(sorry for the delay, I've been caught up with IRL stuff and haven't had much time to write or do much besides 'work')
Damien Cottrell boarded the ACH Esmeralda, held a brief ceremony with his Chilean counterpart and lowered the Chilean colours to replace it with the ones of the British Empire. For a brief time, it would become the HMS Esmeralda. If things turned out right, then it would go back to be a Chilean vessel. If things turned wrong, then either the ship would spend a few months in British service, or it would sink flying his colours.
Damien still couldn't quite believe the orders given, but the US had forced their hand. Oh, not the United States per se, just Patrick Egan's machinations and provocations. He had interacted with his American equivalents in Valparaíso - on the few occasions the Chileans authorised leave for them - and they were just as frustrated as the Chileans and the British. They collaborated as much as they could, acting on their best behaviour while on land, and even tried to set the record straight when a San Francisco newspaper published a false story about Chileans stabbing US sailors.
But they were all insects in the grand scheme of things. Public opinion in the United States was already demanding justice for the fictitious sailors, the US Government was worried about losing face if they didn't get satisfaction from Chile, whereas the Parliament was demanding a solution to the Valparaiso Crisis. No part would budge, and so the situation escalated.
A few Chileans remained on the ship, to help the new crew on the unfamiliar systems. Not too unfamiliar, as all the systems were built in the United Kingdom, but enough to require some guidance. They were as well trained as their British counterparts, and the Esmeralda worked flawlessly as it headed to Valparaiso under the cover of the night. The ship was heading at full steam, as the rest of the Royal Navy fleet in Chile. All in all, twelve ships were about to meet in Valparaíso. Twelve ships against four. That was the point.
The situation had escalated, but if the Americans understood that their capacity to respond wasn't proportional, maybe this whole situation would end without bloodshed. The HMS Esmeralda made contact with HMS Daphne halfway towards their destination. Shortly afterwards they'd be joined by the HMS Pheasant gunboat. The HMS Blanco Encalada was the final ship to join the group, barely an hour before sighting Valparaíso.
The ships entered the port, but didn't lay anchor. The British vessels already in port started their boilers and became active. A few hours later, the remaining ships coming from the north would complete the task force. Some American ships tried to respond, but they were uncoordinated and indecisive, and soon stopped. That was good, they knew they were at a severe disadvantage.
HMS Warspite's heliograph sent a clear message to he USS Atlanta: "Prepare to receive parlay party". It wasn't a request, and it wasn't up for questioning. The Americans understood that and acquiesced. Within minutes, the Commander of the Pacific Station, Rear Admiral Charles Hotham, was on board the American ship. What followed were the most tense hours of Damien's life. He had experienced war before, but it felt different experiencing the start of one. Or to start one. He thought. One shot would be a signal to the others, and would cascade into an orgy of fire within seconds. He gave orders to unload the guns, but to keep the ammunition ready in case they were needed. He personally inspected the main cannons to ensure the execution of the order. If war was to begin that day, it wouldn't be on Damien's hands.
Morning gave way to noon, and then to the afternoon. The port itself went silent, and even the seagulls who scavenged what the fishermen and stevedores left behind abandoned the port in search of food elsewhere. Only the steam engines and the waves broke the silence.
And, without fanfare, a signal rocket rose from the deck of the USS Atlanta. A signal that negotiations had succeeded, meaning US ships would leave port within the hour. Damien Cottrell allowed himself to give a sigh of relief. No war today.
But it wasn't to last. At least not for the HMS Esmeralda. HMS Warspite ordered the newest ship in the Royal Navy to escort the American ships outside Valparaiso and into blue waters. Something about the agreed terms allowed them to retreat while maintaining superiority over their escorts. The Esmeralda was a good ship, but it wasn't capable of going against three modern Cruisers.
And if his ship was lost, it wouldn't matter much. Few would even know it was technically a British ship. It was the most politically convenient arrangement, and Damien Cottrell understood that. There was a perverse logic behind it, but one that would ensure no further loss of life.
Modern historians have described the Valparaiso Crisis as a progressively more primitive act of diplomacy. What started as a fairly conventional diplomatic impasse involving three countries ultimately ended in a naked threat of force as the British Empire concluded that any further defiance by the United States would be a signal of weakness against other Great Powers.
The United States saw this as an insult, and a violation of the Monroe Doctrine. It was a blow to the Harrison administration, a humilliation to the United States Navy, and resulted in the destruction of several careers as the machinations of Patrick Egan and Randolph Hearst, the young owner of the San Francisco Examiner, were exposed. It is a cruel joke that this diplomatic incident ended in the death of a US Senator, as George Hearst had a stroke after being informed his son was charged with criminal conspiracy and arrested. Patrick Egan would also be recalled to the United States, and face a public trial as the main culprit behind the crisis.
While Chile ultimately played little part in the crisis occurring in its waters, it would further deepen its ties to the British Empire. To which degree this was a voluntary development is still a matter for debate, as the political and military ties were tied to economic ones which, unsurprisingly, were mostly one sided. The most notable exceptions was the still small solar industry - which went unnoticed - and the seemingly unprofitable copper deposits in the Chilean north.