Ten Downing Street
London, United Kingdom (TimeLine B)
The negotiations for a local ceasefire had taken longer than Prime Minister Lord Harriman Grey would have expected, largely because of the British demand that the French forces on the English mainland surrender without making any further promises. After a final agreement that the troops would be repatriated to France as soon as possible – which was in fact occurring at the moment – the French had agreed. A number of officers, including their commander, and some soldier accused of wartime atrocities would remain, but on the whole the French had been good about punishing atrocities.
The men facing the Prime Minister, Grey was amused to discover, didn’t look like much. He had expected a French nobleman, dressed in the outrageous outfits common to the French Court, and a gloomy Russian nobleman. The French Prime Minister was dressed in a stylish, but simple suit, and the Russian – one of their Court Jews – was dressed in a very sober suit.
The French Prime Minister, Vincent Pelletier, spoke first. It had been difficult to convince all three powers – including the Imperial Parliament – to allow the meeting. Grey had burnt up a lot of his political capital to convince everyone that the meeting was in their best interests – and only the open support of the King-Emperor had made it possible. As it was, Parliament would have to support whatever treaty they drew up – or else the war would go on endlessly.
“Allow me to be blunt,” Pelletier said, and Grey nodded. “We have just fought the most brutal war in the history of the world.”
Grey inclined his head. The thousands dead on both sides. The loss of nearly eighty superdreadnaughts from the Home Fleet. The loss of the carriers from both sides. The devastation at Panama…the list went on and on. It had to end, he’d decided; whatever the cost.
“At the same time, none of us has a decisive advantage,” Pelletier continued. “You may have the Washington – and our ship has sunk below the waves – but the Washington is running short on weapons of its own. We are in a race to mass-produce weapons; land ironclads, carriers, new fighters…even atomic weapons, and the war will go on. I would venture to comment that it would go on for years yet; even atomic weapons will not prove decisive.
“Each of us has virtually unlimited manpower,” he said. Grey sighed. “Each of us has the industry to equip vast armies. Your Home Fleet can be rebuilt within a few years, should you be willing to do so, and we too could rebuild our carriers. In effect, you might be able to conquer New Spain, like you have Alaska, but how long would it be before we came into India through Iran, or convinced the Prussians to join us, or…”
He paused. “We have never fought a major war between ourselves for years, unless you count the Afghanistan War,” he said. “How long can we fight this war before our empires collapse? We have the lessons of the other timeline to show us what happened to smaller empires; how long will it be for us? Ten years of constant war? Twenty years? Perhaps the war will go on forever!
“I have been ordered by the Emperor to negotiate a peace,” he concluded. “I assume that you have similar orders.”
He nodded to the Court Jew, who had been introduced as Stefan. His English was perfect, without even a trace of an accent. “The new Tsar, one of the people who have come to us from the far side of the looking glass, has offered a local peace deal to France, along the lines of the one proposed by the late Crown Prince. A similar deal is needed for Britain.”
He paused to allow Grey a moment to work that out. Britain would face both France and Russia, although perhaps the two sides would not be in alliance. The war would be a great deal harder to fight, let alone to win. However, there were other concerns here.
“China will still represent a bone of contention,” he said. “Are we to allow them to settle their disputes without further intervention, divide the country up between ourselves…or what?”
“I fear that no intervention is not too likely,” Pelletier said wryly. “Perhaps a division would be better.”
Grey nodded. “We can set that aside for the moment,” he said. “Perhaps a commission…” He waited for them to nod. “However, there are other concerns here, as I said. You have wantonly attacked Britain itself, and done so during a time of peace talks.”
Pelletier lowered his eyes. “The situation…was confused,” he said. “The Emperor collapsed before any terms could be finalised and the Crown Prince decided that he wanted to assert his authority.”
Grey shrugged. The reports from the Paris Court had been along similar lines. “Even so, your forces have caused a great deal of damage, including nearly two hundred thousand deaths in Home Fleet…”
“And you killed thousands when you attacked Panama,” Pelletier pointed out. “You killed thousands when you struck at the carriers and the Charles de Gaulle. The slave revolts in Cuba cost thousands of lives…”
“You exaggerate,” Grey said. “You have also caused a great deal of damage to Britain itself…”
“And you have done the same to France, through air-bombing raids and even a bombardment from a battleship,” Pelletier pointed out.
Stefan smiled. “If we’re tossing atrocities around, what about Sevastopol, or even Alaska?”
Grey laughed wryly. “Very well,” he said. He looked over at Pelletier for a long moment. “Allow me to be blunt – again,” he said. “We are not happy with you.” Pelletier snorted. “At the same time, fighting the war to a finish will be difficult. Here, therefore, are our terms for peace.
