Chapter Three: Where are we?
USS George Washington
South Atlantic (TimeLine B)
The light faded as quickly as it had arrived, but darkness descended impossibly rapidly. Captain Morrigan stared through the viewport at the night sky, staring at the stars high overhead…and knew that the ship wasn’t in Kansas – or even the Pacific – anymore.
“It was daytime two minutes ago,” the reporter said. Morrigan spun round – he’d forgotten about Sharon Green in the sudden confusion – and motioned for the deck officer to escort her back to her quarters.
“Report,” he snapped. “What happened?”
The Communications Officer, Lieutenant Edward Doyle, coughed. “Captain, Admiral, we have no communications at all.”
Admiral Jackson moved over to his console. “What do you mean; no communications?” He demanded. “We’ve lost contact with Pacific Fleet?”
“We’ve lost contact with everyone,” Doyle said. He shuddered. “Sir, we have no signals from America, from Australia, from Japan, even from China.”
Morrigan left Admiral Jackson to worry about the communications. He had to look after his ship. “Exec?”
“We seem to have survived,” Commander Patrick O’Reilly said dryly. The Irishman’s face was pale. “Radar reports no contacts at all.”
Morrigan stared at him. “That’s impossible,” he said. “We were in one of the most travelled regions of the Pacific.”
“I know,” O’Reilly said. “But sir…we have no communications and no radar contacts.”
Morrigan placed the question to one side. “What’s our status?”
“No damage that we have located,” O’Reilly said. “The ready flight is ready to launch, followed by the AWACS bird. All weapons are ready…it’s just that we don’t have anything to aim at.”
Morrigan glanced over at the air boss. “Launch the ready flight, then the AWACS,” he ordered. In the eerie darkness, the light of the jet engines flickered as the two fighters launched into the darkness. Minutes later, the massive AWACS followed.
“Captain, a word,” Admiral Jackson said. “There’s no communications at all, except some transmissions in French – we think.”
Morrigan stared at him. The Admiral was stunned by the…event. His face was pasty white. “Nuclear war?”
“We should have been able to sense the detonations,” Jackson said. “Hell, we might have seen something.”
“And there’s no sign of the task force,” Morrigan said. “Sir, could we have fallen through a time warp?”
“Impossible,” Jackson scoffed. “Such things don’t happen in real life.”
The Navigator coughed. Commander Talia Taylor, a woman of vaguely Arabic appearance, looked nervous. “Sir, I’ve been using the computers to take a reading from the stars,” she said. “Sir, we’re in the Atlantic – the South Atlantic.”
Jackson and Morrigan exchanged glances. “How the hell did we get here?” Jackson asked. “What the hell were those things?”
“I have no idea, sir,” Morrigan said. “Exec?”
“Can you read the time from the stars?” O’Reilly asked. “Can you tell us what year it is?”
Talia worked her console. The seconds seemed to tick past endlessly. “Sir, its 2009,” Talia said. She hesitated. “Sir, there don’t seem to be any satellites in orbit.”
Morrigan felt his senses reel. If it was still 2009 – but without any satellites – where the hell were they? “Sonja?”
“The AWACS has found only a handful of contacts, some near the Falklands,” Captain Sonja Robertson, CAG, said grimly. “Sir, the radar picture is…odd.”
“I think we’ll do well to wait for daylight,” Jackson said. “If we can’t raise Atlantic Command…and we certainly should be able to do that, then what do we do?”
Morrigan hesitated. “Then we should be trying to find the nearest NATO base,” he said. “Sir, what could have happened to them?”
“It’s starting to look as if we’re the last survivors of a war,” Jackson said. Morrigan recognised the doubt in his voice. “Comms, what do the signals say?”
“Nothing too useful,” Doyle admitted. “It’s not exactly French, more of a mixture of French and Spanish. I don’t understand it too well; they’re talking about having taken the Falklands from Britain.”
Morrigan blinked. “A second Falklands War causes all the satellites to go down?”
