Sentimentality - Horses are in that awkward halfway point between farm animals and companion animals. A number of OTL countries find the idea of eating them as distasteful as eating pets.

Religious - I believe the original reason horsemeat was taboo in Western Europe is something to do with pagan ceremonies involving eating horse that Christendom wanted stop. I'm pretty sure it's not kosher, either. I don't know how Caraíbas's Universal Religion might feel about it, but it's a possibility.

Health - During the UK horsemeat scandal one of the points was that horses are filled with drugs that aren't tested for human consumption, because it's assumed no-one is going to. The Societist bloc may not care so much about standardised dietary practices as standardised animal and human health legislation.

All of these possibilities would be a result of Societist standardisation, since obviously the Carolinians themselves don't feel that way, but it wouldn't be as simple as "Societists ban horsemeat because That Would Be Different".
It's worth noting that horses were probably domesticated as meat animals before they were ridden, and remained an important dietary component for the steppe peoples. Also, I don't think it is correct to talk about a general Western European taboo on horsemeat: while in many countries such a taboo exists, horsemeat is largely considered unproblematic in France and Italy (and I think Spain as well) although of course it is still way rarer than beef and other meats.
(and yes, it's not kosher - I think it's halal, however).
 
Yes, it was strongly implied that the Combine will lose the Last War of Supremacy at the end of the 20th century.
But is also appears that the Combine won't be destroyed by that - although it's clear that Societism (in it Combine form at least; Danubia is implied to have an anti-Combine Societist regime that may be allied with the ASN or able to reach a lasting coexistence with it, and the Ottomans appear to have been another non-Combine Societist state for a time) will recede territorially in Europe and East Asia...
 
Also, I don't think it is correct to talk about a general Western European taboo on horsemeat: while in many countries such a taboo exists, horsemeat is largely considered unproblematic in France and Italy (and I think Spain as well) although of course it is still way rarer than beef and other meats.
Quite right; in my head I was distinguishing between a historic attempt to discourage horsemeat and the modern countries where it stuck, but I don't think that came across.
 
Did Thande imply that the Societist bloc is gonna fall?
Yes, it was strongly implied that the Combine will lose the Last War of Supremacy at the end of the 20th century.
I don't remember it being mentioned that the bloc has fallen, but that it's been defeated. It is 'allowed' to call Vienna and Constantinople by their names, but who knows what that means. Did the Societist regimes there fall? Did they just mellow out ? Who knows. Then again, all of this is being told to us by people who are likely to be doubly biased (to inflate their bloc's power and because the ideology itself encourages it).

Feng China has its own sphere of allies/vassals to muster
You mean Nepal, Bhoutan and Sikkim? Can those be of any help?

One wonders what are the Ottomans and the Persians up to, they're the only important powers we don't know about.
The Ottoman Empire is supposed to be on the same side as Danubia during the war if I remember correctly. Or maybe it's during the Sunrise War?

And since we're talking about the future, do we know anything about the present day Belgium, Poland and Scandinavia? Those are the only European countries we have no information on for the late 20th/early 21st century AFAIK. It was said that the Polish Jews are going to suffer... something. Maybe Societism, pogroms for "betraying" the country in some way, maybe Russian invasion, puppetization or annexation? Maybe Poland is a member state of the Russian Confederation in the present day.
 
You mean Nepal, Bhoutan and Sikkim? Can those be of any help?
I was under the impression that future Panchala is already in the Feng orbit, but I may be wrong.


And since we're talking about the future, do we know anything about the present day Belgium, Poland and Scandinavia? Those are the only European countries we have no information on for the late 20th/early 21st century AFAIK. It was said that the Polish Jews are going to suffer... something. Maybe Societism, pogroms for "betraying" the country in some way, maybe Russian invasion, puppetization or annexation? Maybe Poland is a member state of the Russian Confederation in the present day.
Belgium is mentioned to be existing under this name in TTL's narrative present, so it's fair to assume it does not go Societist. I vaguely recall the same for Scandinavia, but I am unsure of the details. It's implied that Jutland stays German.
No idea about Poland.
 
