Monday, December 26, 2016

Silent Night: Maxwell's View, Part 4

Maxwell's View, Part 4

On December 29th, The ISLP Congress met in Paris, and voted overwhelmingly in favor of a General Strike, to commence on January 8th, when the law was to take effect in Germany. The Maxwells listened to the BBC radio announcer with dismay when it was announced six days later that the German government had rounded up several key leaders of the German Socialist Labor Party. European leaders from Britain to France to Italy condemned the actions being taken by the Junkers. America championed the new anti-Union bill as a brave stand against aggressive Euro-socialism. On January 6th, the European Congress voted to formally condemn German actions and begin the measures to put sanctions on the German state for its violation of the European Civil Rights Charter, which guaranteed the right to form Unions and to strike and use other tactics of collective bargaining. Berlin vowed defiance.
            The fateful day arrived. January 8th, 1945. The economy of Europe ground to a halt, as the General Strike went into effect, to last a minimum of one week, possibly longer. Massive rallies were held in London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, and elsewhere. In Germany, the police and army had been called out in advance of the General Strike, with orders to disperse any demonstrators. However, they were totally unprepared for the sheer numbers that took to the streets. All the major German cities were shut down with protestors. In Berlin, it was estimated that nearly half a million people clogged all the major city thoroughfares. Near the Reichstag building, a major standoff developed between the police, army, and the marchers. Those in uniform continued to order the marchers to disperse. Finally, someone gave the order to open fire, and total pandemonium ensued. Many of the protestors fled, but some charged forward to attack the soldiers and policemen. In the chaos, others started looting government buildings as they fled. By nightfall, hundreds were dead, and the city was on fire. Similar scenes played out in Hamburg, Cologne, Bonn, and Munich. The German Revolution was about to begin.
            On January 9th, as Jack sat at his desk at work, the BBC announced that German Socialists in Frankfurt had proclaimed the German Workers Republic, and Jack felt as if the whole of Europe was now holding its breath, waiting to see what would come next. That evening, shortly after he arrived home, it was announced that French delegates in the European Congress were calling for “more concrete” actions against the German Junkers. Earlier that day, the French government had already announced their full support for the German Workers Republic. Byron asked his father, “What do they mean, “more concrete actions”? Are they talking military actions?”
            Jack sighed, “I think that is exactly what they mean. And from what I’m hearing at work, there is definitely support in our own government to send forces in and oust the Junkers.”
            “All this over union rights? A war over unions?” Byron was baffled.
            “Worker’s rights are important, Byron. And this also has to do with European unity. If Germany goes off on such an independent course, all we’ve worked for the past thirty years could unravel.” Samantha said, with much conviction.
            “But aren’t we about to toss the Pax Europa out? Isn’t that what we were just in Strassburg celebrating?” Byron expressed frustration at the world of the Adults.
            “I won’t disagree with you son, it is crazy. The Junkers knew that the rest of Europe wouldn’t just sit by and watch. And if they hadn’t ordered their troops to fire, we wouldn’t be talking about military action. But the murder of hundreds…”
            “Thousands!” Interjected Samantha.
            “thousands, you’re right, the murder of thousands is unacceptable. We can’t just sit by and do nothing.”
            And indeed, Europe did not sit by and do nothing. On January 10th, The European Congress voted to condemn the actions of the Junker government in Berlin. It stopped short of full military action, but stated that the Junker representatives were being expelled from the Congress, to be replaced with representatives from the new Frankfurt government. Then, on January 12th, the French People’s Assembly voted to send military aid to assist the German Worker’s Republic in “putting down anti-Worker rebels,” and called on the European Congress to call on the rest of the members to do the same. Vigorous, heated debate erupted in Parliament, the results of the daily deliberations being the hot topic everyone listened to on the BBC. Would Britain heed the call to arms to protect the German workers from the Junkers, and indeed protect the system of a united, socialist Europe from unraveling at its center. When the Junker government declared war on France on the 14th, that pretty much settled it. At just before noon on the 15th, the BBC carried a live address form Prime Minister David Landsbury, Jr., announcing that the United Kingdom was declaring a state of war against the “German Empire,” and officially recognizing the socialist government in Frankfurt. Three Days later, on January 18th, the European Congress voted to call for a “united military action,” to intervene in the German Civil War, on the side of the Worker’s Republic. Russia voted against, as did Spain, and neither nation would commit troops. Austria, eager to placate socialists in their own country, voted in favor, however would not commit troops for some time. The early days of the conflict, the European Coalition Forces consisted primarily of British, French, and Italian troops. On January 20th, the Russian Empire declared support for the German Empire and simultaneously pulled out of European Federation.
            At first, this seemed like it would be a relatively straightforward a short conflict, and one that would be confined primarily within Europe. But then in February, everything ballooned out of proportion. It was a Saturday morning. Saturday, February 17th. The Maxwells were returning from an afternoon outing at the park. Despite the war on the continent being declared, life was going on as normal. Troops were being deployed for France. Draft notices were going out. Discussions were being had about blackout and preparations for possible bombings. So far, very little actual fighting had taken place due to the cold, wet winter weather. As the family settled back into their townhome for the afternoon, Byron turned on the radio, and music filled the room, a popular new singer from Liverpool, followed by a song by Glen Miller. Before the second song finished, it abruptly stopped. Byron looked up to make sure the radio was still working, which it was. Then an announcer came over the airwaves, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a BBC breaking news report. Moment ago we received confirmed reports from our stations in Canada that a multi-pronged attack against the dominion was underway. It appears that American warplanes have bombed Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. There has been no official communique from the United States as of yet, but this appears to be a massive surprise attack. Thousands are feared dead.” The announcer went on, but the Maxwells just stared at each other in shock. The so-called “German Union War” was turning into the first-ever world-wide conflict.
            Later that evening, American President Horace Thurman addressed the U.S. Congress, declaring that America was standing “firmly behind our German and Russian brethren in the face of indiscriminate socialist aggression.” It was announced that Congress had voted in secret the night before to declare war on the whole of the European Coalition, and that America would fight the forces of Socialism in North America and abroad. Already there were reports of American troops streaming across the border into Canada, overwhelming the Canadian regulars. Most of Britain’s Imperial Forces had been pulled out to assist in Europe. It appeared as if the United States could have Canada’s major population centers overrun within weeks. Several days later, Japan bombed Darwin, Australia, launching an expansionist war in Asia to continue to build their Empire. By March, there was some sort of fighting on nearly every continent other than South America. In a speech made in April by King Edward VIII, the monarch declared, “Our World has devolved into a state of war, from Vancouver to Cologne, Bombay to Sydney. Our young men bear arms to defend our way of life, to defend the rights of workers everywhere. Gone are the days when the rich can have their way, unimpeded by concerns for the common man. We must stand firm and united in this Global War, and in the end we shall prevail.”

This concludes Maxwell's View. The next installment of the Silent Night Story will pick up and tell the story of the Global War.  

Silent Night: Maxwell's View, Part 3

Maxwell's View, Part 3

The Maxwells were able to snag a taxi once they stepped out of the terminal, and within the hour they were in central Strassburg, arriving at the Hotel Weihnachten, one of many post-War hotels that had sprouted across the cities. It was a modest 5 stories, rather unremarkable in architecture. Not Art Moderne, but not Art Nouveau either. This was not the Grand Europa or the Congressional Palace Hotel that sat within walking distance of the Notre Dame de Strassburg and the Rohne Palace. That evening, once settled in their rooms, the family ate at the hotel restaurant, and rested up for a full day exploring the city.

