France (TimeLine B)
The sheer size of the opportunity that had dropped itself in his lap hadn’t really occurred to Commissioner Phillipe Lavich until the Charles de Gaulle drew near to Toulon. The massive French flags that hung from the conning tower, both the real flag and the alternate flag, had been enough to convince the patrolling aircraft that they were friendly, along with the jet fighters that had flown over Toulon. The Nelson’s Bane had gone ahead, warning Admiral Rancourt of their approach.
“Those are the biggest ships you have?” Admiral Videzun asked, as the three dreadnaughts slid past, an honour guard and a not-so-subtle reminder of French power. “A handful of missiles would sink them all within moments.”
Lavich smiled. He liked Videzun; the strange Admiral was a kindred spirit. “The British and the Russians do not have missiles,” he said. “With your help, we will get them first.”
Videzun shook his head. “Missiles will take years, at least to build anything effective,” he said. “Random bombardment of Britain and Moscow might be possible within a year or two, but only if your tech base is as advanced as we think it is.”
Lavich refused to be deflated. Opportunity was singing; he could hear it calling to him. “If half your tales of the wars in your timeline are true, then the war could be over sooner than we thought,” he said. “Thanks to our bargain…”
“Provided you keep your side of it,” Videzun said. They’d struck a bargain last night, one for shared power and influence. Lavich, who knew the ropes of the French Court, and Videzun, who controlled the fantastic powerhouse of an aircraft carrier and the knowledge it had brought with it. The idea alone would be worth thousands of Napoleons.
“I will,” Lavich said. He closed his eyes; he might even rise to Prime Minister – or, more likely, a high-ranking position in Crown Prince Louis’s Court. Louis had been a friend of his, as far as the Crown Prince could have friends. He had understood minor irregularities such as an unexpected pregnancy, even if no one would dare trust him with the governing of the country. He grinned suddenly; his relationship with Flight Lieutenant Belen Lefunte was proceeding nicely.
I’m sure that she will be better in bed than that silly dancer, he thought coldly, and smiled. He could afford to wait; with the Charles de Gaulle and her crew, his position would soon become impregnable.
Videzun smiled back. “I think that it’s time to go make the acquaintance of Admiral Rancourt,” he said, as the Charles de Gaulle drew to a halt, just outside the main harbour. For the first time, Videzun looked…discomforted. “It’s nothing like what it was in my world,” he murmured.
The harbour was the same, Videzun realised, as the helicopter spiralled over the French fleet and headed towards the city. It was the city that was different; the city and the harbour facilities that existed here – and didn’t exist in the original timeline. Picard had explained the concept as best as he could, but Videzun hadn’t really understood.
It got really bad when he started to talk about the trousers of time, he thought, and smiled grimly to himself.
“Down there,” Lavich said, pointing to a massive building that could even be seen from their height. He’d been worried that some enterprising anti-aircraft gunner would try to shoot down the helicopter, but the British had apparently never tried to raid Toulon. The Mediterranean was a French lake, with heavy guns mounted in Spain and Morocco.
“Taking us down,” Belen Lefunte said. Videzun smiled again; she had been more than happy to spend time with Lavich, pumping him for information. He’d hoped that Lavich would be willing to talk more about the French Government of this timeline, but beyond the fact that the government was a monarchy, he hadn’t been clear.
“That’s Admiral Rancourt,” Lavich said. A tall elderly man was watching as the helicopter made the final approach to the lawn, and touched down neatly on the grass. Lavich scrambled for the hatch and stepped out; Videzun followed him. He’d worn his dress uniform for the meeting, even though Admiral Rancourt would never recognise it.
“I see that you do have a good reason for the emergency,” Admiral Rancourt said. Videzun concealed a smile; the Admiral spoke like a parody of an aristocrat from a movie set in pre-revolutionary France. The odd accent he’d noted before was stronger, more pronounced. “I assume that you have a good explanation?”
Videzun chuckled and started to explain. “We have come to help France end the war victoriously,” he concluded.
“You came from a world where France fell to a minor power?” Admiral Rancourt asked, as soon as the story had finished. “And yet – you have those aircraft and that…thing.”
