(A Novel of Time Travel)
“Why? We’re not at war with Germany.”
“With all due respect, sir, Nazi Germany is at war with us.”
After a night of terror, Britain wakes up to discover that the entire nation has been thrown back in time, to 1940…and the Germans are at the door. As they struggle to react to the new environment, it occurs to some people that there is an opportunity here – to reverse the verdict of history and create a world where Britain is the only superpower.
Forced into a war they won once before, the British struggle to understand what has happened, as the ripples of the sudden change in the future spread across the world. Under threat from Hitler, Mussolini, Japan…and a surprise member of the Axis of Evil, can Britain survive long enough to reshape the world?
Due to the difficulties of predicting the exact capabilities of the UK’s defence establishment from day to day, following a whole series of unwise political decisions, this book attempts to give the British armed forces a balanced capability, between the optimistic and the pessimistic possibilities. Certain future projects, the Eurofighter and the Type-45 destroyer, have been included, others, the future carrier, haven’t been included as their capabilities are unknown at this time.
My apologies for any confusion.
Chapter One: Transition
Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ)
6th July 1940
It all happened very suddenly at midnight; one moment everything was normal, the next all of the satellite communications had cut off. Seconds passed while computer programs strove to discern the cause of the fault within the software, and then they alerted their masters. Even as the emergency signals were being sent to the monitoring stations, other emergency programs activated; several aircraft and ships had vanished from the displays. All of the satellite-based communications were down; the landlines outside the UK were gone as well.
Captain Stirling, the duty officer, hit the alarm button in a panic, before calming and turning to the computers. Working fast, he activated the emergency back-ups; the landlines that countless satellite technicians had sworn would never be needed. The computers made the calls through the dedicated broadband Internet system, noting as they did that many non-UK sites seemed to be down or not responding. Modems clicked and hummed as they rebuilt the defence establishment from scratch; many operators were trying to call PJHQ as well.
“Report,” an imperious voice demanded.
Stirling turned to see General Cunningham, the Chief of Joint Operations and PJHQ’s current commanding officer. The bluff general was a veteran of Iraq, Iran and several small wars the British public knew nothing about, but he looked shaken; Stirling had never seen him shaken. The entire global chart, the interactive display of the locations of British forces across the world, was blinking red. All contact had been lost.
“Sir, all satellite communications appear to be down,” Stirling said, saluting. An email from RAF Fylingdales appeared on his screen. “Sir, the satellites appear to be gone!”
Cunningham gaped. Only America and Russia had developed anti-satellite weapons and only in small quantities. “Have they been destroyed somehow?” He asked. “Are we at war?”
“The threat board is clear,” Stirling said, knowing how inadequate an answer it was. “Sir, Fylingdales cannot see any incoming attack.” He gazed down at his screen for a long moment. “In fact, we seem to have lost a number of French aircraft, and our own. Some of the eastern RAF radar stations, part of the UKADGE, were tracking French jet liners; the midnight flights. They’re not there any more.”
“So what’s happened?” Cunningham asked, almost pleadingly. The operations room was beginning to fill up as the duty staff arrived, summoned by a flurry of calls to the local barracks and living quarters. Other staff, those who lived inside the city itself, would be making their way in even now.
“I do not know,” Stirling said, hating the admittance. “We’ve lost all communication from outside forces; forces outside the UK. It’s like we’re suddenly alone in the world.”
Cunningham paused. Stirling didn’t envy him his decision. If he overacted, such as ordering missiles fired at Russia, he would be court-martialled, assuming that there was anyone alive to do the duty. If he didn’t act, he would be crucified, even if he’d been right.
“Has the Prime Minister been informed?” He asked finally. “Was Number 10 informed?”
“Yes, sir,” Stirling assured him. “They’re on the list of first-line contacts. He should be being woken now.”
Cunningham made a visible decision. “Contact the RAF bases,” he ordered. “I want all three bases to scramble the duty aircraft, and then RAF Waddington is to scramble one of the AWACS and place the others on launch-readiness. If this is a mistake of some kind…well, we’ll call it a training exercise.”
“Yes, sir,” Stirling said. “Sir, there’s no aerial traffic…except a contact heading in from North France.” He gazed at the screen. “Neatishead called in the contact, two minutes ago. It’s heading over the channel now, looks like it’ll cross over the land over Suffolk.”
“Contact RAF Coningsby and vector one of the Eurofighter in to investigate, armed,” Cunningham ordered. “Then contact the principles; I want a meeting in the situation room in one hour.”
“Yes, sir,” Stirling said. “RAF Coningsby confirms; Charlie-one will be launched in two minutes.”