            When the family awoke, they, like everyone else in the city, discovered a fine white coating of snow now bedecked the city. As they listened to the morning radio forecast while getting ready, they learned that the light snow fall would continue, but wasn’t expected to be a major problem for the upcoming festivities. As they finished breakfast at the hotel, they were greeted by Jack’s friend Lee Mansford.

            “Lee! It’s so good to see you!” Jack said, as he embraced his friend in the lobby of the hotel.
            “You too old chap. Welcome to my new homeland.”
            “Going native?” Jack asked with a smile.
            “Sed kompreneble.” Lee answered in Esperanto. Byron perked up, as he recognized the phrase and translated to his father, at which point they all chuckled.
            “And who are all these lovely people Jack?” Lee asked, gesturing to the rest of the Maxwell clan. Jack went through the introductions.
            “It’s a pleasure to meet all of you,” Lee said, after shaking all of their hands. “Well, let’s be off! I’ve brought a taxi, and I’m ready to play tour guide!”

            In no time, the taxi was whisking the group off to the other side of Strassburg, where the Christmas Miracle Memorial stood. The journey took them through the heart of the city, and all of the Maxwells were glued to the windows, taking in the sights as Lee explained what they were seeing. They passed the large Miracle Plaza in front of the cathedral, the Palace Rhone, which was decked out for the fast approaching holiday, and then crossed the river and headed towards the “New City,” where the memorial was located, along with the Palace of Europe and the mass of buildings that housed the bureaucracy of the Congress of European States.

            The memorial itself was on the Europaplatz, opposite the Palace of Europe. it consisted of a central, 4 story rotunda, and three halls that shot off from the rotunda equidistant from each other. The rotunda itself contained the “Eternal Peace Tree,” an evergreen that some newspapermen quipped was the most looked after and protected tree in the whole world. Adorning the perimeter of the rotunda were banks of candles, lit by visitors as a way to remember those who were lost fighting for the Peace. The walls of the space were nearly floor to ceiling windows, allowing in beautiful natural light, and at night creating a beautiful spectacle as the candle light could be seen flickering from outside. As it was every Christmas, the tree had been carefully decorated with ornaments reflecting each nation that had joined the European Congress, and at the top a beautifully hand crafted angel watched over the visitors. The ceiling was painted in the constellations, and hanging from the ceiling were chandeliers in the artistic shape of snowflakes (these were changed out with different fixtures every year).

            Each of the halls was in honor of one of the three founding contingents of the Peace: France, Britain, and Germany. They had separate memorials to the fallen from each nation, as well as artifacts from each army, such as the standards from each unit, uniforms, and weapons from every day soldiers. Each hall had a tomb to an unknown soldier as well, which were each watched over by special honor guard units from the Congressional Army that were dressed in the uniform worn by each nation at the time of the War.

            It was both a hopeful and somber place, and the Maxwells were awed into reflective silence as they walked in. Jack and Samantha lit a candle and placed it in an open spot along the perimeter of the rotunda. Other visitors milled about, some standing, others sitting on benches, and still others at small altars offering prayers in remembrance of those lost in 1914. Jack had once read in an editorial printed in the Times that the Christmas Miracle Memorial was likely the most holy and sacred place for modern Europeans on the whole continent, maybe even more so than Rome. Jack wasn’t inclined to argue, as he took it all in.

            After over an hour at the memorial, the Maxwells and their “native” guide crossed the square to the Palace of Europe for a tour. Thousands of tourists came each year to the Palace, to get a glimpse of the beating heart of a united Europe. Outside the neoclassical domed congress hall, the flag of every member nation fluttered in the light breeze on the left side of the entrance, moving farther away from the entrance in order that the nations joined the Congress: Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, the five founders, followed by Alsace-Lorraine, Poland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Serbia, Greece, and Romania. Closest to the entrance, however, and on a flag pole taller than all the rest, flew the flag of the Congress of European States: a light blue field with a stylized laurel wreath surrounding a large E. There was endless discussion on creating a better flag, but so far nothing had been able to win enough consensus to replace the current design that had been adopted in 1917.

            The Maxwells and the other tourists in the group were shown the Great Hall, where the actual delegates met, along with the archives, the Hall of Honor (which housed statues of influential Europeans in the arts, sciences, and politics), and the deliberation chambers of the Congressional Executive Committee. Jack noticed that, for the twenty-fourth of December, the Palace seemed to be quite busy, with various staff members and he assumed mid-ranking officials buzzing about carrying papers and the like. He’d assumed that most of the staff would have headed home by now, so found the sight rather puzzling. He commented on this to Lee as the tour was wrapping up.

            “It’s the Germany crisis. The Kaiser has just two days after Christmas to veto the new anti-union bill, otherwise it receives unofficial consent and becomes law. And if that happens…” Lee allowed the thought to trail off, but the conclusion was obvious. If the new legislation became law, banning most trade unions, or their ability to conduct most forms of collective action, the ISLP would call for a Federation-wide General Strike. Not only that, it would put Germany in conflict with the Federation’s civil rights charter, which protected the worker’s right to form a union. Sanctions would follow on the heels of a General Strike. And if the German Junker’s tried to use force against the strike action in Germany, things could escalate quickly.

            The gloomy thoughts soon fled from everyone’s mind, as the tour ended and the group made their way back out into the Europaplatz. The light snowfall continued to come down, adding to the almost magical air of the city. As the group headed to a streetcar stop at the edge of the square, the church bells of the city rand out the 1:00 hour.

“Well, we should get you back into Old Town for some lunch, and then you have to visit the city Christmas Market, near the cathedral.” Said Lee, as they stood at the stop. In the near distance, a bell chimed, signaling an approaching streetcar that would take them back to Old Town.
“Oh a German-style Christmas market!” squealed Tabitha with delight. “I’ve read about those in my magazines. They’re supposed to be marvelous! Father, mother, can we go?”
“Of course!” Said Jack, and all the family beamed. The streetcar made its stop, and the family was soon on their way back to Old Town.

They found lunch in a small café within walking distance of the Christmas market. The street, a pedestrian only zone, bustled with people. In addition to the Christmas market down the street, most of the shops in the area were geared towards the Christmas-time tourists that descended on Strassburg. Everywhere evergreen garland, red ribbon, and fairy-lights abounded. Christmas music, mostly instrumental, played from radios and record players up and down the street. Live music could be heard distantly from the Christmas market. Inside the café, everyone was chatting away happily, the mood from the street clearly penetrating the eatery. As they finished their lunch, Jack quickly excused himself to use the loo, located in the back of the restaurant by the kitchen. On his way back to the table, he heard a radio with the news on and briefly paused as he caught part of the story.

“…unconfirmed reports that the Kaiser will sign the anti-Union bill into law the day after Christmas. The ISLP Chairman could not be reached for a comment, but the party communications director stated that the party congress was already planning to meet in emergency session on Friday, December 29th, to address the issue. Party members across the continent continue to call for a Europe-wide General…” Jack moved away and went back to his table. If the report turned out to be true, that Kaiser Frederick IV was going to sign the anti-Union bill, things could deteriorate quickly. It would be bad enough if he just allowed to receive unofficial consent by neither signing or vetoing the bill. However, the German monarch to officially attach his name to the law signaled much more support for the Junkers from Stadtpalast than previously believed. It could also lead to more radical action from the hardline leftists in Germany too.