He waved a hand at the helicopter. “The problem is; everyone else has them too,” Videzun said wryly. “In this timeline, you would be the only ones…”
Admiral Rancourt frowned. “I have served on battleships for all of my life,” he said. “Those…puny aircraft can sink one?”
“Oh, yes,” Videzun said. “In my time, two battleships, caught without air cover, were sunk within moments.” He paused for dramatic effect. “The aircraft that sunk the two ships, Admiral, are well-within the technology you have now. With some help from us, you could build them and deploy them…and gain a permanent advantage. Admiral, you – we – would own the world.”
Chapter Nine: Fight for the Falklands
Pacific Ocean (TimeLine B)
Commandant Benoit lit his cigarette with a flick of his lighter, stepping outside his commandeered house in Stanley, examining the security arrangements around the British city. ‘City’ was really too good a name for it, he knew; the British population of the islands was barely larger than two thousand, at most. It had been almost undefended – thanks to a treaty from a hundred years ago – and the conquest had been easy…and almost civilised.
He shook his head. Enough people – both Marines and sailors – had seen the strange aircraft to alarm the entire town. He’d informed the natives that the strange aircraft was from France, but the truth was that he had no idea where it had come from. It had barely registered on the radar set they’d set up on the hill.
“Mon Commandant,” Colonel Dubois said, as Benoit stepped inside the centre of administration. The former Governor’s House in the Falklands, a fairly standard example of British colonial government, was primitive – the Falklands hadn’t really been a priority for development. A single portrait of Queen Victoria – no one had bothered to update it when the lady had died – hung over the ornate desk.
Benoit smiled. In France, when an Emperor died, there was a mad flurry to replace all of the portraits, stamps, coins – except for the gold Napoleons – and everything else. The sedate Falkland natives seemed to care nothing for the outside world.
“Have there been any other sightings?” He asked, once they’d passed through the tedious protocol. “Did the Viceroy have any reply for us?”
Dubois shook his head. Viceroy Cortez, the highest-ranking Spaniard within the Empire, had been sent an urgent note via the undersea cable. “He hasn’t replied,” Dubois said. “Perhaps it was one of ours.”
“I very much doubt it,” Benoit said. “If it had been, would there not be a string of aircraft with more primitive versions of its…engines? There’s a difference between the Louis fighter and the Foch, but they’re clearly from the same design period. The strange aircraft we saw…”
Dubois inclined his head. “I have taken the liberty of keeping the Marines on full alert,” he said. “Unfortunately, the fighters and seaplanes cannot fly at night.”
“I know that,” Benoit snapped. Night-fighting had been a priority, but until they improved their navigation, it would be impossible to fly planes in the dark. “Was there any update on the signals interceptions?”
“Nothing new,” Dubois said. He tapped the map. “The stations in New Spain triangulated it to here” – he pointed at a location nearly a hundred miles from the Falklands – “but so far there hasn’t been anything new.”
“So there’s a British force nearby, strange aircraft, and…what?” Benoit asked. “If the aircraft was British, the same argument about development would apply, would it not?”
“I believe so,” Dubois said. “Commodore Lemieux was wanting to take the superdreadnaughts out hunting.”
Benoit scowled. “We have more important things to worry about,” he said. “If the superdreadnaughts do go hunting, without knowing what they’re up against, the British might sneak in and retake the Falklands. You know how hard this place is to take if it’s defended well.”
“We took it with ease,” Dubois pointed out.
“The British didn’t fortify the islands,” Benoit said. “Give us a couple of weeks, and we’ll have them fortified ourselves – then the superdreadnaughts can go hunting.”
“Yes, sir,” Dubois said. “Unfortunately, Commodore Lemieux was pointing out that the Admirals in Panama might recall the force if the British ships don’t show up soon.”
“Bloody armchair admirals,” Benoit snapped. “Merde!”
“Yes, sir,” Dubois said. “Sir…”
Benoit ignored him. “It takes time to move ships around,” he snapped. “It’s not like we can magically transport ships from here to Panama, is it?”
“No, sir,” Dubois said. “However, it’s not like nine superdreadnaughts could survive a battle with the full weight of the British fleet, if they risked sending it down here.”
