A Shift in Priorities - Sequel

It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence, and solitude.
(H. P. Lovecraft)

Professor Sigbert Ramsauer had lent an ear to the live broadcast of the Moon landing while working in his laboratory. Well, there was – at least – success on this front. That woman had a resounding voice, but – unfortunately – she couldn't sing. Her a capella version of 'Heil dir im Siegerkranz' had been unsettling, and her 'Deutschland, Deutschland über alles' had made his flesh crawl, but not for national pride. Okay, it was perhaps a bit quixotic to hope that highly trained space travellers should also be excellent vocalists.

Nevertheless, these people had done their job. While he was still dabbling with the antidote... It was blooming, to say the least. The little rascal could easily be undressed, but none of his concoctions would leave the host alive. He was working with swine, they were pretty much like humans in many respects. For control purposes, he was using donkeys. His kill of both species was quite impressive by now. There was, however, one variation that hadn't dispatched the control donkey. He was labouring on this one currently.

The government had executed severe measures to stop NED's advance east. It would do for some days. But Ramsauer was under no illusion: the stop was only temporary. If he didn't manage to find an antidote, the pest was going to win. It would sneak around the no–move zone, and there soon would be more new centres of infection than the armed forces had Posal. – Indeed, the antidote was the only answer that promised salvation. He cursed under his breath and turned to the next series of tests.
"One must keep a store of common sense," said Tchichikov, "and consult one's common sense at every minute, have a friendly conversation with it."
(Nikolay Gogol)

One was lucky that Great Britain was – or rather had been – a closed political and economical system, learnt Dmitri T. Shepilov from the lecturer. This isolation had inherently delayed spread of the plague. If the country had been a member of the COMECON, the disease today would already be raging in Russia. – Yes, he had figured that out for himself already. But nevertheless, the Low Countries and France had now fallen to the pest, and Germany was in acute peril to fall next. What could one do?

Well, said the lecturer, an eminent Okhrana scientist specialised on epidemic plagues, one didn't have the pathogen. Hence, one couldn't research it. The Germans had it, however. They had vowed to transmit the formula of the antidote, once they had found it. – Wouldn't it be better if several independent institutions researched the pathogen and the ways to defeat it? – Yes in principle, but the Germans had already gained intimate experience in dealing with GCG, experience oneself didn't possess, therefore they should best be able to produce decisive results.

And if not? If there was no antidote? – Evacuation. One must evacuate western Russia. – But wouldn't that only provide another respite before the inevitable happened? – Now, air traffic was suspended throughout Europe, as was all other border crossing land transport. The Kazakh Republic was devoid of people. There was a fair chance that the pest petered away between Russia's western frontier and the Ural Mountains. It was quickly consuming its victims. If there were no new victims, it was going to die down swiftly.

Yes. But what about the Balkans, Anatolia, Persia, India? Wouldn't the disease invade through the backdoor? – There were very high and very inaccessible ranges of mountains everywhere. The chances of defending Russia were not so bad. It was worth trying, in case no antidote became available... – Had emergency procedures been arranged to gain access to the pathogen if Germany was indeed overrun by the plague? – Well, if that happened, one would be able to extract the pathogen just in the way the Germans had got theirs.

Did he sense a certain reluctance to co–operate? – It was a very sensitive domain. And Germany was Russia's main rival. There was absolutely no tradition of co–operation, on both sides. It was positive that they had pledged to convey the formula for the antidote, but one shouldn't expect more. – All right then, groaned Shepilov, let's prepare for evacuation. When should it start?
First, inevitably, the idea, the fantasy, the fairy tale. Then, scientific calculation. Ultimately, fulfilment crowns the dream.
(Konstantin Tsiolkovsky)

Ultimately, strapped to her on–board seat in the Raumkobold, Helga von Tschirschwitz felt the tension ebb away. They had done it! They had been on the Moon. And they were back, well, at least on the bus to Earth. Rendezvous had gone rather smoothly. Experience was worth a mint indeed. Franz had been at the controls of the conus, steering the gadget into orbit. And Bruno had been the chaser, moving the Raumkobold in on them. Now, having emptied the conus, they were preparing to get rid of it.

The spider and the flag were the proof they had been there. Perhaps a future generation would retrieve them and display them in a museum. Even the conus, soon to crash on the lunar surface, might be recovered one day. The first men on the Moon! Would their wax figures also be exhibited? Together with the lunar rocks they had collected? Would schools and universities be named after them? – Or would they be forgotten, because the pest had made tabula rasa on Earth?

