Redcoat

Banned
Sorry for the needless bump, but does anyone have a map of Europe pre-French Revolution? I'm thinking of making a mapping video of the whole series of wars.
 
I just caught up with this thread last weekend, and I want to say - congratulations, Thande! You've written a very detailed timeline that continues to sound plausible despite amazing puns and references (Pirates v. Ninjas, the Space-Filling Empire (whatever happened to that?), etc.), and now you've switched to narrative at the perfect time to flesh out the world on the cusp of changing. I'm waiting with baited breath to hear more, especially more about poor Carolina and about Societism.
 
and now you've switched to narrative at the perfect time to flesh out the world on the cusp of changing. I'm waiting with baited breath to hear more, especially more about poor Carolina and about Societism.
In other words, we want more. :D
 

Thande

Donor
Part #242: Measures

The country’s official name is: IRANIAN EMPIRE, known internationally as PERSIAN EMPIRE or PERSIA.
The people are known as: PERSIANS, or very occasionally IRANIANS.
Capital and largest city: Shiraz (1.5 million).
Flag: A triangular white flag with a green border, bearing the traditional Shir-o-Khorshid (Lion and Sun) in golden.
Population: 16 million.
Land area: 125,000 lcf.
Economic ranking: Ranked highly in its own region but without much penetration elsewhere.
Form of government: Constitutional monarchy headed by the ‘Shahanshah and Vakilol Ro’aya’ (King of Kings and Advocate of the People), commonly abbreviated to ‘Shah-Advocate’ in English translation. The Majlis, the legislature, has considerable power and in recent years support in the Majlis has become a requirement for any Grand Vizier the Shah-Advocate might seek to appoint; a nascent party system is forming from the more informal factions seen in the past. (Note that the title Grand Vizier is a Western choice of words influenced by the Ottomans’ use of the term; strictly the title in Persian is Sadr-e-A’zam, more accurately translated as Chancellor).
Foreign relations: After the self-destruction of her former European ally Portugal, Persia has spent the second half of the nineteenth century struggling to adapt and attempting not to put all her eggs in one basket again, instead pursuing more shallow alliances with several powers at once such as Scandinavia and Belgium. The one constant is that Persia sees Russia as her chief enemy, even more so than the Ottoman Empire, with those three powers competing for influence and vassals in Independent Tartary (central Asia). Persia also contends with the Ottomans for influence around the African Great Lakes. Persia has also benefited from the collapse of northern India, building up several vassals there (helped by the Zand model of religious tolerance, though not by memories of the last time Persians ruled northern India). In India the Persians generally regard the Hermandad-backed ‘Senhor Oliveira’s Company’ as its primary rival for influence in the former Maratha lands, and traders from any Hermandad state face heavy tariffs in Persian ports. The wider Persian trading group of vassal nations stretches from Lake Cyprus [Lake Victoria] to Khiva, from Baku to Gujarat, taking in Oman, Zanzibar and Kalat on the way.
Military: Persia was one of the first Asian militaries to modernise with European advisors at the close of the nineteenth century, building on the already impressive fighting force inherited from Nader Shah. Although the Turco-Persian War was a case of the Turks benefiting from the Persian army being halfway through its modernisation and neither one thing nor another, since that time Persia has generally stayed ahead of the Ottomans. Initially Persia focused on improving her army and left the naval component of her operations to her Portuguese allies, but following the acquisition of influence over Oman and the fall of Portugal, former Omani mariners have led the way in establishing a Persian high seas fleet.
Current head of state: Shah-Advocate Ali Jafar Shah (Zand Dynasty)
Current head of government: Grand Vizier Mirza Khan Afshar (informal ‘Euphrates Party’ faction).

– 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 IV: ROAD TO RUIN (1986):

Sheffield, Kingdom of the Britons
September 14th 1898


Colin Farmer carefully checked the buff cardboard pages of his ration book, nodding to himself that the number of stamps on there was the same that his hasty mental calculations had suggested. His stomach rumbled slightly out of a misplaced sense of drama. Really, nobody was hungry as such, he reflected, there was enough to eat; the problem was that too much of it was dull fare derived from staple crops that grew in the British Isles like potatoes. The Royal Navy had done a good job of keeping Meridian commerce-raiding ironsharks out of home waters, or so the papers claimed, but they had fallen silent on those tales of heroism of late. When the Herald-Comet or the Register did admit that losses had become more severe lately, this was mostly attributed to the fact that Scandinavia had entered the war on the enemy’s side, and her fleet of ironsharks was hitting British as well as German ships while static trenches stretched pointlessly around the bombed-out wreck of Kiel.

What the papers did not talk about was the state of the RN itself. One could discern a little of the truth, obliquely, just by keeping track of ship names. Some seemed to almost vanish altogether overnight, and at first a suspicious reader might assume that the papers were covering up the losses of those warships to enemy ironsharks, surface ships or even steerables. The reality, or so Colin had heard murmurs of, was even more chilling. Those British ships remained shipshape and Bristol fashion, but were far from home. The Home Fleet, which made up the bulk of the Royal Navy these days and had almost become synonymous with it, had gradually been drained as ships were reassigned to the Novamund or the Pacific. At first people had been troubled by the idea but reluctantly tolerant of it when it was raised: despite everything, the Russian foe was distant from Britain and one hardly had to worry about invasion, while the Americans had to cope with Carolina on their doorstep being resupplied by Meridian fleets.

But the situation had changed. Now, with Scandinavia in the war, invasion or at least naval battles in home waters had become a serious threat, either from to the Kingdom’s own limited resources or more likely the Scandinavians allowing Russia to base its own forces in their strategic ports. Meanwhile, Carolina had been reconquered and the Meridians mostly pushed from the West Indies, removing any direct threat to the Empire of North America from that quarter. Yet the names of British ships, good British ship names like HMS Parliament or HMS Violet Liberty, kept showing up in casualty lists of battles fought in the home waters of Hermandad states like Guayana. Offensive battles by definition, surely. While precious little remained here to fight off the new Vikings and their Varangian allies.

Colin brushed the thought aside. Worry consumed him if he let it, but there was nothing much he could do about it beyond working hard at the steelworks, casting components that would become part of ships and protguns that might replace those that had gone to the Novamund. Or, rather, motivating and organising others to do it. His father had been one of the ordinary steelworkers, but he had worked his way up and used the Free Civic University programme to build a better future for his family. Colin had followed his footsteps and managed to go to a ‘proper’ university, which was just as well, because by that point the FCU was beginning to grow moribund like a lot of the old institutions that his father had said were great achievements of the old Populists. Now Colin had a management position at Ranmoor Steel (which, despite its name, was based nowhere near the suburb in question) and was very grateful for it in times like this. The conscription programme that had been imposed at the start of the war, erratically and spottily, had thus far decided he was too important to the war effort where he was to put into uniform.

He folded the ration book shut, glancing at the dark violet asterisk symbol on the front flanked by official text warning of the penalty for forgery. There was talk of Carolinian-born spies infiltrating the country, claiming to be American, and rumours worth of bloodies that those spies were busy forging ration books along with banknotes to disrupt the economy. Colin would have thought that they’d have given up now that their own country had surrendered, but maybe not; there had been something in the paper about the Meridians propping up a farcical exilic Carolinian government based in one of the West Indies islands.

Colin carefully stored the ration book in a safe place and glanced around his house. It was still small compared to the big mansions common in the wealthy southwest of the city, but it was his, his and his wife Mary’s, and one day it would belong to their two young children. Just like his father, he was continuing to build on the family’s position to leave them a better legacy. No matter that these days the Government seemed to be doing its best to stop him, even before the war had broken out.