“I don’t think so,” Jackson said. “It’s starting to look as if we’re rather badly lost.”
Morrigan met his eyes. “Lost where?”
Daylight brought no relief to the puzzled crew. The CAP had been reinforced, risking the loss of some aircraft for further information, and the information was confusing. There was only a handful of aircraft, mostly over South America. The massive trans-Atlantic air flights from Durban to Argentina were gone; the constant babble of countless radio and television channels was silent at last.
The CIC was packed with officers, both from the George Washington itself and the Admiral’s staff of officers, including some from Britain and Australia. They had been intended for liaising with Admiral Jackson…and now they were lost with the American aircraft carrier.
“That’s a fourteenth contact,” the CAG said, as the AWACS reported the detection of another ship. “It’s heading for the Falklands.”
Admiral Jackson stared down at the display. He was starting to have a very nasty thought about what had happened to them; this Earth didn’t reassemble theirs at all. “I think it’s time we took a look at the Falklands,” he said. “Captain Morrigan; prepare a recon flight for immediate dispatch.”
Morrigan blinked at him. “Sir, if there has been an attack, we might be the only remaining American ship,” he said.
“If a power can move us halfway around the world, then it doesn’t have to worry about us,” Jackson said. “Launch the aircraft.”
Morrigan saluted and headed off to arrange the flight with the air boss and the CAG. Jackson returned to his worried thoughts; what had happened to them? It defied belief that the Chinese, or the Russians, or anyone could have hammered the United States so completely that there was nothing left, bar the Washington. The time index didn’t seem to have changed at all; they’d been moved around the world, but they hadn’t fallen through a hole in time.
“This is Recon-One,” a voice said, echoing through the CIC. “Sir, I’m about to perform a high-level reconnaissance of the Falklands.”
“Put it on the big display,” Morrigan ordered. Jackson nodded. “Any sign of the British Tornados or Sea Harriers?”
“Nothing, sir,” the pilot replied. Jackson glanced at his display; Captain Rupert Potter. “Beginning recon run now.”
The display flickered and began relaying the signals. The lack of any British aircraft rising to contest the airspace, or of any radar or fire control emissions at all, was worrying. The Falklands appeared on the display, with seven ships in the Falklands Sound. The ships were…odd, to say the least.
Morrigan put it into words. “What the hell are they?”
“I have no idea,” Jackson said. “Weapons?”
There was a short pause while Commander Thomas Henderson, Weapons Officer, studied the images. “Sir, they don’t match anything we have in service, or anyone else,” he said finally.
“I had guessed that,” Jackson said. The unknown ships reminded him of nothing less than battleships; they looked older than the Iowa or the Missouri, and yet somehow…newer. “Think outside the box, son.”
Henderson coughed. “Unless I miss my guess, sir, and I probably do, they’re superdreadnaughts,” he said. “They were an updated design from just before the First World War and some of them survived to fight in the Second World War.”
“We have air contacts,” the CAG snapped. “Unknown aircraft, rising from the Falklands, near Stanley.”
“They’re no threat,” Captain Rupert Potter assured them. “They’re ancient crates.”
Jackson looked up at the images again. The aircraft reminded him of the older fighters, the designs that had been created before the Second World War. They didn’t have a hope of catching the F-14, even if they had the weapons to damage it.
“They must have heard the engines,” Morrigan muttered. “Sir, I think we’re rather out of our depth here.”
“I really hope that was a joke,” Jackson said dryly. Morrigan smiled at the weak joke. “Order the plane to return here, then…well, I think we’d better decide what to do.”
Lieutenant Sally Woods, Assistant Supply Officer, was the closest thing that the carrier had to a genuine historian. After having joined the navy in hopes of learning to fly, Sally had been pointed gently towards supply, an office that her ability to make work easier for everyone made very easy. In between rigging the supply manifest to ensure that the George Washington had everything it needed, regardless of Congressional oversight, she studied and studied, earning degrees that she never put to any real use.
After all, as she had remarked to her superior on more than one occasion, she was constructively lazy.
