Very interesting. I didn't know that about Qing China. It makes sense considering the upheaval throughout that period.
Yes, but at the same time Qing's population was actually decreasing throughout the latter half of the 19th century after hitting a peak in the 1840s, and only from the 1890s did population started going up. In addition, the 1909-1911 stats I mention actually understates the population, since there was a more than 10% difference between that estimate and the 1912 official census data. In other words, the number I calculated is a reasonable estimate.

1909-1911 Estimates and 1912 Census, based on "China Economic Yearbook" (1934).
 

Thande

Donor
As some of you predicted, it took slightly longer for me to get back into writing this than I would have liked after I returned from my holiday, but here we go:

(edit - it is also now technically my birthday, so apparently carrying on the Hobbit tradition...)

Part 236: Edges

The country’s official name is: KINGDOM OF CAROLINA.
The people are known as: CAROLINIANS.
Capital and largest city: Ultima (250,000)
Flag: A golden palmetto tree on a red field with a white stripe at the hoist bearing a red star. Formerly the field of the flag was navy blue, but this was changed to synchronise with Meridian/Hermandad colour schemes (ostensibly to avoid friendly fire).
Land area: 48,500 lcf.
Population: 8.2 million (including residents from other Hermandad nations).
Economic ranking: Difficult to classify due to the level of integration into the Hermandad economic system and the fact that it serves as a primary raw materials producer for that system. The Wragg family, with its vast agricultural interests, retains some level of independent economic power.
Form of government: The Kingdom of Carolina’s system of government is descended from that which it had as a Confederation within the ENA, with an elected General Assembly and a directly elected Governor (which in practice has become the hereditary possession of the Wragg family). The role of the Crown in the government was maintained with the creation of a separate Kingdom under the House of Owens-Allen. In theory the roles of the King, Governor and Speaker of the General Assembly would tend to conflict or be redundant under the titular constitution, but in practice the Meridian military forces in Carolina tend to call most of the shots anyway. Carolina has universal manhood suffrage for male whites and native Indians only, which means little in practice given the weakness of the government. Though other political parties are not formally banned, in practice all MGAs identify as Whigs and factions within this theoretically one-party state function in the same way as parties would elsewhere.
Foreign relations: Since the Great American War, and in particular since the Palmetto League rebellion was crushed, Carolina has been firmly under the bootheel of the United Provinces of South America, firmly integrated into the Hermandad economic system and manipulated so that much of its industry has been degraded or moved elsewhere and its economy focused on primary raw material production. Ordinary Carolinians have varying (but generally negative) views of the ENA, but the country’s foreign policy towards the ENA is determined in Córdoba, not Ultima.
Military: The Royal Carolinian Army is fairly well equipped (with Meridian-made weapons, often slightly obsolete ones) and trained. The Royal Carolinian Navy, as with navies of many other Hermandad states, is subordinated and integrated with the Meridian Armada to a point where it becomes difficult to separate them and which flag is flown may be for political reasons.
Current head of state: King William V Daniel (House of Owens-Allen) (since 1878)
Current head of government: Formally Governor Darius Wragg, but the role is de facto divided with Speaker Thomas McCain.

– 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 III: IN THE BALANCE (1984):

Warinji, Royal Africa Company [OTL: Bauchi, Nigeria][1]
May 8th 1897


Though optimistic European calendars claimed it was not yet full summer, the lands north of the Tchadda River [Benue River] were already sweltering. It was not quite yet a dry heat, as one might encounter in the lands under the chequered Company flag that lay even farther to the north, towards exotic names like Timbuctoo. Though these scrublands were not so verdant as the rich jungles of the south, they still supported crops of millet and groundnuts, recently joined by coffee beans. Warinji sat on the edge of the Jos Plateau, in the watershed of the Gongola River, a location which justified its position as a new railway hub and Lectel nexus.

Oh, the town might not look like much. For the most part. There were the neoclassical pillars of the Governor’s palace, adjoining finely built church and mosque facing each other across the town square like two rival businessman politely doffing their hats when passing in the street. The fourth side of the square was made up of the vast railway station-cum-stock exchange building in which the secular faith of Commerce was practiced, perhaps a bigger rival to the church and mosque than they were to one another. If one stood in the middle of the square, beneath the statue of Philip Hamilton shaking hands with Abu Nahda, the crowds and the grand buildings might allow one to imagine that one stood amid a great metropolis.

But that was a falsehood, of course. Most of Warinji was shanties, poor men’s houses, entire districts suffering disease, burning down and being replaced on an almost regular basis. Just as with the gold and diamond mining towns at the other end of Africa down in the Cape, Warinji was an unstable equilibrium, ambition built on hope. In a sense it was even more desperate than those; at least gold and diamonds were glamorous. Warinji was built on the equally hazardous, but no less vital, industry of tin mining.

