Part 234: Deadlock
  • Thande

    Part #234: Deadlock

    The country’s official name is: KINGDOM OF THE BRITONS. Often still informally known as GREAT BRITAIN.
    The people are known as: BRITONS, although it common to refer to them as ENGLISHMEN, SCOTSMEN etc.
    Capital and largest city: London (4.7 million).
    Flag: The Union Jack (or Union Flag), a combination of the red on white St George’s Cross for England and the white on blue St Andrew’s Saltire for Scotland which dates from the Union of the Crowns in the early 1600s. The official state version includes a white circle in the middle defaced with the purple Asterisk of Liberty, a symbol of the Populist movement in the Inglorious Revolution. Non-defaced versions are still however often used by civilians: the standard version has the St George’s Cross on top, but an alternative which has the St Andrew’s Cross on top (originally used in the 1600s) has seen a recent revival in Scotland. Much less frequently, the St George’s Cross and St Andrew’s Saltire are used alone by some people, as is the yellow on black St David’s Cross in Wales.
    Population: 28 million (1888 census).
    Land area: 15,014 lcf.
    Economic ranking: Generally included with the ENA, would probably be ranked 10th or 11th in the world if treated separately.
    Form of government: Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy. Head of state: Emperor (also the King of Great Britain and Ireland). Head of government: President (formally, President of the Council of Government; still occasionally called ‘Prime Minister’) who heads a government in the Parliament of the Britons in the New Palace of Westminster. The Parliament is the largest legislative body in the world, with 820 MPs (occasionally called Burgesses or Representatives as a holdover) in the House of Representatives and 340 Knights in the House of Knights, the upper house. The MPs are elected from single member constituencies by first-past-the-post voting, while the Knights are elected from a county-wide general ticket (although some have argued that a percentage representation system should be used as in America). British local government is based entirely on the county, with former municipal governments abolished after the Inglorious Revolution and never restored when the new system was implemented: municipalities are governed by commissions appointed by the elected County Corporations (or County Corporates). County Corporation members are referred to as Aldermen (or, recently, also Alderwomen). The County Corporations in Scotland were always poorly conceived due to Scotland’s different county system, and the Scottish Home Rule League (later the Scottish Parliamentary Party) has informally amalgamated them into a single body based in Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, which claims the role of a would-be Scottish Parliament.
    Foreign relations: Great Britain has dynastic and historical ties to the Empire of North America. Ever since the French invasion of 1807 devastated Britain, it has taken an increasingly backseat role in the global Hanoverian possessions to the ENA. While the ENA helped Britain recover from the invasion, the fact America did not get involved in the crisis of the 1830s until the Inglorious Revolution was virtually over (despite Emperor-King Frederick II’s best efforts) sparked resentment among the British people, deepened when Americans accused Britons of lukewarm efforts in the Great American War of the 1850s. From a British point of view the tail has been wagging the dog for a long time and resentment has been building, although the increased trade from the Seventies Thaw has improved the British economy, helping mend the last scars of the conflicts of the past.
    Military: Great Britain has struggled with constitutional restrictions on the military (especially the Army) imposed by the Populist government following the Inglorious Revolution. While these have been diluted over time by non-Populist governments, this has still left idiosyncratic traces in how the modern British military is organised, such as a disproportionately small (but elite) Army and the phenomenon of 'Land-based Marines' due to crafty past governments working around the restrictions by formally designating de facto Army regiments as Marines. The Royal Navy, although it is now secondary in size and power to the Imperial Navy of the ENA, easily remains the second most significant naval force in the Hanoverian dominions and a respected force in its own right. There are tensions over the ENA taking a privileged position in some military matters, such as the tone-deaf requisitioning of the first lionheart from its British inventor.
    Current head of state: King George IV (House of Hanover, also Emperor of North America; rarely visits Great Britain and his role is usually exercised by the Regent, presently his brother Frederick, Duke of York and essentially the Lord Deputy of Great Britain)
    Current head of government: President Randolph Herriott (Regressive Party)

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


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

    HIMS Constitution, South-east of the Îles Téméraire [OTL Pitcairn Islands]
    April 2nd 1897

    Admiral Owen Hughes looked around him with both the naked eye and his binoculars, wishing again that there was some way to keep track of ships not visible to the naked eye. He laughed; he supposed they could link them together with a spiderweb of Lectel cables, if they didn’t mind getting tangled into a horrible mess as soon as battle or unexpected weather occurred! Perhaps one day some genius would find a way to send Lectel signals without cables, through the very aether itself, but that day lay long in the future, if it ever came.[1]

    The Admiral brushed the irrelevant thought aside. What mattered was the fact that he was stood here, on the bridge of a brand-new lionheart lineship at the head of a less modern but still capable fleet, drawn from the navies of all the seagoing Hanoverian nations and their allies. Yes, all of them; though the American contingent was of course the largest and his own Britain contributed the second largest portion, there was at least one ship here from Ireland, from Bengal, even from Venezuela.Confusing matters further was the fact that this fleet, the Pacific Squadron, was based out of New Norfolk in Cygnia and many crew members had been locally recruited. Cygnia was formally part of the Empire of North America, but its distance from the motherland—and the fact that about half its population had come directly from Great Britain and had never dwelt in North America—meant that the Cygnians were an odd unpredictable lot, often with impossible-to-place accents. Hughes hoped like hell the Meridians weren’t trying too hard with espionage efforts, because a spy could probably walk on with a broad Buenos Aires accent and they wouldn’t be able to absolutely prove he wasn’t some very peculiar variety of Cygnian.

    Hughes trained his binoculars on HMS President, a sub-lionheart of the Royal Navy correctly occupying its designated role on the right flank of his force. Magnified as if by magic, he saw the Purple Ensign at her mainmast—a silly term for what was now just a token metallic stub above the main turrets, for the days of sail were fading—flapping in the wind, slightly out of time with the gusts he felt hitting his own skin moments later. Both the Asterisk of Liberty in the canton and the President’s name made him think of Llewelyn Thomas, that great Welsh hero of whom he had spoken to that savage Mauré fool Wehihimana.[2] Thomas’ legacy was still remembered in those things; yet to Hughes it was a hollow one, like the parable about whitewashing the outside of a tomb while ignoring the decay within.[3] A couple of generations after Thomas has passed away, and the old aristocrats were back in power in Britain. Oh, not precisely the same as before; some had never come back from their exiles, and among them were some new men who had made their wealth in the colonies. There was no House of Lords anymore and no peerages worth a damn. It didn’t matter: the same old rot had crept back in. It mattered not if a man wore ermine or a modern suit, if his wealth was in a great house in the country or in offshore bank accounts – not if he could still buy his way into Parliament, buy himself immunity from the law.

    The peace. The peace had been part of that, the great, magnificent peace that had brought prosperity to so many—yes, yes it had, but that too had been hollow. It had been that very stability that had let the decay come creeping back in, the sense that a rich Englishman could move his money into an account at the Bank of Buenos Aires, taking advantage of the UPSA’s helplessness before its own corporate giants who had grown up like pernicious octopi to strangle the world in that very same environment of peace and stability.

    Well—Hughes smirked to himself—at least that was at an end. Those smug neo-toffs had had a rude awakening when Monterroso had got in and started freezing foreign accounts and bringing the Meridian corporations to heel, at least as much as he could while also fighting a war. Under other circumstances, if the incident on the China-Siam border hadn’t happened, Hughes would be cheering Monterroso on. In many ways, he still was.

    But. There was a war on, and if Hughes was anything, he was a patriot. And that meant that the men swearing allegiance to that same man he admired were his enemies.

    He looked across at the dentist HHMS Lug Lamfáda, flying its St Patrick’s Saltire: a red X on white, oft confused with the flag of Congolese traders by inexperienced midshipmen in African waters. Hughes knew Lug Lamfáda was the Irish equivalent of the legendary pan-Celtic hero whom his own people named Lleu Llaw Gyffes. He felt slightly resentful that the Irish got to use such rich mythological names when the Welsh did not. Perhaps one day. Regardless, His Hibernic Majesty’s Ship was in place just as well as His Imperial Majesty’s Ship and His Majesty’s Ship. The lack of a qualifier for the British ship was an anachronistic holdover of the fact that once upon a time, the Royal Navy had been dominant enough for it not to be required. There was talk now of renaming it the Royal Britannic Navy and giving its ship the prefix HBMS for His Britannic Majesty’s Ship, but—as always—that would cause gnashing of teeth back home.

    Yes, all the ships he could see were in formation, even the experimental ship, HIMS Franklin – an appropriate name. At first glance the ship looked like any other modern sub-lionheart, but then the eye was drawn to its elongated hull, leaving a section amidships without turrets or masts or superstructure or anything: just bare flat deck. It was as though it was one of the apocryphal jokes that periodically circulated around the fleet, about one contractor using English feet while the other used French feet and ending up with a comically distorted ship when the parts were brought together.

    But no, the Franklin’s design had been entirely deliberate. Usually that bare section was occupied by something, but right now that something was floating over a hundred yards in the air, tethered to the Franklin by a stout steel cable affixed to an industrial-strength winch. The Kite—someone in the naming bureau thought he was clever—was a brand new steerable aeroship with steam nacelles and an inflatable aquaform gasbag. Similar craft, Hughes knew, were in use on land on the other side of the world bombing Carolinian artillery positions even now; but rather than bombs, this one was equipped with very advanced telescopes and cameras.

    A signal came down: a heliograph flash, exploiting both the bright sun of the tropics and the fact that it could not be seen by other observers out of the line of sight. Hughes nodded, waving away the interpretation of a nervous ensign. he had seen enough.

    The enemy fleet had been spotted.

    More information began to flash in from the Kite. It would be important to Hughes’ plan, but it paled beside the simple revelation that yes, they had found them. They had intercepted them. Hughes had implied to Wehihimana that as the Mauré struck at the Russians he would target Meridian home waters directly; perhaps the savage was naïve enough to believe him. But he would be a fool to do so while there was a small but serviceable Meridian fleet stationed in these waters, its usual role to protect the Batavian Republic’s merchant ships and enforce Hermandad rules. That fleet had to be caught and eliminated. It would have been all but impossible if the Meridians had dispersed it and then rendezvoused elsewhere, perhaps where they could then use it to raid Cygnia. His task would have been different if such a man, a man capable of bold and audacious command decisions, had been in command of the Meridian force.

    But instead he was faced by the kind of leadership born of years of corporate control, cautious, cost-cutting, shying from radicalism. The Meridians had evidently recalled their fleet to home waters in response to the rumoured naval defeats about Cuba. Hughes wished he had firm information on those. As the Meridians had cut the Hanoverian Lectel cables that joined Bengal with Cygnia—necessarily going via the Batavian islands—he had been in the dark for weeks. Occasional rumours from Chinese merchantmen, doubtless exaggerated, told of welcome Hermandad defeats in the war in the Novamund, but also of unrest and disquiet back home. It was troubling, so Hughes threw himself back into his work.

    Yes, the enemy fleet had foolishly gathered in one place, and now it was steaming on a steady course towards the naval base of Talcahuano on the west coast of the UPSA. Boring. Predictable.


    It seemed almost unfair, but… “All’s fair in love and war,” Hughes muttered.

    “Admiral?” asked Captain George Steuart Potter in his Virginian drawl. No; his Maryland drawl, the man was very clear on that point, going almost as icy as when people misspelled his middle name. Fair enough in Hughes’ book, everyone should be proud of their origins. “What did you say?”

    “Nothing, Captain,” Hughes said, his own musical tones a striking contrast. “We’ll proceed with the plan. Approach at half speed in formation until McKee in the Kite thinks they’ve spotted us, and then engage at full speed to catch them off guard.”

    Potter nodded. “A shame our guns don’t have the range to fire over the horizon like some artillery can now,” he pondered. “With the Kite spotting for us, we could sink half their ships and they wouldn’t even know where to aim in reply.”

    Hughes bared his teeth. “As if this wasn’t one-sided enough. Well, we shall have to leave that one to a future generation, Captain.” He nodded to the lieutenant on the heliograph. “All ships, implement phase two.”

    Potter shared his feral grin. “Time to send some torchies to Davy Jones.”


    Near Orangeburg, South Province, Kingdom of Carolina
    April 1st 1897

    Bombardier Richard Stanley Yates—known universally, if obscurely, as Buck—checked the feed mechanism on his Kelham 83 cingular gun. It was a nervous habit; after stripping down and cleaning the weapon thoroughly with his comrades, he had already checked it twice in the last hour. But on a battlefield, it was a nervous habit that could keep you alive. Especially a battlefield like this.

    Yates was an experienced enough soldier not to distract himself by scanning the horizon. They had spotters to do that, and if he let his attention stray to trying to do their job for them, he might miss a stealthy enemy popping up at a shorter range that he could actually do something about.

    He patted the side of the cingular gun. Before the war, he had bought into the idea popular among civilians—who were used to hearing about the guns being used to mow down savages in India or Africa by unscrupulous corporate explorers—that cingular guns were an ungentlemanly, unlovely, unfair weapon. They certainly had none of the abstract nobility of the knight on horseback or even the rows of Wars of Supremacy soldiers in chocolate-box perfect colourful uniforms that could be seen ten a penny in any schoolroom history book. Yates was not a particularly well educated man, but he had a healthy cynicism that led him to suspect that war had never been pretty, even in those days. Why sugar-coat it, especially in a nation whose founding father John Alexander had risen to controversial fame for brushing aside the absurdity of a gentlemanly duel on the battlefield? Yes, war was hell. At least trenches and mud and spike-wire and cingular guns made it hard for the next generation to romanticise. Though Yates was sure they’d try nonetheless.

    If there was a next generation.

