A Shift in Priorities - Sequel

Is it better to out–monster the monster or to be quietly devoured?
(Friedrich Nietzsche)

These Snow Pushers were a weird bunch indeed, mused General Oliver Law, while his train home was steaming through the dark gorges of the Balkans. He had learned a lot watching them perform. This was a kind of military action he never had witnessed before. Except for the guards at the entrance, nobody had even carried arms. You were working in a large room with many maps on the walls, sitting in a soft chair, sipping coffee. You were constantly briefed on the development of the situation. Decisions were taken in small discussion circles and communicated via telephone.

But it worked, things happened with incredible velocity. One hour and twenty–seven minutes from the decision to the death of a whole metropolis with 325,000 inhabitants. It was a world apart from the bush wars Law had fought. – Okay, in the WAU his friend Musa was the level represented here by the OKW, and he was the executive level, same as OHL, LKL and SKL were with the Snow Pushers. And the means one had at disposal were much more than modest compared with the German arsenal.

The politicians, realising that their words alone wouldn't save the nation, had tasked the military with working the miracle. – There would be an aftermath, the Snow Pusher generals had told him. Killing your own people always left a bad taste. Well, one would see. The fate of France and the Low Countries should serve as an example for what had been achieved in Germany. But the Germans being the Germans, the journalists and artists certainly soon would find fault with the proceedings.

It was a large tale: landing on the Moon and simultaneously fighting a killer disease – and winning both battles... However, Law didn't have the impression the Snow Pushers were appreciating these achievements. They were already looking what could have been done better. And were bracing themselves for the biting criticism they inevitably were anticipating. Weirdoes indeed...
 
"If we go to heaven they'll put us to work on the thunder, captain."
(Georg Büchner)

Even in normal times, the good citizens of Berlin were quite a breed apart. They were a gruffy and petulant lot, but also quite levelheaded – and surprisingly sanguine, when it came to making ends meet. The plague, obviously, hadn't changed that attitude. There was no joy for having survived, only a kind of cantankerous indifference. At the same time, however, the decisions and actions of the government were hotly discussed. The general mood was still far from uproar, yet deeply disgruntled.

Yes, it had been necessary to kill so many compatriots, by all probability. But shouldn't a government that had done such an atrocity resign straightaway? And weren't the armed forces there to protect the citizens, rather than killing them like lice? It felt all right and wrong at the same time. – And of course, there were the media reports from the impacted areas. The corpses were still there...

For the lawyer's office of Wilhelm Frick & Sons & Partners, Gudrun's employer, it meant a lot of work. German law didn't provide for substantial indemnities; so, suing the government for having killed relatives didn't promise worthwhile results. But there was an immense lot of unclaimed property whose ownership had to be determined. It was a bonanza for lawyers as the stuff was usually intact and hence believed to be valuable.

Immersed in her work, Gudrun learnt a lot about what had happened in the no–move zone. It was a cruel tale. All these people had been perfectly innocent. Folks had been shot for opening the window, others for trying to fetch some nourishment. – These stories were also making inroads in the media, adding to the nationwide bewilderment and unhappiness.

Yeah, Gudrun could sense it: things were about to change. Something different was going to evolve, although she couldn't yet tell what... The news from San Remo was that Dad's paintings were selling again. His visions of perdition seemed to be in demand once more. Ma wrote he had started a new cycle in vague blues and blurry greys, adding gas to doom and gloom.
 
Whoever attaches great importance to the opinions of people pays them too much honour.
(Arthur Schopenhauer)

Otto Schmidt, the German chancellor, was known as a headstrong character. As junior officer, he had fought in the Great War, and had been wounded several times. His prowess was as undisputed as his stolidity. Regarding NED, he had done his bounden duty and attempted everything to avert damage from the German people. Well, there had been casualties, tremendous casualties, that was true, but the menace had been vanquished. Hence, he couldn't understand why so many folks were unhappy with the measures he had implemented.

Even in his own party, the GDNP, men were now huddling together and whispering behind his back. What did they reproach him for? They all should be glad to be alive and kicking still. Couldn't they see what had been at stake? Without the rigorous steps taken, Germany today might look like Holland or Flanders. – Ingrate bunch! Spineless moanbags! He had saved the fatherland from the ice and from the pest. Or rather, under his policy–making authority these perils had been overcome.

