that had given her a nasty suspicious frame of mind. Therefore, while others might have missed it, when she put her monocle in she could distinctly perceive that the word ‘Peruvian’ had a subtly different typeset to the rest of the headline. That vague asimcon must have gone out all over the Hermandad, with each country assured that it was their young men who had performed the heroic feat. Mónica wondered if the feat had been accomplished at all, or if the whole thing had been staged. Somehow it didn’t seem as bad if it had indeed really happened with some Guyanans or New Granadines or whoever and there had just been a little lubrication applied to the truth to make it work better as propaganda.

Then there was Abdol Ghazi,” Gerhard was saying in a slightly annoyed tone. Though Mónica hadn’t been listening, she had the impression that Miguel had won the last bout over extracting suitably impressed sounds from ‘liebchen’, and he was fighting back. “Now he and his men came right down into the International Settlement, hoping that the Companies had gotten complacent. He raided three farms and cut the throat of a white woman!” And probably lots of other people as well, Mónica thought, but they don’t count.

Yes, yes, Abdol Ghazi,” Miguel said dismissively. “That was before you had your cielago, of course – you were just my gunner in the old Campeón.”

The best gunner you ever had!” Gerhard retorted. “And it was on that mission when I had the best shot of all, when I fired that rocket just as Abdol Ghazi was about to get under cover and…” But he had rushed the story under Miguel’s criticism and missed his moment, Mónica thought.

She wondered if she should feel any instinctive sympathy for Gerhard. She was, after all, a fellow multi-generation immigrant. Her great-grandfather had come over to South America over a century before with the Duc de Noailles’ army and been taken prisoner. Though she didn’t know much of her family history, she knew that like so many of de Noailles’ soldiers (and even the Duc’s own son) he had chosen to settle in the Novamund after the Second Platinean War. His son, her grandfather, she had vaguely known as a little girl, remembering how he would call her Monique instead of her proper name. Some French-Meridians tried to keep the old culture and language alive like that, but most had followed the lead of men like Pichegru and assimilated, often becoming important and powerful in the process.

Mónica laughed and held up her empty glass for the barman, who swiftly mixed her up another Pisco Sunset cocktail. She was glad he still had all the ingredients, there had been all sorts of probably exaggerated rumours about shortages as Yanqui ironsharks began to sink cargo ships. “And what am I?” she said to herself. “Important and powerful?” To a very little extent. She had chosen to move out of the UPSA with its increasingly stuffy views toward women (ironically another legacy of immigration, she thought) and into a place which had once been known as the conservative anchor dragging the young radical UPSA down. While the tables had not quite turned, these days King Gabriel II seemed willing to overlook anything, even a woman lecturing at his capital’s great university, if it brought money in. And it did just that: she was a curiosity, an object of fascination for male and female students alike, and there were increasing numbers of those. In an odd way, women were better off here than in the UPSA, where there was explicitly a political consensus against them voting and standing for election as was becoming the norm in most other countries. Here in Peru, men couldn’t vote either, but pressure was building for Gabriel to allow more than token audiencias as a form of representative government. Little by little, Peru was changing.

Now, though, the world seemed to be changing far faster and more frantically than that slow Peruvian pace. Mónica looked at the story with the generic protgun image again. The journalist was very talented. He painted a picture of the Empire of North America’s cowardly and incompetent assault, born of atavistic impulses seeking to reconquer Carolina and expunge the failures of the last war, meeting with disaster and being thrown back. But he could not quite write around the names of the towns in which his great victories for Carolina and the Hermandad had been fought. Mónica hadn’t been alive during the last war, but she knew maps, and the Hermandad was littered with poor-quality commemorative prints of similarly heroic actions by Meridian and Carolinian troops during that war. Gordonville…wasn’t that just north of Congaryton? Putting two and two together, it looked as though the Carolinians And Their Brave Allies were ‘advancing’ southwards and that hopeless, constantly defeated Imperial American army strangely seemed to retreat in the same direction. It didn’t take someone as intelligent as Mónica to realise what was really going on.

The Hermandad was losing.

