Part #234: Deadlock
The country’s official name is:
KINGDOM OF THE BRITONS. Often still informally known as GREAT BRITAIN.
The people are known as:
BRITONS, although it common to refer to them as ENGLISHMEN, SCOTSMEN etc.
Capital and largest city:
London (4.7 million).
The Union Jack (or Union Flag), a combination of the red on white St George’s Cross for England and the white on blue St Andrew’s Saltire for Scotland which dates from the Union of the Crowns in the early 1600s. The official state version includes a white circle in the middle defaced with the purple Asterisk of Liberty, a symbol of the Populist movement in the Inglorious Revolution. Non-defaced versions are still however often used by civilians: the standard version has the St George’s Cross on top, but an alternative which has the St Andrew’s Cross on top (originally used in the 1600s) has seen a recent revival in Scotland. Much less frequently, the St George’s Cross and St Andrew’s Saltire are used alone by some people, as is the yellow on black St David’s Cross in Wales.
28 million (1888 census).
: Generally included with the ENA, would probably be ranked 10th or 11th in the world if treated separately.
Form of government:
Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy. Head of state: Emperor (also the King of Great Britain and Ireland). Head of government: President (formally, President of the Council of Government; still occasionally called ‘Prime Minister’) who heads a government in the Parliament of the Britons in the New Palace of Westminster. The Parliament is the largest legislative body in the world, with 820 MPs (occasionally called Burgesses or Representatives as a holdover) in the House of Representatives and 340 Knights in the House of Knights, the upper house. The MPs are elected from single member constituencies by first-past-the-post voting, while the Knights are elected from a county-wide general ticket (although some have argued that a percentage representation system should be used as in America). British local government is based entirely on the county, with former municipal governments abolished after the Inglorious Revolution and never restored when the new system was implemented: municipalities are governed by commissions appointed by the elected County Corporations (or County Corporates). County Corporation members are referred to as Aldermen (or, recently, also Alderwomen). The County Corporations in Scotland were always poorly conceived due to Scotland’s different county system, and the Scottish Home Rule League (later the Scottish Parliamentary Party) has informally amalgamated them into a single body based in Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, which claims the role of a would-be Scottish Parliament.
Great Britain has dynastic and historical ties to the Empire of North America. Ever since the French invasion of 1807 devastated Britain, it has taken an increasingly backseat role in the global Hanoverian possessions to the ENA. While the ENA helped Britain recover from the invasion, the fact America did not get involved in the crisis of the 1830s until the Inglorious Revolution was virtually over (despite Emperor-King Frederick II’s best efforts) sparked resentment among the British people, deepened when Americans accused Britons of lukewarm efforts in the Great American War of the 1850s. From a British point of view the tail has been wagging the dog for a long time and resentment has been building, although the increased trade from the Seventies Thaw has improved the British economy, helping mend the last scars of the conflicts of the past.
Great Britain has struggled with constitutional restrictions on the military (especially the Army) imposed by the Populist government following the Inglorious Revolution. While these have been diluted over time by non-Populist governments, this has still left idiosyncratic traces in how the modern British military is organised, such as a disproportionately small (but elite) Army and the phenomenon of 'Land-based Marines' due to crafty past governments working around the restrictions by formally designating de facto Army regiments as Marines. The Royal Navy, although it is now secondary in size and power to the Imperial Navy of the ENA, easily remains the second most significant naval force in the Hanoverian dominions and a respected force in its own right. There are tensions over the ENA taking a privileged position in some military matters, such as the tone-deaf requisitioning of the first lionheart from its British inventor.
Current head of state:
King George IV (House of Hanover, also Emperor of North America; rarely visits Great Britain and his role is usually exercised by the Regent, presently his brother Frederick, Duke of York and essentially the Lord Deputy of Great Britain)
Current head of government:
President Randolph Herriott (Regressive Party)
– 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 II: RETURN ENGAGEMENT (1983):
HIMS Constitution, South-east of the Îles Téméraire [OTL Pitcairn Islands]
April 2nd 1897
Admiral Owen Hughes looked around him with both the naked eye and his binoculars, wishing again that there was some way to keep track of ships not visible to the naked eye. He laughed; he supposed they could link them together with a spiderweb of Lectel cables, if they didn’t mind getting tangled into a horrible mess as soon as battle or unexpected weather occurred! Perhaps one day some genius would find a way to send Lectel signals without cables, through the very aether itself, but that day lay long in the future, if it ever came.