    Yates’ gun was one of two protecting a mobile rocket battery, the model nicknamed the Porcupine by Carolinians although, like most military material, it was an import or licensed copy of a Meridian original. Rockets protruded from the boxy, flimsy-looking shape of the vehicle; there was little point in armour when a single spark could set off all the rockets. A weapon as dangerous to its wielders as to its targets, perhaps, but even when rockets had seen use on the battlefield for over a century,[5] they still had the power to sow panic and destroy morale in a way that ostensibly more effective hail shot barrages could not.

    But the rockets were of little use against the foe they now faced. Lieutenant Tilson, the commanding officer of this battery, voiced the same thought now. “The Yankee bastards are breaking all the rules,” he observed in a drawl that said he originated from the south-west of Georgia, near the border with what was ostensibly still the Cherokee Empire. “Bringing up protguns without heavy non-prot artillery support? They should be sitting ducks.”

    “Evidently someone has failed to inform the enemy of that,” said a voice with a different accent, though there were some shared features between the two. Ensign Romulus Reid, in theory, was outranked by Tilson. The steel in his voice, the casual confidence of his tone, betrayed the fact that the reality was rather different. Reid was attached to their regiment, the First Tallahassee Special Artillery, but the tabs on his tan uniform were a black even darker than his skin.

    Reid was a political officer.[6] His duty was, so it said on the pages of the regulations, to ‘ensure that the chain of command is correctly followed’. What that amounted to was shooting any Carolinian officer in the back of the head if he disobeyed an order from a Meridian counterpart. The Meridians had long realised that Negroes were the ideal group to recruit for such a role, as no-one had a more vested interest in maintaining the Meridian yoke over the white men of Carolina. The Yankees could have offered them a better deal, of course, but from what Yates had heard (reading between the lines of propaganda) they had fluffed it, instead trying to appeal to white men like him—as though anyone would believe Yankee lies!

    Tilson smiled nervously, the hatred in his eyes almost but not quite masked by long practice. “I suppose so…Ensign. Some people have argued that modern tactical doctrine is too cautious, too influenced by the defensive siege warfare in the trenches around Ultima ou—my grandfather fought in,” he said, smoothly recovering from a near-faux pas. ‘Our’ grandfathers? At that point, before the Meridians shifted their policy, Reid’s grandfather had probably been hiding up a tree from a lynch mob.

    Reid held Tilson’s gaze for a long moment. “Perhaps. Protguns have also improved since then.” He gestured towards the horizon, which was interrupted by a thick column of smoke rising from the outskirts of Orangeburg. A lot of dead men from both sides were being roasted in the streets; perhaps as the flames reached the plantations, they would be bathed in orange sauce like a French duck dish, Yates thought irrelevantly.[7] “They have superior range and aiming. Now some Septen has thought to use that to help them escape the constraints of the slower non-prot heavy guns.” Reid sounded like he was giving a lecture at the military school in Hawkinsburgh.[8] The term ‘Septen’ made Tilson, and a few of his men, twitch. It was an alternative nickname for Imperial Americans, used by younger Meridians who barely remembered the days before the ’seventies and did not see the ENA as anything more than, at worst, a rival. Odd to hear it in the mouth of a man whose role was ostensibly to ensure they were in line fighting those same Imperials, but Yates realised after a moment that Yankee probably carried too many connotations to Reid of what were, from his race’s perspective, the bad old days.

    “They’re using them like they’d use squads of riflemen,” Tilson muttered. “One takes cover and lays down covering fire while another creeps closer…”

    As if to illustrate his point, a shriek foretold a barrage of artillery fire raining down on a trench about a hundred yards in front of the rocketmen. Tan-clad bodies were hurled into the air. Yates winced as mud—and worse—fell from the sky like some dark parody of snow. Not that he had ever seen the real thing, being an East Florida boy.

    The devastation of the artillery fire belied the fact that the shells were relatively modest in size; visible behind a barricade of spike-wire, which Carolinians had set up some hours ago and was now being used against them, were the men responsible for them. Or rather, their vehicles. Eight Studebaker Hanunah protguns, only a year or two old, were sat their with their four-inch guns elevated and firing in a rolling barrage. As they did, seven more Hanunahs crept forward, their wheels tearing up the ground. Bits of spike-wire occasionally tangled in the toothed wheels, but the covering fire from the Yankees’ comrades was efficient enough that engineers could risk ducking forward with wire cutters to free the vehicles. “Shall I open fire, sir?” Yates asked, champing at the bit.

    “Not yet,” Tilson said. “We don’t want to give away our position.” He hesitated. “Those Hanunahs have thick armour. They’re named after the sky turtle from Howden beliefs, I think…”

    “The Septens do have a charming habit of naming things after peoples they seem to have done their best to try to subjugate or destroy,” Reid said dryly. The steel returned to his voice. “But we are all that stands in their path. At least we might kill those engineers. Open fire.”

    Tilson gaped at him. “But—”

    “Do not question your orders,” Reid said silkily.

    Tilson gulped, then frowned. “Very well. Ensign.” He turned back to his Porcupine.

    Yates stared in disbelief. This was stupid, absurd. It was one thing to take part in a fighting retreat, or to sacrifice yourself to let an army escape. But Orangeburg was already lost, like Congaryton before it, like Cravenville—Cravenville, home of Alf Stotts’ storied battle that Carolinian military mythology revolved around, quietly taken not with a shout but with a sigh. The Yankees had modern weapons and tactics like these, not obsolete off-cuts of Meridian materiel from a decade before. Furthermore, they had a ready supply of coal for their engines, whereas supplies had been running thin on the Carolinian side for weeks now. Even as he formed the thought, Yates saw a couple of horses which had broken free from their cingular gun carriage, a carriage that had been designed to be pulled by a steam tractor now regressed to the eighteenth century. The horses, panicking, galloped off towards the Yankee lines. “You’d better watch out!” he called out, in a fey mood. “They have Crosscreek men in that regiment, you’ll be in their cookpot by tonight!”

    His comrades, readying the Porcupine to fire, laughed. Even Lieutenant Tilson managed a wan smile. Gallows humour.

    Moments later, rockets whizzed and crashed around the advancing Hanunahs. A handful of engineers and the infantry guarding them were indeed killed. But against the armour of the protguns, the rockets exploded impotently, the force of their warheads too unfocused. Men on both sides were feverishly working on new weapons to try to penetrate the thicker armour of newer protguns and lionhearts; but as of yet, rockets were not among them.

    Yates expected the Hanunahs to shift their fire to this new target. To his surprise, they continued their existing firing pattern. The other cingular gun protecting the Porcupine fired, tracing a pointless line of sparks across the hull of the nearest Hanunah. Yates himself had not fired, knowing it would do no good; Tilson, apparently agreeing, yelled for the gunner to cease fire. Even then, the Hanunahs ignored them, still focusing on their ultimate objective.

    Because, Yates realised with a dull sense of horror, they were irrelevant. They could not stop the Yankees. Heavier artillery might, but Carolina’s artillery in this battle had already been bombed by Yankee steerables and had scattered.

    The way to Charleston was now open. Like in the Great American War, South Province was lost. A miracle, a miracle that came with a hell of a lot of strings attached, had saved them in his grandfather’s day. Could another come today?

    And what would the price be this time?


    Maarten Tromp, South-east of the Îles Téméraire [OTL Pitcairn Islands]
    April 2nd 1897

    Seaman Pablo-Sanchez Mouret scrambled from the head back to his gunnery station, one hand holding his trousers up while the other frantically sought buttons. A loud siren blared, the cause of his madcap dash. Enemy ships sighted.

    “Get it out of the way before they come bearing down on us, eh, P.S.?” Chief Miguel McGuinness joked as Mouret shoved himself into the cramped sponson. Mouret could tell that McGuinness was seriously worried because he didn’t put more effort into the jibe, given the opportunity he had gifted to him.

    The Maarten Tromp was, on paper, a ship of the Batavian Republic; hence its name, hopefully recalling a great Dutch naval hero of the past. Usually, the sub-lionheart visited ports across the East Indies and Nieuw Holland, enforcing the will of the Republic, which by a strange coincidence was always what the VOC wanted. Of course, in many ways the desires of the Meridian government took precedence, but for some years now that government had been subject to influence by the great corporations, and no corporation was greater than the VOC.

    Things were different now, of course. Monterroso was in power; and with naval reversals for the UPSA in waters closer to home, it was time to tear away the polite fictions of the Long Peace.[9] Down came the blue-white-red tricolour with the white triangle and ‘B’ of the Batavian Republic; up went the yellow, red and white flag that had flown over the United Provinces of South America for a hundred years and more. Mouret and his shipmates felt no shame in sailing under false flag (and who could say which of the flags was the false one, anyway?) Ever since the treaty with the New Spanish exiles in the Popular Wars, the UPSA had been associated with false-flag operations in the public imagination? Why not embrace that image, wear it as a badge of pride? That attitude had been brought to the far-flung states and corporate entities that made up the Hermandad, made it impossible to state which forces were under the direct control of the Meridian government and which were not.

    Of course, that had worked right up until the point where that very ambiguity had exploded this war with that clash on the Siam-China border. But you couldn’t have everything.

    Mouret very indistinctly heard Captain Pedro Schlager giving orders, barely audible over the toot of the funnels as the Maarten Tromp came about. Signal flags flapped and heliographs flashed as the ragtag Meridian (‘and miscellaneous’) fleet tried to form up into something approaching a combat formation. This would have been a challenge even if they’d been given a day to prepare: the ships were not drawn from a homogenous origin, but had been consolidated from individual craft and small flotillas that usually were spread all over the Nusantara islands, flying the (ambiguous) flag for the Hermandad and its real masters. They were rusty when it came to fleet formations, and most captains were used to being in total command, not deferring to a fleet commander. Schlager was the senior officer, Mouret thought, but judging by his increasingly shrill tones, this was not being respected by Captain Ángel Ortega on the Igualdad.

    “Yeah,” McGuinness snorted; Mouret realised he had been speaking out loud. “Talk about irony. The Igualdad – the ‘Equality’ – and it’s commanded by some Peninsular bastard who hasn’t noticed the Revolution happened yet. I talked to some of his crew while we were taking on water in Koepang, and they said he talks about him being the most senior ‘proper’ Meridian officer.”

    Mouret blinked. “You mean…?”

    “Yeah,” McGuinness repeated, automatically feeling for a cigarette that wasn’t there, and scowling. “He says that it’s about his ship being the biggest one that always openly flew the UPSA flag, not one of the subsidiaries’—as though anyone believes that makes a difference—but we all know it’s really that he’s got a damn chip on his shoulder about sausage-eaters,” he jerked his thumb towards Captain Schlager on the bridge, “potato-eaters,” he pointed at himself, “and snail-eaters,” he turned his hand towards Mouret. “Moron.” He grinned evilly for a moment. “Maybe there is something to what your godfather used to go on about…”

    “He’s not my godfather!” Mouret snapped. “Or even my namesake! My mother named me after Pablo Sanchez the great diamondball player, the best batsman the Corrientes Conquistadores ever nad—”

    McGuiness snorted. “Like you were even born after Señor Brainard brought diamondball to the Provinces.” He frowned for a moment. “I hope they don’t throw it out just because he was a Yanqui…”

    “Yeah, exactly,” Mouret said hastily, eager to get McGuinness off the subject. The Chief was right, of course. His mother had been a silly true believer in Sanchez’s fringe political cult, which, thank God, seemed to be dying down nowadays. He always went by his initials.

    Stupid, really. Why did he even care, right now, when they were about to face battle? Maybe it was one of those little ways people took their minds off such horror.

    As the Tromp turned, Mouret finally caught a glimpse of the enemy. His heart sank. There were several modern armourclads, at least one sub-lionheart the equal of the Tromp, and—in the centre—the mighty form of a true lionheart. Even as he watched, the heavy guns in their turrets flashed with a volley of shots; the range was great enough that there was a noticeable delay before the sound of the guns reached the Tromp. Captain Schlager, knowing that the American ship had superior range, ordered full speed ahead. It might seem a suicidal tactic, especially considering it would bring them into range of the enemy sub-lionheart as well, but there was no sense in running when they had no way to reply to the foe—and it was harder for solution engines to hit a ship closing with one rather than retreating.

    The commanders of other ships in the fleet came to the same conclusion and adopted similar tactics. Some of them. Mouret and McGuinness both cursed as the Igualdad indecisively turned ninety degrees and then stopped dead, presenting its flank to the Americans as a big fat target. The American commander was evidently nowhere near as stupid as Ortega, and quickly began lobbing his own fire at the Igualdad. Even with solution engines, hitting a target at this range wasn’t easy, but Ortega’s indecision had left the Igualdad almost as much a sitting duck as a shore facility would have been for a coastal bombardment. Two 850-pound shells hit near the Igualdad, blasting great mountains of white spray into the air and drenching the deck with the warm salt water of the Pacific.

    The third shell struck the bridge superstructure dead-on, as though it was a stupidity-seeking rocket zeroing in on Ortega.[10] Mouret winced. He would not grieve for the loss of that man, but for the good sailors around him. With a terrifying burst of flame and sound of crashing metal, the Igualdad almost seemed to fold in two. It was really an armourclad, a big one, but not a true lionheart or sub-lionheart with their steel cores. Hit it hard enough, and it crumpled. As it did now.

    Mouret had thought he had seen everything war could bring, but both he and McGuinness almost jumped out of their skins when a huge metal object trailing flame crashed into the ocean next to the Tromp. It took a moment for them to realise that this was not some new weapon, but one of the Igualdad’s lifeboats, torn free by the explosion. “I hope they have enough left to evacuate,” Mouret said, aware of his own naïvité as he said it. Few men would have had a change to escape that wreck before it plunged beneath the deceptively pleasant waters of the Pacific.

