Chapter Thirty-Two: Peace in Our Time?
London, United Kingdom (TimeLine B)
Victory wasn’t a new sensation to the people of Britain, but a victory on the scale of New Spain was something new. Street parties had appeared spontaneously, from crowds of people dancing in the streets to massive garden parties, and the churches were full of people celebrating the victory.
From his vantage point, high above Downing Street, Prime Minister Lord Harriman Grey watched as some of the policemen guarding the gates were drawn into the dance. He allowed himself a relaxed and permissive smile; they deserved some time to enjoy themselves as well. A Prime Minister, at least one who wanted to remain Prime Minister, couldn’t take more than a day or two off at any time.
There were only four people in the room; himself, Admiral Sir Martin Benson, General Sir Douglas Highlander and Prime Minister Lord Roger Adams, of the North American Union. The presence of the American Prime Minister was unusual; normally America’s interests would be represented by their representative, rather than their leader. The changes in the power balance recently had affected everything – nothing was as it was.
For the first time since the George Washington had appeared, Harriman Grey wondered if it had been a good thing – or if the way would have been…better without it.
“The advance has slowed, but victory is in sight,” Adams said. “Otherwise I would not be here.”
“That is understood,” Grey said. His tone was ironic; normally they would only meet during the annual Imperial Conferences. “And Panama Harbour?”
Adams smiled; Grey understood the joke. The TimeLine A people – and who had chosen that term, he wondered – had suffered an attack on their navy under similar circumstances. That had its own worries; the crew of the French ship would certainly be aware of that, even if they hadn’t thought of trying their own before Panama.
“A success, as far as we can tell,” Adams said. “We certainly knocked hell out of them, and they haven’t attempted to prevent us from reinforcing the forces that have landed on Cuba and the other islands. We tried to tempt them into leaving harbour with a handful of superdreadnaughts, with the carriers waiting in the background and…”
“And?” Grey asked. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Adams said. “They didn’t come out to fight, or to challenge us. They’re maintaining a far more powerful Combat Air Patrol over Panama and the other harbours, but they’ve been keeping back otherwise. Which is…interesting.”
Admiral Sir Martin Benson spoke with a certain grim tone. “And so the naval balance of power is destroyed once again,” he said. His tone darkened. “You do realise, of course, that there is nothing preventing them from doing this to us?”
Grey looked up sharply. “I thought that you said that full precautions would be taken,” he snapped. “Why can’t it be stopped?”
Benson sighed. “The enemy can remain unnoticed until they come within radar range,” he said. “All they have to do is slip out of the Mediterranean Sea, and then they’re pretty much lost until we see them again. The…American AWACS has a far more powerful radar than we have anywhere else, but…”
His tone altered. “They can sneak up on the Royal Navy and launch at short range,” he said. “When we see them, we’ll have to get our own aircraft into the air – we’re running constant patrols now – and fight back. The attack could come at any moment and…”
“I see,” Grey said. “The only thing we can do, then, is boost the number of patrols.”
“And call Royal Flying Corps units from the defence of London,” Benson said. “We need more aircraft than we have, even with the catch-up project. Most of our aircraft production, particularly of the newer types, took part in the North American Union.”
Grey sighed. “Politically impossible,” he said flatly. “If we run down the air defences of London, you can take it to the bank that Parliament would have fits. The last thing they need is unrest; the Public has a long memory. The same goes for anywhere along the east coast; anywhere the French can hit with their new improved bombers.”
There was a long grim silence. The French hadn’t concentrated so much on naval technology; they’d concentrated on aircraft. Some of them had been failures; the bombers that had lashed out at London were not. They’d also taken a risk with their tank designs, but Grey had to admit that it had paid off handsomely. Simply by producing the anti-tank design first, they’d managed to limit the damage that the NAU soldiers had handed out to them.
“There is also the danger of what’s happened in Russia,” Grey said. “You saw the photographs from our friends in Paris.”
General Sir Douglas Highlander scowled. “Invincible tanks, at least to anything we have,” he said. “Sir, if they get over here…”
“We’d be in serious trouble,” Grey agreed. “The question, of course, is simple; what else has fallen into Russian hands?”
Adams hesitated. “The best person to ask about this would be the Admiral himself, Admiral Jackson,” he said. “While we do have a list of what was in the force – both the warships and their transports – it’s impossible to tell what else might have appeared. It could be anything.”
“Or anyone,” Grey said. “I trust you read the paper by Professor Broklehurst?”
Adams nodded. “Yes,” he said. “The Viceroy showed it to me under strict secrecy.”
“One of the…Atomic hell-weapons is possible,” Grey said flatly. “That rather cancels any thoughts about the laws of science somehow being different here.”
“So the slight fluctuations within the Washington’s power core was caused by whatever brought them here,” General Sir Douglas Highlander commented. “What does this mean for us?”
Grey stared out of the window for a long moment. “If the good professor was correct, achieving an atomic bomb is within the technology we have now – not from what we have gotten from them. In hindsight, it’s clear; we could have developed it from any time since 1920. We just…never looked down that path.” He paused. “And, my friends, what’s true for us is true for the French as well.”
