I tried a gambit to reverse the fortunes of war that had forced my evacuation: I landed troops in Arkhangelsk, intending to attack south, cut off the Chinese spearheads in Scandinavia, and dictate terms when they ran out of supplies. A classic maneuver strategy, almost a repeat of my near-bloodless victory in the liberation of Norway. Unfortunately it didn’t work; the Arkhangelsk Landing was contained.
Then I launched one single nuclear-tipped missile – at Hiroshima, partly for historical irony and partly because it was very heavily industrialised – to demonstrate my displeasure at the offered terms and my resolve to escalate if necessary. This had the intended effect of obtaining better terms. This is my in-story explanation of how we managed to have a single nuclear explosion – plus one city lost to retaliation – without touching off a full strategic exchange.
March 13th, 1950
Evenson air base, Alaska
1900 hours (clock time)
Sixth month of no sun (human-body time)
“It is expected that there will be few survivors of KNM Olaf Haraldsson.”
“That’s it then; the Arkhangelsk Landing is washed up.”
The speaker turned the radio off with a controlled motion that suggested he was holding in rage. He turned to face the other officers in the small mess, daring them to disagree; none did. Instead they looked down, not meeting his gaze. Only one tried to offer comfort:
“They won’t fight to the last bullet, Harald; there’ll be prisoners taken. Your brother…”
Harald interrupted him bitterly. “Sigurd won’t be taken alive. And even if he were, what’s the use of that? The Russians are savages, and they can’t feed even their own people. Siberia? A bullet would be better. Quick, at least.” He sat down heavily, supporting his head in his hands; nobody contradicted him. At length Bjarne spoke, the same one who’d suggested Harald’s brother would be taken prisoner.
“The Storting will sue for peace. They’ll have to.” His mouth twisted. “Are we not pragmatists? It’s not as though we can declare a holy war against the infidel. We’ll cut our losses, retreat, retrench. That’s what we always do. Come back in the next war. The prisoners won’t have to survive the winter in Siberia.”
Harald lifted his head, stared at him. His eyes were dry, but terribly empty; tears would have been better. Tears meant grief, and grief would pass, in time. “The next war? There won’t be a next war. Don’t you know what we can do, now? Why we’re here?” His gesture took in the air base, and the missile silos scattered around it. The squadron had taken delivery of three of the new warheads the week before. “We can’t fight, now. Even in the uptime they stopped fighting. If the real Ynglings wouldn’t fight with these weapons, what’s our kind going to do? Sit tight and make money, that’s what! It’s too late.”
“Well…” Bjarne was nonplussed. “We’ll still get our comrades back, though.”
“Is that all you think I care about? Sigurd would have been proud to die if we won! But now there’s no victory, no purity. Just… money. As if the standard of living were all that mattered. What’s the point of living if all you do is survive?”
Bjarne was about to reply – the two had clashed on the subject of Harald’s political theories before – but the colonel interrupted him. “Gentlemen, no politics in the mess, if you please. Captain Erikson, you are distraught with worry about your brother. Perhaps it would help if you went for a run; fresh air clears the mind.”
“Yes… yes. Exercise, strengthen the body, purify the mind. The Yngling way.” Harald got up, stumbled to the exit. The colonel looked thoughtfully at the closing door.
“I might put in for some compassionate leave for the Captain. His mother would no doubt be glad to see him. And perhaps… ” He didn’t finish the thought.
March 14th, 1950
Evenson air base, Alaska
0245 hours (clock time)
Still the sixth month of no sun (human-body time)
Bjarne could not quite have said why he was still awake and dressed; he wasn’t on duty until 1200 the next day, but it was important to keep a regular sleep schedule in the endless dark. There was something nagging at him that he couldn’t quite place, and he wouldn’t be able to sleep until he’d figured it out. Besides which, there was doctrine to consider: “If you’re worried about something, you’re probably right”. It could get a bit old to constantly hear about uptime this and uptime that; it wasn’t as though they had conquered the Chinese. Still, the advice contained in the Little Blue Book, distilled from uptimer memories of Ynglinga Hird doctrine, was usually worth considering, even if some of it was apparently intended for warrior-mystics who relished going berserk if anyone looked at them funny.
Fishing out another trick from his training, he blanked his mind – the actual technique was to think hard about naked women, since, as the book said, “This is a task for which the primate brain is well suited, and which will occupy many of its surface resources” – and wandered out into the base. His feet would carry him to the area he was worried about, and meanwhile he was pleasantly occupied.
