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Chapter Seven: Making Choices

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Chapter Seven: Making Choices

USS George Washington/HMNAS Amherst

South Atlantic (TimeLine B)
There was no such thing as a military democracy, of course. While the Russians had experimented with such a system, it was impractical on the level of a single ship, even one as large as the George Washington. However, Admiral Jackson had called the meeting, asking everyone to speak freely.
He spoke first, speaking to the entire room. “We are lost,” he said flatly, and the room let out a collective sigh. “Unless the…incident that got us here reverses itself, we will remain here for the rest of our lives. From the report of the handful of pilots who know anything about high-order physics, any form of controlled travel between dimensions is years off, perhaps decades. In effect, we are stuck.
“There’s no America here,” he continued. His voice fell slightly. “The United States never came into existence here. Instead, we have a British Empire, which is at war with the two other superpowers. Where do our loyalties lie?”
There were no demands that an inter-universal gate be constructed. They were all reasonable and practical people, not dreamers. “We have only a limited supply of food, of weapons, of countless practical pieces we need to support ourselves,” Jackson continued. “Even with the best will in the world, the technical base that exists here could not build a missile for the F-18s, or the Hawkeye radar systems. An alliance is utterly essential – the only question is with whom?”
“This…war is none of our business,” Commander Patrick O’Reilly, the Executive Officer, said. His Irish accent was dimmed. “We have a duty to America. If there’s an underground movement, then we have to support it to free America.”
“We are one ship,” Morrigan said. The Captain looked pale; Jackson knew that he’d left a wife on the other side of the looking glass. “We cannot take on an entire empire.”
“And do they want to be free?” Captain Kate Rusholme asked. “For all we know, the British Empire is a united democracy, not a million enslaved people screaming for freedom.”
Jackson nodded to Lieutenant Sally Woods. “It’s a democracy,” she said. She’d been studying the history books from the Amherst, trying to work out what had changed the world. “The British Empire was in the process of evolving that way when the World Wars broke out. In this timeline…they had the time to do that without the pressures of a global war.”
Commander Travis Reece, Supply Officer, snorted. “Exactly what happened?” He asked. “Don’t bother with an info dump; just give us the basics.”
Sally smiled at him. “Long Island did,” she said. “Historically, as the British moved into New York, Washington managed to escape with the intact American Army. In this timeline…he was trapped; General Howe moved faster and the army was trapped, hammered, and forced to surrender.”
“Bugger me,” Colonel Sir Benjamin Phillips said. The British officer had been studying the history of British campaigns as long as he had been alive. “So, what happened?”
“It broke the back of the revolution,” Sally said. She sighed. “In the rest of the year, instead of Saratoga, the British occupied the rest of the colonies, cut the remains of Congress up and apart, and convinced Congress to surrender. The French and Spanish backed off from supporting the rebellion…and the dream of American independence was over.
“But everything had changed anyway,” she continued. “I wish I had access to proper history books; these are good on the basics, but limited on the detail we need. In 1778; the colonial parliaments became operative, with home rule powers. In 1779; the Quebecois received limited autonomy. In 1780; there was a massive expansion into Indian lands, ending most of the Indian nations. In 1812-1820, there was a great war, fixing the borders between the French-held Spanish American lands and the British colonies. And in 1850, the Dominion of the North American Union was created – and independence became a right of the American colonies.
“These are just names and dates,” she said. “These people…are part of a United Empire, one that has Australia, India, South Africa…and Britain itself. They don’t want to be free; freedom to them means being part of the United Empire.”
“Strange,” Jackson said. “So, any other suggestions?”
“We could set up base somewhere, perhaps an island somewhere,” O’Reilly suggested, rather desperately. “Sir, I’m uncomfortable with the thought of an empire, even one that includes Ireland.”
