The Komneniad: The Last Ditch

Filling in the gaps: Another out-of-sequence post. This one is just before my surrender to the Japanese and temporary switching of sides in 1940.

November 1st, 1940
A cellar in the Curia, New Byzantium
Morning

Meeting in the dank underground storage room was, in Georgos’s opinion, a piece of silly melodrama on Konstantin’s part; the Japanese did not have enough aircraft on the mainland to waste them on mere terror raids, and anyway New Byzantium had the highest ratio of flak guns to buildings of any city in the Khanate. Besides, the damp made his old bones ache. But Konstantin was Dictator; and if he wanted to feel, in some small way, that he was sharing the dangers and hardships of those at the front, Georgos could hardly blame him.

“All right, let’s get started. First point: Defense of the capital. Markos?”

“Yes, sir.” The chief of staff had clearly slept in his uniform, which was rumpled and sweat-stained; there were dark circles under his eyes. Even so he looked better than Arkadios, whose Tenth Bureau had signally failed to detect the Japanese buildup in Korea. “We’ve got civilians out digging trenches from here to Zhangzhen, which is defended by three kataphrakt cohorts of the I Komnenoi. The position at Pinggu has unfortunately become untenable, but we got most of the kataphrakts out in reasonable order; they’re falling back on Zhangzhen. We’ve got five thousand reservists forming up to defend the ground between Zhangzhen and here, if necessary.”

Konstantin made an impatient gesture. “I have great respect for the millennial Roman tradition of service in the Legions leading to citizenship, but five thousand reservists are not going to stop a full-dress attack by three Japanese army corps. I take it,” he added dryly, “that it’s still three, and no additional ones have been discovered?”

All eyes went to Arkadios, who stirred uncomfortably. “Well… not army corps as such, no. But they do seem to have some units which are not accounted for in the official Japanese order of battle for their corps. Volunteer regiments, roughly equivalent to our reservists. Something on the order of three divisional equivalents.”

Konstantin blinked. “What is the precise difference between finding three ‘divisional equivalents’ and finding another unexpected army corps?”

“Er, well. Division equivalents in terms of rifle strength. Not in artillery or supporting arms. And attached to the known corps, not in a separate organisation.”

“How the Japanese put org-chart boxes on paper concerns me very little! You’re telling me there’s an additional thirty thousand rifles out there that we didn’t know about?”

“Um, yes. But no guns, or very few.”

“Well, that’s something, at least. If they’re that lightly armed they may actually be more of a hindrance than a help. Let’s hope so, anyway.” He returned his attention to Markos. “Even so, five thousand reservists is not much to set against their thirty thousand, and then there are their regular troops. What have we got of Legions?”

“Five kataphrakt cohorts have been entrained at Tianjin and are expected to arrive tomorrow. Another ten are loading as we speak. But to accomplish that we’ve stripped Tianjin to the bone. If the Japs attack there in force I cannot promise it will stand.”

“That cannot be helped,” Konstantin said grimly. “Every hour brings our allies that much closer. While New Byzantium holds, we can fight; let the enemy into the industrial heartland beyond, and… well. Tianjin can be retaken, at need.” That was optimism, perhaps; the Khanate had yet to retake anything the Japanese had occupied, except for the most lightly-held of outposts, not occupied so much as briefly marched through by skirmishing scouts. But then, there were allied troops on the way, fresh from victories in Europe. And the industries of New Byzantium were still mobilising, turning out tanks and rifles that were, now, handed straight to fresh conscripts waiting literally at the factory doors, whence they would walk the twenty miles to the fighting front. Perhaps, indeed, Tianjin could be retaken, if it fell.

“I think,” Georgos said into the silence of men contemplating that reassuring thought, “that I have a better idea.”

“Yes, yes,” Konstantin said, rolling his eyes. “Offer terms of surrender, make peace with Japan, disarm the Legions, and turn the other bloody cheek like the bodhisattva said. Can I just point out that the bodhisattva also expected the end of the world Real Soon Now, and spoke to the poor and powerless? He wasn’t offering practical advice for people with actual responsibility.”

