AN: It's been a trip, guys.
May 1, 1942
Living in the Chancellor's residence came with quite a few perks and privileges. Despite all that, though, my favorite fringe benefit afforded to me by my position in life was the opportunity to drink Visha's coffee every morning. As had become habit, I enjoyed my first cup while I read the correspondence that had accumulated overnight and Visha busied herself making breakfast.
I had offered several times to take on my fair share of the food preparation, but Visha had always refused. I didn't understand what was so special about applying heat to ingredients that she felt her whole morning would be ruined by having it taken away from her but, well, any relationship involved a certain amount of compromise.
The morning news had largely been good over the last few months. General Lergen's winter offensive had been carried out brilliantly. As expected, he had a keen eye for enemy weaknesses and an instinct for putting his foot on their throat. Supplying our armies as they marched all the way to the Volga and then down to the Caspian Sea had been a stretch, but we'd more or less managed. Unfortunately, the communists had thoroughly destroyed the oil facilities as they retreated. It had taken a great deal of work to extract even a trickle of oil, and we still weren't even close to the old production level.
The good news was that while we were getting very little oil out of the ground, the communists weren't getting any. They also weren't importing any from overseas. The Unified States had declared an oil embargo after Miss Caldwell broke the news of the mass killings carried out by the communist regime against their own citizens. The Allied Kingdom's navy had managed to clamp down on oil from other quarters, even as their army was bogged down in Bharat. The communists had a little bit of oil coming in from Sibyria, but nothing like enough to carry out a modern war.
The shortage was starting to tell. When General Lergen had first pushed our forces further east, the Rus had responded with a vigorous counterattack. General Lergen had been expecting it, of course, and his brilliant "backhand blow" had inflicted terrible losses on the Red Army. After that, Russy attacks had been sporadic, overcautious, and ineffective. It might have been down to fear of General Lergen turning the tables on them once more, but a look at the reduced activity of their air force and its anemic responses to our bombing raids hinted at the best possible news: the communists were running out of gas.
Of course, there was still a lot of fight left in the Rus. It was a nation that stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, after all. Foolishly charging in would see massive losses inflicted on both sides, even if they couldn't drive their tanks or fly their planes as much as they might like. For the last couple of months we had largely been holding the line. The passage of time gave us time to build up infrastructure and stand up local governments in the area we had occupied, while I hoped the lack of oil and overall lack of success in the war would destabilize the Russy regime.
We did have a new option available that would shift the loss of life firmly onto the Russy side of the balance sheet. Our scientists had successfully detonated an atomic bomb in the remote Kerguelin islands. The first bomb had been hard on the local bird population, but would have little other effect. The second and third bombs in storage, together with the bombs we were ready to make every other month and soon every month, would together be enough to devastate the Russy Federation.
Our latest four engine bomber could fly high and fast enough to deliver the bomb with impunity. Much more so when escorted by the new jet fighters that were just starting to be rolled out on the eastern front. The only holdup in the process was my approval.
Jugashvili wasn't the sort of man to throw in the towel in order to prevent civilian casualties. There was no way that one or two bombs would be enough to end the war. No, we would have to deliver so many bombs and cause so much destruction that the utter futility of resistance became apparent to even the most fanatical communist.
My historical reputation was going to be bad enough as it was. The last thing I wanted to do was to add "mother of atomic bombing" to my list of achievements.
It wasn't only vanity that stayed my hand. There was also the question of the precedent being set. In my original world, only two atomic bombs had ever been used in earnest. One to show the power of the weapon, and another to show that it wasn't a fluke. That was enough to end four years of bitter fighting. After that, a taboo had grown around the use of nuclear weapons that, together with the rational structure of Mutually Assured Destruction, had ensured that four decades of global conflict between communism and the free world had never erupted into nuclear war.