Her train of thought was derailed by Gerhard and Miguel again. She finally glanced back at them and put faces to names. Miguel had an impressive moustache, while the blond Gerhard was clean-shaven and short for a German (but then, they always wanted short men for the Skyfleet, didn’t they?) Both men wore standard Meridian Skyfleet uniforms, tan coloured leather and fur lining for their cold arena, livened up by colourful scarves and tinted goggles worn ostentatiously on their foreheads. The floozy was about what she’d expected.

“You’ll need all that speed of yours,” Miguel was saying, a slight Chile Province accent coming out now he was drunker, his finger weaving a torturous path through the air as he attempted to point at Gerhard. “You will. You’ll need all the speed of you and that cielago. ’Cause this war won’t give us long to win glory.”

Gerhard laughed and drained his own glass. “I won’t argue with you on that! We’ll have whupped the Yanquis by Easter.”

Mónica looked away again, feeling suddenly cold. Those young men. So young. They had only ever fought Indian bandits and the like, brave men perhaps but men who couldn’t shoot back at a steerable (and whatever a ‘cielago’ was). How long would they last against an equally capable American aeroforce?

She stared down at her newspaper in the hope it would take her mind off the desolate thought. All she saw was that her favourite guilty pleasure sequent, Los Desesperadinos, appeared to have a new artist and the young boys of the alley seemed to have abandoned their childhood japes in favour of signing up to the army to go and kill Yanquis.

Mónica threw the paper down and stared across the bar, hoping to see Juan at last. She did not. Instead, in the corner, she saw a man dressed in black with three children, each with a glass of lemonade. El Loro might have many stories to it, but its owner was not the kind of man to allow the lives of children to be endangered.

The kids were a motley crew, typical of Peru: one could be one of the aristocratic pure-blood Peninsulares who had once made so much trouble back when Peru had been part of the UPSA; one looked to be at least an octroon if not a mulatto; and had native Tahuantinsuya looks. Their dress did not match their diverse origins though—they all looked poor and desperate. Their expressions were full of suspicion as the black-clad man spoke to them.

“I’m glad we can be together like this,” he said softly. “It’s not good to fight.”

“Show us the trick, señor,” said the aristocratic-looking white kid. “We want to see the trick.”

The man’s face split open into a good-natured smile and he chuckled lightly. “You young ones always want to see the trick. The story’s got around, has it? Well then.”

He picked up his own glass, which also looked to have contained lemonade. From one voluminous pocket in his shabby black jacket he produced a commonplace matchbox, the bilious, poorly-printed face of Señor Rodriguez (advertising mascot and fictitious founder of Rodriguez’ Excellent Super-Luz Seguro Fósforo safety matchsticks) grinning down from its side. The man opened the matchbox and withdrew three matches, ordinary save that he had snapped off their red heads, and a pea. He placed these items in front of the white kid, then took out another matching set and gave it to the octroon or mulatto kid. He gave a third set to the Tahyantinsuya-looking boy and kept a fourth for himself. “You know the game,” the man said. “Using only those matches, support that pea above the middle of the glass so it doesn’t fall in.”

Of course they all failed. None of the matchsticks was long enough to stretch all the way across the glass’s diameter. The octroon boy tried to put two matchsticks end to end as though the wood could be fused together by sheer will. The white kid laid out his sticks to form arcs and segments across the edge of the glass, but couldn’t translate that into a place to put the pea. The Tahuantinsuya boy tried to build a tripod out of the sticks, leaning them against one another, but they wouldn’t sit still.

After perhaps the twentieth plip of a pea dropping into a glass, the Peninsulare-looking boy gave him a beady stare. “All right, señor. We can’t do it. We don’t know the trick.”

“It’s probably easy when you know the trick,” the octroon kid said resentfully.

The man in black smiled once again. “Yes, yes it is,” he said soothingly. “Watch, and then you too can impress your friends.” Mónica almost let out a burst of laughter at that, the unexpected and casual deadpan mocking of the slogans used in children’s sequents and magazines. But she didn’t want the man to know she was listening in.

