Nr New Orleans, North American Union (TimeLine B)
Only a few years before he had taken command of TASK FORCE India, and ended up in the universe everyone was starting to call ‘TimeLine B’, Admiral Jackson had read a book about the laws of the universe suddenly changing, forcing humanity back to medieval living conditions. Looking down at the images of Cuba, a land led by a man many people suspected was dead in his home universe, Jackson suddenly had a vivid mental picture of what the world of Dies the Fire looked like.
Cuba had been colonised by Spain, and finally incorporated into the Bourbon Empire, but remained under the control of the local Spaniards, rather than any major French garrison. One close look at the set-up had shown Jackson why a slave revolt would be unsuccessful; the island was dotted with small castles, armed to the teeth with machine guns. The workers – slaves in all, but name – worked on the fields, under the careful watch of the guards, who were armed to the teeth and well fed.
“Bastards,” Jackson commented. He looked up at Captain Morrigan. “I think we need to start plotting carefully,” he said.
“I would not dare to argue with that statement,” Morrigan said. He tapped a picture taken by the remote drone; ten slaves were hung from crucifixes, dying by inches. “It’s like one of the Draka movies.”
“I never saw those,” Jackson said softly. “We’re going to have to take out those castles.”
Morrigan studied the display. Castle was perhaps too strong a word, but the fortified buildings would be able to stand off any slave rebellion, and most of the food was within their walls. By the time that French reinforcements from New Spain had arrived, the slaves would probably be in the mood to surrender – assuming that they somehow avoided being mown down in vast numbers.
“That would be easy, of course,” Morrigan said. The two men shared a glance; with an unlimited amount of precision weapons, taking Cuba would have been easy. As it was, every Harpoon or Penguin expended on Cuba was irreplaceable.
“We’ll have to use the Lancaster bombers,” Jackson said. “Now that we’ve been able to help them build a proper guidance system, and targeting system, we should be able to take the islands.”
“We really need a small Marine force,” Morrigan said. “What about attacking those ships there?”
Jackson examined the report from the recon drone, floating high over Cuba. What had been called Guantanamo Bay in their timeline was a harbour, one of the two that remained on the island, along with Havana itself. Both harbours held a handful of ships, mainly fast destroyers and cruisers, competing in the endless fight for the Caribbean.
“Fire when ready, Gridley,” Jackson commented. It was a similar situation. “If we move a superdreadnaught squadron into bombarding position…”
“Can’t we take them out with the carrier bombers?” Anderson said. The promoted Admiral was the third man in the room. “They should be able to destroy the ships.”
“It’s not always workable to take them out in a harbour, not with your technology,” Morrigan said. “Look how much anti-aircraft weapons they’ve been installing.”
Jackson scowled. The French had been busy, installing thousands of their own new weapons across their possessions, arming them to the teeth. He understood the reluctance of the Admiralty to commit to the attack – many of the weapons were untested anyway – but it had cost them dearly in time.
“So, we send in the heavy bombers, using your direction-finding system, and bomb the crap out of those barracks,” Anderson said. Like Jackson, Anderson had chafed at the long inactivity. “Then we land a small Marine force and take the place.”
“That sounds fine,” Morrigan said. “I think we can rely on the slaves for taking out the remaining Frenchmen, seeing that they hate them.”
Jackson nodded. The heavy bombers weren’t exactly ‘Lancaster’ bombers, of course; the design had been modified by enthusiastic researchers into something that was far more capable than the original bomber – and carried more bombs too. Only the grim certainty that the French were making the same changes to their bombers dimmed his own enthusiasm.
“And that leaves only the main attack,” Anderson said. “The Militia generals are confident that they can handle it.”
“I hope they’re right,” Jackson said, concealing his worry. The Militia wasn’t the National Guard; by the time that it had become obvious that war was coming, there hadn’t been enough time to train them properly, even using the North American Army for training cadre. Overconfidence was the order of the day, even after the slaughters that had created the vast no-man’s-land region.
He paused and examined the map. New Spain’s northern regions – Mexico, in their timeline – were far more developed than they had been under the series of corrupt governments that Mexico had saddled itself with. The French had been determined to unite and exploit the country, creating thousands of railway lines and road networks. The downside, for them, was that that would allow the French to reinforce any part of the front very quickly.
He smiled suddenly. It had been the eternal problem for the British and the North American Union; as long as the base at Panama stood, actually winning was difficult. With the new tanks and guns, advancing through Mexico would be…easier than it had been before, but they had to be careful of victory disease. Which reminded him…
“Felix” – they’d graduated to first names – “what’s happening with the aircraft carriers?”
“We have nine so far,” Anderson said. He’d been in charge of that aspect of the project, while Jackson concentrated on Springfield and on establishing a home for his people. “They’re all converted battlecruisers.”
Morrigan scowled. “I thought that there would be thirty,” he snapped. “We need as many as we can get, you know, with thousands of the Spitfire aircraft.”