As the man wended his way cautiously through the rough streets, careful not to openly look at his sketch map, he saw evidence of the industry all around him. Tin could not make a man’s fortune like a gold or diamond find could, but it could pay for his meals. Men came from miles around to work here, a handful of white men, but mostly black Guineans[2] or occasionally the poorer Freedes. Their wealthier fellow-citizens formed much of the ruling class of the town, the sort of back-of-beyond place that the Company had always struggled to persuade more than a few white adventurers to go to. The romantic coastlands were one thing, this was another.

The man did not stand out amid the crowd, though his clothes were perhaps less authentically coated in dust, lacking rips and patches where stray pickaxe blades or rough stone surfaces had demanded their toll. His skin was a rich brown, though his ancestry was not ‘pure’ (if any man’s could be said to be); a century ago, he would have been called an octroon. A century ago, that status would also likely have doomed him to life as a slave.

But then the Meridians had risen up and founded the UPSA, and it had been founded in the name of freedom and liberty. To be sure, it had taken time and hard work and progress and scandal before those protestations were expanded to include all her citizens regardless of their colour. But today, this man could walk freely across the wide swathe of the world that held to the allegiance of the Hermandad. He possessed sufficient property to cast a vote for the President-General and the Cortes Nacionales. The Silver Torch of Liberty burned bright in his heart.

The name on the man’s passport was Rodrigo López. His real name, on the other hand, was “Rodridgo López”. There was little point in pseudonyms with such a common combination of names, particularly when Anglophone authorities rarely bothered with recording the mother’s surname too in the Spanish practice.

Now, in this quieter alleyway, he finally risked a glance at his map and notes. Yes; street signs in Warinji were not exactly comprehensive or reliable, but this was definitely Number 11, Bishop Road. Named after the ecclesiastical title, Rodrigo wondered, or the British general who had been defeated at Abu Nahda’s hands decades before? Perhaps an appropriate name for a street that would sooner or later go up in flames. These houses were not the traditional thatched-roof huts of this part of the world, but more ‘modern’, European-influenced, cuboids with corrugated iron roofs. They were ugly things, with little of the craftsmanship or sense of ownership of those huts; built to last just long enough, like the Jacobin Utilitarian architecture still practised in parts of Portugal. Rodrigo had seen a bit of that firsthand, despite his skin colour meaning he faced even bigger risks in visiting the República de morte than a white man would. But that was his job.

As he had been instructed, Rodrigo rapped smartly on the door. Twice. Pause. Three times. Pause. Twice.

He waited for a moment, resisting the urge to glance anxiously up and down the mercifully deserted alleyway. Either his contact would answer or he would not. There was no sense in panicking. Still, no matter how many times he had done this sort of thing, his heart still thudded in his chest.

The door opened and a hand beckoned him in. Rodrigo stepped forward into gloom, closing the door behind him. Though it was bright sunlight outside, his contact had covered the room’s windows with thick drapes: as much to block sound as light, perhaps. He made up for the lack of sunlight with the dim glow of an oil lamp. Perhaps he had a vested interest in not showing his face too clearly…

The contact. He was slightly taller than Rodrigo, his skin a couple of shades darker, his facial features speaking of descent from different peoples; only the most ignorant of Europeans or Asians would be unable to see that. He wore workman’s clothes, and incongruously sported the impressive side-whiskers that were in fashion in Germany and Scandinavia at present. Rodrigo had never seen a black man grow his beard in such a manner, and there were certainly plenty of bearded men in this area thanks to the Islamic influence from the north.

“Señor López,” the contact said. “I trust you had a safe journey here—and were not followed.” The contact, or so López understood, spoke Nupe, Arabic and English; López himself spoke Spanish, Portuguese and English.

They therefore conversed in the only language they had in common, regardless of the irony. “I did, good sir,” Rodrigo replied. “Have you a name by which I can call you in return?”

The contact chuckled. “Call me Etan. It means History in my tongue. The History I seek to restore.”

“Very well,” Rodrigo said neutrally. “I am here to tell you that my superiors are interested in your…project and wish to lend some…support.”

Etan laughed again. “Spare me your euphemisms, Meridian.” Rodrigo winced at him speaking so openly in a shack with glassless windows, even if he had covered them. “You’ve heard I’m an incurable romantic and you want to give me some guns so my friends and I can get our brains blown out in a futile attempt to overthrow the white man. Fair?”

“Ah…” This was not how Rodrigo had expected the interview to go. He half expected it to turn out to be a trap, but the erudite Etan just kept sitting there impatiently. “If we thought you could not make a difference, why would we support you?”

Etan snorted. “I doubt you care, so long as what we do marginally inconveniences the Company. I would be naïve if I thought that the fate of the Nupeci people would cause President Monterroso to lose an hour’s sleep.”

