North American Union (TimeLine B) Under other circumstances, Admiral Jackson would have enjoyed the flight in the Sky King; it reassembled an old class of aircraft from the 1930s, but with improved passenger facilities. It reminded him of the nostalgic aircraft produced during the past few years of his world, reminding people of days long gone when the war showed no signs of coming to an end.
But there was work to do, so he put his personal feelings aside and opened his computer, attaching it to a transmitter and microphone. The cabin crew stared at it with open curiosity, but he ignored them. The connection was nearly perfect, although with far less bandwidth than he had once been used to, and the voice transmission was…suitable.
“Commander Hazelwood,” he said, as the face of the engineering officer appeared on the screen, holding the video link open. Commander Simon Hazelwood was one of the assistant engineers on the Washington, but also the commander of the small machine shops on the massive vessel. “I assume that you have a provisional report?”
Commander Hazelwood looked…excited and tired at the same time. His face was haggard, with a growing and very bushy beard that would have horrified any halfway respectable drill sergeant. His eyes were dim; he’d left his wife behind in the alternate universe, their home universe. Captain Morrigan had insisted on keeping him working hard, giving him no time to think.
“I’ve been inspecting the industrial city nearby in what would have been Florida,” Commander Hazelwood said. His voice was tired, hardly able to keep his eyes open, but Jackson could see his enthusiasm. “We might have underestimated them.”
Jackson lifted an eyebrow. “How so?” He asked. “They can produce weapons for us?”
“Cannon bullets and perhaps shells are possible,” Commander Hazelwood conceded. “However, they have a better tech base than I would have assumed possible; they’re already starting to work on transistors, once we suggested the idea.”
“Only two weeks,” Jackson said, shaking his head. “And their aircraft?”
“I think that we underestimated them,” Commander Hazelwood said again. “They’re tech base is higher than I thought, around 1940 levels.”
Jackson looked at the aircraft interior, the one making final approach to Amherst, and smiled. “Perhaps,” he said. “So…why don’t they have massive bomber fleets?”
Commander Hazelwood smiled. “They seem to have…not bothered with an arms race until recently,” he said. “They could build Lancaster bombers if they wanted, they just haven’t managed to adapt their civilian technology to the war-making field. They’ve been building bombers now, but they don’t seem to be keen to use them.”
Jackson nodded. Anderson had commented that the semi-random bombing of London was more of an expression of frustration than anything else. Without the ability to push the war to a conclusion, the three powers would be getting very sick of the stalemate.
“On the other hand, they can certainly build tanks,” Commander Hazelwood continued. “They’ll be modified British designs from World War One for the most part, tanks designed for punching their way through trenches. With some help, they would be able to make it through the trenches and hammer their way south.”
“Brilliant,” Jackson said. “What about aircraft?”
“Oh, they were moving in that direction already,” Commander Hazelwood assured him. “Now we’ve convinced them that aircraft actually do represent a serious threat to ships, they’re working on building aircraft along the same lines of as the Liberty Ships of our World War Two. It shouldn’t be much longer than six months before we’re ready to move south against New Spain.”
Jackson smiled, then sobered. “What about the German storm trooper tactics?” He asked. “Did Sally have something to say about that?”
“Not really worth the effort,” Commander Hazelwood said. “Besides, the Germans lost. Having that would hardly be worth the effort and loss of lives that would be involved in building such a force.”
“I hope you’re right,” Jackson said. He glanced out of the window; the city of Amherst was growing closer. “One last thing before I sign off, then,” he said. “What about the growing village?”
“We have around seven hundred people on shore,” Commander Hazelwood said. “No real problems so far, just a lot of depression. It’s sinking in, you know.” He smiled. “Apparently, a lot of North American Reporters were really cranky about all of the reporting being done by that Irish lass.”
Jackson snickered. “Fuck them,” he said. “There’s no massive pressure group to force me to show the world everything I have, and to ruin my career for one little death.”
“Yes, sir,” Commander Hazelwood said. He smiled. “Our reporter, Miss Green, may be reporting to the world at large as well. I think that the basic gist of information on our world will soon be out anyway.”
Jackson shook his head. “It hardly matters,” he said. “The leaders here – the ones I’m going to meet – know the truth. I don’t think that we can afford to conceal anything now.”
“Particularly since we need their food,” Commander Hazelwood said. “Hazelwood – out”
Jackson carefully put the equipment away, taking care not to damage it; it would be irreplaceable for years. He sat back in his seat as the aircraft landed on the small airport, so less active than anything in the United States of America. There were dozens of aircraft around, but none of them were jets, none of them were massive jumbo jets.
This world uses railways mainly, he thought, and frowned. The United Empire had been united by railways; the other two superpowers had been the same. Strategic manoeuvres that had been planned for years in the original timeline, a Russian march to India for example, would be possible here; time and ruthlessness had reduced the problem of the natives. Massing troops to march to India would be easy for the Russians.
He thought furiously as the aircraft opened its hatch, allowing him and Sergeant Jack Hawksmore to leave the craft. A large car, painted black with golden patterns along the side, waited for him, with a man in a wig waiting for him. Edmund Blackadder, he though, unable to keep the thought from his mind. The man was almost the spitting image of him.
