December 15th, 1936
Headquarters of the Kwantung Army, Manchuria
“Maggiore David Ziani, reporting as ordered.” The guards knew him, and gave him only a cursory look-over before gesturing him into the farm building that served as temporary headquarters; as liaison officer of Japan’s primary ally in this war, David was a familiar figure to the staff. Entering, he quickly found the shrine to the God-Emperor, and saluted it; then turned to locate his actual flesh-and-blood superior officer, and saluted him too.
“Sir,” he said, which was military courtesy in both the Venetian and Japanese armies, indicating that he was at his superior’s disposal; it was a minor irony that the curt monosyllable he used was the English one, that being the main common language of two militaries which had not fought each other in centuries, but often fought the world-spanning British Empire.
“Major Ziani.” The Marshal-General returned his salute, and gestured to the farmer’s dining table, which had been drafted. It was clear of clutter; only three large-scale maps of the Manchurian front covered the wood tabletop. “Two days ago I asked three officers to prepare situation maps, starting with the known deployments at the start of the war, and using the daily movement reports of the corps and divisions.”
“Yes, sir?” David had sweated over the useless task for two days, handing in his finished map close to midnight the day before; he hadn’t known he wasn’t the only one so victimised. Was there some use to it after all?
“One of my own staff; the German liaison; and you. I find that the maps prepared by Oberst von Wetter and by Rikugun-Chusa Sato match very closely, as I would expect of well-trained staff officers; while yours, on the other hand, is immensely different. Do you understand why this should be the case?”
David found his mouth slightly open, and snapped it closed. The words “what a mistake-a to make-a” trembled on his lips; but he did not think the man in charge of a million men and two thousand tanks would much appreciate humour from an officer being roasted. “Ah – no explanation, sir.”
“No? That is unfortunate. Let me show you the main discrepancy.” The Marshal-General’s swagger stick tapped the two maps David had not made. “Here, the Yulin Valley. Well behind our lines. While on your map” – the swagger stick tapped the same location on David’s painstakingly-prepared map – “the Tenth Corps front is, unaccountably, halfway up the valley, far back from their furthest line of advance; indicating that they have either found a nice picnic spot and decided that the war can wait, or they have been driven back by an enemy counter-attack which has somehow left no trace in the other two maps.”
“Yes, sir,” David said, feeling himself come quite unwillingly to attention. How the Devil had he made such an error? Presumably he was about to be sent hom in disgrace; and yet he could not see how he had gone wrong. The Tenth Corps reports had, by the absent gods, shown that retreat up the valley; working only from the movement reports, with no access to orders or casualties, he had assumed there was some good reason of logistics or front-shortening, and merely marked the new position. Had some enemy fed him falsified reports? Who would gain from such an intrigue against a foreign officer with no power or friends in the Kwantung Army?
“At ease, Major.” The Marshal-General smiled tightly. “I did not have these maps prepared at a whim. This morning I went out in my personal airplane, and had a look at the Yulin Valley myself. In the dark it’s hard to see much; but the flash of artillery is quite distinctive. There is heavy firing, a corps-scale engagement, here.” The stick slammed down in the middle of the valley, on David’s map, just where he had drawn the Tenth Corps front. “Meaning that your map is correct. Meaning, also, that two experienced and loyal officers, working from the same reports you did and entirely separately, have somehow managed to come up with the same damned lie about Tenth Corps’s location; and there are other discrepancies too. Meaning, further, that an Indian counterattack has driven in my front, pushed one of my corps fifty miles back, is threatening to take Yulin itself and cut off supplies to Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Corps, and all this without me hearing a word about it. Except from you. So I ask again, Major; do you understand why this should be the case?”
Ice went up David’s spine, and his eyes went quite involuntarily to the insignia on his shoulders. To the new eagles, expensively hand-wrought in cold iron by order of il Doge; the Iron Eagles that had replaced the old cloth stars. The eagles that were dipped in oil-of-moly in the ceremony that promoted a man from captain to major; just as was done with all officer’s insignia, in this year of Grace 1936, “to symbolise the clear sight and unclouded mind required of an officer”. So went the reasoning in the Order Regarding Uniforms; but the whisper ran, in the barracks and the officer’s clubs, that Eliezer Aiello had not designed a cute little ritual to make men proud of their rank, that he genuinely believed in the supernatural power of cold iron and moly to make men see through deception. And now here was deception on a scale of continents, and a man wearing the eagles had seen through it. And if that was so… then anything might be true; the Indian Army might be getting intelligence from Georgian monks who had colonised the Moon, or the God-Emperor of Japan might be under the influence of mind-control rays and about to sign a peace leaving Venice in the lurch. If an entire army could be deceived by hypnotising its officers, to the point of not knowing about a corps-level attack; and if that deception could be foiled by moly and cold iron – then David’s entire worldview was in error, and would have to be rebuilt from scratch.
“What a mistake-a, to make-a,” he whispered; and then he dissolved, slowly, painlessly, as the simulation-dream ended.
The entity sometimes called the Jackal could not express its frustration physically; every so-called brain cell of its subhuman vessel, and many of those in what passed for its nervous system, was needed for even this crude, coarse-grained dream-simulation – an extrapolation which would once have been an idle moment’s thought. That was, perhaps, just as well; the degradation was approaching dangerous levels. This vessel must be its last, or nearly the last; it could not afford to waste its health on mere frustration by kicking brick walls to dust. Instead it vented its feelings by intervening in the simulation at a level far beyond what it could manage in the outer world, manifesting to each of the few conscious entities in the dream – only a dozen, now; even a hundred years ago it had been able to dream the consciousness of fifty subhumans – and showing them that their world was about to end, sadistically savouring their panic. But that tiny amusement soon palled; dream-simulated subhumans were even more worthless than the real ones. Instead the Jackal turned to considering what it had learned.