Jack rejoined the group, and pushed the thoughts of the growing crisis to the back of his mind. It was now time to explore the Christmas market. The smell of evergreen, cinnamon, and other spices filled the air. People were bundled up but cheerful. Laughter could be heard throughout. Both Samantha and Tabitha were enchanted by the handmade wooden Christmas figurines. Tom found a Zeppelin mobile and was transfixed. Byron found handcrafted figurines from the Tolkien book, truly an unexpected find. They all enjoyed the baked goods and hot chocolate as they listened to the band play a medley of popular Christmas music. Sometime after 4 in the afternoon, the Maxwells headed back to their hotel and parted ways with Lee. They had special tickets to attend the Christmas Eve Mass at the cathedral as part of the Memorial Foundation’s trip package. Samantha wanted to make sure that they had plenty of time to get ready and look their best. The Foundation, in coordination with the Strassburg organizations that took care of the Christmas celebrations, had provided Jack with a special Christmas Army uniform to wear to the official celebrations on the 24th and 25th.

After they were all dressed, they went from their hotel to the Grand Europa, where the city was throwing its annual reception dinner for veterans and their families. That hotel was an exquisite building, clearly Art Nouveau in style, built in the 1920s as the first of several luxury hotels in the capital of Europe. Following the dinner, the Maxwells, along with most of the dinner attendees, made their way to the Notre Dame de Strassburg Cathedral, where the Christmas Eve Mass was held every year. They entered from the West Entrance, with the north tower soaring to its peak of 466 feat, one of the tallest churches in the world. The Cathedral’s façade was lit in red and green, the lights highlighting the sculptures and flourishes that adorned the high gothic architecture.

The service itself was conducted by Pope Benedict XVI, the successor to the “Peace Pope,” Benedict XV, who had passed away in 1922. Benedict XVI was a much younger man, having been only 52 when he was elected pope twenty-two years prior, and appeared to be very spry and in good health for someone in his early seventies. The current Pope, a Frenchman, had made history as the first non-Italian pope in exactly 400 years (the last having been Adrian VI, elected in 1522 and born in what was now the Netherlands).  Most expected that, barring any unforeseen tragedy, the current leader of the Roman Catholic Church would live on into the 1950s or even 1960s, likely to be one of the longest serving popes in modern history.

The Maxwells were not Catholic themselves, though Jack had been brought up High Anglican and the service felt very similar. He could see his wife holding back a small amount of disdain for the whole affair, as she’d been brought up Methodist and since had become rather secular. But even she seemed to be caught up in the historic moment, celebrating 30 years of the Peace of 1914. And whatever she may have thought about the service itself, she was clearly enraptured, as they all were, by the Strassburg Memorial Choir singing  Silent Night, along with other carols, throughout the service.

After the service, the attendees joined the crowds of people outside, and at the stroke of midnight, special red, green, and white fireworks lit up the sky. That had started at the 10th anniversary in 1924, and had since become a favorite part of the Strassburg Christmas tradition.
The following day, the family woke up for the special hotel Christmas breakfast, and then dressed and headed to the New City, where the Maxwells had special seats with other veterans to watch the Christmas Day Peace Parade as it made its way past the Christmas Memorial and the Palace of Europe. Jack had been offered a place to march with other veterans in the British contingent, but chose to stay with his family. The celebrations started at 10 that morning. The snow had stopped the night before, and the sun shone down on the city brilliantly, glistening off the snowfall and all the decorations. The parade lasted well over two hours, with floats, bands, and special Christmas Army units from the original founding nations, in addition to other contingents from other members of the European Federation. That evening, Jack and Samantha attended the Christmas Memorial Ball at the Congressional Palace Hotel. He wore his special uniform, she wore a dazzling light blue dress that sparkled with stones and lace. It had been an extravagant gift for her, and he’d beamed that afternoon when she’d opened it. “You can thank your sister, Trudy. She helped me pick it out and have it mailed here for you as a surprise.”

The next day, the Maxwell family packed up their bags and prepared to return to Britain. They made it to the airport on time for their noon flight that would go straight to London, this time on the R138 Londoner. It flew more direct routes, and wasn’t quite as luxurious as the Strassburg Limited that they’d traveled on earlier. Still, Tom insisted on exploring the ship before takeoff, which Jack obliged. Later, after takeoff, Jack settled into his seat and began to read a copy of the Strassburg Internationalist, that city’s premier English-language newspaper, and probably the biggest English-language newspaper in Europe that wasn’t produced in the UK. The headlines weren’t promising. It was now confirmed that the Kaiser was going to sign the anti-Union bill, either sometime that day or the next. The move was already being condemned by prominent ISLP members in France, England, and Germany itself. A General Strike was all but a foregone conclusion at this point, thought that would likely only make the situation worse. Sabers were rattling for the first time since 1914. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Passing Time: Mr. Pollard's 4th Hour World History

Passing Time - Episode 1 - Mr. Pollard's 4th Hour World History

This is the first in a planned series of short stories. Each will be set in a classroom in a different Alternate History scenario. In each story, the characters will remain the same, even though their names and some minor details will vary from story to story. 