“Perhaps especially one that includes Ireland?” Morrigan asked dryly. O’Reilly nodded. “Commander Reece?”
“That is impossible,” Reece said flatly. The supply officer held up a PDA and waved it around grimly. “We were preparing for a long deployment, so Guam gave us full loads and we picked up more in Japan, but we are dependent upon supply runs from somewhere habitable. Even assuming that we could find an empty island big enough to support all six thousand and five hundred of us, we would be unable to support ourselves.”
O’Reilly sighed. “I don’t know what they’ll make of us either,” he said. “So, what do we do?”
“We have to make alliances,” Jackson said, speaking as firmly as he could. “The choice seems to be between the British, or the French.”
“Bearing in mind that we’re right next to a force of British ships,” Morrigan added thoughtfully. “They may be primitive, but those armour-piercing shells were designed to shoot through heavier armour than we have.”
Captain Kate Rusholme, the Head of the Medical Department, spoke gently. “So far, it hasn’t really sunk in that we’re…lost,” she said. Her voice was quiet; she’d been a good doctor before being transferred to management. “Once it sinks in that friends, relatives, wives and husbands are all gone, there will be trouble.”
“Morale is not what it could be already,” Morrigan commented. It was his ship; he knew the general attitude. “If we had a mission.”
“Unless anyone can come up with a valid objection, I intend to join the British United Empire,” Jackson said. He smiled; from what he’d seen, the British Empire was the most…democratic and it did include the territory of the United States, after all. “Comments?”
Morrigan spoke next, as the second-ranking officer. “I second the motion,” he said, with a wry smile. Normally, the Admiral would never call for a vote. “I think we have no choice at all, sadly.”
O’Reilly coughed. “I confess that I am uncomfortable with this,” he said. “However, in the absence of any other choice…”
Jackson waited as the others spoke. Kate Rusholme elaborated on how much the medical department could do for the United Empire. Reece elaborated on the dangers of losing their few missiles and other weapons. Jackson listened with interest.
“We don’t have a complete idea of the local tech base,” Reece said. His grey hair gave his face an impression of age, if not dignity. “However, from what we’ve seen, they seem to be somewhere around 1930ish. In effect, that means no more missiles – they might be able to produce bullets for the cannons and the close-in weapons – and almost certainly no more vital electronic equipment.”
“We’ll have to gear down, help them to develop,” Jackson said. “That, if nothing else, should give us a bargaining chip. However…we have a final problem.” He had their attention; he chose his words carefully. “Our new friend, the semi-American Admiral Anderson, was ordered to recover the Falkland Islands from the French occupation force, although what the French are doing as a viable military power I don’t know.”
“Apparently the monies they saved from not taking part in the War of Independence allowed them to remain solvent long enough to solve their most irritating problems,” Sally said. “It’s been quite extensively studied, according to that cute reporter on the Amherst, but she didn’t have any of the books.”
“And I presume they don’t have CDs or micro drives,” Jackson said. “We can help them to recover the Falklands, seeing the French seem to have planned it as an ambush for Anderson’s force.”
Captain Sonja Robertson smiled evilly. “They have nine of their superdreadnaughts, sitting in the Falklands Sound, waiting for an attack,” she commented. “At a guess, they planned to sucker the British force, then chase them until the British were sunk or the British outraced them.”
“It’s a United Empire fleet,” Sally said absently. “Only one of the ships is British.”
“They must work better together than NATO ever did,” Jackson said. “I propose to join their attack. All those in favour?”
“We need to be careful,” O’Reilly said. “What – exactly – will our weapons do to an armoured superdreadnaught?”
Commander Thomas Henderson smiled. He’d been thinking about it. “A bunker-buster will damage one, I think,” he said. “Even if the armour can stand off a Penguin AGM-119 or a Harpoon from a helicopter, a guided bomb could fall right down their smokestacks, or even use a bunker-buster to just punch right through.”
“Design me an operations plan,” Jackson ordered. “Bill?”
Morrigan smiled. “This should be interesting,” he said. “I’m looking forward to meeting the other Americans.”