It was the Kaiser who eventually expounded to him what was going on.
"We have taken enormous losses, dear Otto, far more losses than in the Great War, and in a much shorter time. This leaves a huge national trauma. It's like chopping off your hand in an accident. In the first moment, there's no pain, only surprise, then, after a moment the pain sets in and you faint. – In case of the plague, the lifesaving chopping has been done, but now, the pain is arriving – and the nation is about to faint. I cannot tell what will happen next, but I know that you are seen as the one who wielded the axe. And, dear Otto, I don't think you will be able to ride out this shockwave. You should declare sick and leave business to your deputy. Just disappear from the scene, go on vacation in a place where nobody knows you. – I do not urge you to retire, because you've done the right thing. But grant the nation time to deal with the pain – without seeing the axeman..."
 
Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke.
(Hermann Hesse)

No Moon bugs! Who'd have thought that? Quarantine had been lifted. And SMS Königin Elisabeth Christine, the hospital ship, had started the voyage home. England was still a forbidden area, but the Channel had been opened for transit again. – A bunch of journalists had boarded the ship just before the anchors were hoisted. The RRA plan was that they should interview and film the Moon Farers during the journey.

Two journalists had been assigned to belabour Helga von Tschirschwitz: a dude named Franz Dehmel, who was working for the Ullstein Group, and a free–lancing lass, Edeltraut Weißgerber. Dehmel was co–operating with a photographer and cameraman, a certain Eddie; they were keen to concoct several coverages for periodicals and a feature for newsreel and state television. Weißgerber planned to write a book about Helga, the Woman in the Moon.

However, after an initial interview with Weißgerber, Helga was feeling kind of pranked: the woman hadn't even asked about the space experience and the Moon landing. – Was her family afflicted by the plague? What had they been told about the plague while in space? What did she think about this disaster? – Curse the plague! If that woman intended to write a book about her, why then was she relentlessly blabbering about the plague?

Had anybody at home taken notice of the Moon landing at all? Or had they all been listening to the gloomy reports from the borders of the no–move zone? – It was discouraging. Perhaps that Dehmel should show more interest for space matters? She would see him tomorrow. – She was still tied to the bed. The medics said it would take three or four more days until her cardiovascular system had fully recovered. Bruno and Franz had already been cleared and were running – careful ever so careful – about, while Gustav was sharing her fate.

The medics were cute, but once they believed to be among themselves they were also chattering nonstop about the plague and the dead. Yeah, Helga could see that many folks had lost relatives or friends. It had indeed been a huge disaster. – But, hey, they had been on the Moon! Mankind had left Earth and set foot on another celestial body. What about that? Would someone please take heed?
 
The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.
(Winston S. Churchill)

As communist rule in Britain had ended, obviously, and, moreover, the British people had perished, just about, the threat to the asylee and famous writer of alternative history stories, Winston Spencer Churchill, had evaporated. The Okhrana guards had silently packed up and vanished. Whether the renowned author, struggling valiantly – as was his custom – to destroy Russia's supply of vodka, had at all noticed the occurrence wasn't entirely clear. Robert Vansittart, the novelist's indispensable aide, accustomed to woe, thought the information about Britain's ghastly fate had somehow filtered through the dazed shell, but one couldn't be sure when and how it would be processed.

Vansittart, old and sick, was hoping nothing would change. Life in Kazan was quite all right, medical care was first class. Britain had ceased to exist. The home islands were depopulated. Down the road, in some years, other people, most probably Norwegians and Danes, would start to settle on the eastern shore. – Gosh, Winston was seven years his senior... – Although the chap was less decrepit than one might assume seeing him lurch about... Vansittart was in loose contact with the British expat community in Russia, which concentrated around Sankt Peterburg. These gentlemen had just decided to stay put, a decision Vansittart sincerely was appreciating.

The next morning, however, the famous author was gone. Because the Okhrana agents weren't present any more, nobody could tell what destination Winston might be heading for. – Would his recent writings reveal something? Well, leafing through the pages, Vansittart discovered that Winston had processed the plague indeed. The Germans had bred it – and spread it in order to destroy Britain. In their reckoning, the island character of Britain would contain the pest. That part hadn't worked – and the reckless Teutons had destroyed France and the Low Countries as well...