If instead of two bombs that brought a war to a shocking end, the world was instead introduced to the idea of a steady rain of atomic bombs being used to gradually wear down the enemy's will to resist, the taboo against nuclear weapons wouldn't be nearly as strong. Elya was good, but she could hardly be expected to single-handedly prevent the rest of the world from developing their own a-bomb programs forever. I didn't go through all of the trials and tribulations of my political career just to see my place of retirement get nuked.
The morning reports showed that this wouldn't be a very happy May Day for international socialism. Our defensive lines had hardly been tested overnight. There were reports of unrest in the Russy Federation under the ongoing stress of the war. And, best of all, the Allied Kingdom had finally seen reason.
"Ha!" I said, laughing in relief. "The Albish have finally stopped shooting themselves in the foot."
Visha was busy making scrambled eggs but managed to find a moment to turn and look me in the eye. "What happened?"
I tapped the message in front of me with satisfaction. "They've agreed to negotiate with the separatists in Bharat."
I'd made the suggestion back when the communist rebellion had first started because it had seemed to me to be the obvious thing to do. The Allied Kingdom simply wasn't capable of keeping the people of Bharat subdued through sheer force of arms. They had been relying on co-opting local elites and cultivating a certain social inertia, but that game was up as soon as the commies started an armed revolt. Inevitably, the normal people of Bharat who wanted independence would look at the war being waged in their country and start to ask themselves which side they were on.
If the choice was between a communist regime ruled by locals and rule by foreign imperialists from half a world away, an awful lot of people would go red. That was why I had thought it was so important to change the choice to one between a communist regime and a democratic state that answered to local voters.
The Albish had fought hard against the inevitable. In the end, all they'd ended up with were a lot of dead soldiers and an entrenched communist state. It was a little disconcerting how much blood had needed to be shed in order to reach the sensible solution, but at least they'd gotten there in the end. With the bulk of the independence movement swinging behind Albish forces, the commies' days were numbered.
Visha scraped the eggs onto our plates to join the waiting bacon and brought breakfast over. "Will they really let Bharat go?"
"They'll have to," I said. "Better to do it on their terms than drive the whole country into the arms of the communists."
It was just impractical for an island nation of forty-five million people to rule over an area half a world away that held over three hundred million people. The Albish had managed it for so long thanks to a dramatic disparity in technology, but that sort of thing couldn't last forever. They could still extract most of the value they'd received from their colony by maintaining trade relationships, given a friendly separation. Pushing things until the whole region fell to communism would be a disaster.
"To think that this war would dismantle the Allied Kingdom's most valuable colony," Visha said, shaking her head. She punctuated the remark by taking a bite of bacon.
I took a moment to enjoy my first taste of the scrambled eggs. Visha really did have a knack for that sort of thing.
"It's just national self-determination," I said, gesturing with my fork for emphasis. "I'd say what's good for the goose is good for the gander."
Visha took a sip of coffee to wash down her bacon, then nearly caused a spill as she set the cup down with force. "It's like we've turned the Treaty of Triano back around on them!"
I chuckled at her enthusiasm. It was easy to forget, with her sunny demeanor, but Visha had been on board with my political agenda when it had been all fire and brimstone and hopeless warmongering. Sure, she'd been in it with me to scam an easy living off the gullible voters, but obviously a little bit of her support for our platform back in those days had been sincere.
"Not quite," I said, "the Empire is still gone, after all."
She leaned forward, breakfast momentarily forgotten. "We could bring it back."
"Don't be ridiculous," I said. "Just for starters, I hardly want to drag the Emperor back from Lothiern."
I was a little surprised at just how enthusiastic Visha was for an authoritarian government. To be fair, she had been born under an autocracy and then fled to the Empire. It was understandable that she would want to return the country to a governing form that she'd grown up with. An alarming trait in a democratic political leader, but understandable. I hoped she understood how impractical such a plan would be.
The Emperor had hardly covered himself in glory at the end of the last war, fleeing the country in our hour of need. Even the archest of conservative movers and shakers had never expressed any interest to me in bringing the man back. Not to mention the international reaction.
