March 4th, 1940
London, Indian Occupation Zone, England
The guards neither spoke to nor looked at the woman; nor did she speak to them, after her first efforts had convinced her they were deaf. Instead she gazed emptily out the window, not looking at anything in particular, but looking away from her situation: Bare room, soldiers of the enemy powers, the collapse of all hope.
She had been sitting thus, inhumanly still, for several hours, looking at nothing, when there was movement and noise outside. At the guards’ gestures she rose, moving with a smoothness unnatural after her long immobility, and left the room; her bearing gave no indication that she was aware of the rifles trained on her back, or of the snipers that surely occupied rooftops nearby. Outside, she hesitated for a moment, contemplating, perhaps, a swift break down the rubble-strewn street, vanishing into the ruins of London… but then what? Even if surprise and inhuman swiftness allowed her escape – and the men who had come to take her away positively reeked of the Accursed Herb; they must have bathed in the stuff – there was no hope of victory, not now. All England was a ruin like this ruin that had been London; Germany a charnel house, Scandinavia an isolated fortress of ice that must surely fall with the coming of spring. There would be no raising fresh armies from this defeat. If there was hope, it lay with the victors; a moment unguarded, a man careless with the Accursed Herb. A tiny chance, too small for meaningful calculation; but there was nothing in the woman, now, that could make any decision except the one with the highest probability of survival, no matter how small.
She sat quietly in the truck, her eyes gliding uncaring over the ruins and the silent, shocky faces of the Londoners. The looks they gave a vehicle of the occupiers were more unbelieving than hostile. To the end, when the American lines had been twenty miles outside the city and their artillery was clearly audible, the English had thought they would win. Even now, most of them had not really internalised that an empire which had been top dog for a millennium, that had never lost a war, could be defeated in three short years. There was no resistance in occupied England, unlike Germany where stay-behinds continued to trouble the Indian supply lines as far east as the Urals; the English had no script for the situation. When they found one, there would be fire and blood all over the island; but it was too late for that to do the woman any good. A guerrilla, however bitter, would not restore the worldwide empire she needed for her escape.
Past the third checkpoint the uniforms changed, from butternut brown and turbans to mottled light green and shallow broad-brimmed helmets; a sufficiently skilled observer might have noticed a tiny tensing of the woman’s inhumanly still body, a slight gleam of hatred in the luminous brown eyes: Venetians. They were all vermin, the swarming inhabitants of this plague-ridden ball of mud; but it was the Venetian filth who had discovered the Accursed Herb, and used it to destroy the Egyptian empire in half a year’s campaign, driving the woman from the places of her power.
Two more checkpoints, and at last the soldiers gestured for her to get out; her lips might have quirked, unnoticeably, when she saw the building they escorted her into. Westminster Cathedral had, unaccountably – miraculously, some would claim – come through the siege and the air raids unscathed. No doubt there were good and sufficient reasons for taking it as headquarters for one of the occupying armies; it was a large, enclosed space with many entrances, in a central location. But the woman rather thought, as she looked at the crosses and the carven figures which affected her powers no whit, that the real reasons were not secular. Even in this twentieth century, men still looked to their superstitions for protection against what they did not understand. How should it be otherwise? But they had, at least, hit upon one superstition that worked. Presumably they did not know the mechanism by which the DNA of the moly flower, twisted by a chance of electromechanics into shapes that channeled the fundamental force, damped her power; but the air reeked of its ashes – the very incense, she realised, had been mixed with the stuff, in addition to the powder that hung irritatingly in the air. There was a crunch of sea salt underfoot, and the iron chandeliers had silver wire twisted about them, incongruous in a church that had otherwise been stripped of precious metals to pay for guns; all useless, except for the Accursed Herb.
They took her to the sacristy, where the busy babble of occupation logistics that ran through the nave was stilled. There were desks enough for many officers; but they had been cleared, for this important meeting, all but one. The man who sat behind it was familiar from a hundred pictures, both blurry newspaper prints and sharp intelligence documents; neither had shown the tiredness around the eyes or the way the last of the grey had leached out of the long beard, but that was not unexpected in a man who’d led his country through three hard years of war and exile. Likewise he knew her; probably there were places in the jungles of New Guinea where neither of their faces were familiar, but nowhere that the printing press had penetrated.
“Ms Jorgenson,” he said, opening the battle; he pointedly did not offer her anywhere to sit, nor wave away the guards who hovered just behind her shoulders.
“Doge”, she said in turn.
“Or should I say, Mr Jackal? al-Nasr? Pharaoh, perhaps?”