Now, Vansittart had never had problems to give the Germans credit for perpetrating all kinds of devilments, but Winston's theory was so obviously... – Thinking twice about it, it was quite a plausible story, wasn't it? Why should the British destroy themselves? It must have been the Huns! Winston was right! – Winston would claim to be acting Prime Minister, this Vansittart could easily predict. And he would openly accuse the Germans of mass murder. Yes, that was what was going to happen...
 
How merciful can our Creator treat His creatures, even in those conditions in which they seemed to be overwhelmed in destruction!
(Daniel Defoe)

He was still alone. – Well, there had been this boy – or girl, impossible to tell – who timidly had approached the outer fence, but then had run away... He hadn't even got a chance to show himself. Had the dogs scared the lad away? Oh, they hadn't barked. Barking wasn't part of their business model. They were all eyes, ears and noses – and hungering for any dork stupid enough to enter their realm.

He had named them: Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo and Zeppo. They were Belgian shepherds, quite a snappish lot. But feeding them was finding company, someone to talk to, and they wouldn't object his gibberish. – There was a lot he had to tell them, because he had a radio now – and did know what was going on in the world.

The communist regime had only allowed possession of VHF radios, as these could receive only broadcastings from stations close by. These VHF things were crap today. But in the MI5 shack, behind stacks of yellowed forms, he had eventually found a radio capable of receiving MW and LW broadcasts. MW wasn't very yielding, but LW reception was fairly all right.

Fortunately he could understand German. That enabled him to listen to US and German broadcasts – and to compare them. To his surprise, there wasn't much difference. The picture presented wasn't bright, but both nations had evidently escaped doom by a hair. In Europe, France and the Low Countries had been hard hit. In the Americas, Cuba, the RUM and southern Mexico had taken the brunt of the pest.

Okay then, he would wait for a search party to turn up. It would presumably be a German one. Until then, he would hold the fort – ahem, the Seascale Site, which wasn't much of a challenge, as the Indians were missing. Sniffily, J. Robert Oppenheimer was scanning the skies. No recce plane to be seen yet. Okay, he could wait a little bit longer. – He checked his watch. Time to feed the boys...
 
Swifter, higher, stronger.
(Pierre de Coubertin)

What a shock! Hardly that he had had arrived in Switzerland and eventually found a decent accommodation, the plague had hit Europe. Nguyễn Ái Quốc had, of course, tried to get away. But that had proven impossible. Nobody had been allowed to leave Switzerland, and nobody had been allowed in. And these Swiss were unyielding, absolutely unyielding. Unfortunately, Lausanne, the site of the IOC, was located inconveniently close to the French border. It had been a very hard time indeed for Nguyễn the Patriot.

The IOC, to which Nguyễn had been elected as permanent member just before the calamity had begun, had never met during the crisis. In fact, the Olympic idea had been pretty much on the rocks – even before the pest. Well, Nguyễn had chosen the IOC just because of this precarious state of affairs. Making the idea attractive again would have been an accomplishment to his liking. But that had been before the pest. With France down and Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain virtually dead, the idea was all but gone.

There had been too many disasters. The national economies, normally quite interested in the Games because of the advertising made possible, were fighting for survival. The governments, normally quite interested because of nation prestige, were struggling to get along at all. This was, however, thought Nguyễn, a pretty Eurocentric – or should one say white racist? – view. What about the Ottoman Empire? India? Middle Africa? The old white IOC, the creation of a Frenchman, was obviously done.

But here was he, Nguyễn the skilled negotiator, ready to broker a new deal. He had already started looking for a new HQ site. Lausanne, that ghastly place, was out of question. Cairo would be nice, or Krung Thep... And of course, at the end of the day, who should be better qualified for presidency than himself?
 
Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.
(Henry Ford)

Even if the accusations raised by that tosspot Churchill were utterly ludicrous, the government had tasked the Abwehr to prepare for an investigation into the genesis of NED. When the expedition should eventually be launched was still unknown, but Werner Becker had already started to collect information. Since he had researched the potential English origins of GCG some years ago, he was well versed in the English bioweapon landscape. The irksome part, however, was that he had to co–operate closely with Professor Sigbert Ramsauer, the head of the OKW's biological weapons section.

