Sobel Wiki

For All Nails #97: A Little Less Conversation

by Johnny Pez

Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, Inner German Empire
4 July 1974

It wasn't until Chancellor Markstein was gone that Joshua Merkel actually noticed him.

In the eight years that Merkel had served in Markstein's cabinet (three as Minister of Trade, five as Minister for Exterior Affairs), he had come to take for granted that cabinet meetings always ran under an hour and always reached a reasonable consensus. A week serving under Angela Bitterlich had demonstrated to him that neither outcome was preordained.

As the current cabinet meeting dragged into its third hour while Social Welfare Minister Klaus Klima and Labor Minister Karl Bemmler wrangled over some obscure provision of a proposed workplace safety bill, Merkel wondered how he could have missed noticing it before. At the time, it had seemed to him that Markstein was barely there, hardly ever intervening apart from an occasional neutral comment. Now Merkel realized that those comments had been subtly calculated to deflect the conversation away from dead ends and towards swift resolutions of policy disputes.

How, Merkel wondered, would the Chancellor have dealt with the current death spiral between Klima and Bemmler? It occurred to him that Markstein would have seen to it that the point at issue (to the extent that there was one) was worked out elsewhere. Somewhere like, oh, one of those ministerial committee meetings?

During a lull in the argument, Merkel spoke up. "Move that the question be referred to the Labor Ministry committee on workplace regulations."

"Second," Defense Minister Horst Voth said at once. A moment or two passed before Angela remembered that this was her cue to speak.

"All in favor?" A forest of arms was raised. "All opposed?" Klima and Bemmler raised their hands. "Motion carries. Very well, Michael, what's next on the agenda?"

Schroder said, "Report from Defense Minister on status of Operation Bullseye."

Merkel was thunderstruck. The most important military operation in the history of the Empire, and they were only getting around to it now? He directed a questioning look at Schroder, who shrugged almost imperceptably and nodded slightly at Angela. Ach!

"So, Horst," Angela prompted him. "Have you found all the Scandinavian subs yet?"

Voth's answer was subdued, and Merkel felt his own mood rise in response. "Regrettably, Madame Chancellor, we remain unable to locate the Narhvalen and the Lutefisk. Aerial surveillence of the Scandinavian bases at Riga and St. Thomas continues, and we remain confident that we can successfully identify the remaining unacquired targets."

Merkel had heard from his own sources within the Defense Ministry that the Air Arm and Navy had been actively avoiding trying to locate the Scandinavian subs. The General Staff were none too keen on Voth's plan to take out the entire Scandinavian atomic submersible fleet at a single blow. They weren't nearly as certain as their ministerial master that they could find and destroy every sub. What was more, there was a definite fear that if the Scandies thought they were about to lose all their atomic missiles, they would launch everything they had at the Empire rather than be rendered defenseless.

Merkel felt confident enough to speak up. "Just on the off chance that the subs continue to elude our forces, how long do we intend to pursue Bullseye? Is there a point at which we will admit that the effort is beyond us, or will the current exercises continue indefinitely?"

Giving Merkel the skunk eye, Voth said, "I feel that it would be premature to establish a cutoff date at the present time. I am confident that as our forces gain experience in locating Scandinavian assets, Bullseye can be brought to a successful conclusion."

"But you do agree," Merkel responded, "that at some point a cutoff date should be established, at least in principle?"

Looking like he was sucking on a particularly sour lemon, Voth admitted, "In principle, yes, if the exercise does not achieve its goal in a timely manner, then we must accept the likelihood that the goal is in fact unachievable and that the operation will have to be discontinued."

"Thank you, Horst," said Angela. "Michael, what's next?"

Schroder said, "Report from the Exterior Minister on the status of negotiations with the Scandinavian Foreign Minister."

Once again, Merkel shot a glance at Schroder. Was he responsible for scheduling Merkel's report right after Voth's? The Assistant to the Chancellor raised a perplexed eyebrow back at him. Why, Minister, whatever could you mean?

"Well, Joshua," Angela said, "what progress have you made?"

Swiftly organizing his thoughts, Merkel said, "Ambassador Weintraub in Copenhagen reports that Baron Torvald has agreed in principle to the demilitarization of Swedish Pomerania. He remains adamantly opposed to extending the same status to Lithuania, but we expected that. Judging from Hans's report earlier, the information the Baron has provided us on the terrorist cells in Croatia and Hungary has been remarkably accurate and very useful. FN1 Finally, I am happy to announce that King Christian Gustav will be releasing a statement later today condemning the coup attempt in St. Petersburg and calling for the restoration of the legitimate government."

"That reminds me," said Angela. "Just how far along are we towards restoring the Muscovites to power?"

Merkel frowned. "Unfortunately, dealing with the Russians is always complicated. Theoretically, the ARR is meant to be a defensive alliance aimed at the Siberians and the Japanese. The member states aren't supposed to be invading each other, so we can't simply send in troops from Minsk or the Russian Confederation to restore the Legitimist government." Legitimist was the preferred term for the pro-Moscow faction in the Free Russian Republic. It irritated Merkel when he heard them called the Muscovites, which was what the rebels in St. Petersburg, or "Novgorod faction" called them. Needless to say, Angela never called them anything but Muscovites. "All we can do is provide them with military aid, and perhaps organize some 'volunteer' units from the other member states. For the time being the two sides are stuck in a stalemate, with the rebels holding Petersburg and the Legitimists holding the hinterland. And the longer the stalemate lasts, the greater the temptation for the Scandinavians to forget their promises to us and start providing their own military aid to the rebels."

"If they aren't already," added Voth sourly.

Merkel was going to point out that keeping Scandinavian arms shipments from crossing into the FRR was Voth's job, but he realized that saying so would only provoke another conversational death spiral. Instead, he agreed, "If they aren't already."

Voth, deprived of his argument, had to settle for grumbling, "All this talking back and forth with the Scandies may be fine for now, but just you wait till we find the rest of those subs. Then there's going to be a little less conversation, and a little more action."

Forward to FAN #98 (5 July 1974): Ambiguity Reigns Supreme.

Return to For All Nails.