“Bastards,” Benoit snarled. “As far as I can tell, all this island has are fish and sheep,” he said. “Is it really worth all this effort?”
“Sir, I…” Dubois began. A screech echoed across the sky, the noise of a howling god. “Sir…”
“It’s back,” Benoit said. Both men ran to the window, staring into the clear sky. The strange aircraft was back…and this time it had brought friends. Even as the air raid sirens started to howl, they were over the islands.
Captain Rupert Potter banked the F-18 directly over the islands, examining the results from the recon pods and comparing them to the images he’d taken earlier. The other aircraft spread out, taking up positions to evade ground anti-aircraft fire…that he suspected would be infective against them.
“All right, people, let’s do this,” he said. The images – sent back to him from the CAG – matched; the strange alternate Frenchmen hadn’t improved their defences any since the first recon flight. The three airfields were where they were before – not as if they could be moved – and the nine superdreadnaughts lurked in Falklands Sound. “Betty, Arnold, you’re on SEAD – not that that will be needed here. Everyone else, take your targets…and attack.”
The F-18’s screamed across the Sound. The massive shapes of the superdreadnaughts grew rapidly below them; bursts of black smoke far below them announced the arrival of anti-aircraft fire from the ground.
“Eagle-one, they’re launching aircraft,” the AWACS said. “Brave bastards, aren’t they?”
Potter glanced at the radar profile. He’d once flown beside an old Wildcat for a publicity stunt, and the French aircraft were comparatively primitive compared to the Wildcat. They reminded him more of British Gladiators, or Swordfish; biplanes with low speed.
“Stay away from them,” he ordered, then changed his mind. “Arnold, engage with guns only.”
He checked that the individual pilots had their targets, and then selected the precision-guided bomb, targeting the smokestacks of the lead superdreadnaught. Pre-flight briefing hadn’t been clear on what the precision weapon would do to the armoured hulls – as no one had tried before in their home reality – but everyone agreed that if the bomb detonated inside the ship, the results would be spectacular.
Hell, they might even be explosive, he thought wryly. “Eagle-one, bombs away!”
He watched as the bomb fell, tiny rockets steering it directly down towards the smokestacks. The French didn’t seem to realise the danger; they made no attempt to move the ships, or to shoot down the bomb. He smiled; the people of this era had a lot to learn about airpower.
“Right on target,” Eagle-two said. “Eagle-two, bombs ready and waiting…”
“See what happens to me,” Potter snapped, and then the bomb entered the smokestack. Time seemed to slow down…and then the superdreadnaught exploded, a massive blast punching a hole through its hull. As they watched, it subsided in the water – a massive hole had been punched right through the hull.
“All eagles, fire,” Potter ordered. He watched as the bombs fell towards the French ships, two of them detonating when anti-aircraft fire – suddenly becoming very motivated – exploded too close to them. “Arnold?”
“I’m on the enemy aircraft,” Arnold – Eagle-seven – reported. “Sir, they don’t stand a chance!”
“That’s the sort of battle I like,” Potter said, as the last of the superdreadnaughts went through its death throes. “All eagles, time to return home.”
The borrowed laptop ran on battery power; no one had been able to figure a way to drive it from the electricity generator on the Amherst. As the officers watched, the superdreadnaughts were picked off, one by one.
“I don’t believe my eyes,” Captain George Caesar breathed. “Those weapons…”
“They would be less useful if there was some kind of grating over the smokestacks,” Anderson observed coolly. “I want some of them through.”
“That ship could sink the entire French Navy in a day,” Caesar muttered. “I think we’ve just become rather…outdated.”
“What happens when they run out of weapons?” Anderson asked. “If they have enough to sink the French Navy, that is?”
“Good point,” Caesar agreed. “I still think that we should be building those things.”
“We’re going to build them,” Anderson said. He glanced at the map; the fleet was racing towards the Falklands, they would be ready to start landing troops in an hour. “Did Colonel Crenshaw report?”
“I thought I wasn’t your aide,” Caesar said. Anderson glowered at him. “Yes, he did,” he said. “The Marines are ready to land.”