I don't remember it being mentioned that the bloc has fallen, but that it's been defeated. It is 'allowed' to call Vienna and Constantinople by their names, but who knows what that means. Did the Societist regimes there fall? Did they just mellow out ? Who knows. Then again, all of this is being told to us by people who are likely to be doubly biased (to inflate their bloc's power and because the ideology itself encourages it).
I think it's been implied the the Combine ceases to exist following the Last War of Supremacy - it was mentioned that as of present day a certain "Republic of ____" has come a long way toward freedom in the past twenty years, which seems to imply a democratic revolution or USSR-type collapse in a major Societist power. Also considering that no mentions of the UPSA/Combine have been made in the present day updates (IIRC) while the other great powers (ENA, Russia, China etc) have mostly been accounted for, I think it's likely the Societist bloc falls sometime in the 1990's.
 
Feng China uses Gurkhas against its enemies?
I forgot about those. Could be helpful.

I was under the impression that future Panchala is already in the Feng orbit, but I may be wrong.
Looking at the pre-war map, I think you're right. Maybe. Even Google images and Wikipedia don't seem to know where Panchala is (or rather was). :D Is it the bit south of Nepal?

Belgium is mentioned to be existing under this name in TTL's narrative present, so it's fair to assume it does not go Societist. I vaguely recall the same for Scandinavia, but I am unsure of the details. It's implied that Jutland stays German.
No idea about Poland.
I don't remember anything about Belgium and Scandinavia. I do remember the expression "Dutch-speaking world" though.

it was mentioned that as of present day a certain "Republic of ____" has come a long way toward freedom in the past twenty years
I remember this, but not the context. :D Don't remember anything about the Combine's fall though.
 
Huh. Yeah. I just read the "occupies most of Uttar Pradesh" part and assumed that it meant it bordered Delhi.
Also, isn't Dehli in the region decimated by the Great Jihad? I didn't think any European power has moved in since, have they?
 
Also, isn't Dehli in the region decimated by the Great Jihad? I didn't think any European power has moved in since, have they?
Huh. Yeah, I think I remember there were references to it being ravaged. It's just strange to think of Delhi as destroyed.
 

Thande

Donor
Part #231: Clashes

The country’s official name is: EMPIRE OF THE GREAT FENG (DA FENG), commonly called FENG CHINA or occasionally SOUTH CHINA.
The people are known as: FENG CHINESE or occasionally South Chinese.
Capital and largest city: Hanjing (aka Canton, formerly Guangzhou) (1.0 million)
Flag: A purple-gold-purple horizontal tricolour defaced by a golden phoenix on a purple disc circled in gold.
Population: 290,000,000 (estimate)
Land area: ca. 450,000 lcf.
Economic ranking: Currently ranked 5th, although its recent meteoric rise coupled with inconsistent information about development beyond the coastline has led some to criticise this as an underestimation.
Form of government: Theoretically an absolute monarchy with the Emperor as sole ruler of All-Under-Heaven. In practice much influence is exerted by members of the Imperial Council. Feng China is somewhat less centralised than previous Chinese states, more through accident of history than deliberate policy; broadly speaking, the more distant a province is from Hanjing, the more power its Governor has. The Xuanming Emperor abolished the additional layer of government of the Viceroyalties in 1875.
Foreign relations: After rising up against Qing rule with European help, Feng Chinese policy for the following eight decades has essentially been an attempt to extricate the country from being too dependent on or influenced by Europeans, while still at the same time taking advantage of the wealth of trade that has resulted (providing its fairness and equality can be maintained by Chinese strength). The results have not been entirely successful from a Confucian point of view, but Feng China is very much its own animal: while individual Europeans have risen to positions of power in the military and civil government, no organised European power has achieved influence over China (and indeed the Feng have pushed back European colonialism in cases such as Hainan).
Military: The Feng army and later the navy have modernised in a series of phases over the nineteenth century. While remaining somewhat behind the best European armies in terms of equipment and training, the Feng have achieved a level of military organisation and discipline not seen in China for many years (and certainly far superior to the corrupt Beiqing armies). This has partly been achieved by a shift in the 1880s towards the recruitment of an additional elite volunteer army for frontline duty and commando operations, the Leishen Army, to supplement the standard conscript-based Imperial Army.
Current head of state: The Xuanming Emperor (Feng Dynasty) (since 1867)
Current head of government: As part of the Feng tendency to wish to split powers to prevent any one individual to become too powerful, the office of Chancellor is collectively held by the members of the Imperial Council.