The Admiral brushed the irrelevant thought aside. What mattered was the fact that he was stood here, on the bridge of a brand-new lionheart lineship at the head of a less modern but still capable fleet, drawn from the navies of all the seagoing Hanoverian nations and their allies. Yes, all of them; though the American contingent was of course the largest and his own Britain contributed the second largest portion, there was at least one ship here from Ireland, from Bengal, even from Venezuela.Confusing matters further was the fact that this fleet, the Pacific Squadron, was based out of New Norfolk in Cygnia and many crew members had been locally recruited. Cygnia was formally part of the Empire of North America, but its distance from the motherland—and the fact that about half its population had come directly from Great Britain and had never dwelt in North America—meant that the Cygnians were an odd unpredictable lot, often with impossible-to-place accents. Hughes hoped like hell the Meridians weren’t trying too hard with espionage efforts, because a spy could probably walk on with a broad Buenos Aires accent and they wouldn’t be able to absolutely prove he wasn’t some very peculiar variety of Cygnian.
Hughes trained his binoculars on HMS President
, a sub-lionheart of the Royal Navy correctly occupying its designated role on the right flank of his force. Magnified as if by magic, he saw the Purple Ensign at her mainmast—a silly term for what was now just a token metallic stub above the main turrets, for the days of sail were fading—flapping in the wind, slightly out of time with the gusts he felt hitting his own skin moments later. Both the Asterisk of Liberty in the canton and the President
’s name made him think of Llewelyn Thomas, that great Welsh hero of whom he had spoken to that savage Mauré fool Wehihimana. Thomas’ legacy was still remembered in those things; yet to Hughes it was a hollow one, like the parable about whitewashing the outside of a tomb while ignoring the decay within. A couple of generations after Thomas has passed away, and the old aristocrats were back in power in Britain. Oh, not precisely the same as before; some had never come back from their exiles, and among them were some new men who had made their wealth in the colonies. There was no House of Lords anymore and no peerages worth a damn. It didn’t matter: the same old rot had crept back in. It mattered not if a man wore ermine or a modern suit, if his wealth was in a great house in the country or in offshore bank accounts – not if he could still buy his way into Parliament, buy himself immunity from the law.
The peace. The peace had been part of that, the great, magnificent peace that had brought prosperity to so many—yes, yes it had, but that too had been hollow. It had been that very stability that had let the decay come creeping back in, the sense that a rich Englishman could move his money into an account at the Bank of Buenos Aires, taking advantage of the UPSA’s helplessness before its own corporate giants who had grown up like pernicious octopi to strangle the world in that very same environment of peace and stability.
Well—Hughes smirked to himself—at least that was at an end. Those smug neo-toffs had had a rude awakening when Monterroso had got in and started freezing foreign accounts and bringing the Meridian corporations to heel, at least as much as he could while also fighting a war. Under other circumstances, if the incident on the China-Siam border hadn’t happened, Hughes would be cheering Monterroso on. In many ways, he still was.
But. There was a war on, and if Hughes was anything, he was a patriot. And that meant that the men swearing allegiance to that same man he admired were his enemies.
He looked across at the dentist HHMS Lug Lamfáda
, flying its St Patrick’s Saltire: a red X on white, oft confused with the flag of Congolese traders by inexperienced midshipmen in African waters. Hughes knew Lug Lamfáda was the Irish equivalent of the legendary pan-Celtic hero whom his own people named Lleu Llaw Gyffes. He felt slightly resentful that the Irish got to use such rich mythological names when the Welsh did not. Perhaps one day. Regardless, His Hibernic Majesty’s Ship was in place just as well as His Imperial Majesty’s Ship and His Majesty’s Ship. The lack of a qualifier for the British ship was an anachronistic holdover of the fact that once upon a time, the Royal Navy had been dominant enough for it not to be required. There was talk now of renaming it the Royal Britannic Navy and giving its ship the prefix HBMS for His Britannic Majesty’s Ship, but—as always—that would cause gnashing of teeth back home.
Yes, all the ships he could see were in formation, even the experimental ship, HIMS Franklin
– an appropriate name. At first glance the ship looked like any other modern sub-lionheart, but then the eye was drawn to its elongated hull, leaving a section amidships without turrets or masts or superstructure or anything: just bare flat deck. It was as though it was one of the apocryphal jokes that periodically circulated around the fleet, about one contractor using English feet while the other used French feet and ending up with a comically distorted ship when the parts were brought together.