Ramsauer, beaten by Professor von Misuku in the race to develop the vital NED antidote, was thirsting for glory – and perennially narky because the Middle African had received all the accolade – and the nobiliary particle. Therefore, he was holding back vital information and obviously trying to steal a march on Werner. In addition, he was an unpleasant person in general. But then, which decent and sane bloke would voluntarily deal with lethal micro bugs?

Werner knew the sites to look for: the Lister Institute in London, Downing and Trinity Colleges in Cambridge, and Porton Down, the military bioweapon agency. About Porton Down, which had only been created after the British Civil War, one knew least. Communist and military secret–mongering had combined to obscure all details. The Kaiserliche Marine had nevertheless named the man in charge there: Naval Captain Paul Fildes. Quite amazing: Ramsauer knew that name as well.

He was also attempting to get actual high–altitude photographs of the sites, but the Luftwaffe said he would have to wait another month or so. They were still in the preparation phase for England – and busy finishing the job in France and the Low Countries. – Well, the troops earmarked for the operation, paratroopers and special operations forces, had only just begun to train for the mission. There was no real sense of urgency. The English were all dead, and dead men were not supposed to taint evidence.
 
And now I fell as bodies fall, for dead.
(Dante Alighieri)

How do you deal with 820,000 corpses? Corpses, that still can pass on the pest. Corpses, that lie hidden in houses, slowly rotting away? Amsterdam was not the only town of the dead in the Netherlands, but it was the biggest one. – Okay, compared to Paris, it was a minor issue. But nevertheless, it wasn't resolvable, at least not with the means and men at hand.

Of course, there were rats and flies and many other beasts, doing their normal work – and thriving from it. Nature would eventually solve the corpse problem. But would Amsterdam still be Amsterdam by then? Well, most probably not... The area had been a swamp before – and would return to being a swamp. Even if the corpse quandary could be solved straight away, there was no population left to live in and keep running such a large agglomeration of houses and infrastructure.

Yes, one better concentrated on smaller towns – and on areas that did not lie below sea level. Maintaining the existing dykes was going to be impossible. At least one third of the Netherlands had to be considered lost – if not more, because the countless river dams could neither be maintained. The country had been all swamps, marshlands and forests at Caesar's time, and it was going to return to that state.

There would, however, be enough good land left for the few survivors. One would have to adapt to a massively changed world. Britain was gone; Belgium was all but gone; France was heinously crippled. Flow of goods and trade patterns were going to shift considerably. The Dutch were a versatile lot, they would manage, somehow. But it wasn't going to be easy... – and it was going to take time, a lot of time...
 
It is easier to stay out than to get out.
(Mark Twain)

With ample delight, Choe Kyung–jae was looking around and taking in the scenery. When had he last been here? Five years ago? Or only four? Vancouver hadn't changed much. Well, at least the old town hadn't – and the harbour. However, there were these – settlements? – all around, long rows of simple log cabins connected by muddy roads. The population seemed to have multiplied. Where were all these people working? He couldn't see any additional factories or workshops.

Now, it didn't matter. The Samsung crew wasn't coming to pretty up the capital of Cascadia; building roads and railways was their mission. President MacInnis was promising timber, ore and coal; Samsung and the other chaebŏl were coming to get the stuff – and to be able to do so were going to develop Cascadia's infrastructure. It was a fair deal, thought Kyung–jae. Infrastructure hereabouts was pretty poor. The vital rail line to the east was dead, and President MacInnis didn't want too close a linkage with the US.

The eastern border of Cascadia wasn't really defined yet, Kyung–jae had learnt. His job would be to push for Regina in former Saskatchewan. This would mean reaching out for the wheat fields, something his boss at home was rather keen upon, even if these wheat fields had been swamped and frozen to oblivion lately. The task would be relatively easy, in terms of engineering, because the Canadian Pacific Railway was already there, even if destroyed in parts of the train path.

No, it wouldn't be difficult, except for the time pressure. He had been told to hurry up. Cascadia, Korea's friend, had to be consolidated in borders as puffed out as possible – before the US, not Korea's friend, were clawing at the territory. His team was good, he was confident. One would set up the base camp and receive and store all the supplies and parts, while at the same time surveying the rail line and finalising the work schedule. Then, the work force would arrive – and one would start reconstruction.