– 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):

Zhongyou Square, Hanjing, Feng China
February 17th 1897


Cheung Amoy smoothed her keipo dress to her side as, puffing and panting, she locked her dan-ce to the nearest gaslight—just below the official-looking sign telling her in five languages that locking celeripedes to the post was strictly forbidden. Any denizen of the capital of the Chinese Empire soon learned which laws would actually be enforced and which were as theoretical as any claim by Little Weili in Beijing to rule All-Under-Heaven. Her only concern was that some enterprising citizen with a pair of wire-cutters might claim the dan-ce for himself.

She looked around the crowd gathered in the square before the temple, held back by policemen who looked as though they were rather more keen to enforce the parade route than those celeripede laws. Despite this, there was a sense of informality to the proceedings. It was Fifteenth Night, the Lantern Festival, the end of the New Year celebrations. The flower displays which Hanjing had always been known for might now be wilting slightly, but that was more than made up for by the great lanterns which dazzled the darkling shapes of the temple and the other great buildings as the sun set. The artisans seemed to discover ways of making new colours every year, as dyes multiplied. Hanjing by night might as well be lit by rainbows. Amoy thought of the Christian story of Yuesefu and his coat of many colours, which a popular composer had recently penned an opera about (suitably relocating the action to China in the Three Kingdoms period, of course).

It was certainly a diverse crowd, not that that was anything unusual in the capital city of China. Men and women of all ages—but with a certain absence of younger men in between the boys and grandfathers—packed the square. There were Han Chinese, of course, but beside that majority there were Haccahans[1] and Tai and other Chinese minorities, plus the ever-present Europeans visiting from Whampoa Island or the Outsiders’ Villages (whose segregation these days was more ceremonial than many would like) and the Gwayese half-bloods. Amoy avoided looking at that group, as she usually did. She had always been a bit suspicious that one of her grandmothers had not been entirely truthful about the man she married.

She heard a few disparaging murmurs behind her back as she grabbed a prime viewing position. And for what reason? she thought, tucking a strand of hair behind one ear. Let me list them. Walking the streets without a chaperone? Riding a dan-ce? Disobeying the sign? Taking this place? My hair, my makeup? My keipo? Strictly speaking, a keipo was derived from Manchu garments, which older people (especially women) had rejected in the heady Days of the Rising Phoenix. Amoy’s generation didn’t care, they just thought it looked fun to wear. Who in or under heaven thought Little Weili and the Manchus were worth caring about, anyway?

Amoy’s attention was drawn back to the square as a familiar figure appeared before the temple. Governor Ng Chiu was dressed in full ceremonial robes. Great metallic drums, decorated with the fiery figure of a cockerel, celebrated the new year’s zodiac sign and incidentally also served to amplify the Governor’s words. Not even the cleverest of the western barbarians had managed to come up with a better way to do that.[2]

The Governor began with the usual ceremonial forms, to which the crowd responded by showing obeisance to the Xuanming Emperor. Amoy did so with more sincerity than her usual casual, carefree manner would suggest. No matter what those glaring old women behind her might think of her, she felt a strong loyalty to the man who had been the Son of Heaven for thirty years, longer than she had been alive. Today China was strong and self-confident, and she had enough horror stories from her grandparents to know things had not always been so. Xuanming had shouldered the Mandate of Heaven well.