Today was a special day, of course. Many people nowadays barely recognised its significance. Some that did just complained that the Government had moved the date from its original one for political reasons back in the ’sixties. Colin’s father, however, had raised him just to be aware of what it meant for him and for the country. It was because of the events of that time that he had been able to improve himself and raise his family’s prospects, no longer locked into the eternal miserable cycle of serfdom that had once ruled this nation.

Today was Liberty Day. The Fall of Blandford, even though that had happened quite a while earlier, and September 14th was actually the day that King Fred the Second had entered London after the dust had settled. It didn’t really matter. The important point, as his Dad had told him, was that today all true Englishmen of the soil and the workhouse should doff their caps and raise their glasses, not to men born of privilege, but to the men who had changed the country forever. No longer to submit to arbitrary rule and abuse, but to stand proud as men freely created equal under God.

The times might be dark, but Colin wouldn’t miss it for the world.

At the back of his wardrobe was his best suit, smelling slightly of mothballs. He put it on and looked at himself critically in the looking-glass. It would do, he decided. A shame his wife and children couldn’t be there as well, but Mary was busy at a Cytherean League event sewing kitbags for the brave boys at the front, and the CL maintained a crèche at their building for the kids. There was nothing unusual about that, of course, and no-one would try to stop he or Mary taking their two boys and girl back whenever they pleased.[1] He nodded at himself in the looking-glass. His suit wasn’t the height of fashion, and its cuffs and collar were rather plain and understated, but that was all right. Men in pubs spoke knowingly of the shortages and cast scorn on the wealthy for their conspicuous consumption of lace. He was a plain sort of chap himself. It worked. He brushed a speck of lint from his sleeve. Yes. It would do.

After carefully locking his front door, he rode the tram from his home in Neepsend down to where the ceremony would take place in People’s Park. As he passed through the city centre with its bustling markets and the mucky air of the steelwork regions began to fade, the tram rapidly filled up with folk both small and great. Soon, he thought, he’d have to specify it was a steam tram; when he’d been a boy, nobody would have guessed there could be any other kind, but there was talk of experimentation in France, which had always led the way in engine technology. Colin chewed on his lip and glanced out of the grimy window at Market Square, considering how much of the depleted produce on sale had crossed the Channel. There was no denying that the Scandinavian, Russian and Meridian attacks on commerce had been undercut by the fact that the French and their Geneva Pact allies continued to trade with Britain across a gap too small and well-defended to raid effectively. On the other hand, there was also no denying that the French, the Belgians and the Italians had taken every opportunity to jack up their prices and smilingly protest that it was all down to the global economic situation. They were growing fat off Britain’s misery. Colin felt the urge to spin out of the half-lowered window, but restrained himself. Still. Damned vultures.[2]

A piping voice startled him from his reverie. He glanced over to see a young boy in a sepoy suit—as those one-piece garments had been dubbed in comparison to Bengali fashions—ask a question of his mother, who had a long-suffering expression that Colin had seen in the mirror too often when dealing with his own kids. “Will the First Alderman of Yorkshire be there? Will he?” The boy’s eyes shone with a keen thirst for knowledge that the current bleak state of the world had not managed to quash.

“No, Peter,” his mother sighed, “she’ll be at the big ceremony in York, and besides, it’s a First Alderwoman now.” She shook her head. “We won’t even rate the West Riding Board President, he’ll be in b…in Leeds,” she amended, glancing at her boy. “We’ll have to make do with his deputy.”

“But the Mayor will be there, won’t he?” Peter asked in disappointment.

His mother gently swatted his arm. “We don’t have Mayors in this country, Peter, we’re not American! You’ve been reading too many of those Jonathan books.” Her expression of amusement turned briefly worried, but she pressed on: “The Chairman of the Sheffield Municipal Committee will be there, though. Look out for his sash.”

Colin smiled to himself as he turned away again. Mayors, honestly. There hadn’t been mayors in this country since his father had been a young boy.[3] Then he just focused on how he would get off the tram without being crushed when it reached People’s Park, for even with the large number of slow-moving trams on this route, it had still become packed.

In the end, fortunately, some of his fellow passengers decided to cheat the system by getting off one stop early at Pond Street, giving Colin enough of a chance to negotiate an exit at the People’s Park stop. As always on his infrequent visits to the park, Colin took the opportunity to look around. The broad, sculpted vistas were always impressive, as were the statues dotted around the paths. It was a shame that too many of them were worn and subject to vandalisme these days, and that the rusting remnants of an old celeripede peeped out at him from a nearby pond. But then the Committee had had other things on its mind of late.

Thanks to his dad’s memories and his own education, Colin was aware that this place had once been called Norfolk Park, just as Market Square had once been named Fitzalan Square. The names of the Dukes of Norfolk and a lesser branch of their family, reflecting the fact that those powerful aristocrats had once been the major landowners of Sheffield. Colin’s eyes narrowed. But now the man who called himself Duke of Norfolk was just plain old Mr Charles Howard, he and most of his family had fled the fairer taxation regime long ago, and the land belonged to the people. Britain was not what it once had been: now, it was a better place.

The old Sheffield Manor, abandoned and derelict long before the time of Populism, had been redeveloped and expanded into the People’s Museum of Sheffield. Colin had toured it a couple of times and marvelled alike at ancient artefacts that had been unearthed and the more recent relics of war and revolution and industry. One of those items had been the now-faded Flag of Defiance that the old Liberty Alliance had hoisted in defiance over the town hall when holding it against the browncoats. Colin’s dad had reluctantly conceded that the Rockinghamites had been of help as well, no matter their loyalty to an obsolete cause, even if Stephen Watson-Wentworth had been a largely decent man. That didn’t matter: defence of privilege was always wrong at heart.

Now—he blinked in surprise as he took his place behind the chain fence that separated the crowd from the monument and square in front of the Museum. Now, the flag was no longer reverently laid in its case, but was instead hoisted atop that monument showing Liberty crushing the figure of Tyranny (who bore a certain resemblance to portraits of Blandford). The purple tyrine-daubed flag, a roughly smeared approximation of what had become the Asterisk of Liberty, flapped in the wind. It might be faded, it might be ragged and scorched, it might even have suspiciously brown stains amid the purple, but remained true and proud, symbolising the defiance of the people. Colin’s heart swelled at the thought.

Then he glanced down as men began to arrive in the square, and blinked once again in surprise. Some of the men (and a few women) he saw were those he had expected to see. There was Chairman Totley, there was Alderman Smith (the boy Peter’s mother had predicted correctly that Sheffield would only rate the West Riding Board’s deputy chairman), there was retired General Pearce of the Yorkshire Regiment.[4] There were also a handful of Land Marines on guard in green amid the Yorkshire Constabulary in black, but there was a third colour of uniform which Colin had not expected to see.

Standing at key points around the square were men in violet. A grey, washed-out shade of violet, not unlike the faded tyrine of the Flag of Defiance flying above them in fact, but violet nonetheless. The uniforms were more military than police in style, but some of their lines did not resemble either. Small, understated caps sat atop close-cropped hair and hard eyes. Each man had an odd-looking carbine-sized weapon holstered at his hip, and each wore a white armband with the Asterisk of Liberty in a much brighter purple. Their caps had a white and purple badge with the same insignia.