He was curious to experience the weather beyond the protective barrier of the Rocky Mountains. There was a big glacier sitting on Baffin Island and the northern part of the Hudson Bay, he had been told. It was sending cold winds south and killing life on the Great Plains. Right now, the Cascadians were said to be – barely – holding Calgary, some seven hundred kilometres west of Regina. Well, one was going to see...
 
In the long run men hit only what they aim at.
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Collecting information about the German gassing procedures had been easier than anticipated. It was physically not possible to seal off the gassed areas until all traces of the gas attacks had been removed: corpses had to be recovered and interred, lines of communication to be opened again, vital installations had to be manned. Therefore, the agents of Okhrana and Rasvédka had had an easy job of sussing out how the Nyemtsi were doing it. If only all jobs could be finished off as neatly as this one, mused General Sudoplatov.

After the pathfinders had marked the drop zone, the first wave served to soften up the target. They would deliver special high explosive bombs designed to shatter roofs and window panes. Waves two to four were then bringing in the gas. They were dropping containers which contained masses of small bomblets. Each bomblet contained a tiny amount of liquid Posal, which would slowly ooze out and vaporise over the next few hours, depending on temperature and sunshine.

According to the calculations of the specialists, lethal concentration was attained with the third wave. The fourth just served to keep it up. Posal was best fed via the respiratory tract, but was also penetrating mucous membranes and – with slight delay – the skin. Persons with protective mask and gear could survive such an attack, hapless civilians had no chance. Underground shelters might work, but only if equipped with protective filters, as Posal wasn't volatile and would flow into troughs and slots.

The experts had also calculated how many bombers the Nyemtsi required for killing off a town of 100,000 inhabitants: not more than 400 in the second to fourth wave. This meant, they could simultaneously execute four such attacks, if using their long–range bomber force only. This was indeed a threat one hadn't known about. – Was it enough to exterminate – say – Moscow? Well, yes, with an abbreviated procedure of only three waves. There certainly would be survivors, but not in the town centre.

The Kremlin underground facilities were, however, protected against gas attacks. Thus, Moscow might be depopulated, but Russia couldn't be beheaded. It was good to know about this additional threat. Nevertheless, it didn't change the basic arithmetic of mutual destruction.
 
Slept, awoke, slept, awoke, miserable life.
(Franz Kafka)

It was a strange thing, mused Andreas Hermes, the acting imperial chancellor, that now, after all perils had finally been overcome, the national strength seemed to sag. Was it comparable to what had happened to the Japanese? They had ridden out the Far East War, survived the Great Qing Doomsday Device, come through the Honshu Earthquake, and weathered the rebellion of their Korean underlings – but then had faltered and shrunk into themselves. Overexertion? Exhaustion? National burnout?

Could the same occur to the Germans? The Great Thaw, the Freezing Cold, the Weizsäcker Sun, the Drought, the Pest – it was a long row of calamities. Had it been too much? Or were his compatriots going to recover? Well, the plague had been horrible, nine and a half million innocent fellow citizens killed in cold blood, worse than any war... Yet, the Weizsäcker Sun, even if it had caused the Drought, was a matchless achievement, as was the recent Moon Landing... Dammit! There was no reason for moping.

The neighbours in the west had been all but wiped out. If Germany now cracked, what should become of the COMECON? Russia would certainly love to gobble the Ukraine, the Baltic Countries, the Heymshtot and Evegstan, while Hungary and the Ottoman Empire would compete for dominance in the Balkans. The Russians and the Scandinavians might even fight for Finland, while – at the same time – the Scandinavians were taking possession of the British Isles...

No, it mustn't happen. Germany had to remain strong. – But how could that be achieved? – Hermes, like most of his colleagues in cabinet, was a conservative dyed–in–the–wool. His answers to the problem were those of ere–yesterday. However, he was at least well aware of this shortcoming. The old recipes wouldn't work. One had to find new ones. Or more precisely: one had to find someone who could formulate new ideas. Space flight might help, but it wasn't the key. Something else... but what? What could give a new heart to the Germans?
 
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