    Ortega’s error had not only lost the Meridians their second largest ship, but the bulk of the Igualdad turning side-on had disrupted the paths of a dentist and a frigate which would otherwise have been able to rendezvous with the Tromp; they were torn apart by fire from the American sub-lionheart before they could join the mass of smaller ships trailing behind the Tromp like the tail of a comet. They surged towards the Americans, aiming directly at the lionheart.

    On the face of it, it was madness. But Mouret could see Schlager’s thinking. The Meridian force included many older ships which could fight, but were significantly slower than the newer ships that appeared to make up the Americans’ fleet. There was no way the Meridians could win this battle without a miracle, but if they tried to flee, they would only have their ships picked off one by one as the Americans closed. Yes, the Tromp and a few others might escape, but at the cost of all the other ships, and with the Americans suffering no losses in between.

    Mouret nodded. It was a fey decision. But it was the right decision. He took a deep breath. “Let’s make them remember this day,” he said quietly, “and not as a great bloodless victory.”

    McGuinness looked at him. No jokes, no insults. He just nodded in turn, and solemnly shook Mouret’s hand. “I’ll drink to that next time we’re in port.”

    Neither discussed what plane of existence that port might service.

    They slammed a five-inch shell into their gun and waited for orders as the American lionheart, steam gouting from its funnels, all its guns blazing, grew and grew and grew.

    [1] Yes, this author is laying on the ‘isn’t it ironic that Photel will only be discovered in a few years/technically has already been discovered’ subtext a bit heavily.

    [2] This is not the same author who wrote the previous segment with Hughes and Wehihimana, and likely has interpreted the personalities differently.

    [3] Matthew 23:27, in which Jesus condemned the Pharisees by comparing them to ‘whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean’.

    [4] Confusingly, due to how days and time zones are defined (similarly in TTL to OTL, with an international date line through the Pacific though not yet as agreed as rigorously as OTL’s modern one is), these events take place simultaneously with the previous segment even though the date is different.

    [5] This somewhat chauvinistically means the western battlefield.

    [6] As noted earlier, though the concept clearly already existed, the term ‘political officer’ is probably being used anachronistically.

    [7] Yates (and possibly the author as well) is unaware that Orangeburg (which was named in 1730, only just after the POD of this timeline) was named after the House of Orange, not the fruit.

    [8] OTL Macon, Georgia.

    [9] Probably an anachronistic use by the author; it was almost certainly not called that until after the Pandoric War was over.

    [10] A rather blatant case of anachronistic narrative language here, as the very concept of guided missiles/rockets didn’t exist yet.
    Last edited:
    Part #235: Subterfuge
  • Thande

    Part #235: Subterfuge

    The people are known as: Officially NEDERLANDERS, but this is almost never rendered into English as ‘NETHERLANDERS’; in English they are almost always called BELGIANS (BELGEN).
    Capital and largest city: Brussels (0.7 million)
    Flag: A black diamond bearing the gold lion rampant of Flanders, outlined in white with orange and blue triangles at the corners (evoking the former republican Dutch flag).
    Population: 13 million (excluding colonies).
    Land area: 5,020 lcf.
    Economic ranking: Ranked between 8th and 10th place depending on who one asks.
    Form of government: A form of federal constitutional monarchy. The combined States-General in Brussels is, since the reforms of 1884, elected by a relatively broad suffrage (approximately 90% of men and 35% of women are eligible to vote, although the requirements for standing for election are more stringent). The monarchy however retains considerable power by playing off the States-General against the more conservative and insular States-Provincial, which possess substantial power. The States-Provincial in the Low Countries proper are ancient, while since the Unification War the remaining Rhineland territories have been divided into further States-Provincial, often with dubious historical precedents cited. The Government is formally headed by the hereditary Stadtholder drawn from the House of Orange inherited from the now-vanished Dutch Republic, but in practice this role more functions as a regent or stand-in for the monarch and one of the King’s Ministers functions as unofficial prime minister in the States-General. The King’s voice in the States-General is the usually dominant “Belgian Party” (or Crown Loyalists) while parties openly advocating republicanism or the separation of the former Dutch or German territories are officially banned, meaning there are a lot of independents. The main opposition party is the United Radical Bloc, which draws from all the communities of Belgium but seeks reform and more power for the people.
    Foreign relations: Belgian foreign relations have been in a quandary for the four decades since the Unification War and the collapse of the Isolationsgebiet. This is because both France and Germany are seen as foes who took (de jure) Belgian land in living memory under bitter circumstances so alliance with one against the other would be politically difficult. Belgium has therefore been drawn to aloof neutrality in Europe, a focus on colonial affairs, and international trade (including training reformed armies in independent states which have resisted colonialism, such as Persia).
    Military: The Belgian army is not the largest in the world but is considered capable and well equipped. The Belgian navy was built up over the years due to (largely fruitless) attempts to regain control over the exilic Dutch republics in Guyana, the Cape and the East Indies/Nieuw Holland, though those states’ membership of the Hermandad has made this even less feasible.
    Current head of state: King Maximilian IV (since 1883) (House of Wittelsbach)
    Current head of government: Formally Stadtholder William IX, in practice Foreign Minister Burggraaf Lodewijk de Spoelberch.

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


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

    HIMS Constitution, South-east of the Îles Téméraire [OTL Pitcairn Islands]
    April 3rd 1897

    With a gentleness that seemed utterly alien when juxtaposed with the stern warrior of hours before, Admiral Owen Hughes reached out with two fingers and carefully closed Captain George Steuart Potter’s eyes. The Maryland man seemed almost peaceful in death, at least so long as one did not peep below the canvas wrapping him from the chest down: even on modern lionhearts that carried no sailing rig even for auxiliary power, canvas remained on board for this grim purpose. Potter had been almost cut in half by a piece of shrapnel, treacherously torn from the Constitution’s own deck railing by enemy fire. A much smaller fragment, either from the same hit or a different one, had scored a line across Hughes’ temple. An inch difference and he would be lying beside Potter. As it was, he had barely noticed the wound at the time, impatiently brushing aside the blood dripping into his eyes. With ill-disguised annoyance he had allowed the surgeon’s mate to clean the wound out with iodine and wrap a bandage around his head. He probably looked like one of those savage Yapontsi bandits from the illustrated bloodies.[1]

    If he stopped to look at himself in a mirror. But even if there was time for such an indulgence, he wouldn’t be able to meet his own eyes.

    Lieutenant Gardner hurried up to his side and gave a perfunctory salute. “Fire in section 4A is out, Admiral,” he said, his face blackened with soot but split by a relieved grin. “We got it before it could reach the magazine.”

    “Excellent work,” Hughes forced himself to say. He could hardly say anything else to these brave men who risked their lives to save his ship, no matter how numb he felt. “The new damage control team system works then, you would say?”

    Gardner, an Englishman, smiled wryly. “Aye-aye sir, amazingly enough, the American Admiralty had an idea that wasn’t—ahem—to the standard of their usual fayre.”

    Hughes managed to respond with a supercilious smirk, thought it felt a little hollow. “Wonders will never cease. Your men are all awarded a three-day pass next time we’re in a friendly port.”

    “Thank you, sir!” Gardner saluted again and left.

    Hughes’ artificial smile drooped. The next time the Constitution would reach a friendly port would likely be a lot sooner than Hughes had hoped before the battle. And it had been a battle—not the sort of one-sided ambush (a turkey shoot, as the Americans called it) that he had expected, and that his honour had treacherously felt guilty about. How naïve.

    Gardner’s mention of the American Admiralty made Hughes think of his time as a cadet, when he had studied past battles. Trafalgar in particular had always stood out to him. A British defeat, a heinous defeat that had resulted in the court-martial of Admiral Keppel. But a tactical defeat, the only sort that the newspapers and the court of public opinion cared about. Strategically, Trafalgar had still helped defeat France and Spain in the Second Platinean War because of the number of transports Keppel had sank. What had really mattered to the outcome of that war was not how many warships were lost but how capable of moving troops across the Atlantic those nations had been.

    Trafalgar was over a century ago now, of course, and ships and logistics had changed beyond all recognition: hell, the very nation that Britain’s intervention in the war had helped birth was now their greatest foe—or the greatest foe of the Americans, which these days annoyingly amounted to the same thing. Regardless, the comparison stuck with Hughes as he looked again at the silent form of Captain Potter, asleep till the Last Trump. “But this time they were Keppel,” he muttered.

    The Meridian ships—alright, the Hermandad ships if you wanted to be pedantic—had all been sunk. But it had been a grievous battle and there had been terrible losses on the Anglo-American side. At first there had been promising signs, with the Meridians losing one of their sub-lionhearts to what looked like indecisive and panicked captainship. But then their other sub-lionheart had seized the opportunity and bored in on the Anglo-American lines.

    It was true that lionhearts had truly changed warfare. The Meridian sub-lionheart had been unable to truly penetrate the Constitution’s armour with its main armament, her losses—like Potter—due to unfortunate fragments of outer deck accoutrements being blasted free, and the fire Gardner had mentioned being caused by an internal engine failure under stress rather than enemy fire. But the Meridians’ charge had thrown the plan into disarray because of how unexpected and relatively organised it had been. The result was that, even though the Anglo-Americans had held a decisive advantage of numbers and ship quality that had eventually told, it had been too late to stop the Meridians selecting a target they could do real damage to.

    Hughes turned and winced. The black smoke drifting from her engines was now dying off as those same engines slowly sank beneath the waves with the rest of HMS President’s stern. Chunks of armour had been blasted away from the sub-lionheart’s flanks, with real penetration by Meridian guns backed up by steelteeth from the dentists. The President had done well to survive as long as she had given the degree of concentrated fire that had been directed at her. At least she had remained afloat long enough for most of her surviving crew to be evacuated. The lifeboats were pulling away from the sinking wreck before the vortex could claim them.

    The Admiral prided himself on not underestimating his opponents—or so he had thought. Now, with hindsight, he saw his mistake. The Meridian Armada did have an undeniable habit of some practices considered ungentlemanly or skirting close to the boundaries of the laws of war, most obviously their tendency to use false-flag operations or be ambiguous whether a ship belonged to the UPSA proper or a Hermandad client state or a corporation. Propaganda, he realised, had seized upon that real fact and exaggerated it to imply Meridians were always dishonourable in war, and therefore cowardly bullies who would flee if faced with a superior force.

    That had been a wrong impression, it was clear. They had fought like madman. No, madman did not stop to think and prioritise a realistic target like the President. They had fought like men.

    Two quiet orderlies arrived to take Potter’s body below where it would eventually be consigned to the waves. Who would conduct the funeral with Potter himself dead? Would Hughes have to do it? He would have to check the regulations: not a chapter he had ever wanted to face.

    Pushing the thought aside, Hughes forced himself to watch as the President’s lifeboats were taken on board HHMS Lug Lamfáda and HVMS Caracas. Those two dentists ought to be able to take the crew between them, though it would be cramped. The Franklin’s unusual design and aquaform ignition risks meant that she could not safely close to take on lifeboats herself.

    That reasoning was entirely logical, Hughes thought uneasily. To anyone who understood the Franklin. And the Constitution herself was still being checked out to make sure the fire risks had been entirely dealt with, and couldn’t afford to have dazed sailors cramming her corridors.

    Yes, for the people back home to misunderstand this as American ships deliberately refusing to rescue British sailors, well, that would be as absurd as thinking that Admiral Keppel had been a cowardly failure at Trafalgar…


    From: The World At War: From The Pages of The Discerner VOLUME III: IN THE BALANCE (1984):

    Oorlamstad, Cape Republic [OTL: Kimberley, South Africa]
    April 17th 1897

    “Oh, Hendrik, you are so brave!” Eva said in her charming rustic accent as she threw her arms about him, her blue eyes shining. Her hands dived into his uniform jacket and darted across his body, tracing the slowly healing scar that described an arc across his ribs. “It was so close!”

    “It was,” Captain Hendrik Cuypers said. He frowned pensively for a moment. “It was a lot closer for a lot of my men. A lot of my friends. Not all of us are coming back to their wives and girlfriends.”

    Eva made sympathetic noises, though Hendrik might have seen something in her eyes that looked almost irked. But then, perhaps that was just selfishness that her boyfriend was thinking about something other than her. She was lovely, but the same rustic background, the same narrow horizons that made her innocent and think the world of Hendrik also meant she had no conception of how great and terrible the war had become.

    So Hendrik smiled and forced down the memories that were written in blood. They would return at night when he closed his eyes. “But I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t want to spoil our time together.” He glanced up at the steam train as it slowly chugged out of the station, leaving a few other injured men behind. Several looked far worse off than Hendrik; he should count his blessings. “Let’s go.”

    Eva smiled ravishingly and clung closely to him as they walked away from the station. By the standards of those who had known the town in peacetime, Oorlamstad felt dead and deserted right now—which meant that by the standards of almost anyone else, it was still a crowded maelstrom of madcap chaos. Only a few years ago, this had been a little settlement that took its name from the Oorlam, one of the many mestizo peoples descended from early Boertrekkers intermarrying with natives.[2] It had been on the map only because it was fairly close to the inland border with Anglo-American Natal and might be significant in the event of a war such as this.

    But then the diamonds had been found. If the eyes of the world had focused on the Cape some years before that when the goldrush—that two-edged sword that had touched California, Antipodea and so many other places—had happened, it was as nothing compared to the upturning of the global jewellery market that the diamond discoveries in the Oranje River had created. And, despite the best efforts of smugglers and bandits who were entirely independent and not at all backed by the Belgian and Anglo-American governments, all the biggest diamond mines were in Cape Dutch territory. The Anglo-Americans in Natal had to content themselves with poisoning themselves to death extracting gold with borussic acid.[3] All that wealth belonged to the Cape Dutch.

    Well, not so much the ordinary Cape Dutch people, whether Boertrekker or native. More a few rich men in Oranjestad [Port Elizabeth], where Hendrik had grown up, and a lot more Meridians. But that was life.