Georgos shrugged. “You made the leader of the Peace Party your Overseer of Barbarians. If you wanted aggressive advice you should have picked someone else for the job. In fact, yes, I do believe that terms of surrender and unilateral disarmament would be better than this war. Which, let me remind you, was entered into against my advice, in the belief that it would not escalate and that we could pick up some territory on the cheap.” He very carefully did not enunciate the phrase I told you so, but the others in the Cabinet clearly heard it anyway, and shifted uncomfortably. “But that option has been rejected by the consensus of the Cabinet, and I chose not to resign over the matter. I wouldn’t waste your time by bringing it up again, especially not with Japanese troops standing twenty miles from the Forum.”

“All right, all right,” Konstantin said irritably. “Let’s hear your idea, then.”

“There is a faction within the Japanese government,” Georgos said, “who, shall we say, have a more charitable view of the bodhisattva than you do.”

“Your famous International Solidarity Movement? They are not in power.”

“Not officially. But influence sometimes counts for as much as official position.” Georgos subtly indicated himself, reminding Konstantin that almost his first act upon becoming Dictator had been to invite the leader of the Peace Party to his government, and in the second-most prestigious position at that. “And, of course… the mainland is, in some sense, a sideshow for the Japanese. Even in their war party there are those who believe that the Ethiopian Sea, and its vast commerce, would be a better target for their efforts.”

“Japan has wanted to rule that sea for three centuries,” Konstantin said thoughtfully. “But a bird in the hand, as they say, is better than two defended by the Black Navy. Do you have a specific offer?”

“I do.” Georgos laid out the papers in front of Konstantin. He had placed the map uppermost, showing the territories to be annexed; the rest was just verbiage. Konstantin stared at it in disbelief.

Peace offer 1941

“If we sign this peace,” he said slowly, “the citizens will be convinced that I have a mind-control ray. I might almost begin to believe it myself. Are you sure this isn’t a trick, some sort of ruse to distract us from the defense of New Byzantium?”

“I can’t be certain,” Georgos admitted. “Still, I have my ways and my sources, and it looks good to me. I’m not suggesting we turn back the trains taking the kataphrakts to the front. But unless you were planning to conscript the clerks and give them rifles, there’s not much the Ministry of Barbarians can do about that. I take it there’s a consensus that this is worth pursuing, and that I should do so?”

“Out there we’ve got boys of fourteen digging the literal last ditch, and men of fifty preparing to fight in it. I think it’s fair to say that I’d rather have this peace than that fight, yes. If we can get it. It calls for our allies to give up their Treaty Ports; will they accept that?”

“I believe so,” Georgos said. “The Ports are indefensible anyway, as our allies just learned to their cost. Short of defeating the Japanese armies in the field, they can’t be held. And that would cost oceans of blood.”

“All right,” Konstantin said. “It’s a thin thread, but a hopeful one. Yes, pursue this. We can even give up a little more, if we must; those damn Chinese are almost more trouble than they’re worth. I sometimes think we’d have been better off if Lysandros hadn’t annexed them.”

For a moment the phrase fucking Lysandros hovered on Georgos’s lips; but he managed to choke it back. Konstantin’s mild hypothetical hardly meant that he was likely to approve of the Peace Party’s curse on his party’s revered founder. The younger man hadn’t been in politics in the tens and early twenties, and wasn’t likely to recognise the slogan as a mere habit, a verbal tic. “All right,” he said instead. “Then I’ve got telegrams to send, and you’ve got planning to do which doesn’t really benefit from my presence.”

“Indeed,” Konstantin nodded. “Ave, Nika!”

Georgos’s mouth twisted. The Dictator was not in fact a Blackshirt; he used their slogan only to needle his Overseer of Barbarian Territories. But now, at last, he had a reply.

“Ave, Eirene.”

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  1. Pingback: Azure Three Bezants: The Merchant’s Dream | Ynglinga Saga

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