South Pacific (TimeLine B)
Admiral Jackson had visited the Falklands once before, on a deployment with a combined force during the banking crisis of 2008. It had been suspected that Argentina planned to attack the Falklands again – and the United States had sent ships to support the British task force gathering nearby, just in case.
“It doesn’t look that different,” he mused, as the French soldiers lined up for the surrender. He’d been briefed by the Irish reporter, Maggie O’Brien, on the surrender protocols; the defenders had the right to offer surrender, provided they hadn’t committed any offences against the laws of war. It was curiously civilised; far more than endless battles against homicidal fanatics, determined to burn America off the face of the planet.
“It’s not as modern as it used to be,” Commander Patrick O’Reilly said. The Falklands had never truly been modern, but the airport and the British fighter base had existed in the original timeline, before the George Washington had slipped through the dimensions. Now…the only helicopter was one from the carrier, flying to the Falklands and carrying British officers around to mop up the remaining Frenchmen.
“How true,” Jackson said. “Tell me, how are our supplies holding up?”
“We used thirty precision bombs against the French positions and the superdreadnaughts,” O’Reilly said. He held a PDA in one hand, connected to the George Washington through a communications link that was utterly undetectable by the contemporary technology. “We also expended several thousand bullets, but they can be replaced in the machine shops, given suitable materials.”
Jackson nodded as a massive British flag was run up over Government House. The building would have been a priority target – except Admiral Anderson had insisted on leaving it alone. The former governor of the islands had been returned to his office, from where he’d protested the lenient treatment of the French.
“Perhaps this won’t be so bad,” Jackson mused. “From what we’ve seen, this world is a great deal more peaceful than our own.”
“They’re fighting a global war,” O’Reilly protested. “So were we.”
“Yes, but they don’t have terrorists, or half-baked idiots trying to start a religious state,” Jackson said.
“That we’ve met,” O’Reilly pointed out. “For all we know, the ongoing trouble in Quebec might lead to a terrorist offensive.”
Jackson shrugged. “I suppose that that’s possible,” he said. “Still, if the Falklands is a good example of the best they have, forging a better world should be easy. These people aren’t the barbarians in the Middle East; they can absorb some of our technology without problems.”
“Technological advances always cause problems,” O’Reilly observed. “So, what now?”
“If I was in the French shoes, I would be trying to sink us,” Jackson said. “The George Washington represents the one certain way of winning the war within a couple of years – and it’s in the hands of the British.”
“Not completely,” O’Reilly protested.
“The French will see it that way, when they learn about us,” Jackson said. “Anderson’s horror when I suggested cutting the communication cables means that Paris may already know all about us…and then they’ll panic, and then they’ll get over their panic, and then they’ll start scheming. Simply putting a shield over their smokestacks will cut the effectiveness of our weapons.”
“Perhaps they’ll start building submarines,” O’Reilly said. “That’s what I’d think of, in their place.”
Jackson shrugged. “They’ll never get near us,” he said. “A single ASW helicopter could detect anything, but an utterly modern stealth submarine – and where will they get one of those?”
O’Reilly shook his head. “There’s still no sign of the rest of the task force,” he said. “Do you think that Lieutenant Sally Woods was right?”
“That they’ve all been dumped into different versions of this reality, or others?” Jackson asked. “I think that we’ll never know, one way or the other.” He smiled. “No, commander,” he said. “I think that we’ll have to accept from now on that our home is here, in the United Empire.”
It had taken two days to complete the formalities of surrender. The suicide of the first commander of the occupation force – not an uncommon incident, but one disapproved of under the articles of war - had disrupted the French command structure; the commander of the force on the West Falklands had not been informed of the surrender before it had been accepted, technically a breach of the laws of war.
It was understandable, under the circumstances, Anderson thought, as he tallied up the costs of the invasion. He shuddered as the results came through; the only losses were seven soldiers, all Marines, and one civilian who had wandered into the field of fire. Eight deaths…and nearly two thousand French soldiers dead.