She gave the very slightest of shrugs, just enough that even a subhuman would pick it up. “As you like. They are all human names, they are all one. My name is -” she hesitated for a moment, almost panicking. What was her name, originally? Had she lost even that? Then it came to her, before the subhumans would have noticed the slight pause, and she rolled it smoothly off her tongue: “Osiris.” Ozzy, to my friends, she thought but did not say; she had no friends here – not in this room, this city, or this planet. The last of her friends had died before the subhumans reinvented agriculture.
“God of resurrection, or reincarnation, among other things,” Abramo said. “Fitting.”
She shrugged again. “Garbled tales of our technology, so far as I can tell. Nothing deliberate.” There had hardly been any need to propagandise among the subhumans, in the days of her real power.
“Your technology, yes.” His eyes sharpened. “You do not say ‘magic’; yet powers that can be blocked by moly and cold iron seem more magical than technological to me.”
“Only because you are insufficiently advanced,” she noted, choosing not to correct his misapprehension about iron. Who knew? It might give her an advantage, at some point, if the subhumans believed her vulnerable to metals that did not affect her in the slightest.
“Quite so,” Abramo agreed. “Which is why you are here, and not, for example, in one of the mass graves your actions have made it necessary to dig. At any rate not yet.” He showed his teeth, not in a smile. “Growth mindset, as they say.”
She had expected the threat, and did not show any sign of the panic that scrabbled like a cornered rat at the back of her mind. As long as the subhumans wanted something from her, she had leverage. Since the subhuman knew that as well as she did, she did not respond in any way to the threat; it was perhaps not quite empty, they could have her shot and muddle through themselves, but that wasn’t any more true for the words being spoken. To acknowledge them was to give them power; instead she looked through the subhuman, waiting for the actual negotiation to start.
“I am a patrician of Venice,” Abramo said, when it was clear that she wouldn’t respond to the threat. “We are merchants, at heart. I’ve fought wars because it was necessary; but what I believe in is truck and barter, gains from trade, the exchange of one thing from another and the division of labour. Now it seems you have something I want; and I hold your life in my hand. But we’ve found, over the centuries, that he who buys goods with another’s life, soon repents the bargain; such deals do not stand very long – for why would anyone honour a contract signed under duress? So I won’t make threats, do this and I will not kill; it is too risky. Instead I ask; what is it that you want?”
Osiris blinked, and ceased to look through the subhuman, instead meeting his eyes. “I want to go home,” she said.
Abramo cocked his head. “And where is home, for you?”
“Near the center of the galaxy. I have lost – I don’t know the coordinates, any more; they would mean nothing to you, in any case. But I can find it, with the navigational gear from our base; if the damn Egyptian vermin didn’t destroy it…” she trailed off, suddenly aware that she was in this man’s power for all that they were negotiating as near-equals, and that he might choose to take exception on behalf of his species to ‘vermin’; it was hard to change the verbal habits of three millennia.
“Hence your search for old artifacts,” Abramo said, nodding to himself; another piece of the puzzle. Then his eyes went hard. “And your rule of Egypt, your conquest of Africa; hence this war that has killed three million men and cost, by the most conservative estimates, thirty billion ducats.”
“And two spaceships,” she said; what use was there in engaging with his statistics? For all her powers she could not restore the dead.
“Yes.” Abramo’s lips drew back from his teeth. “Tell me, did you ever consider using anything but force and fear, to accomplish your goals? Did it occur to you that, with your superior knowledge, you could pay in education for the metal and labour to build your spaceships?”
Osiris stared at the subhuman across a gulf of centuries, until the silence was become uncomfortable even for a star-bestriding colonist from the galactic core; in the end, she had to answer. “And do you pay your horses,” she asked softly, “when you want a gun drawn to a new position?”
“No,” Abramo said. “And if the horses could talk, and think, and rise up in rebellion against our rule, why then that would be a great error on our part.”
“Yes,” she said. “And would it occur to you to even discuss it, if not for my question? Just so much did it occur to me, that subhumans might require pay to serve their owners.”
“I see,” Abramo said; he leaned back in his chair, reaching some conclusion. She tensed for the killing shot, but it did not come; instead he said, “Perhaps we can trade. We can find you an island – a small one, near the equator; and you can teach our engineers to build spaceships, in exchange for the first one for yourself.” He paused, and looked at her expectantly; Osiris nodded, not yet fully grasping his words. Was escape possible, after all? And yet, had it been so simple all along? Was it possible that she, Osiris, had made a vast and fundamental mistake, and that this subhuman vermin was showing her what she ought to have done?
Abramo’s face hardened. “But there is one more thing you must do. You have wronged us; shall we not revenge? Subhuman I may be, but I am a merchant of Venice, and I will have my pound of flesh.”