“I think that this is particularly interesting,” Sally Woods said. Sharon Green found it impossible to concentrate; thinking about the sheer distance between her and her office, the people she was supposed to be filing daily reports to, was killing her.

“They’re going to give me the sack,” she said softly. Her mind spun. “All those years of clawing my way to the top and I’m going to get the sack.”
Sally held out a hand and squeezed Sharon’s shoulder. “Now you’re being stupid,” she said wryly. “They can’t sack you if you’re not around to sack.”
“What the hell am I going to do here?” Sharon demanded. Her voice had risen; she hated it when she was so shrill. “What’s there for me?”

”I don’t know, yet,” Sally said. As always, she tried to keep her voice level. “If you help with the history project, you might be able to link up with the reporter on the Amherst.”

“There’s a reporter with that crew?” Sharon asked, unbelieving. “What’s she like?”
“Nice young Irish girl,” Sally said. “She works for the Irish Times. Perhaps they’ll take you on.”
“I used equipment that they haven’t heard of in this century,” Sharon said, sliding back into depression. “I don’t know how to use a typewriter, you know.”
“You’ve used a computer,” Sally said, waving a hand at the computers in the room. “You must be able to type.”
“It’s not the same,” Sharon said. She stood up, pacing around the room. “Sally, what am I going to do?”
“Live,” Sally said flatly. “You’re going to climb to the top of the new reporting business here. Do you know; they hardly have television here. If you start a broadcasting service, you’ll corner the market. Start the Internet up, and you’ll really corner the market.”
Sharon felt her mouth twist into a smile. “I could make money out of this,” she said. “Of course…”
She laughed. “Hell, do you know how many eBooks there are in my collection?” She asked. “I could publish them all, and then…I could place my name on them. The Great War; Walk in Hell, by Sharon Green.”
“I think that someone here will notice,” Sally said. “There are dozens of Turtledove fans on this ship.” She chuckled. “Still, you could make a mint printing them. Perhaps if you build a better printer…”
“That alone would make them grateful,” Sharon said. “God, I miss my system back home already.”

“I’ve made my decision anyway,” Colonel Sir Benjamin Phillips said. Admiral Jackson lifted an eyebrow. “I request permission to transfer to Britain as soon as possible.”

“I don’t understand,” Jackson said thoughtfully. “We have agreed to support them, at least as far as assisting them in attacking the Falklands. Why do you want to leave?”
“I think I can be of more use in Britain,” Phillips said seriously. “I don’t know for sure, but I have a nasty feeling that their war-fighting technology is at 1914 levels, simply because of the failure of any of the superpowers to produce a concrete victory. From what Admiral Anderson said, the war has stalemated.”
Jackson paused a moment. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said. “However, I think that aiding the Falklands comes first, don’t you?”
“I’m sure that the Admiralty would agree,” Phillips said. He smiled. “It’s just that I am a British citizen, and so are my men – wherever they are – and my duty is to Britain. King-Emperor George X sounds so much more interesting than the crop of media-aware buggers back home.”
Jackson frowned. “They might refuse to listen to you,” he said.
Phillips frowned back. “Admiral, with all due respect, what would you have done if you’d ended up in a universe where the Confederate States of America had won the American Civil War?”
Jackson smiled, recognising the source of his own discontents. He didn’t want more unpredictable elements out of his control. “I think that Modern Americans would head at once to join the United States,” he said. “What do we have in common with slave owners?”
“Even the men from Alabama and the deep south?” Phillips asked dryly.
“I see your point,” Jackson snapped. “Very well; you may go. Once the Falklands battle is over, you may transfer any way you want.”

The invitation to visit the George Washington had not been unexpected. Vice-Admiral Felix Anderson had spent the waiting period wondering just how he was going to explain everything to Admiral Sir Joseph Porter, let alone the First Sea Lord. The flight in the fantastic helicopter had distracted him from considering the prospect of a court martial in the future – not reporting the encounter with the George Washington might constitute treason.