       Henry Pollard walked down the hallway towards his classroom on the second floor of Roosevelt High School. His shoes clicked on the linoleum floors and the sound echoed a little off the locker-lined hallway. Pollard looked at his watch: 6:45, nearly an hour and a half before class. Gave him plenty of time to make sure his lessons were ready. He reached his classroom, at the end of the hall, and unlocked the large wooden door with inset window, and entered his academic domain. Flipping a switch, his room was quickly illuminated, showing the various maps that dominated the one long wall of the classroom that was opposite the exterior wall, which was almost all windows. On the back wall the portraits of every U.S. President, from Washington all the way to Robert Taft, who somehow had managed to gain reelection in 1956, despite a spirited effort by Adlai Stevenson to unseat him. The front wall held a large blackboard, coated with chalk dust, and had a large selection of pull down maps. Once Pollard set his bag and papers on his desk, he turned his attention to said maps and, after looking for a moment for the right one, pulled down, revealing a map of the North Pacific, showing the far eastern territory of the USSR, the Alaskan Empire, British Colombia, and parts of Washington and Oregon. Before sitting at his desk, he walked through the rows of desks, thirty in all, to make sure they were straightened and that nobody had left any textbooks or papers behind. He normally checked his room at the end of the day, but he had left early to go have dinner with his wife before returning for the evening’s basketball game. The Rough Riders had played a good game against rival Lincoln High, beating the Lynxes 65-52. 
Once at his desk, he began to sort through the papers to give back to the students. Their essays on the chain of events of the March and November Revolutions in Russia had been more or less satisfactory. Pollard sighed briefly as he recalled one exception to that: Neil Hammond. Talking with the boy’s parents, he knew that Neil had been a bright child and excelled at school, until his father had been killed in Korea. Pollard could still see that intellect when Neil chose to apply himself, but he mostly didn’t, in a form of rebellion against his mother and step-father. Pollard hoped he could get through to the boy and help him turn his academics around before he graduated next year, but it was an uphill battle. Once his papers were sorted and ready to return, Pollard took out the text books for his different classes. He had three preps this year: Washington History, U.S. History, and World History. He was on a rotation with Mrs. Gillespie across the hall with Washington and European History. She taught the seniors for three years, and he taught the freshmen, and then they’d switch. Part of him was sad that he wouldn’t be teaching local history next year, but Euro was also enjoyable, and he liked this current group of students and wouldn’t mind having them another year. 
With his lesson materials laid out, Pollard got up and decided to grab a cup of coffee in the lounge. Having stayed up for the game the night before, he needed the extra kick to be ready once the kids came in. When he’d started teaching twenty years ago at 24, he could have pulled an all-nighter and still been able to hit the ground running. “Not any more, unfortunately,” Pollard thought to himself as he walked down the stairs leading to the main floor and one of four teacher’s lounges on campus. As he walked towards the door, he passed Mr. Thompson, the 
“Good Morning Henry! Did you enjoy the game last night?”
“I did Mr. Thomas. Our boys did a really good job. Had me worried there at halftime, but Coach McMillan was able to get them to pull ahead.”
“Yes, he’s building a good team. If not this year, I see them in the playoffs next year for sure.”
“Been a few years since we did that. I think the last time was my second year teaching here, in ’44.”
“That sounds about right. We shall keep our fingers crossed. Oh, and by the way, I wanted to let you know that the city emergency management office called. They’re holding a bomb drill today at noon. They’ve been letting all the schools know.”
“Good to know. Right after lunch. Should we tell the kids?”
“Yes. I don’t want them to panic. What with the news the way it’s been the past week.”
“Very true. Hopefully the Soviets back down in Poland. I’d hate to think what war with them would really look like.”
“Me either, Mr. Pollard. I had a nephew who was stationed in Japan after the War, near Osaka. He said the damage done there by the atom bomb was unimaginable. He took a few pictures and showed us when he got back. Terrifying, absolutely terrifying.”
“I’m sure it won’t come to that. Bobrinsky will back down. Taft might have to give him something in return, but he’ll manage it. 
Earlier in the week, the Soviet President had increased troop levels in Poland nearly threefold, and stated that either East Prussia had to be given over to the people of Poland, or that Germany had to be divided as had originally been promised by FDR and Churchill in 1944. Since Nazi President Gottfried Feder had been much more worried about the Soviets than the Western Allies, Germany had been able to hold off the Russian horde far better than had been anticipated in 1944, when the Allied leaders had first met, meanwhile the British and American armies had gone smashing straight through Nazi defenses in the West, and didn’t meet their Russian counterparts until they reached the German-Polish border. And then the Nazis in East Prussia held out entirely. With Trotsky’s health in poor condition and weak upper leadership beneath him, the Russians had been forced to agree to only occupy the territory they had actually taken when Germany surrendered in April 1945 after Feder’s capture. Ever since Bobrinsky took power the year before, in 1958, he’d railed against the final post-war settlement, saying that Trotsky had stabbed the Soviet people in the back. 
Pollard stopped his wool-gathering as he entered the lounge. The smell of coffee and the sound of light chatter consumed his senses. Mrs. Gillespie, his hall neighbor, stood at the coffee pot. 
“Good morning Mr. Pollard. How was the game? I wanted to go but I just can’t do those late nights as often anymore.” She’d been in her forties when Pollard had first started working at RHS, and she was now just a year or two away from seventy. She’d told him last year that she wouldn’t leave the classroom until she died. Most days, Pollard still believed her. Some of the kids liked to joke, when they thought no adult could hear, that one day they’d come in to class and find her dead in her chair. He didn’t appreciate the humor, but he didn’t think that they were necessarily wrong either. 
“They played well. I have to agree with what Mr. Thomas just told me: if they don’t make the playoffs this year, they’ll do so next year for sure.”
“Oh wonderful! Just like in 1944, right after you started here, all young and handsome.” She winked harmlessly. Pollard chuckled. The two of them were old friends now. She’d been a mentor to him when he’d first started in this career.
“So it was back in ’44 then? Mr. Thomas and I thought so, but we weren’t for sure.”
She tapped her head. “I might be getting old, but my mind is still as sharp as ever. And I never ever forget a date.”
“Considering what you teach I’d hope not.”
She laughed at an old memory before sharing: “Back years ago, before you started here, we had an old history teacher…he must have been well past seventy at this point, and one day he told his class that Pyotr Baranov SOLD Alaska to America in 1867! They poor students were so confused.”
Pollard laughed at the very idea. “SOLD Alaska to America? That’s the year he retired, after being the first Imperial governor. How in the world did he come up with that date?”
“I have no clue. Poor man retired that year. Had dementia.”
“Ah, what a shame.”
Pollard filled his own cup, and escorted Mrs. Gillespie back upstairs, after greeting a few other colleagues. He looked at his watch when he got back to his room. It was now 7:45. The students would be called to class by the first bell in 15 minutes, and his day would begin in earnest. And so it did. The first bell rang, and students began filing in. His first period Washington History class came and went slowly, like usual. Unlike their teacher, the students were mostly still waking up, and it was a struggle to get them to pay attention. He discussed settlement in the mid 1800s, and how America encouraged settlement to beat the Russians to some of the territory and solidify American control of the region. 
U.S. History was back to back in his second and third periods, and those students were mostly more attentive. Pollard was very thankful, as he was covering the Civil War, something that the students needed to know. Finally, his fourth period arrived. These World History juniors he’d had for the past three years, and they were mostly a good group. First to enter was Sally Hyatt, the Junior Class vice president (as far as school records could determine, only the second female to hold that post since the school opened at the turn of the century), followed by her friend Victoria Fenway. Victoria was in the school drama club, and reminded Pollard as she took her seat that he had until the following Monday to buy his ticket to the school musical. They were performing “Oklahoma!,” and Victoria assured Pollard and whoever else was listening that it would be “an absolute smash.”