Now he took his own three matchsticks and carefully arranged them. His fingers had the skill of a magician’s, but a magician would have wowed an audience with his swiftness, seemingly pulling the impossible from nowhere. This man did just the opposite, going slowly and meticulously, allowing his audience to follow every step. He wove the sticks together so that they formed a small triangle in the middle. At one end each stick was beneath the second, at the other end it was on top of the third. The result was that the interwoven triad held together as the man gently picked it up and sat it on top of the glass.

The three matches didn’t fall in. Over a pregnant pause from the kids, the man casually picked up the pea and gently nestled it on the small triangle. “And that’s how it’s done,” he said.

The kids didn’t whoop or applaud. It was a little thing compared to the military parades they had witnessed on the street in recent days. But they looked intrigued. “How does it work?” asked the Tahuantinsuya kid.

“Simply,” the man in black said. “The sticks all support one another. Separately, they couldn’t hold up that pea, as you saw when you tried. But put them together so they can’t help but hold each other up…almost like different groups of people. Different classes, different races,” he waved his hand casually at them, “different countries. Separately they can’t achieve anything, but put them together and…” he pointed at the pea, “they can hold the whole world up.”

Gently, ever so gently, he tugged on one matchstick. Instantly the triad fell to pieces and the pea dropped in the lemonade with yet another plip. “And if someone tries to take that unity away, to set us at each others’ throats,” he said quietly, “the world will fall.”

Suddenly Mónica was frightened. She didn’t even hear Juan’s latest apologies as he kissed her on the cheek and brought her a single rose. She had hoped to escape the horrors that Gerhard and Miguel had spoken of.

Now she wondered at just what that man in black was teaching those kids. And as she wondered, she missed the other man who brushed past the barman, whistling a tune under his breath that had nothing to do with the Maroon versions of Peruvian patriotic tunes that the band still played. Mónica had heard that tune once before from a student at the University, and had she been concentrating, she would have remembered the lyrics:

Puir wee Maudie, stuck in her mia-mia
Under the shade of a biriny-tree
Her ma and her pa don’t want me to free ’er
But I’ll tak’ her cheshy-dancing with me!


Yes, the war might be a million miles from Lima…


*

Near Drohiczyn, Podlaskie Voivodeship, Kingdom of Poland
February 13th 1897


With a shrug of inevitability, Lieutenant Gunther von Schelling raised his flask and slurped down the last dregs of the fine Italian wine that his sister had given him as a going-away present. He checked his sleeves for any tell-tale spots of red, for he had no desire to end up in the Major’s bad books at present.

Immaculate. Excellent. He hid a smile at the thought. His grandfather would hardly have said so, looking at his uniform. Gone were the perfect whites of the old Austria before the Rudolfine Reforms, before the Holy Roman Empire had been toppled forever. Lessons had been learned, both firsthand during the abortive Euxine War and through learning from other flashpoints throughout the last few decades of general peace. Danubia had not been the swiftest European power to capitalise on Asiatic and even African nations desiring to modernise their militaries (and use them on the nearest neighbour that hadn’t thought of it first), but her own lack of colonial ambitions had made her more trustworthy in the eyes of some. Gunther’s own uncle had served in such a capacity out in Burma, a country whose King was keen not to become too solely dependent on the Americans. A small headline in the Army newspaper suggested that despite this, Burma had joined with Bengal in attacking Meridian-allied Siam. Helpful graphs, probably based on data whose estimates were too vague to be useful even before the propagandists were let anywhere near it, suggested that the ‘Heroic Allies’ had the edge in the struggle with the evil imperialist Russo-Meridian block

Gunther shook his head at that. The papers seemed determined to create the idea of a principled alliance, but even the most naïve civilians were having trouble swallowing it. Gunther and his childhood friends loved the idea of being allied with the Empire of North America, if only because they had spent those childhoods devouring American sequents and bloodies and playing at being Frontiersmen and Savages, but it seemed silly to suggest there was anything other than a common enemy behind every country’s policy. The ENA and the UPSA were at war, the Russians saw an opportunity to gain so attacked the ENA even though they likely did not care two figs about the UPSA, the Bundeskaiser decided this was an opportunity to attack the Russians…

And these days we march to the Bundeskaiser’s tune, Gunther thought. Or the Bundestag’s; the Kaiser himself doesn’t seem to get out too much these days. While his thoughts held some resentment, it was more out of the principle of the thing: if Danubia had been operating entirely independently, national self-interest alone would likely have left him here.

