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 
principal.
“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...

Friday, November 28, 2014

Silent Night, Part 7: Interlude

Hello to all my readers. I realize it's been literally ages since I've posted anything new. Due in part to starting my first "real" job after college, and also in part due to some writer's block, I haven't come up with much in the way of new, postable material. 
As we approach the holiday season, and more importantly for this particular series, the 100th Anniversary of the 1914 Christmas Truce, I wanted to keep this story alive. I'm hoping to get more of this story written this month as time allows. 

Enjoy!

INTERLUDE

The early years of the European Federation were filled with many ups and downs as the diplomats and politicians and generals navigated the unknown. Up until the Miracle of 1914, cooperation between the Great Powers in Europe had been spotty at best, and the break down in that cooperation had led to the War of 1914 in the first place. The unprecedented peace agreement that followed at Straßburg radically altered the continent forever. The first meeting of the Congress of European States began on September 1, 1915 at the Palace Rohan in Straßburg, where a total of twenty-five men gathered in the great hall that had been home to the Peace Congress earlier in the year, and from their ranks selected 5 men to serve as the newly created Executive Committee  of the European Congress. John Keynes, a noted economist and Liberal Party member represented the United Kingdom. René Viviani, who had served as the first Minister of Labor in the old French regime and was a key leader in the moderate opposition party in the new People’s Assembly after the revolution, represented the new French republic. Philipp Scheidemann, a leader of the SPD who would later become Chancellor under the Reformed Constitution of 1917, represented Germany. Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, brother of Czar Nicholas II, represented the Russian Empire. And finally, Jakob Reumann, Austrian SPD leader, represented the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Keynes was elected as Chairman of the Committee, and would lead the CES through much of the early years as the new council struggled to establish it’s legitimacy and authority. 
The first thing for Chairman Keynes and the other committee members had to tackle was what to do with the money paid by the Signatory Powers into the new War Relief Fund. In mid-September, with the approval of the CES, the Executive Committee set up the Relief Fund Bank, which would be the precursor to the European Federal Bank. The RFB would manage the funds and how they would be distributed throughout Europe for war recovery. Set aside at the bank was an allowance for war widows from all countries to help them get on their feet after the lose of their husbands. Families who’s unmarried sons died in battle also received money in compensation for their sacrifice. Money then began to be released for projects aimed at, in the words of the committee members, “bringing the continent closer together.” 
In the first five years of the existence of the Congress, several key foundation stones were laid for creation of what would amount to a unified European continent by the dawn of the twenty-first century. Chief among them were the creation of the European Trade Zone and the European Railway Authority. The ETZ helped regulate international trade on the continent and helped to lower or eliminate most trade tariffs by 1925. The ERA helped standardized rail travel throughout the continent, using funds from the Relief Fund to build new rail lines or modernize existing lines throughout the continent, and then successfully lobbied to create the Pan-European Passport in 1919, which eliminated most travel restrictions and allowed freedom of movement among the initial Signatory Powers and nations that would sign the Straßburg Treaty in the years to come. 
-Hamilton, Dr. Alexandra. Europe United. London: Bayle House, 2011.

With the conflict on the Continent over and done with, by the end of July 1915, the issue of Irish Home Rule quickly began to rise back to the fore in British politics, at the same time as pressure for new elections for parliament reached a boiling point. Prime Minister Grey announced on August 2nd that new elections for Parliament would occur on October 5th, to the wide approval of the public still upset at those in the old Asquith government and the War Faction of the Liberal Party that had supported early violence against truce fighters. Grey also announced that implementation of the Third Irish Home Rule bill would be enacted after the elections, saying he hoped that the devolved Irish government would be set up before the beginning of 1916. George Lansbury had become a vocal leader of the Peace Faction, and had quickly become the new leading voice in the Liberal Party.
When the vote was held, Peace Liberals and the Labour Party swept through, to the fear of hardline Torries and many in the upper classes. Fear that the red revolution in France would cross the channel was palpable, and although it wasn’t widely known at the time, some members of the military establishment set up plans to act against the radicals if they went too far. On October 11, Lansbury became Prime Minister, despite some mild objections from other members of the Liberal Party. Grey resumed his post as Foreign Minister, and David Lloyd George became Home Secretary. While not a revolution like in France, British society would be greatly altered in the coming years by Lansbury’s government. Peace became the new policy of Number 10 Downing Street. 
Parliament began discussing implementation of Irish Home Rule on October 18th. The Government supported quick action on the matter, with Prime Minister Lansbury saying “swift action on this matter is paramount for our nation’s quick and speedy recovery from the war.” Opposition MPs called for patience, and reignited discussion on possible partition of Ireland, since citizens in the northern Irish counties were still balking at the prospect of Home Rule. Unionist MPs from Ireland suggested dividing northern and southern Ireland equally, with both having Home Rule based on the original set up in the Third Home Rule bill. After it became clear that Northern Ireland would never submit willingly to a government in Dublin, David Lloyd George and other members of the government presented the Fourth (and Final) Home Rule Bill to parliament in December of 1915. It called for the creation of the Dominion of Ireland, centered on Dublin, and the Dominion of Ulster, centered on Belfast. Both dominions would be required to recognize religious toleration and equal status to all protestants and catholics within their borders, and free movement between the two states. Home Rule MPs from Ireland were not thrilled, and there were demonstrations in both Northern and Southern Ireland in opposition to the bill (those in the north flatly opposed to any separation from Great Britain, and those in the South opposed to the partition of Ireland in any form for any reason). In the end, the bill would be pass Parliament and be enacted in February of 1916. Elections would be held in May, and formal devolution to the dominions would go into effect on June 31st 1916. 
- Hayworth, Dr. Samuel. The Lansbury Years. London: Random House, 2009. 

