Isabella City, New Spain (TimeLine B) The Royal Palace had been built for the Spanish Emperor, before the role merged into the French Emperor – which was another way of saying that the French took over – during the period when the resurgent British America had begun to expand again into the west, heading towards New Orleans. As a symbol of Spanish determination to hold the remains of New Spain, Viceroy Cortez had always distrusted its walls. A massive city, built near Panama, Isabella City was always too vulnerable to an attack.
His military staff were French, he knew; apart from one who was a descendent of an Aztec commander when Cortez’s distant ancestor had conquered the Aztecs and their subject civilisations. Three hundred years of development later, and massive investment by the French, the Mexican people had been forged into one nation, one that was staunchly Catholic and determined to fight a holy war with the Protestants in the north.
The meeting room had been designed, rumour had it, by the original Cortez himself. Viceroy Cortez knew that that was nonsense; Cortez had been disgraced and then died long before the palace was ever conceived of. It was just another lie designed to keep him – and his family, the last pure Spanish noble family – in power. If they ever lost their importance, he suspected, the French would take over…and New Spain’s unique identity would be lost.
“The British and their American lackeys are massing then,” he said, as the map was unfurled. New Spain was littered with telegraph cables; the handful of tribesmen who had damaged them had been exterminated until the lesson had sunk in – if there were any left.
General Bether nodded slowly. He wore the famed stovepipe hat of the French Army, but his face was grim under the ceremonial uniform. “They are massing near El Paso,” he said. The tiny town sat near the border between New Spain and the North American Union. It also had more spies and sabotage operators than any other town its size. “There is also a second, smaller, development near Corpus Christi. This attack…looks to be more serious than their other attacks.”
Viceroy Cortez inclined his head. His family had considered attempting gaining independence for New Spain – under their rule, of course. But with the Americans on the border, only the equal might of the French Empire kept them out…along with nearly two centuries without a major war. Except, if half the reports about the George Washington were accurate, the war was about to take a major shift in the wrong direction.
“In fact, they have several hundred of the new land ironclads,” Bether continued. “It is quite likely that they will punch through the defences.”
Cortez drew in a long breath. “What about the new aircraft?” He asked. New Spain had quite a capable aircraft industry; it had been a requirement for control of the Caribbean – before the British developments had shown them how much more was needed. “Can they not hold back the enemy?”
“We’ve been raiding Fort Robertson and the other forts, including the new Fort Pillowcase,” General Bether admitted. Cortez smiled; whoever had named Fort Pillowcase that name almost had to have come from the other reality. “The problem is that we have so far failed to mount a proper air offensive.”
What he carefully did not say was that British/American fighters had harried the bombers quite badly. “The effects, Your Highness, have been very light, at least from the reports of our agents in place. We can expect an attack within a week at most – I would not be surprised if the attack actually came today.
For a moment, Cortez felt for the small general. Accustomed to the old style of warfare, adapted for modern technology, General Bether had been forced to adapt to technology that had appeared literally out of nowhere. He fought down the reaction; who knew where that would end up, and composed himself.
“Can you hold them?” He asked bluntly, wishing that Paris had seen fit to send him more information. Rumour had it that the French had a super-ship of their own, but apart from a chain of submarine-delivered plans for various fighting machines, there had been little help from Paris. Pre-war planning had accepted that that would likely be the case – both sides were watching for a chance to trap and destroy part of their opponent’s fleet – and so New Spain had been built into a formidable industrial power.
“I’m not certain,” General Bether admitted. He tapped the map, leading his finger down into Mexico – one region of New Spain. “They might reach as far as Mexico City, if I understand some of the possibilities correctly, but by then we will have the heavy anti-land ironclad guns ready.”
Cortez stared at him. “You are talking about them hopping as far as” – he struggled for the distance – “around four hundred miles,” he gasped. “You have got to be wrong.”
“I don’t know,” General Bether admitted. His face twisted; Cortez felt little sympathy. “They’ll certainly chew up the divisions along the border, and if I was in their place that’s what I would do, then they’ll head south. In the same time, we have to move to counter them as quickly as we can, and we’ll be doing that with weapons that can take out the land ironclads – assuming that we get them into position.”
He’d explained it all once before, but Cortez held up a hand before he launched into a repeat explanation. “I think that the main line of attack will be on land,” he said firmly. “I want you to prepare to defend New Spain.”
General Bether gave him a sharp look. “Your Highness, that is what we have been doing,” he said. “The rules have suddenly changed…”
“And we are Spaniards,” Cortez said, taking an unholy delight in lumping Frenchmen and Spaniards together. “Move your guns into position, General Bether; they will show the angle of attack and then you can move to counter.”
General Bether left, allowing Cortez some time to think. Was there an opportunity for him within this problem? Perhaps…even, a chance of independence?
North American Union (TimeLine B) General Sir Andrew Drake had been the senior officer in the North American Army long enough to be uncomfortable at the thought of the new Model Army, but his concern for his men had made him determined to give the new technology a try, if nothing else. He had learnt to play politics – people didn’t spend time in Amherst, or Canberra, or Cape Town, or London without learning to do that – but he would have preferred to have been in the field.
Prime Minister Lord Roger Adams understood. It had been nearly seven months since the George Washington had arrived, and everything was on the verge of tipping over. No one had expected that women would go to Springfield to work – despite the ravings of the society ladies – or that the factories would expand so fast. He would have preferred to have had a clear enemy as well – someone he could shoot at without facing prison.
He smiled suddenly. If he had been allowed to carry weapons within the House of Parliament, it would have made debates a lot simpler…
“The New Model Army is ready for its first attack,” Sir Andrew informed him. Adams nodded. “They’re going to attack at dawn, in an hour.”
Adams shrugged, refusing to reveal his nervousness. He’d burnt more political capital than he was really comfortable with, just to handle all of the changes to the North American Union. He’d had to convince the Admiralty to allow the conversion of nine battlecruisers to aircraft carriers, the Royal Flying Corps to accept some new aircraft, the Marines to support the creation of a new unit…and the army to accept the new vehicles.
“I have nothing to add,” he said. He could have ordered the attack cancelled, but what good would that have done. “It’s General Smith, isn’t it?” Sir Andrew nodded. “Tell him, tell everyone, that I said good luck – and may God be with them.”