A Shift in Priorities - Sequel

Say what you want about the Ottoman empire ittl, their intelligence agencies have been 007 epic level, first with Muharip and now successfully taking all of the British nukes on Malta safely. That's something that takes an unheard of level of audacity and spy agencies around the globe will be using that as the ultimate example of an espionage effort gone right, just like how military historians and wanna be generals study cannae and the battle of austerlitz.
 
In this world, you only get what you grab for.
(Giovanni Boccaccio)

The Istihbarat’s activities on Malta had not gone undetected. SIM – the Servizio Informazioni Militare, the Italian military secret service – and SIS – the Servizio Informazioni Speciali, the SIM’s civilian counterpart – had indeed registered increased Turkish cabal. What exactly the Turks were doing remained a mystery, but the continued presence of a strong naval task force cruising between Crete and Sicily had raised apprehensions. When the modern carrier Seyyid Battal Gasi and her entourage had finally set course back to Kıbrıs, one had concluded that the Ottoman operation should be finished.

What had happened? Manifestly nothing… The Italian operatives, accustomed to parsimonious parliamentary resource allocation, couldn’t figure out what the Istihbarat might have done. The funding available to their Turkish opposite numbers simply exceeded their vision. – After some deliberation, one hence inferred that the whole affair must have been much ado about nothing – and returned to business as usual. – Adding Malta to the Kingdom of Italy remained the chief objective. For this purpose, winning the consent of the economic leaders was considered paramount.

In fact, Italy had a lot to offer to the Maltese: an integral customs area, free access to the COMECON markets, protection, law and justice, established democratic procedures, separation of powers. It seemed past belief that the islanders should choose something else. After all, Malta had belonged to the Imperium Romanum and later to the Kingdom of Naples – before the English had snatched off the isles during the wars against Napoleon. But the time of English dominance was past, at long last, well, almost... One had to beguile the Maltese to opt for Italy, perhaps offering some privileges might help…
 
No matter how thin you slice it, there will always be two sides.
(Baruch Spinoza)

When the Germans of Northern Bohemia had voted for joining the Kingdom of Saxony on November 10th, 1918, a very interesting situation had been created. These Germans, for many centuries loyal subjects of the House of Habsburg, were Catholic, while Saxony was proud to be the cradle of Lutheranism. In fact, the vast majority of the Saxons, with the notable exception of the Sorbs, were Protestants. However, to confuse matters even more, the ruling royal house of Wettin was Catholic, ever since King August the Strong had converted in order to gain the Polish crown in 1697.

But Saxony was a country rich in industries and mines. And the government in Dresden was formed by a coalition of social-democrats and communists, the latter party finding their most reliable bedrock in the Saxon industrial region. SPD and KPD were not known for favouring religious customs and practices. Therefore, the constitution they had designed for Greater Saxony had been one where faith had become a private matter, while the state had been made strictly laicist. This had upset the new citizens, in particular because the existing government had been elected still without their participation.

Albeit, with time, the arrangement had become more and more tolerable. Saxony had remained a country ruled by godless socialists, but the faithful former Bohemians, a minority of 900,000 in a nation of six million citizens, had been free to live their religious life – and to exercise their customs. – The Western Bohemian Germans, who had joined Bavaria, had been assimilated – and were feeling part of Bavaria nowadays. The Eastern Bohemian Germans, who had joined Prussia, had been added to the Catholic Silesians – and today were largely indistinguishable from the latter.

But the Bohemian Germans in Saxony were holding up the time-honoured traditions. And it was paying off. Tourists were flocking in; Bohemian brass-band music was popular all over Germany; Bohemian beer was world famous. In fact, one had managed to root Bohemia in this stretch of land between Marienbad and Leitmeritz. Czechia was Czechia, an indifferent Slavic country. Saxon Bohemia, though, was the real Bohemia – at least in popular notion.
 
Rast, your English is like my French: generally right on the money but sometimes, when you're searching for the right word... I didn't know that laicism and laicist were even words in English. My spellchecker has even flagged laicist as I'm typing this. Since I speak French, I completely understood what your meant, but outside of an ecclesiastical setting, I think the proper term in English would be irreligious. Atheist would also work, but considering the context, it would imply a situation where the ruling parties were actively trying to suppress religious activity.
 