The Arctic night was still and cold; snow crunched underfoot. After a while he looked up and found that he was close to missile complex number 2, just outside its control bunker. He hesitated. Harald had the shift, and Bjarne had no desire to talk to him; besides, it wasn’t the done thing to disturb people on watch. And yet there was that nagging feeling of something left undone. Shrugging, he exchanged a salute with the guard and went inside.
He knew instantly that something was wrong. There was a metallic smell in the purified, constant-temperature air; the hair stood up on his arms as he realised it was the smell of blood. Cautiously, he unsnapped the flap of his service pistol and flicked off its safety, wincing at the loud metallic click; the weight of it was was comforting.
The blood was coming from the two enlisted techs of Harald’s watch; they had fallen out of their chairs and were leaking fluids all over the floor from where their heads had been. Bjarne knew without checking that they had been killed by the 1.25-cm bullets of a Viktorsson service pistol, officer issue; the same weapon he was himself bringing to bear as he searched for a target. There was not much left of the heads above the neck. Arterial blood had spurted from the stumps; the floor was literally awash in it. But where was Harald?
There – under the control panel in front of the second tech; he had opened it up and was doing something to the wiring. Whatever it was, it could hardly be legitimate, or he wouldn’t have had to kill the two techs.
“Captain Erikson! Get out of there, or I shoot!”
The answer was weirdly, disturbingly normal. “Yes – coming. Keep your shirt on.” Bjarne blinked; the tone was so utterly prosaic, the slightly annoyed voice of someone being prodded just as he is done with his task. His head swam in confusion for a moment. Then he remembered the techs; whatever Harald might think, the situation was clearly not ordinary.
Meanwhile Harald had extracted himself from the control panel and was climbing to his feet; he had dispensed with the jacket of his uniform, and the white shirt underneath was soaked in blood. He smiled pleasantly; in context, the effect was utterly chilling. “Ah, Lieutenant Tollefson, you’ve found me out. Well done. You have the instincts of an Yngling sometimes, even if you are a disgusting little Liberal.”
“Sir. I have to place you under arrest.”
Harald waved a hand negligently. “Yes, yes. Murder most foul. I’ll certainly be shot – no, actually, there’s a fifty-fifty chance I’ll hang for a traitor. It doesn’t matter now.”
Whatever he had been up to, he believed that he had accomplished it. Bjarne thought only for a second; then he shifted his aim, and fired his entire magazine into the control panel. Electronics sparked and smoked; his ears rang with the impact of high-energy bullets in an enclosed room, but that wasn’t the source of his dizziness.
Harald nodded. “Not bad; probably your best bet. But you’re too late. The ignition sequence can’t be stopped from the panel once it’s started – well, not by random destruction, anyway. Besides which, all the electronics are out of the circuit anyway; I had to rewire the damn thing physically to get around the synchronised-double-key thing. But it’s all electrical impulses, in the end. The launch should be starting. We’ll fight forever, now. The Japs won’t forgive this.”
Bjarne gave him a single burning glare, then ran outside, discarding his pistol. He grabbed the rifle from the startled guard and ran for his life towards the silos. There was still a faint, tiny chance. He could feel the rumble of the rocket engines, but they took a few seconds to accelerate. The first missile was poking its blunt nose out of the silo when he reached it, deceptively slow. Twenty seconds from now it would be faster than sound. He fired, once, twice. Turned towards the second silo, fired again. Flames spurted from the thin sheet-metal body of the missile; fuel-line hit. That one would never reach its target, it was already starting to tumble – it might kill Bjarne by spraying him with burning fuel, but that was the least of his worries. Where was the third missile?
There – already twenty meters in the air, and rising. He worked the bolt, aimed; then Harald tackled him from behind.
“You’re a fast little bastard,” the captain grunted. “Think on your feet, too. The very model of an Yngling and an officer. But you’re too late.”
He was right; the missile was already gone. Bjarne went limp, and Harald let him go. The missile he’d ruptured the fuel line of was coming down a few miles to the west; the first one would be landing somewhere in the Pacific, there was no way for the gyros to deal with the damage to its aerodynamics. But the third one…
“Where,” Bjarne began, and had to clear his throat, “where was it aimed?”
Harald smiled, and now for the first time the complete madness behind the facade of normality shone through. “Eight million people; the largest industrial plant outside of Arequipa itself. The Japs will never forgive this, never. We’ll fight until the end of time, until the Earth is united under the Ynglings or the Ynglings cease to exist as a people.”
There was no good to be had by shooting him. Silently, Bjarne headed for the colonel’s quarters. Perhaps, if the Japanese were warned of the launch, the casualties could be minimised. Perhaps that might even do some good.