A few more students came in, and then James Buchanan and two of his fellow teammates entered the room. “Hey Mr. Pollard, saw you last night! Thanks for coming!”
“Not a problem James. You boys played well last night.”
“Thanks! Felt good to beat the Lynxes, especially after last year.” Last year, the Lynxes had humiliated the Rough Riders with a 78-28 defeat early in the season, and the basketball boys had never quite been able to shake it off for the rest of the season. 
As Buchanan and his mini-posse settled in the back, Chase Rutledge, the son of the Deputy Mayor of Seattle, came in to class, followed shortly by the Pride of Roosevelt High’s first chair drummer, Dillon Gillmore. Pollard liked Gillmore. He was a decent kid that performed well both in class and with his instrument, and was just an all-around good person. Rutledge, on the other hand…..was an acquired taste at best, and one that Pollard was still working on. His father’s position (and money) made him somewhat apathetic towards his scholarship, something that drove Pollard insane at times. 
Lastly, as the tardy bell rang, Neil Hammond strutted into class and drifted back to his seat near the back corner by the windows. Hammond was what some people described as a “greaser,” with the white shirt, leather jacket, and slicked back hair. Pollard hoped he could get through to Neil and get his grade up, but it wouldn’t be easy. 
“Okay class! Good morning, I hope you’re ready to learn, because that’s what we will be doing today. Mr. Gillmore, would you mind telling me where we left off yesterday?”
“Sure Mr. Pollard. We talked about how bad everything was in Russia by 1917, and how the soldiers and city workers revolted against the Tsar in Leningrad and forced the Tsar to abdicate in February of that year.”
“Correct. Now, who can tell me where the Tsar and his family went after Nicholas II abdicated?”
Sally raised her hand, no surprise to Pollard. “Yes Sally.”
“They went to Vladivostok, on the Russian east coast.”
“Correct Sally. Now….” Pollard scanned the room. Chase seemed to be zoning out, so Pollard decided to help him focus, “….Chase, can you tell me why that might be important to us? The Tsar coming to Vladivostok?”
Chase abruptly snapped out of whatever daydream he was having. “Uh..well…I mean the Tsar lives in North America now…so I guess that’s how he got here?”
Pollard was both surprised and impressed. For a kid that didn’t like to pay attention all the time, that was close to a decent answer.
“Correct…more or less. Nicholas II does end up coming to North America, specifically to Alaska. And of course his son is now the Alaskan Emperor, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Everyone take out your books and your notes, and we will begin. Today we are going to talk about how the Tsar of all the Russias ended up on the shores of the New World in 1927.”
The students opened their books, and Pollard had them read aloud different sections of the chapter they were covering, which was all about the Russian Revolution. Through the text and his own extra explanation, he explained how initially Nicholas II tried to flee to England, but had been blocked. Then, in the heated summer of 1917, the Kerensky government suggested that the royal family relocate to Vladivostok to be safe from the violence occurring in some of the core cities.
James raised his hand. “Mr. Pollard, why didn’t Nicholas II just come over to Alaska right then and there?”
“Well, the Russians still looked on Alaska largely as a backwater, a sleepy, less developed and less cultured part of their empire, and remember, back in those days Alaska was only a colony. Vladivostok was, in the minds of the Russian government, a much more developed city, though in reality New Tsaritsyn was probably just as developed and cultured, thanks to its close proximity to the United States.”
“Still, wouldn’t it have been safer?” Asked Dillon.
“Well yes. But Kerensky, and the Tsar himself, didn’t think the royal family would actually spend that much time away from the core of Russia. They didn’t have a clue what Lenin and his communists were up to.”
From there, Pollard went in to detail of how, in early December 1917, after elections failed to bring the Bolsheviks into power by the narrowest of margins, Lenin led his followers in a bloody coup that saw Kerensky and dozens other dead. The December Massacre in what was then Petrograd shocked many Russians, and the wider world. 
“At this point, the Tsar decided to act, and he renounces his abdication and starts to coordinate with the anti-communist resistance. And with Allied, mainly American, assistance, they are able to hold out and keep control of Vladivostok and much of the Russian Far East.”
“Why didn’t we help Nicholas II and his White Army take out the Reds completely?” This was Chase asking. 
“By the time the Russian Civil War really gets going, it’s late 1918, early 1919. What was going on in Europe by then?”
Chase looked unsure. in the middle of the class, Pavel Gorbunov raised his hand. Pollard acknowledged the student.
“World War I was ending. And although America had troops trained and available, people here didn’t want to keep fighting endlessly. Plus, Russia is so big!”
“Correct Pavel, thank you. All of that is true. It was harder to keep justifying American troops fighting an dying in Russia once the rest of the war in Europe was over by 1919. By 1922 the Whites had ground the advancing Reds to a halt about 100 miles west of Vladivostok and things didn’t change. The U.S. was able to convince the Soviets and the Tsarists to meet for a cease fire, and on March 1st, 1923, the Russian Civil War was over. 
Victoria raised her hand. “Mr. Pollard, that still doesn’t explain how the Tsars ended up in Alaska.”
Before Pollard could answer, Pavel spoke out. “A Red tried to blow him up.” Victoria looked back at Pavel, eyes wide, and then back to Pollard. “Really?”
“Pavel is right. In 1926, agents with ties to the Soviet Union set off a bomb at the Royal Palace. Killed several servants and two government ministers, and critically injured Nicholas II. The Imperial family moved across the pacific to New Archangel, and that was that.”
“Mr. Pollard,” Pavel spoke up again, “My father says that the Tsar should never have crossed the ocean. That he should have stayed in Vladivostok. That way, the Americans never would have forced his son to give up the Russian Far East to the Soviets.” Pavel’s father had immigrated to the United States during the Alaskan Independence Crisis in 1938. Like many Russo-Alaskans, he was somewhat bitter about that more recent history. Many in that community accused the United States of betraying it’s Imperial Russian ally by forcing them to give up all claim to Russia itself and consolidate solely in Alaska or face Soviet annexation of the Far East and American annexation of Alaska itself. Some would likely never forgive FDR for that. 
“Well, it’s not quite that simple,” Pollard began delicately, “You see, by the time the 1930s came around, we knew that we would likely need the Soviets in the eventual fight against Gottfried Feder and the Nazis. I was still in high school when all this went down, but I still remember it. We didn’t like the Soviets, and of course people here in Washington are very pro-Alaskan, and there were lots of protests and the like. But in the end, both the United States and the British needed the Soviets to help bring down the Nazis. So that took precedent. Had the government stayed in Vladivostok, maybe we wouldn’t have gone that route. But then again, we might have not had a choice. Or it could have been worse, the Tsar could have refused to relocate and have been captured by the Soviets. THAT would have been ugly.”
“I suppose so, Mr. Pollard. But nobody in my family sees it that way.”
“I’m not surprised. And I understand why and don’t blame them. It was a shady deal, in all honesty.”
Just then, the intercom crackled. “Attention teachers and students. This is a reminder that we are holding students in their fourth period class until after the bomb drill that will commence at 12 noon. Students, you will be released to lunch after the all clear is given.”
Once the announcement was over, Pollard looked around the room. Some of the kids looked suddenly nervous. Neil Hammond, who had actually halfway paid attention to the lesson, asked, “Mr. Pollard, I’ve been listening to my mom and her husband talk about all the stuff in Poland. Do you….do you think the Russians might actually use the bomb.”
Pollard saw that that thought was on the minds of several of his students.
“You know Neil, I hope it won’t come to that. In the end I believe cooler heads will prevail and Bobrinksy will back down. I just am not sure what exactly it will take to get us there. But I’m sure our diplomats will find it. That’s what they get paid the big bucks to do.” 
The students didn’t look entirely reassured. Frankly, Pollard wasn’t one hundred percent there himself. This current crisis could get bad. And it was totally being driven by the Soviet President. That was the only factor that had changed since the post-war agreements were signed in Gdansk. He stopped himself from wool-gathering again and instructed the students to read the next section in the chapter and reminded them they’d have a quiz the day after next. Then he let them pack their things up and be ready to go after the drill. 