Finally Governor Ng got to the important part. “And now, for Fifteenth Night, His Imperial Majesty, the Son of Heaven, the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, has granted a boon to his loyal subjects.” He said this impressively, as though the crowd didn’t already know what was about to happen. “His Imperial Majesty’s brave soldiers have drawn lots, and the lucky one in ten have returned home to their wives and sweethearts!” May they never meet, Amoy thought, remembering a toast that a drunken British sailor had once told her. She tried very hard to suppress a smile.

The crowd applauded and cheered as the soldiers marched into the square. A casual glance would show they performed the manoeuvre perfectly. Only one who had seen many such marches in peacetime would be able to spot the very tiny hesitations and missteps, the result of men having to adapt to marching with unfamiliar comrades beside them, hastily filling gaps which had been torn in their ranks by Siamese cingular guns.

That thought could never be far from Amoy’s mind as she anxiously scanned the columns, hoping against hope. It was such a vanishing chance, only one in ten men had been picked, even without…the other possibility…but…she prayed, and she wasn’t even certain whom she prayed to.

When her vision cleared, he was there.

She acted before she could think. All cool, sultry demeanour gone, she let out a joyous squeal and lunged into the column of marching men. “Caajisi!”

Charles Grey turned and grinned, managing to spread his arms just in time for Amoy to envelop him in hers. She wrapped her legs about his knees as well as though some force would tear him away. “Amy!” he said, somewhat muffled as she sobbed into his shoulder.

It was only now that Amoy’s usually keen mind caught up with what had been practically a reflex action and the realisation of consequences hit her like a dam breaking. Fortunately, she had been far from the only young woman in the crowd to have the same idea. The army column, which would probably have held up firmly in the face of a Siamese attack, had dissolved into a confused mess when hit by the subtler tactics of wives and girlfriends. The policemen were mostly smirking rather than scowling at this.

Governor Ng was an astute enough politician to know when not to push his luck. He cleared his throat. “Yes, as I said, go and greet our brave conquering heroes!” He irritably waved at an underling, who in turn delegated a message to someone else, and a few seconds later some of the great lanterns suspended from the gaslights rather anticlimactically opened up and scattered lotus blossoms over the soldiers and the crowd.

Among the blossoms were scraps of red paper, one of which Charles snatched out of the air. It was a minimalistic interpretation of the red envelopes containing money which were exchanged for good luck. He opened it up and showed it to Amoy. “See this, Amy? Not real money, but a voucher for a free romantic dinner at the restaurant of our choice…” He grinned. “Shame we’re a bit late for Valentine’s Day.”

“You barbarians and your customs!” Amoy said without rancour. “Don’t you know this is Fifteenth Night? This is the true day for love! Even if I couldn’t find an orange to give you.”

“Rationing,” Charles shrugged. “At least there’s enough powder left for those.” He pointed at a barrage of firework rockets which exploded into a constellation of red stars as he did. He shuddered slightly and a shadow crossed his face. “I don’t think I can take fireworks for a while, Amy. The things we saw at the front…”

“Then I’ll have to help you forget them,” Amoy said winsomely, reaching up to tickle his moustache. “Let’s find that restaurant. And then I’ll tell you my latest plan to win you back your ancestral house and lands.”

Charles laughed out loud and, as Amoy had hoped, his black mood evaporated. “As I keep telling you, Amy, I don’t think I’m getting Howick Hall back from the government anytime soon! That’s why my father came out here in the first place!”

“You shut up, unambitious Yinguoren,” Amoy said, waving her finger in a manner which (as she would have been mortified to discover) was uncomfortably close to that of her mother. “When I am Lady of the Manor and you can show me that swimming pool carved from the rock your father was always talking about, then you can open your mouth and admit you were wrong.”

Charles grinned. “I’ll drink to that.”

He swept her off her feet.

