Bridge of the parachronic dreadnought Eidsvoll
No meaningful date (sidereal)
10:18:53 (ship’s time)
“Anomaly, sift ten, up four.”
The starboard warrant officer’s terse report was spoken in the concentrated monotone of a disciplined man who is aware that a slip of attention could kill him and all his comrades, but who has also been doing very boring work for a long watch. Anomalies were not rare enough to be truly interesting as breaks in the monotony of watching the interferometers, and most of them were just random fluctuations; but enough were the signature of an enemy vessel that concentration sharpened all over the bridge.
“I see it too,” the warrant in charge of the port interferometer confirmed after a moment. “It’s a big one – seven sigma off datum.” That made it almost certain to be artificial.
“Timeline ID?” The watch officer’s hand hovered over the button that would send the ship to battle stations; if the timeline was a known one, parachronic activity was almost sure to mean a fight.
“Just a catalogue number, sir.”
“Very well.” Carefully, the watch officer took his hand away from the button. “Let’s just check the catalogue anyway,” he said, glancing aside at the screen where the warrant had popped-up the information he’d asked for; talking to himself was a bad habit in a man who stood watches on a warship, but one he’d been unable to break himself of. He raised an eyebrow as the information came up; most timelines that hadn’t been dignified with a name just had the sixty-character identifying string and some navigational information, but this one had a whole paragraph of actual text.
“What’s the local time-fix on that anomaly?” he asked after a moment’s reading.
“Twentieth century, sir – first half. Can’t be more accurate without getting closer.”
“Then it’s not the one that’s noted here.” The watch officer rubbed his chin, then realised that he was being silly; if the anomaly had been a known one, the warrant officer would have found it in his ephemeris and not bothered reporting it. His eyes narrowed. A random timeline was one thing; there was just too much of paraspace for a dreadnought to stop every time an enemy vessel did something – that was what patrol boats were for. But a timeline that had been touched before, in fact one that had furnished recruits, that was something else again. To meddle in a world was to acquire responsibility for it; that was one point on which the two sides agreed, although the Yngling concept of “responsibility for” was something more like “ownership of”. They understood pissing contests, if nothing else; and here was something of theirs making a seven-sigma anomaly all over a timeline that the MacRaghnalls had recruited from. That wasn’t a routine visit for supplies or a smash-and-grab raid of the kind they used as R&R; that was an invitation to see whose was biggest.
The watch officer took a moment to nerve himself, then pushed the button that would put him through to the Captain.
Christiansborg Castle, Copenhagen
June 8th, 1939 (quantum state: Non-interference; amplitude i*sqrt(3)/2)
“We don’t have the money – we’ll be paying off the last one for the next two centuries.”
“Or the tanks.”
“The navy would need a new battleship squadron – oh, and an aircraft carrier, for scouting.”
“Some aircraft built in this decade would be nice, too.” The Minister for Air Defense, Johann Sverderup, spoke in the pawky tone of a man who knows very well that his portfolio is a low priority and that he’s quite unlikely to get what he wants, but who would like to join in the fun of shooting down someone else’s proposal anyway.
“All that’s quite irrelevant.” The King spoke impatiently, waving the merely practical objections aside. “The question is, what the devil do the Mid-European powers have that’s worth the blood of a single Norwegian? Weren’t half a million dead in the Great War enough? No, no. I won’t send my people to die for some abstract consideration of geopolitics; quite real people bleed out in genuinely muddy trenches, you know, on account of decisions made in rooms like these. No; I won’t have it. There will be no war. Next item on the agenda, please.”
Conference room of the parachronic dreadnought Eidsvoll
No meaningful date (sidereal)
14:03:55 (ship’s time)
“So, let us summarise the known facts.” The captain counted on his fingers. “One: The Ynglings certainly did intervene here, but we cannot tell what they were after. Two: There is something else going on, centered on this von Hentzau; who, apart from his delusions of being born in the eleventh century, and apart from having the sort of personality that would fit right into our civil wars, absolutely reeks of achronic energies. I’ve seen readings less strong from actual Yngling intervention teams! And three: We cannot use the Eidsvoll for a full intervention, we have to be out of here in less than an hour, ship’s time.” The news that the dreadnought was desperately needed to fend off an Yngling attack fifteen units kran-wards had, of course, arrived inconveniently right in the middle of their investigation of the anomaly; the war might rage across five millennia of history and sixteen century-equivalents of parachronic delta, but it remained a truism that a crisis never arrived alone. “So whatever we do will have to be subtle, long-lasting, and quick to accomplish.”
The council of war looked at each other; a gunnery officer shrugged. “Well, sir, it’s not as though these primitives have any defenses to speak of. In an hour we can turn most of this Bavaria into a radioactive parking lot, no? Heck, give me a pinnace and I’ll do it myself.”