When the sirens began to wail across Seattle, Pollard led by example and got under his desk as his students got under their’s. He knew that if a bomb hit anywhere close, this was likely futile, but it was better than nothing he supposed. The wailing continued for what seemed like an eternity before the all-clear sounded. Afterwards, Mr. Thomas came on the intercom and dismissed the students to lunch. Their carefree attitude largely returned. Pollard wished his would bounce back like that. But he couldn’t stop from thinking that one of these days, if things didn’t improve, those siren’s would go off without warning. If the Cold War really did heat up, it was likely that New Tsaritsyn would be a prime target, and Seattle right after it. Pollard knew more than most that history turned in weird ways, often less plausibly and more strange than any work of fiction. He hoped and prayed such a twist was not far off, and that peace would prevail.   

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Silent Night: Maxwell's View, Part 2

Maxwell's View, Part 2

Lunch in the grand salon was as luxurious as the setting, and as luxurious as one would expect on a British Airways vessel. The room buzzed with conversation, as the passengers sat at large round tables and got to mingle with their fellow travelers. Waiters slipped in and out silently, refilling drinks and taking away plates. The sound of cutlery clinking on porcelain had died down as conversation increased. Those seated seemed in no hurry to get up and leave their new companions. The Maxwells were seated at a table with a retired couple from London, the husband had been a mid-level banker, and served in the War, along with a newly-married couple who had postponed their honeymoon until Christmas, and finally a middle-aged reporter from America, who was stationed in London and had been asked by his paper to cover the 30th Anniversary ceremonies. Jack had asked the reporter, Gary Smithfield, why he hadn’t taken an airplane. Yes, airships still ruled, but most industry experts agreed that the airplane would overtake it, and a ticket on an American-built DC-3 would be cheeper and quicker. 
“Oh I know that,” he’d said, “and Lord knows the paper didn’t pay for my passage today. I decided to use some vacation time and money and splurge a little. Grew up fascinated by airships, and I take any opportunity I can to sail on one.”
Jack had chuckled and commented that his youngest son Tom would really get along with the reporter. The whole table had laughed lightly at that. Tom himself just beamed, and went off on a short ramble about how wonderful airships really were. Jack had also traded a few stories from the war with the older gentleman at the table, Hiram Winters. Winters had been in a unit that had accompanied the French troops to Paris, one of the few British Christmas Army units that hadn’t marched on Strassburg in January of 1915, like Jack’s own unit. 
“Was such a wild time, when we entered Paris. Every building was draped either in the tricolor, our truce banner, or in socialist red. We still couldn’t quite believe it when we found out that Juares had been able to take control during the chaos and proclaim the world’s first socialist state.”
“The first of many, thankfully.” Samantha chimed in. Jack himself had grown up in a politically moderate family of Old Liberals, whereas Samantha’s parents had been radical Labour members. She’d grown up having regular trips to Red Paris, and actually served as university representative to the founding of the ISLP, but had mellowed some with age and marriage to a political moderate. But only some.
“You younger ones are more adept in this new world of socialism than I, Mrs. Maxwell,” Winters had said, “though I cannot deny the benefits that it has brought to quality of life as a whole on this continent, or at least where it’s been allowed ot take root. And no matter my personal qualms, I would take David Landsbury’s government, or his fathers, over that of America’s Thurman any day. No offense meant to present company.” Winters had nodded apologetically to Smithfield.
“Oh none taken. I grew up in Chicago, even if I work for a New York paper now, and many say that Chicago is as red as Paris.” The table chuckled. “I sure didn’t vote for Thurman.”
As there conversation had gone on, the Maxwells learned that the new bride, Sara Giles, had an uncle who had been part of the Christmas Army and stayed in Strassburg when the fighting ended. Her and her family had visited Strassburg for many a Christmas, and the holiday itself and a Strassburg Christmas in particular, held a special place in her heart. 
“We had wanted to marry at Christmas, but decided we didn’t want to wait quite that long. George did propose on Christmas though.” She had smiled at her husband and then leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.
Jack commented, “I have a friend, Harry, who stayed in Strassburg too. I read a report at work a few months back, and apparently it’s estimated that 1/3 of Strassburg’s population is made up of Christmas Army emigres and their families and descendants, and throughout all of Alsace-Lorraine it’s believed to be somewhere between 1/5 and 1/8 of the entire national population. Hard to imaging such a cosmopolitan nation in the heart of Europe like that.”
“Sounds almost like a miniature version of America, with all those immigrants moving to make a new life in a new home.” Smithfield said.
“Somewhat,” Sara chimed in, “though different, too. It’s still not quite the melting pot that America is, or is supposed to be. But my uncle says they’re trying to change that, making a truly new people out of all the emigres and locals alike.”
“I read in the Times that the Congressional Republic has really been pushing the learning and use of that constructed language, called…..oh, Esperanto, I think?”
Byron piped up at this. “I heard that from one of my teachers at school. We have an Esperanto club, and they’re discussing adding a formal course of it next year.”
“What a brave new world we are in.” commented Mrs. Winters. She didn’t look so thrilled, more resigned. 
“I’m not sure just how new,” Jack said. “With all the noise coming from Germany over the conflict between the ISLP and the Junkers, we could find ourselves in quite an old world very quickly.”
George Giles tried to sound optimistic, showing the naivety of someone born after 1914. “Surely it won’t get as bad as that. It’s like old Landsbury said, this is the Century of Peace. We’re all going there to celebrate that very event now. The Junkers will back down. The Kaiser will keep them in line as he has for the past three decades.”
“One can hope, young man, but one should also be careful to not let wishful thinking cloud reality.” That was Mr. Winters.
Before Giles could offer a rebuttal, an announcement came over the intercom. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now approaching Paris. You should be able to see the city from either of the promenades, and the dining salon. We will be stopping briefly at Juares Memorial Aerodrome before continuing on to Strassborg.”
With that, the lunch conversation broke up, and the group joined many of the other passengers who wanted to look out and gawk at the French capital. Early fears after the Revolution that the new government would completely remake Paris in their own socialist image had been largely unfounded. The great palaces had been kept and in some cases restored. The Eiffel Tower was still the icon of the city. The only major addition to the center of the city was the Palace of the People, built at the site of the old Tuileries Palace. No one could deny that this building, the center of the new socialist regime, did stick out a bit. It was built in the new Art Moderne style that many within the socialist movement loved. It’s streamlined designs and lack of ornamentation were in stark contrast to much of the city. 
The Palace of the People’s main structure faced the Seine, flanked on either side by smaller wings. in the courtyard facing the river stood a large statue of Juares, father of the Revolution, carrying a red banner. The building was decked out in red banners of the French Socialist Party, along with the modified tricolor of the People’s Republic. As the passengers looked down on the city, the pianist in the salon began to play “La Marseillaise.” 
Before long, the aerodrome was in sight, and the ship began to descend to the Earth. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please return to your seats. We will be landing at Juares Memorial Aerodrome shortly. We will be on the ground for approximately half an hour to take on passengers, before we resume our flight to Strassburg. Thank you for your cooperation.”
With that, the salon emptied quickly. The Maxwells waved goodbye to their table companions, who had seats on the other side of the ship. Jack had enjoyed the conversation. You never knew who you’d meet while traveling. To him, it was one of the best parts of making such a trip. 
It was after 1:30 in the afternoon when the Limited moored at the aerodrome, and after taking on two dozen or so more passengers, a mix of British tourists in Paris and native French, the vessel was aloft before 2:30. The passengers were informed once in the air that they were right on schedule and should arrive in Strassburg by 6:00 pm. The weather was getting overcast, and they should expect a light snow in Strassburg overnight. The children were excited about the snow, especially Tabitha, who frequently said that snow was her favorite part about winter and Christmas time. 
The rest of the flight passed uneventfully. Jack took Tom to explore the ship a bit more, but they weren’t offering tours of the interior of the ship on this flight, so there was only so much to see in the passenger section. It got cloudy and hard to see much of the scenery below about an hour after Paris, so the rest of the flight the family sat reading their various books and magazines, and also played a round of canasta with cards that Samantha had packed. Her own parents had loved the game and she’d shared that with the children when they were old enough to learn how to play. Finally, at a quarter till 6, the announcement that they were beginning their descent into Strassburg International Airport chimed over the intercom. Tom cheered, as did several others of various ages in the passenger cabin. Soon the ship escaped the clouds, and they could all see the lights of the airport and the city beyond. Searchlights waved through the evening sky, finding the ship and locking on, helping the landing crews bring the gentle giant back down to the ground. The ship was then guided into an awaiting hangar, where the passengers would finally disembark. 
As the Maxwells went down the gangway stairs and on to the hangar floor, they were directed to an entrance hall that would presumably take them to the main terminal and ultimately out of the airport. Jack chuckled mildly to himself as they went through the door. Above the door there was a large sign that said “Bonvenon al Strassburg!” Yes, he thought to himself, Esperanto is definitely alive and well in the capital of Europe. He just hoped that the language of peace would spread its influence east and keep Germany from shattering modern day “Pax Europa.”