“Breathtaking cynicism aside, do you want these guns or not?” Rodrigo asked testily.

“Of course I do,” Etan said. “You should be warned that we may not employ them in the way you hoped. As I implied, I’m not too keen on glorious futile charges. The British are expecting those—they’ve certainly done enough of them themselves over the years.”

Etan gestured at the walls of the shack in an expansive manner. “Do you want to know why we are doing this? Because after five decades and more, Bida remains under the Fulani bootheel. We have tried to free ourselves more than once, but we are crushed, and the British and their vassals do nothing to aid us. Sometimes we suspect they even aid the Fulani. Why? Because the status quo benefits trade, and that is all that matters.” He snorted contemptuously. “Better to preserve that status quo than risk something better.”

Rodrigo considered arguing with this. The RAC’s single-minded focus on trade had one very important advantage, the same advantage that the Hermandad had brought to the UPSA: an opposition to Linnaean Racism, not because it was the ideology of men who had invaded and pillaged in the days of great-grandfathers, not because it was the ideology of Burdenists in Carolina, certainly not because it was inherently repugnant, but because it was bad for business. As he had noted earlier, it was a lot easier for the RAC to train up a black jagun officer or administrator and send him to a place like Warinji than it was for them to persuade a white man to go there. Cape Coast Castle, once the headquarters of the slave trade, had these days become a technical school and university for native peoples for that very purpose. All of this necessarily required the races to be treated as equal, or at least something that looks like equal from a distance. Provided he did not stray into districts and clubs reserved for whites only, Rodrigo could walk unmolested through any town in Guinea because of that attitude.

In the end, though, he was not here to debate. He was here to supply arms. “You wish to eject the Fulani, then?”

“Of course,” Etan said impatiently. “Damn Muslim northerners, destroying our culture…”

“I thought Nupe was already Muslim before the Fulani invaded,” Rodrigo said, betraying his oath of a few moments ago not to ask awkward questions.

“Some of us were,” Etan admitted, “but that’s different to a forcible conversion. Our art, our way of life…” he brushed aside his side-whiskers, revealing that they concealed a pair of ritual scars on his cheeks. “First the British let us be dominated by the Oyo, when they helped free the Dahomeans, and now this.” He jabbed his finger at the floor. “They throw out the Fulani from here, from the Gongola riverlands, for they have discovered a prize here they desire, the prize that is tin, making tinned food for those Standard Crates you Meridians invented, or pittsylvising iron.[3] But for us they care nothing. They let the Fulani rule in Bida. For decades, while the Etsu Nupe cowers in Rabba and tries to pass his title on to his son, in defiance of all law and custom, with no election by the Gitsuzi and Sarakizi. It shall not stand. It cannot. Nupe shall rise again.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Rodrigo said. “In that case, you will find the weapons in the railway carriage at this location.” He handed over a folded piece of paper.

Etan took the paper, but his dark, intense eyes were still fixed on Rodrigo. “I wish you fortune with your own struggle to come,” he said quietly.

Rodrigo blinked. “You mean the war?”

Etan laughed. “No. I read the newspapers. I know that your President Monterroso was elected on Neo-Jacobin votes…”

“In part,” Rodrigo said, “but also many Mentians and Adamantines…”

“The war does not go well on all fronts, does it?” Etan said, ignoring this. “Sooner or later, he will have to find some group to, how do you say, throw beneath the multi. And is there not one particular group which the Neo-Jacobins despise?”

Rodrigo’s own eyes grew cold. Despite the shimmering glow of the oil lamp, he forced himself to focus on Etan’s hard eyes, to meet his gaze. “The Neo-Jacobin Colorados are scum who think their supposed descent means they can lord it over the rest of us, just like the peninsulares our forefathers overthrew,” he bit out. “But they are few in number and the President-General doesn’t care what they think.”

“You are entirely confident in President Monterroso’s judgement, then.”

“Yes!”

Etan broke eye contact and studied a ring on his hand. “I believe you are a well-off man, López. You should have the vote, I think.”

He raised his head again. “So, this man in whom you have such confidence…did you vote for him?

Rodrigo was a spy, a special agent of the Meridian government. Part of his job required him to improvise on the spur of the moment, to create elaborate cover stories, to dissuade suspicion with a smooth and slick answer.

So why, for the first time in years, could he think of nothing to say?

*

Singapur, Johor Sultanate (de jure), Singapur International Zone (de facto)
May 18th 1897


Marie Delaporte winced as she felt the left leg of her tights catch on a crumbling outcrop of brick. Another ladder to explain away to the nuns. At least her father did not seem to care; he just nodded blankly when Sister Thérèse reeled off a long list of Marie’s latest crimes when he was back in Port to visit, clearly not taking any of it in. That didn’t help when Sister Thérèse got her ruler out, though. The latest bruise was still fading, but it had done no more than the others to crush Marie’s spirit.