Here; yet another anonymous set of flat Polish fields and flat Polish rivers and forests that weren’t flat but somehow looked as though they wished they were. Poland seemed almost to have been made by God specifically as an ideal battlefield. The Poles had done well to dodge anything more than relatively minor uprisings since his grandfather was a boy, Gunther thought. But now their luck had ran out.

He arose, putting his flask away and double-checking his uniform again. Yes, the accuracy of modern bolt-action rifles (not to mention cingular guns) meant that the stark Austrian whites were gone, but tradition still had some pull in the brave new world of the Danubian Confederation. Whereas the Germans went for dull greens in their uniforms, the Danubians preferred shades of grey in their strikingly jagged-edge camouflage patterns. The patterns were supposed to break up Gunther’s outline and make it harder for an enemy to judge the distance to him. He hoped the high-forehead boys at the Theresian Military Academy were right, because to his eyes he looked as though he would stick out like the last virgin in Bavaria, as the old drinking song went.

“Lieutenant Gunther!” called a voice in accented Martial Latin. Gunther turned and smiled as he saw the familiar face of his fellow Lieutenant, Orosz Ferenc. “Good to see you, Lieutenant Ferenc,” he said in the same language—a trimmed-down version of the ancient Romans’ tongue with additional words for modern inventions and tactics. It was a running joke between the two men that they always deliberately misunderstood the opposing Christian name and surname order of their respective cultures and thus called each other by the former when seeming to mean the latter.

The two lieutenants shared regimental gossip for a moment—Ferenc’s Hungarian-speaking regiment occupied the trench system next to Gunther’s Austrogerman-speaking one—before Ferenc turned serious. “Jan Kašić, over with the Croats…he reckons the big push is coming.”

“It’s been coming for weeks, the Tsar still hasn’t climbed out of his bath,” Gunther retorted, referencing another running joke. Ferenc didn’t smile. “It must be serious!” Gunther concluded.

“Either that or that joke has just outworn its welcome,” Ferenc said, softening his words with a belated grin. “How long have we been here making it? How many weeks of, what was that word you used before?”

Sitzkrieg,” Gunther supplied. “It means…false war, pseudo-war. My uncle told me it was like that during the Euxine War. Everyone expected it to really kick off, but it just never escalated to that stage.”

Ferenc gave him a sidelong glance. “You think the same will happen this time?”

Gunther shrugged. “I’m no General, much less an Emperor or an Archking. But who would really gain from it? The Tsar wants to concentrate on going after the Americans, and the Germans aren’t going to take the offensive again, not since…”

Ferenc nodded. The Germans, thankfully before their Danubian allies had arrived, had attempted a quick roll of the dice with a probe at the Lithuanian city of Brestas, seeking to catch the Russians and their allies offguard. The strike had been bloodily respulsed, the city’s defences being greater than German intelligence had apparently predicted. Since then the two sides had just massed more and more troops along the border voivodeships (and along the direct Russo-Danubian border in Moldavia) and launched occasional probing aero-attacks at each other with their steerable flotillas.

Gunther looked up and down the trench system. While forests hid part of his view in this flat land, they showed that Danubians, Germans and Poles alike had not wasted the weeks of Sitzkrieg here, focusing on digging in and building new defences. The ruin that Lithuanian cingular guns had wrought on the German attack on Brestas had not been forgotten. Theorists at the Theresian and its rivals were already hastily rewriting the rule books and opining about how modern warfare favoured the defenders.

“I hope we’ve been wasting our time doing this,” Gunther said quietly, one hand subconsciously twisting the tips of his moustache in a nervous tic. “I hope that when our children and grandchildren find our uniforms in the attic and ask us what we did in the war, they’ll get bored to tears when we tell them we spent weeks digging holes in the ground and then it was all called off.”

