This was my last throw; I did not realise the power of tactical nukes in the mod we were using – which, in fairness, were generally agreed afterwards to be seriously overpowered. After the destruction of the army that invaded Germany across Stralsund, however – and, presumably, the creation of a barren radioactive wasteland across all of Germany’s Baltic possessions – we collectively decided that the game was over; fighting in such circumstances was just no fun.
May 12th, 1960
Near Lubeck, Germany
The staff had been arguing for an hour, while outside the endless column of mud-spattered armoured carriers made their way north. Sigurd had said little; there was little to say, even had he been in the chain of command. This was, in a sense, the war he had spent all his life preparing for, before he joined the Secret Hird: The war of armoured brigades and heavy infantry for control of Europe, NBC-weapons-free. And the war games, the seminars, the long simulations with orders of battle down to individual soldiers, run on the best computers of 2218 – none of that had been of any use. The assumptions about what rational statemen would consider acceptable casualties had gone out the window in the first week, when the Germans called down nuclear fire on their own cities and broke three Yngling armies in doing so. Sigurd had watched, helplessly, as the deep-blue “armoured division” counters on the maps – massed to sweep into the industrial regions of Germany, opposed only by a thin line of Landswehr militia – had been replaced by the blue-grey of “friendly forces, status unknown” and then the purple of “friendly forces, not suited for combat”. He had watched with a mixture of nausea and pride as the second-line forces passed through the remnants of their armour and fought their way to the Elbe; and then pride had turned to ashes as the second bombardment fell. There was nothing he could do. He had passed on all the uptime knew of doctrine for fighting a nuclear war. But two hundred years of theory had flashed away in the sun-bright glare of radiation when the missiles fell on Lubeck and Hamburg, on Copenhagen and Bremen. The Baltic coast would be an uninhabited wasteland for decades to come, and whose doctrine had foreseen that? Madness… but very effective madness. The Yngling ambition to rule Europe was at an end.
The generals were accomplishing nothing, merely rehashing the same arguments they’d made half an hour before; trying to plug twenty division-sized gaps with ten regiments would produce paralysis in the most decisive. Sigurd rose to leave the command truck, hoping for fresh air to clear his mind; the fallout was still light in this area, although the dust clouds from burning Hamburg would reach them in a day, and then they’d need full suits to move around outside. Best enjoy the air while he could.
Before he could make his exit, however, the phrase “strategic escalation” caught his ear. A new suggestion? He sat down again while generalløytnant Johanson spoke forcefully. “Gentlemen, we are going in circles. We cannot stop three German army corps with ten regiments, even Hird regiments. We also cannot retreat across the Kattegat rapidly enough to save the majority of our army. Therefore, we must either sue for peace or retaliate with strategic weapons. I suggest we request targeting authority for a round score of 10-megaton warheads; we’ll blast ourselves a cordon sanitaire to complete our evacuation, then fry part of the Ruhr basin. If we can’t have it I see no reason Germany should, either. If we are not given such authority, I for one must decline to take any further responsibility for the course of the war; and I think if we all agree to such language, the Cabinet will give way.” His blue eyes swept challengingly around the room. The staff met them steadily; he was proposing a military coup and a nuclear war, but nobody here had gotten their position by refusing to face unpleasant realities. It had taken them an hour to get here, but now that one of their own had cut through the verbiage they could all look it in the eye: The alternative to nuclear escalation was the loss of the war – the Final War, the last throw of the dice to establish world hegemony. After this disaster, who could possibly muster the political will for another go? If the world was to be united against the moon-Georgians, it would have to be now. Nods went around the table, and Johanson responded briskly.
“Very well, I’ll draft our communique to the Cabinet. Haraldson, put together a target – yes, Bjarteson, what is it?”
Sigurd hadn’t been aware that he had risen, until the general addressed him. Now he stared blankly, unsure what to answer. What, indeed, was he going to say? It was this, or lose the war. And then he remembered another army dying in radioactive German mud, and straightened. One crime, at least, the uptime Ynglings had avoided; one crime, if nothing else, he would avert in the downtime as well. There would be no destruction of humanity in the name of ruling it. Not while the Ynglinga Hird had one member left.
“I forbid this,” he said clearly and strongly.
Johanson stared at him. “Bjarteson… you are here by courtesy, because of your unique status and in recognition of the prestige of Dovre. But you are not in the chain of command, and have no authority to bind or to loose.”
Sigurd smiled wearily. “You are mistaken, General.” He paced forward, feeling all the old habits of primate dominance reassert themselves; it had been a long time since he needed to project authority against a roomful of strils, but the training came back to him with surprising ease. When he spoke again the staff – experienced officers of a veteran army – flinched, unconsciously hunching slightly as if to protect themselves. “We have not done well, we uptimers. We intended to teach Norway all our secrets, to create a kingdom that would rule the world by 1500. We all know where that ended: We taught the wrong secrets first, and lost a war; and long centuries of Diaspora and Exile followed. But now I see that we taught you, not the wrong things, but nothing. For surely, if we had taught you anything at all, you would have learned…” and then, when their attention was fully on his words, he began to move.
He was old, old; twenty years in the downtime had slowed him beyond belief. But it did not matter. It was never the actual reflexes that made the Ynglinga Hird so deadly; it was the lack of hesitation in killing. For a million years those primates who insisted on escalating a conflict, who would not accept the result of a dominance contest fought without teeth, died faster than those who did not resort to the final argument. The survivors were those who would propound negotiations and accept the compromise. Their descendants were left with a deep aversion to killing… all except the Ynglings, who had discovered the secret of unhesitating death-dealing; who trained from the age of five to flip from peace to all-out battle at the drop of a hair.
At this point-blank range, even a handgun was deadly-accurate. Two officers died before the rest registered that anything was wrong. When they did, it still took them a second, or half a second, to understand what was happening, to force the numbness out of their brains and actually see the carnage; and then another second or two to decide to kill; and then nerveless hands must grapple with the buttons of pistol holsters. Endless, irreplaceable seconds; and Sigurd’s gun barked with metronome regularity. Eight shots, and seven kills. He threw the empty gun at the captain who had risen and managed to open the flap of his holster, and followed with his body, driving a sledgehammer fist into the man’s throat. The officers were soldiers trained to decision, and reacting much faster than a similar crowd of civilians would have; and it just didn’t matter. Against an uptime Yngling with the training of the Hird, when it came to combat on no warning, they might as well have been sheep. The captain crumpled nervelessly, and Sigurd helped himself to the pistol from the holster he had so-commendably gotten open; he spun, to fire at the major who had gotten out of his chair and was three steps into a run for help – and it was done. Absently he stepped on the neck of the captain he’d just downed, breaking it and cutting off the asphyxiating gurgle of breath through a crushed larynx; then he walked around the table to where Johanson was clutching the bullet hole in his stomach – the single nonfatal casualty of his first eight shots. In a sense that had been unconscionably risky; Johanson might have been one of those superhumans able to ignore such a wound and fire back. But it had not been likely, and he wanted to finish his say with someone capable of understanding him.
“You would have learned,” he repeated, and the quiet words seemed to echo in the silence after the crash of gunfire, “that authority stems, ultimately, from the barrel of a gun; and from the hands of a man willing to kill.”
He fired once more, and left the truck to join the retreat. He could hide at Dovre; there would have to be peace, now, even at a high price in territory. Land could be sacrificed, that had always been the Yngling way; but the homeland must be protected. No mushroom clouds would rise above the mountains.