June 5th, 1958
New Bergen, Norway
Anja looked incredulously at him. “Give up now, when we’re winning?”
“Winning? That’s what you call being on the receiving end of 150 megatons?”
“When all our enemies and some of our allies have caught ten times that, then yes!”
“Loki help us all, did Magnus teach you nothing? Do you think the purpose of a war is to inflict destruction? We want peace! A better peace than what we started with! A peace, above all, that doesn’t involve extending our rule over radioactive wastelands!”
Anja snarled. “And how can we get a better peace if we back off every time we get our hair mussed? Are we not ” – and her defiant slogan was cut off in the middle with a surprised oof. Sigurd had crossed the room in a blur, his fist had slammed with measured force into her solar plexus – pulling the blow enough to avoid killing – and his left hand now held a knife to her throat.
“No, Anja,” he snarled in answer. “We are not Ynglings. I am an Yngling, the only real Yngling in this timeline. You are a snot-nosed street brawler with delusions of grandeur. Do you think it is just a matter of declaring yourself eager to absorb the casualties, as though the will to power consisted simply of stubbornness? You, who sit in a fortified bunker and will never feel your eyeballs running down your cheeks? Loki take you, I was five meters away and you didn’t even reach for your gun when I started for you! A real Yngling would have shot me like a dog. A real Yngling would realise that in this timeline, we have other options! We were ready to fight the Doom War in the uptime because the Chinese were growing around us, reducing us to irrelevance. Here we have the economic edge! And you’ll throw that away in the name of demonstrating the size of your ovaries! End the war now, while we’re ahead.”
Anja drew a deep, shuddering breath, finally recovering her voice. Fury blazed in her face, but she kept her head still; otherwise she ignored the knife at her throat. “Kill me then, if that’s what you believe. Go on, decapitate the war party; then the war will have to end, right? You think this is about my ovaries? Fuck you, Sigurd, and fuck your reaction speed too. Being an Yngling isn’t about being the fastest with a knife; it never was. That was your mistake in the uptime. It’s about power. This is our last chance. The missiles are already flying, thick as pigeons in the park. In five years every nation will be invulnerable to conquest – if they aren’t already. Then where will we be with our economic growth? You think we can buy China? Damaged goods as it is, the price in any currency but blood will be beyond our means. Kill me if you like. Harald will take my place and pursue the same policy, because it’s necessary. And the Ting will back him, and the voters will back the Ting. Are you going to kill them too?”
Sigurd felt his shoulders slump ever so slightly; she was right. Killing her would accomplish nothing – although it would be necessary to do so anyway; he had humiliated her, and she would never forgive that. He wasn’t about to do it with his own knife, though; why take the rap? There was another Finnish assassination team in the town; all he had to do was clear their path instead of intercepting them. But that was all secondary. The war couldn’t be ended that way. It would have to be fought to the end. Every last agonizing sacrifice of it.
He took the knife off her throat, and looked at her steadily; she did not move for her gun. “You’re wrong, Anja,” he said. “It’s not about power. It’s about leadership. Being first among equals, and having equals that one can be proud of being first among. ‘Are we not Ynglings?’, you were about to say. Here’s one for you to think about: Are we not humans? And humans will always have a need for leaders and warriors. That’s a good role for Ynglings to fill. But no; you want power, and so do the voters. They think it’ll bring them safety. There, at least, is a mistake we never made, in the uptime. You should try having slaves sometime, Anja; that’ll teach you how much safety there is in power over humans. Once you’ve put your boot in someone’s face, you can never let up.”
Anja shrugged. “We will reduce nobody to slavery; it’s more efficient to let their market run freely, and tax it. But the power, yes, we will have that; there will come a time when the Ting’s writ – the orders of the Yngling kindred – runs all over the world, and no man defies it. If not for that, what did you come here for in the first place? Why not surrender to the Chinese, and go on with your lives?”
Sigurd’s mouth twisted. “To the People’s Communist Party of China? As well surrender to Georgia and go to the destructive-labour camps. We destroyed a world to create options that were neither surrender nor pulling the Temple down upon our own heads. And behold, you have options; choices which we never had, which I have killed my family and my friends to give you. And what do you do with them? You insist that you must rule the world, and you will sacrifice cities of millions to do it. Perhaps the Christians were right after all; perhaps there’s something twisted in the Yngling soul, that leads us to make the same mistakes over again, in every timeline. As for me, I give up; I’ve done what I could, and it was not enough. I’ll lay down my gun and knife, and fight no more. And I hope your dreams are haunted by little girls with their eyeballs running down their cheeks.”
He slammed the door; Anja stared after him for a long moment, then shrugged and bent again to her paperwork. A regiment to turn back the refugees out of Owensboro; reinforcements for the invasion of Africa; the routine work of conquest. As for her dreams, she need not share them with anyone. She would create a peaceful, united world for her daughters, and give them power over it for their inheritance; what were a few bad dreams, compared to that?