The news they were receiving from Prerow Control sounded positive. The no–move zone was holding. One could only hope it was true. – Okay, they would splash down once again in the Gulf of Guinea, far away from the plague. A big hospital ship was going to wait for them, putting them in quarantine. Imagine there were little moon bugs travelling with them! Oh, you never knew... Three weeks of quarantine, holy grief!
False hope is nicer than no hope at all.
(Edgar Allan Poe)

The whole suit was godawful, but the goggles were worst. It was like walking around with a filled fish bowl in front of your eyes. Hans–Emil Sattler hated the kit from the bottom of his heart. It was a hot hell, sweat–inducing past belief. You couldn't speak distinctly – and you couldn't see clearly. The retard who had designed this piece of junk ought to be tarred and feathered – or even better, be forced to wear the crap for the rest of his life.

And yet, the suit was considered a lifesaver, because the pest couldn't get at you when you were wearing it. The ordinary soldiers weren't issued this gem; they had to apply the eight–feet–rule – and stay clear of all potential vectors. But Hans–Emil's unit, the scouts, had the task to warn strangers to turn back – and to investigate the remains of those who wouldn't listen. It was a ghastly job, and pretty dangerous. Many strangers were armed – and determined to force their way.

Wouldn't it be cleverer to simply kill all strangers? Hans–Emil had at first thought so. But then, many strangers could be persuaded to turn back. All of France was on the road. Only a fraction of them was truly infected, but you couldn't tell the difference – until it was too late. The government had decided that wiping out the Frenchmen wasn't desirable. France was a large country with a relatively small population. There was enough room for any group or individual to stay clear from everybody else.

Once the antidote was available, one would move forward and save them. Until then, they had to survive on their own. – But should they decide to invade Germany, they would invariably be killed. The no–move zone was extending for hundreds of kilometres, and everybody moving there was fair game. – Well, the message was heeded by many, but not by all. But at least one was delivering a fair warning.

Hans–Emil had been selected for the scouts because he was fluent in French. Now, speaking French inside the suit didn't necessarily warrant understanding on the other side; it was very tricky. But the suits and their air filters were indispensable for the scouts, as was the acid shower when returning to base. – The nasty part was frisking the casualties. Hans–Emil was glad that special undertaker units were responsible for filling the mass graves.
This might be the be–all and end–all here, but here, upon this bank and shoal of time, we'd jump the life to come.
(William Shakespeare)

The audience had been assembled in an emptied hangar of HMS Beatty. Admiral Edward Evans–Lombe had gathered all his officers. They needed to know and to understand. It was a fundamental decision. Just passing orders through the chain of command wouldn't do. He gave a nod to HMS Beatty's captain, who was in charge of the review.

"Gentlemen," he addressed his men after the reporting procedure was over "I've imposed this briefing to inform you about the operation we're going to perform as from tomorrow. – You know the British Isles have fallen to the plague. Your next of kin are dead – without a doubt. And the fleet is running out of food supply. Therefore, we must move to a location where survival is possible.

"Be aware that we are Britain now. Nobody else is left. And we do have a huge shortfall: we're males only. To ensure national survival we not only have to relocate to a place rich in supplies, we also need women. – That limits the number of places at disposal. Canada has lately been fully dependent on food deliveries from Britain. The country is hence not eligible.

"But there is a healthy, if small, population in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that can further our purpose. I've talked with the man in charge over there. They are out of supplies and ready to join our effort. – Well, the plague has arrived in the Americas, so, in fact, they are quite eager to get away. – So, gentlemen, where do we go to?

"Africa is out. Future Britons must not look like Negroes. – Malta it will be. It's not really large, but still free of the plague – and easily defendable with the means at our disposal. Moreover, it's British. Nobody can contest our move. We may even be able to recruit women from Italy and the Balkans, as long as the plague hasn't arrived there.

"The bulk of our forces – under my command – will secure Malta. Task Force Foxtrot will sail to Halifax and pick up all those who want to join us. The whole operation will start tomorrow morning at first light; it will bear the name 'Athanasia'. – Are there any questions?"
Britain is not a place. It's a people.