But no, the Franklin
’s design had been entirely deliberate. Usually that bare section was occupied by something, but right now that something was floating over a hundred yards in the air, tethered to the Franklin
by a stout steel cable affixed to an industrial-strength winch. The Kite
—someone in the naming bureau thought he was clever—was a brand new steerable aeroship with steam nacelles and an inflatable aquaform gasbag. Similar craft, Hughes knew, were in use on land on the other side of the world bombing Carolinian artillery positions even now; but rather than bombs, this one was equipped with very advanced telescopes and cameras.
A signal came down: a heliograph flash, exploiting both the bright sun of the tropics and the fact that it could not be seen by other observers out of the line of sight. Hughes nodded, waving away the interpretation of a nervous ensign. he had seen enough.
The enemy fleet had been spotted.
More information began to flash in from the Kite
. It would be important to Hughes’ plan, but it paled beside the simple revelation that yes, they had found them. They had intercepted them. Hughes had implied to Wehihimana that as the Mauré struck at the Russians he would target Meridian home waters directly; perhaps the savage was naïve enough to believe him. But he would be a fool to do so while there was a small but serviceable Meridian fleet stationed in these waters, its usual role to protect the Batavian Republic’s merchant ships and enforce Hermandad rules. That fleet had to be caught and eliminated. It would have been all but impossible if the Meridians had dispersed it and then rendezvoused elsewhere, perhaps where they could then use it to raid Cygnia. His task would have been different if such a man, a man capable of bold and audacious command decisions, had been in command of the Meridian force.
But instead he was faced by the kind of leadership born of years of corporate control, cautious, cost-cutting, shying from radicalism. The Meridians had evidently recalled their fleet to home waters in response to the rumoured naval defeats about Cuba. Hughes wished he had firm information on those. As the Meridians had cut the Hanoverian Lectel cables that joined Bengal with Cygnia—necessarily going via the Batavian islands—he had been in the dark for weeks. Occasional rumours from Chinese merchantmen, doubtless exaggerated, told of welcome Hermandad defeats in the war in the Novamund, but also of unrest and disquiet back home. It was troubling, so Hughes threw himself back into his work.
Yes, the enemy fleet had foolishly gathered in one place, and now it was steaming on a steady course towards the naval base of Talcahuano on the west coast of the UPSA. Boring. Predictable.
It seemed almost unfair, but… “All’s fair in love and war,” Hughes muttered.
“Admiral?” asked Captain George Steuart Potter in his Virginian drawl. No; his Maryland
drawl, the man was very clear on that point, going almost as icy as when people misspelled his middle name. Fair enough in Hughes’ book, everyone should be proud of their origins. “What did you say?”
“Nothing, Captain,” Hughes said, his own musical tones a striking contrast. “We’ll proceed with the plan. Approach at half speed in formation until McKee in the Kite
thinks they’ve spotted us, and then engage at full speed to catch them off guard.”
Potter nodded. “A shame our guns don’t have the range to fire over the horizon like some artillery can now,” he pondered. “With the Kite
spotting for us, we could sink half their ships and they wouldn’t even know where to aim in reply.”
Hughes bared his teeth. “As if this wasn’t one-sided enough. Well, we shall have to leave that one to a future generation, Captain.” He nodded to the lieutenant on the heliograph. “All ships, implement phase two.”
Potter shared his feral grin. “Time to send some torchies to Davy Jones.”
Near Orangeburg, South Province, Kingdom of Carolina
April 1st 1897
Bombardier Richard Stanley Yates—known universally, if obscurely, as Buck—checked the feed mechanism on his Kelham 83 cingular gun. It was a nervous habit; after stripping down and cleaning the weapon thoroughly with his comrades, he had already checked it twice in the last hour. But on a battlefield, it was a nervous habit that could keep you alive. Especially a battlefield like this.
Yates was an experienced enough soldier not to distract himself by scanning the horizon. They had spotters to do that, and if he let his attention stray to trying to do their job for them, he might miss a stealthy enemy popping up at a shorter range that he could actually do something about.
