Chinese troops drove me back from Finland, and trapped some of my army in a pocket in northern Norway. I just about managed to evacuate by sea, in the face of Chinese carrier groups, but I used up the last of my navy doing so. So I did what I usually do when the game goes against me: I wrote an AAR snatching some measure of victory, if only in propaganda, from the jaws of defeat. It’s actually easier to write about defeats; tragedy is rarely boring, nor is resolution.
Vardø port, northern Norway
December 3rd, 1948
It is no joke to fight in Norway in winter. Sigurd snarled it to himself. Uptime the phrase had been a motto, an in-joke for the Ynglings; as part of their training every Yngling skied across the Jotunheim. It recalled the bitter fighting against the Burgundians in the dark days of the late 1930s, when all seemed lost, and the triumph of the Malmø Rising that had trapped their armoured spearheads in very unfriendly terrain. It was a talisman, a proclamation of Yngling power, and of the land from which they drew strength; all else failing, it said, we still have these mountains, and they’ll fight for us.
But that was in the lost uptime. Here, the famous Ynglinga Hird was… just another army. It was heartbreaking, but true; man for man, tank for tank, the Ynglings of this timeline were… about as good as the next guy. No worse than average, certainly. They could hit the side of a barn at a hundred paces; they did not run away from reasonably equal numbers; their officers could read a map. It made him want to weep. This was not the army he had been proud to serve in. The true Ynglinga Hird had held a third of the world’s people in bondage by the sheer terror of its arms; had defied ten times its number, and had many times shown its ability to defeat such odds. The least of its soldiers could have been evenly matched against two or three of these downtime sheep, if they all had rifles. With bayonets or bare hands… Chinese official doctrine had been “Don’t get close to an Yngling; if he looks dead, shoot him before approaching.”
But the downtimers pissed on all that. Oh, here and there he could see a glimmer of the true spirit; the unofficial ‘militia’ (probably the only militia in the world better supplied with artillery than the regular army of its government) run by the Dovre-Ynglings was excellent. That only made it worse. He could have dealt with a run-of-the-mill downtime army that just happened to have the same name as his own. But he could see the potential: He would hear a piece of doctrine that one of his comrades might have written, and roll his eyes because the pudgy officer spouting it had clearly not been applying the lesson. A bearded Dovre-Yngling would pass, his squat, heavy build a parody of the easy athleticism of the uptimers, but a welcome respite from the human-normal muscles of the regular soldiers. A tank would rumble by, its sleek lines showing the influence of uptime design. But it was all glimmers and glimpses, lost in the sea of mediocrity. This army had been driven back, defeated in their own mountains, by the Chinese.
The evacuation schedule was complete, and there was nothing much left for Sigurd to do until his turn came. After the frenetic coordinating activity of the past three days, simply standing on a street corner watching the scruffy columns trudge by was a vast relief. The crump of Chinese artillery was distant, muted by the small flurries of snow. He stood there for some time, not thinking, merely listening to the crunch of snow under heavy boots and the buzz of talk running up and down the column.
After a while he became aware that the soldiers were looking at him, and that there was a change in their demeanour. They had been walking like soldiers defeated but not crushed, glad to be out of the fighting and heading for a ship to safety, but downhearted at being forced to retreat. Their backs had been slightly bowed, their necks not quite straight, and the lack of spring in their step was just a bit more than could be accounted for by heavy packs. Now he heard a whisper run up and down the column, several words repeated: “uptimer – berserk – Yngling“; and the soldiers were straightening their backs, looking at him with a strange hunger in their eyes. As they passed him, their steps became firmer; they dug their boot-heels into the snow with a crisp motion, and the column moved just that tiny bit faster.
With a shock, he realised that the soldiers, although they couldn’t have heard his contemptuous thoughts, had in some measure shared them. They had fought their best, and been defeated. They hungered to possess the storied deadliness of uptime Ynglings, to throw the Chinese back into Russia and march to the Pacific. And so, through no intention of his, merely by standing on a street corner to draw fresh air and rest his tired eyes, he was encouraging them. Here indeed was the military science of the uptime, breathing the very same air as these defeated soldiers. Here was a tradition that stretched back through Ingrid Karinsdatter to Geir Jonsson crushing the Westman Rising. Any man might draw inspiration from that history.
Any man might; but not every man would. Sigurd considered his contempt; was it truly warranted? They were no Ynglings, these soldiers of Norway, although some might bear that name. But, when you got right down to it, in the end the Ynglings had lost. You could not run a computerised economy on training for the duel and the battlefield. So… something else was necessary. And these citizen soldiers would have to make up the difference on the battlefield, with their lives. And one thing there was to be said for them: If they did not have the deadly competence of an uptime Yngling, nor the buzzsaw capacity for slaughter, still they had not flinched from a fight. Even now, retreating from a lost battle, they needed no more than the sight of an uptimer to be encouraged. Had Sigurd not been there, they would surely have found something else; some minor omen or talisman, to stiffen their spines and put a snap in their steps.
They did not have the training; but as rank upon rank passed him, with that barely noticeable re-infusion of pride in their steps, Sigurd realised they had what mattered: They had the spirit of the Ynglinga Hird. And, slowly, he raised his hand in salute.