You never fail until you stop trying.
(Albert von Einstein)

Good God! The Russians had botched it. Venergost had sailed past Earth. Helga von Tschirschwitz was appalled. How could this happen? Yurka, Vovik and Kolya had to be really, really sick. Achinsk said they had given all the required commands, but the spacemen had failed to execute them in time. Three Kuryér capsules were now chasing past Venergost. By all appearances, NASA was hoping to rescue the men – and the spaceship.

Helga wondered why the Russians hadn’t sent a welcoming committee. Hadn’t they checked how sick their spacers truly were? – Well, now it was too late. But at least they had had the Kuryérs waiting in orbit, ready to keep after Venergost. Helga understood that the Kuryérs had been fitted with launching stages, which allowed them to attain the required velocity. So, yes, they might work it out somehow.

But supposed they managed to recover the Venus farers, what then? If the three were that sick, how should they survive a standard NASA landing procedure? The fellows were taking landfall literally. That meant hard breaking manoeuvres – and a rough impact. Geez! Even RRA’s wet landing technique wasn’t suitable for folks too sick to press a button…

Had they thought of getting a Große Schwester into orbit? That was the ideal vehicle to transport sick folks back to Earth. It could even accommodate a small medical team, in addition to the patients. – Had they? Helga sprinted to the next telephone booth. She was in Switzerland, giving lectures about the moon landing to bankers and other financial jugglers. Prerow was still in hibernation, but the RRA’s Berlin bureau was answering her call.

Good grief! She had started something… Now, evidently the Russians hadn’t thought of the DELAG widgets. The blokes had been trying to solve the problem with the means they had at hand … Suffering from tunnel vision, were they? – DELAG, now led by Erhard Milch, were hurrying to get a Brüderchen and a Große Schwester ready. NASA was hastily dispatching a medical team to Lake Constance…

Actually, the lake wasn’t far from Zürich, just fifty klicks. Perhaps she should scoot over and offer a hand…
 
A joint German-Russian rescue operations? This should be interesting. What was the relations between the German Empire and the Russians like? A tense, and uneasy peace, or maybe something like OTL UK and US's "special relationship"?
 
Only one thing matters, one thing: to be able to dare!
(Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky)

Looking out of the window, she could see Brüderchen float in its berth. It was the DELAG test bird, actually not a Dornier Projekt SR aircraft, the standard Brüderchen, but a Projekt SRC 850, more powerful, faster, et cetera… Helga had never realised how mahoosive these busses really were. One wondered how something like that should ever lift off and fly... The berth was the place where the giant could be connected to external zusies, power sources and fuel supply lines – and where a crane could lift a Schwesterchen – or a Große Schwester – onto its back.

The Große Schwester in question was still at Meckenbeuren. Installing an extemporary hospital was possible, of course, but not an easy job. However, people hereabouts didn’t seem to mind the extra work she had inflicted on them. They were smiling whenever seeing her. Director General Milch had even taken the time to welcome her – and thank her. Yeah, it felt good to be back in business… She had been asked to assist. The Große Schwester had to be flown by DELAG pilots; nobody else in Germany could do that. But the DELAG flyboys didn’t understand Russian.

Helga did, what else. She was a Prussian from the lands east of River Elbe, where people were traditionally learning Russian as first foreign language. And her training as a spacewoman had only enhanced her ability to converse in Russian. NASA was RRA’s only serious contender, hence it was considered important to be capable of communicating with them. – Folks in the west, like these Württembergers here, were still learning French for first foreign language. A complete waste of time – in Helga’s perception, all the more since the pest had reduced France to a pygmy nation.

The Russian medics hadn’t arrived yet. Helga understood they would be accompanied by a NASA spacer. The crew compartment of the Große Schwester could accommodate four persons. That were to be the two DELAG pilots, the NASA bloke and Helga. The medics, three of them, would be crammed into the makeshift hospital, at least during the start phase. For taking on board the three Venus farers, one would have to open the load bay, the hospital, to vacuum. That was to be done by Helga and the Russian spacer, while the medics were sitting in with the pilots.

Takeoff was scheduled for tomorrow evening. By then, the Kuryérs should have caught up with Venergost. One Kuryér, the one to be coupled, transported three spacers who were to take over Venergost. The other two Kuryérs were to return to Earth’s orbit with Yurka, Vovik and Kolya. In orbit, the Große Schwester was to take over the Venus farers. A complicated manoeuvre, but doable. One had done likewise stunts during assembly of the Weizsäcker Suns. If Yurka and his buddies survived being stuffed into space suits, there was a good probability to get them on board the Große Schwester.
 
Good to see some international cooperation in this TL.