    Now, despite the relatively subdued pace of wartime life, the great and ramshackle city still felt like it had a throbbing heart. Houses were thrown up almost as fast as the similarly temporary constructions from a few years before crumbled down. Fortunes were won and lost in gambling houses, a form of economic balancing that ensured that few of the ordinary miners who did manage to make it out with spectacular mineral wealth ended up keeping it for long. Zaal saloons extracted what remained in return for wine, women and song. The Stock Exchange and the great telegraph centre—which despite its newness sported a handful of Optel towers in order to communicate with villages which could not yet protect Lectel lines—looked after the real money, tying Oorlamstad to the heart of the Republic in distant Oranjestad. Amid it all, preachers from a half-dozen denominations heckled the rat race, from traditional Calvinists to local syncretists to even Freedom Theologians imported from Guinea. Furthermore, there were plenty of workers who had been drawn here from all over the world, and some of them had brought their faith with them. On his last date with Eva—which seemed centuries ago now—Hendrik had even spotted a Russian Orthodox priest, seeming surprised at his friendly reception from Meridians and Cape Dutch due to his country’s declaration of war on the ENA. It was bizarre to think of this war stretching around the world as it did.

    No, he had told himself he wouldn’t dwell on that. He smiled as Eva brought him to one of the less hectic parts of the city, a park that essentially blended into the veldt as the city had not yet expanded enough to enclose it. It was a weird mixture of urban and rural; at one end mestizo servants walked the pampered dogs of Oorlamstad’s wealthy few, while at the other end a confused springbok wandered past, a scene that could have come from some hunter’s kaleidolith.[4]

    Hendrik managed a smile and found a bench that at this hour fortunately had not been claimed by one of the human wrecks wandering out of a casino without the shirt off his back. Eva cuddled herself close to him, her hands demurely pressing her simple cotton dress down. It was one of countless garments manufactured in the Meridian factories in New Granada and Guyana from raw Carolinian cotton, then distributed around the world. Although there had been some attempts to dent the Hermandad cotton monopoly, notably by the Turks’ plantation programme in Egypt and by the Feng government in China, for now that ubiquity remained.[5]

    Eva’s dress might be simple and cheap, but damn, it looked good on her. It wasn’t just lust, either, he told himself. Being with her made it easy to push away the thoughts of the battlefield. There was something about her…

    Impulsively, he kissed her. She squeaked in outrage, her rural Calvinist sensibilities provoked, but her hand batting his advances away had a decisively playful air to it. “Not here, schat! Perhaps later,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows in an adorably incompetent attempt at seductiveness. She was just too innocent. Yes, that was it. That was why she made the images of men dying in trenches fade away. He smiled.

    The day passed in a whirlwind, a neat inversion of bitter days he had spent lugging his rifle and bayonet back and forth across the front line only to collapse, exhausted, into a dreamless sleep at the end of the day. This time things were different. It was as though he dreamed all those dreams he had missed out on at once. He took Eva out to dinner, a difficult proposition when prices were through the roof and food was rationed. He managed to make it romantic anyway, choosing a little Corean restaurant unknown to high society but which made truly glorious meals from ingredients no-one on the city council had thought to ration. Eva made a face at some of it and muttered prejudiced comments about Coreans born of her sheltered upbringing, but it didn’t stop her enthusiastically cleaning her plate once she had tasted it. From another woman that might look unladylike, Hendrik thought, but from her it only seemed natural, earthly, real.

    After the restaurant came the play, not at the big theatre attended by the wealthy but at a small, adventurous playhouse where the players had come all the way from the lost homeland to perform one of Corneliszoon’s new modern, vanguardist pieces set in the decadent present. Of course, it felt immediately dated with the war having broken out, but it was still very well done and darkly funny. Eva seemed a little intimidated by the some of the more daring concepts expressed in the play, but Corneliszoon also had a wicked, unexpectedly vulgar sense of humour and she laughed along with the rest of the audience. More importantly, the dark theatre, with everyone’s vision stolen by the electride lamps lighting the stage, meant that she could hold hands with him. And, after a while, allow his hands to get a little more adventurous…

    Now they were in a hotel room, sharing a glass of wine and laughing about their day. Eva was flushed but happy, the wine loosening her tongue enough to make her chat about the smalltime gossip of Oorlamstad society. Hendrik couldn’t help himself smiling. Somehow, in this war that had set the whole world alight, here, not fifty miles behind the front line, one girl had banished it from her life.

    And, for a while at least, perhaps from his too.

    Maybe for more than a while.

    He took something from his pocket. He didn’t mention where he had got it from. That officer from the Second Natalese Fusiliers wouldn’t be needing his finger anymore where he had gone. “Eva,” he said quietly, “I saw this matched your eyes…and I know, well, around here diamonds are just boring, so…”

    She saw the sapphire ring, her eyes—indeed, they matched its colour—widening. “Oh, Hendrik, it is beautiful!” She set it against her finger for a second, looking at it, then froze as realisation caught up. “You mean…”

    “Yes, Eva,” he said, going down on one knee.


    Fort Saltykov [OTL: Fort Elisabeth], Kauai, Kingdom of Gavaji
    April 17th 1897

    Wehihimana ducked as a Russian bullet sped through the space his head had occupied a moment ago. A feral grin split his face. These Russians showed spirit! Mumbling a prayer of thanks to any of the gods he believed in who might be watching, the great warlord scrambled to his feet and took cover anew.

    “They fight on, then,” observed Kikawe, one of Wehihimana’s lieutenants. He was prone to stating the obvious like that. But that same slow solidity of thought made him a reliable and steadfast ally.

    “They fight,” Wehihimana echoed. Despite being pocked by a number of Mauré bulletholes, the white-blue-red tricolour of the Russian Empire still flew over Fort Saltykov. The fort dated from the early days of Russian influence in Gavaji and was composed of the star-shaped earthworks that had been the cutting edge in Europe a century or two ago. Modern weapons would have made short work of it, but Wehihimana was limited in what he could deploy. And here on the island of Kauai, he had been unable to use infiltrators to bring down the forts from within, choosing to focus his efforts on the more modern forts on Oakhu. That island, the most important of the Gavajski Isles, was now firmly under his control, the Gavajski King Kalaninui having fled eastwards to Molokai.

    Subduing the King would be an important part of cementing Wehihimana’s rule here, of course, but he had decided to prioritise destroying the remaining Russian power centres first. And it had gone well, until the RLPC man in command of this fort had decided to embrace the spirit of his company’s legendary founding father Benyovsky and fight like a demon. Mauré bodies lying on the fields about the star fort betrayed the last attempt to take the fort, by escalade. Too many bodies. Wehihimana had precious few warriors as it was; he could not afford to waste them.

    He thought frantically for a moment, then frowned. “Is not Iorangi with us? Iorangi, who as a youth worked in the mines below the surface of the Great Sunset Land?” So was the literal translation of the Mauré name for Antipodea, or often more specifically Pérousie. The name Pérousie was of perpetual confusion to Mauré, who had long ago given the name ‘Land of La Pérouse’ to France itself.

    Iorangi hurried up. He was a little older than Wehihimana, weathered and scarred. The fact that his tattoos went around the scars, rather than being interrupted by them, betrayed the fact that they had come later. He had been born into near-slavery to kidnapped Mauré parents in some forgotten corner of the great sandy continent, forced to work in the gold mines. Only skill and luck and providence had allowed him to escape with a gold nugget that paid his passage back to his parents’ ancestral land. “Kia ora, Warlord. What do you want from me?”

    Wehihimana nodded. Iorangi was direct and blunt like that, a legacy of not having learned the Mauré rules of society until he was a grown man. Some would take offence, but Wehihimana found it refreshing. “You have experience with mining. A Batavian once told me a story of a battle in Europe, where a tunnel was dug beneath the enemy wall and bombs were set below it, bringing the wall down. Can you…?”

    Iorangi nodded enthusiastically. “I can, Warlord, I can! Providing we have sufficient powder, of course.”

    “We have plenty of powder,” Kikawe said ruefully, “but precious few balls to fire with it.” The Russians at the arsenal in Zhemchuzhnaya Gavan had had the presence of mind to tip many of their useless cannonballs into the lagoon of the temporarily landlocked harbour before they could be captured. Even the famed pearl divers of Gavaji would take time to retrieve those.

    “Excellent,” Wehihimana said, sizing up the pitted but still defiant walls of the nearest bastion star-point. “It will take a little while, but soon this island will be ours. And then the last RLPC force of any size is in Yapon. Kalaninui will have no more powerful friends left to fall back on.”

    The three Mauré shared a malicious grin. The moment was immediately spoilt when a young locally-recruited messenger hurried up. His expression of awe at Wehihimana did not prevent him carrying out his duty. “Uh, honoured warlord, the Russian prisoners of war over in Kapaa are complaining that one of the toilets in their camp is broken…”

    Wehihamana took a moment to bury his face in his hand. His father had beaten into him the importance of respecting the laws of war when it came to prisoners, especially when dealing with European foes. Treating Russian prisoners with anything other than the most delicate of care right now might turn other European powers against his new Gavajski state at the eventual peace settlement.

    But that didn’t mean he had to like it.


    Oorlamstad, Cape Republic [OTL: Kimberley, South Africa]
    April 17th 1897

    Eva Boets watched Hendrik Cuypers as he slept. Her expression was neutral. For a moment she glanced at the wine glasses and then at her purse. There were three pills in there. Should she have used one of the others?

    No, let him sleep a deep and dreamless sleep. That was enough. She took out a letter and left it with him. She had written it before meeting him at the station. That had been maybe a step too far, she had thought, but in the end his itinerary had been predictable, proposal and all. She would not be doing her job if she could not predict him, of course. Predict that he would be so receptive to the cute young girl from the sticks of the veldt, innocent and vulnerable, who would be so overcome at the glow of a sapphire ring that she would forget her strict childhood Calvinism, strip off her cheap cotton dress and share his bed then and there.

    She quietly closed the hotel door behind her, then crossed the corridor, took out a key from her purse and entered the opposite room. Again, maybe a little too arrogant of her, but that came from the same part of her character that made her so effective; she had learned to indulge it occasionally.

    This hotel room was slightly more luxurious than the one Cuypers could afford, more of a small suite. It had a connecting door to an adjacent room, presently closed. Beyond that, there was little sign of any inhabitance besides some clothes in the wardrobe.

    Eva locked the other door behind her and then spent a careful hour transforming her appearance with supplies both from her bag and the chest-of-drawers in the room. A steam hair iron removed her ringlets and made her blonde hair straight and glossy; after it had dried, she styled it in a fashionable Parisian lift. Gone was the simple, basic foundation of the poor farm girl, replaced by expensive cosmetics that set off dramatic sweeps of eyeshadow and ruby-red lipstick. The cotton dress was folded neatly into a bag; she would burn it later. She replaced it with a Chinese-style silk keipo from the wardrobe, a daring scarlet to match her lips. The combination would immediately mark her out as the cutting edge of Cape Republic society, most likely the glamorous wife of an Orangestad businessman here visiting his diamond interests.

    Eva lit a cigarette and inserted it into her cigarette holder. She sat in a chair and crossed her legs, feeling a small movement as she did. Hopefully the womb veil would remain in place; the last thing she wanted was to get pregnant with Cuypers’ child.

    She blew out a small cloud of smoke. “Enter.”

    The connecting door opened to reveal a broad-shouldered man with a prominent black moustache. He spoke Dutch with a noticeable accent: “So you have the information, yes?”

    Eva studied her fingernails for a moment. They would have to change as well, when she had time. “Yes.”

    He leered at her. “Talks in his sleep, does he?”

    She set down the cigarette holder, almost absently, and took a small Danubian-made pistol out of her pocket, playing with its safety lock as though distracted. “I think that is my business, is it not?”

    “Yes, yes, of course, yes,” the moustachioed man said hastily. “But where? Where is this big buildup aimed at? Where will they strike next?”

    Eva studied him for a moment through the dissipating wisps of smoke. The taste of good Virginian tobacco filled her lungs. There were advantages to working with the people this man represented. But they were so naïve. Men didn’t blurt out military secrets in the heat of the moment in bed. They mentioned them casually over dinner while trying to impress you. To be fair, Cuypers had not been like most. He didn’t want to think about the front line, she had realised. She had really had to tease it out of him, force him to confront it.

    Probably a coward, then.

    She took another drag on her cigarette holder. “The buildup is aimed at Narragansett.”[6]

    Moustache frowned. “But that makes no sense! How could they even approach there? Unless—” he paused.

    Eva laughed harshly, gesturing at him with her cigarette holder, leaving a trail of smoke as though tracing paths of armies across the veldt. “Unless they gain support and access from the Matetwa Empire. Which is precisely what the Hermandad is currently attempting to do. I think you Hanoverians need to get some better spies.”

    “We have seen no sign of—I haven’t been told tha—we shall see,” Moustache said, ruffled. “Very well. Your payment can be collected from Box 165 at the railway station from noon tomorrow.” He turned abruptly and left through the connecting door, his eyes distant.

    Eva smiled to herself, stubbing out the cigarette with one hand as she absently used the other to free the heel of one of her fashionable French shoes from the keipo. In his own way, Moustache was no different from Cuypers. His eyes followed her just as much, for a start, and from what she had heard of his competent espionage activities in the Republic, his behaviour when she was in the room implied he was hamstrung by distraction. Hell, maybe he fantasised about bedding her, too.

    She chuckled for a moment at that thought. They all had the wrong idea about her. Moustache was barely less deceived than Cuypers had been about her nature. Maybe he even thought she did this because she was attracted to him. None of them stopped to think about who else might benefit from a defeat of the Cape Republic. None considered who her true master might be.