"We could make you the emperor," she said, not missing a beat. "Or, empress."
I laughed. "Could you imagine?"
If there was one move that would unite both sides of the political aisle, that was it. The liberals would be horrified at the renewal of imperial authority, while the conservatives would be horrified that I was usurping the rightful place of the imperial family. I wanted to get kicked out of office, not chased out by a lynch mob.
Visha pouted. "I think a crown would look good on you."
Fortunately, by now I had developed a defense to Visha's use of her cuteness to get her way. I smiled and leaned forward.
"You think everything looks good on me," I said. Reaching out, I placed a finger under her chin to tilt her head up so that I could steal a kiss.
One thing led to another and, long story short, it was a good thing that Visha's cooking still tasted quite good when it was cold.
We ended up running a bit late for the morning cabinet meeting. As a result, I set a brisk pace through the hallway. At least until Elya stood in front of us, blocking the way.
I came to a stop, giving her a look. Usually she knew when to interrupt and when to stay in the background. While I was in a good mood, that sort of thing evaporated quickly when somebody wasted my time.
"Chancellor, may I speak with you for a moment?" Elya asked, unfazed. "It concerns the result of a long term project that recently came to fruition."
I raised an eyebrow. For her to pull me out of a meeting, this must be important. Or rather, it had better be.
"Of course," I said, before turning to Visha. "Go ahead and get the meeting started without me."
Everyone in the cabinet knew their jobs. They could get by for a morning without my supervision. I trusted Visha to fill me in on what happened afterwards.
Visha nodded and continued on her way. Meanwhile, I followed Elya to one of the many secure meeting rooms dotted around the Chancellor's residence.
She closed and locked the door, then paused. It was unusual to see her so hesitant.
Finally, she cleared her throat and got started. "It's been hard to dig up useful intelligence from the Russy Federation."
"I understand," I said. "It's just the nature of the regime."
While the Americans felt it was better to let ten guilty men go free than put an innocent man in jail, the Rus took rather the opposite view of things. In that kind of environment, it was to be expected that Elya would have a hard time developing local informants.
"So, we decided to enlist some," she said, taking a moment to search for the next word, "unorthodox assistance."
My curiosity was piqued. Elya's operations were unorthodox by their very nature. For her to single this particular contact out as unusual, it must really be something. "How do you mean?"
"The revolutionary?" I asked. "Hasn't he been expelled from every country in Europe by now?"
Bronstein had been in on the Russy Revolution from the beginning. He and Jugashvili had been direct subordinates of Ulyanov, the leader of the communist revolutionaries. Bronstein had spilled more blood in those years than I had in my entire life, though nobody had ever nicknamed him the devil of anything.
After Ulyanov died, Bronstein and Jugashvili had engaged in a contest for power, a contest that Bronstein had lost. He'd gone into exile, bouncing around through nearly every country in Europe at one point or another. He never stopped writing, generally on two themes. First, arguing that Jugashvili was failing to carry forth the banner of international socialism in one way or another. Second, agitating for a communist revolution in his host country.
It didn't take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out why he kept being kicked out of one country after another.
"More or less. He fled to the Americas," Elya said, nodding. "He was pretty much waiting to die."
Her use of the past tense there worried me. Really, this whole conversation worried me. I sometimes wished I could have a subordinate who gave off the steady, reassuring impression that I had always given to my superiors.
"What did you do?" I asked.
"Our agents saved his life from Russy assassins," Elya said, pumping her fist. "We also encouraged him to do more than just write an angry letter in response."
"Elya..." I said, not sure where to begin.
"With all the civil unrest caused by the war," she continued, hitting her stride, "there was an opportunity. Once he found the fire in his belly."
"We smuggled a revolutionary into the country?" I asked. "A revolutionary whose main complaint is that Jugashvili isn't communist enough?"