Commandant Benoit looked upon the ruined airfields, targeted to prevent the aircraft from having any place to land – those that had been lucky enough to avoid combat – and knew that the war was lost. The reports of the lost superdreadnaughts were very clear – all nine of them were damaged and sinking, including one that had just exploded when the bomb had detonated inside it.
“Have the troops been deployed?” He asked, as he left Government House. He was certain that it would be a priority target – and equally certain that the British had mastered the art of actually hitting something smaller than a city – and after all, they knew where it was.
“Yes, Commandant Benoit,” Dubois said. All his confidence had been shattered by the sudden loss of the superdreadnaughts. “Sir…”
“Perhaps we should surrender?” Benoit asked. “I think we can still hold these islands, and we have to buy time for the Teletype.”
Dubois stared at him. “Commandant Benoit, will that do any good?”
“When the ironclads were invented, it looked as if British naval dominance was assured,” Benoit said. “It didn’t take us long – or the Russians – to develop shells designed to punch through armour. However they’re doing it, we will develop a counter – and then copy it for ourselves.”
Dubois looked a little more cheerful. “Still, this is a larger region than it looks on the map,” Benoit continued. “We will have time to slow them down, don’t you think?”
“Yes, Commandant Benoit,” Dubois said. “I’ll issue the orders now.”
The Royal Marines were a united force; every Marine trained in the Orkneys, before being parcelled out to every station around the globe. They were the best, they knew it; the elite force that landed from the seas and took entire stretches of the shoreline from its defenders, before allowing the regular armies and the militia to land.
It was more than a little discomforting to Colonel Crenshaw, therefore, to examine the weapons of the ‘United States’ Marine; the strange weapons that looked far deadlier than the weapons the Royal Marines carried. The body armour was something new; as far as he knew, no British force had had armour since the days of knights in armour.
“We’ll be supported by precision weapons,” Sergeant Jack Hawksmore assured him. He waved a small black device under his nose. “This thing will target the bombs that the planes will launch, destroying anything between us and Stanley.”
“Really,” Crenshaw said doubtfully. “I’ve been...supported by aircraft before, Sergeant, and let me tell you that the stupid bastards are more likely to hit us than the enemy. The pilots can no more hit the enemy than they can hit the ships.”
Hawksmore smiled. “The weapons on those planes are different,” he said. Crenshaw resisted the temptation to knock the…Americans head off for his arrogance; having some Indian princes in the Marines helped to encourage tolerance. But then, most of the remaining princes knew what they were doing. Did the strange…American?
“If you have a target, they can hit it with ease,” Hawksmore said. “However, we just have to give them the targets, which is what this thing does.”
Crenshaw snorted and turned to look at the map. He’d planned to land near Port San Carlos, but the…newcomers had insisted on a landing in Berkley Sound, only a few miles from Port Stanley. They seemed to believe that the small French garrison on the under-populated West Falklands could be left to die on the vine. It was madness; the French were bound to have moved in heavy guns and even aircraft for scouting.
“Where I come from, we landed in LST ships that landed armoured vehicles,” Hawksmore said, speaking to Crenshaw’s back. “If we had one of those here, just one, the battle could be ended very quickly.”
“We have armoured cars in the army,” Crenshaw snapped. “One little shell…and then they become death traps.”
“You just need better armour,” Hawksmore said. “Has no one managed a successful landing from the sea here?”
“It’s been done, in Russia,” Crenshaw said. He paused; it was almost time to land. “You’re in the first boat, with me.”
“I look forward to it,” Hawksmore said. “The helicopters will clear the way.”
Crenshaw shrugged, absently. If Hawksmore thought that landing would be fun, he was really out of his head. The small boats were ready, being lowered over the side of the transport Pelican. He picked up his rifle and climbed on board the lead boat, watching as the escorts spread out around them.
“We use those to fire machine guns at the landing sites,” he said, at Hawksmore’s questioning look. “The sheet of armour helps protect against bullets from the enemy, who take exception to us landing.”
