Nr New Orleans, North American Union (TimeLine B)
Somewhat to Admiral Jackson’s surprise, the North American Union had in fact developed a cinema industry that in scope – if not in sophistication – rivalled Hollywood, if not Bollywood. Calcutta, he’d been informed, had also developed a film industry, mainly concentrating on tales of empire and adventure in the Far East. He grinned; one little advantage of the massive film library from the George Washington had been the ability to sell films to the New York set.
“I wonder how long it will be before someone starts building a Hollywood here,” he’d commented to Morrigan, after the deal had been signed. Working capital was always useful; Springfield was growing at an astonishing rate.
“Not too long, I think,” Morrigan had said. “Still, how many sex scenes will be allowed on screen here?”
Jackson smiled at the memory and returned to the video playing on the main screen. The United Empire, ever since it had developed filming techniques, had believed firmly in recording things for posterity, such as the final surrender of Havana Harbour and City. The Spanish commander of the island had fought very well, holding out for nearly two weeks, before finally offering to surrender. Despite slave revolts, he’d held out…and the cost had been appalling.
“Enough diseases to cost us all our lives,” he muttered grimly. The United Empire knew less about medical science than the Americans of TimeLine A, even though they knew more than they had at the same stage of technological development. Dozens of soldiers had become ill and had had to be transported back to Florida.
There was a tap on the door. “Come in,” he shouted, wishing that he could afford a secretary. It wasn’t the money that was the problem, but the security risk; a secretary could be working for anyone. “Enter!”
The door opened, revealing Lieutenant Han Wushi. “Admiral, the Prime Minister would like to see you.”
“Thank you,” Jackson said. Lieutenant Han Wushi handed all ‘diplomatic’ matters, even though Springfield was technically part of the North American Union. The entire situation was confused; he had a feeling that the Prime Minister and the Viceroy liked it that way. “Please send him in.”
He stood as Prime Minister Adams stepped into the office. “Good afternoon, Prime Minister,” he said. Learning to call an American leader anything other than ‘Mr President’ had taken time. “What can I do for you?”
Prime Minister Lord Roger Adams smiled wryly at him, taking a seat without waiting for the invitation. “Well, for a start, I wanted to say thank you,” he said. “Cuba has fallen to the authority of the North American Union, under the United Empire.”
Not for the first time, Jackson wished that he understood the politics a little better. The North American Union had full Home Rule, but at the same time it was subordinate to the Imperial Parliament, to which it sent nine Members of the Imperial Parliament; MIPs. The North American Union had contributed most of the forces involved in the battles for New Spain; did that give them authority over them?
“You’re welcome,” he said. “Alaska will fall too.”
Adams smiled. Jackson smiled back; in this timeline the North American Union had had its eye on Alaska for a long time. With the small, but very powerful advance closing in on the capital city and military base at Alexandergrad, which had never had a counterpart in TimeLine A, it wouldn’t be long before Alaska collapsed.
“I have a great deal of faith in my people,” Adams said. “Now that the majority of the French fleet has managed to flee to Indochina, we can continue to dominate the seas. Unfortunately, a blockade is unlikely to have any serious effect.”
Jackson scowled. The French Fleet had managed something he would have believed to be impossible, managing to escape under cover of darkness. At full steam, they would have had an easy task – outrunning any possible pursuit. Worse, from the point of view of the Royal North American Navy, Panama remained in French hands, which meant that any reinforcing of the Royal Australian Navy would take time – unless ships were spared from watching the Russian Far Eastern Fleet…
He chuckled. Adams looked at him oddly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I would have thought that strategy would be simpler with fewer fleets in the world.”
Adams smiled. “The French rule the Mediterranean and the Baltic,” he said. “Their control of the Egyptian Canal gives them more strategic flexibility than we have. With a navy that’s smaller than the Royal navies, it’s still a worthy opponent.” He sighed. “With some exceptions, I don’t think that there will be many land adjustments on the Southern Front.”
Jackson understood. New Spain was loyal to the Bourbon Empire. The United Empire would have to occupy it, or force the people out of the region. “Alaska, on the other hand, is populated by people who would be quite happy to work for us – the serfs are revolting,” Adams continued.
“I know they are,” Jackson punned. Adams groaned at him. “So, when are they going to rebel?”
“If that’s the standard of low humour in your timeline, then I think that you won’t find a job as a comic here,” Adams said. His tone was wry. “There are important matters to discuss, Admiral. As you may have known, I was in London three days ago.”
Jackson frowned. “I didn’t know that,” he said. “What happened?”
“The French have sued for peace,” Adams said flatly. “We have you to thank for that, it seems.”
Jackson lifted an eyebrow. “You’re welcome,” he said thoughtfully. “And what did the British decide?”
“We discussed it backwards and forwards, and then we asked the War Cabinet, and then the inner council discussed it,” Adams said. “The final decision was to accept the overture, based on certain conditions. While we won’t see land in New Spain, we will keep the islands in the Caribbean.”
Jackson sighed. “In my timeline, failing to fight the war to the end only means that you have to fight it again later,” he said.
