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For All Nails #99: Another Royal Audience

Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
5 July 1974

Joshua Merkel had been hoping to leave for home by six that afternoon.  He'd
been wrapping things up in his office in the Chancellery when his phone rang.
The Exterior Minister wanted to ignore it, but he noticed it was the interior
line from Johann Gerstenzang's office.  Gerstenzang, he knew, wouldn't call
him at 5:56 pm on a Friday afternoon just for idle chat.  Merkel picked up
the phone.

"Yes, Johann?"

"Herr Minister, we've just received word from the signals office that King
Christian Gustav is going to make an unscheduled vitavised public address at
six o'clock."

An uneasy feeling began to creep over Merkel.  Chrissi (as the Scandinavian
monarch was known among the staff of the Exterior Ministry) had agreed to
condemn the uprising in St. Petersburg.  Being as averse to releasing bad
news as any other public figure, Chrissi would naturally seek to make the
announcement as unobtrusively as possible.  If he appeared on national
vitavision when all of Scandinavia was sitting around their sets eating
dinner, he was for damn sure not going to be telling his subjects about a
humiliating concession to the Empire.  Merkel felt certain that the King of
Scandinavia was up to something.

"Pipe the feed up to the cabinet room," Merkel told Gerstenzang, "and have
Mitzi Ehrlichman report there soonest."

Gerstenzang's voice had barely finished saying "Yes, Herr Minister," when
Merkel hung up the phone and bolted from his office.  When he reached the
stairs he took them two at a time.

Halfway up the second flight he passed Defense Minister Horst Voth.  It was a
tribute to Merkel's agitation that he didn't hesitate for a moment to call,
"Horst, come up to the cabinet room!  Trouble's brewing!"

By the time they reached the cabinet room, the sight of the two rival cabinet
ministers racing each other up the stairs had attracted a small crowd which
followed in their wake.  Chancellor Angela Bitterlich and Science Minister
Heinrich Kausler were there with several of their own people, and they all
stopped in mid-argument as Merkel, Voth and the rest poured in.  Merkel
reached the vitavision set on its stand in the oddly-shaped room's far
"corner" and switched it on.  It was already showing the Scandinavian royal
coat-of-arms while a voiceover nattered away in Danish.

"Mitzi," Merkel called out, "get over here!"  It wasn't easy for the small,
birdlike translator to make her way through the crowd gathering beyond the
cabinet room door, but she proved to have the necessary elbows for the task,
and was soon standing between Merkel and Voth.

The royal coat-of-arms dissolved into a view of a distinguished-looking
office.  Every national leader Merkel had ever seen from Carter Monaghan to
Spiro Panoutsopoulos had just such an office from which to make nationally
vitavised speeches.  Seated behind a distinguished-looking desk was King
Christian Gustav II, looking distinguished in a Scandinavian admiral's
uniform with a handful of medals decorating the left breast.

The King began to speak, and as the sonorous Danish flowed from the
vitavision speaker, Frau Ehrlichman translated the words into German.
"Citizens and associates of the Scandinavian Monarchy," she said, "I have
decided to take the unusual step of making this unscheduled broadcast in
order to tell you directly of a number of developments which affect you and
our great nation."

"I've got a bad feeling about this," remarked Kausler quietly.  Merkel
noticed that the Science Minister was taking down Frau Ehrlichman's
translations in an odd combination of shorthand and mathematical notation.

It was deathly quiet in the cabinet room.  The only sounds were the oddly
counterpointed voices of Christian Gustav and Frau Ehrlichman.  "The first is
to do with the ongoing crisis in Russia," Frau Ehrlichman translated, "where,
as you are aware, the government of the area is under military pressure from
an insurgent movement. I and my government resolutely condemn any and all
military and terrorist activities and call upon the contending parties to
hold their forces in place, observe an immediate ceasefire and send
delegates, under diplomatic protection, to a conference which I will host
next week, at the Royal Palace in Stockholm."