Interesting remark about Germans east of the Elbe traditionally learning Russian as a second language. This means as far as Hamburg. The Russian border was still almost a thousand km away from there. The POD is in 1917, I never knew there was before that a tradition of learning Russian so far west, and the forty years after the POD didn’t give the impression of such strong ties between Germany and Russia. But it makes sense seeing the strenght of Russia, UK, USA compared to OTL.

And I wonder whether it would be difficult to couple Russian and German spacecraft with no time to arrange compatibility.
 
What really matters is what you do with what you have.
(H. G. Wells)

The noise of the Brüderchen engines was utterly dazzling, even inside the insulated cockpit of the Große Schwester. The bus was climbing – since two hours… The DELAG pilots, Georg (spelled Shorsh in the southern German tongue) and Matthias, were alternating in napping and watching the instruments. In the back row, Helga was chatting – well, one had to yell – with Andrey Kharitonovich. Andrey Kharitonovich Klugmann was the NASA spacer sent to assist the mission. The bloke, a sturdy and stocky beefcake, was fluent in German; who would have thought? He was an experienced hand, had been aloft three times.

Learning that he was to deal with Miss Luna one-on-one had almost made him meek, though Helga had quickly come to keep affairs fairly ungirt. However, the lad wasn’t upbeat. He thought one was flying to a funeral. – Okay, he might not be that far from truth; Helga was well aware of the situation. Well, it couldn’t be helped. – The NASA medics weren’t sanguine either. One of the three was a woman, Vera Ivanova… something. She had been trained as a space girl, but had never been admitted to a mission. The other two physicians were ground fish. The three were tarrying in the load bay, counting their pills and miscellaneous remedies.

They had no clue what might be ailing Yurka, Vovik and Kolya. Their only hope was to bring them down to earth alive. That accomplished, a mob of capacities and consultants were immediately going to take over treatment. – Venergost had been caught up with; Kuryér-179 had been coupled to it. The Venus farers were still alive yet comatose. They were currently being tucked into their space suits – and were soon to be transferred to Kuryér-178 and -180, which then were going to return to orbit around Earth.

Helga could see what a navigational challenge all this had to be for Achinsk. – While Venergost and Kuryér-179 could be dealt with later, Kuryér-178 and -180 had to be decelerated, slowly so not to kill the Venus farers, then to be aligned for a new course that would lead them back to Earth, and finally to be braked, very carefully again, into orbit. The Große Schwester was then to approach successively both capsules, so that Yurka and his buddies could be transferred. – For Helga and Andrey, it meant two EVA manoeuvres in a row, most probably.

Georg and Matthias were optimistic: they could fly on sight. Achinsk only had to talk them to a distance where they could see the Kuryérs. Then they could station the Große Schwester near the capsule, so that the distance to be straddled would be less than one hundred metres. Helga and Andrey were unruffled; both had already executed similar EVA manoeuvres. Diving through the void was okay for them. – Yes, it could be done. But it also could easily fail …
 
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What really matters is what you do with what you have.
(H. G. Wells)

The noise of the Brüderchen engines was utterly dazzling, even inside the insulated cockpit of the Große Schwester. The bus was climbing – since two hours… The DELAG pilots, Georg (spelled Shorsh in the southern German tongue) and Matthias, were alternating in napping and watching the instruments. In the back row, Helga was chatting – well, one had to yell – with Andrey Kharitonovich. Andrey Kharitonovich Klugmann was the NASA spacer sent to assist the mission. The bloke, a sturdy and stocky beefcake, was fluent in German; who would have thought? He was an experienced hand, had been aloft three times.

Learning that he was to deal with Miss Luna one-on-one had almost made him meek, though Helga had quickly come to keep affairs fairly ungirt. However, the lad wasn’t upbeat. He thought one was flying to a funeral. – Okay, he might not be that far from truth; Helga was well aware of the situation. Well, it couldn’t be helped. – The NASA medics weren’t sanguine either. One of the three was a woman, Vera Ivanova… something. She had been trained as a space girl, but had never been admitted to a mission. The other two physicians were ground fish. The three were tarrying in the load bay, counting their pills and miscellaneous remedies.

They had no clue what might be ailing Yurka, Vovik and Kolya. Their only hope was to bring them down to earth alive. That accomplished, a mob of capacities and consultants were immediately going to take over treatment. – Venergost had been caught up with; Kuryér-179 had been coupled to it. The Venus farers were still alive yet comatose. They were currently being tucked into their space suits – and were soon to be transferred to Kuryér-178 and -180, which then were going to return to orbit around Earth.