Flying Officer Victor Abernathy relaxed slightly, but only slightly, as his aircraft nosed its way into the sky. Behind him, RAF Coningsby was brightly lit; crewmen working hastily to prepare the aircraft of 633 Squadron for launch, arming them with the missiles that were kept carefully away from the aircraft during peacetime. The Eurofighter, the joint-project aircraft that had finally entered service only two years ago, buckled slightly as it encountered turbulence, and then settled as Abernathy aimed it on an interception course for the unknown aircraft.
What the hell had happened? Ten minutes ago, just before midnight, the four pilots on Quick Reaction Alert in the ready room had been watching Sky One, which had cut off precisely at midnight. Before there had been much protest, the alarms had sounded and they’d raced for their planes.
“Charlie-one, heading for target,” he said, over the radio. “Charlie-two, are you there?”
“Do you even have to ask?” Flying Officer Sheila Dunbar asked. Even the extremely strict base commandant couldn’t keep her irrepressible nature down; in the air and on the ground, she was an incitement to riot. “I’m watching your back.”
“Stay away from me,” Abernathy said, only half in jest. Ever since a terrorist plane had exploded far too close to one of the old Tornado aircraft, the RAF had been careful about approaching too closely to an unidentified aircraft. Abernathy stared at his onboard radar; the target was still coming in, crossing over land as the Eurofighter streaked closer.
“Ground control, I confirm target acquisition, rules of engagement alpha delta three,” he said formally. Under alpha delta three, he was permitted to fire first if it was his considered opinion that the target was a threat to his plane or to civilian life. “I confirm target speed at 200mph; I confirm target height as…dropping.”
“I bet it’s a civil aircraft, some rich bugger,” Dunbar commented; from her position five miles behind Abernathy. “Out for kicks and we’re about to scare hell out of him.”
Abernathy ignored her, even though he was suspecting the same thing. That the target was lowing its height, and heading towards the brightly lit town of Bury St Edmunds, argued for a more sinister purpose. The complete loss of the satellites suggested that it was involved somehow, that it meant Britain harm.
“I’m going in for a look,” he said. “Cover me.”
Darkness swept over the Eurofighter as he closed in on the mystery target. The lights on the ground illuminated the sky; they could see the strange aircraft. He closed in from behind, staring; the target didn’t reassemble any aircraft with which he was familiar.
It was large, bigger than a Eurofighter, with a bigger wingspan. Two propeller engines, one on each wing, propelled it through the air. He closed in, and the intruder, apparently aware of him, adjusted it’s own course. It headed down sharply, trying to lose him.
“Unidentified aircraft, you are ordered to identify yourself and prepare to be escorted to a military airfield,” he said, into the radio. Legally, ever since a private aircraft had nearly destroyed Edinburgh Castle, all aircraft were required to monitor the emergency frequency. Unfortunately, so did the media; several scoops had been discovered that way.
There was no reply. “I’m going in for a close pass,” he said. He scowled; blasting past at just below the speed of sound was the airborne equivalent of hey, stupid. It could be dangerous, even to a relatively small fighter jet. Several nations, China and Russia among them, refused to recognise it as a tactic, calling it aerial terrorism.
“Understood,” Dunbar said. “I’m taking position behind you.”
Abernathy listened with half an ear, concentrating on his position. His heads-up display was becoming sharper as an AWACS launched and linked into the growing defence network, supplying tactical information to any airborne fighters. He waited, preparing, and then…
“Moving in,” he said, and kicked in the afterburners. The Eurofighters screamed forward, trailing a line of fire, and screeched over the top of the strange plane. As he left the unknown plane behind, he was suddenly aware of a trail of fire sparking out towards him; the unknown plane was shooting at him!
“Ground control, target has opened fire on me,” he snapped. “Clearing to engage.”
“Understood, Charlie-one,” the controller said. “You are cleared to engage.”
The strange aircraft seemed to have flipped lower, trying to turn and run back over the sea. It was ludicrously slow; what manner of terrorists would try to evade a fighter jet in a propeller-driven aircraft? Abernathy carefully lined up the shot and fired a burst from his cannon directly into the left wing and its engines. Trailing a line of fire, the unknown aircraft fell towards the ground, several parachutes appearing from it as it fell. It slammed into the ground, exploding in a burst of fire.
“Ground control, the crew bailed out,” Abernathy said. “At least three parachutes, heading down towards the ground.”
“Where else would they go towards?” Dunbar asked dryly. A note of concern entered her voice. “Victor, are you alright?”
“No damage,” Abernathy reassured her. “We can remain on station above the crash site, or we can return home.”
“Come on home,” the controller said. “We have the crash site marked and local police are moving in.”
“Excellent,” Abernathy said. “We’ll be home in ten minutes.”
Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ)
“The Prime Minister is in the bunker underneath Whitehall,” Stirling reported, as the Principles took their positions around the table. Cunningham nodded. “We have landline links to every base in the UK proper, but nothing yet from outside the UK. The Navy has got contact with almost all of its ships, but several vessels were stationed on the other side of the world and we have no contact with them.”
Cunningham nodded grimly. “Anything from anywhere else?”
“Only a handful of strange signals, very low frequency, from Europe and America,” Stirling said. “As yet, we don’t know what they are.”
“I see,” Cunningham said. “Any news on the interception?”
Stirling gulped. He’d hoped to avoid that topic; the wreckage of the unknown plane had suggested horrible things about their predicament. “Sir, I think that had better wait for the briefing,” he said, knowing that Cunningham would want the news at once. The General opened his mouth, but caught the eye of the First Sea Lord and left Stirling alone, for the moment.
“I think we can call this meeting to order,” the First Sea Lord said. “We have datalinks with Whitehall and Hack Green.” He looked around, every inch the superb naval commander that he was. “Seal the doors.”
The doors closed and locked; two Marines were posted outside. “General Cunningham?”
“Captain Steve Stirling has compiled the main brief,” Cunningham said. For a long absurd moment, Stirling felt like a small boy called before the headmaster. The Defence Crisis Management Committee, the highest non-Government council in Britain, was designed to allow the service chiefs to agree on their recommendations. Collective responsibility, otherwise known as sharing the blame.
“Ah, thank you, sir,” Stirling said. Amazingly, the entire room paid attention to him; the sheer scale of the crisis outweighed the traditional feeling that junior officers should be seen, but not heard. “At midnight, two hours ago, we lost all outside communications with our embassies, our forces overseas and the rest of the world. I’ve checked around, but as far as I can tell this situation is total; not only satellites, but radio, communication cables, mobile phones, everything.
“RAF Fylingdales reports that all satellites and the American space shuttle that was also in orbit has disappeared,” he continued, knowing that it was hardly the most shocking piece of information he would be giving them. “There is no wreckage, no EMP-damaged satellites, but just empty space. It’s as if they never existed at all.”
He allowed the room a moment to absorb the implications. “There is almost nothing coming from the continent,” he said. “The French air defence network seems to be down. The civil air traffic control – down. There are a handful of aircraft, all slow and old, moving over France. Indeed, several of our aircraft have vanished; they were over Ireland and France when they vanished.”
“Dear God,” the First Sea Lord said. “What about the interception?”
“Ten minutes after the satellites suddenly shut down, an unidentified contact appeared – I mean appeared from out of nowhere – near the east coats, and proceeded to head towards Cambridge. Two Eurofighters were scrambled from RAF Coningsby and vectored in towards the target, which seemed unaware of them until the jets entered visual range. At that point, still without communicating, it attempted to evade, and then fired on the jets, which fired back.”
He took a breath. If it hadn’t been for the hastily-transmitted photographs from the army detachment that had secured the crash site, he would never have believed the report. He just knew that the assembled chiefs wouldn’t believe it; he didn’t want to think about what Prime Minister Howard Smith would say.
“An army detachment was flown in via helicopters from Aldershot,” he said. “They secured the crash site, finding two bodies; both human.”
“Captain?” General Cunningham said. “Spit it out, man!”
“Sir, the aircraft was marked with Nazi markings from the Second World War,” Stirling said, and braced himself for a blast of high-ranking scepticism. They stared at him. “The bodies were examined and their effects studied; they lack some of the medical advancements that were made compulsory in Europe in 2010. For example, they were not vaccinated against bird flu or the Jihad virus.
“At my request, Captain Fenton took some of the effects of the crew to Cambridge and asked the opinion of the dean of Nazi Studies, someone who has done work for us in the past,” he said. “Sir Torrance, the author of The Nazi Enigma, was more than willing to help and examined the artefacts. With the exception of their age, they seem to be around a year old, they are genuine and survived a careful testing process. In effect, we have two dead bodies, from out of time. There are also a number of objects; a pay book, some German coins, a bible, also in German and two Luger pistols.
“Sirs, if it’s a practical joke, it’s one of terrifying scope,” he concluded. “So far, the police have been unable to locate the other crewmen; they must be terrified out of their minds.”
“Fuck them,” the RAF Chief of the Air Staff – Allen Chapman - muttered. “So, did it fall through time?”
Stirling took a second long breath. “Sir, I very much hope that I am wrong, but it looks as if we fell back in time.”
“Nonsense,” the Press Secretary said. “Nations do not fall back in time.”
There was a bustle of conversation. Stirling tried to sink into his seat, but Chapman stopped him. “Captain, is there any way to test this hypothesis?”
