The End Is Not Yet: Fly Me To The Moon

To find an enemy on the Moon is one thing; to get at him, quite another. Throughout the Hearts of Iron period I deliberately threw research into rocketry, which is fairly useless in that game, to represent the diversion of Dovre’s resources into their vengeance. This is still Victoria, though. If you want a war fleet built, you have to start early.

June 27th, 1892
Dovre Mountain, Norway

“It is rocket science.” David’s tone was grim.

“Yes, yes, and are we not Ynglings? Next you’ll be telling me that it’s no joke to fight in these damn mountains in winter. The fact remains that we have five people dead – highly trained scientists and engineers – and four more injured. Worse, they’re dead in an accident with a rocket that’ll never be any use.”

“No use for reaching the Moon, no. Not with these propellants. But you have to start somewhere.”

Magnus frowned at the older Yngling. “Why? Why not wait a generation, and do our learning with propellants – and metals! – that’ll actually get us where we want to go? And then we could put our limited resources into guns and ships and forts, or even factories to make guns twenty years from now. We waste time with these, these… fireworks, while Europe leaps ahead!”

“You are not thinking, Magnus. If all we wanted was to put a man on the Moon, then yes – we could by all means do it as a rush project, say ten years of maximum effort, make a one-shot rocket carrying a single man, put down a Lion Rampant flag and bring back some rocks. If all we wanted was a project for propaganda and prestige, to show that the Ynglings are more technically advanced than anyone else! But we’re not going to the Moon to grind other people’s noses in our ability to do so. We’re going there to fight a war, against an enemy of unknown capabilities and intentions. An enemy who was apparently able to lift people into orbit by hundreds of thousands, in this timeline’s sixteenth century. Ballistic rockets won’t be enough. We need spaceships, warships – vessels men can maneuver and fight in. And for that we need a tradition.” David turned away, defusing the gathering tension by exposing his vulnerable back. “We need, not a few scientists, but a large number of engineers. Not two or three test pilots, the elite and heroes of their nation, but an entire corps of ordinary soldiers. We need every child learning Newton’s Third as you and I learned basic rifle maintenance, and understanding it in their guts. You dislike aphorisms? Nu; but here’s one you should consider: “Quantity has a quality all its own.” We need mass, Magnus! We must have a broad base, a huge number of pilots and space-fighters, from which we can draw a few geniuses with an instinctive understanding of orbital war. And, the gods help us… we need martyrs.”

Magnus was still for a moment, digesting this.

“That accident… just how accidental was it?”

“I didn’t sabotage the Sleipnir. But with these metals, and these propellants, and these machining tolerances… it’s a no-brainer bet that we’ll have one or two of these accidents per twenty launches. And I gave the go-ahead for the launch. So, morally speaking, I held a gun to those men’s heads and pulled the trigger.”

“Ynglings all, brothers in arms, comrades. Not expendable, David.”

“Yes. I know. I thought it necessary; I would do it again. As would you. Do you recall how we came here, Magnus? How many un-expendable comrades in arms died to create this timeline?”

Magnus turned away, uncomfortable with the thought. The silence stretched. It was broken by the door opening; the man who entered was a downtime Yngling, massive and bearded. “The ceremony begins in ten minutes.”

“Thank you, Erik.”

They walked to the Hall of the Mountain King in silence, following Erik. Magnus pressed his lips together. He hadn’t been here, and should not criticise those of his colleagues who had. But it did seem to him that the breeding program had produced brute strength at the price of elegance. In the abstract, he knew the reasons; elegance was for people who could engineer the genes directly, who had computer models of the molecular energy-flow dynamics in the developing fetus and brain. With guess-and-gods culling of undesirable traits, good enough was all you could hope for. And, fair enough, Magnus would not care to face one of these giants in a duel; they were, almost to a man, both fast and heavy, a dangerous combination. Not stupid, either, for all that their habitual silence could make them seem so. But there was something about them that still, after half a year downtime, gave Magnus the creeps. They were unsubtle, in the way their muscles bulged and rippled; uptime Ynglings admired muscle, certainly, but it was the long slim muscle of athletes, not a blacksmith’s ropy bulk. Or perhaps it was the ubiquitous beards, or the tight-lipped silence.