They weren’t the elite of the French forces, he thought, and knew that it was small comfort. It would take time to develop defences against the…newcomers, but he was certain that the French would manage it. Even if the French failed – and lost the war – what sort of world would emerge after the war? Would there be a rush to develop new technologies, ones that would reshape the world – perhaps even destroy it?
Weapons that destroy entire cities. Non-state groups attacking the states, and other states. Biological weapons; chemical weapons worse even than the ones used in the Congo. What a nightmare has come upon us.
He was almost pleased when his aide interrupted him. “Ah, excuse me Admiral, but the…reporter would like to see you.”
Anderson smiled. Maggie O’Brien had been helpful, ever since the Newcomers had arrived. “Send her in,” he said, and smiled. Inside, he was pleased with the interruption. Anything was better than worrying about the implications of a two-hour victory that should have taken several days – at least.
Maggie entered and smiled at him. He was astonished to feel genuine warmth inside. “Good afternoon, Admiral,” she said. “How’s it hanging?”
Anderson felt his mouth fall open. “What?” He asked. “How’s what hanging?”
Maggie giggled. “It’s one of their sayings,” she said cheerfully. God, she was beautiful when she smiled, Anderson realised. “I’ve been spending time with a reporter on that ship, Sharon Green. She’s very interesting; do you know that much of their reporting is done though televisions, and that they’re all in the home? Every one of their homes has a television?”
Anderson smiled at the thought. “How rude,” he said. “Coming to think of it, how do they build enough for everyone?”
“Apparently they have moved beyond vacuum tubes,” Maggie said. She grinned. “Admiral, they defeated the French in two hours!”
“I’m well aware of that,” Anderson said. He allowed himself a moment to relax. “It did take two days to accept everyone’s surrender.”
“But this means the end of the war,” Maggie said. “We could sink all of the French Navy and then…”
Anderson smiled again, realising that Maggie was clever – again. Would his family accept his marriage to an Irishwoman? After the Falklands, he might get a knighthood, which would really soothe ruffled feathers. Absently, he wondered what the protocol was if a woman was independent and without family – it wasn’t something that most people worried about.
“Not the end of the war,” Anderson said. “None of their weapons can be built here, or even in Britain itself.”
“The industrial regions of Manchester cannot make their weapons?” Maggie asked. “What about Detroit, or New York, or even Charlestown?”
Anderson shook his head. Maggie knew some of her stuff; Manchester and the three American cities were the centres of manufacturing, and they had no ability to produce weapons like the weapons on the Washington. Liverpool produced superdreadnaughts, along with other ports in America and Australia, but it couldn’t build a ship like the Washington.
“We can’t,” he said. “They’ll run out of weapons soon – even if most of the French Navy is sunk, we’ll still have to invade New Spain and France itself, which they can’t really help us with. The war may have moved a step in our favour, but it’s not victory in and of itself.”
Maggie nodded. “Sharon thinks that their technology has advanced faster because of them having more countries,” she said. “What do you think of that?”
“I have no idea,” Anderson said. He shook his head slowly. “It’s well above my head, Maggie; I don’t know what to make of it.”
He smiled as Maggie smiled at the use of her first name. Their eyes met for a long moment. “Admiral, what are you going to tell the world?”
Anderson shook his head again. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’m going to send the General Howe back to America, to inform Admiral Sir Joseph Porter of the victory. I’m going to send some of the books and one of the laptops back as well, just to convince him I’m sane.”
Maggie smiled. “You don’t think he would believe you?”
“I’m not sure I would believe me,” Anderson said dryly. “Ships from other histories, weapons and aircraft from storybook tales…he’ll think I’ve been drinking too much rum.”
Maggie laughed. “So…when can I write my story?”
Anderson narrowed his eyes. He knew that it would be impossible to conceal the arrival of the George Washington – and yet he was certain that senior figures within the Admiralty and the North American Union Parliament would want to do just that, at least until the United Empire managed to work out what to do with the windfall that had fallen into their lap.