    As she did every night, she took a picture from her purse. It was a battered little asimcon in a frame. There was nothing unique about it, quite the opposite: identical ones hung in the corridors of public buildings all over the Kingdom of Belgium. But nonetheless it depicted the only man Eva had ever loved and would ever love.

    She remembered as if it were yesterday, though it was many years ago: she was naturally baby-faced unless she hid it with makeup, and though Hendrik had thought she was sixteen, in reality she had almost a decade on that and was in fact older than he was. She had been only eight years old when he had come to rescue her from the orphanage. Incognito, of course. He had been following around his agents as they carried out the plan that his aunt, the great Cytherean Duchess of Brabant, had devised.[7] The Cytherean debate across the nations had exposed the fact that much of society needed to be persuaded that women could be anything other than delicate, innocent flowers; but while that misconception remained so prevalent, why not exploit it? Why not recruit girls at a young age and train them in service to the Crown, where they could unleash their skills at the most unexpected moments?

    Some of the Duchess’ Girls had become assassins, or infiltrators who had married into wealthy society in other countries and lived double lives. Eva was glad that was not her destiny. Seducing men like Cuypers, who would doubtless be killed next week on the battlefield as he moped over her letter about her fictitious brother coming to take her away—that was one thing, but keeping it up for years and years, bearing another man’s child? No, she couldn’t do that.

    He loved her, she knew. But though he had only been a young man when they had first met, she had been a child. He loved her with fatherly love, as an adopted daughter. She did not see it that way. There were not so many years between them. One day, she would make him see that.

    Her eyes burning with adoring fanaticism, her hands clutching the asimcon with longing intensity, Eva gazed into the eyes of King Maximilian IV of Belgium.


    Ultima, Georgia Province, Kingdom of Carolina
    April 27th 1897

    William V Daniel, King of Carolina, sat quietly in the corner as the argument raged. It felt like he had spent most of his career—spent most of his forty-one years of life—doing just this, so if anything he ought to have plenty of experience at it.

    He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his new grey uniform still not quite fitted correctly. It was a sign of the desperation of the times when even the King’s tailor had apparently been drafted. William’s excessive collection of arbitrary medals was heavy, pulling down the right of his uniform and making him feel unbalanced.

    The King shivered. The home of Carolina’s monarchy was officially known as the Marble Palace, after the marble produced in the north of Georgia which formed its impressive Neo-classical structure; old-fashioned by European standards, but very fitting for Carolina’s desire to look back to a vanished golden age, one which some would say had never existed. Regardless, popularly the palace was instead invariably known as the Ice Palace. This was not simply because the translucent marble slightly resembled ice, but also because William’s father King Henry X Frederick, born in Europe, had had the place stuffed with iceboxes and cooling fans. Those fans were worked by steam mechanisms now the Negroes who had once manned them were instead working behind desks, but nonetheless they served to cool the palace considerably in Ultima’s sweltering summer heat. William himself, who had never known any other clime, actually found it rather too cool, especially now in spring. The fact that his father’s designs remained nonetheless rather betrayed how much—or how little—power William truly had as King.

    He had been ignoring the argument, but now (with a barely-suppressed sigh) he allowed himself to listen in. “Another defeat at Yankee hands!” Governor Darius Wragg exclaimed. “First you fail to protect Savannah, then you fail to protect Cuba, and now this!”

    General Lorenzo Almada, the Meridian military resident—a polite term for ‘occupier’—in Carolina, dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand. “Cuba has shown its true colours now and joined the enemy,” he said, as though that would still have happened if the Hermandad had won the battle outside Guantánamo Bay. “They do not deserve our protection. And you are foolish if you compare that battle to this. The Americans and English kept some of their ships afloat, yes, but too few! They hoped to attack us directly, but instead they limp into Drakesland ports with their tails between their legs, soon to cower beneath the Russian advance!”

    “Ah yes, the famous Russian advance,” Wragg muttered. Strictly speaking, the office of Governor was still democratically elected, now every eight years, but in practice it was effectively a hereditary possession of the Wragg family who had slapped their name across Carolina and beyond (literally, in the case of Wragg Province in the west). “I will trust in your information from the other side of this continent, out of date though it must doubtless be—but what of the Imperial advance closer to home? Shall we see Charleston besieged once again, as in the days of our fathers and grandfathers?”

    Imperial, William thought. It was peculiar how Carolinians danced around terminology when it came to the ENA. If they weren’t Yankees (with or without a certain adjective in front) they were Imperials. But never Americans. Though Carolina had claimed its own identity for what felt like a century, Carolinians had always hesitated to define themselves as not American. It was similar to the rhetoric, backed by constitutional fudge, that Carolina had not truly seceded from the Empire; it was the Empire that had moved away from its true heritage and the principles of its founding fathers and old Emperor Frederick the First, while only Carolina had remained loyal. Though William was aware that men like George Washington and Ben Franklin had owned slaves at some point, he had always found the argument rather unconvincing.

    And wasn’t that the greatest irony of all—a King who did not believe in his own legitimacy. He was William V Daniel, as his father had been Henry X Frederick, because their regnal numbers were counted from past Anglo-American monarchs. William had always felt nervous about their immediate precedessors of those names, respectively: Henry IX had died in a French phlogisticateur, while William IV had been gunned down on the bridge of his flagship on Frederick I’s orders (or so most historians now conceded, though the American founding myths put it a little more delicately than that). Those were not happy acts to follow.

    “The Imperial advance is resisted,” Almada said coldly, “but it would be resisted much more effectively if your men held fast when called upon!”

    Wragg’s eyes flashed with anger. “Do you accuse the men of Carolina of cowardice, General?” he muttered in dangerous tones.

    The fourth man in the room raised a hand. “Peace, both of you,” said Speaker Thomas McCain. Incredibly, he was obeyed. McCain arguably had the most precarious position of any of them, backed up not by hereditary claim or military power but solely by democratic mandate. Elections to the General Assembly were relatively free and fair: they could afford to be, when actual power was so rarely wielded by the Carolinian government itself.

    Nonetheless, the slender McCain had a different kind of power, a different kind of strength. Charisma, the same charisma that made him a great orator, drew the attention and respect even of men like Wragg and Almada. It was what had propelled him to the Speakership despite being the leader of the Reform Whigs, formerly only a small faction within the formally one-party Assembly. In practice, the Whig factions functioned as parties did in other countries.

    In those other countries, William reflected sadly, McCain would probably have gone on to do great things, to change the world. What a pity for him that he had had the misfortune to be born in this joke of a country, founded on defence of a vile practice rendered obsolete barely a decade later regardless, stripped and humiliated by its supposed friends. William’s father had spent most of his life trying to become King in Prussia, and after giving up any chance of a crown in his middle years had ended up with this one. As far as William was concerned, Henry Frederick would have done better to stay as a private citizen in Virginia. Maybe then he, William, could have grown up to have a life worth living, instead of this straitjacketed existence.

    He shook his head. No point feeling sorry for himself, not when men were dying on the battlefield in his name. He listened again. McCain was pouring oil on troubled waters as usual, praising the men and requesting more Meridian support for industry to help resupply them. It was all to the good, and McCain’s rhetoric—evoking both the Great American War and the Second Platinean War to stir the hearts of both Wragg and Almada against the Imperials—was excellent as always. By the end of the meeting, it was as though the disagreement over Admiral Hughes’ allegedly Pyrrhic victory had never happened. The Government was once again united against the Imperial hordes now covering most of South Province.

    Wragg and Almada left early, talking animatedly but constructively. McCain paused as he went, looking back. “If you’ll forgive me, Your Majesty, you haven’t said a great deal,” he pointed out.

    “There did not seem a great deal to say,” William said dryly. “I do thank you for your intervention, sir. It is words such as yours which will see us through this war.”

    McCain shook his head. “Words can only do so much,” he said. “It shall be the deeds of brave men that win this war. Not for truth or for justice or out of any intrinsic cause—if you will forgive me—but men fighting for a future for their families, for their children. That is what we must always hold in our minds when we face the scale of our challenge. Thank you.” He stepped out.

    William managed a small smile. Even in a situation like that, McCain couldn’t get himself out of the mode of an inspiring speech. But perhaps it had been deliberate; had the orator peered over his spectacles at the King as he had spoken the words ‘our minds’? Mayhap.

    Did he suspect? No, William thought. He simply saw what everyone saw: that the King of Carolina had no stomach for this war.

    That same King went to his desk and worked for some time. He seemed to sign a lot of personal condolences lately. And those were only for aristocratic officers who fell in the line of duty, and important Meridian commanders; he could only imagine how many form letters were sent to the families of fallen common soldiers and Negro auxiliaries.

    There was only so much of this he could taken, even if it numbed him after a while. It was with relief that after an hour he heard a soft, rich voice behind him speak a certain word: “Addab.”

    It was a nonsense word. But it sounded vaguely Biblical; in this country, so fond of the more obscure Old Testament names for both whites and blacks, it did not stand out to any eavesdropper.

    William kept writing, though his attention was no longer on his work. Without turning around, he spoke a nonsense sentence of his own. “I neab nabbers.”

    Steps echoed on the marble floor, then muffled as the walker stepped onto the fine rug William’s father had had imported from Persia. “Your Majesty.” The voice was softer.

    William still did not look up. He didn’t need to. One curious thing about Carolina was that even as the societal position of Negroes had been radically transformed, they were still treated as being as anonymous and interchangeable by white society as they had when they had once been slaves. But for different reasons. Regardless, it meant that security was unlikely to spot a black man who did not belong to the palace staff, providing he had the right uniform and knew the work schedules.

    This man, William knew from a previous contact, was in fact technically British, having been born to the small black community in London which had had an on-and-off existence for a century, constantly in close contact and exchange with Freedonia in Guinea. One would never have guessed his origins, though, for he could emulate the drawl of a Carolinian-born Negro perfectly. “We have considered your proposal,” he said softly.

    William kept his pen scratching even though he was now just writing squiggles of gibberish. Just in case anyone’s ears pricked up at the sound falling silent. He would have to redo this letter. “And what do your masters say?”

    He winced at his unconscious use of the word, aware of the very different connotation it would have to a Negro, but the voice seemed unruffled. “They are interested, shall we say. They are willing to provide protection and evacuation, if necessary, for you and your family.”

    The King still did not turn, but he shook his head vigorously nonetheless. “No. That is not what this is about. I am not betraying these people. I care for them. I want them to have peace. Not the Meridian yoke. Not to see their land turned into a battlefield. Just peace.”

    Silence for a moment. “You do care for them,” the black man said, and for the first time an emotion entered his usual deep, monotone voice. Surprise. “Frankly, Your Majesty…why?

    William stared directly ahead at a portrait of his father hanging over a fireplace. “Honestly, sir? I don’t know. Perhaps just because someone has to.”

    He did not hear the retreating footsteps until the man had reached the end of the rug. He never did find out what he looked like.

    [1] Referring to the hachimaki headband, which in OTL modern Western culture is most often associated with Japanese kamikaze pilots from WW2, but is in fact is worn in a wide variety of contexts in Japanese society.

    [2] The use of the Spanish term mestizo for mixed-race reflects both the world role of the UPSA and in particular its influence in the Cape Republic.

    [3] This refers to the MacArthur-Forrest process of gold extraction using cyanide—AKA prussic acid or in TTL ‘borussic acid’ after the Latin form, as it was first discovered as the gas given off from heating the pigment Prussian Blue. The OTL process was only discovered in 1887, but the TTL equivalent was invented (by a Californian named Ruggs) a decade earlier. The reason for this is that the process is ultimately derived from the observation by Carl Wilhelm Scheele that gold dissolves in aqueous cyanide, and the Linnaean controversy in TTL meant Scheele’s works were more closely and widely read in TTL, slightly accelerating the further work based on his.

    [4] Equivalent to a photochrom chromolithograph from OTL, a way of producing colourised photos popular at this time.

    [5] This description reflects the fact that, unlike OTL, India has not (yet) become a major cotton exporter due to the divisions, chaos and lawlessness unleashed by the Great Jihad followed by the disjointed and divided state of the region.

    [6] OTL Margate, South Africa; named in TTL for the town in Rhode Island (itself named for a native tribe).