Colin nodded slowly, a little uncertainly. He had heard rumours of these men, though he had dismissed most of them as inflated pub talk. Such scuttlebutt said that they were a new armed national constabulary modelled on the French Gendarmerie, instituted by President Clack. Certainly, their choice of colours implied a connection to Clack, finally a good solid working-class Populist at the top again, a Mankind Party member. All the same, though the violet uniforms and Asterisks should reassure Colin, there was something about those eyes beneath the caps that worried him. These men, these ‘mauvecoats’ as some of the rumours called them, did not inspire confidence as protectors.

But that unease faded from his thoughts as Julius Totley took the podium. The Chairman’s sash of office—stripes of red, white, blue and purple—flapped and snapped for a moment in a sudden gust of wind. He gave the crowd a measured look before he began; it had been a while since Colin had last seen Sheffield’s top administrator in the flesh, and he noted the greying hair at the temples and the crow’s feet at the corners of the eyes. The war had aged Totley, just as it had everyone.

“People of Sheffield; people of Yorkshire; people of Great Britain,” Totley intoned. Clearly the County Corporation had chosen him in part for his good speaking voice, charismatic and thrown skilfully to reach the crowd despite the outdoor setting and the wind. “Today we meet on the anniversary of a crucial time in our island saga. We have all remembered this day many times, in both good times and bad; this year, it is our lot to commemorate it in a time of bitter struggle abroad, when our sons must fight for our freedom once again.”

Chairman Totley looked around the crowd again, seeming to meet the eyes of each individual at once; Colin shivered. Totley was a Moderate, too bourgeois for Colin’s taste when it came to political views, but there was no denying he knew what he was doing. “Therefore let us take this day to set aside our current trouble, and instead remember the days when the free men of this country rose up to overthrow a brutal and oppressive regime, to pull down a vile dictator, and to vow that never again would the British people ever suffer such treatm—”

There was a wet smack sound and Totley stumbled, a red stain down the side of his face. Colin’s heart flew into his mouth for a moment before the second missile landed and he realised it was nothing more deadly than a rotten tomato. The French really are keeping up their imports, he thought dazedly as everyone spun in the direction of the attack. A few men—and one or two women—stood there in clothing on the threadbare side of respectable, fury in their faces. It appalled Colin that they thought they could interfere with this sacred occasion, and rage rose in his own heart to match theirs.

But their leader, a thin man with glasses, spoke up before he could: “Shame on you! Shame! To speak of the downfall of Blandford, when you serve a Government just as bad! A Government that has imprisoned the Duke of York and lies to its own people about it!”

A ripple of shock pulsed through the crowd. It was a ridiculous claim, of course, Colin thought: one he had heard whispered before in pubs and among the workers. Could any government possibly think it could get away with such audacity? Besides, the rumour had swiftly turned to one that the Duke had escaped prison, presumably just to explain why it wasn’t substantiated with any evidence of where he was (or wasn’t) imprisoned. He had never taken it seriously up till now. But he saw expressions shift across the crowd…

Chairman Totley got up, the rest of his face now quite as red as the tomato-stained side. “You would interrupt this ceremony?!” he bellowed. “Constables, arrest these men…people! Take them into custody!”

The black-uniformed constables moved into position, drawing stout truncheons from their belts. Any attempt to control the affair, though, was doomed when it turned out that a much larger portion of the crowd than Colin had expected moved to support the tomato-throwing attackers. The burly policemen were good brawlers, but they were defeated and held down by superior numbers. Colin pulled back closer to the soldiers, wondering desolately if there was anyone here other than himself who didn’t believe the lies. There must be some, of course, but…

Totley growled when he saw the constables subdued. “Useless.”

“Indeed,” agreed Alderman Smith, an odd look in his eyes. Now the constables had been neutralised, those protestors not involved in holding them down were now getting up, their own eyes flashing with hatred as they looked at the officials. Catcalls and yells began to drown out the scene. “Well, I think we know what is needed,” Smith said, raising his voice. “Captain Houghton!”

The chief mauveshirt saluted. “Sir?”

“You know what to do,” Smith said simply.

Houghton nodded. “Sir.”

Totley opened his mouth, and Colin guessed he was about to protest, but then clammed up. Captain Houghton took a step forward, towards the protestors, and gave them a cold look. “May I have your attention?” The rancour of the crowd briefly dimmed. “Thank you. Ahem.” Houghton looked over the crowd’s heads, his eyes focused on something in the back of his memory. “‘Our sovereign lord the King and his duly elected Government charge and command all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peacably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business…’”

Colin gaped. Most of the crowd seemed to just stare in confusion, but one or two had a similar reaction to him. “You can’t…you can’t do…the Constitution…” The yelled protests blurred into one, but Colin knew what they were trying to say.

The mauveshirt had just done something that had been illegal in Great Britain for sixty years.

He had read the Riot Act.

Afterwards, Colin couldn’t remember how it started. Maybe the very act of reading it had enraged the crowd and they had surged forward; maybe the mauveshirts, putting the lie to the Act quoting a one-hour time limit, had attacked first. Regardless, all he knew was that suddenly the mauveshirts had drawn their odd-looking carbines, the crowd were screaming with panic and trampling one another with the desire of either overrunning the mauveshirts of getting away, and there was a strange staccato rattling sound echoing around the square.

As he dodged between the legs of one burly protestor, trying to find the edge of the crowd, Colin found himself in front of one of the mauveshirts with his strange, oversized carbine. The man in purple was aiming at a nearby rabble-rouser. Colin almost opened his mouth to protest his own loyalty, but there was no time. Careless of collateral damage, the mauveshirt raised his carbine and fired.

There was no bang or boom. There was just a sudden terrible, stinging pain dominating the side of Colin’s face. Then he passed out.

He was one of the lucky ones, he learned later: he had not been in a place where his unconscious body had been trampled by others trying to escape. Nor had he caught the full brunt of an attack from what the papers reassuringly described as ‘non-fatal riot control weapons’; some that had did not make it. When he awoke in the Free Hospital though, an anxious Mary holding his hand, he learned that the surgeon had chosen to remove his left eye, shard of wood and all. It was safer than trying to remove just the shard, the surgeon had explained, and he would be blinded either way. At least this way he could wear a glass eye and not worry about a half-dead eye rotting away in his socket.

At first he felt devastated and took time to adapt to losing his depth perception. However, as he recovered with Mary’s help, he learned some other things. He learned that the ‘non-fatal’ carbines were wind guns that fired disintegrating wooden bullets, the idea being to be a painful but less damaging version of buckshot. They were clearly not as safe as their designers intended, but Colin noticed something else. A lot of his fellow patients who had been hit by shards, even quite small ones, mysteriously sickened and died from their wounds within days of their arrival.

A coincidence, perhaps: infected wounds were certainly common enough, as he had tragically seen during his job managing the steelworks. But it seemed a tad too coincidental that it had happened to so many. He suggested, as tactfully as he could, that a doctor use a microscope to examine the surviving shards some of the patients had kept.

Colin was fairly well read, but he did not have the background to be able to tell one animalcule from another. There were experts for that. The hospital had access to one or two of them via its connections with the university. They looked at the wooden fragments, frowned, made sketches, looked up drawings and asimcons in reference books, frowned more deeply, gave each other frightened glances.

Something was very, very wrong.