Ferenc held his gaze for a moment, then nodded. They were both young men. But they were educated young men, from aristocratic families. They had learned about the Great American War in school. They knew what could happen. Even if they remained privately convinced of their own invulnerability, they knew what open warfare would bring to their shared country of many nations.

The perfect moment of silence seemed to stretch to infinity, interrupted only by the digging sound of some of Gunther’s troops putting the finishing touches on another trench.

And then the sirens began.

It was the prearranged signal, a simple thing, not a sound that could be mistaken or misunderstood. Bbbeee bbeee bbeeeeeeeee! Two short, one long! Two short, one long! And it was loud. Ferenc and Gunther automatically clapped their hands over their ears and tensed, then looked at each other once again in mutual realisation. “It’s begun,” Ferenc mouthed, then turned and fled back to his own regiment’s trenches.

The sirens were followed by what seemed like a sped-up microcosm of the weeks of Sitzkrieg they had been living through, as though someone had spun the phantasmascope too fast.[2] The apparent signal to action was followed by hours of tense waiting. This was interrupted only by four Russian steerables, each patriotically painted in white, blue and red with a blue X over the nose of the balloon, which attempted to bomb a Polish position two miles away as Gunther watched. The Poles fired back with their antidrome weapons[3] but failed to do more damage than shoot away the portside engine nacelle of one of the steerables. Rockets whooshed down and bombs fell, inflicting havoc for several minutes until a German galloper gun team showed up, their specialised antidrome cannons towed by the newest and fastest steam tractors. The Germans’ more advanced weapons accounted for two of the steerables—one of which crashed in a dramatic burst of flame while the other slowly tumbled to the earth while miraculously leaving its gasbag unignited—and forced the other two to retreat. The Poles managed a ragged cheer for their saviours, though Gunther knew some of them would be thinking how they wouldn’t be dying in this trench in the first place if it hadn’t been for how King Władysław V (Luigi to his family) had ended up beholden to the Danubians and henceforth to the Germans.

Just when Gunther had begun to convince himself that this period of waiting too would turn out to be an anticlimax, the Russians arrived. “They look like men to me!” commented one of his privates, shading the wan winter sun from his eyes as he looked at the approaching columns. Gunther was confused for a moment until he remembered some of the discussions he had overheard the troops making. He had to remind himself that Danubian soldiers were not like officers—they had not grown up in an aristocratic household like himself, not been exposed to information about the world much less travelled around it. Likely they had never seen a real Russian before, especially considering his regiment had mostly been recruited from northern Tyrol.

He opened his mouth to reassure the troops, but a distant metallic rumbling sound interrupted him. He snatched his binoculars from around his neck and raised them to his eyes, then cursed in a manner that provoked shocked looks from a nearby corporal and his men. “Panzerkanonen!” he called out. “The Russians have brought panzerkanonen!”

The Russians themselves called them armarts; the Americans called them protguns, he knew. Regardless of what one called them, they were trouble. Gunther knew enough about the weapons to know that these were not the newest or most powerful panzers to roll off the Russian process line.[4] These were Tula Morena IIs from the early Eighties, with their thick wooden armour covered with only a thin layer of steel and armed with smaller, pre-turret guns.

Nonetheless, they could fight. Gunther swore again, this time at his own side, when a concealed cingular gun nest opened up from the forest. Not on the Russian troops (clad in a subtly different shade of green to the Germans he’d seen) but on the panzerkanonen, where they could do no good. Perhaps the gunner had mistaken older panzers for being obsolete. Perhaps he thought the mostly wooden armour could be chewed up by his stream of bullets. Regardless, he did not live long to regret his mistake. Even as bullets sparked uselessly from the nearest Morena’s armour, its 1.5 inch cannon swung sluggishly around in its sponson and unloaded two shells on the cingular gun nest in rapid succession. One grey-clad figure escaped the resulting conflagration only to be mown down by a second panzer, this one of the Radegast type equipped with cingular guns of its own.

Later, Gunther might find it in himself to mourn those Danubian troops who had died. Right now, he wanted to curse them out for fools who had tipped their hand. But their little victory seemed only to embolden the Russians. The panzers changed formation slightly to better protect the marching infantry behind them, but they kept coming.