This was exactly the kind of thing that turned into a cautionary tale. Oil or no oil, a Russy Federation filled with renewed revolutionary fervor would be a nightmare.
"It does sound dangerous when you say it like that," Elya admitted.
I sighed. "What happened?"
"Between his contacts and our capabilities, he and our agents were easily able to move through the country," Elya said. "Then, thanks to a stroke of luck, they were able to sneak him into Jugashvili's residence and neutralize the guards."
I didn't like where this was going. "You didn't..."
"He killed Jugashvili with an ice axe," she said. "Then after he announced what had happened on the radio and called for a new revolution, our agents shot him and disappeared in the chaos."
"I told you no assassinations," I said.
Elya smiled. "It was Bronstein who carried out the killing."
"Don't play word games with me," I said, some real heat in my tone. I fixed her with a serious glare until her smile faded and she at least looked chastened. "Do you know what will happen if word of this gets out?"
Elya paled for a moment, then rallied. "It won't!"
"Oh?" I asked. "Bronstein never talked with anybody outside of your hearing? Never wrote any secret messages?"
Obviously, Bronstein couldn't be trusted to keep our secrets. For a commie, things like gratitude and human decency were just obstacles in the path of the revolution.
"Ah, Bronstein was under the impression that he was being helped by Albish intelligence," Elya replied.
Well, at least she'd managed to do a little bit of forward planning. Even so, as a world leader I was strongly against normalizing the assassination of world leaders. At this point, though, all I could do was hope that everybody just assumed that communist regimes weren't covered by the ordinary rules.
I sighed again. "Why wasn't I told about this ahead of time?"
"The opportunity arose by sheer good fortune," she said. "If we missed it, it may have never come again."
I stepped forward and put my hands on her shoulders. Despite the height difference, she lowered her head in submission. How long a scolding would constrain her behavior, unfortunately, I couldn't say.
"Elya. Don't ever do this again," I said. I waited a beat, then patted her on the cheek. "Good job."
I stepped back and took a moment to think things over. As unorthodox and irresponsible as her actions had been, there was no denying that they would have a huge impact on the course of the war. The only question was how long it would take for the Rus to fall apart.
"What's the situation in the Russy Federation now?" I asked.
"Moskva is gripped in civil war," she said. "The army won't be able to stay out of it for long."
That was good news. The best news. I nodded, then turned to leave. Just before I opened the door, a thought occurred to me and I turned back to Elya.
"Your little social club in Londinium," I said. "One of the members should spread the news to the press about the remarkable success of Albion's intelligence services."
Having the support of the Allied Kingdom had been absolutely vital to our success in the war. A neutral Albion would have allowed the Rus to engage in a lot of mischief on the sea. A hostile Allied Kingdom could have devastated our war effort with a blockade and supplied the Rus with what they needed to fight us evenly on the ground.
Unfortunately, while I knew their contribution had been the key to victory, the Albish armed services had never had a real moment to cover themselves in glory. The navy had largely bullied the Rus off of the water with their presence alone, while their army had spent most of the war engaged in a brutal slog through Bharat.
Carrying out the assassination that ended the war would be quite a feather in their cap. I could only hope that at least the public would buy it, and any crazies looking for revenge would buy tickets to Londinium rather than Berun.
After I left the room, I made my way toward the ongoing cabinet meeting. As I walked, happiness started to bubble up, fizzing from my core and out through my whole body.
The war against the Russy Federation had been weighing on me for a long time. Even when things were going well, I'd known that they could turn around at any time. Not to mention that even the optimistic projections had been for a million Germanian casualties in a full invasion of the Rus. The dilemma of whether to avoid those casualties by instead introducing the horror of nuclear war had created a whole new sort of stress.
Now all of that was fading away. We'd won! By the time I reached the door to the meeting room, I was so happy that I found myself doing a little jig before I threw open the door.
I strode inside to find Visha standing up in front of the room. She was in front of a large map of the Russy Federation, no doubt explaining something or other about the progress of the war. I ignored all of that and took her in my arms, sweeping her off her feet and leaning in for a kiss.