*

Vienna, Confederation of Danubia
September 29th 1898


Isaak Schlesinger, Ritter von Losenstein, glanced around the ornate confines of the Vienna Opera House. Though now almost seven decades old, the impressive venue had been refurbished a year before the outbreak of the war, and at first glance looked as though its carvings were newly gilded and its murals freshly painted. It took a discerning eye to spot the cobwebs, a keen ear to hear the staccato hiss of poorly-maintained gaslights. Isaak possessed both those things—without them, he would not have made, or have held onto, his fortune—and he saw the reality beneath the proudly defiant exterior. The Opera House was a testament to the fact that Danubia had called up everyone she could to hold back the Russian advance, that she could not spare men or even women to clean out gasoliers[5] and dust away the work of the spiders.

There were other clues, Isaak noted, as he continued to gaze down at the stalls and up at the gods from his own comfortable box. Vienna’s persons of quality had put on a game effort to rally to their Archking’s call for support, with most seats filled and coins clinking in donation boxes. But little could hide the fact that even the wealthy looked threadbare, dressed in fashions from three or four years ago, far more women than men in the seats and those women often bare of jewellery. Everything was going into the war effort.

And it was not enough.

A hissing sound louder than that of the gaslights drew Isaak’s attention. A small waggon, leaking steam from its engine, was proceeding up and down the aisles between the stalls. Its friendly moustachioed driver, wearing the uniform of Luigi’s Gelateria (one of Vienna’s most omnipresent businesses), addressed the audience in expansive tones as his assistant handed out ice-cream tubs and fried schnellstrudel bakes in exchange for money. A thin trail of steam trailed behind the whole affair, like a very small Volksfest float.

Isaak could remember when this ritual had been a novelty, when high society had been scandalised by it before being flattened by the march of progress. Nowadays, it was an accepted part of attending the theatre or the opera, to the point that an audience would complain if it didn’t take place; and didn’t that tell one everything one needed to know about the human condition?

Nonetheless, Isaak’s keen eye still spotted those audience members who sent Signor Moustache a resentful look behind his back, even as they cheerfully slurped on their orange ice cream or bit into their schnellstrudel. It wasn’t because of that old snobbish resentment that had long since vanished, he knew; nor was it because of the sudden pain from unwisely biting straight into a schnellstrudel without first carefully piercing the pastry to allow steam to escape. This was something different, and altogether more unpleasant.

The audience, he knew, was resentful of the man because he was Italian.

He had heard examples of the same all over, more often with the French but also with Italians and Belgians, even Bavarians. There was rarely mention of it in the papers, or when their editors found they couldn’t avoid covering such incidents, they were careful to ascribe cruder motivations to the perpetrators. They had beaten up a rich-looking man for his money, of course. Oh, he was carrying a French passport at the time? Well, what of it? No need to mention that detail.

Isaak knew the reality, of course. The people were increasingly resentful of the neutral nations, partly because their leaders had chosen not to help, but also for the more basic and human reason that their people seemed better off. Fashions were still moving on apace in Paris, Milan and Rome, while the ladies of Vienna remained in their patched and outdated dresses. French and Belgian industrialists made huge profits out of the desperation of the war effort, shamelessly playing off both sides against the other, dangling vital resources before both the Pressburg Pact and the Russians and waiting for the highest bidder to bite. Even poor and troubled Spain—even oppressed and battered Portugal—seemed better off, here and now.

It was the way of things. Resentful men and women, who had given their all to cause and yet saw that cause failing regardless, looked for others to blame their failure upon. Not all of those others had to be external, of course: Isaak could scarcely be unaware of that, as a Jew. He had taken careful precautions, not being ostentatious about his wealth, looking as threadbare as his Christian fellows in Viennese high society. Even today, in Danubia’s famously progressive and tolerant society, he knew that a Jew had to try twice as hard to show that solidarity lest he be regarded as a target of suspicion.

His thoughts converged with the here-and-now as Elsa arrived. “Isaak!” She kissed him chastely; her elegant-looking black stole rubbed against his neck, revealing that it was actually an ingeniously dyed more commonplace fur. Nonetheless, it was looks that was important for public opinion, so he made a mental note to have a word with her.

Later; not now. Isaak grinned broadly at her. “Sit down, I’ve ordered you a suitable aperitif—it should be here soon.”

Elsa laughed, shedding her stole and jacket to show off her bare shoulders beneath, impressive even though augmented only by a recycled dress. Isaak gave her a look that owed more to fondness than love. He was six years a widower, and at first he had expected Elsa to be more mistress than prospective fiancée, but she had slowly wormed her way into his affections. Maybe she was just after his money: well, was the labouress not worthy of her hire, he thought to himself, paraphrasing the New Testament and imagining his his rabbi’s blanch. “Was your journey here quite well?” he asked.

“Disastrous, darling,” Elsa said, absent-mindedly lighting a cigarette and inserting it into a holder. “They are still building that awful-looking tower in the middle of the Ausgarten, and the steamers are backed up around what feels like half the city as they bring the men and materials in.” She shook her head. “Surely they could be doing better things with them, at this time of all times.”

Isaak nodded and laughed, but his eyes showed worry rather than amusement. He did not trouble Elsa with what her knew: that ‘awful-looking tower’ was of a design that had already been built repeatedly in places like Galicia and Transylvania. It was intended to house counterdrome weapons: long rifles, specialised artillery whose shells would burst into fragments in midair, and rockets. To be building one in the heart of Vienna...well, it could mean that the Russians were deploying steerables and aerodromes with a longer range, or it could mean...

They were now close enough to bomb Vienna with the ones they already had.

“Don’t the Exiles look madly gay,” Elsa simpered, gazing over at a set of stalls on the other side of the Opera House. Isaak followed her gaze. Amid the generally sober dress of the Viennese, the Exiles stood out with their red-white cockades, sashes, armbands. A large Polish flag was draped from the box immediately above them, if one had managed not to get the hint.

“They look worried to me,” Isaak said. “That’s Count Zamoyski up there in the box standing in for King Casimir. They say the King has gone to Lemberg to rally the Polish forces still fighting on in Galicia.” What’s left of it. “His son was meant to be going to Posen to do the same for those in Greater Poland, but there’s a rumour he’s gone missing and has been spotted with his father.”[6]

“So?” Elsa said artlessly. “Even without the King and his son, their uniforms are most attractive.” She gave him a sultry look.

Isaak suspected she was trying to make him feel jealous. All she was achieving was making him feel annoyed. He held back his temper: it was’t as if he had sought out an intellectual equal. “Well, quite,” he muttered. He abandoned the subject. What if, indeed, as the rumours said, King Casimir was going to the Russians to sue for peace and abdicate in favour of his son, allowing Poland’s titular independence to continue beneath the Russian bootheel as the path was laid open to Dresden and Vienna? It wasn’t as if he or Elsa could do anything about it.

Despite this, Elsa seemed to sense that she had somehow upset him, and passed him a document as though it was a peace offering. “Here. They were passing out these down below. Upcoming performances.”

Isaak managed a smile as he noted one of them. “Czerny the Younger’s The Tragedy of Emperor Francis in November, eh? I saw that three years ago, when it was Correira as the Emperor.” He shook his head. “Odd to think that it was to this very Opera House that the Emperor was on his way to when he was struck down.” He chuckled. “I wonder what he would have thought to us. Would he have been more offended by a Jew with a title of nobility—or a man who bought his title through his shrewd investments in companies making items like those awful steam engines he hated so?”

“Yes, yes,” Elsa said. “Now shush, it’s starting.”

Isaak sighed, but obeyed as she wrapped his hand in hers. The gasoliers hissed and popped again as the lights went down and brilliant electride lamps shone on the stage, illuminating the beautifully-designed set and Anton Giurescu silhouetted against it. Giurescu did not show off his powerful tenor voice, though, but busied himself working away at a table in what the set implied was meant to be a workshop of some kind.

