Eternal Father, strong to save
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave
Who bids the mighty Ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep
Oh hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea
Lord guard and guide the men who fly
Through Thy great kingdom in the sky
Be with them always in the air
In darkn'ing storms or sunlight fair
Oh hear us when we lift our prayer
For those in peril in the air
- Navy Hymn
March 25, 1945 0645 Hours
Aboard USS Leviathan
Northeast of Sicily
USS Reprisal was going. The red rising sun dappled her haze-grey flanks as it rose above the horizon, lighting the crippled carrier. Smoke still poured from her wreck, in the places where Calvin and his engineering gang hadn't been able to get the fires out before the last vestiges of power and water failed. The great ship was settling onto her side, the outrigger island almost dipped down to the water edge as weakened bulkheads progressively gave in and vented their compartments to the sea. As water rushed in air roared out of the ship in immense gasps, like the dying breaths of a giant.
From the conning tower of the transport submarine Leviathan, Commander Guitierrez watched his ship bleakly. She hadn't moved since Calvin had cut her power nearly twelve hours before, save to drift with the currents and movements of the tide. They had fought to save her, but in his heart Guitierrez knew that they had all given up hope when her great propellers came to a stop. She had stopped being a ship, then, and become a slowly dying friend whose end could be eased but not averted.
His only consolation was that none of his men were going with her. The wounded had gone onto Riviera, Wickett, and Rolfe by boat, then as many of their comrades as could slide down the ropes and onto their decks. The destroyers had left for Gibraltar along with the crippled Altoona hours before. The rest of his crew had gone onto Leviathan, her sisters Kraken and Sea Serpent, and the converted Japanese floatplane carrier subs I-401, I-402. and I-403. Guitierrez had been the last one to leave her decks, twenty minutes before, and now Kraken and I-402 were hurriedly pulling the last of the swimmers out of the water. The message they'd gotten from Washington a few hours before said the Snakes in this area had thrown in the towel, but nobody wanted to be the one to test that.
As Guitierrez watched, the Kraken's crew hauled the last man aboard and the massive submarine swung around, heading west with the equally large Japanese boat in tow. Their crews hustled the last rescued men below and hurried below, ready to submerge at the first sign of an enemy plane.
"It's time." Leviathan's Captain lowered his binoculars and looked over at Guitierrez, who slumped forward against the bridge rail. The last of his men were aboard, the day was coming with the threat of Draka bombers. And Guitierrez, who had been Reprisal's captain for fifteen hours, had one last duty to do by her. He picked up the bridge phone, already set for the control room, and spoke in a flat voice.
"Fire one." He paused. "Fire two. Fire three. Fire four." With each number, Leviathan shook as she fired a Mark 14 torpedo at the doomed carrier. An eternal three minutes later, four white geysers of water sprouted along her flank, carving a new rent in her side. The red rays of the morning sun traced up along Reprisal's side as she rolled over, and then with a final loud rush of air disappeared beneath the sun-washed waves.
Commander Guitierrez came to attention and saluted as the last of his ship disappeared. A moment later Leviathan's captain helped him below, holding his elbow and steadying him as he would an old man who had just watched a dear friend pass away.
Men make history, and not the other way around.
– Harry S Truman
March 25, 1945. 0700 Hours Local Time
The White House, Washington, D.C.
"The situation looks like it's firming up, Sir." Captain Weatherly's voice was raw and cracked, but he wouldn't have missed delivering this briefing for the world. "The Draka forces in Europe look like they're either trying to break through to von Shrakenberg's enclave and join the capitulation, or they've decided to fight and die where they stand. They're spread-out enough that we think the surviving European resistance bands can oblige them. Africa's a mess, but it looks like most of the Citizen population is trying to withdraw back into Abyssinia Province. We project that the Draka will be able to hold a big enough perimeter there to keep their serfs from lynching them all before they can evacuate. The rest of the continent is sliding into chaos, Sir. We're going to need massive food and reconstruction aid for both Africa and Europe if we're going to avoid mass death by famine, never mind getting some kind of actual society working there. The Draka don't look like they're leaving much behind."
"As we anticipated." Franklin Roosevelt's voice was weak, but clear. "The aid convoys?"
"First ones have already sailed under escort, Sir. But it's going to take more than a few care packages. We're talking about a major sustained effort here."
"A major sustained giveaway." Congressman Carl Vinson grimaced from his place in the corner. "Billion of dollars, if not trillions, to get these places on their feet. Are you sure some sort of loan-"
"Loans only work with people who have money to pay them back." Vice President Truman's voice was dry. "The people in those places aren't going to have any in the forseeable future. Besides, it's not about money." Vinson opened his mouth, but Truman held up a hand. "It's about making sure those places don't fall into chaos. If we don't start fixing it now, they'll be spawning new problems for us in fifty years. Or the Japanese will step in and help them."