*

From: The World At War: From The Pages of The Discerner VOLUME II: RETURN ENGAGEMENT (1983):

Caribbean Sea South of Guantánamo Bay, Adamantine Republic of Cuba
February 24th 1897


Captain Juan Alejandro Mendez squinted through his binoculars at the distant shapes as they grew ever more dim. The night was drawing in. But even without the electride lamps burning away on his armourclad sloop, the Edward Vernon, and her nearby sister ship the Fernando de Prado, Juan Alejandro could see well enough. The two fleets clashing out there in the Caribbean Sea were lighting things up themselves. Sometimes deliberately with electride lamps of their own backed up by star shells. Sometimes rather less so, as magazines detonated and observation balloons ignited in balls of fire.

Juan Alejandro didn’t know the full complement of the ships on either side out there. Even the admirals commanding the action probably didn’t know that, he thought. Based on what he had learned of past conflicts, that would not be known until years later, when men with high foreheads would draw up graphics for the history books, and spotty young cadets in naval academies would arrogantly criticise the actions of their betters, as though the admirals had access to the same information they did. However, even the vague Lectel orders Juan Alejandro had received before the Cuban flotilla left Guantánamo Bay, coupled to what he could glean from his binoculars, told him something.

The Meridians were losing.

Still just about visible as a huge shape against the darkening horizon was the American lionheart lineship HIMS Virginia. To an extent, that was all that mattered. The Meridians had been unable to deploy one of their own lionhearts to these waters in time. Perhaps the Republicano had blown a boiler in Tuxpan or was still coaling in Cartagena. Again, only those spotty cadets two decades hence would be able to tell him of the action, whether deliberate or accident of history, that had led to the Meridian force here being outmatched by the Virginia. All that mattered now was that the Meridian naval position in the Caribbean – vital, of course, if President Monterroso wanted to resupply the crumbling Carolinian defence lines to the north – was collapsing.

Even as he lowered the binoculars, Juan Alejandro winced as another flash of light briefly lit up the iron-grey shapes still hammering away at one another atop the pleasant waters of the Caribbean. A few moments later, a low rumble as of thunder passed over the Edward Vernon. And a few minutes after that, a gentle wave briefly disturbed both sloops. Juan Alejandro held on to the engine order telegraph for support, careful not to actually disturb the handle. The Edward Vernon was a small enough ship that the device almost seemed unnecessary at first glance, but the sound of her engines—even only the small secondary engine she was using to hold position—was sufficient to ensure that merely shouting down to the engine room would never be reliable enough.

“Another supply ship,” Juan Alejandro said to himself: a guess, but he had seen enough explosions by now for it to be an informed one. Another ship loaded with coal and munitions, intended to resupply this Meridian fleet as it had headed for Maubela.[3] Another ship that would never reach its destination.

As the wave triggered by the exploding ship subsided, it revealed the shape of a net slung between the Edward Vernon and the Fernando de Prado, currently rather slack and mostly sitting below the surface of the water. At first glance, it looked like an ordinary fishing net, but made from thick steel ropes: even the most cautious Nantucket whaler would call it overkill. They were already rusting away, of course: if it had been left up to Juan Alejandro, he would have invested in coating the cables with Siamese gutta-lacquer[4] to protect the net against the waters and ensure it would not need to be replaced so swiftly. Of course, he was only a humble captain, not a policy-setting admiral or civilian defence minister (whose cousin happened to own stock in a certain New Granadine steel rope manufacturer).

“Another one?” a familiar voice drawled. “They’ll be diving for valuables in these wrecks for a hundred years at this rate.”[5]

Juan Alejandro turned and nodded to his second-in-command, Lieutenant Zebulon Beauregard III, universally known as Zebes. “Si, another one,” he said. They were speaking Cubano, which a century ago had been considered an uncouth pidgin, but now had official-looking dictionaries of it published (and not only by the University of Havana Press). It was a roughly half-and-half mix of Spanish and English, perhaps with a slight bias to the former, plus a fair few words incorporated from native and African languages. ‘Pure’ Cubano (if such a term could even be used) was only officially used in situations like this, in the military or in schools and civic institutions where Cubans from many different backgrounds had to interact, and in households forms of English or Spanish were preferred. At least, they had when Juan Alejandro had been a boy; he had heard that even household speech was beginning to resemble Cubano in the big cities.