"Which /he/ will host?" exclaimed Voth.  "Why not just hold the conference in
the Winter Palace?" [1]

"My cabinet has instructed the Scandinavian Ministry of War to dispatch the
Ready Reserve Brigade - the Third Jutland Air Assault Brigade, with its
airmobiles and terramobiles - to Russia, to supervise the cease fire. The
Brigade has instructions to defend itself against any armed aggression from
any quarter whatsoever and has the full support of the Armed Forces of
Scandinavia. We call upon our friends in Germany to match our contribution
and to dispatch a similarly-sized force to become co-guarantors of the peace,
in order to grant the envoys of the two contending factions breathing space
to negotiate the separation of clearly incompatible aspirations and ideals."

Merkel was well aware that the Empire's military strength was stretched thin
as it was.  Wherever were they going to find something the size of the Third
Whatever-it-was Brigade?  Merkel glanced over at Voth, and was horrified to
realize the relief he felt that the Defense Minister was present.

"The second development is in the field of our Armed Forces. It is my solemn
duty to inform you and all the other viewers of this broadcast of the
unification of the strategic naval defense arms of Scandinavia and the
Republic of Taiwan."

Voth uttered an astonishingly vile oath.

"Henceforward, the ballistic missile submersible fleets of Scandinavia and
Taiwan are united under a single bilateral command and an attack on either
state will be construed as an attack on both. Our traditional neutrality
remains unaffected by this, of course, but the time has clearly come for
Scandinavia to take her place among the leading powers in the search for
global peace."

"Traditional neutrality my arse," Voth growled.  Merkel couldn't help but
agree.  Allying with Taiwan would place the Scandinavians firmly within the
English bloc.

"The third development concerns our friends in the Kingdom of New Granada. We
view with some approval the /rapprochement/ between the United Empire and
that Kingdom and wish the King and his people well in their mission to spread
democracy throughout the lands of South America and pledge our support in
that mission. They may rely on our help, should they need it."

And that, of course, was the logical next step.  Aligning themselves with the
English meant aligning with the New Granadans also.  Not to mention the
Siamese, the Victorians, the Cape Kingdom?

The German Empire, Merkel realized, was running out of allies.

"The fourth development," Frau Ehrlichman continued, "is to announce,
proudly, that Scandinavia has tested and is deploying a land-based mobile
atomic missile, the /Raven/ with a range of upwards of 7,500 nautical
miles. The missile and its technical base are designed to be highly mobile
and give our strategic defense forces the capability to devastate any enemy
attacking us, even after a so-called "first strike". We shall nevermore be
defenseless against the threat of atomic aggression."

So much, Merkel thought, for Operation Bullseye.

"My friends, tonight is an historic occasion. Scandinavia now takes its place
as a power on the world stage and we are privileged to be alive to witness
this. May God bless you all and grant you peaceful nights."

"That's easy for /you/ to say," said Voth sourly.

Merkel looked over at the clock on the cabinet room wall.  It was 6:07 pm.
In just seven minutes, Christian Gustav had turned the world upside down.

Everybody in the room began talking at once.  The babble continued for about
a minute before Hans Steiner bellowed "Silence!" in a voice that twenty years
before had cowed raw recruits into abject submission.

In the suddenly restored quiet Steiner continued, "This room is now off
limits to everyone below cabinet rank except the translator.  Get out!"
After that, the crowd thinned with marvelous speed until the dozen cabinet
members present were alone with Frau Ehrlichman.

"Herr Doctor Kausler," Steiner continued, "if you would be so good as to read
back the King's speech?"

Kausler did so slowly, with Frau Ehrlichman beside him offering suggested
alternate wordings.  When the Science Minister reached the part about the
proposed peace conference, Voth said, "This is unacceptable."

"Agreed," said Merkel.  "Chrissi can use the word 'neutral' all he likes, but
he's just declared himself our enemy.  If there is a peace conference, it
won't be held in Scandinavia."

"If?" said Voth.  "What do we need a peace conference for?  He just declared
the rebellion in Free Russia illegal.  If he wants to stop it, then he can
start bombing the rebels.  Protecting them is supporting them.  This is just
an underhanded way of getting his own troops on the ground.  We can't allow
him to do this."