“Cuba and the rest of the occupied Caribbean islands go to us,” he said. “We won’t make any claims to New Spain, but we want a fifty-mile demilitarised zone within New Spain, running south from the border line.” He waited for a reaction; none was forthcoming. “We want free passage through both the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal, and we want the Philippines. We care very little for China; you can have your possessions there or leave them, as you wish.”
He paused. “We also want that French commander from the other reality,” he said.
“That might be tricky,” Pelletier admitted. “The man is in a coma.”
Grey shrugged. “I dare say we’ll live,” he said. He hoped that he’d struck the balance between punishing the French, therefore pleasing his own people, and allowing the French to save face, therefore preventing a third Global War. “What about the other terms?”
Pelletier looked at him for a long moment. Grey wished, not for the first time, that he could read minds. “We find those terms acceptable, subject to some modification,” he said. Grey lifted an inviting eyebrow. “First, we would like to keep the right to send bishops to the Philippines and Quebec, ministering to the souls of the Catholics there. Second, we would like to keep free trade there, and of course if some of the people want to keep their French citizenship, that they should be allowed to do so. Finally, we want to keep a naval base there.”
“If,” Grey commented, patriotism convincing him that no one would want to keep the French citizenship if they could have a British citizenship. “I believe that they will agree to everything, but the naval base,” he said.
“I think we can do without that, then,” Pelletier said, and smiled. “Everything else?”
“I’ll have a scribe draw up the terms, then,” Grey said. “Once we have a temporary agreement, we can send it back to our lords and masters.” He paused. “Now, for Russia.” Stefan smiled grimly. “We want to keep Alaska and we want you to join the commission to divide China,” Grey said. “There’s nothing else that we really want from you.”
“I shall so inform the Tsar,” Stefan said. “I do not believe that he will refuse.”
“One detail, though,” Grey said. “It is my understanding that you have at least one American ship from the other timeline. We want the crew back.”
Stefan shook his head. “None of the crew survived the cold,” he said. “Unlike the Washington or the other ship, the three ships that we had landed on land. By the time we found them, nearly all of them were dead of cold, even the Russians.”
Grey knew that Jackson had guessed that much, just from what they’d seen. A competent American crew could have taken the Abrams to Paris…and nothing could have stopped them. The incompetent, almost tentative, use of the tanks had been very revealing.
“We have brought the bodies, though,” Stefan said. “Unfortunately, the rest of the fleet could be out there, and we’d never know about it.”
Grey nodded. The vast frozen north of Russia could have concealed all of Task Force INDIA for years. “Thank you for that,” he said. “We’ll make arrangements for them to be delivered to Admiral Jackson for burial.” He looked around the room. “Are we all agreed on the preliminary terms?”
“Yes,” Pelletier said flatly. “While there are other matters I need to discuss with you, none of them have any bearing on the peace conference. An atomic agreement, for example; it’s not in any of our interests to allow the smaller states that sort of power.”
Grey suddenly felt very tired. “We’ll discuss that later,” he said. Joint action would do a great deal to repair relations between the superpowers. “Until later, then; gentlemen.”
Admiral Jackson felt more than a little ridiculous in his aristocratic uniform, even though there was no longer any Congress to ratify his sudden elevation to the peerage. Being created Baron George Washington, something that Anderson had assured him was not unusual with Royal Navy commanders, had been a surprise. Anderson himself, unfortunately, couldn’t be Baron Amherst; there already was an Amherst family.
He wasn’t sure what to make of the British Prime Minister. He seemed more determined than either Tony Blair or John Major had been, both of whom he’d met on deployments. He also had arrogance, something that had been bred out of British Prime Ministers, something that reminded him of the old joke about Henry Kissenger. According to the joke, he’d told President Reagan that America had a sphere of interest in which its interests were paramount, and then he’d pointed to a globe and said that that was the United State’s sphere of influence.
“Congratulation on your elevation,” Grey said. He sounded tired, but happy. “What do you think of the peace terms?”
Jackson paused to read the short document quickly. He had no doubt that by the time the protocol experts got finished with it; it would be a great deal longer. By the time he had finished, he was mildly astonished – and not a little annoyed.
“That’s all?” He demanded. “Where’s the punishment for killing members of my crew?”
Grey glared at him for a long moment, then sighed. “What terms would you have us ask for?” He asked. “All of New Spain?”
“What about the survivors from the Charles de Gaulle?” Jackson demanded. “What about those who remain in Russia. They’re dangerous; why not demand that they be handed over to us?”