"So? They're our allies."
"Against the Draka, Congressman. The Draka are gone." Truman almost snapped that last, but quelled when Roosevelt held up a hand.
"Carl, Harry's right. The Draka are taken care of, or will be once we finish staking their Snake hearts out in the sun. But we have to start thinking about what comes next." He leaned back in his chair, taking a deep, shaky breath. "We have to start thinking about the rest of this century. Now, about those holdouts."
"Yessir." Weatherly looked down at his notes, glad to be back on solid ground again. "A couple cities in the Draka Police Zone have announced continued resistance, but with massive uprisings and no help coming from the outside we project they'll be unable to hold. The situation in Asia Minor is more worrying. The leading figure there seems to be a high-ranking Security officer named Louise Gayner. She has denounced von Shrakenberg as a traitor to the State and Race and called on Draka forces to rally to her in Syria Province. Turned their chemical weapons loose on any serfs that even looked at them crossways, and they appear to be planning a massive civil defense program. They mean business, Mister President."
Roosevelt shrugged, and coughed. "We always knew there'd be irreconcilables. Admiral King?" Ernest King nodded.
"My preference would be to hit them as soon as possible, Mister President. We could look at land-based bombers, but that's a stretch even if we can talk the Swiss into letting us station some B-29s from their territory. Setting up The Taos Project is moving to series production, but it'll be a while before we have any more atomic weapons.
"I'd say we wait six months. Harass them in the meantime, launch carrier raids, take care of the other Draka to make sure nobody else gets any bright ideas, and gather our forces. By September or October, Kearsarge should be through her trials. Then we'll load both United States and Kearsarge up, send in the regular carriers after them, and land Marines or Army troops to finish the job."
"Make it so." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Truman nodding as well. Roosevelt leaned back and closed his eyes. "Anything else, Captain?"
"Uh, yessir. One item." Weatherly flipped his papers over and brought up a message slip. "This came in from the Japanese embassy just now. Prime Minister Yamamoto sends his congratulations, and a suggestion for your speech announcing the events of the past couple days." Weatherly cleared his throat and read, keeping an absolutely straight face.
"Yesterday, March 23rd, 1945, a date which will live in history, the Domination of the Draka was suddenly and deliberately attacked by air and naval forces belonging to the United States of America…" Roosevelt's chuckle cut him off.
"Very good. Captain, please convey my compliments back to the Prime Minister, and remind him that no one likes a smartass."
Weatherly grinned. "Can do, Sir."
"Thank you." Roosevelt tilted his head back back. "Gentlemen, if there's nothing else I must ask you to excuse me. I find that I am very, very tired." After they had gone, he remained in the office, looking out the window at Washington. It was spring, and soon the cherry trees would be in bloom.
"So very tired," he repeated. "The job done at last, the danger all passed, and I am so very, very tired…"
That was how they found him, an hour later, slumped over in his wheelchair. There was shock, of course, and dismay, but not so much as there might have been. One of the White House staff went to fetch the President's doctor. Another for his wife Eleanor. Another called Vice President Truman, and then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
My father and I had been separated by a great dark river, ever since he cast me on its waters as a child in the hope that there would be a better place for me on the other side. As an adult, I had sought to know him as best I could from the other bank, peering out into the gloom for a hint of something that would let me fill out the bare sketches of memory I had.
Then that river vanished in nuclear fire. The Domination that regarded me as an escaped serf was gone. And in the terrible bright light of that new day, I found that I could walk across the blasted, dry riverbed and look my fill. I could look into his eyes, touch him, examine in the minutest detail what I had fought for so long to glimpse. And though the way was long and dangerous, I also knew that, perhaps for the first time in his life, he might need me.
So it was that I came to my father's house."
- From "Daughter to Darkness: A Life" by Anna von Shrakenberg
June 3rd, 1945 1200 Hours
Draka Citizen Force Enclave, La Spezia, Italy
Eric von Shrakenberg stood at the bottom of the gangway and faced the trio of hard men who had come to see him off. Two of them had skin black as eggplants, shaved heads and the expressions of wary lion-dogs, while the third had the swarthy skin and black hair of a Turk but the same expression. Serf number tattoos stood out on all their necks. Their names were Mboya, Kuntu, and Assad. Ten weeks ago each had been a Janissary Master Sergeant, the senior subject-race man in a division. Now they were the ruling junta of the mass of ex-Janissaries encamped around La Spezia, waiting their turn for the evacuation ships. Eric nodded to them, receiving no gesture in return.