Instead, another figure arrived, this one dressed in red and black. A red and black dress, in fact, together with cape and head-piece. Marie Bresson, the great contralto who had made audiences weep at the Paris Opera House with her Honoria in Tinbergen’s Attila, was scarcely recognisable in her diabolical outfit as she stalked across the stage. Isaak had half-expected some of the audience to boo the choice of a French singer, given current feeling. Instead, he realised what a masterstroke Karl Innitzer, the director, had made. Having made the radical choice to rewrite Morandi’s Doctor Faustus to allow a female to play the antagonist, swapping out Lilith for Mephistopheles, Innitzer had taken the risk that the audience might not accept her as such a threat. But the current climate of francophobia, allied to Bresson’s tremendous stage presence as her vivid eyes swept disdainfully across the audience, served to create a compelling and intimidating character. The audience murmured softly but otherwise stayed quiet, seeming keen to see what would happen next.[7]

Lilith began by declaring her contempt for the human race in general and the audience in particular, in a manner almost reminiscent of some bawdy interpretations of the commedia dell’arte, yet it never became farcical. The audience shivered rather than laughed. The long, gorgeously sung list of reasons why mankind was dreadful concluded on a note that Lilith was grateful for, at least, one of those flaws: no matter how easy it was to spot the downside coming, a man was so, so easy to tempt to make an ill-advised deal with the devil...

Isaak wasn’t sure why, but his gaze happened to drift away from the stage to the Archregal Box, where Archking Ferdinand sat, his attention rapt on the stage, his hands gripping the arms of his chair. His armband and cockade showing support for the Polish Exiles stood out. Though the lights were down low aside from the stage, Isaak almost thought that—

Absently, he grabbed the opera glasses, provoking a small but disapproving squawk from Elsa, who had clearly been about to grab them herself. Isaak trained the small binoculars on his nation’s ruler, fiddling with the small focus wheel. The dim image resolved and...

Yes. He had been right. Now he felt almost uncomfortable for intruding, but too late for that now. Unquestionably, tears were rolling down the Archking’s face, as Lilith sang to the audience of the deal she would put to Dr Faustus, the deal that would see him unwisely sell his soul for the sake for a second chance at life. Giurescu was still a silent figure in the back of the theatre, the audience growing increasingly sympathetic for him as they heard the numbing inevitability of the choices he would take. It was emotive, Isaak supposed, but still, odd for a largely indifferent and cold man like Ferdinand to cry this early in the opera.

He wondered if the scene possessed some particular relevance to the Archking...

*

Near Punta Cometa, Oaxaca Province, Kingdom of Mexico
October 2nd 1898


Sergeant Jack Starkey scratched his sleeve for what felt like the dozenth time that hour. He had plenty of reasons for feeling uncomfortable, of course. It was hot—but he had endured hotter temperatures. The wind battered his face and cracked his lips—ditto. Something about the Pacific Ocean around him just felt subtly wrong, a tint of colour or an edge to the smell of the sea air, different to the Atlantic and Caribbean seascapes that he, like most other Imperial Marines, had spent most of his career around. He wasn’t even on a proper Imperial Navy ship, but a commandeered Mexican freighter the stinkers had captured a few days ago when they’d taken Juchitán. Hopefully the hasty paint job would conceal the scorch marks to the casual eye.

No, Jack admitted to himself as he cast a flinty eye over his equally restless squad, it was none of that. There was no deprivation or unexpected situation one could plunge an Imperial Marine in that he couldn’t fight his way through. But when you tampered with his identity, that was another matter. “I still hate these new uniforms, sir,” he muttered to Lieutenant Ironhewer.

“We all do, Sergeant,” Ironhewer muttered back in his subtle Pennsylvania Dutch lilt. “But orders are orders, so put on a brave face for the men, hmm?”

Jack nodded resentfully. Ironhewer was right, of course, but it didn’t make him feel any better. He glanced down at himself. The old reliable red, which had persisted in the Marine Corps as a tradition long after green had replaced it in the Army, had finally vanished into the pages of history after some boy with a high forehead had published a statistical study about casualty rates and friendly fire. With his thoughtless screed, that nameless armchair general had swept away centuries of history, going all the way back to that day in 1664 when King Charles II had raised the first Marine Regiment of Foot from the Trained Bands of London.[8] Marines had always worn red. Now...some ally on a procurement committee in Fredericksburg had managed to fight a heroic rearguard action and ensure that stripes of a kind of red, a dull burgundy-red, still survived to distinguish the otherwise green uniform from those worn by the stinkers. Other things survived. Their caps still showed the unique Marine badge with only two honours, GIBRALTAR and CARTAGENA, the great eighteenth-century victory and the great eighteenth-century defeat to remind them of the two sides of the coin, on either side of the globe of the world. Their motto, ‘Per mare, per terram’ sat proudly below it.

But this was still disgraceful.

“The matelots won’t be able to call us ‘lobsters’ anymore,” he grumbled. “The eff-nods will ask why they do. You realise that, sir?”

“I do,” Ironhewer said tolerantly. “Like the recruits already ask why they call us leathernecks or bootnecks. We already have to explain that, Sergeant. It’s still a tradition. It’s still part of our history.”

“Hmmph,” Jack said. He supposed the lieutenant was right. Again. Twice in one day? This really was a crazy war.

HIMS Bear Trap, as some of the Occidental[9] recruits had dubbed it—God knew why folk who’s grown up thousands of miles from the sea had joined the Navy or Marines—bobbed in the ocean not far from the headland marked on the charts as Punta Cometa. It was about as far from the storied city of Cometa in California as Jack could imagine, a Godforsaken wind-blasted miserable promontory with only a few poor fisherfolk living nearby. Sure, it was warmer than bloody Noochaland or wherever, but that was about all you could say for it.

Why was a hastily-converted freighter with a crew of Imperial Marines suffering from an identity crisis stuck here? Well, Jack was a lobster no matter what colour uniform he wore, and Marines were not like the stinkers in the regular army, to go wherever they were sent and not ask questions. Marines would go anywhere, of course, go beyond where any other branch of the armed forces would go, but they expected to know what they were doing and why they were doing it when they got there. As such, the briefing had been comprehensive. “Operation Craveheart has been a success,” Captain Ford had said, showing them a map of Mexico and Guatemala. He used a pencil to circle a number of sites on the Gulf coast around Veracruz and the naval base of Tuxpan. “Our...distinguished colleagues in the Navy and Army took the Mexican Navy by surprised, made landings here and drove a salient southwards through Veracruz province.”

Ford had shaken his head slightly in theatrical surprise that mere matelots and stinkers had managed that, to appreciative chuckles from the men. “Rather than going for the City of Mexico directly, they’ve marched for Juchitán on the west—well, south really—Pacific coast of the kingdom, and now they’ve taken it.” He’d pointed at the map again. “The Mexicans are panicking. Their individual soldiers and officers can be good fighters, and not just the New Irish, no matter what you may have seen the papers say about why Laredo hasn’t fallen yet. But their high command only looks out for themselves—” Ford had given them a pre-emptive glare before someone at the back made a cat-call about how was that different to their own. “We’ve cut them off from Guatemala, from the rest of the Hermandad and the so-called Empire of New Spain. Their first counterattack to try to pierce our salient was rushed, and it’s failed. Our agents reckon their top boys are shovelling the family silver into sacks as we speak and ready to show the better part of valour.” More chuckles. “We’ve cut them off, so they can only get out by sea, and the matelots rule most of the Gulf, so...”