She tried to say something at first, but after a moment she relaxed and started to enjoy the moment. As always, I savored the feeling of Visha melting into my embrace. Unfortunately, all too soon I had to come up for air.
I looked around to find a very awkward group of old men looking anywhere but at the two of us. I reluctantly withdrew my arm from around Visha's waist and clapped my hands, drawing their attention.
"The Russy government has collapsed!" I announced. "We've won!"
There was a moment of stunned silence, before they finally processed what I had said and broke into cheers. Nobody else displayed any spontaneous romantic gestures, but that was fine. Some forms of celebration were best suited for a private setting, after all.
Putting the thought into action, I took Visha by the hand and dragged her out of the room.
Carl Troeger watched intently as Heuss made a show of looking at the last card in his hand. Finally, he seemed to realize that Fieser was about to assault him if he didn't get on with things. With great ceremony, he set the final trump down on the crate they were using as a gaming table.
"And that makes Schwarz," Heuss announced, as Troeger went through the formality of tossing his own losing card down. Heuss claimed the trick, just like he had every other.
"Damn it, Troeger," Fieser said, "you can keep the ball out of the goal but you can't even take one lousy trick!"
Troeger shrugged. He thought the blame was shared equally between the defenders, but there was no reasoning with Fieser when he was like this. He was always the first to stomp off in a huff after a bad run of skat, then the first to break out a deck of cards on the next watch.
Captain Alspach interrupted the budding temper tantrum when he opened the door and stepped into the ready room. He'd been called in for a meeting with the base commandant earlier, so the rest of them were eager to hear the news. They'd been ready to go for weeks, but the mission kept getting delayed. It was just like the early days of the war.
"Well, boys, we have a final decision," Alspach said, "our special delivery has been called off."
"What?" Fieser asked. "Like, off off?"
"The Rus are busy killing each other," Alspach said, "so we don't need to drop bombs on them any more."
Troeger could understand Fieser's frustration. They'd been pulled off the front lines and worked like dogs to qualify on a brand new bomber, all in preparation for a special bombing mission. Nobody had told them exactly what they were delivering, but the new bomb was monstrously large. Their old Jo-88 never would have been able to take off with such a heavy payload on board.
Troeger himself had started getting used to the military's way of doing things. His only outward reaction to Alspach's announcement was another shrug.
"That's too bad," Heuss said. "I wanted to see what was so special about that thing."
They all glanced out the window together to look at the hangar where their bomber was parked. Even as they spoke, a swarm of technicians was going to work removing the special bomb that had caused them so much hassle.
"Tch, just as well," Troeger said, shaking his head. "You couldn't even steer it after it was dropped."
The others had largely focused on the part of the mission briefing that said they were dropping a brand new sort of explosive. For Troeger, though, the idea that he'd have to go back to an old dumb bombsight was galling. He took pride in his perfect record of putting bombs on target. He'd been willing to give it up if the needs of the war dictated he do so, but he couldn't help but be pleased that he wouldn't have to.
"Fritz has spoiled you, Carl," Alspach said.
"The eggheads might get all proud over making a better explosive," Troeger replied. "But what's the point if it doesn't hit the right place?"
He had never paid much attention to wartime propaganda, but one comment the Chancellor had made in an interview had always stuck with him. It was her pride in having a military that killed what it was supposed to kill, destroyed what it was supposed to destroy, and left everything else alone. He had in turn taken pride in being part of such a precise instrument.
Let somebody else worry about dropping bigger and bigger bombs. He'd rather spend his time making sure they hit the right spot.
Reminded by the thought, he pulled a little wooden figurine out of his pocket and ran his thumb over its head. It was his turn to deal. Maybe some of the Chancellor's luck would rub off on him.
AN2: This is the last chapter of A Young Woman's Political Record. There is still the epilogue to come, eventually.