Stirling silently blessed the novels he’d read. Without them, it would have been harder to adapt to the new reality. “I can think of two ways offhand,” he said. “The first one is simple; we send a recon Tornado with fighter escort over France and see what we see. If this is all just a horrible nightmare, the French will intercept it and turn them back. If not, then we’ll know for certain.
“The second is to call the observatories and ask them to check on star positions,” Stirling said. “If they’re the same, then we might be where we think we are.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Cunningham said. “A recon flight, then; any dissenters?”
There were none. “I’ll see to it at once,” Chapman said. “The planes will be armed, just in case they meet Nazi Messerschmitt fighters.”
“Better brief them carefully,” Cunningham said. “I’ll call Number Ten and get the Prime Minister’s approval. Captain, you are assigned to this until further notice; call Captain Jackson and order him to take over your routine duties.”
“Yes, sir,” Stirling said. “One other matter; should we not call up the reserves?”
“Why?” The Press Secretary asked. “We’re not at war with Germany.”
“With all due respect, sir,” Stirling said, “Nazi Germany is at war with us.”
The meeting broke up and the various members headed back to their offices; Cunningham to see the Prime Minister, Chapman to organise a recon flight at first light, and Stirling to coordinate the…investigation. The General had promised all the support that he could scrape up, but in the middle of the confusion it would unlikely that there would be much support for hours yet. Dispatchers were working on calling in staff who were on leave; the army was being placed on alert – although no one would say for what – and the reserves were receiving preliminary warnings of a call-up.
Bloody miracle that the press haven’t caught on yet, Stirling thought, as the blank screen of CNN taunted him with its static. UNABLE TO LOCATE SIGNAL, it read, and he shivered. Whatever had happened, he was certain, was anything, but natural. They’ll be blaming it on alien space bats next.
Carefully, he picked up the telephone and placed a call. Jodrell Bank was no longer the foremost observatory it had been, but it was still one of the centres of British astronomy. The phone rang for several minutes, so he placed it on call-back and started to look up the other observatories. The phone rang again; someone had finally picked up at Jodrell Bank.
“Good morning,” he said, wondering if he’d woken the night watchman. “I’m from the crisis response team. Can I speak to the Director?”
“Speaking,” the voice said. “This is Doctor Abram.” The voice was strained. “Crisis? Do you have any idea what seems to have happened?”
“Only hints,” Stirling said, deciding not to mention the shot-down plane. “Doctor, are the stars all right?”
“No,” Doctor Abram snapped. “We were running a long-term comparison on radio sources in the sky, then there’s a massive burst of interference, and everything goes haywire, and then the stars are all out of place!”
Dear God, Stirling thought coldly. “Doctor, according to the stars, when are we?”
“I’m not quite certain,” Doctor Abram said. “I think we’re roughly seventy-to-eighty years in the past. I’ve got people trying to pin it down to a precise date, but you know how it is…”
“Certainly,” Stirling said. “Doctor, could I ask you to keep it to yourself for the moment? I assure you that you will receive full credit for the discovery.”
“I’ll try, young man,” Doctor Abram said. “Should I call you if anything changes?”
“Yes, please,” Stirling said, and gave his number. “Thank you for your time.”
The dawn broke and five aircraft; one Tornado, three Eurofighters and one tanker, headed away over France. There had been no change – CNN and the other American stations remained resolutely off the air – and the British press had been starting to ask questions. Some of the Internet – the fragments of the Internet that had survived the…whatever – was buzzing with speculation, some of it quite accurate. UFOs were blamed, as well as gods, devils and creatures from some other dimension.
“We have to make a statement,” the Prime Minister said, over the video link. “We have to tell them something, the sooner the better. There’s already been rioting in Brixton.”
“And its only five o’clock,” Cunningham said. He didn’t like the Prime Minister and it showed. “Prime Minister, we have to wait until we know for certain what’s happening.”
The Prime Minister sighed. “Parliament has already been asking for an emergency debate,” he said. “I can put it off for a day, perhaps two days, but not much longer. My own MPs will desert me.”
Stirling coughed as the video from the Tornado jet started to come though onto the screen. It had required considerable ingenuity to have it broadcast without the secure satellites, but who in this time could even hear the signal? He scowled; it was clear; Paris was no longer the metropolis that he remembered from a school trip. The room fell silent as the Tornado identified German vehicles, German fighter aircraft and a row of German bombers.
“Freeze frame,” Cunningham said, in a voice like death itself. Stirling did so, running it back slightly to capture the view of the aircraft. The silence lengthened; on the screen was the Eiffel Tower, the greatest construction in France…with a red swastika floating from the top, drifting in the breeze.