The puzzle put in front of her, however, was…odd. The Falklands seemed to be larger and smaller than they were in the original timeline, for she was confident that they had slipped through a dimensional warp. She’d spent ten minutes attempting to explain the concept, but Captain Morrigan hadn’t really understood.
“For everything that happens,” she’d said, “there are thousands of possible alternatives. As an example, there is one universe where you put on your socks in one way, and another where you did the opposite. That universe splits from ours at the moment of decision.”
“I don’t understand,” Morrigan had admitted. “How is a universe where I wear one pair of regulation socks different from a universe where I wear a different pair of regulation socks?”
Sally smiled. “Ah, but pretend that you have a choice between two pairs of panties,” she’d continued. Morrigan gave her a dry look, but said nothing. “One pair is comfortable, you have a good night on the town and all the good things happen, leading to you marrying the guy and having your kids. The other pair itches, and you have a bad night and end up slapping him when he tries to get cosy. The net result is that you have no kids, at least not with him.”
“I get the point,” Morrigan had said. “Now, can you tell us what’s different here?”
They’re not as advanced as we are, Sally thought, studying the images. The radar was primitive; it would be odds-on that it would be completely unable to find the American aircraft, let alone bring one of them down. On the other hand, those superdreadnaughts – and she hadn’t been able to find a match for the design – looked to be tough; could the George Washington out-perform them?
“I don’t have the slightest idea what’s different,” she admitted, an hour later. “I’m confident that we have indeed slipped into an alternate universe, but I don’t have any idea how it’s different.”
Admiral Jackson paced the small cabin. “Is there any way to get back home?” He asked. “Anything in the literature?”
“Nothing that I know about,” Sally admitted. It suddenly struck her that she would never see her husband again. It almost made up for the long sea voyages she’d taken to get away from him. “Sir, we need more information.”
“I had figured that out,” Jackson said dryly. “Lieutenant, is there any clue in the images?”
“None,” Sally said grimly. “From the images, there are some flags, and it’s clear that a minor battle was fought in the Falklands, but I don’t know who fought it.”
“The British, from the radio transmissions,” Morrigan added. “They seem to have lost, but to whom?”
“There’s no way to be certain,” Sally said. “Sir, they do seem to be less advanced than we are. Simply remaining over the horizon will keep us safe for a long time, and I’m almost certain they don’t have nuclear power. They have radar, but it’s nowhere near as capable as ours, and they don’t seem to have jets at all.”
Morrigan scowled. Sally admired the scowl absently. “We’re groping in the dark,” the Captain said. Sally nodded. “We really need up-to-date information.”
Jackson frowned, his small form twitching with the responsibility of his position. “How do you suggest we do that?” He asked. “We can’t take the Falklands back…”
“We could head towards America,” Sally said. She hesitated. “If it exists in this timeline, of course.”
“I would sooner accept a fall back in time than an…alternate reality,” Jackson said. “It’s at least a week at maximum towards America, and we might bump into something on the way.”
“We could head for Accession,” Morrigan suggested. “It might still be a minor shipping centre, a place where we could pick up some information.”
Sally tapped the images on the desk. She’d had a bright idea. “Sir, we could just make contact with whoever is holding the Falklands,” she suggested. “They are the closest force to us.”
Jackson shook his head. “I don’t think that that is a good idea,” he said. “We know nothing about them, nothing at all.”
“They can’t threaten the carrier, can they?” Sally asked innocently. “We could just ask them what’s happening.”
“Until we know what is going on, I would prefer to avoid direct contact with an unknown force,” Jackson said. “I’ll risk it for an American force, but not for anyone else.”
Sally nodded. “Yes, sir,” she said.
“One question,” Morrigan said. “Do you have any idea where the…ah, Point of Divergence is?”
Sally smiled at him absently. “Only a rough guess,” she said. “The general level of technology seems to be between 1914 and 1930, with the possible exception of radar. That would suggest that the Point of Divergence was sometime before then, perhaps some years before.”