“I did say subtle,” the captain noted dryly.
“You did, sir, but why? I’m not seeing the stealth priority, here. What do we care if the natives notice?”
“Nothing. We care if the Ynglings notice. There are men in the army from this timeline, you know. We owe it to them, and their relatives down there, not to draw any more attention to their home than we can help.” The captain drummed his knuckles on the conference table, indicating that the subject was closed. “Ideas, gentlemen; and think subtle, if you please.”
“What is it we want to accomplish, precisely? If we just want this von Hentzau out of power, that seems simple enough, just make him have a stroke.” Assassinations from outside the timestream were a standard tool of the war. “He’s an old man, nobody will think it suspicious.”
“True, but will that suffice? We don’t know what the enemy are trying to accomplish here – strictly speaking we don’t know that it’s them at all. But whatever else, the Ynglings are hardly stupid. They wouldn’t put in motion a scheme that could be prevented by one stroke injection, and then leave a seven-sigma anomaly kindly pointing out who we should kill!”
“Things do go wrong, sometimes. Maybe the anomaly was an accident? That might explain why there’s no sign of them now.”
“I don’t like to take that risk. Well, at least we’ve defined the parameters of our intervention: Something a bit larger than the targeted stroke, but smaller than carpet-bombing with city-burners.”
“It’ll have to be done by the natives, then. Can we make them have a civil war?”
“If we had three years to stick around, maybe. Bavaria’s a garrison state, united against powerful outside enemies, secret police looking for dissension, the whole nine yards. You’d need to subvert half the army.”
“Maybe a rude one, then? These outside enemies, any chance of pushing them to attack?”
“In an hour of work?”
“Fifty minutes, now; but yes, we can do it.” All heads turned towards the speaker, a mere Fenrik of the research division; the captain gestured for her to continue.
“I did a quick search in the history archives” – it was standard procedure, on entering a timestream, to send recording drones up and down its length, eavesdropping on the natives – “with keywords Bavaria and war; limited to 1930 and later. And I found this.” The cabinet meeting at which Norway had decided not to go to war played in miniature before the assembled officers. “Just change their minds for them, make them listen to whoever their local warmonger is – Minister for Public Education? Ok, whatever – and the natives will do the job of wiping out Bavaria for us. Whatever the Yngling plan is they can hardly expect to get it done without a local country to do it for them. Short of sending a battleship, I mean; and then we won’t be messing about with an hour’s worth of subtle stuff.”
“All right, Fenrik; good work. Go off and start getting that set up. Order for go or no-go will come in twenty minutes, depending on whether the rest of us come up with something amazingly brilliant in that time.”
Christiansborg Castle, Copenhagen
June 8th, 1939 (quantum state: Interference; amplitude 1/3 + i*sqrt(2)/3)
“What this dynasty needs is a quick police action to restore its prestige; remind people who has the whip hand, and then we can make a start on rolling back this damn creeping democratism.”
“We don’t have the money.” But with the Eidsvoll‘s intervention nanobots in the bloodstream of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, filling him with the hormones of fear and doubt, the objection came out querulous, uncertain – not as the decisive negation that it had been, in an unmeddled timeline.
“We could do with some more tanks, too.” Tweak the hypothalamus, increase the aggression – and the Defense Minister’s concern with tanks became an idea that a war was just the circumstance under which he might get some, instead of a negation of the possibility of fighting without them.
“If we made the Baltic our lake at last, that would free up a squadron of battleships for the high seas.” The hormones of combat coursed through the blood of old men no longer used to them; and a meeting has a momentum all its own. The First Lord of the Admiralty might have said the same, even if the Eidsvoll had left his brain alone.
“It’s not as though they have an air force to speak of. We could get some combat experience, at least.” Lower skepticism, decrease the second-order judgement that checks whether the ideas generated by the hindbrain are actually good – and men begin to suggest that wars between great states might be worthwhile for the sake of combat experience for a few hundred pilots.
“All that’s quite irrelevant.” The King spoke impatiently; his eyes glowed with artificial belief in the plan – for a man will become an amazingly convincing speaker, even by the standards of ministers of propaganda, when his skin has been lightly doused with dominance pheromones and his voice is given additional resonance by tiny drones in his listeners’ ear canals. The quality of his ideas is almost irrelevant. “The point is, the dynasty took a hard blow in the Two Revolutions – October almost as bad as February. We need to do something to roll back the franchise, if nothing else; forty shillings was bad enough, now manhood suffrage? What’s next, votes for women? No, no, if this goes on, fifty years from now we won’t be a monarchy any more, mark my words. I didn’t become Emperor of the North Sea to throw away all my fathers fought for.”
“When can the Army be ready?”