She swarmed down the remainder of the wall, and as always turned and spat on the brickwork. It had become a little ritual to her, going back to the first time she had escaped the École Saint-Paul at the age of eight. One day she wouldn’t come back. She would go and find her father at sea and…she was unclear on what, after that. But there had to be more to life than stifling schoolrooms and dull Latin.

Almost perversely, she thought, the school grounds were surrounded on two sides by the exciting sprawl of Kampong Glam, with its mysterious Malay natives and their practices which the Sisters warned of in hushed tones, when they mentioned them at all. She wondered why they had chosen to build the school there in that case. (With a child’s sense of time, it did not occur to her that the neighbourhood had grown up around a school which had once been isolated, nor that Kampong Glam had once been a more aristocratic area before the Malay aristocracy moved eastwards). When she had first come here, she had moved cautiously, still half believing what the nuns said. Now, she received tolerant waves from the market traders, who interrupted their spiels to say hello to her. She did not fear attack, for it seemed that the locals had taken her to heart: their French girl, their curiosity. To the point that it even overcame the cutthroat market sensibilities of some of the street cooks: she accepted a bowl of nasi goreng from a smiling Tuah, a cook she knew well. She even closed her eyes for a moment to inhale the steam from the bowl, returning his smile as she began to eat. As always, she thought of the nuns’ reaction if they knew what she did out here. They had dark suspicions, she was sure. Perhaps darker than what she actually did.

The roofs of Kampong Glam were a curious mixture of traditional architecture and modern features such as corrugated iron. Again, Marie lacked the perspective to realise this: to her, it was just the way things were. She had never left Singapur or seen other lands, though she had often dreamed of them. Now, as she clambered up the side of a barber’s shop with the same skill she had applied to the wall of the École Saint-Paul, she did the closest she could. For now.

The bowl of nasi goreng was long finished and returned to Tuah before she climbed, but she had also accepted a gift of a purple manggis fruit. Now, as she sat on the barber’s roof, she bit into it thoughtfully. She liked the taste of manggis, but loved durian better: but she couldn’t risk that, the violent scent of that fruit hung around too persistently and might alert the Sisters.

The long narrow leather case slung around her neck had threatened to hang her more than once on obstructions on the walls she had climbed, but she would not leave it behind for the world. It was her recorder-flute case, really, but the instrument had stayed back at Saint-Paul’s; instead, she used it to carry her most precious possession in the world, the telescope that her father had given her. It took ingenuity and nerve to hide it back at Saint-Paul’s—not that it was the sort of thing that was against even Sister Thérèse’s rules, but it would long since have been confiscated to punish her for her escapades.

Marie tenderly withdrew the telescope, swung and locked its lenses into position, and wiped them carefully with a kerchief. Then, in one smooth movement, she brought the spyglass up and trained it on the Port.

To those born in Singapur, there was no ambiguity to the phrase ‘the Port’, the great natural harbour at the mouth of the Singapura River. Marie knew—from Father, not the dry lessons that tried to pretend the girls were in Rheims or Lyons—that Singapur’s great harbour had made it a site for traders and military force for hundreds of years, long before the French and other Europeans had arrived. Now, with the Siamese growing ever stronger to the north, Johor relied on those Europeans—behind the old, now theoretical authority of the ICPA—to protect her from the ambitions of Emperor Sanphet XII and Front Palace [prime minister] Phon Singhanat. Men like Marie’s own father, sailing his great warship in these tense seas, threading a line of French neutrality between the battling Meridians and Americans, the Siamese and Chinese.

When she had first come here, Marie had always watched for her father’s ship returning, that precious knowledge that he would bring her away from the nuns for a few days and she could return to what she thought of as ‘real life’: moving through the rich variety of Singapur with its countless nations of white, yellow and brown, its many babbling tongues, the crossroads of the world. Too soon, of course, she would be back to those screeching blackboards and the nuns acting as though Angers or Bordeaux was unseasonably warm this year.

Now, she had moved on enough to realise that her father would not always be coming back, no matter how conscientiously she came up here. Instead, she looked at the other ships in the Port, dreaming of the day when she could join them. Most were merchantmen, of course, flying all sorts of flags from the plausible (British purple asterisks, Belgian black diamonds) to the debatable (Batavian Republic tricolours on certainly-not-Meridian ships) to the absurd banners of convenience (Greek blue crosses, Corsican Moor’s heads). All of them, even in time of war—especially in time of war—carried all the goods of the world and brought them here to trade, safely under the guns of the ICPA.