Helga could see what a navigational challenge all this had to be for Achinsk. – While Venergost and Kuryér-179 could be dealt with later, Kuryér-178 and -180 had to be decelerated, slowly so not to kill the Venus farers, then to be aligned for a new course that would lead them back to Earth, and finally to be braked, very carefully again, into orbit. The Große Schwester was then to approach successively both capsules, so that Yurka and his buddies could be transferred. – For Helga and Andrey, it meant two EVA manoeuvres in a row, most probably.

Georg and Matthias were optimistic: they could fly on sight. Achinsk only had to talk them to a distance where they could see the Kuryérs. Then they could station the Große Schwester near the capsule, so that the distance to be straddled would less than one hundred metres. Helga and Andrey were unruffled; both had already executed similar EVA manoeuvres. Diving through the void was okay for them. – Yes, it could be done. But it also could easily fail …
Wonder how this would effect TTL's manned mars mission, if it ever happened. I assume it was prolonged exposure to zero gravity that caused the condition?
 
Science advances one funeral at a time.
(Max Planck)

White and blue Earth below was a sight more beautiful than everything else – except perhaps earthrise seen from the Moon’s surface. Helga felt elated. It was good to be up here again, even if being moved around by Georg and Matthias made you a little bit itchy. Their approach to movement in space was actually that of pilots flying in the atmosphere. For Andrey and Helga, both accustomed to being shot into orbit by ballistic missiles – and to be manoeuvring exclusively on command by ground control, it was quite disconcerting. Yet, it seemed to be working well, manifestly – and it was pretty comfortable.

One was waiting now for the Kuryérs to arrive. No. 178 had Yurka and Vovik on board, No. 180 Kolya. The Venus farers were still alive, that was the good news. – The Große Schwester had no airlock. That made proceedings a little bit awkward. Everybody had to wear a space suit. Georg and Matthias were used to it. But they wouldn’t have to leave their seats. The problem was the medics, the two ground fish. Vera Ivanova, the one doctor trained for space, would have to coach and police them. The Venus farers were already arriving in their space suits; they could be treated like baggage.

Only once all three Venus farers had been retrieved, one could return to aerated conditions. Until then, it would be vacuum and space suits from the very moment when Andrey and Helga were opening the load bay. Fortunately, everybody was already suited. One had only to screw on the helmets. – Well, and to move the medics into the crew compartment. The two ground fish would be strapped into Andrey’s and Helga’s seats, while Vera Ivanova was to hover between them. The Venus farers, once collected, would be strapped into the bunks destined for them in the load bay. – That was the plan. Helga thought it might work. However, looking into Andrey’s face she could find no hope there.
 
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Optimist – A proponent of the doctrine that black is white.
(Ambrose Bierce)

It was the hour of the radio. There were no pictures or features to be shown, hence watching TV was no bright idea – in fact, the programme was as dull as ever. And the newspapers were inevitably lagging behind, if only for some few hours. But you could listen to the radio, while doing something else – and keep up with events in space. Jochen Zeislitz found that many people were doing exactly that. The fate of the Venus farers and the ongoing rescue operation were thrilling folks in Danzig – and presumably all over Germany.

Jochen had been amazed to learn that Helga von Tschirschwitz was in on it. But then, Helga always had been quick when it came to grabbing a chance. Well, no grudge; it was good to have her participating. So, at least, RRA was not totally absent from the show. That DELAG should be in the vanguard was hardly surprising. They had been earmarked for rescue missions also during the construction of the Weizsäcker Suns. Their gliders were ideally suited for such missions.

NASA was not holding back any information, which was quite a remarkable feat for a Russian governmental organisation. Their engineers and scientists were providing a lot of explanations. And obviously, Director Kammler had managed to mobilise his scientific staff in time, including Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev, who were continuously commenting the drama. Therefore, the newscasters had a lot to tell. You really were getting delivered space adventure life into your kitchen – or office – or workshop.

It hadn’t been like that during the construction of the Weizsäcker Suns. But these had been long-running operations comprising a lot of routine movements. And, most unfortunately, the Moon Landing had been overshadowed by the English Pest. – So, this drama – or was it a tragedy already? – was the first space event to be reported in minute detail – and in real time. Well, it was stuff that was mesmerizing the audience: Three sick spacers coming home from a very long voyage, ailing from an unknown illness. And a combined rescue mission to save them.