"Gentlemen." He swept his eyes over them warily. "As yo' are all aware, this is the last Citizen Force evacuation ship. With my departure here, the La Spezia enclave will be yours for whatever purpose you see fit." He grinned ferally. "Thank yo' for helping me keep our little powder keg from exploding for the past months."
"Save it, von Shrakenberg," rumbled Master Sergant Mboya in a voice deep and rumbling enough to be an earthquake. "If you'd had a little less of that nerve agent, of if we'd had any suits, we'd have marched right in here and stuck poles up all your asses. Let yo' Masters-" he loaded that word with more contempt than Eric had ever heard, enough to scorch the air- "see what it's like to get Abdul the Turk's lovin'." Sergeant Assad grinned at that. Eric felt his own smile widen.
"Well, that is why we didn't give yo' any in the first place. In any case, missed yo' chance, hey?"
"You think so?" Master Sergeant Kuntu had a slightly more singsong voice, that spoke of a childhood spent speaking mainly Swahili. "You're not going far, von Shrakenberg. Just to Madagascar, right next door to our new homes."
Master Sergeant Assad took up the thread. "You are safe for now, Snake. The Americans have spared you, and now we must get our own houses in order with their aid. But make no mistake. You Draka have written out a long, long account for yourselves these past two centuries. In five years, in ten, in twenty or in fifty- we will be here. And we will come to collect. From you, and the traitors you take with you."
"Well." Eric shrugged. "I can't help it if some of yo' people decided to take my offer of Metic Citizenship to stay with the men and women they felt a bond to. And in five years, or ten, or twenty…I'll worry about it then. Maybe the horse will learn to sing." The Master Sergeants had no answer to that, and he thought he saw a flicker of respect- however grudging- on their faces. Best to leave before they thought of some way to even the score.
"Good day, gentlemen." With that, he turned and trotted up the gangway. The Odysseus had been a passenger liner before the war, plying the Mediterranean and Atlantic under the Draka commercial flag. Now, along with anything else left floating under Draka colors and a good number of ships on loan from the Americans, she was taking Draka from the remaining enclaves in Italy to their exile on Madagascar. Other ships were shuttling between ports on the east coast of Africa and Madagascar, making much quicker trips but moving so, so many more people. Even after all those killed in the nuclear bombings, in the riots and uprisings and breakdown of transport and industry after, there were still enough Draka left that they'd be hard pressed to make Madagascar feed them.
Well, they'd have to.
He stayed on deck to watch the undocking, then took a commander's privilege to commandeer the observation platform above the navigation bridge to watch Italy and his people's shattered dreams of conquest and rulership vanish into the distance. That was where Sophie found him, a bottle in hand.
"Eric." She sat down next to him, wrapped her arms around him. "What're yo' doin' up here?"
"Drinkin'." His voice was only minimally slurred. "Toastin' the end of the Domination. Whatever we make where we goin…it won't be the Domination. Can't be." He lifted the bottle. "Drink wit' me? Last of a good vintage." It was, too- Oakenwald Kijaffa, 1944, the last there would ever be. This year's crop of cherries had died from the fallout off the Archona bomb, and Oakenwald had burned to the ground.
Sophie shook her head. "Love to. Can't."
"Can't?" Eric looked over at her, one blond eyebrow arched. "We off duty til we get to Madagascar, Decurion. Even were the Yankees inclined to let me command anyone or anything, we not set up fo' it here. Once we land on Madagascar they talkin' about dragooning me into running the whole show, and that oughta be two full time jobs fo' the rest of our days." He pushed the bottle under her nose. "C'mon. Drink wit' me to the end of Empire."
"Thor God of Thunder." Sophie batted the bottle away, her eyes blazing with that familiar annoyance as she stood, hands on hips, looking down at him. "Eric, I swear that sometimes yo' are the densest, most oblivious human bein' on the planet. How yo' made it through childhood without you stepped on a black mamba snake lookin' up at the clouds is a mystery to me." When he still looked puzzled, she leaned down. "I can't drink, Eric." Further. "Been throwin' up in the mornings, Eric."
Now his face probably looked like he'd been hit between the eyes with a baseball bat. "Yo' mean you-" Sophie giggled.
"Well, it does happen, Strategos, when two people do what we been doin' these past four years. Hope I don' have to explain that part to yo' too." Eric goggled for a minute, then did the only thing that came to mind. He stumbled up to one knee and looked up at her.
"Sophie, will you marry me?"
She looked up Heavenward. "Mother Freya, now he asks. I thought I was goin' to have to thump him over the head, drag him to the altar, an' make it a Holbars wedding." Then she looked down at him and smiled, warm and genuine before they tumbled down together in a comfortable heap. "Of course I will, Eric."