Jackson held up a hand, calming them before an argument could break out. The ‘Spitfires’ bore little resemblance to the British aircraft of the original timeline; they had more in common with Japanese Zeros, at least until the Hellcats could be built. It had been one of the more interesting debates, arguing over the merits of the Zero versus the original Spitfire, or perhaps they should have moved directly to combat jets and…
“The Admiralty felt that converting the entire battlecruiser production of the east coast to carriers risked us running short of battlecruisers,” Anderson said. “They have seen your information, even understood it, but they’re reluctant to proceed with a complete switch-over to your technology.”
Jackson smiled. “It’s not that important,” he said. “Cuba, at least, is within the range of long-range bombers, particularly since we worked out the drop tanks” – another change to the original design – “and the radio direction-finding system. By the by, what about the new coordinating systems?”
Anderson smiled. “I can sit on the bridge of the Amherst and give orders to the entire fleet without problems,” he said seriously. “My shining sword in my hands; nine battlecruisers plus escorts and the troop transports.”
He tapped the map. “Give me a week and we’ll have the carriers ready for their first mission,” he said. “Even with the interference over the Prince Charlie…”
His voice broke off. The Prince Charlie, a pre-dreadnaught from before the invention of the superdreadnaughts, had been used as a test vehicle for the carrier-borne fighters; a target for their torpedoes. The first test, with inept and untrained pilots, had ‘sunk’ the ship – and the speed of each ‘sinking’ had only increased as the pilots became more experienced. The Admiralty, in the meantime, had only made the tests harder and harder, hoping to discredit the results.
“I guess they want bigger ships so that they can feel important,” Morrigan said. The United States Navy had had its fair share of political admirals; ones who’d only wanted the perks of the job. A year of war should have weeded them out; if the predicted big battle had actually happened, it might have been a disaster.
Anderson shrugged. “Sir Joseph is not that bad,” he said. “It’s the commanders of the superdreadnaught squadrons and those slated for those commands.”
Jackson scowled. The United States navy had suffered from battleship admirals before World War Two; they’d only been defeated after Pearl Harbour. If carrier commands were seen as…useless, and superdreadnaught commands seen as important, then the best people would still aim to become battleship commanders.
“We can leave those for the moment,” he said. “The main priority is to prepare proof that the concept is in fact workable…and then launch the attack on the French. Once we knock out the base at Panama, using our own Pearl Harbour-type strike, then we can think about the future.”
Anderson nodded. “The Prime Minister was very keen on taking Alaska,” he said.
Jackson took a moment to consider. He’d always had trouble understanding the relationship between the Viceroy and the Prime Minister of the North American Union; one the elected head of government, one the selected head of state, representing the monarch.
“That…can be done by local forces,” he said. Personally, he would have preferred to have relied upon the blockade, terminating the lines of communication between Alaska and Russia. “Tanks will be less useful up there.”
Anderson smiled. “They have a new toy,” he said. “Let them play.”
“As long as they don’t repeat the little blunder of having the commander drive the tank,” Jackson said. “Coordinating everything is going to be a stone-cold bitch anyway, don’t you think?”
“No argument,” Anderson said. “I’m glad I’m in the navy.”
Jackson thought of the battalions of the New Royal Marines – ones trained by the handful of United States Marines – being prepared in Springfield itself. With a couple of years, they might have been ready for the task at hand – but they’d had only six months. The offensive, he was sure, would work – unless the French had developed a proper anti-tank gun – but it wouldn’t be as successful as it might have been in the original timeline. It was the battles in the Caribbean that would determine their success or failure – not bloody land battles, with thousands dying for a few miles.
“One final point, then,” Morrigan said. “How much of the Washington is going to take part in the attack?”
It sounded like a stupid question; Jackson knew that it wasn’t. “I think, now we have an active and workable fuel supply, we don’t have to be so careful with the aircraft,” he said. “Some of the F-18s are on land, some of the helicopters have been tasked to support the land offensive and stand-by to engage the French Navy, should it sortie out of Panama.”
He paused. “I think I will authorise the use of the fighters,” he said. “Don’t use the anti-ship missiles unless the French Navy comes out to play, and for god’s sake don’t let them swarm you.”
Morrigan nodded. It was one of the few tactics that might have been successful against the Washington, sending so many small planes that shooting them all down was impossible. A single lucky aircraft the size of a Lancaster, packed with bombs, crashing into the Washington would have blown her out of the water.
“We’ll stay well back,” he said. “So, a week then?”
Jackson smiled. “A week would be good,” he said. “By then, we should be ready for anything.”
The headquarters of the American Independence Party had a single massive stars and stripes floating outside, hanging from a flagpole in defiance of the laws against flying non-United Empire flags. It was a legal loophole; had they flown the French flag, they could have been arrested – but the Law Lords had never considered the legal implications of a flag from another universe. Like so much else, it was in line for their consideration, but with issues such as labour laws and property rights, flag flying simply wasn’t important.
Commander Patrick O’Reilly, Executive Officer of the George Washington, studied the flag thoughtfully, saluting it absently. It wasn’t one from TimeLine A, the sheer amateur sewing of the flag proved that – it would have been discarded with horror if submitted to a contest. He smiled suddenly; one of the white stars was missing – had it been left off purposefully, or was it an accident?