“Admiral Jackson?” The man asked. “I’m Donald Adamson, special assistant to the Viceroy.”
Jackson offered his hand and was surprised when Adamson hesitated before taking it. “I’ve been ordered to take you directly to Government House,” Adamson said. “Do you require freshening up first?”
“I just need to wash my face,” Jackson said. “Can we do that on the way?”
Adamson nodded. “Admiral Sir Joseph Porter suggested that we loaned you a guide book for Amherst while moving to Government House,” he said. He passed over a small coloured book. “Coming?”
Amherst, according to the guidebook, had been founded in 1850, during the period when the various American Parliaments had been formed into the North American Union. Its first act of note – as evidenced by the massive black statue of a man freeing a slave – had been to ban slave trading within the North American Union, although not slave ownership. In 1853, despite some massive opposition from entrenched interests, it had provided limited funding for the Freedom Fund; buying slaves and arranging for them to have…well, forty acres and a mule.
So it was possible to do it without a war, Jackson thought, as the car passed through Amherst, heading for the centre of the city. Like its counterpart, Washington DC, Amherst had been named for the first ruler of the united American state, but it had a very different character. Unlike Washington DC, Amherst appeared to be quieter, with fewer cars and fewer pressure groups.
“Fascinating,” he muttered, studying the map in the guidebook. Amherst was divided into four sections; the government centre, the civil service, the industrial sector, and the housing estates. The city had clearly been planned by civil servants; the shops were nearly two miles from the houses.
“The British in our timeline have the same problem with their civil service designing the cities,” Hawksmore said, when Jackson commented on it. “There’s very little individuality in the new towns they built in the 1990s.”
A massive castle loomed up in front of them, a heavy wall surrounding a building large enough to house thousands of people. Guards – unarmed, Jackson noted – patrolled the outskirts, waving to the people. An entire line of flags floated from the roof, American, British, Australian, Indian…all the flags of the United Empire.
Buckingham Palace, Jackson thought. The Government House was better designed, clearly designed to act as a fortress if needed, decorated in the style of a long-gone age. Further across the massive compound, he saw, a second palace – the Viceroy Palace – designed in a lighter style.
“Welcome to Government House,” Adamson said. “Please follow me.”
“The grand entrance,” Hawksmore muttered, as they passed through doors that could have permitted an F-18 to fly through them with extended wings. “We are honoured.”
Jackson ignored him. He had thought that the White House was grand; Government House really put it in the shade. A mixture of tastefulness and glamour decorated the interior; pictures hung on the walls. One of them, he was amused to notice, was of Benjamin Franklin.
“That man did a lot of the hard work in ending the war without major unhappiness,” Adamson muttered, as they passed through the security and headed up the stairs. “Not everyone thinks that he should be there.”
He paused in front of a massive set of doors, carved directly out of mahogany wood. “This is the Amherst Room,” he said. “The Viceroy and the Prime Minister are waiting for you.”
Jackson nodded. He hadn’t seen Adamson make any sign or signal, but he knew that the guards could have sent a warning. “Thank you,” he said. “What’s the procedure?”
“Wait here,” Adamson said. He stepped up to the door and tapped on a brass plate. The door opened and he stepped through, crying in a loud voice. “Admiral Christopher Jackson, my lords,” he said, then beckoned Jackson forward.
Jackson straightened his cap on his head and stepped inside. The room was ornate, but comfortable; two men faced him, both wearing frilly wigs. He smiled; both of them looked like someone from the past, rather than modern-day Americans – or British. One of them wore fine clothes and looked uncomfortable; the other wore simpler clothes and looked comfortable.
“I think that we can do without the formalities,” the first man said. He spoke in a very pronounced British accent. “I’m Viceroy Benjamin Franklin X, Viceroy of the North American Union.”
Jackson lifted an eyebrow. The original Franklin had clearly played both sides of the field during the War of Independence. “And I’m Prime Minister Lord Roger Adams,” the second man said. His voice was more of the…American accent that Jackson was growing used to, although with a definite Cambridge hint in his voice. “I apologise for the delay in seeing you, Admiral but there’s been a…development.”
Jackson lifted an eyebrow. “There was no serious problems in the delay,” he said. “In fact, I was able to see to my crew and ship.”
Adams nodded. “I understand,” he said. “Admiral, what happened to the other ships in your original force?”
Jackson lifted an eyebrow. “Lost, we assume,” he said. “We’ve certainly seen no signs of them.”
The Viceroy spoke grimly, a hint of Oxford in his voice. “One of the ships has arrived in France,” he said. “The massive French carrier that was part of your force.”
Jackson felt as if he’d been punched in the stomach. “Are you certain of this?” He asked. “It could be a French lie designed to cover the loss of the Falklands to my ship.”
Adams passed over a small folder. “We have some agents in the Mediterranean,” he said. “Although the French are good with covering up events that happen within the sea, which they closed to all our traffic during the events that led up to war, we were lucky enough to be able to snap this picture. It was then smuggled over Spain and then onto a fishing boat.”