"Can we keep them out?" Merkel asked.

"I doubt it," Voth muttered.  "If that dirty dog Christian Gustav says he's
sending in the Third Jutland, it means he's got them sitting just across the
border in Finland.  They're probably already crossing over into Free Russia
even as we speak."

"In that case," said Merkel, "we've got two choices.  We can either send in
our own troops and try to drive them out, or accept Chrissi's fait accompli
and agree to attend his peace conference."

"Either way," said Steiner, "we're going to have to find a unit somewhere to
send to Free Russia.  What have we got available?"

Voth's face did odd things as he pondered the disposition of the Empire's
military assets.  At last he said, "Probably one of the units in the
Sleeveforce. [2] France has been surprisingly quiet lately, so we should be
able to spare part of the 23rd Airborne Division."

"Better send all of it," Merkel interjected.  "I wouldn't put it past Chrissi
to decide that his rebel friends needed some extra protection."

Voth looked as though he wanted to reject any suggestion of Merkel's on
principle, but he couldn't bring himself to argue /against/ sending more men.
Instead he turned to the Science Minister and said, "If you would continue,
Herr Doctor?"

Kausler resumed his reading.  Merkel, listening intently, interrupted to say,
"Could you repeat that last phrase, please?"

Kausler dutifully repeated, "In order to grant the envoys of the two
contending factions breathing space to negotiate the separation of clearly
incompatible aspirations and ideals."

"I thought that sounded fishy the first time I heard it," said Merkel.
"Chrissi is describing the legitimate government as a 'contending faction'.
And 'negotiate the separation of clearly incompatible aspirations and
ideals'?  He's not talking about ending the rebellion, he's talking about
institutionalizing it!  He intends to split the Free Russian Republic in two
and set up a Scandie client state in the western half!"

"With his 'ready reserve brigade' on hand to prop it up," Voth added.

"Horst," said Merkel, "if you had to, could you defeat Chrissi's brigade?"

The Defense Minister angrily shook his head.  "Even if we sent in the entire
23rd Airborne, it wouldn't be enough to drive out the Scandies once they're
dug in.  We'd need at least two divisions, and by the time we could get them
there the Scandies would have reinforced the Third Jutland."

"Then," said Merkel unhappily, "we're going to have to play along for now.
All we can do at this point is haggle over details concerning the
conference."

Angela said, "Joshua, I don't understand this.  What on earth is Christian
Gustav doing all this for?"

Merkel shrugged.  "Adolph once called him a Norse Fanchon.  He seems
determined to muscle his way onto the world stage out of sheer vainglory.
And there doesn't seem to be anything we can do to stop him."

"There might be," said a voice at the end of the table.

Merkel turned to see Communications Minister Marko Kranjec smiling at his
colleagues.  "What do you mean?" he asked, though he wasn't sure he wanted to
hear the answer.

"Have any of you ever heard of a North American writer named Joan Kahn?" said
Kranjec.

Kausler said, "Isn't she one of those kooks who thinks that Amanda Harter [3]
was abducted by spacemen?"

"Something of the sort," the Slovenian minister admitted.  "She likes to spin
complicated conspiracy theories.  As it happens, I'm aware of a similar
person here in the Empire who is absolutely certain that Christian Gustav
sabotaged his father's plane three years back.  He hasn't been able to find a
publisher because, firstly, it is, as I say, nothing more than a complicated
conspiracy theory with no basis in hard fact; and secondly, we try to
discourage our citizens from launching slanderous attacks on royal figures,
either our own or those of other nations."

Kranjec's smile widened.  "However, he /does/ have this theory, and he /is/
looking for a publisher?"

Notes:

[1] The current headquarters of the "Novgorod faction" in the Free Russian
Republic.

[2] Three divisions of the Imperial German Army stationed in northern France
along the English Channel to guard against invasion by the British.

[3] North American aviatrix who disappeared during a round-the-world flight
in 1935.