The headquarters itself was…dingy, a small cheap building that had been built quickly – and then allowed to rot. It smelt odd, even to his damaged nose, used to all the smells of the sea. A hint of…alcohol, and a drug he couldn’t identify. There was no bell; he knocked firmly on the door.
The face that greeted him went from suspicious to delight when he saw O’Reilly’s uniform. An unshaven dark-bearded face, pure-white, peered at O’Reilly, then welcomed him into the room. The headquarters was tiny, reminding O’Reilly of the fictional headquarters of anarchists rather than a serious political party.
“Oh, I’ve been waiting for so long for one of you to take notice, Admiral,” the man burbled, his voice harsh and warm at the same time, almost painful to O’Reilly’s ears. It was, he realised, an attempt to reproduce the general Washington accent – something he would have thought was impossible. “Have you finally decided to deal with us?”
O’Reilly felt his senses swim. Whatever he had expected, it wasn’t that. “I’m a commander,” he said, fixing onto the only thing he could. “The Admiral didn’t come.”
“Ah, too concerned about being noticed by the tyrants,” the man burbled. He stuck out one unclean hand; O’Reilly grasped it reluctantly. “Jonathon Scott, American Independence Party, Springfield.”
“Pleased to meet you,” O’Reilly said, and knew that he was lying. If this was the American Independence Party…
“And may I say that I’m very pleased to meet you,” Scott said. He waved O’Reilly to a chair beside a table covered with pamphlets. “Make yourself at home; I’m just going to shave and wash.”
“A very good idea,” O’Reilly said. He hadn’t meant to be sarcastic, but it came out. Scott didn’t seem to notice; he left through a side door. O’Reilly shrugged and started to read one of the pamphlets; it seemed to be warning about the influx of popery into the North American Union through Quebec.
Fuck me, he thought, as he read on. The author, who was unnamed, believed that the British Government – which naturally rigged all of the American elections – was using Popish spies to maintain their control over all Americans, who yearned to be free and clear. It warned on, covering the dangers of Hindus – which it seemed to thing were masters of depravity – and Muslims, who each had twenty wives.
“No they don’t,” he muttered. Mormonism had clearly never come into existence here. “What have I walked into here?”
He picked up a second pamphlet and examined it; it told of Americans fighting in the war for British gains, gains that the North American Union would never share in. Alaska, it warned through sources at the War Office, would be sold to British noblemen, who would use it for their own good and not America’s. The Catholics in New Spain would be used to hack away at the religion of the Americans, while ordinary Americans would be enslaved.
“Like that one?” Scott asked, passing over a cup of American coffee. O’Reilly, puzzled, wondered where Scott had gotten it. “What do you think of this one?”
O’Reilly read the leaflet quickly. After a brief description of the United States of America, it discussed ways and means of getting there, including a peaceful coup against the government in Amherst, which would somehow lead to the establishment of the American Dream, including the eviction of the black and Native American populations. If not, then the Patriots would go underground – and lead resistance against the King-Emperor.
I think you’re demented, he thought. “How many of you are there in all?” He asked. The entire American Independence Party could not be only one man, right? “In Springfield, and the world.”
“Oh, millions,” Scott said. O’Reilly looked at him. “Around five thousand listed party members,” he corrected, a little downcast. He brightened up. “But we have dozens of supporters who keep their heads down, voting for us, but doing very little else.”
O’Reilly sighed. He had been wrong to think that there was potential here. “And how many are here?” He asked. “In Springfield itself, I mean?”
“Two hundred so far,” Scott said. “We’re all going to be coming here, you know.”
“I do trust that you are going to work,” O’Reilly said. He wasn’t sure if the North American Union had anything reassembling a welfare state, but Springfield didn’t have one. “What are you going to do here?”
“Why, plot our campaign against the tyrants,” Scott said. “We’ll build up weapons, with your support, and then launch attacks against the government and then…”
“You’ll be destroyed,” O’Reilly said flatly. This was worse than the ZOG fanatics he'd seen, from time to time, on the news. “Tell me, what do you think of the Irish Catholics?”
Scott was clearly too keen to sense the trap. “They’re scum,” he said earnestly. “All they do is protest and serve the Pope…wait, where are you going?”
“This was a waste of time,” O’Reilly said flatly. “You might be…independence activists, but that is because you were losers under the old regime. You cannot raise the funds you need because most of you are trash. You cannot convince anyone to join you because you have a crazy platform; independence for the sake of independence is not enough.”
He was breathing heavily, his anger driving him on. “You’re a disgrace,” he snapped, and ignored Scott’s shock. “We have enough people like you in the other timeline, people who whine about how the government doesn’t take care of you. People are dying in this war, and all you do is sit and whine and entertain your prejudices. Blacks are good citizens – if they actually apply themselves, like the rest of us!”
Without saying any more, he stormed out of the room, ignoring the cold glare pounding into his back. O’Reilly headed back towards his quarters, knowing that he would have to find other allies to help Ireland – if they even existed in the other timeline.