By this point, however, Gunther wasn’t watching. He dived down into the trench, breaking his fall by bending his legs and thanking his stars the soil was still frigid enough that he didn’t slip on a muddy surface. He scanned the trench quickly and located Ensign Purtscheller. “Signal Colonel von Welsbach’s position! Let him know we have—” Gunther searched his memory, “—at least twelve Russian panzerkanonen heading this way!” He almost gave more details, but Purtscheller was already desperately hammering the bicker of the portable Lectel console plumbed into the wires they’d been hastily laying over the last few days. Gunther shrugged: it would be half a miracle if the message got through at all, what with all the faults they’d seen even when testing the system under optimum circumstances. Best not to overburden Purtscheller with more details. He wished again that the forests and the wan sunlight weren’t conspiring together to prevent him from using a more reliable heliograph instead. Scheisse, he’d settle for an old Optel tower.

Gunther clampered up to the revetment of the trench which gave him a keener look. For a moment his grey cloth cap, one size too large (the Quartermaster still hadn’t got back to him) slipped over one eye. Muttering curses under his breath, he snatched it off, grateful for once for the dark brown hair that often raised eyebrows when he entered an Austrogerman law court or one of the other nation-pillarised institutions of Danubia. At least he wouldn’t stand out to enemy snipers.

But the Russians seemed content to continue advancing. Though they lacked true long-range heavy panzerkanone, unarmoured artillery pieces followed the smaller panzers, towed by steam tractors rather slower but more hard-wearing than the ones the German galloper guns had used earlier. In the chilly February day, visible gouts of steam spewed from all the enemy vehicles and mocked any attempt at stealth. Gunpowder might be smokeless these days, but it would be a long time before the ‘fog of war’ was truly gone. Now those tractors clattered to a halt, blowing off steam as their crews unlimbered their artillery pieces. The solution engines mounted on the back of the tractors would be rattling away, calculating firing angles for those crews. Both engines and men worked fast, and soon the eight three-inch guns began firing almost perfectly synchronised volleys of shells. Gunther winced and forced himself to remain upright. The manuals all said that throwing himself into the trench would only hurt the men’s morale and wouldn’t do much for his chances of survival anyway.

He had just enough time to wonder if the manuals had been written by men who truly had his best interests at heart when the first barrage of shells struck. The Russians’ calculations had been only slightly off, probably because they had not been able to discern the Danubian trench’s slight angle without an airborne spotter balloon. The barrage raked a diagonal of devastation across the trench, the two shells in the middle of the eight scoring direct hits and turning a section of the trench into a tableau more horrifying than anything Hieronymous Bosch could dream of. The remainder of the shells either hit behind the trench or in front of it.

One of the latter shells hit about twenty feet in front of Gunther.

There had been a slight rise in the ground there—had been—and it must have shielded him slightly from the blast, like a crude glacis, as he was ‘only’ hurled backwards into the trench with blood spurting from one ear and his skull feeling like someone had decided to use it for bellringing practice. Every part of his body ached, not improved by a sergeant frantically shaking him back to his senses. Gunther looked up, dazed, seeing two sergeants, two trenches. He blinked furiously and mumbled ‘A. E. I. O. U.’, to himself, the phrase (a mantra, old India hands like his uncle called it) cadets were taught at the Theresian to try to focus in the face of pain and shock. Gradually the two images became one. Half his world remained a tinnitus-wracked ocean of silence, but his remaining ear, battered but functional, continued to record more thunderclaps as more shells fell.

The Russians would realise their mistake soon and correct their guns. Gunther let the sergeant help him up and, staggering like a drunkard, began to climb the trench again. This time he peeped more cautiously over the revetment and mentally burned his copy of the manual—those corporals and privates who had taken cover looked in much better shape than he did. A crater stared at him, surrounded by streaks of dirt and shards of metal embedded in the soil and the side of the trench. He tried very hard not to think about what would have happened if one had hit him.