He patted the side of the cingular gun. Before the war, he had bought into the idea popular among civilians—who were used to hearing about the guns being used to mow down savages in India or Africa by unscrupulous corporate explorers—that cingular guns were an ungentlemanly, unlovely, unfair
weapon. They certainly had none of the abstract nobility of the knight on horseback or even the rows of Wars of Supremacy soldiers in chocolate-box perfect colourful uniforms that could be seen ten a penny in any schoolroom history book. Yates was not a particularly well educated man, but he had a healthy cynicism that led him to suspect that war had never been pretty, even in those days. Why sugar-coat it, especially in a nation whose founding father John Alexander had risen to controversial fame for brushing aside the absurdity of a gentlemanly duel on the battlefield? Yes, war was hell. At least trenches and mud and spike-wire and cingular guns made it hard for the next generation to romanticise. Though Yates was sure they’d try nonetheless.
If there was a next generation.
Yates’ gun was one of two protecting a mobile rocket battery, the model nicknamed the Porcupine by Carolinians although, like most military material, it was an import or licensed copy of a Meridian original. Rockets protruded from the boxy, flimsy-looking shape of the vehicle; there was little point in armour when a single spark could set off all the rockets. A weapon as dangerous to its wielders as to its targets, perhaps, but even when rockets had seen use on the battlefield for over a century, they still had the power to sow panic and destroy morale in a way that ostensibly more effective hail shot barrages could not.
But the rockets were of little use against the foe they now faced. Lieutenant Tilson, the commanding officer of this battery, voiced the same thought now. “The Yankee bastards are breaking all the rules,” he observed in a drawl that said he originated from the south-west of Georgia, near the border with what was ostensibly still the Cherokee Empire. “Bringing up protguns without heavy non-prot artillery support? They should be sitting ducks.”
“Evidently someone has failed to inform the enemy of that,” said a voice with a different accent, though there were some shared features between the two. Ensign Romulus Reid, in theory, was outranked by Tilson. The steel in his voice, the casual confidence of his tone, betrayed the fact that the reality was rather different. Reid was attached to their regiment, the First Tallahassee Special Artillery, but the tabs on his tan uniform were a black even darker than his skin.
Reid was a political officer. His duty was, so it said on the pages of the regulations, to ‘ensure that the chain of command is correctly followed’. What that amounted to was shooting any Carolinian officer in the back of the head if he disobeyed an order from a Meridian counterpart. The Meridians had long realised that Negroes were the ideal group to recruit for such a role, as no-one had a more vested interest in maintaining the Meridian yoke over the white men of Carolina. The Yankees could have offered them a better deal, of course, but from what Yates had heard (reading between the lines of propaganda) they had fluffed it, instead trying to appeal to white men like him—as though anyone would believe Yankee lies!
Tilson smiled nervously, the hatred in his eyes almost but not quite masked by long practice. “I suppose so…Ensign. Some people have
argued that modern tactical doctrine is too cautious, too influenced by the defensive siege warfare in the trenches around Ultima ou—my grandfather fought in,” he said, smoothly recovering from a near-faux pas. ‘Our’ grandfathers? At that point, before the Meridians shifted their policy, Reid’s grandfather had probably been hiding up a tree from a lynch mob.
Reid held Tilson’s gaze for a long moment. “Perhaps. Protguns have also improved since then.” He gestured towards the horizon, which was interrupted by a thick column of smoke rising from the outskirts of Orangeburg. A lot of dead men from both sides were being roasted in the streets; perhaps as the flames reached the plantations, they would be bathed in orange sauce like a French duck dish, Yates thought irrelevantly. “They have superior range and aiming. Now some Septen has thought to use that to help them escape the constraints of the slower non-prot heavy guns.” Reid sounded like he was giving a lecture at the military school in Hawkinsburgh. The term ‘Septen’ made Tilson, and a few of his men, twitch. It was an alternative nickname for Imperial Americans, used by younger Meridians who barely remembered the days before the ’seventies and did not see the ENA as anything more than, at worst, a rival. Odd to hear it in the mouth of a man whose role was ostensibly to ensure they were in line fighting those same Imperials, but Yates realised after a moment that Yankee
probably carried too many connotations to Reid of what were, from his race’s perspective, the bad old days.
