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For All Nails #84C: Succession

by Johnny Pez

Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, Inner German Empire
28 June 1974

Exterior Minister Joshua Merkel sat and watched as General Eric von Gellmann and Chancellor Adolph Markstein were carried out of the cabinet room, the former to a hospital, the latter to a morgue. Although the cabinet room was still crowded with people, not a word was spoken for a long time after the gurneys left. Finally, a few whispered conversations began here and there, and a low murmur gradually filled the room.

Merkel's attention was fixed on a conversation that began between Justice Minister Gerhard Pritzker and Interior Minister Hans Steiner. The latter's clothing was still stained with Markstein's blood. "We've got to choose another Chancellor," said Steiner. At this moment Merkel envied him his stolid temperament. The whole world could blow up tomorrow and the Interior Minister would remain calm and collected.

"I'm not sure if we can," said Pritzker, and worry lines had appeared on his normally placid face. "This has never happened before. There's no precedent."

"Well then," the Interior Minister countered, "we'll have to establish one, won't we?"

"I think," Pritzker said uncertainly, "that with the Chancellor's, um, ah..."

"Death," said Steiner firmly.

There was a moment's silence before Pritzker sighed and said, "Death. With the Chancellor's death, the government's mandate has expired. At least, that's the way it was done during the Confederation. I think we're going to have to elect a new Imperial Diet, and they're going to have to choose a new Chancellor."

"We can't wait for a new Diet to be elected," insisted Defense Minister Horst Voth, who was also dressed in bloodstained clothes. "We're in the middle of a crisis here. The Empire needs leadership, and it needs it now."

Merkel felt a discreet tug on his sleeve, and he turned to see his aide, Johann Gerstenzang, crouched beside him. "Herr Minister," he said, "word has just come from our consulate on Trinidad. Forces from New Granada have made a series of landings on the island. There are troops from the FANG in the capital."

The conversation among the others had stopped. Voth said to Merkel, "Where is Trinidad?"

"It's an island off the coast of New Granada," Merkel explained. "It used to be a Spanish colony, got its independence during the Bloody Eighties." He turned to Gerstenzang. "Has there been any reaction from the other powers?"

"President Moctezuma has condemned the New Granadans' actions. There's been no official word from the British or the North Americans," said Gerstenzang.

Merkel found the attention of the rest of the cabinet focused on him. He would have greatly preferred to flee to his house on the Bendlerstrasse and hide there for a month or so while he recovered from the shock of the day's events, but he knew that he would not be allowed to do so. The world was still turning, and he would have to keep up with it as best he could. Managing by sheer force of will to order his thoughts, he began to explain the situation to his colleagues. "Trinidad has been within the British sphere of influence since the Global War," he said. "It's not part of the United Empire, but there is a British installation there. If the British haven't voiced any objections to the New Granadan occupation, it can only mean that the New Granadans are acting with their tacit approval. I needn't spell out for you the strategic implications of an Anglo-Neogranadan rapprochement."

"What strategic implications?" said Finance Minister Angela Bitterlich.

A look passed between Merkel, Voth and Steiner. Whoever became the next Chancellor, the cabinet would be getting a new Finance Minister.

"Ever since the Global War," said Merkel as he continued his explanation, "there has been a balance of power in the Caribbean, with ourselves and our Mexican allies on one side, and the British and their United Empire allies on the other. Now that New Granada has reached an understanding with the British, or possibly even an alliance, it places our own interests at risk. Between them, the British and the New Granadans could eliminate or turn every pro-Mexican and pro-German government in Latin America. If they grow powerful enough, they could even force the Mexicans into neutrality, leaving us completely without influence in America."

"Herr Merkel!" At the doorway of the cabinet room was Wolfgang Dorff, Merkel's Under-Minister for Eastern Affairs. Spotting Merkel, Dorff entered and made his way to the table. An excitable man at the best of times, Dorff looked like he was about to jump out of his skin.

"What is it, Dorff?" Merkel wasn't sure he really wanted to know what Dorff had to tell him, but there was no point in putting it off.

"We've just got word from St. Petersburg!" Dorff exclaimed. "There's been an uprising! The Winter Palace has been occupied!"

"Occupied by whom?"

"The Novgorod faction!" Dorff continued to exclaim. "They've made a proclamation withdrawing the Free Russian Republic from the ARR FN1 and offering an alliance with the Scandinavians!"

"Bloody Vikings!" Voth swore. "Now we know why the Chancellor was assassinated. It's all part of a Scandie plot to break up the ARR."

"We don't know that the Scandinavians are behind the Chancellor's death," Merkel pointed out. "We don't even know that they're behind this uprising."

Merkel would have continued, but another man entered the cabinet room then, and Merkel recognized him as David Bernstein, director of the Imperial Security Service. He went straight to Steiner. "Herr Minister," said Bernstein, "our forensics team has completed a preliminary analysis of the rifle found with Herr Ducevic."