Gunther raised his binoculars again, hampered by both his still-shaky vision and one of the lenses now being starred with cracks, and stared at the lead panzer—a Morena—as it fired a cursory shot at the Danubian lines. With the heavier artillery inflicting the real damage, the panzers were just keeping their enemies down. No Danubian guns replied to the artillery challenge. Gunther wondered woozily what the Russian commander was thinking. Surely the enemy must be lacking in such weapons if they just sat there and let themselves be pummelled, barring a few brave but stupid men who fired useless bullets at the armoured panzers. With the lines suitably softened by the artillery, it was time to seize the day and crush them!

Evidently Gunther’s battle-alienism was better than his cover-taking skills. He had barely completed the thought when the panzers began to accelerate, heading straight for the Danubian lines, their steel-rimmed wheels rotating ever more rapidly, those wheels’ serrated edges biting into the semi-frozen soil and tearing up divots of dead brown grass. Seen through the binoculars, the motion was strangely hypnotic, almost calming. The muffled south through his wrecked ears probably helped. He had a peculiar flashback to a moment as a child, taking refuge in the boxroom when his mother and father had had another argument, gazing deeply into a polychromatoscope[5] as a music box twinkled away in the background.

Big wheels turning, turning, turning…and now, was that it? Was that the rock by the tree? But all the rocks and all the trees looked the same, no, perhaps something was wrong, had they missed their chance—

Another explosion. But this one punished Gunther’s ears rather less, being more distant. His eyes, on the other hand…he winced and let the damaged binoculars fall as his men cheered. A moment later, a second Russian panzer was hurled on its side as a torpedo mine exploded beneath it. Then three more in rapid succession. One or two of the Lectel-triggered mines exploded amid the infantrymen following the panzers and tore bloody holes in their columns, but none reached the artillery behind them. Some, Gunther thought from what he remembered of the plan, looked as though they hadn’t detonated at all. A bent panzer wheel hurtled from a burst of flame and smoke and buried itself in wood halfway up a tree. Well, maybe some of them were just taking longer.

The mine ambush was not enough to destroy the Russians altogether. Less than half of the panzers had been taken out. But it was enough to confuse, dismay and stall them, to momentarily disorient their chain of command, to make them uncertain. And that was an opportunity. Disdaining the binoculars, Gunther grabbed the other item around his neck. A whistle. Despite his continuing headache, he managed to blow a long note without growing too dizzy. “GO GO GO!” he cried. “OVER THE TOP!”

Despite their losses, his men managed a ragged cheer. The grey-clad Austrogerman regiment rose from the trenches, their cingular gun nests providing some covering fire, and advanced on the hapless Russians. Some cried the old battle cry of the Thirty Years’ War: “Jesu-Maria!” More voices joined them in the same cry, bearing a strange but familiar accent, and Gunther’s lips skinned back to reveal what was technically a smile as he concentrated on shrinking the distance between his pumping legs and the Russian panzers. Ferenc’s Hungarians were with them. Then the green Germans were there, following behind with their galloper guns, and they were yelling “GOTT MIT UNS!” How ironic, yet somehow appropriate, that the battle-cries of both sides two hundred years ago and more were now united as one.

And then, as the Russian commander managed to get his men under control and the panzers opened fire on the advancing allies with cingular gun fire, the Danubians revealed that they had kept some heavy artillery in reserve after all.

Gunther lived through the fight, as did Ferenc. Many of their comrades did not. Gunther knew that as long as he lived, he would never forget that image of Sergeant Fritsch twisting two halves of an egg-shaped grenade to arm it, ready to hurl it into the sponson of an enemy panzer, only to be shot down by a Russian infantryman and die amid his own explosion. They could have buried what was left in a matchbox. It seemed almost obscene that Gunther himself had escaped with nothing more than deafness in one ear and a host of scratches. Ferenc had a slightly more serious cut on his forearm from a Russian bayonet, but the medics had bound it up tightly and he seemed no worse for wear.