    [7] Unlike OTL Belgium, in which the revived title of Duke/Duchess of Brabant is used for the heir apparent to the throne, in TTL Belgium it is given to the eldest younger brother of the King (the Duchess of Brabant mentioned here holds the title through her marriage to him).
    Last edited:
    Part 238
  • Thande

    Part #238: Interventions

    The country’s official name is: THE EXALTED OTTOMAN STATE (DEVLET-I ‘ALĪYE-I ’OSMĀNĪYE); much more frequently known elsewhere as the OTTOMAN EMPIRE or, inaccurately, as TURKEY.
    The people are known as: OTTOMANS or TURKS (inaccurately, as Turks are only one of many ethnic groups in the empire).
    Capital and largest city: Constantinople (1.2 million)
    Flag: Though the simple white crescent on red remains in use for some purposes, the ‘Three Faiths Under One Flag’ banner has become the established national flag. This is a red vertical stripe at the hoist with the white crescent married to a horizontal tricolour of green, yellow and blue (for Muslims, Jews and Christians respectively).
    Population: 52 million.
    Land area: 600,000 lcf.
    Economic ranking: Certainly in the top ten, but precisely where remains debated. Often ranked 7th or 8th.
    Form of government: Theoretically absolute monarchy; in practice this was not the case even before the nineteenth-century Devrim reforms. By the end of the century, the complex, Yuchyu Meclis (Triple Assembly, often rendered into English as ‘Tricameron’) functioned as a parliament, though it could often still be brought to heel by the powerful Grand Vizier whose position was theoretically dependent on majority control there as well as approval of the Sultan.
    Foreign relations: The Ottomans have traditional enmities with Russia, Danubia and Persia, but often manage to play one off against another (most usually temporary alliances with Persia against Russia). Since the restoration of central control following the Time of Troubles and the annexation of Algiers in the Euxine War, Ottoman policy has often focused on expansion of both direct control and spheres of influence in Africa. In particular the kingdoms around the African Great Lakes are subject to considerable proxy conflict between the Ottomans and Persians as they jockey for trade influence. Despite this, the Ottomans have not had a major war for almost three decades, border skirmishes and internal rebellions aside. Constantinople historically had an ally in Paris, but this tendency has lessened since the Ottoman annexation of Algiers was poorly received by the French.
    Military: Following a long period of decline due to the power of the Janissaries and other conservative factors (culminating in the Time of Troubles), the Ottoman military has been considerably modernised and revitalised. This is unusual for non-European Old World powers in this situation in that it has rarely relied on specific groups of advisors and purchases from European or Novamundine powers, often being developed thanks to domestic research. The Ottoman military is split into two branches, Ordusu (Army) and Donanmasi (Navy), with aerocraft divided between the two rather than given their own branch.
    Current head of state: Sultan Mehmed VIII (since 1889)
    Current head of government: Grand Vizier Abdullah Seyyid Pasha (since 1891)

    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):

    Berlin, Kingdom of High Saxony, German Federal Empire
    July 2nd 1897

    Walther Klein finally relaxed his tired leg, ceasing the repetitive kicking motion he had been making for most of the day. He wondered wryly what one of the forensic specialists from his favourite ratiocinic novel series would think on examining his hypothetical corpse, under the questionable assumption that anyone would ever want to do him in. It would provide a nice little example of the obligatory scene where the police were baffled at this man with more muscle tone on one leg than the other, until the brilliant expert surmised that he had spent many years working with the potter’s kick-wheel.

    Nowadays, of course, it was possible to buy motorised potter’s wheels that were driven by steam engines, but Walther would never consider such a crassly commercialised device, no matter how much it saved his breath. A steam wheel would, quite obviously, produce a highly consistent and regular rotation, allowing a skilled potter to produce works of remarkable symmetry. To Walther, though, to do so was to miss the point of what ceramics should be. Men were men, with blood in their veins and hearts in their chests. They were not some Lucasian automata who might take delight in soullessly identical, precision-engineered items. Artistry required uniqueness, irregularity, humanity. No pot or bowl Walter threw on his wheel would ever look quite identical to the next, even if he had tried to make it so. And that was the secret.

    He examined his current project with a critical eye, then took an ordinary spoon and made a few delicate hound’s-tooth patterns around the rim and base of the pot. He did not go in for the Versaillaise ornateness that seemed in fashion again with the uncouth these days. Less was more. Finally, satisfied, he carefully sliced the pot away from the wheel with his knife and placed it within his kiln for firing. He wiped his forehead with a rag, then smiled wryly as he felt wet clay on his skin: he had muddled his clean rag with one he used to wipe his fingers more casually. It took him a little longer to get clean as a result, allowing the smears of clay to dry and flake off rather than mixing them with water and prolonging the process. He did not much mind, being a man of a sedate pace in life; he cared not if he left more smears on his stein of fine Bohemian beer. That could be cleaned later.

    He drank deeply, reflecting that he rather selfishly benefited from the government promoting the products of ‘our heroic allies’; his broker, Heinrich Stoiber, was similarly fortunate in his love of Polish sausages. He wondered how the Poles and Danubians themselves thought about it: unlike Germany with her North Sea ports kept open by the Imperial Bundesmarine and the vague and theoretical alliance of Great Britain, he had heard that the easterners faced food shortages and rationing. They were probably not too happy to see what food they had being sold to Germans as propaganda delicacies.

    Feeling obscurely guilty, he set the stein down and freed himself from his smock, wiping his hands one last time. He felt the urge to bury himself in his work again, to forget the affairs of the world in these black days, but all the joy he took in his work meant little in the cold light of day if it could not also pay to put the roof of this studio over his head. To that end, he took up hat, coat and cane and headed down the stairs, carefully locking the door behind him.

    It was a pleasant summer’s day, at odds with the martial headlines shrieking from the newspaper front pages and the parades of young boys in cadet uniforms. These days even Dorotheenstadt, which Walther had first come to as a relatively quiet and isolated haunt of artists and craftsmen, had been invaded by the war. Of course, it could still intensify further, as he learned when he headed onto the broad thoroughfare of Unter den Linden—as the old Berliners still called it. There were occasional traces of old signs dating from the brief and unlamented reign of the Mecklenburgers seventy years before, when the street had officially been named ‘Schwerinstraße’—but even at the time, even the most lickspittle of collaborators had never been able to utter it with a straight face.

    Not that Walther was much aware of all this. He had a keen interest in history, but it stopped at about the end of the first millennium. He and many of his colleagues had come here, to what had often been regarded as a mere conquered backwater, to pursue artistic inclinations at a time when the High Saxon establishment had been enamoured of standardised porcelain and hyperrealistic asimcony. It was the same kind of reaction against precision as the Sensualists had pursued in paints, a group of men—and a few women, these days—whom Walther admired. Walther himself and his colleagues had instead pondered the matter of how Saxon porcelain had survived the market being flooded with genuine Chinese porcelain after the expansion of the China trade and the Standard Crate made it relatively cheap to import. People still bought Saxon porcelain, which had once been considered a poor second cousin to the Chinese original—why? Because, in Walther’s view, Saxon porcelain had ceased to be merely a copy, but had taken on its own identity.

    He had taken this principle and applied it to other, older forms of ceramics. There was huge interest in Etruscan and Babylonian artefacts among the middle classes in many countries, but their response was often to purchase vague copies made to standardised patterns in manufactories. That, to Walther’s mind, was to miss the point. No Babylonian or Etruscan would recognise any of those Carltonist abominations as anything he would put on his mantle-piece, presuming those fine civilisations possessed such an item. Instead, Walther consulted archaeologists and historians, seeking to replicate the circumstances and techniques the ancient civilisations would have used.

    His biggest challenge had come in the last few years, where the discovery of Antediluvian[1] cave paintings and artefacts in the south of France had led to a craze for modern replicas. While less scrupulous craftsmen had seen simple flint axes and the like as clearly of childish simplicity to replicate, Walther and his like-minded friends had instead conducted extensive research, not only among the French archaeologists excavating the caves but also with those who had worked with native peoples elsewhere in the world who were, or had been, at a similar early level of development. Astonishingly, and evocative of the rapid advancement that race had made, there were still Mauré who could just about remember not dissimilar tools being made in their homeland before the coming of La Pérouse. With quite a few Mauré living in France, they had given informed views on the Antediluvian discoveries which had helped Walther select techniques. The result was that while the crude replicas the ready-money merchants machined on their lathes lay languishing on the shelves, Walther’s work was in high demand among connoisseurs who only knew it from the real thing by his discreet maker’s mark on the underside.

    Walther now took one such production from his pocket, a small flint axeblade that could have spent millennia beneath the soil but had in fact been made in his workshop last year. Holding a cigarette in his other hand, he struck the flint against his housekey and produced a spark that lit it: an affectation, but one that amused buyers at parties. He took a drag of the cigarette and grimaced: with American territorial waters still being full of Meridian and Carolinian ironsharks sinking freighters left, right and centre, proper Virginian tobacco was now out of his price range.

    Smoking the disappointing cigarette, he navigated his way around the busy traffic—mostly steam-powered, with the occasional horse-drawn carriage as a relic of an earlier age—and reached the Platz am Opernhaus.[2] He was glad that he had left home early and allowed himself plenty of time for his walk: traffic had ground to a halt due to an overturned waggon. The waggoneer seemed more interested in fixing blame on the driver of the steam mobile he had collided with, to the point that he had not noticed that the bottle of his waggon’s gaslamp had overturned. Who knew why on earth the fool had left the pilot light burning on a bright day like this, but the bottle was overheating and might soon explode. Walther almost intervened himself, but fortunately passers-by and constables had already spotted the danger. A brave policeman rolled the bottle away from the wrecked waggon with a cane and quenched the pilot light with water from a nearby fountain. Walther breathed a sigh of relief, glancing at the waggon’s cargo. Even if the bottle had probably been too small for its explosion to pose a serious threat to the people there, even if it had set light to that cargo—leather-bound bestsellers bound for a bookstore across town—it would have been a tragedy to his mind.

    Though, as mentioned before, Walther was little interested in modern history, he was vaguely aware that the Platz am Opernhaus had once been a fortified area of the city, back when Prussia had been an independent and militaristic power. Those days were long gone, however, and the former walls had often been cannibalised to patch holes left by the upheavals of the Popular Wars. Nowadays the Platz had been taken over by artists such as himself and those who followed them: buyers, suppliers of paints and other materials, and entrepreneurs who had set up coffee-houses in which men with vision set the world to rights—and occasionally set each others’ noses awry in the process.

    While Walther’s feet brought him surely to his destination, Herr Caprivi’s Kaffeehaus, his eyes wandered over the wares offered on nearby market stalls as laviciously as another man’s would over the painted ladies of the Mühlenweg.[3] A shadow briefly blotted out some stalls and he wondered if the clouds had come in, but he his eyes were fixed on the wares, not the sky. Much of what he saw did not directly impact on his own work, but that mattered not; Walther was a man with an eye for artistry of kinds he could not attempt himself as well as those he could. There were finely produced miniatures, survivors yet in this age of asimcony, cunningly wrought lockets and watch-chains, and even furniture which sought to reclaim the hand-wrought care of past centuries, rather than the Carltonist rubbish of today that would fall apart after a few years’ use.

    The Italians understood that, of course. Walther almost thoughtlessly mentioned it to old Herr Caprivi as he greeted him at the doors of the Kaffeehaus. As a man who put far less thought into thinking about men than the works of their hands, he had almost forgotten that Caprivi was no recent immigrant, but in fact came from a family that had established itself in the Prussian aristocracy a century before and more. Of course, like many Prussian aristocrats, they had since fallen on hard times and had to work for a living. Caprivi’s younger son Leopold had once told Walther that his father was theoretically entitled to call himself von Caprivi, but that today everyone would just assume it was a silly affectation and make fun of him for it. “It is like living in England!” young Leo had complained.

    Guten Tag, Herr Klein,” Caprivi the elder greeted him, absently wiping coffee bean-stained hands on a cloth. “Your friend Herr Stoiber is already waitin for you at table fifteen.”

    Walther nodded thanks. Some of the more histrionic artists of the Dorotheenstadt would have objected to Caprivi’s innovative table-numbering system, doubtless going on long philosophical rants about how the human urge to number things destroyed all the natural beauty of the world. As far as Walther was concerned, if it meant he could find Heinrich Stoiber faster, it was a good idea. “My usual latte, please.”

    “I can’t tempt you with one of Herr Johannson’s Snabbkaffes?” Caprivi said, giving him a conspiratorial look.

    Walther laughed. “No, just like the last ten times you asked, Herr Caprivi. I am sure that Herr Johannson is capable of great technical feats in his laboratory in Gothenburg, but I shall continue to have my coffee as the good God intended, without the intervention of any steam-powered mechanical marvel.”[4]

    “Next time, perhaps,” said the incorrigible Caprivi. “But for now, very well.”

    Regardless of Caprivi’s taste in coffee innovation, Walther indeed couldn’t fault his system of organisation, easily finding the table. Heinrich smiled, put down his newspaper and rose slightly to shake his hand. The two were an odd pair. Walther looked older than he was, with all the slightly shabbiness of the absent-minded artist coupled to an intensity of drive that surprised strangers when they first looked into his eyes. Heinrich Stoiber, on the other hand, looked a decade younger (in fact they were almost contemporaries), was nattily dressed in a dapper suit with the latest elaborate frills at his cuffs and cravat, and had a deceptive indolence in his own, dark eyes. “You made it here without being distracted by some pretty ankle this time, I see,” Heinrich commented.

    Walther raised his eyebrow. “I would do nothing of the sort!” he protested.

    “I did not say the ankle was of flesh and blood,” Heinrich said wryly, pointing wordlessly behind him. Visible through the window was a buyer carefully attempting to move a large and skilfully executed statue of a female nude in the Greek style. Obscure stuff, that, these days—played out compared to the Babylonian style, or even the newfangled Egyptian. Impressively done, though.

    “Alright, you’ve got me,” Walther said dryly. “Anything interesting in that paper of yours?”

    Heinrich glanced at the paper as he rolled it up dismissively. “The usual. Aside from our heroic victories in Russian towns with names I could have sworn belonged to Polish or Danubian ones before the war, every asylum in the land seems to have distributed soloprinters[5] to its inmates and asked them to write about the late and unlamented King of Carolina.”

    Walther blinked “I admit I do not follow the news as closely as you do,” (Heinrich laughed), “but I was under the impression that he was shot while giving a speech in his capital? What more is there to say?”

    “Oh, Walther, you are so naïve,” Heinrich said with relish. “To these people it is like them saying to you ‘but surely one pot is much like another?’ No, they are determined to get to the bottom of who really killed a man who, if the dice had fallen differently, might have been Brandenburg’s king. We dodged a bullet there,” he added with a mutter.

    “I thought it was a man who supported ending the war and surrendering to our, ah, allies the ENA?” Walther ventured.

    “Oh, if you rely on such misleading trivialities as what the gentleman in question said at the time and was widely reported,” Henrich said with heavy sarcasm. “But clearly that’s just what they want us to think. No, he was clearly…” he began to count off on his fingers, “a bitter Virginian upset about his father’s tenure as Governor there when we were boys. Or a neo-Prussian revanchist angry that he hasn’t come back here to have another go at setting the country on fire. Or a Negro angry about slavery, or a white man angry that it was ended. Or a Negro disguised as a white man. Disguised as a white woman. Disguised as a Negro.”