Adams cursed. “That means…”
“That the French could build such weapons,” Grey said. “Can you imagine the hell on earth? My God; the Russians could build such weapons!”
Adams shook his head. “No one would use them,” he said. “The damage would be too great.”
General Sir Douglas Highlander spoke with a cold grim tone. Echoes of the grave floated within his voice. “The last month, a village in lower Manchuria revolted against the Tsar’s forces,” he said. “The Tsar had been squeezing them dry, you see. On his personal orders, his people…cleansed the village.” He tapped the map. “The Russians are trying to…exterminate the Chinese.”
Benson scowled. “A weapon like that could destroy the harbours in the Orkneys,” he said. His tone was almost dead. “The Navy would be destroyed in a flash. We cannot let them have such a weapon.”
“I would prefer not to have it either,” Grey admitted. “For the last year, total victory has been a pipedream” – he held up a hand – “we might as well admit it. Now…we have the tools to make a victory, but at what cost?”
He looked out of the window, without facing them. “In the last two centuries, each of the three empires has been unbeatable,” he said. “The French could not be defeated by the Turks, the Russians could not be defeated by the Persians and we could not be defeated by the Africans. What defeats we have suffered have been local ones, the worst being the Prussian victory in the Congo.
“That…has made us arrogant,” he said. “We are fighting two enemies; not one, and that same holds true for them. It’s just us; Brazil, Japan, the Prussian Congo and Ethiopia will try to stay out of the fighting. None of them could really make a difference to the outcome, with the possible exception of the Congo.”
Highlander coughed. “The Japanese could make a real nuisance of themselves,” he said.
“A month, no more,” Grey said, still not looking at them. “Then the Royal Navies gather the strength to crush their fleet and impose a blockade on Japan that will force them to surrender – or starve. The Congo, by trying to march to Cape Town, could cause real problems.”
He turned to face them, silhouetted against the windows. His form was dark against the light. “I have received a communication from the French Emperor,” he said. “This, by the way, remains a secret.” He held up a hand to prevent Adams protesting. “The French Emperor has proposed a peace conference – and a ceasefire in place until we meet.”
“He’s losing,” Adams said flatly. “If you think that the voters would accept losing the gains in the Caribbean…”
“I don’t and nor does he,” Grey said. “He has signalled that he would accept a limited loss of territory in exchange for peace.”
There was a long silence. Adams broke it. “I know that you have not informed the War Cabinet, let alone the Imperial Parliament,” he said. “I would have been informed otherwise. How do you intend to tell them?”
“That’s what I want to decide,” Grey said. “General Sir Douglas Highlander, Admiral Sir Martin Benson, First Sea Lord; can the war be won?”
The two military men exchanged glances. “With the new weapons, it might be possible,” Benson said. “We have a capable production centre and America and Australia are outside enemy reach. As long as there weren’t any other surprises…”
“There would be,” Grey said. “Winning the war, by which I mean driving all the way to Paris, would be…difficult. It would certainly be extremely costly and futile; it could bankrupt the Empire.” He nodded at Adams. “The last time we went through anything like this, it led to the American Insurgency.”
“The North American Parliament intends to have the Caribbean islands,” Adams said, stubbornly. “The good women of America will not rest in their beds until those islands are in our hands.”
Benson snorted. “And what about the women going to work in Springfield?” He asked. The newspapers had reported on that, with tones from amused to outraged and scandalised. “What do they think of it?”
“Assimilating Cuba and the other islands would be easy,” Grey snapped, forestalling an argument. “Assimilating Alaska…well, the serfs would probably prefer to be with us than the Tsar. Assimilating all of New Spain? North Africa? Indochina? It won’t work; they’re very loyal to the French.”
He tapped the table. “The bottom line is simple,” he said. “If the war continues, we and they will invent more and more weapons and continue fighting as hard as we can,” he said. “Sooner or later, the minor powers will be drawn into the fighting, which will only make it worse. If we’re winning, the French and the Russians will make common cause; or we lose, we will end up making an agreement with one of the other powers. By the time one of us comes out on top, the cost will be unimaginably high.
“We have built the United Empire over nearly three hundred years,” he said. “By the time the war ends, assuming we win, the empire will be in ruins. We will be bankrupt and ruined and barren. And those, my friends, are the problems of victory. We will be looking at years of military commitment, just to hold down the French and the Russians. In effect, we will have been defeated – just like the others.”
He smiled. “That rather assumes that we win, of course,” he concluded. “I don’t think that I will have to spell out what might happen if we lose.”
The room was silent. “I intend, therefore, to accept the peace offer,” he said. “We will get some of the fruits of victory; the Caribbean, Alaska, the French East Indies and perhaps the Philippines, but we will not occupy France itself.”
“The Russian Tsar may not go along with that,” Highlander said absently. “He is not known for giving up ground, hence his plantations in China.”
Adams scowled. “I cannot say that I like the thought of them keeping their own super-ship,” he said. “We should demand that they hand that over as well.”