“They’re using them like they’d use squads of riflemen,” Tilson muttered. “One takes cover and lays down covering fire while another creeps closer…”
As if to illustrate his point, a shriek foretold a barrage of artillery fire raining down on a trench about a hundred yards in front of the rocketmen. Tan-clad bodies were hurled into the air. Yates winced as mud—and worse—fell from the sky like some dark parody of snow. Not that he had ever seen the real thing, being an East Florida boy.
The devastation of the artillery fire belied the fact that the shells were relatively modest in size; visible behind a barricade of spike-wire, which Carolinians had set up some hours ago and was now being used against them, were the men responsible for them. Or rather, their vehicles. Eight Studebaker Hanunah protguns, only a year or two old, were sat their with their four-inch guns elevated and firing in a rolling barrage. As they did, seven more Hanunahs crept forward, their wheels tearing up the ground. Bits of spike-wire occasionally tangled in the toothed wheels, but the covering fire from the Yankees’ comrades was efficient enough that engineers could risk ducking forward with wire cutters to free the vehicles. “Shall I open fire, sir?” Yates asked, champing at the bit.
“Not yet,” Tilson said. “We don’t want to give away our position.” He hesitated. “Those Hanunahs have thick armour. They’re named after the sky turtle from Howden beliefs, I think…”
“The Septens do have a charming habit of naming things after peoples they seem to have done their best to try to subjugate or destroy,” Reid said dryly. The steel returned to his voice. “But we are all that stands in their path. At least we might kill those engineers. Open fire.”
Tilson gaped at him. “But—”
“Do not question your orders,” Reid said silkily.
Tilson gulped, then frowned. “Very well. Ensign
.” He turned back to his Porcupine.
Yates stared in disbelief. This was stupid, absurd. It was one thing to take part in a fighting retreat, or to sacrifice yourself to let an army escape. But Orangeburg was already lost, like Congaryton before it, like Cravenville—Cravenville, home of Alf Stotts’ storied battle that Carolinian military mythology revolved around, quietly taken not with a shout but with a sigh. The Yankees had modern weapons and tactics like these, not obsolete off-cuts of Meridian materiel from a decade before. Furthermore, they had a ready supply of coal for their engines, whereas supplies had been running thin on the Carolinian side for weeks now. Even as he formed the thought, Yates saw a couple of horses which had broken free from their cingular gun carriage, a carriage that had been designed to be pulled by a steam tractor now regressed to the eighteenth century. The horses, panicking, galloped off towards the Yankee lines. “You’d better watch out!” he called out, in a fey mood. “They have Crosscreek men in that regiment, you’ll be in their cookpot by tonight!”
His comrades, readying the Porcupine to fire, laughed. Even Lieutenant Tilson managed a wan smile. Gallows humour.
Moments later, rockets whizzed and crashed around the advancing Hanunahs. A handful of engineers and the infantry guarding them were indeed killed. But against the armour of the protguns, the rockets exploded impotently, the force of their warheads too unfocused. Men on both sides were feverishly working on new weapons to try to penetrate the thicker armour of newer protguns and lionhearts; but as of yet, rockets were not among them.
Yates expected the Hanunahs to shift their fire to this new target. To his surprise, they continued their existing firing pattern. The other cingular gun protecting the Porcupine fired, tracing a pointless line of sparks across the hull of the nearest Hanunah. Yates himself had not fired, knowing it would do no good; Tilson, apparently agreeing, yelled for the gunner to cease fire. Even then, the Hanunahs ignored them, still focusing on their ultimate objective.
Because, Yates realised with a dull sense of horror, they were irrelevant. They could not stop the Yankees. Heavier artillery might, but Carolina’s artillery in this battle had already been bombed by Yankee steerables and had scattered.
The way to Charleston was now open. Like in the Great American War, South Province was lost. A miracle, a miracle that came with a hell of a lot of strings attached, had saved them in his grandfather’s day. Could another come today?
And what would the price be this
Maarten Tromp, South-east of the Îles Téméraire [OTL Pitcairn Islands]
April 2nd 1897
Seaman Pablo-Sanchez Mouret scrambled from the head back to his gunnery station, one hand holding his trousers up while the other frantically sought buttons. A loud siren blared, the cause of his madcap dash. Enemy ships sighted.
“Get it out of the way before
they come bearing down on us, eh, P.S.?” Chief Miguel McGuinness joked as Mouret shoved himself into the cramped sponson. Mouret could tell that McGuinness was seriously worried because he didn’t put more effort into the jibe, given the opportunity he had gifted to him.