“Those fishermen only follow the laws when there are guns pointed at them,” the Viceroy commented.
Jackson opened the folder and examined the picture. It was clearly the Charles de Gaulle; the shape of the ship was unmistakable. The French ship didn’t look as if it had been harmed and he scowled – the Charles de Gaulle had been carrying more people than it could have comfortably held, people with skills that the alternative French would need…if they wanted to match the Washington.
“That’s the Charles de Gaulle,” he said grimly. “Shit.”
“That is why we were unwilling to have your ship attack the French ships in the Caribbean,” the Viceroy said. “Your weapons might be needed to face the French ship, with its strange name.”
“No need for him here,” Jackson said. He thought as fast as he could; had the French been honest about what the Charles de Gaulle was carrying? Did the ship carry a nuke? “That does pose something of a problem…”
“And they will know that you’re here,” Adams said. “Admiral, what are you going to do about this?”
Jackson felt a white-hot flash of rage. “I didn’t ask to come here and neither did the crew of the Charles de Gaulle, although Contre-Admiral François Videzun might have dreamed of a French Empire. Sir, I will attempt to help you, as best as we can.”
“Can your ship destroy the French ship?” The Viceroy asked. “If that’s possible…”
“It’s the knowledge that’s dangerous,” Jackson said, although he knew it wasn’t the complete truth. Damn it; what was the Charles de Gaulle carrying? “If they’ve had at least three weeks, and they arrived closer to home anyway, then they could have sent tons of information to the French. If their tech base is the same as yours…?”
“It is,” Adams confirmed.
“Then they can duplicate everything we’ve suggested, which could make things tricky,” Jackson said. He scowled; if they could be certain of destroying the Charles de Gaulle, then it was the best possible choice – except there was no longer anything like certainty. “Where is the Charles de Gaulle now?”
“In the Mediterranean,” Adams said. The Viceroy nodded. “Can you force your way past Gibraltar?”
“The Mediterranean is a French lake here,” Jackson said thoughtfully, feeling a grim weight settling into his chest. “They have guns on both sides of the entrance…it would be tricky, even with our airpower. With unlimited ammunition, it could be done…”
“But you don’t have that happy circumstance,” Adams said.
“It’s an arms race then,” the Viceroy said. “How do you think that we should proceed?”
“We have to assume that the French can and will give their opponents everything we can give you,” Jackson said. “What about trying to assassinate Contre-Admiral François Videzun?”
The Viceroy’s mouth fell open. “We are not barbarians,” he said, in horror. “We don’t kill indiscriminately. The only times we can is when the person in question orders paroled prisoners to fight again, against the laws of war.”
Jackson frowned. How many serpents had entered the garden with the two carriers? How many other ships were out there? The entire task force? If a program of calculated assassination was out, then…
“We have to build up a force of tanks, quickly, and send them against New Spain,” he said. “As the only major point of contact between the two forces, it would be their main place to attack us.” He hesitated. “Do they have factories, automobile factories, in New Spain?”
Adams nodded, puzzled. “Of course,” he said. “Why wouldn’t they have?”
“French rule is clearly better than home rule for them,” Jackson muttered. “It doesn’t matter; the problem is that they will get the information back to New Spain…although if we could prevent them doing that…”
“They’ll have to send a heavily armed convoy,” Adams said. “We do have a good interception system; so far, they’ve only defeated our intentions by sending enough ships to risk a defeat or serious losses.”
“And then you don’t engage,” Jackson said. There was something appealing about such a system, far…nicer than anything in his own timeline. “What about submarines?”
“We don’t send submarines against civilian ships,” Adams protested.
“The French will, and soon,” Jackson said. “It’s your Achilles Heel; your greatest weakness.”
“We will not usher in a new age of barbarism,” the Viceroy said firmly. “How do we proceed?”
“We develop our tanks and the new aircraft carriers, along with the new aircraft,” Jackson said. “If we convert some of the battlecruisers into aircraft carriers, we should be able to build up a force fairly quickly, then sweep the French from the seas. Once we improve the tactical bombing systems, we can defeat them in the Caribbean and the seas.”
“The French will be bound to sue for peace at that point,” the Viceroy said. “No one wants to fight forever, do they?”
The Jihadists do, Jackson thought. “Unfortunately, the French will be developing their own weapons,” he said. “They must not be allowed to beat us to the punch in New Spain. A land offensive might punch its way as far as New Orleans and that would be very bad.”
“You have a remarkable talent for understatement,” the Viceroy said. “The War Cabinet and the Imperial Parliament have made similar decisions; we will be producing new weapons as soon as the plans have been moved across the United Empire.”
Adams smiled. “We can grab Alaska,” he said. “I won’t let that go in the peace talks.”
The Viceroy smiled. Just for a second, Jackson saw the friendship that hid behind their official roles. “You always want Alaska,” he said. “You have the largest state in the United Empire, and you’re still not satisfied.”
“I’m greedy,” Adams said. He grinned. “Admiral, you’ll have all the support we can give you.”
“Thanks,” Jackson said. “If you don’t mind, however, I have to talk with my people. Perhaps we can do something about the Charles de Gaulle, if we put our heads together.”