“Surely they can’t last much longer then,” said Zebes. “And then…” He drew a finger across his throat. “That’s the end for the Kingdom of Carolina, sooner or later.”

Zebes did not sound too bothered about the prospect. “I’d think you’d be more upset, what with your grandfather and so on,” Juan Alejandro ventured.

Zebes snorted. “My grandpappy left Georgia—” he pronounced it Jaw-jja, his accent briefly growing much stronger, doubtless imitating the way the old man had said it, “—to get away from the lordlings who thought they were little tin gods. I mean, John Alexander was all right,” he said hastily, for Juan Alejandro was only one among thousands of Cubans to bear the name, “but he earned it. No, sitting on all that land and money and slaves just because of what your great-grandpappy did for King Charles – that’s not right.”

“And now they have their own king,” Juan Alejandro said.

Zebes shrugged. “For now. Willy D Owens-Allen knows which side his bread is buttered though, just like his pa did. We’ll see which way he jumps.”

They were making conversation to pass the time as much for any other reason. Not that the outcome of all this wouldn’t affect Cuba – of course it would. Pedro Berenguer, like his two predecessors as Consul of the Adamantine Republic, owed his position more to the fact that he was good at playing the Americans and Meridians off against one another than because of any decision made by the Cuban people. For all the triumphalist version of history taught in Cuban schools might claim, Cuba was an independent republic not because of a heroic insurgency or inspiring national leaders, but because Albert Braithwaite and Augusto Araníbar hadn’t wanted to pay for garrisons anymore. Even the very Guantánamo Bay naval base from which this Cuban flotilla had launched had been built by the Americans in the 1860s before the Seventies Thaw. Cuba might be the biggest of the West Indian islands, but it was still nothing more than a pawn in someone else’s chess game.

And what happens to the board and the pieces when someone wins?

“Here’s one,” Zebes said, startling Juan Alejandro from his reverie. “Must think he can chance it because it’s getting dark.” He shared a grim look with his captain. “Shall I give the orders?”

Privately, Juan Alejandro said a silent thanks to his XO for that, but he was not that kind of man. “No, I’ll do it.” He raised his voice. “All hands, signal the Fernando de Prado. Make net taut, raise steam on main engines.” A smaller electride lamp, mounted below the main one but above the turret of the main armament, flashed a message to the other sloop in Bicker-code.

Fortunately, it looked as though the crew of the Fernando de Prado had been equally alert, and they responded even as the message was still flashing away. The two sloops carefully steered slightly away from one another and steamed haltingly on their secondary engines to tighten the net without breaking it loose of its moorings. The engine layout meant this was relatively easy, but that was not the reason for which the engines had been designed that way. Like most of Cuba’s military, the two sloops were a hodgepodge of Meridian and American exports: the ship class itself had been built in Santa Catarina, but the guns (slightly mismatched to any eye with even a smattering of military experience) were from the Richmond Ironworks in the ENA. There were other ships in the Cuban Naval Armada with the reverse combination, and any number of others too. Naval procurement was based largely on which of the Novamundine great powers (or which company within them) the Cuban government wanted to appease this week. Being a quartermaster in the CNA was a recipe for headaches, though it could be a rewarding post—the complexities of maintenance and resupply also meant that embezzlement was a lot easier, and nobody really minded providing the system worked.

Regardless, the Meridian origins of the two sloops (thank goodness they were at least of the same class!) meant that they were equipped with the usual provisions created by necessity by the Meridian Armada, which often struggled to be resupplied with coal on the open ocean. The sloops managed most of the time with a small, efficient, not very powerful engine, yet had a much more powerful primary one to be used only in emergency situations.