The Maarten Tromp
was, on paper, a ship of the Batavian Republic; hence its name, hopefully recalling a great Dutch naval hero of the past. Usually, the sub-lionheart visited ports across the East Indies and Nieuw Holland, enforcing the will of the Republic, which by a strange coincidence was always what the VOC wanted. Of course, in many ways the desires of the Meridian government took precedence, but for some years now that government had been subject to influence by the great corporations, and no corporation was greater than the VOC.
Things were different now, of course. Monterroso was in power; and with naval reversals for the UPSA in waters closer to home, it was time to tear away the polite fictions of the Long Peace. Down came the blue-white-red tricolour with the white triangle and ‘B’ of the Batavian Republic; up went the yellow, red and white flag that had flown over the United Provinces of South America for a hundred years and more. Mouret and his shipmates felt no shame in sailing under false flag (and who could say which of the flags was the false one, anyway?) Ever since the treaty with the New Spanish exiles in the Popular Wars, the UPSA had been associated with false-flag operations in the public imagination? Why not embrace that image, wear it as a badge of pride? That attitude had been brought to the far-flung states and corporate entities that made up the Hermandad, made it impossible to state which forces were under the direct control of the Meridian government and which were not.
Of course, that had worked right up until the point where that very ambiguity had exploded this war with that clash on the Siam-China border. But you couldn’t have everything.
Mouret very indistinctly heard Captain Pedro Schlager giving orders, barely audible over the toot of the funnels as the Maarten Tromp
came about. Signal flags flapped and heliographs flashed as the ragtag Meridian (‘and miscellaneous’) fleet tried to form up into something approaching a combat formation. This would have been a challenge even if they’d been given a day to prepare: the ships were not drawn from a homogenous origin, but had been consolidated from individual craft and small flotillas that usually were spread all over the Nusantara islands, flying the (ambiguous) flag for the Hermandad and its real masters. They were rusty when it came to fleet formations, and most captains were used to being in total command, not deferring to a fleet commander. Schlager was the senior officer, Mouret thought, but judging by his increasingly shrill tones, this was not being respected by Captain Ángel Ortega on the Igualdad
“Yeah,” McGuinness snorted; Mouret realised he had been speaking out loud. “Talk about irony. The Igualdad
– the ‘Equality’ – and it’s commanded by some Peninsular bastard who hasn’t noticed the Revolution happened yet. I talked to some of his crew while we were taking on water in Koepang, and they said he talks about him being the most senior ‘proper’ Meridian officer.”
Mouret blinked. “You mean…?”
“Yeah,” McGuinness repeated, automatically feeling for a cigarette that wasn’t there, and scowling. “He says
that it’s about his ship being the biggest one that always openly flew the UPSA flag, not one of the subsidiaries’—as though anyone believes that makes a difference—but we all know it’s really that he’s got a damn chip on his shoulder about sausage-eaters,” he jerked his thumb towards Captain Schlager on the bridge, “potato-eaters,” he pointed at himself, “and snail-eaters,” he turned his hand towards Mouret. “Moron.” He grinned evilly for a moment. “Maybe there is
something to what your godfather used to go on about…”
“He’s not my godfather!” Mouret snapped. “Or even my namesake! My mother named me after Pablo Sanchez the great diamondball player, the best batsman the Corrientes Conquistadores ever nad—”
McGuiness snorted. “Like you were even born after Señor Brainard brought diamondball to the Provinces.” He frowned for a moment. “I hope they don’t throw it out just because he was a Yanqui…”
“Yeah, exactly,” Mouret said hastily, eager to get McGuinness off the subject. The Chief was right, of course. His mother had been a silly true believer in Sanchez’s fringe political cult, which, thank God, seemed to be dying down nowadays. He always went by his initials.
Stupid, really. Why did he even care, right now, when they were about to face battle? Maybe it was one of those little ways people took their minds off such horror.
As the Tromp
turned, Mouret finally caught a glimpse of the enemy. His heart sank. There were several modern armourclads, at least one sub-lionheart the equal of the Tromp
, and—in the centre—the mighty form of a true lionheart. Even as he watched, the heavy guns in their turrets flashed with a volley of shots; the range was great enough that there was a noticeable delay before the sound of the guns reached the Tromp
. Captain Schlager, knowing that the American ship had superior range, ordered full speed ahead. It might seem a suicidal tactic, especially considering it would bring them into range of the enemy sub-lionheart as well, but there was no sense in running when they had no way to reply to the foe—and it was harder for solution engines to hit a ship closing with one rather than retreating.