EDIT: Does this mean the Germans will now nuke Great Britain so strongly that it'll sink? :D
Probably monitor the place with overflights by military aircraft and offshore naval vessels. If something tries to leave they shoot it or gas it.
Force is never more operative than when it is known to exist but is not brandished.
(Alfred Thayer Mahan)

Distrustfully, Admiral George Creasy was ogling the civilian at his side. Former Fleet Chief Controller Joseph Mercer was here because Edward Evans–Lombe had insisted he should accompany Task Force Foxtrot. – There were no controllers anymore, as the SUP had ceased to exist. Creasy's fleet controller, Anthony Whelan, generally known as Zestful Tony, had been quietly led aside and shot. But Mercer and Evans–Lombe were getting along quite well. In fact, the two had – between them – worked out Operation Athanasia.

The Yankees might respond positively to a civilian ostensibly in charge, Evans–Lombe had told Creasy. One had to be very careful. The land–based Arrows were obviously out of action, and the ship–based ones could possibly be neutralised by fast US interceptors. Hence, Task Force Foxtrot's nuclear threat factor might prove to be zero. Diplomacy was required, and Mercer's obliging and communicative character should be helpful to sooth Yankee neurosis. – And screwed up the Yanks certainly were, as the plague had arrived in the Americas, adventive via the British colonies in the Caribbean...

Yeah, mused Creasy, there's a fair chance they'll simply nuke us into oblivion. Why should they let us come close? – But, on the other hand, why should they risk New York or Washington being hit by the one Arrow to come through? We're not going to land in Halifax, we're going to take folks on board. – But perhaps they were already too harassed to think clearly. Creasy remembered well how things had evolved in Britain. His family had been living in Essex, when it had happened. Communication had collapsed all the sudden. Well, everything had collapsed slap–bang...

As if Mercer had read his thoughts, the man turned to him. "We should soon start broadcasting, Admiral. Let's tell the Yanks that we come in peaceful mission. No bugs, no invasion, we're just coming to fetch some lost children. Let's be humble, let's be very polite. – Mind you, if affairs in Cuba and the RUM play out broadly similar to events at home, the plague is now out of control and advancing by leaps and bounds. The Yanks may well be panicking right away..."
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Well the USA has seen how the "no-go" zone seems to have stabilized things for the Germans. Between the Navy and Coast Guard they can at least try to simply sink anything that might headed for the USA from the Caribbean. On land, simply turning everything 15+ miles wide south of the US-Mexico border in to a death zone...
If it is a terrifying thought that life is at the mercy of the multiplication of these minute bodies, it is a consoling hope that science will not always remain powerless before such enemies...
(Louis Pasteur)

Time was running out... Professor Sigbert Ramsauer was feeling the pressure, although he was cloistered inside the high security area since weeks. The gassing of the greater Frankfurt am Main area had – for the time being – restored the no–move zone, but it had also annihilated the Farbwerke Höchst, reducing substantially the capacity of IG Farben to produce Posal – or even innocuous Sarin. And, horribile dictu, Bayer at Leverkusen and BASF at Ludwigshafen were also bordering the death zone – and might come off every moment...

The government had insisted on importing that vaunted Middle African specialist, Professor Eberhart Misuku, who – once upon a time – had found the antidote against BLAM. So, in addition to everything else, he now had this bloody Nigger running around and asking stupid questions all the time. It was enough to drive you mad, even without the pest at the gates. God be damned! None of the concoctions he hitherto had designed was doing the job...

Switzerland was battling the plague with utter determination, but Italy was falling short, it seemed. Of course, the Macaronis were finagling with the gloves off when it came to reporting, yet, Ramsauer could sense the imminent disaster. Once the Po Basin had fallen, the country was done. All their modern facilities were concentrated up there. – And then, the pest would wander north, east and south, into Tyrolia, Austria, Hungary, the Balkan Peninsula, even if the Rhine frontier was holding still...

While he was inept to come up with the antidote... Nothing seemed to work, it was enough to drive you around the bend... And, once more, that otiose Nigger, all smiles, was trying to steal his time. What was it this time? – "Dear Colleague, can you come? I know you're very busy – but I think I found something..."
Dear God. Frankfurt gassed. England, Belgium, the Netherlands and France gone. Germany, Switzerland and Italy going. Even if they find the cure now, it will take some time before the plague is defeated. The death toll might be over 100 million in Europe alone.
Even if the disease is eliminated tomorrow, you're going to have major major problems. Food supply is going to be an issue, and some key industrial plants are located in zones that have been depopulated...
Luck? Good grief, no. However, you must be able to perceive the vibrations of the little beasts.
(Professor Eberhart von Misuku)

At long last! The Germans had found an antidote – and were bringing forth the formula on all media. Dmitri T. Shepilov felt nameless relief. Russia would be spared the horrors of the plague. Of course, all Russian producers had already been ordered to start production of the stuff. The Germans said it was fairly toxic, more than two preventive doses per hale individual were not advised. For those infected but still without symptoms one dose should do. Those already suffering manifestations had at least a chance of twenty percent of surviving an antidote dispensation, contingent upon how weakened the body already was.

