For All Nails #49: Fallout
By Johnny Pez
Adolph Markstein, Chancellor of the German Empire, had been quite, quite fascinated with Kurt Bendler's Social Spaces when it first appeared in 1955. He had, as the alienists said, internalized the Swiss ethnologist's ideas to the extent that he was no longer conscious of applying them unless he stopped and analyzed his own actions, and who had time for that sort of thing these days?
Markstein rarely invited his subordinates into his own office, and this lent an air of inviolability to it, and thus by extension to himself as the office's occupant. It made the Chancellorship seem much more powerful than it in fact was, and thus by the peculiar alchemy of human expectations the appearance of power was transmuted into the reality of power, so that Markstein became, paradoxically, more powerful than he really was.
When Markstein had to meet with his subordinates, he did so in the cabinet room. This got them used to thinking of it as an arena where ideas and interests clashed, but also where decisions were made and the work of the Empire was carried out. It gave the cabinet room a feeling of larger-than-life drama where the members of the Imperial German government rose above their own petty human selves to become at once the shapers and the instruments of Imperial policy. Needless to say, it also shaped Markstein's own view of himself as a sort of conductor of human actions and reactions, orchestrating his subordinates to produce policy the way a musician produced music. He no longer remembered whether he had deliberately set out to shape himself into a master manipulator, or whether it was an unintended consequence of the social space he had created within the cabinet room. Either way, now that he was what he was, he could not imagine being anything else.
At present, he was meeting with Exterior Minister Joshua Merkel, Defense Minister Horst Voth and Interior Minister Hans Steiner for the latest update by Steiner on the Schuschnigg Matter. A fairly minor German police official had been assassinated in Bayeux two weeks earlier, and a joint Franco-German investigation was being conducted. Markstein had known Steiner for fifteen years, and had become adept at reading the stolid Westphalian. To anybody else, Steiner would have appeared his usual impassive self, but Markstein could tell that he was practically bursting with excitement.
"What's the latest on the investigation, Hans?" Markstein prompted him.
"Herr Chancellor, an important breakthrough," said Steiner. "We have made a positive identification on the set of fingerprints found in the abandoned locobus. The prints belong to Jean-Marie Martineau, a native of Caen who is now a mercenary in the pay of the Scandinavians."
Markstein didn't ask Steiner whether he was certain of his information. If Hans hadn't been certain, he wouldn't have mentioned it. Nevertheless, the desire to seek clarification was a strong one, for the information was utterly unexpected. The Chancellor finally said, "Are you saying that the Scandinavians had Schuschnigg assassinated?"
"There is a slight possibility that Martineau was acting on his own," said Steiner, "but most likely, yes, he was acting on orders from Copenhagen."
"Whatever could have possessed the Scandinavians to do such a thing?"
Merkel answered, "There have been indications that their new King, Christian Gustav, seeks to have Scandinavia play a more active role in international affairs."
Markstein rolled his eyes. "Just what the world needs. A Norse Fanchon."
"This may also tie in with the internment of several of our agents in Copenhagen six weeks back," Merkel continued, "as well as the abrupt dismissal of my Scandinavian counterpart, Baron Dahlgren. The Baron has been uncharacteristically uncommunicative since his resignation."
Markstein remembered Baron Dahlgren from his occasional visits to Berlin. His two most notable characteristics had been his continued adherance to the once-fashionable craze for smoking marihuana and an almost pathological desire to monopolize the limelight. Give him a steady supply of cannabis and a live vitavision feed, and the Baron could continue talking indefinitely. Markstein had always made a point of meeting with him in smoking-verboten rooms.
Steiner resumed, "In light of this finding, we may need to take another look at the attempt on King Frederick of Poland last year. We may have been premature in assuming that the Ukrainian nationalists we uncovered were acting alone."
Markstein shook his head. "What are those idiot Vikings hoping to accomplish?"
Voth spoke up. "These actions may be a prelude to an important geopolitical realignment by the Scandinavians. Since the war, they have been scrupulous in remaining aloof from both ourselves and the English. We must face the possibility that this is now changing, and that the Scandinavians now seek to align themselves with our enemies."
"But that's appalling," said Merkel. "The Scandinavians are right across the Baltic from us. Hell, Swedish Pomerania's only 150 kilometers away from Berlin! If they join the English we could have British missiles sitting practically on our doorstep!"
"Recommendations?" said Markstein.
"Clearly," said Steiner, "we must keep a closer watch on the Scandinavians. I'll have the Sicherheitsbuero start pulling in the known associates of their embassy staff in Berlin."
"I believe we must begin preparing for a military strike against Scandinavia," said Voth. "If they are planning to formally ally themselves with the English, they represent an unacceptable threat to the Reich, and must be neutralized before they can do so."
"Horst," said Merkel, "I thought we were all agreed that it was necessary for us to reduce our external commitments. Now you want us to take over Scandinavia? I'm sorry, it's impossible."
"You yourself just pointed out the potential threat posed by the Scandinavians," said Voth. "If you have another way to diffuse that threat, tell us."
Markstein watched the byplay between Merkel and Voth with amusement. He had trained the two of them to play their parts so well that it was no longer necessary for him to direct them. It was Markstein's secret dream to someday have a Cabinet meeting in which he himself need never speak at all.
"If the Scandinavians are tilting towards the English," said Merkel, undaunted by Voth's disdain, "it means that they see our power waning in comparison to theirs. What we must do is demonstrate to the world in general and to the Vikings in particular that we still have the ability to project force beyond our borders."
"Do you have something specific in mind?" said Voth.
"As it happens, yes I do," said Merkel. "Our consulate in Boricua--"
"Where?" said Steiner.
"Porto Rico," Merkel explained. "Our consulate there reports that an anti-Mexican faction has emerged within the revolutionary Jeffersonista government. Our consul has been approached by a representative of this faction who seeks closer ties with the Reich as a way to reduce Mexican influence on the island. Specifically, they wish for us to establish a military presence on Boricua. The Jeffersonistas fear that the North Americans are planning to intervene on behalf of the island's Loyalist insurgents, and they believe that a German military presence would discourage the North Americans."
"What sort of military presence did they have in mind?" said Voth.
"I believe the Jeffersonistas would welcome any help we cared to extend to them," said Merkel.
"Barbarossas," Steiner suggested.
Merkel was suddenly appalled again. "Barbarossa missiles? You want us to establish a missile base?"
"You said that the Jeffersonistas want to keep the North Americans off their backs," Steiner pointed out. "What better way than with missiles armed with atomic warheads? And this is certainly an effective way to show the Scandinavians that we are not to be trifled with."
"We already have over fifty missiles aimed at Great Britain," added Voth. "We might as well aim a few at the CNA."
"Is there any down side?" Markstein asked the assembled ministers.
"Well," Voth admitted, "if the North Americans found out about the missiles before they became operational, they might try to seize or destroy them. But the odds against such an occurrance are very low. I think we can dismiss the possibility."
Forward to FAN #50: Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair.
Forward to 14 November 1972: All Politics is Local.
Forward to Germany: The Next Stage.
Return to For All Nails.