As they emerged into the main terminal, all thoughts of gloom and war faded from memory. Everywhere imaginable, evergreen garland and twinkling fairy-lights decorated the space, and several large Christmas trees filled the center of the hall, as passengers came too and fro. Somewhere in the hall, out of immediate view thanks to the travelers and Christmas trees, a choir sang Christmas carols. And, prominently displayed at either end of the main terminal hall, the flag of the Congressional Republic of Alsace-Lorraine: A white banner, with a single red and single gold stripe at the bottom (added to represent Lorraine), a simplified Christmas tree in the center, and three red stars in the upper left-hand corner of the flag.There had been some discussion after the Peace of 1915, which established the Congressional Republic, as to whether or not a new flag should be adopted that was different from that used by the Truce Army. However, since much of the Truce Army leadership had stayed in Strassburg and helped set up its new government, the flag of the truce fighters was kept. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Silent Night: Maxwell's View, Part 1

An aside from the Author:
 So, I realize it has literally been ages since I've posted anything on this blog. A mix of travel and work (lots of work), and other mundane "life" things kept me from writing much, and when I did write it was a lot of odds and ends and nothing complete enough to post here. 

FINALLY, this past Christmas break I finally had some downtime to start this little project, a first-person perspective set thirty years after the events of the previous 7 posts. Set in 1944, we see the Maxwell family of London embark on a vacation to Strassburg to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Christmas Miracle. This is the first in what I hope to be at least a 3-5 post series showing a little snapshot of what the world has developed into in a world where World War 1 ended at Christmas, 1914, instead of dragging on for four more bloody years. 
I also am looking at another project to get me back into writing and posting on here regularly. But more on that later. For now, enjoy the first installment of "Maxwell's View"