This certainly qualified. “Main engine ready,” Zebes reported.

Juan Alejandro nodded. “Raise the main lamp and illuminate the intruder. Ready main armament for a warning shot.”

His crew scrambled to obey, his opposite number on the Fernando de Prado having the same idea without prompting – a good sign! Two ethereal electride beams focused on the grey shape of a medium-sized vessel, otherwise illuminated only by small fires burning in its cracked and dented superstructure. The light beams swept across the jack flying from the ship’s stem, a white ragged Burgundian cross on red: a memory of the first flag of the United Provinces of South America before it had even born that name.

“Dentist ship, sir,” Zebes said. “Escorpión class. Rocket pods expended, looks like the forward steeltooth tubes have been flooded and most of the rapid-fire guns have been chewed off.” In other words, she was defenceless. “Surprised she’s still afloat.”

And now she was trying to flee into the questionable safety of Cuban waters. Neutral waters, for Consul Berenguer had done his best to buy time until it was clear who would win the war. A few months ago, Juan Alejandro had helped escort a mission by one of Cuba’s two ‘entirely legitimate civilian research submersibles’, secretly built in Scandinavia, on a research mission which involved cutting through the Lectel cables joining Cuba to the surrounding islands and landmasses. Cuba’s international relations since then had consisted largely of effusive apologies to the Meridians that the Americans had cut all their Lectel cables, and effusive apologies to the Americans that the Meridians had cut them. Juan Alejandro wasn’t sure how many people were seriously fooled, but it provided enough plausible deniability to stave off an invasion for now.

But the Consul’s plan required that Cuban neutrality be maintained at all costs until the Government could make a final decision. Right now it looked as though the Americans would win the war, but the last Great American War had shown how frequent reversals could be. Until and unless the Meridians were definitively out of these waters, Cuba could not afford to openly back the Americans.

So, a damaged Meridian ship attempting to flee a battle for Cuban waters could not simply be attacked, but nor could she be allowed to get away with it. “Fire warning shot!” Juan Alejandro ordered.

The Edward Vernon’s main armament, which would have barely as qualified as secondary armament on a lionheart, spoke. The shell, guided by a calculation of the sloop’s rather rudimentary solution engine, landed a dozen yards before the Meridian dentist’s bows and detonated, throwing up a spray of white water. The Fernando de Prado began flashing her electride lamp in Bicker-code, probably with a universal demand to withdraw.

Unfortunately, as Juan Alejandro had feared, the Meridians would not be put off so easily. He soon learned why, too: as the Fernando de Prado attempted to track the dentist with her flashing signal lamp, the flashes illuminated a second shape following closely behind the dentist. It ran on the surface, but low in the water, sleeker than most ships—for some of the time she would instead sail beneath the waves. “American Cherry-class ironshark!” Zebes called out. A moment later, the ironshark fired its deck gun and chewed another chunk out of the dentist’s stern. The pattern of damage suddenly made sense—the dentist had not been hit with one of the great 800-pound shells from the Virginia, but she had been worn down with shots from small guns on the ironshark and likely other, American, dentists.

“They’re spanking her into our waters,” Juan Alejandro muttered. “Trying to force a confrontation?”

For the first time, Zebes looked scared. “What do we do, sir?”

Juan Alejandro shook his head and set his jaw firmly. “We carry out our orders. Signal the Fernando de Prado – on my mark, full speed ahead.” He gauged the Meridian dentist as it drew closer, his brain working faster than any solution engine could. “MARK!”

The Fernando de Prado flashed an acknowledgement immediately and Juan Alejandro’s ears were momentarily confused when the three clangs of the bell in the Edward Vernon’s fire room were echoed by three more from her sister ship’s. The two sloops surged forward, a mighty roar slowly building as water wastefully cavitated about their drive screws. This would normally be something any captain worth his salt would want to avoid. These were not normal circumstances.