“Thanks,” Jackson said. “Keep studying the information and we’ll inform you if you’re needed.”
Sally stood up and saluted, before leaving the cabin to return to the intelligence centre. She was fascinated by the entire puzzle…and if some of her suspicions were accurate, the George Washington would have no need for a supply officer.
Not for some time, at any rate.
“You seem to know a lot about this stuff,” Jackson said, removing his cap as Lieutenant Sally Woods closed the door behind her. “I don’t suppose that this is a test of some kind?”
Morrigan shook his head. “If it is, sir, I’m as much in the dark as you are. I was just fond of Turtledove and Stirling – and Birmingham, come to think of it.”
Jackson smiled absently. “How’s the crew morale?” He asked. “They’re cut off from everything.”
Morrigan shuddered. “It’s not quite sunk in yet,” he said. “Sir, we’re going to have trouble when it does.”
“I expect that,” Jackson said. “God, I wish I had the rest of the fleet along. Even Contre-Admiral François Videzun would be pleasant company right now.”
“Bite your tongue,” Morrigan advised. “Sir, do we set course for Accession?”
“In the absence of any better ideas,” Jackson said. “I don’t think we have a choice, do you?”
Morrigan shook his head. “We’d better keep a full CAP over our heads,” he said.
“Only two aircraft and the AWACS,” Jackson said. He’d been thinking as fast as he could. “Captain, how far can we travel?”
Morrigan blinked. “The range of this ship is supposed to be unlimited,” he said. “The nuclear plant has…oh fuck it!”
“Exactly,” Jackson said absently. “We will run out of food. From now on, we go on rations. We will run out of weapons, of fuel, of everything we need to function. Captain, I think that we’d better move faster; we have to know what the hell is going on here.”
“Yes, sir,” Morrigan said. “I’ll go give the orders now.”
Hawk One, otherwise known as Captain Rupert Potter, shook his head as the F-14 nosed its way into the sky. He didn’t believe for a moment the reports that they were in an alternate universe, even though the Falkland Islands had been defended by craft out of the past. He’d been tempted to have buzzed them, but the CAG would have torn him a new asshole if he’d even dared to hint at the prospect.
“This is Hawk One,” he said, as the F-14 fell into its patrol pattern. He wasn’t convinced that it was needed – if anything in this crazy dimension could even find the carrier, the AWACS would see it coming in time for the entire air wing to be launched – but he understood the need to keep everyone occupied. A busy crew would have no time to brood.
“This is Charlie-One,” the AWACS replied, and then sent him a series of instructions. They were simple; he was to hold point position ahead of the massive carrier, and respond to any contacts on the radar. Below him, the massive shape of the George Washington turned, heading northeast towards Accession.
Time passed slowly, too slowly for Potter’s comfort, before the AWACS hailed him again. “Hawk-one, we have contacts at sea level, heading southwest towards the Falklands. Recon them.”
“Acknowledged,” Potter said. He checked his instruments quickly, and then put the F-14 into a dive, spinning out just above the waterline. His radar was picking up the contacts, seven large ships, and six smaller ships, heading on a direct course for the Falklands.
“I can confirm visual contact,” he said, as the F-14 screeched over the ships. They had clearly seen him; he was low enough to see sailors on the decks, pointing and gaping at him. The massive superstructure of the ships was like something out of the past; the USN had nothing of their size. “Charlie-one, they can see me.”
“That’s not too surprising,” the AWACS controller said. “Hawk-one; can you perform a second recon swoop?”
“Acknowledged,” Potter said. He swooped around, admiring the massive ships on the surface with awe…and then saw the flag. Not all of the flags were recognisable, but one of them was clearly a Union Jack. A second seemed to be Australian, but he only got one look at it before he passed over the small force and headed away from them.
“Control, they’re British,” he said. “Sir, that’s a British ship in the fleet.”
“Understood,” the AWACS said. “Captain, hold position high over the fleet. The Admiral is deciding what to do.”