Grey shook his head. “We dare not back them into a corner,” he observed. “If they hand the ship over to us, they will have to accept semi-permanent subordination to us, even if they hang on to the crew.”
Adams nodded. “If we get the islands in the Caribbean, then the North American Union Parliament will go along with it,” he said. “What about India, or Australia?”
“I’ll be floating it with the Imperial Parliament – in private session – later today,” Grey said. “As you were here…”
Adams nodded. “So, now what?”
“We’ll get Alaska anyway,” Grey said. “If we can get the French off our backs, perhaps the Tsar will see sense.”
Highlander nodded. “If he has a ship of his own, then he must know what happened to his…counterpart Tsar,” he said. “They might be the same person.”
“I don’t think that we’ve found a single counterpart,” Adams said. “According to Admiral Jackson, all sorts of things happened in their timeline that didn’t happen here – and the change was…years ago.”
“True, true,” Grey said. “We’ll meet again in a day. By then…I hope to have news for you.”
The letter from the French Emperor made other letters lower their eyes and swear blind that they could not be possibly of the same type as the French letter. Written on very fine paper with a golden pen, perhaps real gold, it was a work of art as much as anything else. It was in Latin, which astonished Colonel Sir Benjamin Phillips, but he understood. Latin was still the common fancy-speech; English didn’t seem to be so prevalent here.
“I assume that you’ve checked for any possible deceits,” Sir Benjamin said, after reading it through twice. Grey took it back with a shocking unconcern for the artwork, placing it back on the table without a care. “Can this be a trap?”
“It could be a long-term plan,” Grey agreed. “However, it is hard to see how such a letter leads to a trap.”
Sir Benjamin hesitated. “They could be planning to kill whomever you send to talk to them,” he said. “The bastards in the Middle East were fond of doing that, just to make peace impossible.”
Grey’s eyes showed horror for a long chilling moment. “Your world is uncivilised,” he said flatly. Sir Benjamin didn’t reply. “If they wanted to continue the war, then why not just continue? It takes two to make a peace, but only one to cause a war.”
Sir Benjamin shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “So, do you intend to reply?”
“Yes,” Grey said. His tone became thoughtful. “Perhaps they will insist on a return to the status quo, in which case we will have to continue the war. The question, however, is different; how will Admiral Jackson react?”
Sir Benjamin was honestly surprised. “I think he would approve,” he said. “It’s not as if the war can be won short of years of effort.”
Grey frowned. “If there is one lesson from your history, its make certain that you do a good job of ending the war,” he said. “You…alternates are strange people.”
“The situation is not the same,” Sir Benjamin said. “Sir; the choice is yours.”
“And the buck stops here,” Grey muttered. “Which of your Presidents – their Presidents – came up with that phase?”
“Harry Truman, although I think that it was in existence before him,” Sir Benjamin said. He smiled. “For what it’s worth, I like this world more.”
Grey shrugged. “It’s the future that concerns me,” he said. “The Russians…might not be very receptive to a peace proposal, and they’re a third of the war.”
Sir Benjamin considered. “They have no real gains in Poland,” he said. He scowled. “Even with the American tanks…hell, they should have been able to do more. Whatever people they have on their side, they’re not helping them willingly.”
Grey lifted an eyebrow. “How so?”
“An Abrams tank should be almost unstoppable by anything the French have, even antitank helicopters,” Sir Benjamin said. “With anti-aircraft systems, the tank would be untouchable, which means that the computers are not working.” He smiled. “That in turn means that whoever is in charge doesn’t know what they are doing.”
Grey scowled. “That means that there might be Americans trapped in Russia,” he said. “We’ll have to get them out somehow.”
Sir Benjamin nodded. “I’ve sent the information to Admiral Jackson,” he said. “Point is; the Russians have weapons that can take them to Paris very quickly. You have a bargaining stick, if you want to use it.”
“What can Admiral Jackson do?” Grey asked. “They can’t really hurt Russia, can they?”
“There should be a SEAL team on the Washington,” Sir Benjamin said. “They could be sent into Russia, perhaps.”
“Russia is a big place,” Grey said dryly. “They could be held anywhere.” He paused suddenly. “No, that’s not true,” he said. “They’ll be in Moscow somewhere. The Tsar would want them close to him.”
Sir Benjamin smiled for the first time. “So, if we can slip a few people into Moscow, then…”
“Then we can get them out and find out exactly what has fallen into the Russian hands,” Grey said. He smiled with genuine amusement. “I wonder…how many of your ships are scattered around the landscape.”
Sir Benjamin shook his head. “There’s no way to be sure, Prime Minister,” he said. “We didn’t exactly ask to be here.”
“I know,” Grey said. “The problem is that you’re having an effect on us, on our society, that might be very bad in the long run.”
Sir Benjamin considered for a long moment. “Perhaps,” he admitted. “However, change is the natural state of affairs.”
Grey smiled thinly. “Not here, Sir Benjamin,” he said. “Not here.”