When the dust had settled, the small Russian advance had been crushed. Cryptic, half-complete Lectel messages from along the front line suggested that the Russians and their allies had been held back in general, though there was still pressure against the section of the line manned by Bohemian German regiments. Much to Gunther’s annoyance, six German Kriegsbär panzers showed up to his section an hour after the last Russian had surrendered or fled, acting on the Lectel message Ensign Purtscheller had managed to get through, far too late to do any good. The message had probably been circulated up and down eighteen different command positions before it had finally reached someone who could do something about it. As it was, the German panzer crews just sat around cooling their heels, awaiting orders, when surely their colleagues needed them.

Gunther shook his head. Today had been a victory, albeit one bought with great cost. The once-pleasant if dull Polish landscape now looked like the aftermath of one of those industrial disasters they had had in the Ruhr in the Seventies. Still, a victory. But he couldn’t shake the impression that this war would not be won by the bravest fighters. In a world where, whatever miracles technology had brought, nobody could ever be quite sure what was going on, the war would be won by those who happened to be in the right place at the right time…







[1] As before, the population and land area figures do not include the country’s (in this case rather paltry) overseas possessions. In any case less than one million German citizens live in the colonies.

[2] Referring to a device similar to the OTL zoetrope (phantasmascope was also a term used in OTL for a related device).

[3] Probably an anachronism slip on the part of the author.

[4] OTL ‘assembly line’ or ‘production line’.

[5] Kaleidoscope.
 
Like the detail about Carolinan geography - IIRC it was similar in WW1 "only those of us who knew French geography noticed that after every glorious French victory the Germans seemed to be a hundred miles further into France" to quote Fall of Giants from memory.
 
I expected "the big push is coming" to be some sort of current-affairs joke, but if there is one there I don't get it.
 
You can begin to see the blatant rewriting of history that the Societal and Diversitarian powers do in the *Cold War in this update.

Also, wow, teaching Societism to kids. That is insane
 
So she turned away and spread a newspaper out on her table, though inevitably the conversation in the bar was focused on the aeromen and it kept leaking into the back of her mind regardless. The Lima Indagador was like many newspapers had become in member states of the Hermandad lately: though all the pages were printed together, the outer ones were composed and set locally, while the inner ones consisted of both text and images that had been transmitted from the UPSA by Lectel. Though sometimes they tried to hide the transition, in this case it was pretty obvious as the pictures on the Meridian-penned pages suddenly switched to rougher and cruder spot-grid [dot matrix] images as they had had to be converted to pure data and telegraphed up here. The tone was also subtly different, with the Meridian sections being both more professional but also more distant and vaguer, written to a whole continent rather than a city or a kingdom.
Methinks we're going to see the local ones gradually phased out as a sign of the increasing control from the UPSA.

Mónica was a historian, the first female history lecturer at the ancient University of Lima in fact, and that had given her a nasty suspicious frame of mind. Therefore, while others might have missed it, when she put her monocle in she could distinctly perceive that the word ‘Peruvian’ had a subtly different typeset to the rest of the headline. That vague asimcon must have gone out all over the Hermandad, with each country assured that it was their young men who had performed the heroic feat. Mónica wondered if the feat had been accomplished at all, or if the whole thing had been staged. Somehow it didn’t seem as bad if it had indeed really happened with some Guyanans or New Granadines or whoever and there had just been a little lubrication applied to the truth to make it work better as propaganda.
Getting a bit Ministry of Truth here really.

Now he took his own three matchsticks and carefully arranged them. His fingers had the skill of a magician’s, but a magician would have wowed an audience with his swiftness, seemingly pulling the impossible from nowhere. This man did just the opposite, going slowly and meticulously, allowing his audience to follow every step. He wove the sticks together so that they formed a small triangle in the middle. At one end each stick was beneath the second, at the other end it was on top of the third. The result was that the interwoven triad held together as the man gently picked it up and sat it on top of the glass.
Now that's clearly authorial foreshadowing going on there.
 
The man in black has a good point. Unity helps all, infighting destroys Mankind. The problem is when that is twisted into totalitarian ideologies. :(
Lima Indagador
I don't speak Spanish, but I think you meant Indagador de Lima. You ordered the name in a germanic language way.
Los Desesperadinos
I think you meant Los Desesperados. Desperados seems to be an English variant of the word.
 
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