“They’ll come via the Pacific,” Jack muttered to himself, repeating Ford’s words from two days before. Out of Acapulco, hugging the coast—never know what you might find out there in the sea since Admiral Hughes had smashed the Hermandad’s Pacific fleet. They’d be sure that nobody would be waiting here, in Mexican waters, where no Imperial Navy ship had been in wartime.

Of course, if they had decided to play it safe and bring even a token armed escort, Jack knew, the Marines would be abboo’d.[10] There had been no way to get a proper Imperial Navy steamer here; he wished the torchies had actually finished that trans-oceanic canal they kept talking about building through Guatemala. Ford and his superiors had reckoned that the Mexican bigwigs would prefer anonymity as a protection—after all, they wouldn’t want their people to think they were fleeing, they’d want them to fight on as cover. Jack hoped the gamble would pay off...

“Ship!” sang out the matelot on lookout. Like the other sailors who were visible to the outside world, rather than huddled down here on the stern cargo deck, he had put on civilian dress that would look reasonably convincing through a spyglass. He trained a glass of his own on the horizon. “Cargo, a bit smaller than us, auxiliary sailing rig, she’s old...” He was silent for a moment as he squinted, then Jack could hear the triumph in his voice. “I saw a sun flash then! No, two!”

A frantic conversation ensued as the IN captain and Captain Ford both quizzed the sailor for details. After a few minutes, Ford dropped down to where his Marines were waiting and gave them a grin that seemed far too feral for a man who had been to Yale. “Gentlemen, we’ve got them. If it’s not Emperor Charles and King Antonio, it’s two men in civilian clothes but wearing their medals, the idiots—and I don’t think the Mexicans have the time and resources to spare on fakes.”

He turned solemn. “This is it. We’re going to pull alongside claiming engine trouble and requesting assistance. They probably won’t bother to stop but they won’t suspect who we really are, either. So we’ll have to board while we’re at dead stop relative to them, but...” He did not have to finish his sentence. All the Marines understood that what he meant was that if they fell from either ship while attempting to board, their speed would swiftly leave him behind in their white wakes, and even the best swimmer would likely have drowned before the Bear Trap could return to rescue him.

They all nodded. They knew the risks. They had known them when they had volunteered. Softly, Corporal Otterbourne, who had the best voice, began to sing the Marines’ Hymn that Major John Philip Rawley had written during the Great American War. Ford nodded tolerantly. Some officers might have pointed out that even a hushed rendition of the distinctive song might alert the enemy. Ford knew that the men needed this regardless. The Hymn summed up what it was to be a Marine, a memorable and even upbeat tune married to sombre and thoughtful lyrics. One man with a rifle was one man with a rifle, Rawley had written, but together, the Corps was different. Something greater. A fighting force that would travel the world, ready to lay down their lives for their Emperor and their country, so that the boys and girls back home could grow up in safety and prosperity.

They needed the Hymn. It was one thing to fight Carolinian traitors or even Russian imperialists: both posed an existential threat to the heart of the Empire, to the families of the men they now softly sang of. Even the UPSA was the old enemy, the enemy that the songs of the early days of the Empire sang of, when its military had first begun to develop identities and traditions beyond those of the old motherland. But Mexico was just Mexico: a means to an end. The Mexican front of the Great American War had been a forgotten war, little told on the stage or in the printed word, seldom remembered save by the people of Westernesse who had colonised the lands gained in the war. It was important that Mexico be knocked out of the war as a way to defeat the Meridians, the real enemy, but it was difficult to summon up enthusiasm for the contest. Mexico wasn’t a threat.

The Hymn bridged the gap. By the time Jack heard the matelots yelling that the Mexican ship was alongside, that grappling hooks were being slung, the blood was pounding in his ears and he was ready to lay down his life for the Emperor. His rifle had been checked for the hundredth time, his bayonet was fixed. While they had sung the final verse, he and the men had performed last-minute exercises to loosen up their muscles, and now they were ready.

The Bear Trap shuddered harshly as its hull collided with the enemy, its IN crew working hard to match speeds. Clanging sounds told of grappling hooks catching, bouncing off. Jack wondered if the foe was cutting any of the ropes or if they had been caught offguard.

It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if he had no idea whether he would face a jump of one or ten feet to the enemy deck. He was a Marine.

“Now!” Captain Ford ordered. “ Board! Per Mare!

Per Terram!” Jack yelled back with all his comrades. And it began.

The Marines rose from the shelter of the stern cargo deck, saw their target before them, the shocked faces of the Mexicans as they drew their rifles, and charged. “OO-ZAH!” they chanted, the old battle cry. “OO-ZAH!” Nobody remembered why the Marines had dropped the ‘h’ from ‘huzzah’ and extended the first vowel sound like that. It didn’t matter. It was Tradition.

And, as Jack’s feet hit the Mexican deck and he bent his knees to take the impact, as he rose from his crouch to drive his bayonet into the stomach of a Mexican before the foe could bring down his own blade, he reflected that whatever the bureaucrats in Fredericksburg might think, one way or the other he would end this day in a red uniform. All that remained to be seen is whether it would be his blood staining it, or the enemy’s.

Somehow, that made him feel a lot better.

*

Dingzhou, Empire of the Great Qing / Empire of the Great Feng (disputed)
October 18th 1898


Su Batuo was not having a good day.

To be fair, this could have characterised many of the days of his life. It would have been a hard life in the abstract, scratching a living in the small farming village in Neimenggu Province he had been born into, even without the conflicting loyalties that had always dragged him one way or the other. His grandparents, who had raised him, told him he was a proud Mongol and his name was Sukhbataar; his teacher at the little itinerant school told him that Mongols were traitors, that he was a good Chinese, and that his name was Su Batuo. He had tried, almost, to turn these two lives into little compartments in his mind, like rooms in a house, but inevitably they had leaked and merged. He did not truly know if he prayed to the Sky Father, the Buddha or to the Jade Emperor. He had a feeling he did not truly understand any of them even if he had known. He just dutifully went about his life, saying ‘yes’ to whomever the last person he had spoken to was, and did his best to hang on.

But even that precarious existence had been shattered when the great war had came. The southern traitors were advancing once more! The brave servants of the true Emperor in Beijing must defeat them to defend the Middle Kingdom!

Su Batuo had known about the southern traitors, the Feng as they called themselves—or at least he thought he had. He had never paid much attention in school. He knew that they were Chinese who had committed the sin of treason by rebelling against the rightful Emperor, and still hung on in the south. He had always found that odd, considering how omnipotent the Emperor was, and that was one thing that his teacher and his grandparents agreed on: after all, a past Emperor had sent his invincible armies to reconquer the Mongol lands when they had rebelled when his grandfather had been a boy. And if proud Mongols could not stand against the Green Standard Army, who could?

His instructors, if that was the right word for the men who had shouted at and abused him while hurling a rifle in his face, had told him more. The southern traitors were soft cowards, men who had allowed foul barbarian contamination of their culture. They let the ghost-folk of the sunset walk their streets and even take their women! Such corruption of the laws of Confucius (whatever those were) should be wiped from the earth forever!