Well, the pest had truly ravaged western Europe. It had sprung from Britain indubitably, but one – the Okhrana, who else – didn't know why. Had it been an accident? Quite unlikely, as far as one knew it had started in London, in the national government district. That spoke for an attack. Yet, who had been the attacker? Who would be insane enough to use a biological weapon? Churchillians? Now, that Churchill bloke, who happenstantially was in detention in Kazan, certainly was a reckless fellow, but closely guarded by the spooks. This time, indeed, the man was innocent, said Sudoplatov.

Perhaps one would never know. Novy Svyosdniy Óstrov photographs showed that London was forlorn, in fact, all of Britain was forlorn. And Ireland didn't look any better. – But they could be resettled. The pathogen wasn't resilient without hosts, it didn't survive in the ground, it needed, at least, donkeys or horses, if no humans were available. – The British expatriate community numbered several millions worldwide. Would they return to rebuild the islands? – The Low Countries and France had been hit hard, but there still were numerous sealed areas holding out. Germany was more or less intact, had lost – give or take – ten million people, perhaps less.

But the crisis wasn't over yet, said the experts. All goods traffic had come to a standstill in Europe west of the Heymshtot and the Ukraine. – In fact, Russia could be considered the rejoicing third in this disaster. One had suffered no damage, all systems were up and running. Might he, Dmitri Shepilov, become the man to lead Russia in her greatest hour? Global Power Number One she was now beyond all doubt. Could perhaps the Ukraine be coaxed to come back under Mother Russia's robe?
The labours of men of genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely ever fail in ultimately turning to the advantage of mankind.
(Mary Wollstonecaft Shelley)

So, this African witch doctor had ultimately found the frantically sought–after antidote. And IG Farben was now turning out the stuff tank–truck–wise. It wasn't quite innoxious when ingested as a preventive: one guy had caught high fever and vicious lymphoedema, another one the shits combined with dire vomiting, and three more plainly the runs. Hans–Emil Sattler was feeling a little bit giddy, but fairly all right apart from that. At long last, there was no need any more to wear that dreadful suit. This fact alone was well worth upsetting one's bowels a tad.

One was advancing, slowly and cautiously, into France. The no–move zone had been suspended, supplies were flowing freely again. – The nice thing about the antidote was that there was no need to examine or monitor folks. Once you found someone, you administered the stuff – nothing more was required. The real problem was that governmental structures in France had collapsed. Hence, one couldn't just rush ahead and dispense antidote. Folks had to be gathered and herded together in makeshift camps. Only then, the Frenchmen could start taking over by organising their interior proceedings, even if still supplied by Germany.

The nice aspect was that his tour was limited now. In a fortnight, when the second dose was starting to wear off, they had to send him home. He was a reservist, and his family – and his employer – were craving to welcome him back. Until then, the unit would perhaps have reached the area of Reims, if the advance continued without greater disturbances. Hans–Emil thought that would also be the limit, as far as Germany was concerned. One had to restart the economy, discharge reservists and volunteers – and hope the French one had saved were able to solve their problems by then.

There was a lot of damage, because of fires and because of looting. But most of it was superficial. The basic infrastructure – roads, railways, power supply, water and sewage – was still intact. It shouldn't be too difficult for the surviving Frenchmen to restart their nation. One couldn't assess yet how many really had perished, but the camps near the border were already starting to overflow. Of course, there were many infected folks wandering about still. Those one didn't reach in time were bound to die – and that dire fact might soon lead to another onslaught, which could obstruct advance.

One had just crossed the Maas, or Meuse, as the French were calling the river. This was farmland, but with a lot of forests. Refugees were hiding in these woods. The Argonne Forest was lying ahead. Hans–Emil checked his ear plugs. You needed the stuff, because of the loudspeakers, which were incessantly droning. Salvation Army, he mused, we truly are the modern Salvation Army. Come, drink, and be saved...