Easy enough to get India and Japan to fight; not too difficult, even with limited ability to directly manipulate minds, to enmesh Venice and Germany in the same web, and thus bring the American powers to the defense of India. Possible, even, to ensure that Japan was catastrophically defeated; and that would inevitably bring England into the war, and its ally Egypt; and would bring them in last, when they could pick and choose their terms, when all the powers of the world were committed to other fronts and Europe, with its vast industries, lay open for the taking. A master stroke; a plot worthy of the centuries it had spanned, carefully setting up the balance of power just so, nurturing just the right enmities and alliances, encouraging a territorial ambition here, an ideological difference there… all useless. The problem had not been visible at a century’s distance, or even a few decades; but now, only years from the crucial events, three dozen different dream-simulations all showed the same crucial difficulty. The war was too finely balanced; a meatgrinder in Asia, a drawn-out war of attrition, would not bring in the Great Powers in the right order. The defeat of Japan had to be a disaster, a catastrophe to devour a nation and shatter an empire – and that, in turn, required a blatant manipulation, a use of mind-fogging that could not be denied. The process would be slow, but inevitable; from a single Venetian officer attached to the Kwantung Army, through the Japanese government in exile, and from there to the great capitals, the knowledge would spread. The truth would be out, not in deniable whispers or wink-and-nod jokes but in openly acknowledged words, that the subhumans were at war with something other than themselves; and though in its prime the Jackal could have laughed at a planet full of such creatures, the millennia had taken their toll. United, even under what passed for leadership in subhuman England, this self-described civilisation of two-legged apes was its match.
The great plot, the climax towards which it had worked for four centuries, was flawed at its core. Somehow the variables had gotten away, the simulations had failed to show the outcome that was now most likely. The Jackal would have snarled in near despair, if the nerves controlling its vocal cords had been free to carry signals not part of the simulation. And yet, after all, it wasn’t a subhuman, to have only one plan. The dream-simulations it had done ten years ago had failed to show this danger; but entropy, in the end, was the final truth to which every planner must submit – and therefore, every wise planner made allowance for randomness. There was a second plan, more dangerous; a longer shot, though with a higher payoff if it succeeded – not that that mattered, any more. A plan that was the only one left had to be tried, no matter how risky.
It would still be better than a land war in Asia.
As Kuipy noted, there was a bit of an issue with the conversion; mea culpa. I attempted to buff the smaller players a bit relative to the Great Powers, by using the industry shaping factor in Idhrendur’s converter; however, in my focus on players I didn’t think about what that would do to the real minors, the likes of France and Venetian Australia – the ones that exist because EU4 has that colonial nation mechanic and Victoria makes it a real pain to annex them. In particular, the shaping factor of 0.5 that I settled on as making Venice somewhat more reasonably matched with England (in terms of our Victoria industrial scores) had the unfortunate side effect of giving the minors three to five dozen factories each, thus:
|No scaling||Scaling = 0.5|
So France, for example, starts with 65 (!) factories, and also at war with England. As a project of buffing the minor players, this completely backfired – I instead buffed whoever could conquer the AI minors first. This did not particularly benefit the minor players. After some discussion, the Vermilion Decree was issued, swaying the four corners of the world, majestic in its simplicity yet far-reaching in its implications: “Rollback to 35”.
This was, in my opinion, the least bad of the available options; but not everyone saw it thus. In particular, Ragatokk, playing India, was sufficiently annoyed to quit. This is a pity, because Ragatokk is apparently an inspired player of HoI4. Probably it was the loss of his immense tactical successes in this last session, now revealed as a mere dream-simulation done by the Jackal for its own purposes, that enraged him enough to quit. In particular, he (presumably greatly aided by the Jackal’s blatant mind-fogging!) managed to encircle, and subsequently destroy, the remainder of the Japanese army on the Asian mainland:
This was done while whatever emergency dribs and drabs he could spare managed to build a front against the Venetian and German attacks in the west; Delhi fell, but we bogged down in the watershed of the Narmada river, unable to concentrate enough forces on our long front to punch through. For my part, I got too intensely involved in the southern part of this lengthy battle, where I attempted to cross the Narmada in such a way as to create a pocket around Bombay:
This did eventually work:
But far too late, and kept me from noticing what Ragatokk was doing further north:
Meanwhile, American reinforcements had arrived and Ragatokk had accomplished his Second Great Encirclement and freed up troops for a counteroffensive. Although I did destroy some Indian divisions in Bombay, what I mainly accomplished was to trap the army that had done so in a pocket with no ports, when his northern counterattack broke the front entirely and pushed to the Gulf of Khambat – the bit of water that separates the Gujarat peninsula from the Indian mainland, and in this case, separated my main striking force from its sources of supply. To be honest, the American alliance seems a bit redundant, here; Ragatokk is apparently able to fight three other powers and come out on top – note that the American troops didn’t arrive until after the two encirclements had been accomplished.
On a more comic-relief note, I’m told that the routing AI sent the South American troops (unescorted!) through the Med, where my 72 level-1 subs sank four transports. This does uphold the proud tradition of the Venetian Navy, which has never yet failed to lose with honour and dignity where a victory was crucial; at least I didn’t lose my whole fleet this time. So I suppose that was a victory, of sorts.
On the whole it is not so bad to have had a practice run; the Jackal is one with us subhumans in this. I think I’ve learned a couple of things, and will do better for purely tactical matters on the second go-around; you play with good players, you git gud, or at least gudder. To be sure, others may have learned too. I’ll be very interested to see what happens when we start again.