“Welcome aboard,” Admiral Jackson said, as soon as he climbed out of the helicopter. The massive flight deck of the George Washington was covered with aircraft, being prepared for a mission. Dozens of crewmen, both male and female, were working on the deck – and he blinked at the revealing outfits worn by some of the women.
“You have women on this ship?” He asked, astonished. The Royal North American Navy didn’t have women on their ships. Maggie O’Brien might be the first one in years. “Working as crewwomen, not guests?”
“Of course,” Jackson said, puzzled. “Don’t you?”
Anderson shook his head. “No, we don’t,” he said. “How does it work?”
“It took us some time, but we got used to it,” Jackson said. “Women have some advantages over men for this kind of work, and it doubles the base population that we can call upon.”
Anderson nodded absently, trying to grasp the sheer size of the George Washington. The massive carrier was more of a floating city than a military ship. “How many people do you have?” He asked suddenly. “What are you going to do with them?”
“We have nearly seven thousand people,” Jackson said, as they entered the command tower and walked through strange metal corridors. He led the way into a briefing room. “Would you be interested in help recovering the Falklands?”
Anderson nodded. “Yes, that would be helpful,” he said dryly. “Is this ship really powerful enough to take on nine superdreadnaughts?”
“Oh, yes,” Jackson said. He tapped a hidden button and a massive screen on the wall illuminated. Anderson had seen the first experimental video machines, and he’d visited countless cinemas, but the pictures on the screen were fantastically detailed. Tactical icons, including nine marked SUPERDREADNAUGHT, were scattered around Falkland Sound.
“Bastards,” Anderson muttered. The positioning was diabolical; if his force had gotten within gunnery range, the battlecruisers – with their lighter armour – would have been hammered. “Can you handle them?”
“Not eager to go toe-to-toe with them?” Jackson asked. “The aircraft can take them out.”
Anderson stared at him, refusing to acknowledge the possible insult to his bravery. “Aircraft have never been successful against ships,” he said. “The entire history of aviation includes not one single airstrike that was successful against a ship.”
“It does in our timeline,” Jackson said. “We have missiles capable of hammering the superdreadnaughts, perhaps even destroying them.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Anderson said. He narrowed his eyes. “What’s the price?”
Jackson met his eyes. “Food for my men,” he said. Anderson smiled as Jackson swiftly changed the subject. “The enemy have dug in here, here and here,” he said, pointing to locations on the map. “Once we take out their ships and the airfield, you can land; Colonel Sir Benjamin Phillips can go with you, using a laser targeting device.”
“You can just…blast the obstacles out of the way?” Anderson asked. “A Marine invasion has to be quick and stealthy. I can’t afford to waste many of them.” He paused. “Hell, I can’t afford to waste any of them.”
“I understand,” Jackson said seriously. “I can’t afford losses either. Take my word for it; we can hit any target on the ground, and the French aircraft won’t get close enough to damage my craft.”
Anderson thought about the strange craft he’d seen flying overhead and nodded. He believed it; that craft had seemed like nothing on Earth. “You can see all this as it happens, then?” He asked. Jackson nodded. “In that case, if we sneak up on the Falklands tonight, we can launch the attack tomorrow.”
Jackson shook his head. “Can you give us a day?” He asked. “I need to make all of the preparations.” He paused. “I’d love to insert a crewman onto the Falklands, just to check the recon images, but I don’t have a way to do that.”
Anderson lifted his eyebrows. “Not even one of your…helicopters?”
“Too much chance of it being seen,” Jackson said. Anderson frowned; the Falklands were tiny, but not that tiny. Still, he hoped that Jackson knew what he was doing. If the Falklands remained in French hands, it could change the entire fabric of the war.
“We launch the attack in two days, then,” Anderson said. “Will you be wanting to send some of your people to the Amherst?”
Jackson nodded. “And some of them to the Washington,” he said. “We had better find out all the little culture shocks before it’s too late.”

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