Osiris blinked, too whipsawed by the rapid changes in her estimate of her future to grasp his meaning. The body she currently inhabited was beautiful, as subhumans saw these matters; did he mean…? To her surprise, she found that she would refuse him and die, if it came to that; so she had been mistaken before, there was something in her besides the need to survive, after all. Even if it was only a deep-seated revulsion at bestiality. She took some comfort in the fact, in spite of the howling outrage of most of her being at the thought of death; some tiny fragment of her personality had been preserved, then, through all the triage and the errors of copying. Strange that it should take utter defeat to bring it out.
“We’ll have your apology, Osiris of the galactic core; each individual human you meet, from now on, will hear you humbly say, on your knees, that you are sorry for what you did. Starting with me.” He held out his hand, palm up, inviting her to proceed. Her mouth fell open, the first time she had lost physical control of her subhuman body since – well, ever; was that his idea of a pound of flesh? A simple apology, a few words? And yet – behind the subhuman face, impassive again, the soul of Osiris writhed at the thought. She, who had traveled from beyond the visible stars, whose lightest word would, if not for the Accursed Herb, be a binding command to these subhuman vermin, was to kneel? To apologise for her actions, as though she had done a wrong to an equal? Her pride burned; her lips drew back from her teeth, and her legs tensed for the leap that would carry her over the desk to bury her canines in the subhuman’s throat. He was an old man, and though the moly powder in the air prevented her from ordering the guards to lie down while she killed them, she still had her fine control over this excellent youthful physique, tuned by exercise beyond the tolerance of most subhumans. She could kill him, at least, before they could react; perhaps the soldiers too, if their first shots went wild, as they well might. Then she would die; a single subhuman body, even with full conscious control of each muscle and with an immense intelligence guiding it, was just not sufficient against the hundreds of soldiers thronging the cathedral. But she would die as a true human, one who wielded subhumans as tools, not one who knelt before them and apologised.
And yet the seconds passed and she did not leap for his throat; and she knew, with sick despair, that the merchant of Venice had weighed his pound of flesh to a nicety. She had learned, just now, that there were still some things that she would not tolerate, that she would die rather than submit to; but apologising to subhumans was not one of them. That part of her which insisted on survival, which had carried her through a hundred subhuman incarnations and three thousand years, would make her do it. Her pride burned to ashes, and she tasted humiliation like nausea at the back of her throat; but she could not make herself kill and die for this. Return with a fleet of warships and scourge the memory of this event from the universe, yes, she would do that; but to do so she had to survive – and that was the core of her being now, that single imperative: Live. Everything else, all that she had once been which might have died for pride or defiance, had been taken away by the ceaseless gnawing rat-teeth of time.
Slowly, the settler from the stars knelt before the subhuman.
Why yes, I have been saving that “pound of flesh” line for the whole game. It had to come.
For those who have been keeping sufficiently careful track: Yes, “Osiris” is mistaken about her name. (His name? Its name? I’m going to just stick her with the pronoun of the body she occupies in this installment.) ‘Pharaoh’ is not in fact a human title, it is apparently a given name in the culture of the galactic core; but this fact has been lost to her memory. Reaching for a name from the settlement, she came up with ‘Osiris’, the name of her closest friend, and forgot that it wasn’t given to herself; perhaps, relieved that she had come up with an answer, she didn’t examine it too hard. It’s not as though anyone on Earth could say otherwise, though if she ever does return to the galactic core she may get a bit of a surprise.
Anyway, the game. We did not come up with any particularly inspired strategies; we merely kept hammering in the same old way. For example, I tried another invasion of the Crimea, which kept me busy for the winter months; the initial landings went well:
Invasion plan and landings for the Crimea. Note the flanking divisions around the guarded port – this was now our standard technique.
and I managed to push somewhat inland from the peninsula:
Exploitation of the Crimean landing; note the near encirclement of the 8 rapid-reaction divisions.
However, two large armies showed up to hamper me; one was the local English reserve, with a bunch of motorised divisions that cut off my spearhead; the other was the local Japanese reserve, which in attempting to reinforce victory succeeded only in eating up way more supplies than our one tiny port could bring in.
English and Japanese counterattacks. 27 divisions stuffed into an area supplied by one level-2 port!
The resulting out-of-supply modifiers meant we were quickly pushed back to the peninsula itself, which I nonetheless expected to hold in the same way Constantinople was holding, what with the strait and terrain bonuses and huge number of divisions holding one province:
Defense of the peninsula. There was some attempt to coordinate an evacuation of the surplus troops; it turned out that Gollevainen was not in the same TeamSpeak channel as the rest of the alliance, which made it somewhat difficult to communicate.