“Yet again…I don’t know,” Anderson admitted. “Maggie; write the stories and I’ll send them with the General Howe back to America. You’ll have your success, whatever else happens.”
Maggie nodded. “Thank you for seeing me,” she said. She rose to leave.
Anderson held up a hand. “There is one other matter,” he said. “The Governor is planning to hold a ball tomorrow to celebrate the recovery of the Falklands. Would you like to attend it with me?”
Maggie considered for a long moment, and then her face broke out into a brilliant smile. “Yes,” she said. “I’d like that very much.”
Anderson, for one long moment, thought that the sun was shining on him alone.
The ballroom was smaller than Admiral Jackson would have expected, with only space for two hundred people. Even so, it was only half occupied, mainly with people who had been involved with the Falklands’ trade with the United Empire. The Falkland Natives, he’d learned, took very little interest in the works of the Empire – even though the French occupation had reminded them of their vulnerability.
They must like it that way, he thought unkindly, as Sharon Green and himself reached the top of the stairs leading down into the ballroom. Couples drifted across the floor, dancing to the music of a band from Stanley, while others were gathered around the edge of the room, chatting to their partners and friends.
He shook his head as the announcer prepared to announce them. He passed the card he’d had printed up in Stanley to the man, who clearly didn’t recognise them by sight. That wasn’t surprising, of course; they’d never been to these Falklands before. The man still looked embarrassed; it was his job to know such things.
“The Honourable Christopher Jackson, Commander, Task Force India, United States Navy,” he proclaimed, and then stopped, coughed, and announced Sharon. “Sharon Green, reporter.”
“I guess he hasn’t heard of the United States Navy,” Sharon murmured, as they descended the stairs to the floor. “My, look at all the uniforms.”
Jackson shook his head. He’d thought that the United States dress uniform – designed by sadists for dunderheads – was bad, but some of the finery on display was astonishingly outrageous, some in very bad taste indeed. The Governor, who bowed neatly to them and kissed Sharon’s hand, wore an outfit that would not have been out of place in Regency England.
“Admiral Jackson,” Anderson said, from behind him. His dress uniform wasn’t bad, Jackson conceded; brilliant white, with medals and service pins decorating the chest. “Thank you for coming.”
There was something about the room that enforced a curious formality upon everyone. “Thank you for inviting us,” Jackson said. “So…what do we do here?”
“Well, you can dance, or you can mingle,” Anderson said. He took Sharon’s hand. “And who might you be?”
Jackson smiled as Sharon introduced herself. “I brought a reporter too,” Anderson said, waving at Maggie, who was trying to interview one of the handful of grand dames in the room. Maggie separated herself with an effort and stepped over to join them.
“Admiral,” she said, with a curtsey. She wore a simple green dress and looked absolutely stunning. Jackson realised one difference between this ball and a dinner in America; there were hardly any cleavages showing. The women wore clothes that concealed most of their assets, even the legs.
“Pleased to meet you again,” Jackson said. “Shall we dance?”
Sharon smiled. “Of course,” she said. He’d had to ask someone to come – and he was starting to realise that he’d made a very good choice. “Come on.”
“You are very forward,” Maggie said, as Jackson led Sharon onto the dance floor. He’d been expecting a formal dance, but instead the couples seemed to be moving almost at random. Sharon smiled, her face colouring slightly. “Women rarely are that forward.”
“That accounts for all the wallflowers then,” Sharon said, and waved one gloved hand over at the men gathered along the walls. Jackson smiled suddenly; they were all teenagers, around eighteen to nineteen years old. A second group of teenage girls, giggling and blushing, gathered at the other side of the room, under the stern gaze of a grey-haired woman.
“I see that you chaperone people here,” he commented. “Don’t you trust everyone here?”
Maggie’s gaze darkened. “For a man to bed a woman, out of wedlock, is approvable. For a woman to do the same is not, Admiral. A woman here is either perfect, or a whore. Guess which category they put me in.”