Those ICPA flags flapped limply like historical anachronisms now, themselves incongruously based on the old Maltese flag (though Marie did not realise this). It was the national flags that flew most proudly now atop the alleged ICPA warships. French banners bearing a single golden fleur-de-lys on a blue circle atop a white field bordered with red, the flag her younger self had looked for so keenly; more Belgian black diamonds; Italian pentacolours, obscurely far from the Mediterranean. The flags of Monsieur Leclerc’s neutrality pact, uncomfortably sat between contributions from the Hanoverian Dominions and the small German fleet on one side, and the Russians and Hermandad powers on the other. The Americans had been attempting to get the ICPA Board to rule that the Meridians were too close to the Siamese—the same point that had ultimately begun this war—and have their warships ejected from the ICPA and Singapur. The Meridians and Russians were, of course, fighting back with their own bribes and lawyers. The ICPA Board, an irrelevant sinecure for so long, would suddenly determine if several valuable warships were abruptly turfed out into a hostile ocean full of sharks of the iron variety as well as the fleshly one.

Marie resolved to keep an eye on those ships. There might be an actual fight at some point! Though hopefully while her Father was still at sea, she thought conscientiously.

Shifting away from the uncomfortable thought, she moved her spyglass back to the merchantmen and watched the cranes unloading a Standard Crate labelled with the legend ‘AGRICULTURAL EQUIPMENT’. A strange thing to bring to Singapur, she thought idly…

*

Atahachi, Cherokee Empire, Kingdom of Carolina [OTL Trussville, Alabama][4]
May 20th 1897


Andrew Harding snapped the sweatband of his Cauca hat[5] and grimaced as the motion left another shower of faintly pink sweat-drops spattered across his forehead. He looked as though he was one of Ernst Johann Krüger’s Xassons, an infiltrator exposed by futuristic soldiers armed with hand-held pneumatic cinguns, betrayed by his ultratellurian blood.[6]

The reality was more prosaic, if no less ridiculous. The cheap hat had been messily dyed with vivid tyrine dye, as had the rest of Harding’s clothes. He looked as though he had fallen in a dye vat, and in bright light his ensemble hurt the eyes. Outlined against the violent violet was an equally eye-hurting series of large capital letters ‘P’: not only the traditional card in the brim of his hat, but stitched all over his jacket and britches as well. The overall effect was of a particularly unoriginal melodramatic sequent villain.

At least he had the comfort that he was not alone. Glancing behind him, he saw Steen Qvist and Jonathan Bell attempting to secure their small steerable to an abandoned Carolinian mooring post. That was a hell of a lot more convenient than many of the makeshift moorings they’d made since the start of this crazy war, using trees or Lectel poles or worse. However, it could also make them a potential target. Hence the tyrine dye, which coated not only the three journalists’ clothes but their steerable as well. Beneath the giant yellow P on the aft fins, the monogramme ‘NYR’ was there. Every major newspaper had its own abbreviation. Harding and his comrades worked for the New York Register, one of the three biggest papers in the Empire of North America.

Though Harding hated this side of the business, he went to assist Qvist and Bell. The three men struggled with the force of securing the steerable, which could be snatched away by what seemed like tiny gusts of wind. “Det er træls!” muttered Qvist through gritted teeth. Harding breathed a sigh of relief when the clamps were locked and held. Steerables weren’t exactly a hundred percent reliable even on a trip from New York to Washington, entirely under the Emperor’s sway—never mind when one was many miles south of what had been the border mere months ago, deep into enemy territory.

“But it won’t be enemy territory for much longer,” Harding muttered, glancing south and west. According to their maps, Atahachi was in the process of absorption by the vast steelmaking metropolis of Talugisi [Birmingham, AL]. Like some titanic slow-motion animalcule, the city was engaging in the insidious process of expansion like all its kind. He thought of the arguments back home in Pennsylvania about the expansion of Philadelphia threatening traditionally independent towns like the unique Welsh communities of Bala and Cynwyd. It was the same everywhere. Or it had been, before the war interrupted them.

Now, Talugisi was a smudge on the horizon. By night, the journalists had already seen, that dark smudge became a smoky reddish fire. According to sullen locals pressed for vox pops, that had always been the case, as Rydberg Converters and blast furnaces lit up the sky with their never-ending activity. Now, those flames were joined by exploding artillery shells and burning houses as the Army of Ohio pressed its advantage south. General Allerton, whom Harding had interviewed only a week ago, was determined not to be stalled as his predecessor’s advances had. Judging by the reports in the enemy press, his counterpart General Álvarez was just as determined to stop him. Now the two sides hammered each other in the strategically vital city of Talugisi, home of almost all the Hermandad steel produced north of the Gulf of Mexico.