Grey sighed again. “Captain, Admiral, Baron; listen to me,” he said. “The French Empire is a fact; it cannot be wiped away. For us to occupy New Spain alone, Admiral, would be a serious strain on our resources, and we could not take that strain. To reduce the French Empire to ruins would take so much time and blood that our empire would not survive the effort.”
He paused for a long moment. “We cannot back them into a corner,” he snapped. “We cannot force them to remain subordinate to us forever. If we try to take what little remains of the Charles de Gaulle, they will be subordinate to us – and because they’re smart enough to see that, they will refuse any such demand. The war will go on…and wars are chancy things. Who knows who will get atomics first, Admiral; can you guarantee that they won’t get them?”
He paced around his office. “If you hadn’t come, the war would have lasted forever,” he snapped. “Your histories tell us this much – crushing someone into the ground is a recipe for future trouble. I won’t have that, I can’t! Peace, Admiral; peace is what we need!”
Jackson took a calming breath. It wasn’t the time for an argument, but there were things that needed to be said. “But at what price?”
Grey scowled at him. “We won the war, Admiral; now we have to win the peace.” He tapped the peace terms. “We’ll get this, Admiral, and then we’ll get into the stars. A long war is in no one’s interests.”
Pelletier knew perfectly well that the British could have intercepted the telephone link between Paris and London, or cut it at any moment for that matter. The taboo on harming the cables had held strong, however, and they’d been untouched. It would have been ironic if they’d been broken through disuse, but no; they worked perfectly.
“Those are the peace terms, sire,” he said, after reading them out. He knew that the Russian Court Jew would be explaining them to his Tsar at the same time. It wasn’t something he envied him; the new Tsar could afford to show no signs of weakness. “What do you think?”
There was a long pause. “That’s not as bad as I had feared,” the Emperor said, after a long moment. “Videzun remains out of it, by the way. He’s just lying in a coma on his bed.”
Pelletier shrugged. He’d argued for simply ending Videzun’s life, but the Emperor had disagreed. “A pity,” he said, and the Emperor snorted. “What about Jasmine?”
“Oh, she’s still upset,” the Emperor said. His tone was more than a little guilty. “Now…what do you recommend?”
Pelletier dropped into the formal phasing. “I recommend acceptance,” he said. “Sire; I don’t think that we could get better terms by continuing the war.”
“No, I don’t think so,” the Emperor agreed. “Very well; tell the British that we accept. The Russians, at least, have proven their willingness to return to the status quo.”
Pelletier smiled. The Russians could have been very difficult and ruined everything. “That’s a relief, sire,” he said. “I’ll sign the preliminary documents now.”
“I’ll have to make some arrangements for the Philippines,” the Emperor said. “Fortunately, the Viceroy was killed in a bombing raid; idiot was going to return home and the British or the Russians sunk his ship.”
Pelletier shook his head. “So many thousands gone,” he said, thinking of all those who had died for their leaders. “Thank you, sire.”
After exchanging the ritual farewells, Pelletier left the room, asking the guard to lead him back to the conference chamber. The Emperor’s permission made him feel light-headed; finally he could put an end to the war. Grey bowed to him as he entered, taking his seat. Stefan turned up a few minutes later, looking relieved.
“The Emperor has confirmed the peace terms,” Pelletier said, without preliminaries. “I have his permission to ink them now, if you are willing.”
“The Tsar has agreed as well,” Stefan said. His voice was quiet and gloomy.
Grey nodded his head slowly. “There was some dissent within the Imperial Parliament,” he said. “However, the treaty will pass, even though it may cost Prime Minister Lord Roger Adams his job. Not all of the Americans were happy about it, you know.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Pelletier said. He meant it. “People who can do what’s right are so few these days.”
Grey gave him a sharp look. “There were those who wanted to annex the demilitarised zone,” he said. Pelletier nodded grimly; there had been those in the French Empire with unrealistic desires as well. “Shall we sign before something else goes wrong?”
“I think that that would be a very good idea,” Pelletier said. Grey produced a single sheet of parchment, and then produced three more. One for Britain, one for Russia, one for France, and then one for the record books. Grey signed the first one with a flourish and then passed it on; Pelletier read it carefully, mentally translating the English into French and then comparing it with the French on the paper. Everything seemed fine.
“There,” he said, signing it. He repeated the motion on the other three documents, watching as Stefan checked them all before signing them himself. “Now, which one is mine?”
Grey blinked owlishly at him. Pelletier couldn’t tell if he was amused, shocked, insulted or a combination of the three. “They are all the same,” he said dryly. “Take any one you like.”
Pelletier picked up a single sheet, checked that it had all three signatures, and then solemnly shook hands with both of the other two men. They all smiled at one another, finally feeling years of tension falling from their shoulders, perhaps for a very long time…and perhaps for forever.
The Second Global War was over.