Jackson shrugged. Sharon came to the rescue. “That’s outrageous,” she snapped. Jackson suddenly realised that the boys were watching Sharon; in her tight-fitting dress, she was the most…revealing of the girls in the room. “You do have the vote, don’t you?”
“Of course,” Maggie said. “We can vote with the rest of them. We just have to watch our honours like an accountant watches his integrity.”
“You have to read the books on woman’s lib,” Sharon said. “We have to introduce a feminist movement, one that makes you equal to men in all respects, including the right to sleep with whoever you damn well please.”
Anderson flushed. Jackson realised that he was genuinely embarrassed. “A man doesn’t have consequences from a…ah, premarital mating,” he said. Jackson smiled to himself. “A woman, on the other hand, could find herself in a family way.”
“Modern technology has removed such consequences,” Sharon said. She grinned over at Maggie. “You could spend time with Admiral Stud and never lose your figure.”
Maggie blushed. Her blushing was unfair to the rest of her sex. “I don’t know if I would like that,” she said. “Perhaps.”
Jackson nodded to Anderson. “I think we should find a private room,” he said, noticing how some of the female wallflowers were gravitating towards Sharon and Maggie, despite the disapproval of their chaperone. “We have matters to discuss.”
Anderson nodded and excused himself. “Right this way, Admiral,” he said, leading the way along an ornate corridor, passing some couples necking in the shadows. Male gasps and female giggles echoed as the couples melted into the shadows.
“I see that the art of seduction is still practiced here,” Jackson observed. “I would have thought that that chaperone would have stopped that sort of behaviour.”
“Seriously, as long as they don’t go further than kissing, it’s not a real problem as long as they don’t get caught,” Anderson observed, as they entered a private meeting room. The light wasn’t electric, Jackson realised; it was gas. “Was your companion right when she said that there was a certain way to avoid pregnancy?”
Jackson nodded. “Several ways,” he said. “Do you want some?”
Anderson shook his head. “We can’t stay here for long anyway,” he said. “A lot of business is conducted in rooms like these, but we’ll have to go back for the formal toasts anyway.”
Jackson smiled. “What’s a place like this doing in the Falklands anyway?” He asked. “The islands are pretty much dirt poor.”
“There’s always people who want ornate furniture and fancy dress,” Anderson said. “Besides, it keeps some of the islanders usefully employed.”
“I see,” Jackson said. “So…what now?” Anderson lifted an eyebrow. “You’ve defeated the French, although with our help,” Jackson said. “What happens to us now?”
“I was going to talk to you about that,” Anderson said. “I’m going to have to send a message to my commander, Admiral Sir Joseph Porter. Not only to announce the recapture of the Falklands, but to report the destruction of the superdreadnaughts. It may give him some ideas for operations in the Caribbean.” He smiled. “Sir Joseph may have his eye on the First Sea Lord post, but he still has a brain in his head.”
Jackson chuckled, then sobered. “An Englishman commands the American Navy?”
Anderson shrugged. “An American commands the Home Fleet in British waters,” he said. “That high up, experience with multi-dominion commands is vital, at least if you actually want to reach higher rank.”
He paused. Jackson waited patiently. “What I propose to do is leave most of the Marines here, and then proceed back to New Orleans with the Washington. One of my ships will carry advance warning to Sir Joseph; he can arrange a welcoming party. What happens past then? I have no idea.”
Jackson grinned. “You seem to be in line for rewards,” he said. “Will they knight you?”
Anderson shrugged. “They might,” he said. “That normally happens for valiant action, good service, or being promoted above your level of competence.” Jackson chuckled. “However, I hope that I’ll have a chance to see more action, perhaps in the Caribbean.”
Jackson smiled. “I wonder what Sir Joseph will make of us,” he said. “After we took out nine superdreadnaughts for him, do you think he’ll be grateful?”
Anderson smiled back, sharing the universal contempt for really senior officers. “Admirals are never grateful, even for saving their careers,” he said. He stood up. “Now come on,” he said. “It’s time to return to the girls. In ten minutes, we have to drink the health of the King-Emperor.”