The origin story of the Anja who appears in my cabinet.
February 19th, 1939
National Labour Alliance headquarters
Haraldshavn (OTL New York), Norse America
The old man sat alone.
He had sat thus for hours, in the dark and quiet of his office. An observer might have thought him asleep, for his eyes were hooded and he did not move except for the slow rise and fall of his breathing. One who knew Magnus Vidarsson, though, would not relax his vigilance on that account. The passing of time had slowed the reflexes of the snake-swift young pilot who had come to Dovre in 1891; but the mind behind the sharp eyes was as ruthless as ever.
The mind, uptime Ynglings taught, is the first and final weapon. Most humans have strong inhibitions against killing, and most societies go to great lengths to strengthen those inhibitions in their children, punishing them for violence and extolling the virtues of sharing. Not so, the Ynglings. Their children were taught to hit first, and negotiate from the resulting position of strength. The result was minds that would decide to strike the first blow while opponents were still registering that there was a conflict; and the first blow usually ends a fight, if it is in earnest. It was this, not the more obvious Spartan athleticism, that made the uptime Ynglinga Hird so deadly: Their decision loop did not include the tenth of a second that other soldiers needed to decide to kill, and in that tenth of a second they struck and moved on.
No army of the downtime had this training, for the circumstances that brought it about were not repeated; but Magnus Vidarsson, alone in all the world, still embodied it fully. Even now he had a reputation on the rough streets of Haraldshavn as a man not lightly crossed, although the time when the National Labour Alliance had regularly taken to the streets in riot was years past.
At length the door opened, breaking into his thoughts. He gave no hint of surprise, merely shifting his head to see who had disturbed him. He nodded once. “Anja.”
His granddaughter looked concernedly at him. “Grandfather, are you all right? You’ve sat in here so long… Mother is worried about you.”
His lips twisted in wry humour. “And so she sends you to intercede for her? Am I such a bogeyman?”
She shrugged, dismissing the subject, and moved to sit in one of the leather chairs facing him. “What’s wrong, Grandfather?”
He sighed, and his shoulders slumped fractionally. “It’s the news out of China.”
She frowned, confused. “I don’t understand. Did… is it that you wanted the Ynglings to defeat them, in revenge for the uptime?”
“No, no! Absent gods forbid I should be such a fool. The Chinese are always deadly opponents. I skirmished with them for three years in the skies over Finland; who should know better than I? If they are defeated without a single Norwegian killed, so much the better – although I don’t count them out yet, subtle bastards that they are. They’ve suffered occupation and partition before. So have we, come to that, and we’re still here.”
“It’s…” He rubbed his brow. “Their defeat makes me doubt myself, doubt my cause. The Chinese had uptime guidance too, you know. By all rights it ought to be a deadly advantage. And here they are, defeated almost without a shot fired.”
She stared at him, shocked. “You doubt…”
“I doubt everything, child.”
“But…” Her gesture took in the entire NLA headquarters, and by extension the organisation that stretched all over the east coast of America. In the Storting they were a fringe, but not on the streets of the industrial cities.
“Yes, I know. I’ve built… something that will outlive me, no doubt. But was it the right thing? I’ve tried to make Norway more as it was uptime. It’s been an uphill struggle at best. The Ynglings here just don’t think as we did, uptime… they don’t have the Chinese wolf at their door, or the stril by the ears, to unite them. But even if I’d succeeded, would it have been right? To strengthen the Hird and the Ynglings at the expense of all else? I don’t know anymore. Maybe I would have led us right into a trap, and we’d be the ones left with a tiny rump state and wondering where our glory and dominion got to.”
“Everything is a gamble,” she quoted, “and all you can do is move the odds in your favour.”
“Yes, that’s true. But you know, when you look at the effects of uptimers, the odds don’t look so good. Anja Sigridsdatter, Ask Norvaldsson, whatever it was that impoverished the Georgians in their Salt Crisis, and now China. Maybe the best way for me to move the odds is just to get out of the way, let the Ynglings here take their own path.”
“I don’t believe it,” she said stoutly.
“But even if it’s not true, just the suspicion is deadly. It’s like fighting, in a way. You can’t do it if you have to think about it. I’ve been walking a tightrope for forty years, and now I’ve made the mistake of looking down. And… you’re young, you won’t believe me. But I’m tired, Anja. Forty years I’ve been fighting. And what have I got to show for it? Two seats in the Storting, and a bunch of thugs.”
She glared at him, offended; too late he recalled that she had fought in street battles herself, when the Communists took exception to the NLA re-organising the textile workers. “That’s how you see the Alliance militia? Thugs?”
“Well. Disciplined, effective thugs, to be sure. But still, they’re hardly the Ynglinga Hird. And street battles aren’t enough, Anja. We needed some disaster, something to make a street demagogue look like a saviour. Losing a great war, maybe, or a disastrous market panic. Say this for the downtime Ynglings, they can run an economy. The uptime had nothing like it.”
“So you’re just going to give up? Retire to, I don’t know, some estate somewhere, and what, breed roses?”
He sat still for a moment, thinking.
“No… no. Am I not an Yngling? I’ll cut my losses, but I won’t give up. Not while there’s breath in me. Sometimes I think our national motto should have been “Triage the fucker”, instead of “It shall not stand”.”
“Then where will you go?”
He smiled without humour. “Where else? I’ll go where we’ve all gone, we uptimers, when we finally gave up on reshaping history in our own image. I will return to Dovre, and take service with the King Under The Mountain. David was right after all; or whoever it was that started the eugenics program. This Norway that stretches from sea to shining sea is too large to be moved by any single man, even an Yngling. But at Dovre they work in generations and centuries, and something might come of that. I will go to the Hall of the Mountain King and offer them what I know about aircraft and genetics. They’re not really human, anymore; but somehow it doesn’t weigh as strongly as when I was young. Trolls they are, but trolls built in the image of the uptime. Their country may be the closest thing to home I’ll find, here.”
“And what about us? What about the Labour Alliance?”
He shrugged. “It’s a political party; it has a life of its own. You might even find that it has more success without my emphasis on uptime ideology; there’s an impedance mismatch with this history. Triage, it always comes down to that. Accept the casualties, assess your capabilities, continue the mission.”
She rose to stand glaring at him. “So you’re going to give up on the real Yngling ideals, just because you’re tired? To Hell – or Dovre, which is much of a muchness – with you then, and good riddance. Are we not Ynglings? I believe in the justness of our cause, even if you don’t. I’ll carry on the struggle, even if you give up. And Loki take the hindmost.”
She turned on her heel to go, having gotten in the dramatic last word, but his soft-voiced “Anja” stopped her. When she turned back there were tears in her blue eyes.
“Anja, I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t want to fight anymore; but I haven’t the heart for it. I should not have spoken as I did. You are true Yngling; if you want to carry on the struggle, you’ll have my blessing, for what that’s worth. But there are limits to any man’s will, and I have reached mine. Will you take the torch from these failing old hands, and hold it high, without being angry at me for being too exhausted to go on?”
She couldn’t speak, but nodded mutely. He stood, and saluted her gravely, fist to heart. She returned it, then marched from the room, shoulders straight and chin high. He watched her go; only when he was sure she was out of earshot did he voice his thought.
“I hope it wasn’t an omen, when my son married a woman named Sigrid.”