    Walther tried to peer at the distorted words on the rolled-up newspaper. “You’re making that up.”

    “I wish I was,” Heinrich muttered. “Our part of the war sounds almost dull by comparison. I think it’s just that nobody has any clear news from Carolina any more since it started collapsing so they’re just making things up.”

    “Perhaps,” Walther said diplomatically. “And now, to business?”

    Heinrich laughed. “Usually I’m the one who has to bring you back on course. But, very well. How goes your latest line in Etruscan pottery?”

    Of course that wasn’t what Heinrich really wanted to talk about, but they warily circled each other through more ordinary pieces before approaching the big stuff. To look at Walther one wouldn’t think he could haggle, but he was of merchant stock himself and drove a hard bargain. “Done,” Heinrich muttered finally, signing off on a commission. “And the fact I can sign this is the only proof I have that I didn’t negotiate my hand away.”

    Walther smiled neutrally, but the smile slipped almost immediately. Two uniformed men came up behind Heinrich and loomed over him. He felt a third behind him, casting a shadow in the light from the window. “Excuse me, Herr Klein, Herr Stoiber?” asked one of the men, whose insignia was more elaborate.

    Belatedly, Walther recognised the uniform. Though surely it made no sense! Not the regular city police, but Feldgendarmerie? Here, in the artists’ quarter of Berlin? “Yes, Lieutenant?” he asked.

    The Lieutenant showed his teeth in what was technically a smile. “I am glad we found you. We just want to ask you a few questions about your connections with the…artist, Herr Klaus Hansen.”

    Walther just managed to stop himself innocently asking ‘Who, you mean Claus Jensen?’ “I have answered these questions before,” he said coldly. “Some years before, when His Imperial Majesty’s attention was fixed on the Jutland provinces. My correspondence with Herr…Hansen was of a purely artistic nature and we never discussed politics.”

    “So you say, Herr Klein,” the Lieutenant said suspiciously.

    “So I said to a man your father’s age when you were still at school, Herr Lieutenant,” Walther snapped incautiously. “I was fully cleared of any…inappropriate contact with the gentleman in question and that was an end to it. Now you dredge it up again, at a time when one would hope you have higher priorities?” Walther thrust a finger out. “Why?”

    “I am not obliged to tell you anything, Herr Klein,” the Lieutenant said icily.

    Heinrich coughed. “Well, actually, you are. Since the Hochsachsen Landtag voted three years ago to require bureaucratic transparency for all police business, whether city police or Feldgendarmerie.” He lowered his voice. “If you do not believe me, I can write to my deputy. My High Radical deputy,” he added.

    The Lieutenant took a step back and Walther resisted the urge to grin. He had forgotten that Heinrich’s brother was a lawyer and clearly something had rubbed off. Wheels were visibly turning in the Lieutenant’s mind. He was young and inexperienced. Herr Stoiber might be bluffing about the law. But could he take the chance, when everyone knew of the overzealous policemen whose careers had been ended by the crusading High Radical leader Fritz Ziege?

    The Lieutenant appeared to come to a decision. “Very well. I should not need to tell you in any case, if you had eyes to see.” He gestured impatiently at the sky. Walther saw another of those curiously well-defined shadows blotting out part of the market, but this time he thought to look up.

    He whistled. “Steerables?”

    “Tethered balloons, actually. Observation,” the Lieutenant said, probably telling them more than he had to even in the most generous interpretation of the law Heinrich had mentioned. “Needed for when the enemy send theirs against ours.”

    Walther blinked. “The Russians are so close to Berlin?” A note of fear entered his voice.

    “Not the Russians, you fool. Why do you think we have been tasked to interview any prominent citizens with Scandinavian connections?” the Lieutenant snapped.

    Heinrich’s eyes widened. “Then Valdemar has finally got off the fence?”

    “And on the wrong side,” the Lieutenant muttered. “Scandinavia declared war this morning. Seems they can’t take the hint from Carolina that we’re going to win this war.”

    Walther wanted to scream at him that it didn’t matter what was happening on the other side of the world, that this idea of big global alliances was a propaganda joke, that everyone had got involved out of their own interests and then it had spiralled out of control.

    He didn’t. High Radical law or no, there were limits.

    But he did wonder if there was any great demand for faux Etruscan potters in Paris or Rome…


    Atlantic Ocean west of Port Royal Sound, South Province, Kingdom of Carolina
    July 17th 1897

    Captain Rodrigo Gutiérrez of the Meridian steerable Dédalo checked his barometer for the twentieth time. It was, obviously, quite sensible for any steerable pilot worth his salt to consult the instrument frequently in order to spot any unexpected pressure changes. Though engines had improved dramatically over the past six decades, a steerable was still to some extent at the mercy of the winds, even more so than the sailships his grandfather had navigated.

    But in all honesty, by this point his checks were more a nervous habit than possessing any real utility. Men had different ways of distracting themselves from thinking about impending doom. Probably the oldest and most popular was alcohol. That was not an option for a man who wanted to fly the morning after. The Aerial Armada—or, as some men now called it, the Skyfleet—was very strict about these things. The Ministry scarcely wanted to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a top-of-the-line steerable balloon only for some drunkard to crash it.

    So instead Guitérrez and his comrades turned to nervous tics. His two lieutenants, Ortiz and Gordillo, did their own variations on the same: Gordillo constantly scanned the skies for enemies, while Ortiz kept fiddling with the new wrist-strapped watch his fiancée had bought him. They were supposedly fashionable due to their use by men in the trenches who did not have the time to consult a fob watch. Useful as well for steerable crews, of course. The thought still made Guitérrez uncomfortable, that not only had the war taken over his own life, but was casting shadows all the way back home.

    A home that felt rather less insulated from the war than it had a few months ago. There had always been the sense that the war was something happening safely far away, a frantic and bitter conflict to be sure, but one fought on the soil of the UPSA’s Carolinian vassal not her own. So long as Carolina stood, there could be none of the nightmares that mothers still passed down to their children as bogeymen, though they had faded now from living memory: American troops on Meridian soil, Buenos Aires bombarded, the people helpless under the Anglo guns.

    Guitérrez’s gloved hands tightened on his yoke. He would fight with every fibre of his being to prevent that black image from coming to pass.

    “There!” Gordillo said suddenly, reviving Guitérrez from his reverie. “On the horizon! That’s them, or I’m a Cisplatinean’s uncle!”

    Guitérrez rolled his eyes at that: the old jokes directed at Cisplatineans and Riograndense people had become so ingrained into the language that now even New Granadine recruits like Gordillo quoted them, never mind that the Platinean grandfathers originally making them would have regarded him as even more of a wide-eyed yokel. “Identify,” he said sharply. “Ortiz, prepare the heliograph.”

    Ortiz nodded and began carefully unfolding the mirrors. Fortunately it was a sunny summer day—though that did mean they had to adjust their lift calculations—and the heliograph would work. Guitérrez was always nervous about using an electride signal lamp near the aquaform in the gasbag. Supposedly it was safely insulated from it, at least according to García & Denoailles Fábrica de Aviación, who had built the airship. But Guitérrez had heard those sorts of corporate promises before.

    Gordillo had his binoculars focused now, but even Guitérrez’s naked eye alone could pick out the faint shapes on the horizon. There was the green carpet of Georgia and South Province, interrupted by the great, grey-green, greasy expanse of the Harbour River that carved out the island of Port Royal and its companions. It faded to bluish as it met the sky for reasons that scientists were still arguing about, while the deep blue waters of the Alantic fuzzed to grey. And there they were, just barely visible, darker grey shapes against it. Far boxier and blockier than the sort of beautiful craft his grandfather had fought. But maybe that was just nostalgia.

    An American fleet.

    Guitérrez took the binoculars from Gordillo and glanced at the ships as the lieutenant made his report. Gordillo had more direct experience with this, but it never hurt to get a second opinion. “To me it looks like two, count ’em, two lionhearts—one Constitution-class, that must be the new HIMS Empire of North America…”

    “Not the most original at naming things, are they, these Septentrics,” Ortiz said dismissively.

    Guitérrez decided not to point out that there was also a ship, a sub-lionheart, named United Provinces of South America in the Armada. “What about the other one?”

    “Confederation-class, must be,” Gordillo said. “Not the Virginia, she’s still supposed to be damaged. Maybe they brought the Westernesse back from Europe?”

    The Captain shook his head. “Look again. The turret superstructure has been refitted, but you can still see the original lines. That’s not a Confederation-class lineship, that’s the original HIMS Lionheart.”

    Gordillo almost snatched the binoculars back. He whistled. “You’re right, sir! So she looks all tough and modern but…”

    “She’s obsolete under the powder and paint,” Guitérrez nodded. The Lionheart was only just over a decade old, but in the rapid pace of advance in military science since the war began, that might as well be a century. “Get that to Admiral Tavares, Ortiz. He can exploit that.”

    Ortiz nodded and began flashing his heliograph, careful to avoid any light being reflected towards the enemy fleet. “He’ll need all the help he can get,” he muttered under his breath.

    Guitérrez briefly considered chewing him out with the usual speech about morale, and almost immediately dismissed the thought. They all felt this way, yet they fought on. Oh, the fleet they flew ahead of looked impressive enough, the fleet that President Monterroso had assembled at Santa Catarina and Admiral Tavares had managed to punch through the American naval forces dominating the West Indies. But there was no getting away from the fact that this was a last-ditch effort, a last throw of the dice, a last attempt to make all the money and resources that four decades of Meridian rule had sunk into the Kingdom of Carolina mean something.

    “Message received,” Ortiz reported. “At least the Republicano isn’t being slowed down by any troopships,” he said owlishly.

    “That’s classified,” Guitérrez muttered. He wasn’t a hundred percent sure that the rumour was true: that Tavares had taken a look at the latest spy reports out of Carolina and sent his reinforcement troopships off to help the New Granadines and Guatemalans fighting to occupy Jamaica instead. If it was true, of course, it meant that Tavares had decided there was no point throwing good money after bad, that all sending those soldiers to Carolina would achieve would be to give the Americans more prisoners in the long run.

    Which in turn meant that none of this could possibly save Carolina. All it could do was hurt the Americans, slow them down. “But every ship we sink today is one fewer to bombard the women and children of Buenos Aires,” he murmured. Ortiz looked over in surprise, then nodded, abashed.

    The American fleet continued to resolve itself more clearly. It was big, very big. A few steerables of their own floated above it, betraying the fact that it had sailed from a nearby port—Charleston, almost certainly. Guitérrez glanced over at the coastline again. Carolinian forces, or at least Meridian forces flying a flag with a palmetto tree on it, still controlled Port Royal island, the town of Beaufort and Fort Oglethorpe, named after the Englishman who had given Savannah its unnecessarily confusing road layout (in his opinion). But that fortified island was now surrounded on all sides by American occupying forces as Carolina collapsed, and only by sea could it be resupplied. Guitérrez wasn’t sure if Ultima itself was under American occupation yet: the propaganda broadsides by both sides introduced an element of uncertainty compounded by the lack of news coming out of the chaos in the Cotton Kingdom regardless. There was talk of the faculty of the University of Corte fleeing wholesale to their younger sister institution in Tallahassee, and Corte was farther south than Ultima. Up to now the war had mostly been the slow grinding pace of trench warfare, but the collapse had been so rapid after some fool had shot the Carolinians’ king, Guitérrez half expected that East Florida would be overrun in turn before too long.

    So hold the Americans back as long as they could, and make it count.

    “Let’s go,” he said. “Steer course north-north-east by east, increase altitude by sixty varas[6] and go to twenty-five knots.” Of course they could not be quite so precise as that, but it set a general approach.

    “Manoeuvre props engaged. Nacelles spinning up to full power,” Gordillo said.

    Guitérrez felt the wind buffet the steerable as the Dédalo’s mighty engines fought against nature—and won. Steam gouted in the wind. He had heard rumours of a new kind of engine running off oil extracts which might be even more efficient than steam: that would be an end of an era if so.

    The American fleet loomed before them. One of the American steerables, an older model painted in dark blue and white only to avoid the Meridian colours of yellow and red, fired a rocket at the Dédalo. Guitérrez just laughed with contempt at that: some panicky trigger-happy new ensign. There was no way he could hit them from this distance, he had more chance of winning a lottery ticket six times in a row.

    As soon as he thought it, he half expected the rocket to perversely fly straight and true just to spite him, but indeed it spun off and exploded a couple of hundred varas away. Exploded into bright white magnesium sparks no less—one of the new light-shell warheads used to illuminate targets at night! He shook his head. This would almost be unfair. But not quite.

    “Shall we use the Priestley bullets?” Ortiz asked eagerly.

    Guitérrez nodded. Carefully handling them with his gloved hands, Ortiz gingerly took a box from under his seat. On this craft, on which all weight must be at a premium, it was telling that the box looked heavy and shielded. He opened the box and withdrew one of a small number of large bullets. It looked normal aside from the vivid green PAWC logo imprinted on the side beneath the words ‘¡PELIGRO! ¡FÓSFORO!’ Ortiz sealed the box and lowered the single bullet into the magazine of the oversized rifle whose barrel pierced through the glass bubble at the stem of the steerable’s gondola. It was an evolution of the anti-air rifles which had been used for decades, carefully manufactured to be as light as possible. Some components even used alumium, imagine the expense!

    Ortiz sighted on the enemy steerable; its crew appeared to have recognised their mistake and were waiting to draw nearer. Steerable-to-steerable combat usually used heavy rifles like Ortiz’s, but ordinary bullets were a slow and tedious way to take down an enemy. Fortunately, those clever chemists in Córdoba had had some new ideas. “Ready when you are, sir?”

    “Fire,” Guitérrez ordered.