“Isn’t that true?” Hawksmore agreed. The boat was lowered down into the water, splashing down and powering up in seconds. The helmsman didn’t waste time; the engine started at once, heading directly towards the beach. Three helicopters roared overhead, their weapons hammering French positions.
Crenshaw smiled as a thought struck him. “Can’t you put men on those craft and land directly onto your targets?” He asked. “Save all this mucking about with boats?”
“Mucking about on the river,” Hawksmore said. He seemed to find the line funny. “Yes, you can, but the problem is that the enemy tends to fire on the helicopters, so they have to land outside the lines anyway.” He smiled. “Remind me to introduce you to parachutes sometime.”
The rattle of bullets against the armour distracted Crenshaw. The French gunners had been surprised by the landing in Berkley Sound, but they’d reacted quickly. There were no heavy shells – thank goodness – but there were a handful of machine guns. A helicopter flew over and silenced the imprudent gunner.
“Landing,” the helmsman shouted, and the boat grounded. Crenshaw leapt up, holding his rifle above his head, and jumped into the water. It was shockingly cold, as bad as it had been in the Orkneys, and it shocked him to full alertness. He waded through the water, closely followed by Hawksmore, and strode onto the beach.
“Secure the landing zone,” he snapped. “Spread out, seal the landing zone!”
No one in his or her right mind would have tried landing there, Commandant Benoit was certain. Berkley Sound was too close to the centre of power for the 20’000 strong French army, even if the army was mainly made up from conscripts from New Spain. It didn’t matter; his forces were losing badly. In Sevastopol, it had taken weeks for the French to make the headway they had – two hours after the landing at Berkley Sound; his entire position was on the verge of collapse.
He turned to see Dubois, standing there without his hat. They’d all removed their signs of authority; he was starting to suspect that the aircraft trailing lazy circles around the sky was watching them all the time. The storm of weapons that picked off his guns with a precision that was impossible had abated, but the accursed whirly-bird aircraft were still pouring fire into his troop concentrations.
“Two hours,” he said, shaking his head. He didn’t want to believe it; he didn’t want to believe that the Falklands was about to fall – again.
“We have lost,” Dubois said. His face was pale; his voice was grim. A bullet from a whirly-bird aircraft had gone through his shoulder, nearly severing the arm. Even as lucky as he was, he would never be able to swim again. “Commandant Benoit…?”
“I know,” Benoit muttered. “We have lost, Colonel. They’re moving faster than we ever believed possible.”
He looked at the situation map. He was mortally certain that it was already out of date – it didn’t show the two British battlecruisers pouring fire into some of his positions along the coast near Stanley – but it did show an impossible rate of advance. Infantry couldn’t advance against fixed positions – everyone knew that…except the British and the strange aircraft they’d invented. Running infantry were taking positions, positions that it would require hours of shelling on the Eastern Front to crack.
“Two hours,” he said again. “Two hours…”
“They’ll be at Stanley within a third hour,” Dubois said. “Commandant Benoit, my forces are being cut up. Desertion is epidemic, particularly among the newer conscripts. They never expected such an attack…”
“I know,” Benoit snapped. “What do you think we should do about it?”
“We have to surrender, according to the laws of war,” Dubois said. A surrender attempt would be accepted; the force had not done anything to put them beyond the pale of international law. “Sir…”
“I heard,” Benoit said. Several things were banned under the laws of war. Cutting international communications cables was one of them. “Have we sent all of our observations to Viceroy Cortez?”
Dubois nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said. “Sir…?”
An explosion echoed and both men winced, expecting to see a whirly-bird aircraft spinning overhead. “Go talk surrender to them,” Benoit said, picking up his pistol. “If you’re lucky, they’ll repatriate you to New Spain, under the laws of war.”
“Perhaps they’ve adopted the ways of the Russians,” Dubois said, picking up his baton. “We need a white flag.”
“As long as they see you,” Benoit said. “Take care of my men, and don’t let the islanders be harmed.”
Dubois nodded. It wasn’t for the islanders own good; a force that massacred civilians had no rights under the laws of war. The British would be within their rights to kill them all without recourse. “I’ll see to it at once,” he said, and left the room, carrying the traditional white flag in both hands.
Behind him, a single shot rang out.