They entered the Hall together with perhaps a hundred others, and the quiet was oppressive; only a faint shuffle of shoes on stone, and breathing. Magnus wanted to burst out screaming; didn’t these damn trolls ever talk to each other? He became suddenly aware that there were tons upon tons of stone above his head, and shuddered. This was it; he’d had enough of the damp tunnels and unending silences of Dovre.

Everyone had found their place, and silence became absolute; then, without warning, the assembly burst into song.

In a tower of flame in Sleipnir Two: I was there.
I know not where they laid my bones; it could be anywhere.
But when fire and smoke had faded, and the darkness left my sight…
I found my soul in a spaceship’s soul, riding home on a trail of light.

My wings are made of tungsten, my flesh of glass and steel.
I am the joy of Norway for the power that I wield.
Once upon a lifetime I died a pioneer;
Now I sing within a spaceship’s heart. Does anybody hear?

Before each morning’s launch, you know that I am there.
To the the soul that warms this vessel’s hull they say a silent prayer.
I am father, ship, and spirit of the dream for which they strive.
For I am man at the hands of man; see us rocket for the sky!

My wings are made of tungsten, my flesh of glass and steel.
I am the joy of Norway for the power that I wield.
Once upon a lifetime I died a pioneer;
Now I sing within a spaceship’s heart. Does anybody hear?

My thunder rends the morning sky. Yes, I am here!
Though lost to flame when I was man, now I ride her without fear.
For I am more than man now, and man built me with pride.
I led the way, and I lead the way, to man’s future in the sky!

The song ended as if cut off by an axe, and a man got up to speak at the head of the assembly. Behind him, others wielded chisels and hammers, cutting the names of the dead into the rock of Dovre. Later the inscriptions would be inlaid, not in gold, but in steel and iron; but for now there was only the mournful clanging of hammers to punctuate the brief eulogy.

“We hear the song of the dead, and sing for those that have no voice.” Clang
“The work continues, though the workers die.” Clang
“The dead shall not return to us, but their memory lives, and their deeds live.” Clang
“They died that we might reach a hand to the sky, and make a fist.” Clang
“Today we mourn; tomorrow we continue their work.” Clang
“Their names are carved in the Hall of the Mountain King; and when The Day comes and our fleet rises in flame towards the enemy skies, their ghosts will ride the shoulders of our warriors, towards vengeance.”

The eulogy ended, and the Ynglings turned to exit the Hall, still in that utter silence.

Back in David’s private suite, Magnus shook himself, dismissing the near panic he’d felt standing among so many silent strangers, with a mountain over his head. He resumed the argument. “You may do as you wish; but I’ll not be staying. These tunnels give me the mollycobbles.”

David raised an eyebrow. “They’re carved to the same plan we used to house the Quantum Device: Enough rock to withstand three fifty-megaton hits.”

“Yes, and uptime we could heat them and light them! But that’s beside the point. It’s not the tunnels, it’s the people. They’re too quiet.”

“They don’t say much in public, no. Men of few words are admired here, so most men take pains to appear that way.”

“Whatever. I’m leaving. These Ynglings are just too… I don’t know.”

David shrugged. “You are a free man; I can’t force you to stay. But where are you going to go?”

Magnus smiled bitterly. “Where else? I shall go where the exiles go, the ones who find their homelands too harsh… or too alien. I shall go to America. That is where our real strength lies, now; not under these hollowed-out mountains. I’ll speak to that strength. I’ll weave a myth just as you are doing here; but a myth for pure humans, not these… trolls. You’re building something I want no part of. The Chinese accused us of being inhuman often enough, and you’ve made their slurs into truth. Well, I won’t stand in your way; we’re few enough without fighting between ourselves. But I’ll make my own path. And there will be no trolls in it.”

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