    Ortiz fired. The bullet streaked from the rifle’s muzzle, trailing blue smoke behind it. The range was not very long, Guitérrez knew, as the phosphorus charge was burning too quickly. Enough had to remain by the time it hit the enemy’s aquaform gasbag.

    Enough did.

    Guitérrez shielded his eyes as the blue American steerable detonated. A mighty roar accompanied the fireball, droplets of water drawing streaks across the sky amid the burning debris: the aquaform had done what its chemical name said it did. “Good work!” he said, slapping Ortiz on the back. “Now find me a ship we can target with rockets.”

    Gordillo was frowning. “The Americans are retreating,” he said in confusion. “We can’t have scared them that much, surely?”

    Guitérrez mirrored his expression, staring at the Americans as they indeed reversed propulsion and began to slowly drift northwards again. It did not look like a flight, but an orderly and short-range retreat. Tavares’ ships, over-eager, pushed forward to try to cut them off. “What are they doing?” he repeated.

    Moments later, fire burst from the side of a Meridian sub-lionheart. Guitérrez swore, tearing the binoculars from Gordillo’s unresisting hands. Now he knew what to look for. Subtle white streaks in the water, distinct from the waves… “Steelteeth!” he bit out, as though it was a swearword. “Damn the Yanquis! They knew they could set their clockwork timers ahead of time if they just lured our ships into…into…”

    “A kill zone,” Ortiz said grimly as a frigate joined its larger sister. “Tavares’ men are experienced. They should have seen this coming.”

    Guitérrez gave him a dirty look. “Maybe. But they wanted a victory. They were over-eager. We haven’t had a victory in a while.”

    “I don’t think we’ll have one today, either,” Gordillo said glumly as more explosions spread. Now the Empire and the Lionheart were engaging the Republicano as Tavares hastily adjusted his course to avoid the concealed ironsharks.

    “Every one of them we take with us is a victory,” Guitérrez retorted. “Target the Lionheart. All our rockets. We’ll make them pay for this.”

    Gordillo and Ortiz eyed him, then slowly nodded. The Dédalo almost lunged through the air, anti-steerable fire bursting all around her. The Republicano landed a lucky shot that blew one of the Lionheart’s turrets clean off, but the Empire struck back and prevented the Meridian lineship from following up on its victory. “It’s up to us now,” Guitérrez declared.

    The Lionheart loomed large below them, anti-steerable weapons blazing desperately away. There was a grinding clank from one of the engines. None of it mattered. Not now. Guitérrez looked through his crosshairs, of only limited use when dealing with rockets. He bracketed the shape of the Lionheart halfway between her remaining forward turret and her bridge superstructure. “FIRE ALL!” He pulled the triggers connected to the compression-lock ignition system.

    The rocket pod turned to a vision of flame as every weapon ignited at once. The Dédalo shuddered as the mass of rockets shot from the now empty pod towards the storied hull of the Lionheart. The rockets spread out as they flew, random chance influencing their imperfect steering vanes. Some plunged into the waters of the Atlantic, others spun off and exploded randomly throughout the fleet amid friend and foe alike. But the distance had been short, and most of them hit the Lionheart dead-on.

    Minutes later, the spreading flames would reach the magazine and blow up the American ship, the American ship that had once been a British ship before Emperor George had decided otherwise, and send her to Davy Jones’ Locker. But Captain Guitérrez and Lieutenants Gordillo and Ortiz did not see this. Moments after they fired, the Dédalo was shot down: not by the ineffectual anti-steerable artillery and rifles fired from the American ships, nor even by a fellow steerable. Instead, flying from the new aerofield established near Charleston by the Imperial Aeroforce, the Dédalo was taken down by a brand new Studebaker-FitzGeorge Blackhawk, its twin-stacked wings gleaming in the sunlight.

    The age of the steerable was over: the age of the aerodrome had begun.


    Punilla, Province of Córdoba, United Provinces of South America
    August 4th 1897

    Bartolomé Jaimes carefully poured wine for his visitor. “A fine Cuyo red,” he pronounced. “I hope it is to your liking.”

    Former President Carlos Priestley snorted at that. “You know I always drank French whites,” he said bitterly. “Before the war. Back when trade could happen without some maniac sinking your ship with his ironshark.”

    Jaimes nodded in sympathy. “Nonetheless, it is fine. A fine Meridian product,” he added.

    Priestley rolled his eyes. “Yes, now we have to be patriotic, to take pride in everything we do,” he muttered. “I’m surprised to hear you of all people say that. Didn’t you use to run with Raúl Caraíbas’ boys back in the day?”

    Jaimes laughed. “I did once know Raúl Caraíbas. Now, I am not sure if he is even alive or dead.”

    “He lives, last I heard,” Priestley said, “but a new generation of silly young men have taken over that…movement.” He shook his head. “But I remember there was one more sensible reason why you were interested in it at that time, when we were boys.”

    He hesitated for a moment.

    In a world that was full of sinking ships, exploding steerables and men blasting away at each other in muddy barbed-wire-strewn trenches, none would have believed that the most important moment of the Pandoric War, the reason why the war would even have that name, would take place in this quiet country retreat of a middle-aged banker.

    Priestley came to a decision and continued. “I remember you were a big Pacifist. A Quedling type, as my father used to say.”

    Jaimes nodded. “I still am. You only have to look at this war to be reminded of how grotesque, how pointless, how bloody it all is. If that was obvious to men like Quedling, how much more so now that war has grown even more gruesome?”

    Priestley nodded fervently. “I agree. Monterroso doesn’t see that. My…” he hesitated again. “Even my brother Roberto does not, and he runs our company, a company that is making a lot of Monterroso’s awful weapons.”

    “You did not care too much when you were supplying them to be aimed at natives in jungles in Africa or Asia,” Jaimes said mildly, his eyes twinkling beneath his prematurely grey hair.

    Priestley waved his hand impatiently. “I’m not a Societist like you used to be. Even if those primitives could be put on the same level as civilised men, the numbers that were slain over the years were tiny. This is different.” He ran a hand through his own, thinning hair. “This is industrialised warfare, industrialised killing. I wish I could have prevented it.”

    Jaimes opened his mouth to speak of how it was Priestley’s own policies that had blurred the lines between corporation and nation, allowing the tragic mixup that had caused the war in the first place. Then he closed it without speaking. He wanted to know what Priestley had to say. “At least it is coming to an end in Carolina.”

    Priestley winced. “Because we have lost. Savannah has fallen now. All of those weapons we sent could not stop the Yanquis.” He shook his head. “And someone is going to be a scapegoat for Monterroso.”

    “He won’t go after minority groups, surely?” Jaimes said with concern. “I know he has some unreconstructed Jacobins on-side, but he needed everyone to get elected.”

    “He might turn on them eventually,” Priestley said. “In the short term, the pseudopuissant corporations are more low-hanging fruit.”[7] He showed his teeth. “Nationalisation is coming.”

    “Surely it would wreck the war effort to suddenly go after the companies making the weapons and supplies?” Jaimes asked.

    “Of course it would. It will,” Priestley said. “But Monterroso isn’t going to fall on his sword and he needs someone to blame. And who cares if we end up with all our rifles sent to Valdivia when the Yanquis show up outside Buenos Aires.” It had been a casual mention of a hypothetical scenario, but he blanched as his own words sank in. The Yanquis outside Buenos Aires…that had always been the great fear at the back of all Meridian policy.

    “So why do you come to me?” Jaimes asked. “Do you perhaps want a loan to bankroll your legal defence against the Government?” He smiled wanly to show that it was a joke.

    Priestley let out a single harsh ‘Ha!’ of laughter. “I have quite enough money of my own—for now.” He turned more serious. “No. This is not about saving my family heritage—I fear that is too late, or if not it will fall to Roberto to steer a course between Scylla and Charybdis. He gets on better with Monterroso than I do.”

    Jaimes refrained from pointing out that one could scarcely get on with Álvaro Monterroso worse than Carlos Priestley did. “Then what, if not that?”

    Indecisively, Priestley stood up, sat down, drained his wine glass. “You know we work on many things at PAWC…”

    “I think there may be some tribesmen in the interior of New Guinea who are not aware of that, but only because the Batavians need to try harder,” Jaimes said dryly.

    Priestley ignored the attempt at humour this time. “We were…employed two or three years ago, during my presidency, to supply the Portuguese government with…some items.”

    “Items,” Jaimes repeated tonelessly.

    Priestley’s hand was going through his hair again as he avoided Jaimes’ gaze. “Items to control, ah, crowds. Groups of…counter-revolutionaries, as they call them.”

    “Or ‘men whose families have no food’, as everyone else calls them,” Jaimes said coldly. “I presume you are not speaking of bullets and bombs.”

    “No!” Priestley said sharply. “We would not do that…”

    “Not for what the Portuguese government can pay, anyway.”

    “No,” Priestley said, his voice cold. “We wouldn’t do that. But they wanted something else. Something non-lethal. So we looked into it…”

    He explained. Jaimes was a man of economics, not chemistry, and much of it went over his head. There was a chemical that PAWC had found in the course of other research, a chemical named ethyl-bromino-acetate, which made men cry uncontrollably like an intenser form of the scent of onions, cry to the point that they would be unable to see or fight or resist. “I’m sure the Portuguese would use it in particularly brutal ways,” Jaimes said at the end, “but that doesn’t sound too bad. You’re worried Monterroso would use it on the Americans? Or on our own people?”

    Priestley hesitated again. “There was…other research,” he said at last. “There was a…mixup, a confusion. Have you heard of the Praça de Sangue incident?”

    Jaimes frowned at the apparent change of subject, glancing at the fireplace. It was winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, and though winters were usually mild in Córdoba Province, it was a particularly chilly night. “I vaguely recall a mention of it. Something about a lot of bodies. Rumours that the Portuguese bullyboys had shot a lot of innocent protestors.”

    “They didn’t shoot them,” Priestley says. “They used the wrong luft. We sent them the wrong luft.” He had a haunted look in his eyes. “We hushed it up, obviously. They themselves didn’t work out what had happened, fortunately. And very few people knew about the research. There’s an isolated research station out in one of the cleared jungles in Mato Grosso, it all went through me, even Roberto doesn’t know.” He glanced from side to side edgily. “Monterroso is going to bring me in and sooner or later he’s going to put aside his famous principles and go to work on me. And then I’ll tell him.”

    “Tell him about this…death-luft?” Jaimes asked.

    Priestley nodded. “But maybe it doesn’t need me. Maybe even if I disappear—and I’m going to, before I get disappeared—maybe he’ll find it anyway. Those researchers need someone watching out for them on the outside, making sure the supplies go in. Till the war is over, when it’s too late for that horrible stuff to be used.”

    “Someone like me?” Jaimes asked ironically.

    “Someone like you,” Priestley agreed.

    The discussion went on for a couple of hours more into the wee small hours of the morning, before Priestley retired to his own accommodations. This was a boarding-house in a nearby town, quite below the usual standards of the former President of the United Provinces, but he had altered his appearance and used an assumed name. Clearly he was serious about his fear of being ‘disappeared’.

    Bartolomé Jaimes thoughtfully lit a cigar, then frowned at the inferior tobacco. Cuba was cut off these days, of course. There were many fine Platinean cigar manufacturers, but it was what one was used to. Speaking of Cuba (or at least some island nearby, for the man had never been specific…)

    Raúl Caraíbas descended the stairs, gripping the bannister rail as he did. He was in his sixties now, still fit for his age but with all the accompanying creaks and stiffness as befitted a man who had worked with his hands all day in his youth. His big pale brown face, which seemed to look different races under different lights, split into a sardonic grin. “Some nice deception there, Señor Jaimes. Worthy of Monterroso himself.”

    Jaimes waved aside this implied insult. “I told no lies. I did once know Raúl Caraíbas, I told him. This is true. What is it if I still know Raúl Caraíbas? That was not the question asked.”

    “And you do not know if I live or not?” Caraíbas added.

    “Well, you might have fallen in the bath and drowned yourself upstairs, for all I knew,” Jaimes said dismissively.

    Caraíbas let out a great boisterous laugh. He still had a lot of the vigour, the drive that had made men follow him when they might have balked at Pablo Sanchez’s academic stuffiness. “Or I might have been done in by one of these young men whom your friend Señor Priestley thinks have forced me out of the party.”

    “Now who is the one practicing deception?” Jaimes asked wryly.

    “It is not up to us what the nationalistically blinded choose to think,” Caraíbas said with mock dignity. “Señor Priestley thinks he has given this terrible, this dangerous secret to you to keep from Monterroso.”

    “And he is right,” Jaimes said sharply. “I shall not reveal it to Monterroso.”

    “No,” Caraíbas agreed. “No, you shall not. Not to Monterroso.”

    He frowned. “It is late. But in the morning, while we break our fast, I shall share with you some new thoughts I have had on the Doctrine of the Last Throw…”

    [1] ‘Antediluvian’ (meaning ‘before the Flood’, as in the Biblical Flood) which was used with varying meanings in archaeology in OTL, has ended up being popularly applied in TTL in a term that loosely corresponds to ‘Stone Age’ or ‘cavemen’ in OTL.

    [2] Today called the Bebelplatz in OTL.

    [3] Today called the Kurfürstenstraße in OTL.

    [4] As the reader may guess, Snabbkaffe is the TTL term for espresso (invented in Scandinavia rather than Italy in TTL).

    [5] Typewriters.

    [6] An old Spanish imperial unit of measurement, roughly equivalent to the English yard (but measuring about 33 English inches rather than 36, or about 84 centimetres).

    [7] It seems extremely unlikely that Carlos Priestley of all people would use the mildly insulting term ‘pseudopuissant corporation’ (used in a similar sense to mean ‘faceless mega-corp’ in OTL) so this can be attributed to a misjudgement by the author who is imagining this scene.
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