Adams held his gaze for a long chilling moment. “In your timeline,” he said. “In your timeline, the war…closest to this one bankrupted the winners and utterly shattered the losers. Yes, it was discussed; if we continue along this path, for the one year, two years, five years…perhaps even ten years, the three superpowers will be shattered by the war.”
His voice darkened. “I am not willing to countenance that as a price for victory,” he said. “Neither was the British Prime Minister. Neither were the other Prime Ministers. And, apparently, neither are the French. Admiral, the war will end soon.”
Jackson wasn’t sure what to say. Experience in Vietnam, Iraq, countless other wars in countries that had never existed in this timeline…all had taught the United States to finish the job, or else fight again, later. In the long run, it was quicker and cheaper to end the war completely, rather than give the enemies time to rebuild and continue to antagonise you.
Adams looked down at the map for a moment. “It was discussed giving you Cuba,” he said. “When it was proposed, no promises were made; we might not have been able to keep them.” He sighed. “With that guy, whoever he is, in Cuba, without your support the attack might have failed.”
“Viceroy Cortez’s son,” Jackson said. He’d been told that, afterwards. “And? What was the conclusion?”
“There are still slaves on the island,” Adams said. “Do you still want it?”
Jackson considered. It was true that Springfield did a lot of the original objective; building a power base for the Americans before they could be absorbed by the North American Union. At the same time, the threat of absorption would always exist in Springfield. Cuba…didn’t have that problem.
“Yes,” he said. “We do want it, Prime Minister.”
“I wondered,” Adams said. He smiled. “All the wealth we are told about in stories of the Caribbean seems to have vanished over the years. It’s not that good a place now, Admiral; you will have to absorb a population of hopping mad slaves.”
“We’ve done it before,” Jackson said, and knew that that wasn’t entirely honest. The North American Union had never beat hell out of the slave-holding South in a civil war; they’d bought most of the slaves and freed them, giving them a place to live and work.
“There will be negotiations,” Adams said. “You might be asked to be a county of the North American Union, or an independent state within the United Empire. If either of those are acceptable to you…?”
“Either would do,” Jackson said. Independence…wasn’t a possibility, not with only the resources of the George Washington. One thing had stayed constant about Cuba; it was a very poor country. “Being an independent state would be better, I feel.”
Adams nodded. “I’ll have to discuss it with the Parliament, all Parliaments, but I think it can be done,” he said.
The last thing that Maggie O’Brien had expected was to be asked to an interview at one of the new hotels in Springfield, one that had housed a handful of famous dignitaries. As she passed through the foyer, admiring the golden ring on her finger, she was somehow unsurprised to see Donald Adamson, Special Assistant to the Viceroy, standing there.
“Right this way, Miss O’Brien,” he said. He led her into the stairwell, leading her up a flight of stairs into a back entrance. His presence was revealing; the Viceroy himself sat in the room, along with Admiral Sir Joseph Porter.
“Good afternoon,” the Viceroy said, as she went down on one knee. She’d never met a Viceroy before, but she knew the etiquette. “My compliments on your forthcoming wedding.”
“Thank you, my lord,” she stammered. She was more than a little surprised that the Viceroy knew enough to care that she was getting married. “Will you be attending the wedding?”
“That would be a social coup,” the Viceroy said dryly. “I do not know; I’m not always my own master.”
Maggie’s reporter instincts came to the fore. “Why are you here?” She asked. “What’s happening here?”
Sir Joseph spoke calmly. “The help of the Alternates has been very helpful,” he said. His tone was…strange. “You have lived with them for the last six months; you know this.”
Maggie nodded. “I have watched and I have reported,” she said. “Is there anything in particular that you want to know?”
Sir Joseph nodded. “As you may be aware, several…groups have set up shop in Springfield,” he said. “These range from the suffragettes, who have in fact been encouraging women to take up work within Springfield, to the American Independence Party. We do not find that…encouraging.”
Maggie blinked. “What, might I ask, is wrong with paying attention to women’s issues?”
Sir Joseph shook his head. “I’m not so worried about that,” he said. “Over the past month, there has been a rise in the number of people who have become pregnant out of wedlock.”
Maggie flushed slightly. Anderson and she might have engaged in passionate kissing, but they hadn’t gone all the way, not yet. “What does that have to do with the people here?” She asked. “How does how they act influence people here?”
The Viceroy smiled grimly. “In almost all of the cases he mentioned, the girl in question swore blind that she’d been taking a contraceptive, bought from here through mail order. In twenty-seven cases out of thirty-five, the girl didn’t follow the instructions.”
Maggie smiled. “That’s a little…odd,” she said. “Still…”
“Springfield has expanded radically within the eight months it’s been here,” Sir Joseph said. “Drug factories have been produced, producing the contraceptive pill, among others. They have caused great good, such as producing painkillers for the men on the front, and great evil. Contraception…is only one part of a growing whole.”
“Women have been…taking more of a role in political life recently,” the Viceroy said. “They have in fact been demanding that MAPs and MIPs support their interests, such as free contraception.”
Maggie smiled. She had an idea who was behind that. “I am a working woman,” she snapped. “I had a hard time getting here…”
“And now your work is printed all around the world,” Sir Joseph said. “You may be making more than your fiancée.”