He raised the bottle and took down the last swallow of brandy from his father's plantation. The other drinks had been to the past. This one was to the future, as Odysseus sailed into it.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while assigned to Heavy Attack Squadron One, United States Navy on March 23rd-24th, 1945. On the first night of the war Commander Rosemont's dynamic and inspiring leadership was instrumental in allowing his crew to destroy a heavily defended enemy target crucial to the success of the overall strike effort. After returning to his ship and finding himself the senior officer among his squadron's survivors, Cmdr Rosemont unhesitatingly assumed command and lead his men through the day of enemy air attacks that followed. That night, he devised an attack plan to penetrate enemy air defenses and then personally lead his squadron on a mission that resulted in the destruction of the last enemy-held port in Europe. Commander Rosemont's skill, courage, and outstanding combat leadership were in the highest traditions of the Naval Service.
-Citation accompanying award of Medal of Honor to Commander Julius Rosemont, USN.
August 9th, 1948
Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, United States
Commander Julius Rosemont stood at attention on the review stand, under the great grey bulk of the ship that he knew would be his home for the next several years. Around him, dressed like him in their frost-white tropical uniforms, were the men of the reconstituted VAH-1. Saint-Laurence and his crew were still there, and one or two of the replacement crews had moved up to the regulars and could still talk about those terrifying days in the Mediterranean aboard the old Reprisal. The rest were new. Some had flown with the Harbingers of VAH-2 in MONGOOSE or against Gayner's holdouts in '46, but most of them were new recruits or transfers from other branches of the service. One or two foreign volunteers here and there, but those that had survived MONGOOSE had mostly been quietly encouraged to leave the Service in the months afterwards.
For a moment, the sight made his vision waver. Applebaum. Dortmunder. Yarrow. Quint Flannery. They all deserved to be here more than he did. Where were they?
Gone. He knew that. And the only thing one Julius Rosemont could do about it was to soldier on and make that fact worth something.
He relaxed slightly, letting his weight onto his heels at parade rest. The ceremony was almost over, and he caught Kenichi Fujita's eye among the black-suited Japanese Navy officers in attendance. Ever irrepressible, Fuji winked and gave his old pilot a grin. Rosemont stifled an answering smile, and just nodded his head. Relations between the U.S. and Japan might be worsening every time you opened a newspaper or read an intel bulletin, but tonight none of that would matter. Tonight they'd go out, paint the town, and just remember.
The new commander of VAH-1 turned his attention back to the speaker. He didn't want to miss this part. Mrs. Maura Applebaum was speaking to the crowd. She gave the crowd a smile, and Rosemont smiled to himself. She really was doing better. He'd made sure of it, before allowing her to accept this. Applebaum had been one of his, and VAH-1 looked after its own. He'd made it a point to let all the new men know that.
"…and so I am pleased to launch this new ship, to take up the work my husband began. I know that he would have been proud to serve on her, the first of a new type of aircraft carrier able to perform every mission. A larger carrier. A super carrier.
"But I know you didn't all come here to let me talk, so let me get on with it."
The ship's sponsor lifted her bottle of champagne and swung it in a wide arc. The glass shattered on the supercarrier's grey steel bow, and over the roar of the crowd Rosemont could barely hear her voice as its immense hull slid into the river.
"I christen thee Reprisal!"
It is rarely given to we mere mortals to know when a great age in our history has passed, and a new one begun. Usually history is a slow process, like the upthrusting and wearing away of mountains, and we can only see its ebb and flow from the safe distance of decades or centuries.
The passing of the Domination of the Draka was not one of those times. In two nights and one day, an empire that had spread itself over more than a third of the planet and promised to seize much more died. We all know what came after- the Hard Years, the chaos and famines, the pointless wars as new nations carved themselves out of the corpse of the Domination. But I believe we think too little about those two nights, and the dozen or so airplanes, that levered the world onto a different course.
Oh, we sentimentalize, and wrap it in Hollywood glamour, but we don't think. We don't think about an entire continent crushed under a boot, and the promise of more to follow. And we don't think of a people- my people- caught in a web of terrible choices and crimes that had forced them on a never ending cycle of conquest, oppression, and human misery. We don't think of all the human beings wasting their potential as slaves or slavemasters, and of the few dozen men who woke them from two centuries of nightmare and gave them the one thing they thought they would never have. Choices.
They must have made a mighty roar, those Allison turboprops, thundering over the Mediterranean and the African veldt that night. They must have, for their echoes have yet to vanish from this Earth."
-Yolande Ingolfsson, Nobel Prize in Literature Lecture, 1984