The commanders of other ships in the fleet came to the same conclusion and adopted similar tactics. Some of them. Mouret and McGuinness both cursed as the Igualdad
indecisively turned ninety degrees and then stopped dead, presenting its flank to the Americans as a big fat target. The American commander was evidently nowhere near as stupid as Ortega, and quickly began lobbing his own fire at the Igualdad
. Even with solution engines, hitting a target at this range wasn’t easy, but Ortega’s indecision had left the Igualdad
almost as much a sitting duck as a shore facility would have been for a coastal bombardment. Two 850-pound shells hit near the Igualdad
, blasting great mountains of white spray into the air and drenching the deck with the warm salt water of the Pacific.
The third shell struck the bridge superstructure dead-on, as though it was a stupidity-seeking rocket zeroing in on Ortega. Mouret winced. He would not grieve for the loss of that man, but for the good sailors around him. With a terrifying burst of flame and sound of crashing metal, the Igualdad
almost seemed to fold in two. It was really an armourclad, a big one, but not a true lionheart or sub-lionheart with their steel cores. Hit it hard enough, and it crumpled. As it did now.
Mouret had thought he had seen everything war could bring, but both he and McGuinness almost jumped out of their skins when a huge metal object trailing flame crashed into the ocean next to the Tromp
. It took a moment for them to realise that this was not some new weapon, but one of the Igualdad
’s lifeboats, torn free by the explosion. “I hope they have enough left to evacuate,” Mouret said, aware of his own naïvité as he said it. Few men would have had a change to escape that wreck before it plunged beneath the deceptively pleasant waters of the Pacific.
Ortega’s error had not only lost the Meridians their second largest ship, but the bulk of the Igualdad
turning side-on had disrupted the paths of a dentist and a frigate which would otherwise have been able to rendezvous with the Tromp
; they were torn apart by fire from the American sub-lionheart before they could join the mass of smaller ships trailing behind the Tromp
like the tail of a comet. They surged towards the Americans, aiming directly at the lionheart.
On the face of it, it was madness. But Mouret could see Schlager’s thinking. The Meridian force included many older ships which could fight, but were significantly slower than the newer ships that appeared to make up the Americans’ fleet. There was no way the Meridians could win this battle without a miracle, but if they tried to flee, they would only have their ships picked off one by one as the Americans closed. Yes, the Tromp
and a few others might escape, but at the cost of all the other ships, and with the Americans suffering no losses in between.
Mouret nodded. It was a fey decision. But it was the right decision. He took a deep breath. “Let’s make them remember this day,” he said quietly, “and not as a great bloodless victory.”
McGuinness looked at him. No jokes, no insults. He just nodded in turn, and solemnly shook Mouret’s hand. “I’ll drink to that next time we’re in port.”
Neither discussed what plane of existence that port might service.
They slammed a five-inch shell into their gun and waited for orders as the American lionheart, steam gouting from its funnels, all its guns blazing, grew and grew and grew.
 Yes, this author is laying on the ‘isn’t it ironic that Photel will only be discovered in a few years/technically has already been discovered’ subtext a bit heavily.
 This is not the same author who wrote the previous segment with Hughes and Wehihimana, and likely has interpreted the personalities differently.
 Matthew 23:27, in which Jesus condemned the Pharisees by comparing them to ‘whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean’.
 Confusingly, due to how days and time zones are defined (similarly in TTL to OTL, with an international date line through the Pacific though not yet as agreed as rigorously as OTL’s modern one is), these events take place simultaneously with the previous segment even though the date is different.
 This somewhat chauvinistically means the western
 As noted earlier, though the concept
clearly already existed, the term
‘political officer’ is probably being used anachronistically.
 Yates (and possibly the author as well) is unaware that Orangeburg (which was named in 1730, only just after the POD of this timeline) was named after the House of Orange, not the fruit.
 OTL Macon, Georgia.
 Probably an anachronistic use by the author; it was almost certainly not called that until after the Pandoric War was over.
 A rather blatant case of anachronistic narrative language here, as the very concept of guided missiles/rockets didn’t exist yet.