“I had a hard time getting here,” Maggie repeated. “I am in favour of anything that puts women on an equal status to men.”
“Equality of opportunity is a good thing,” the Viceroy said. “Equality of outcome is not. For a start, it’s impossible. The…campaigners want something called ‘Affirmative Action,’ something to ensure that there are equal numbers of women and men in a given workplace. Like it or not, Miss O’Brien, this is…destabilising the political situation here.”
Maggie blinked. “You mean that women are voting for the first time?” She asked, puzzled. “Women have had the vote since 1946!”
“I mean that women are demanding that politicians follow paths that are bad for the country as a whole,” the Viceroy said. “This…Affirmative Action may sound like a good idea, but it’s dangerous – if we have to load matters in favour of the women…”
“With all due respect, I write just as well as a man,” Maggie said. “I hate to be arguing with you, my lord…”
“No, you don’t,” the Viceroy commented.
“But this is a good thing for our society,” she concluded, ignoring the interruption. “It’s starting to get people more involved in the political process…”
“Yes, exactly,” the Viceroy said. Sir Joseph snorted. “A Viceroy must take a longer-term view than a Prime Minister; I’m telling you, this is going to disrupt the entire United Empire.”
Sir Joseph coughed. “There are also the handful of women demanding that we take them into military service,” he said. “There aren’t many of them, but they’re growing. Instead of staying at home, they want to join the Army or the Militia. New Zealand, of course, does allow women in the Militia, but they’re weird.”
“I think the idea was that no woman would join anyway,” the Viceroy muttered. “We’re straying from the point; Miss O’Brien, are your friends likely to encourage this?”
Maggie hesitated. She wished – oh, how she wished – that she could talk to Anderson about this, or even Sharon. “I don’t think so,” she said, and hoped that it was the right answer. “They’re not bad people.”
Sir Joseph smiled grimly. “The path to Hell is paved with good intentions,” he said. “Also a lot of bad intentions, but that hardly matters here. What will they do – here – if this Affirmative Action thing falls through?”
“I don’t think that they will do anything,” Maggie said. “They’re…not a large group, my lord. If they can get on with recruiting people on an equal basis, such as women from the People, then they’ll get on with that.”
“They have been doing that,” the Viceroy said. “God knows, I would be delighted to see more involvement from the People in our North American Union, but like this? Do you have any idea how many women flee from there each year?”
Maggie guessed. “Hundreds?”
“In the last month, more than two thousand have fled,” the Viceroy said. “There’s only several hundred thousand of the People in all, so that’s a large percentage of their female population. They’re…not happy.”
Sir Joseph smiled grimly. “They might start a rebellion against us,” he said. “They would be smashed flat, of course, but it would be costly.”
The Viceroy smiled. “This effect…has been noticed,” he said. “What will happen when some of the women hunters turn up here?”
Maggie blinked. “They come to capture a runaway,” Sir Joseph explained.
Maggie felt a flash of pure anger. “If they have any decency at all,” she snapped, “they’ll refuse to help them or allow them to operate within Springfield.”
“Exactly,” Sir Joseph said. “That alone will cause trouble.”
The Viceroy smiled grimly. “Still, if they won’t make the problem worse,” he said. “I cannot say that I approve of that particular problem you know. There are others. What happens if a girl claims to have taken a contraceptive, but lies?”
Maggie said nothing. “Do we force the boy to marry her?” The Viceroy asked. “Do we make the girl bring the child up on her own?”
Maggie grinned suddenly. “Tell everyone that that’s a possibility,” she said. “The warning…”
“Will do nothing,” the Viceroy said. “Why do I have the feeling that it’s only going to get worse?
“I understand that you’re in line for a peerage,” Admiral Jackson said. Anderson nodded. “Congratulations, I think.”
“Thank you,” Anderson said. “Launching the first carrier strike in history is bound to do something for me.”
Jackson smiled. “I suppose that it beats a medal,” he said. “What sort of peerage?”
Anderson shrugged. “I suspect a baronetcy,” he said. “It might be a knighthood, but those don’t come with permanent rights. Seeing that they’re as pleased with Maggie, as they are with me, then they might want a permanent status for me and my family.”
Jackson smiled. He’d never fully understood the peerage system, but there were titles that were passed down through the family tree, and others that only lasted for the lifetime of the title-holder. The latter, as he understood it, had to be confirmed by the respective parliaments.
“And you’re going to get married,” he said. “Have a good time before the wedding.”
“Now, that wouldn’t be right,” Anderson said. They shared a smile. “Seriously, I trust that you will attend?”
Jackson nodded. “There will be seven weddings this month,” he said. “I’m supposed to be attending all of them and officiating at two of them.”
“Your people are getting married to our people,” Anderson said. “Is that a good sign?”
“I don’t know,” Jackson said. He was about to say more, but then his desk radio started to buzz. “Excuse me,” he said, picking up the radio. “Jackson here.”
“Admiral, we just got a flash-burst from the AWACS in England,” Captain Morrigan said. “I think that all hell is about to break loose.”