The two Cuban sloops blasted forward, the steel net stretched between them. At the last moment before the Meridian dentist impacted it, Juan Alejandro steered to starboard and hoped his opposing number was doing the same to port. The manoeuvre prevented the two ships from smashing into the side of the dentist as its bow struck the net and stretched it. The dentist was giving it full power and its own engines seemed to be about the only part of it that wasn’t badly damaged. For a moment the sandwich of three ships seemed almost to stand still, gouts of boiling steam pouring from all their funnels. Juan Alejandro tensely gripped the engine order telegraph as though there was a hidden secret setting beyond ‘full speed ahead’ he could reach if he pushed it hard enough.[6]

Then, as the American ironshark hastily turned hard to port to avoid collision, the Meridians gave way. Perhaps a boiler had burst or a screw had failed, but there was suddenly almost no resistance. The two sloops shot forward, dragging the dentist in their net with them. Of course, there was no way to keep its course straight, and soon the stern of the dentist began to slump over towards the Fernando de Prado. “Release net!” Juan Alejandro ordered. “Engines dead stop! Stand by for half astern, 100 revolutions!”

There was a series of small explosions as the explosive bolts blew away, releasing the net from the Edward Vernon’s hull. Doubtless to the disappointment of that corrupt official and his cousin, the Fernando de Prado did not follow suit but allowed the net to trail behind it as it disengaged from the Meridian dentist’s hull, meaning it could be reused. The dentist drifted away on a slightly drunken but nonetheless southward course, heading back out of neutral Cuban waters and into the conflagration. The American ironshark completed its evasive manoeuvre and returned to its pursuit course, firing two more of its small shells and lighting up the battered ship again. The dentist did not respond.

Juan Alejandro shook his head slowly. “And they go to their deaths,” he said quietly. “We could have rescued them if they’d surrendered. Interned them.”

Zebes put a hand on his shoulder. “And can we be sure the Americans would accept that as a gesture of a neutral state?” he said quietly.

Juan Alejandro closed his eyes for the briefest of moments and imagined the Virginia and another couple of lionhearts, sitting in Habana harbour and blasting away with their rockets and heavy guns as the Plaza Vieja burned and greencoats plundered the Bank of Cuba.

No. If it prevented that, he could justify anything. To the world, if not to himself.

“Cancel astern order,” he said quietly. “Half ahead, 100 revolutions. Hard-a-starboard, return to holding position.”

Distantly, another Meridian armourclad lineship blew up.



[1] TTL transliteration of ‘Hakka Han’ – see Interlude #10.

[2] An awkward reference by the author to the fact that electrical microphones and amplification have not been invented in TTL yet.

[3] OTL Mobile, Alabama.

[4] OTL term ‘gutta-percha’ – from Malaysia, but in TTL most of Malaysia is currently part of the Siamese Empire. The fact that this natural latex has been defined as a form of lacquer in TTL (largely a linguistic accident) will have consequences later on…

[5] Probably a clumsy attempt by the author to refer to a then-current news story when this tale was written.

[6] Note that in OTL American ships define ‘flank speed’ as the true maximum emergency speed beyond full speed ahead and this is depicted as such on U.S. Navy engine order telegraphs, but this is something unique to the USA and has been butterflied away in TTL.
 
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We're going away to leave you now
Good bye, fare thee well
Good bye, fare thee well
We're going away to leave you now
Hoorah, me boys, we're homeward bound

Ah, give me the girl with the bonny brown hair
Your hair of brown is the talk of the town

So fare you we're homeward bound
Homeward bound to Liverpool town

So fill up your glasses for those who were kind
And drink to the girls we leaving behind

We're homeward bound I hear them say
We're homeward bound with eleven months pay

Our anchor we'll weigh, our sails we will set
The friends we are leaving we'll never forget
Oddly fitting for the last bit.
 
I wonder if Charles Grey will return with a particular blend of tea.

Cuba I suspect may end up staying independent, but in a rather controversial manner.
 
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