That had been months ago. It might as well have been centuries. Centuries in which he had gawped at cities larger than any he had dreamed of, only for wonder to turn to horror as they became miserably hells of ash and fire. The only firearms that the old Su Batuo had seen were ancient hunting rifles that his grandfather’s grandfather might have bought from exotic traders, meticulously maintained ever since. The tremendous cannons that could fling fiery destruction many li to explode amid soldiers and civilians alike—they were as the weapons of a god beside those of men. Su Batuo felt like a fly buzzing frantically around a room, dodging the idle swats of those within, hoping he could escape their notice for another moment. He had already begun to lose hope of ever finding a window to fly out of. There was no escape from this hell.

Now he cowered in a trench just north of Dingzhou, a city he had never even heard of before his conscription. No, perhaps once in passing, in a traveller’s tale. Dingzhou was where one could find the Liaodi Pagoda, a famous brick tower that was hundreds of years old and famously tall. Well, Su Batuo had seen it, something that no-one in his family had done, at least not since their proud Mongol ancestors had raided this far south into China proper. Or at least he had seen the battered and bullet-pocked ruins of the tower, suffering from the endless artillery bombardment like so many other buildings had. At least something was left. The use of paper and wood for construction meant that many of the villages, towns and cities Su Batuo had fought in—or stood around helplessly until a sergeant yelled at him to retreat again—had been reduced to nothing more than ashes, so that one could scarcely tell a settlement had ever been there.

He wondered if when his luck finally ran out, they would say the same of his grave.

A shell detonated much too close to his trench. Su Batuo reached out reflexively to grab onto something and seized the grimy wooden support of the trench, wincing as he scraped his forearm on the spike-wire. At least they had spike-wire; he had heard all sorts of rumours about basic supplies running out. They had already been on rations of rice, water and not much else for the last two days…

“Get your hands off there!” screamed Sergeant Zhao. “The true Emperor has no need of snivelling cowards!” He smacked Su Batuo across the face, almost dislodging the egg-like helmet he wore tied to his head with makeshift knots. He had taken it from a dead Russian soldier, or at least that’s what he had heard the coloured stripes on the pale foreigner’s uniform signified. His grandparents and his teacher both had talked disparagingly of those they named eluosi or orosuud, the men of the north and west beyond the steppes. They were spoken of always as foes. So why were they operating here in the Emperor’s realm, giving orders to the Emperor’s troops, with even men like Zhao genuflecting to them?

“Sorry, Sergeant,” Su Batuo mumbled, but Zhao had already moved on. Rather than a Russian eggshell helmet, the Sergeant had replaced his own cloth cap with the conical, wide-brimmed tin hat used by the gaoli bangzi, the damn Corean upstarts, who also seemed to lord it over everyone except the Russians. Theoretically, the Emperor’s Green Standard Army was meant to be issuing its own helmets to replace the useless caps, but Su Batuo had never seen one. Most soldiers either wore one salvaged from the mysterious allies(?) or from the enemy—and the latter had led to more than one case of friendly fire from snipers unused to seeing the compact, malevolently skull-like helmets of the southern traitors as anything other than a target.

Zhao frowned at the enemy trenches across the wuren qu death zone between them. “Their artillery concentrates,” he declared. Another shell exploded behind him, blowing up some long-fled peasant’s barn and underlying his words. “Soon they will advance! We will be ready to face them! For the Emperor!”

“For the Emperor,” Su Batuo and the other survivors mumbled with as much enthusiasm as they could summon, which wasn’t much. They weren’t fighting to defend conquests or defeat the rebels, after all. Su Batuo hadn’t seen many maps in his life, but he knew that when he was standing in a trench in Zhili Province itself, the land that was directly ruled from the imperial capital of Beijing as its immediate hinterland, that probably meant the war was not going well.

Zhao turned and glared at them. “Is that the spirit that will defeat the Emperor’s enemies?” he bellowed, drawing his blade. “Perhaps I need to make an example, to encour—”

He never finished his sentence. Redness exploded from his face and neck as an enemy sniper bullet found the gap between his conical Corean helmet and the top of the trench. Su Batuo winced in shock as the body toppled forward, still spraying red. A moment later, as everyone stared at one another in horror, yet another shell crashed to earth mere zhang away.

When Su Batuo awoke, he was covered up to his neck in mud and broken pieces of wood and decidedly less wholesome things. A sharp pain in his left shoulder had ultimately dragged him back to consciousness. His ears rang, yet right now things seemed strangely, unnaturally quiet. Had he gone deaf?

Su Batuo tried to dig himself out with his other arm, but even the slightest jar almost paralysed him with pain and he cried out. His vision blurred for a moment and, when he managed to refocus, the oddly peaceful sky about him had been replaced by two silhouettes in deep yellow uniforms. “Ta ma de!” one of them swore, his words oddly accented. “This one’s alive!”

“Yeah, he is,” the other said, his voice low and dangerous-sounding. “For now.” He raised a rifle. The O of its nozzle hovered in the centre of Su Batuo’s vision as it wavered again.

He vaguely felt that he needed to speak up, to plead for his life, but somehow, here and now, he couldn’t bring himself to care.

The first figure batted the gun aside impatiently. “Don’t be stupid. Half the raw recruits they’re getting into the Sixth now are northerners they captured south of Taiyuan a few months back—they were just conscripts, they had no idea what they were fighting for.” His voice was oddly accented and included a few unusual-sounding words, but Su Batuo could mostly understand him. “Given something better, they’ve joined our side. Give this one a chance to surrender.”

The second figure frowned, but reluctantly lowered his weapon. “Fine. Save the gui dan.” He giggled for a moment in an incongruously high-pitched tone. “He certainly looks like a turtle egg in that hat!”

Su Batuo closed his eyes as the two southerners began to dig him out of his predicament. What would happen now? He opened his mouth, hoping they could understand him as well as he could them. “I…I want to go home. I just want to go back to my village.”

The first figure patted his arm. “In time, boy.” Su Batuo was fairly certain neither of the two were much older than he. “First you’re going to come with us. But don’t worry; by the end of this war, your village will be under the rule of the only true Emperor…”

*

Ardagan, Kavkazskaya Guberniya, Russian Empire
November 2nd, 1898 (N.S.)


Sergeant Arkady Fyodorovich Borodin rolled his eyes as he sipped his stew. “I see your famed spice contacts among the chernozhops in the market have failed to come through again,” he said sarcastically.

“Maybe because the Armenians heard you calling them that,” Corporal Mikola Ihorovich Doroshenko shot back. “You should consider yourself lucky they didn’t give me some ‘spices’ from their backsides you know so much about the colour of.”

“To the devil’s uncle with your Armenians, Nikolai Igorovich,” Arkady grunted. He refused to respect the corporal’s ‘Ruthenian cultural sensibilities’ with how he spelled and pronounced his name—give ’em a dyuim and they’d take an arshin, as he old dad had said. Oh, Ruthenians might be good Slavs, but if you started making exceptions then before you knew where you were, you’d be overrun with Jews like damn Poland.

“And look what it’s done for them,” he added, on that thought; Doroshenko gave him a confused look, not having been privy to his train of thought, but Arkady ignored him. “Big Casimir’s gone, now Little Casimir has bowed the knee to His Imperial Majesty, and Poland might as well be a guberniya. Things are going to change there,” he included, with relish.

“Maybe His Imperial Majesty can ask Little Casimir to send us Poland’s entire stock of varenyky as war reparations,” Doroshenko muttered, looking at his own disappointingly bland stew.

Arkady snorted. “They call them pierogi, Nikolai Igorovich, and I doubt His Imperial Majesty cares about forcing your silly Ruthenian words on them.”