However, somehow this defense broke. I suspect that it was my error: I retreated some divisions towards the port, thinking to evacuate them, and I think I accidentally included all the ones that were actually fighting at the time, causing the loss of the battle. This was fairly disastrous:
Crimean pockets, with 30 divisions about to surrender. Most of them, fortunately, Japanese and therefore expendable.
In a similar vein we attempted invasions of England, which got ashore against very light opposition but tended to bog down in the Highlands:
Troops ashore in Scotland. Fighting against a light militia garrison – all the regular troops being busy in the Crimea! – the landing stuck, even with only local supplies, long enough to build a port on Skye. (It helped that there was a subsidiary landing in the Midlands, which was driven back into the sea but delayed reinforcement of the Highlands.) But that was also long enough for the militia to be reinforced.
We also invaded Spain, as I will presently show. But our main thrust was on the Eastern Front, where the petering-out of the 1938 Summer Offensive left the German army in a weak position:
Eastern Front, February 1939; the German army is attempting to retreat from the defeat of its offensive and regain its old defensive position north of the Caspian.
When the collapse came it was sudden. I had gotten enough troops out of the Crimean disaster to try a small-scale attack on the Caucasian mountains, and to my surprise this more or less worked; probably the Danish player had been surreptitiously extracting his best units from this quiet front to fight the various fires elsewhere:
Something close to a breakthrough in the Caucasus.
But meanwhile the Indian army, right glorious to behold, was rushing forward north of the Caspian, to the point where the Caucasus line could either retreat or be encircled. It may be that the Commonwealth players, busy with the Highlands, Italian, Balkan, and Caucasus fronts, didn’t have much attention to spare for this distant battle, and didn’t notice what was happening until too late; it may also be that they just lost too much in the Summer Offensive, and merely lacked the troops to stop the counterattack. Whichever was the case, from the Volga to the Oder there was very little resistance to be had from the German army; the Danes managed a slow, fighting retreat in good order, stopping in Finland, but the German part of the front simply collapsed.
June 1939: The Indians reach the Volga.
Eurasian theatre – about to become the European theatre – in mid-June 1939. We are about to invade Spain; I am preparing another small invasion across the Black Sea in support of a Balkan offensive towards Constantinople; and the Indian army is crashing forwards unstoppably. The Ural line is holding against our best attacks, but is about to become irrelevant; very shortly the Danish army will retreat from the mountains because the alternative is encirclement.
Balkan offensive, July 1939. By means of repeated heavy attacks along the Aegean coast I was able to get some exploitation divisions past the strong enemy lines here – possibly thinned out to get something to put in the way of the Eastern Front offensive? – and reach the Black Sea to surround the siege lines around Constantinople.
This is the third time we have invaded the Crimean, and we have become exceedingly efficient at it.
By autumn it was clear to all that there was no hope of any Commonwealth counteroffensive. The landings in Spain had succeeded and the Pyrenees were breached; consequently Italy had to be abandoned as the peninsula would otherwise be cut off. There was a brief civil war, and in December the craven Shrewsburys were the first of the Commonwealth dynasties to surrender:
British collapse and capitulation.
By then the German empire was reduced to its rapidly-shrinking industrial core, while Denmark was hanging on in Finland:
European theatre after the English surrender.
German situation shortly before the surrender. Nobody can accuse the German sub of not fighting to the end – he actually managed to put together a fighting line around these few hundred square miles of winter mud. At least they weren’t radioactive, as in another such case I know of.
At this point we ceased serious fighting, and just took Scandinavia without resistance so as to trigger the peace conference. We rather thoroughly partitioned the Commonwealth powers, creating a number of vassal states (mostly Fox, some India, a few UCA) from Europe:
Peace of 1940, unsmoothed.
This is actually quite nice as maps of Pdox games go, but it has a few remaining rough edges, so I went in and edited away the bordergore. Mongolia is now contiguous, at the price of losing a few exclaves. I decided that the patchwork bits in England-south-of-Thames were temporary occupation zones, as in Germany of OTL, and would be handed back to the kingdom of “Norway” (???) that replaced the old Shrewsbury empire in the Isles; however, Fox retains Ireland and Iceland. The game considered Egypt to be an ally of Venice, so at the peace those bits of Egypt that I had occupied in the first war and that hadn’t later been first conquered by England and then retaken by the NWO were handed back to Egypt; I corrected this obvious error in the case of the Arabian peninsula. Clearly, the subject of Arabia just didn’t come up at the peace conference; the Aiello kept their mouths shut and their occupation troops in place. The Egyptian Republic has perhaps twenty divisions in 1940 and its territory has, within the past three years, been conquered successively by Venice, England, and Fox; they are not in any shape to object.