“Miles away, but still feels too close,” Qvist commented in his distinctive Jutish accent; it mattered not that, like thousands of other Jutish-Americans, he had been born in the cornfields of Verdigris Province, Westernesse.[7]

“Quiet, though,” Bell said, listening to the distant booms of artillery. “Sounds almost like buckshot echoing off a tin bath.”

“I won’t ask how you know what that sounds like,” Harding said dryly. Bell’s own accent was all-American but with the rustic air of Vandalia, unlike Harding’s own refined upper-class tones. None of them cared about such class divisions, any more than they did the dangers of flying a bright purple steerable into a war zone, when there was a story to be had.

“The church,” Qvist pointed. “The Congregational Baptist church,” he clarified; there were quite a few to choose from. “That’s it there, is it not?”

Harding glanced at the distant form of the church, rather more undamaged than the surrounding battered buildings of Atahachi. The people seemed to have fled as the Imperial forces advanced, though Harding kept a hand on the holstered Hewitt revolver beneath his jacket. Still, up till now the message he had sent seemed to check out. Fortune favoured the bold, and all that. “Let’s go.”

The three NYR men cautiously crept through the deserted streets, avoiding smashed steam mobiles and carriages now deprived of their horses. There was only the occasional bullet or body to suggest any of the chaos that had led to this situation. “It’s like a ghost town in the Wild Northwest,” Bell commented. “What was that place east of Rookwood that gennelman from Milwark wrote the play about?”

“Not now, Joe,” Harding said, sending paranoid glances towards the roof of a nearby saloon. He had never served in the army, but he had interviewed a lot of soldiers over the years, and he thought he could recognise a good site for a sniper.

But the trio passed unmolested, and there was the church. Broken windows, but otherwise intact. Shrugging at his two comrades, instinctively taking the lead, Harding knocked. He winced at the loud echoing boom his tentative blow produced on the oaken door. Though intellectually he knew it was absurd, he was unable to shake the mental image of dozens of Meridian and Carolinian (and, indeed, American) artillerymen hearing the sound and training their weapons upon it.

Fortunately, it appeared the only one who heard the knock in reality was the one it was intended for. “ENTER,” called a deep voice from within.

Harding and the others obeyed. Though the church was plain in décor in accordance with Congregationalist Baptist sensibilities, he nonetheless felt an ominous, momentous sense of ceremony as he slowly padded up the carpet to the pulpit. Sat before it was a man, surrounded by candles (intended purely for auxiliary lighting if the gas lamps failed, doggone it, none of that dashed popery, er, not that there’s anything wrong with that, Señor Sargento). The faint, flickering light served to outline the craggy forms of his face as he opened his eyes.

The man’s nationality was described by his suit, incorporating European influences but decidedly unique with its diagonal cape and neck-piece, as well as the large feather incorporated into his hat and subtle red line of makeup above one eyebrow. Though Harding’s eye tried to search for distinctiveness in the lines of his nose or ears, he admitted that at least by candlelight, there was little to suggest an origin different to those of the three Americans. Put this man in a European suit and have him stroll down the streets of Pittsburgh, and he would not stand out from any of the locals. Harding knew that blood in these parts had seen considerable admixture, and like the Superior confederates in the Northwest these Indians would also accept wholly white men into their culture if they wished to adopt it, but it was still surprising to him.

Now the man opened his mouth once again. “You are Harding.” His voice carried a Carolinian drawl combined with a different, unplaceable accent.

“I am,” Harding confirmed. “These are my colleagues, Mr Qvist and Mr Bell. Do I understand I am speaking to…” he hesitated, “Councillor Kanaga Mastabe?”

The man’s formerly impassive face quirked a brief, bitter smile. “Spare me your northern pronunciations. Call me by my Skatsi name if you must: Iain McLeod.”

“Ah,” Harding said, momentarily nonplussed. Though he had also known of the intermarrying between Cherokee and Ulster Scots that had been going on for over a century, that still seemed an incongruously prosaic name. “Very well, Councillor McLeod. I am glad to see you survived the, ah, evacuation of this town.”

“Call it what it is: blind panic,” McLeod said harshly. “Your President Jamison has managed to promise to the Negroes that they will be re-enslaved and to the white men that they will be reconquered and their culture destroyed.” He gestured at a broken window; at least the Congregationalist Baptists’ plain sensibilities meant that a stained-glass artwork had not been lost in the process. “But my race needs hear no confused propaganda. We know what America is. We know what the Empire is. We know what happened to our Tortolian brothers among the Haudenosaunee and the Wyandot.”

It took Harding a moment to realise that McLeod was using different names for the Howden and the Hurons. “You know we do not represent the American government here,” he said stiffly. “We are neutral. We only seek to bring stories to the world.”