“If only the Tsar knew,” Doroshenko said piously, then ducked the spoon Arkady threw at him.

As they drew to the end of their makeshift meal, they reached the topic of the never-ending argument between them. “I’m telling you, this is a cushy number, your lack of contacts with the locals aside,” Arkady stated. “We could be stuck on damn Noochaland starving to death while the yankis fling shells at us, or in a trench outside Posen or Bucharest being asked to charge Fritz’s cingular guns, two hundredth time’s the charm.”

Doroshenko shook his head. “Nemaye,” he insisted on saying, rather than nyet like a normal person. “This is better than those, I’ll grant you, but we’ve got the Turk breathing down our neck out there,” he nodded in a south and westward direction. “This fort is right under his guns. The suspense is killing me. I’d sooner hold out for guarding the dacha of some aristocrat in Yetaterinburg. That’s a cushy number.”

Arkady threw up his hands. “Alright, you’re so wrong it’s going to take me the rest of today to straighten you out. First of all,” he counted on his fingers, “as I have told you before, the Turk is always driving his steam-guns and armarts up and down the border, to show us he means business and that he knows how to get them through the bad terrain. It’s been a long time since there were any border clashes here.”

“Exactly, so we’re due for one,” Doroshenko said pessimistically.

The sergeant waved that away. “Don’t be ridiculous. Why would the Turk attack us now, when we’re winning the war? When we’re strong? Maybe if we were losing you would have a point, but thank God, we’re not.”

“Maybe,” Doroshenko said, clearly unconvinced. “Maybe if they had something to gain we don’t know about—if someone bribed them...”

“And secondly,” Arkady said, raising another finger and pleased that he only saw two—his latest attempt at moonshine vodka was a big improvement on the last batch—“the chances of you getting some dacha to guard are remote, and thirdly, knowing your luck he’d turn out to be a troublemaking dissident who the Imperial Soviet sent a nindzhya to kill, and you’d be collateral damage—”

“If I’m so unlucky how did I get what you claim is a cushy number?” Doroshenko complained.

Arkady ignored this. “And finally, the Collegium of Internal Affairs would have you sent to Sakhalin or Yapon or somewhere just for failing to refer to Yekaterinsk by its proper name.”

“To the devil’s grandmother with all this editing out of German names,” Doroshenko said. “I bet they forget and still say St Petersburg or whatever all the time in their own offices.”

“That’s as maybe,” Arkady said. “I suppose even vnutrenniks have to scheme to get promoted somehow.”

“Well,” Doroshenko said, “until they send a Full State Counsellor down here to peer over our shoulders—probably because he’d done something wrong—I don’t think we need to worry.”

“There you are, you see,” Arkady said triumphantly. “I told you we were well off here.”

Five seconds later, the first Ottoman shell punched a hole through part of the outdated crenellations of Fort Ardagan and exploded between the two soldiers when it hit Arkady’s empty stew-plate.

Five hours later, the town was once again named Ardahan, as it had not been since the Time of Troubles.

A blood price had been paid.




[1] This peculiar sentence has presumably been added by the author of this segment to try to explain, albeit rather unsubtly, that the word ‘crèche’ came with rather different connotations in the era the author is writing in rather than the one in which they and their readers live.

[2] Both the use of the term ‘Geneva Pact’ and the comparison of the French to vultures are probably anachronistic on the part of the author, though it would be possible to make an argument that the terms could have been used by this point.

[3] The Populists abolished all local government when they took over in the 1830s; later, elected County Corporation governments were created, but cities and other subdivisions within those counties are governed by committees and boards appointed by the County government, rather than having directly elected councils and/or mayors.

[4] Due to constitutional restrictions on the size of the army, under the Populists the regiments were rationalised into rather fewer and larger entities defined by one or more counties rather than formally numbered.

[5] A chandelier which uses gaslights instead of candles.

[6] The German versions of the names were still in common use internationally at the point this was set, even though Posen/Poznań and Lemberg/Lviv are under Polish rule.

[7] The basic story of Faust is considerably older than the POD and formed the basis of a play by Christopher Marlowe, although the better-known OTL opera was based on the later version of the story by Goethe (which made some changes). Goethe still wrote this in TTL, although naturally it is a fair bit different to the OTL version, and Antonio Morandi wrote an opera based on it just as Charles Gounod did in OTL.

[8] The full name of the first Royal Marines (in OTL and TTL) was ‘the Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of Foot’, as the Duke of York (the future King James II and VII) was their Captain-General. For obvious reasons, in TTL his role in the foundation of what has become the Imperial Marine Corps has been carefully sanitised out of the official account used in Marine traditions, although some New Yorker Marines will stick up for their namesake.

[9] A historical error on the part of the author, as the Confederation of Occidentia had not yet been created.

[10] An Imperial Marine slang phrase referring to when a plan has gone badly wrong, one is about to be overrun by the enemy, etc. Etymologists argue whether it has any connection to the Arabic word ‘abu’ or whether it is an acronym for ‘A Bit Unpleasant’/’A Bit Unfortunate’ as an understated euphemism.
 
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Thande

Donor
It has been a while since the last update for a number of reasons - an industrial dispute at work which fortunately now appears to be resolved, sorting out a friend's wedding, etc. - but one of the reasons that you may be more interested to hear involves the final preparation of Look to the West Volume 3 for publication. It is currently projected to appear on Amazon around the end of this month (though this date may slip a bit) and I will let you know on here when it arrives. Complete with new maps by @Alex Richards and a number of other special features.
 
Oh boy, so much stuff. :cool:

Are the British gendarmes (or whatever they're called) poisoning their bullets?

I'm assuming the totally-not-the-Peterloo-Massacre is the start of the Third Glorious Revolution.

(Feng) China will grow larger.

Just as Poland is going down, it looks like the Ottomans are joining in.

EDIT: I'm assuming the occidental confederation is the Pacific Northwest.
 
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Hyped to hear that the next volume is heading for the presses. And an excellent update as always.

With the Ottomans throwing their hat in the ring, does that mean the Persians are likely to join up on the opposite side (hence their inclusion as the preface to the chapter)? And are they planning on making a big push through the mountains, or is this more an attempt to do a quick smash and grab on the Russians with Poland and potentially Danubia out of the war?
 
[1] This peculiar sentence has presumably been added by the author of this segment to try to explain, albeit rather unsubtly, that the word ‘crèche’ came with rather different connotations in the era the author is writing in rather than the one in which they and their readers live.
I take this to mean that the Societists at some point try to abolish the family and raise all children by the state?

I'd guess that this leads to something like the Romanian Orphans IOTL, where lack of psychosocial stimulation creates a severely messed-up generation. Although the horror of stealing children from their parents is terrible enough, I'd guess that Thande has this in mind to show the terrors of Societism.
 
Hyped to hear that the next volume is heading for the presses. And an excellent update as always.

With the Ottomans throwing their hat in the ring, does that mean the Persians are likely to join up on the opposite side (hence their inclusion as the preface to the chapter)? And are they planning on making a big push through the mountains, or is this more an attempt to do a quick smash and grab on the Russians with Poland and potentially Danubia out of the war?
Given the details in the preface, the Persians are probably more likely to join the same side as the Ottomans so they can take some Russian land for their own.
 
Yeah, the point is the irony of having multiple entities with names that mean pretty much the same thing, which is the sort of messily OTL-esque thing I tend to think conveys a sense of realism.
Definitely, especially in *America there and here what with the American Midwest no longer being a literal descriptor come the Mexican War.
 
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