Peace of 1940, rough edges taken out.
Venice is the big territorial winner here, gaining all the Balkans, Algeria, a bunch of the Caucasus, the Crimea, the English enclaves in Italy including Savoy and Nice, the Med islands except the Baleares, the Danish bit of Anatolia, and last-but-not-least the Fortress City of Acre. (Arabia? What do you mean, Arabia? Been part of Venezia-oltre-il-Mare since the collapse of Persia in the eighteenth century.) Fox also does well for itself, now controlling most of the European side of the Atlantic either directly or through vassals. Surprisingly, Mongolia is restored to something like its former extent, although the Indians have been heard to mention that it is not a real country and to suggest that it should be partitioned again. Egypt gains South Africa and a future free of domination by alien beings from Beyond the Visible Stars. Japan now controls the whole of the Asian seaboard and is contiguous to Arkhangelsk. Delhi acquires some territory in Kazakhstan (and Venice is prepared to negotiate about that panhandle, on a principle of compensation in equal population), retakes the English and Danish enclaves on its coast, and gains great influence in European affairs through its vassal states Russia, Scandinavia, Kiev (“Danish Empire” on the map) and Lithuania (“Baltic Empire”). The remaining formerly-German states are Foxy vassals; the “Byzantine Empire” (Aragon) is a vassal of South America, which also gains Gibraltar, some islands here and there, and full unification of its continent, which had some Danish colonies at the start of the war.
On the losing side, the English and German empires are entirely dismantled. England loses all its African and Asian possessions, Ireland, its Med islands, and its Italian exclaves; its European empire is split into the vassal states of Portugal, Aragon, and France. The main island of the British Isles is kept together as a single political entity, although obviously under new management; however this is the most densely industrialised bit of land anywhere on Earth, and therefore a somewhat more formidable power than it might at first appear. I expect that it will have an independent foreign policy within twenty years, whatever its treaties with Fox may say; though obviously they will be purely regional geopolitics, not the world-spanning affairs of the Shrewsbury empire. Incidentally, note the capital star in Christmas Island, just south of Indonesia; that’s actually England, original edition – we missed this one tiny province in the peace conference interface! Obviously, this is where I’ve stashed the Jackal and the experimental rocket-building programme, close to the equator and very far away from anyone important who might be mind-controlled.
Germany fares, if anything, even worse; no vestige of it is left and even its core area is divided into several states – from the Rhine to the Don, they are the Kingdom of Brandenburg (black), the South German Federation (light blue), the Kingdom of Poland (light red), the Lithuanian Republic (grey), and Kiev (light red). None of these is an obvious “main successor state” in the way that “Norway” is for the Shrewsbury empire.
Finally, Denmark loses its outlying marches in Russia, Iceland, and Greenland, and its colonies in Anatolia and in Asia, but retains its integrity as a state, unlike its Commonwealth allies. It will likely form the core of resistance to the extra-European hegemonies – possibly along with Venice, which might like to gain some influence among its neighbours itself, in which the first step is obviously to get them out from under the muscular thumbs of their American and Asian overlords.
We have ended the campaign on this natural stopping point, but history does not end. The victorious alliance has an obvious line of tension in Asian versus American powers, with competing satellite-state regimes in Europe (east versus west, in fact). In addition to this conflict, both Denmark and Venice have an interest in helping the satellite states regain their independence, or better still, to make them European satellites instead of American/Asian ones. The competing ideologies of the future of this timeline may be continental, pan-American versus pan-European versus pan-Asian, with Egypt pushing “Africa for Africans” as a sideline and thus clashing with both Fox and Venice. Venice also has some border tensions with India in Persia, where the annexations fell somewhat randomly. Whether any of this rises to the level of war is a different question, the more so after nuclear weapons; I would expect mainly peaceful competition, with few borders moved (Egypt is likely out of luck) but perhaps many regime changes in the minor European powers.
This being so, Venice should do very well out of the second half of the twentieth century; a republican oligarchy that values trade and industry above all things is well suited to a nonviolent struggle for influence, markets, and alliance. Moreover, Venice now controls most of the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, as well as the oil of the Arabian peninsula and the waterways (Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Suez Canal) by which it can easily be brought to Europe. Although the control is not absolute – Egypt, Kiev, and Aragon also have Med or Black Sea shorelines, and the two American powers each have one side of the Gibraltar Strait – still it is surely fair to again claim the Med as the Mare Nostrum of an Italian power. And, as the Aiello have known from the very founding of their dynasty, in the end all wealth comes from the sea.