McLeod’s sardonic smile came back. “Ah yes, your vaunted press neutrality,” he said. “Just how do you still get away with that? I know that many of the smaller papers have been rounded up by state power—here, there and everywhere, from one end of these continents to the other.”

“Smaller ones have,” Harding admitted, “but we of the biggest and best-respected papers have a certain immunity. Governments—ours and others—know that if they shut us down and replaced us with a propaganda rag overnight, everyone would spot the difference. Furthermore, they need sources of reliable news. So long as we do not, ah, make too many mistakes…”

“You are referring to the incident two months ago where two men of the Fredericksburg Mercury openly reported on the plans for another Imperial attack on Clanoowah before it happened,” McLeod said dryly. “I suppose the fact that they escaped with a slap on the wrist demonstrates the immunity you suggest.” He shrugged. “We have come a long way from the Peninsular War, for better or for worse.”

Harding nodded. The Peninsular War in Italy had been the beginning of journalists attempting to seriously report on war from the front line, and had been the first place that tyrine had been used to make them stand out from combatants. It did not have the political connotations elsewhere that it had earned in the British Isles; even in fellow English-speaking America, the small Democratic Party that had emulated the Populist colours was nothing but a footnote to history. “Mind you, when the powers agreed press protection as part of the Treaty of Münich, I think they thought we’d just be there reporting on colonial ventures to stop another scandal like Guntoor. I don’t think anyone foresaw another fight between great powers…”

“Foresight is a rare skill, but it does not take a skilled seer to glimpse blood in the future.” McLeod heaved himself forward on his seat. “Very well: let us begin.”

A notepad and pencil appeared in Harding’s hand as if by magic. A second set appeared in Qvist’s hands; the Jute was the best of them at shorthand and would attempt to transcribe the whole interview, while Harding just wrote down the most crucial points in plaintext. Meanwhile Bell remained on guard, cautiously watching the door. Harding coughed. “Councillor McLeod, do I understand that you are one of the twelve Councillors of the Cherokee Empire—”

“Most Loyal Chief to His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor and First Beloved Gentleman Moytoy VIII,” McLeod said, rattling it off in a singsong voice. “Yes. Not that it will protect me from disavowal by him nor the other eleven if this proceeds against our advantage, you understand.”

“I understand,” Harding echoed. “And as a Cherokee, you—”

“I will stop you there,” McLeod said, raising a hand. Anger flared in his eyes, but it was a banked fire, controlled. “I am not a Cherokee, but a Choctaw. You Imperials may lump us all into one, but we remember…”

“My apologies,” Harding said hastily, wondering how on earth he was supposed to have known that. “Very well, as a Choctaw – but a Councillor of the Cherokee Empire – how would you say the war has gone so far?”

“Badly,” McLeod said abruptly.

“For the Cherokee—that is, all the Indian races in Emperor Moytoy’s state?”

“Badly for everyone,” McLeod said. “The Meridians and Carolinians are losing—you know it, I know it, and King Willy D knows it.” He held up a finger. “But that’s not to say you nahollos[8] are winning, either. Your Admiral Hughes’ plans went wrong in the ocean, your troops are grinding south into Carolina with the speed of a tortoise, and now Britain is under martial law…”

“What?!” Harding barked in surprise. “What was that last part?”

McLeod grinned sourly. “Looks like there’s some things that aren’t making it through the undersea Lectel cables, eh? Probably best not to worry about that, your government thinks. Bad for morale.”

Harding shook his head. Surely McLeod was just repeating Carolinian propaganda. On the other hand, he hadn’t exactly seemed the sort to believe such credulous claims so far…he brushed the thought away, for now. “So you are saying that there are no winners?”

“There never are in war,” McLeod said tiredly. “Only the young man thinks otherwise. The old man is wise enough to prefer stickball matches—the little brother of war, as the ancients called it.”

Stickball: it was big across Carolina and Mexico, Harding knew, thought it had lost out to diamondball in much of the UPSA. And, yes, it was the Indians who had originally invented it, come to think of it. “So what is your message to the people of this nation? And of the ENA, for that matter?”

“Lay down your arms,” McLeod said. “To both sides. This war is absurd. It was started by men on the other side of the world, and then it was just an excuse for every power to beat up on its neighbour. All will lose out as a result, but none more than small nations like my own, or like Poland or Cuba.” He gestured vaguely in the direction from which the faint sound of artillery fire was still audible, even through the church’s thick walls. “Let Talugisi go back to making steel for sanitary pipes and factory machines, not protguns and rifles. Let us go back to the time of the Thaw. If our fathers could live in peace, why cannot we?”

Harding and Qvist were writing furiously. Harding did not alllow his thoughts to show on his face. Naïve rubbish, he thought, but it’ll make a damn’ good story. Maybe with a touch of editing. “Thank you, sir,” he concluded after a few further questions. “And now we’ll have to hightail it back to Twickenham[9] and wire your words to New York City before La Lupa de Córdoba beats us to it, ha ha?”

