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For All Nails #99: Another Royal Audience

by Johnny Pez

Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, Inner 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?" FN1

"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 Channel Force. FN2 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 FN3 was abducted by Martians?"

"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 airmobile 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, even those of other nations."

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

Forward to FAN #100: How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

Forward to 8 July 1974: Matchmaker, Matchmaker.

Forward to Germany/Scandinavia: You Can't Always Get What You Want.

Return to For All Nails.