Maxwell's View, Part 1

Jack Maxwell took one last glance at the hallway mirror. The tie was straight, his shirt and jacket looked presentable. HIs short brown hair was slicked back. He sighed a tad as he saw the grey hairs creeping in around his temples. Forty-seven this year, he could hardly believe it. Sometimes Jack felt as though it was just yesterday that he was that bright-eyed and eager young recruit on a boat crossing the Channel to France. How the world had changed since 1914.
He glanced at his wristwatch. Nearly 8:00 in the morning. As he turned to call out for his wife, Samantha, she appeared coming down the stairs, flanked by their nine-year-old son, Tom. She wore a fashionable blue dress, with her blonde hair done up in a side bun, the latest fashion from Paris. Despite the doomsday sayers, the socialist revolution had not snuffed out the French capital’s central place in the world of fashion. Her blue eyes sparkled a little as they met his. He was once again struck, as he often was, that he must have been the luckiest man on earth. 
“Hello there sweetheart. Everything ready to go?” She asked, as Tom went passed them both and into the parlor, where his older sister Tabitha and brother Byron sat waiting. Thirteen-year-old Tabitha sat reading the latest copy of London Girl Magazine, reading about the latest fashions, movie stars, and the most recent gossip about crown princess Elizabeth. Tabitha’s dark blonde hair was in a long, stylish braid, similar to what the crown princess herself sported. Where Samantha’s hairstyle came from Paris, Tabitha’s had been made popular by the Kaiser’s daughters and imitated by much of the lady royals in the British court. Byron sat in one of the arm chairs in the quaint little parlor, the spitting-image of his father. The sixteen-year-old was reading the new and best-selling novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, Andor’s Quest. Telling the story of a young wizard’s quest to master his newfound powers at the same time as he had to try and fight evil and restore balance to the world, the book had become immensely popular since it’s publication a few months ago, and Byron and all his friends had really taken to it. It wasn’t Jack’s cup of tea, but he preferred this interest to the comic books coming from America. 
Pointing to the suitcases stacked by the door, Jack answered his wife, “We are all set. The cab should be here any minute to take us to the train station.”
At the mention of their impending departure, Tom perked up and shouted “We’re flying on an airship! I can’t wait!” Jack chuckled. His youngest son was fascinated with the graceful giant of the skies. He had a mobile of famous German and British zeppelins in his room. He’d been so excited when Jack had told the family he’d set up a trip to Strassburg for Christmas this year aboard the R132 Strassburg Limited
Jack and Samantha both chuckled at their son’s outburst. Just then, a horn beeped outside, announcing the arrival of their taxi. “Byron, come help me with the luggage!” Jack called out to his son. Before picking up any bags himself, Jack grabbed his fedora hat of the rack on the wall, and looked at his wife for approval. She smiled and went to straighten it out. She then kissed him before she herded Tom and Tabitha out the door. Byron had already grabbed some of the bags. Jack grabbed the rest and followed his family out of their townhouse. On the street, the black cab sat waiting. The driver got out and opened the boot and starting helping Byron with the bags. Jack took his handful of bags to the curb then went back up and locked the house. On the front door hung a big evergreen wreath with red ribbon wrapped about. Most of the other houses on the street were similarly decorated for the upcoming holiday. No snow, however. The weather had been cool and wet, but no snow was expected until New Years Day, and by then the Maxwells would be back in Great Britain. 
With the house locked up and the bags secured in the boot of the cab, Jack piled in with the rest of his family and they were off to Victoria Station. The railway hub was bustling with Londoners going to and fro. Like the Maxwells, many were starting their holiday journeys, as it was a mere two days before Christmas Day. The station was decked out in garland and ribbon and even twinkled with fairy lights. Jack had read that in America that more and more people were decorating their own private homes with those lights. As of yet, the trend hadn’t crossed the Atlantic, but as with so many things, it was probably only a matter of time. 
A porter helped the Maxwell’s with their luggage, and in no time they were waiting on the platform for their train. A newsboy came by shouting the day’s headlines. “EXTRA! ISLP Considers General Strike!“ “German Junkers Crack Down!” and “30th Anniversary of the Christmas Miracle!” Jack paid a boy for a copy of the Times to read on the train. Moments later their train came into the station to carry them to the newly completed King George V Airport outside London. The new state-of-the-art facility replaced the hodgepodge of smaller airports that had serviced the airplanes and airships that flew in and out of the British capital. The train ride took about 45 minutes, and the train arrived directly at the airport (one of the first airports in Europe to boast direct train service). More porters came and took their luggage away to be loaded up on the airship. The Maxwells walked into the main terminal and checked in at the British Airways counter. They were directed out from the central terminal out to the primary airship departure hangar. At this point, Tom is about to burst from excitement. He finally broke from his mother’s hand and ran to the window. “I can see the airships! I can see them they’re so big!” Jack smiled at his son’s enthusiasm. 
When they actually entered the massive departure hangar, Tom wasn’t alone in his awe at the huge sky ships. All of the Maxwells were impressed by these huge machines. Uniformed British Airways officials directed them to the lowered stairs that had been lowered from the bottom of the ship. Several other passengers were already queued up and waiting to board. Jack and his family got in line. He noticed from the corner of his eye that their luggage was being loaded onto the ship via a lift platform further to the back to the ship. They wouldn’t need it until they got to Strassburg, as the flight was only 8 or so hours. It could actually be made in less time, but the Strassburg Limited took the scenic route over Paris. And unlike the larger trans-oceanic vessels that flew from Europe to America and elsewhere, this ship didn’t have private cabins. It was designed for same day travel and so was set up more like a train cabin, with individually assigned seats, with lounge and dining spaces as well. Jack handed the tickets to the agent at the bottom of the stairs, and then he and his family ascended into the ship. This entire trip had been organized by the War of 1914 Memorial Foundation, which provided a way for veterans to attend the annual celebrations in Strassburg each year, and the foundation always provided good seats on transportation and nice accommodations in the “City of Peace.” This trip proved to be no exception. The seats were set up like a train berth, two comfortably upholstered benches facing each other with a table in the middle, with a wonderful window to look out at the world below. The passenger areas of the ship were all done in the popular Art Nouveau style, with flowing and fanciful lines and patterns seeming to dance about the rooms. Once they were settled, Tom begged his father to take him exploring. Jack agreed, and the two got up, and Byron decided to join. Samantha and Tabitha had started talking about the latest news, styles, and gossip that his daughter had read about in The London Girl and agreed to stay with their seats. 
Tom walked slightly ahead, eager to see each part of the ship he could before take off. Jack planned to find out if he could get his son access to see the non-passenger sections before they landed if possible. Byron kept pace with his father, and started asking him about the articles in the Times
“Do you really think Socialist Labor will call for a general strike?”
“It’s possible. They’ve called for an emergency meeting of the European-wide Party Congress to discuss the matter in one week, the first friday after Christmas.”
“How bad could things get if that happens?” Byron had an inquisitive mind, and for all that he loved to read his fantasy novels, he payed more and more attention to world events.
“Could get very bad. We’ve never had a Federation-wide general strike before. The last large general strike happened in the mid-twenties during the Tory Twilight, when it looked like a bulk of the Landsbury reforms might get dismantled. France joined that strike along with Denmark and Ireland, but the ISLP didn't come about ’til 1930.”
“Why are the Junkers fighting back so much?”
“The same reasons the Tories did here. Germany is basically following the same path we did, they’re just further behind because of how much slower they’ve been to adapt to change and how much further behind they were at the start after 1914. The Junkers don’t want to lose their place in society, the power they’ve held for so long.”
“So they’d plunge the whole of Europe into chaos rather than share power with the workers?”
“It could be worse than that.”
“How could it be worse than the whole European economy at a stand-still?”
“War.” That one word answer struck Byron hard. It was unfathomable to someone his age. There had been no real conflict in Europe since 1914. A few minor clashes, mostly internal revolts as the ideas of socialism spread from France, but nothing on the scale of the Last Great European War. 
“War? Over a general strike? Surely that’s not on the table Father. Why would Frederick IV make war over this? Wasn’t he the great man of peace after 1914?”
“His hands will be tied if the Junker-controlled Reichstag want war. And if Prime Minister Landsbury and First Consul Perrot publicly support the general strike, they will want war.”
“I hope you’re wrong.”
“So do I son. War is ugly, and it’s something I hope you don’t have to see for yourself to find out.”
At this point, Tom came back to join them. they'd walked through the passenger seating areas, the interior shops, the library and now were at the grand dining salon. The two level room was breath taking. It was the full width of the ship, and flanked on either side by floor to ceiling windows that allowed for some amazing views of the world below. Like the rest of the ship’s interior, the room was ornately decorated in the popular Art Nouveau style. At one end of the room was a large clock being held by the statue of a goddess, and at the other a beautiful mural showing a graceful airship floating above Strassburg at Christmas time. As Jack and his sons milled about the dining room, an announcement came over a nearby loudspeaker: “Attention passengers, please take your seats, we will be taking off shortly.”
With that, Jack escorted his two sons back to their seats. Shortly thereafter, a chime rang out, and ship began to move forward, out of the hangar and into the openness of the tarmac.  Tom was glued to the window, but the whole family watched eagerly as the Strassburg Limited glided out of the hangar. The chimes sounded again, and a voice crackled from the overhead speaker: “Up ship!” 
And with that, the silver giant began its ascension into the sky. Tom practically squealed with glee. Jack noticed that both Byron and Tabitha both looked excited as well, though they tried to hid that fact and show themselves to be more mature than their youngest sibling. Soon the airport began to shrink away, looking like little more than a tiny diorama, like something you’d see at the science and industry museum. In no time, the ship was headed south east towards the continent. As the Maxwell’s gazed out their window at the passing landscape below, another announcement came over the speakers, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have now reached our primary cruising altitude, and you are free to move about the cabin. It is now 10:20 a.m. We have clear skies ahead, and we should arrive in Strassburg just after 6 p.m. British Airways and the crew of the Strassburg Limited hope that you have a pleasant flight.”
While Tom stayed glued to window, the rest of the family quickly settled in to the flight. Samantha pulled out the latest romance novel she was reading. Byron pulled out his Tolkien novel, and Tabitha got her magazine back out. Jack quickly re-immersed himself back in the Times he’d bought at the train station. The main pages were of course totally focused on the growing possibility of a general strike and what some were already calling this generation’s Sarajevo Crisis, though Jack silently prayed they were wrong. Having read those articles, his attention turned to the international section. American President Horace Thurman was bellowing support for the German Junkers in the face of what he called “continued socialist aggression.” Thurman had just won a comfortable reelection to a second term in November, and for better or for worse Europe would have to deal with the hard-line anti-Socialist Democrat for at least four more years. Thurman alarmed Jack, as he alarmed many good British and European socialists. He’d taken the presidency in 1940 as a bit of a shock. America had become increasingly isolationist in the 1920s and 30s, following increasing European integration and international involvement. He’d been able to draw away enough support from the Republican party to prevent the insurgent Progressive-Socialist party from taking the White House, and in the past four years had cracked down hard on PSP activity and labor rights that had been granted during previous administrations, claiming to be “cleansing America of Euro-socalist ideology.” Thurman seemed to stand for the opposite of everything that the nations of the European Congress had been working for the past thirty years. What was worse, Thurman had started a massive build up of the American armed forces and seemed to be abandoning isolationist tendencies of the previous decades. 
America wasn’t the only place with less than happy news. Russia was growing more and more unstable, something that Jack and his colleagues at the Interior ministry weren’t to surprised by. After the War of 1914, Czar Nicholas II had managed to stave off crisis by issuing a series of reforms between 1916-1929, when Russia became a fully constitutional monarchy with a true power-sharing structure between the Czar and the Duma. But there was still a great gulf between the rich and poor, and Russia still lagged pitifully behind Western Europe in industrialization. And ever since Nicholas II’s death in 1936, there had been growing unrest. The International Socialist Labor Party was but one voice in the cacophony of left-wing parties demanding reform, and far from the most radical. And Czar Nicholas III’s health was poor. If the Czar died it was unlikely that his young son Michael would be able to save the monarchy. Some feared revolution, though Jack personally didn’t know if that wouldn’t be a good thing. It had worked in France, after all. 
Elsewhere in the world, Japan was continuing to consolidate it’s empire in East Asia, at the expense of China and the European powers. Jack suspected that if the Germany situation didn’t explode within the next six months that the next Imperial Congress would be directly addressing the situation when it gathered for it’s next pentennial meeting in Toronto this summer. Australia was continually screaming about increasing Japanese aggression and encroachment, and Hong Kong was also worried. For that matter, if the trend continued India may start feeling the pinch. Most expected Japan to slow it’s territorial appetite now that China had essentially capitulated, along with former European colonial holdings that had briefly gained their independence in the 1920s.  The watchword for the Pacific was appeasement. Jack personally wondered if that was the wisest choice, but knew that Britain, and indeed the Empire as a whole, to say nothing of the European Congress, would not willingly get involved in a drawn out conflict with Japan. 
Jack looked up from the paper and sighed quietly to himself, as he looked at his children, especially Byron. His eldest son was nearly the same age he had been when he went off to fight in France. It seemed like a lifetime ago. The world was so different then. And until recently, Jack had believed that the world his children would grow up to enjoy would be the one of peace that he and his comrades had fought to achieve thirty years ago. Now, it seemed as if the idea of making the 20th Century the “Century of Peace” that George Landsbury spoke of after the signing of the Strassburg Treaty in 1915 might have just been a pipe-dream after all. For the sake of his children, he hoped not. 

Having had enough of world events for one day, Jack folded his paper and decided to lean his head back and take a nap before lunch. 

To be continued...