McLeod was unmoved by the weak joke. “I do not think you need fear the poisoned pens of La Lupa,” he said. “You may have seen their own purple steerable a few weeks ago.” Harding nodded; that was why he had made the comment. “You will not see it anymore. It has been, ahem, ‘temporarily grounded’. Just as La Lupa’s offices in Córdoba suffered a most inconvenient fire last week. It is, of course, fortuitous that a new newspaper more favourable towards President-General Monterroso and the Colorados, La Balanza de Córdoba, has just opened new premises…”












[1] The OTL town of Bauchi (formerly Yakoba) was founded as a result of the Fulani Jihad, which was delayed a generation in TTL; in TTL it was founded later and instead named after a nearby mountain.

[2] “Guinean” is used here to mean any of the native peoples of West Africa.

[3] Pittsylvisation is the TTL term for galvanisation; in TTL it was invented in a steel suburb of Pittsburgh in the province of Pittsylvania in the ENA. It was also invented 25 years after it was in OTL (1862 rather than 1837) due to the delays in electrical research in TTL.

[4] Atahachi is named after the home village of the great sixteenth century chieftain Tuscaloosa (after whom a city is named in this region in both OTL and TTL). It is not in the same location as the historical village.

[5] Similar to a Panama hat in OTL (the basic design of the hats, though not the term, predates the POD). The TTL terminology is slightly more accurate about where the hats actually come from (more like OTL Ecuador).

[6] This is referring to a popular pulp novel series which began a couple of years before this scene is set (the connotations of the term ‘pulp’ exist in TTL as well due to the common practice of using cheap pulpy paper). ‘Ultratellurian’ is another way of constructing the word ‘extraterrestrial’ from Latin roots and is the usual term for alien in TTL (especially as the root ‘alien-’ is more associated with psychology, or ‘alienism’, in TTL).

[7] Covers some of the same territory as Kansas in OTL.

[8] A Choctaw word meaning something like ‘dangerous ghost’, used in OTL as a term for the white man (in TTL having mutated to a derogatory term).

[9] OTL Huntsville, although the name ‘Huntsville’ is still used for other institutions and a suburb of the town.
 
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Ditto, good stuff! Out of curiosity, what would Carolina's population be? Don't think that was included in the update.
 

Thande

Donor
Good update, Thande! :)

I believe you meant "República da morte".
Thanks, corrected.
Ditto, good stuff! Out of curiosity, what would Carolina's population be? Don't think that was included in the update.
It seems to have been accidentally deleted, I will add it back in when I get access to the spreadsheet I calculate these things on again.
You just reminded me of the fact that John McCain's grandfather was from Mississippi. No relations here likely, but just an interesting tidbit.
Not necessarily the exact same family, but it illustrates the tendency to find Scottish or Ulster Scots names in the Deep South.
 
Thanks, corrected.

It seems to have been accidentally deleted, I will add it back in when I get access to the spreadsheet I calculate these things on again.

Not necessarily the exact same family, but it illustrates the tendency to find Scottish or Ulster Scots names in the Deep South.
Has your French Gender Blindness suddenly extended to Spanish?
 
Amazing. Thande, just out of curiosity, but will we have another hiatus on our hands after this update? I really don't want to sound rude, I just need my LTTW fix! ;)
 
Very nice. So Carolina appears to be falling, though phyrically perhaps, and the UPSA and Britain become more authoritarian, more desperate by the day.
 
I wonder if all of the characters and stories that Thande has presented us with will be resolved in some way or another. I really enjoyed the story of the soldier and his Chinese girlfriend, and I think it would be great if we got more on them:) Are there any characters or stories that you all would like to see more of?
 
I wonder if all of the characters and stories that Thande has presented us with will be resolved in some way or another. I really enjoyed the story of the soldier and his Chinese girlfriend, and I think it would be great if we got more on them:) Are there any characters or stories that you all would like to see more of?
I wouldn't mind seeing more of the Belgian Black Widow-expy, or of the "Ridiculously Over The Top Welsh Revival" naval guy.
 
The last map is this one, from before the Pandoric War.
When did the A.R of Cuba and Jamaica take the Imperial parts of Cuba?
Also whats happening in the Delhi-Agra area....no government there at all?
Also...when we gonna see more ENA on the map that needs to sort the border mess in the Americas.

Also when did the New Spain empire really collapse and Prussia, etc....i seem to have missed some plot somewhere o,.o
 
It's back and it's as glorious as ever! Prose narrative was a great decision and it's all so evocative of place and time.

I think we're going to see a neo-Jacobin revolution in the UPSA after the war that will allow the Societists to present an anti racist alternative.
 
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