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Iron Palace

Moscow, Russia (TimeLine B)
Petrovich had been astonished to discover how the millions of conscripts were ‘educated’ and ‘trained’ in the ways of the Russian army. There was hardly any formal training, beyond the absolute basics; learning how to fire a rifle and saluting all officers. Not unlike the Tsar, Russian officers – mainly younger sons of noblemen – expected their men to practically worship them, or else.
Petrovich had gotten the cold sweats the first night after watching a disciplining session. The Red Army, even during Stalin’s time, had never been so…evil to its own people. The Russian Army seemed to treat all of its men as potential sacrifices for the good of the Empire; after all, there were millions more where they came from. It seemed like a revolt would be easy…until he'd inspected all of the security precautions.
He smiled as he made his final preparations. Prince Rudolf, the Tsarist Secret Service Director, operated a fairly basic system; no weapons were handed out except under supervision. All of the nine formations guarding Moscow itself were from the Far East, except for one detachment of pure Russians, and to make matters even harder they all hated each other. Putting down peasant revolts was easy for them; the Russians and the Mongolians looked very different to one another.
Stefan had explained the entire system to him once. The Court Jews had a fully developed intelligence service of their own, learning as much as they could to protect themselves. It was impressive, he’d long-since concluded; they knew more about the other noblemen than the Tsar did. If one of them was too…anti-Semitic, they were more than willing to encourage the Tsar’s paranoia in that direction. At the same time, they had to balance everything; they had to remain loyal to the Russian system, just in case the Tsar fell.
Petrovich had planned coups before; he understood the rules. In this case, it was simple; Moscow itself was the point failure source for the entire system. If something happened to the Tsar – and the person who had done that controlled Moscow – then he would have won. Whoever held Moscow held the Empire, which was one reason that none of the private armies were allowed near the city.
“Time to move,” he said, and tapped his radio once. The final items of salvaged American military technology, the tiny radios were utterly undetectable by Russian technology, and he’d given them to his loyalists. Nearly half of the Stalingrad’s survivors, as well as some of the more adventurous Court Jews, were waiting, accompanied by some of the Russian soldiers he’d subverted. Simply by treating them like men, he’d managed to acquire some total loyalty from them.
The explosion could be heard through the Iron Palace’s thick walls. The first explosion had been targeted on the barracks of the security force, the one that owed loyalty directly to the Emperor. The concept of any sort of suitcase bomb was unknown to the Russians; the blast had been easy to arrange. Petrovich smiled; he was playing from a rulebook that had been written in darker times.
He bent over to kiss Rebecca goodbye and slipped out of the room. The rest of his small force waited, hidden within the palace itself. The Russian nobles didn’t fight – that was for commoners – and no one had even blinked when some of the senior officers from the old Stalingrad had entered the palace.
“It’s time to move,” he said. He had to smile when he saw them; they were wearing American equipment with American flags. He'd wanted to wear their own body armour, but the plain fact was that the Americans did it better. “Everyone ready?”
Captain Yakov, who had been ennobled to a rank that was marginally better than being a commoner, smiled. “Yes, sir,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Petrovich nodded. “Let’s move,” he said, and led the way out of his rooms towards the Throne Room. He was certain that all of the explosions outside would have alarmed the guards, but there had been no way to move the force to the Throne Room without being noticed. A distraction had been required…
“A good thing they don’t have any electronic equipment,” Captain Yakov muttered. Petrovich could only agree with him; computers were difficult to fool. “Sir, there are guards ahead.”
The guards were turning towards them. “Fire,” Petrovich snapped, and blew the lead guard’s head off. The others opened fire, mowing down the guards with ease, and followed him to the main doors. Someone inside had heard the gunfire; a heavy iron shield was moving down like a portcullis, preventing entrance.
“Shaped charges,” one of his men muttered, proffering the item. Petrovich slapped it onto the iron blockage and everyone fell back as he set the timer before running back himself. The blast shattered the iron, blasting it back into the Throne Room, and Petrovich ran forward. The Tsar could be seen inside the room, lifting a heavy sword in one hand, a gun in the other.
“Idiot,” Petrovich muttered. The armour the Tsar wore might have been some good against the weapons in timeline B, but he rather doubted it. In any case, it was useless against an armour-piercing weapon. He fired, once, and the Tsar’s head exploded.
“Round up his people,” he ordered, lifting his radio. “Report.”
“We hold the radio transmitters,” one voice said.
“We hold the noblemen here,” another said. “They’re all really mad at us.”
Petrovich smiled. “Kill them all,” he ordered. “Once that’s done, report back to the palace. We have a country to seize.”

“That might have been a little hasty,” Stefan said. Petrovich had taken a lesson out of Stalin’s playbook; he’d killed or had killed most of the people in Moscow who might have resisted his rule. “The others will feel threatened now.”

“Fuck them,” Petrovich said. The nobles could rant and rave all they wanted to. He controlled the modified army…and none of them could stand against him. “And how are they taking it?”
Stefan frowned. “The network” – referring to the Court Jews at the noble estates – “hasn’t yet had time to find out,” he said. “The news is still spreading across Russia.”
“Good,” Petrovich said. He smiled inwardly; it was his turn to build a new Russia. “One of them will rebel, I think, and we’ll make an example of him.”
“Yes, Majesty,” Stefan said. Petrovich blinked. “You are the Tsar now,” Stefan gently reminded him.
“I suppose I am,” Petrovich said. It all suddenly felt real to him. “Contact whoever is in charge of diplomacy,” he said. “I want to confirm the agreement with the French, and then to make a new one with Britain. We shall end this way before it destroys us.”
“Yes, Majesty,” Stefan said. “And does Your Majesty have any other orders?”
Petrovich looked up sharply, and then remembered. The Tsars had enjoyed watching people grovel. “Just don’t crawl,” he said. “Don’t crawl to me.”
Captain Yakov smiled as Stefan left. “I think he’s scared of you,” he said. “That man keeps trying to work with everyone.”
“Hard to blame him,” Petrovich said. He sighed. “Do you remember when we were just preparing for possible operations against China, as part of a diplomatic attempt to build our prestige?”
Captain Yakov smiled. “Yes, of course,” he said. “Now…we have to rebuild Russia, and do it without losing control over the country.”
Petrovich smiled. “I always thought that it could have been done,” he said. “If Stalin could do it, then so too can I.”
He looked up as Rebecca entered. “Please, see to cataloguing the bodies from the American ship,” he said. Captain Yakov smiled and left the room. “Rebecca,” Petrovich said. “I told you I could do it.”
Rebecca threw herself into his arms. “I never doubted it,” she said. “I always knew that you would be great.”
Petrovich felt her warm body under his hands and knew that it had all been worth it. He smiled to himself; taking power in Imperial Russia was the easy bit.
Keeping it, now…

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