Were the Russians saving – accidentally – RRA in the process? Jochen could see everywhere in Danzig how interest in space flight had been revived in the men – and women – in the street. But might the death of the Venus farers kill this enthusiasm again? Jochen was experienced enough to know that their chances of survival were scant – at best. Or would perhaps the tragic end of the Venus mission incite space zest all the more?
 
A pessimist is an optimist in full possession of the facts.
(Arthur Schopenhauer)

The bird had landed. But Generál-Leitenánt Mikhail Klavdievich Tikhonravov didn’t feel any relief. The problem had just been dropped on Russia’s soil. One had channelled the Große Schwester to Korobeynikovo airfield, where everything had been prepared for the reception. A hospital had been installed in the terminal, and the perimeter was tightly sealed off. A cosmical disease couldn’t be ruled out; hence, strictest quarantine had to be imposed.

The kosmonauts, a term Tikhonravov had coined and was sedulously promoting, were unconscious. The accompanying physicians were reporting they had already resorted to artificial respiration, which seemed to stabilize the condition of the three men – at least for the moment. Okay, one had rounded up Russia’s top medics and herded them into Korobeynikovo terminal; if these experts couldn’t find a cure nobody could.

Tikhonravov knew he had done all he could do; he had to wait now – like the rest of the country. His staff was keeping Moscow – and the media – updated without cease, of course. And Viktor Semyonovich Abakumov, NASA’s chief spook, was constantly updating Generál Sudoplatov, the almighty Okhrana principal. He had Boris Rauschenbach and Mikhail Yangel, the two whizzes who had come up with the Venus proposal, detached to Korobeynikovo. Let them face the music…

The good thing was that the rescue operation was a complete success. Venergost – with all the inestimable films and records – had been secured and was due to arrive in Earth’s orbit next week. In fact, the failure of the kosmonauts to fire the braking rockets had left enough fuel to manoeuvre the spaceship now. And the three men had safely been brought home. – Granted, the Nyemtsi had been required to lend a hand, but Achinsk had directed the operation.

What now? Would mankind be limited to Earth and Moon, because the kosmonauts couldn’t survive travelling the great void? Venergost was armoured with a lead liner, cosmic radiation shouldn’t have harmed the lads. Or had the solar storm changed this? Tikhonravov sighed. Patience… One would find out. But it was going to take time… And perhaps even Yurka, Vovik and Kolya might survive…
 
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What is the reason for the sickness? Too much time without gravity? Or a stronger cosmic radiation that overwhelmed the lead protections?
 
For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.
(Erwin Schrödinger)

It was an interesting development this mysterious space sickness. Did it imply that man couldn’t conquer space? Because the void was killing people? Or at least disabling them, as the three blokes weren’t quite dead yet… For this reason he should focus on Earth and Moon, the near abroad, so to speak. It was a reasonable limitation; for at present science and technology didn’t permit more. Obviously, Venus and Mars were out of bounds, until one had found a cure for this baffling space sickness.

Now, Earth’s orbit is important, no doubt. It allows almost unlimited observation – and it is a high place, hence easily to defend against everything that has to climb up. Weapons stored here can hit targets on the ground with only marginal advance warning time. – But you are also limited in your possibilities. Your stores will always be finite. And every single piece will have to be hoisted up, a very expensive – and ultimately vulnerable – process.

The Moon, however, is the prime position in the Earth-Moon-System. You can dig in deep – and your stores will always be full, because you can throw stones, lunar dirt. You will only need simple catapults, because gravity is so low. Large stones hitting Earth are a serious weapon, comparable to nukes, save the radiation. – But the position will be untenable, if you have no water. With water, you can grow things and survive. So, exploring the Moon and finding water has to be the centrepiece of any space strategy.

While at Korobeynikovo the doctors were struggling to save the lifes of Yurka, Vovik and Kolya, the pensioner Erwin Rommel at Münsingen was composing his star war book. Unhoped-for, the space sickness made work easy: there was no need to spin a yarn around Mars, Venus and the other planets. He could keep it short and simple, just in the way he had become famous as a military writer: go in, get on top, and ride roughshod.
 
While at Korobeynikovo the doctors were struggling to save the lifes of Yurka, Vovik and Kolya, the pensioner Erwin Rommel at Münsingen was composing his star war book. Unhoped-for, the space sickness made work easy: there was no need to spin a yarn around Mars, Venus and the other planets. He could keep it short and simple, just in the way he had become famous as a military writer: go in, get on top, and ride roughshod.
Umm this could be the Gundam of ASIP verse?
 
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