"What are your findings?" prompted Steiner.

"Herr Minister, the rifle is a Mauser Selbstladegewehr 66. The ammunition matches the slugs taken from General Gellmann and the Chancellor. It also matches the bullets that killed Oberwachtmeister Schuschnigg in Bayeux and narrowly missed Fraulein Fanchon in Paris."

"And there you have it," said Voth. "Who was backing those Breton separatists who tried to kill Premier Fanchon last year? Who has been sponsoring the Serb terrorists in Croatia? Who has been filling the Baltic with submersible-based missiles aimed right at us? Who else but the Scandies? This is only the latest in a long series of provocations whose ultimate aim can only be the destruction of the Empire. I say the time has come to put a stop to it, to show the Scandies once and for all that the Empire is not to be trifled with."

Merkel was beginning to get a sinking feeling in his guts. The crisis following the attempt on Yvette Fanchon had been hair-raising enough. This had the potential to be much worse, and now there was no Adolph Markstein to keep the Defense Minister in line. "What is it you are proposing to do, Herr Voth?" he asked, knowing he wouldn't like the answer.

"Ever since the Scandies started buying their submersibles from Kramer Associates," Voth answered, "the Defense Ministry has been working on a program designed to detect and track them. And in spite of the shell game the Scandies have been playing with their submersible bases, we have succeeded. We know now where every Scandinavian submersible is situated, whether in the Baltic, the Arctic, or the Caribbean. In forty-eight hours, I can have forces in place that will allow us to destroy every single one of those submersibles. At one stroke, the Scandinavian atomic threat will be neutralized." Voth projected an air of total confidence, a mannerism that had stood him in good stead among his constituents in Bremerhaven, FN2 and won him a wide following among the Imperialist wing of the Germany Party (which was of course the reason Markstein had named him to his cabinet).

"Herr Voth," said Merkel, "it is very easy to make promises of total success, and very difficult to make good on them. If you should launch your attack, and fail to destroy even one submersible, then the Scandinavians will have twelve atomic missiles to use against the Empire, and twelve German cities will pay the price for your failure. We must not allow ourselves to be swayed by the passions of the moment. This is a time for prudence, not rashness."

"The question of how to respond to this attack is one that the next Chancellor must decide," said Steiner. "Which brings us back to the question of who our next Chancellor will be."

Michael Schroder, aide to the late Chancellor Markstein, had entered the cabinet room during Merkel's remarks. Now, in response to Steiner's statement, he said, "Do you mean you haven't figured it out yet?"

"Figured what out yet?" said Science Minister Heinrich Kausler.

"Who the Deputy Chancellor is," Schroder answered.

Pritzker snapped his fingers. "My God," he exclaimed, "I forgot all about that silly thing!" Seeing the others looking to him for clarification, he went on. "Don't you remember a few years back, after those Ukrainians tried to kill King Frederick? There was a bill introduced into the Diet to establish a Deputy Chancellor."

Merkel's memory was beginning to stir. "I thought there was some sort of deadlock that kept it from being passed?"

"There was, for a while," said Schroder. "It was finally resolved by having the Deputy Chancellorship rotate among the members of the cabinet every quarter. The bill was passed on the last day of the session, which is why you probably don't remember it." FN3 Merkel nodded. Every year, the Imperial Diet ended in a marathon session where dozens of bills that had lain idle for months were hurriedly passed into law. Every session produced one or two laws on the last day that caused a scandal and had to be repealed during the following session.

"So who is the Deputy Chancellor, then?" Merkel asked.

Schroder shrugged. "I tried to keep track at first," he said, "but it slipped my mind after a while. If I remember correctly, the bill went into effect on 1 January 1972, and the post has shifted every three months since then." He began counting on his fingers. "Let's see, Defense, Interior, Exterior, Justice, Agriculture, Transportation, Labor, Commerce, Science, Finance ... ah ... yes, currently it's, umm ..." Schroder's voice wound down.

Merkel sat still for a long moment as the enormity of the situation washed over him, then slowly rose from the table. Exchanging helpless glances with Voth, he turned and walked through the silent room to the back wall where the Emperor stood. Bowing to him, Merkel said, "Your Imperial Majesty, could you join us, please? We need you for the investiture ceremony."

"Of course, Herr Merkel," said William. He followed Merkel back to the table, then drew his ceremonial sword as Angela Bitterlich knelt before him.

"Frau Bitterlich," the Emperor began, "in the name of the German Empire over which I reign, I now call upon you to accept the title of Chancellor, and to govern the Empire to the best of your ability...."

Forward to FAN #85: Mobile Locos.

Forward to 28 June 1974: Get Shorty.

Forward to Germany: A Little Less Conversation.

Return to For All Nails.