In late September, the newly elected Constitutional Convention of Alsace-Lorraine met for the first time in a few chambers in the Palace Rohan, which was also occupied by the European Congress. It became immediately obvious that new buildings would need to be built to house both the government of the newly formed nation, along with the European Congress. While the delegates debated the new constitution, a joint committee was formed with members from the European Congress, along with delegates from the Straßburg city government. The Straßburg Capital Committee, as it became known, began by drafting out some basic goals for the new city: to preserve, as much as possible, the historic old city, while at the same time accommodating the city’s new status as the capital of both a new nation and of the European Congress. It was ultimately settled that the hamlet of Neudorf, to the south of the city, would be acquired and used as the location for the new European capital. There a congress hall and administrative buildings would be built, along with headquarters for the Relief Fund Bank and the Christmas Miracle Memorial. The Alte Fischmarkt Strasse, which runs essentially in front of the cathedral in the old city, would be renamed the Weihnachtsallee and widened and extended, more or less in a straight line, from the cathedral to Neudorf, and the blocks between the street and the cathedral would be demolished to create a larger central plaza in the old city (of all the plans, this would be the most controversial since it would involve the most demolition of historic buildings in the city center). The Palace Rohan would be given to the Alsace-Lorraine government, and new administrative offices would also be built on the south side of the river across from the palace. 
The basic plan would be approved by the end of October by both the Alsace-Lorraine Provisional Government and the European Congress, and official plans were drawn up by German and French architects, and presented in mid-November.  Ground would be broken on the memorial in December, and then the real work would begin in mid January. 
- Gerhardt, Dr. Franz. Europe’s Capital, a History. Berlin: Random House, 2002. 

Members of the European Congress, along with the Parliament of Alsace-Lorraine and veterans associations in France, Britain, and Germany began planning in the fall of 1915 for a ceremony to mark the one year anniversary of the Christmas miracle. Alsace-Lorraine had already approved plans for a massive monument in Straßburg to commemorate the event, and it was decided early on by the Remembrance Committee that the ground breaking ceremony for the memorial would be incorporated into the event. After some discussion, Pope Benedict XV agreed to come and do a special Christmas Eve mass to start the ceremonies. During November and early December, the city of Straßburg saw a flurry of activity to make the city ready for the thousands that were expected to descend on the city. Hotels were built or expanded, special stands were built for the parades that were planned. 
Prime Minister Lansbury of Great Britain, Chairman Juares of France, and Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg of Germany all were in attendance, along with representatives from Russia and Austria-Hungary. In all, close to 50,000 people gathered in Straßburg to mark the first anniversary of the War of 1914. The ceremonies began with the Christmas Eve mass presided over by the Pope in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg, which was filled to capacity. The mass ended almost perfectly at midnight, and it was then that one of modern Christmas’ most famous traditions was born: the world-wide ringing of the bells. At exactly the stroke of midnight, Central European Time, nearly every church and clock bell in Europe chimed furiously for two minutes, marking the one year anniversary of the truce. From London to Moscow, the chimes rang out. And it did not occur in Europe alone. Many major cities in the United States, Canada and Australia took part as well. Following the bells, the International Christmas Choir, which had been founded that summer and was headquartered in Straßburg, began singing Silent Night, alternating verses between English, French, and German. 
The following day, there was a grand procession of dignitaries, units from the Christmas Army (both units that now made up the Army of Alsace-Lorraine and veteran’s remembrance units), several marching bands, and a number of festive holiday floats made its way from the center of Straßburg out to the “Neustadt,” or “New City,” where, among other things, the new Palace of Europe and the Christmas Memorial were to be built. As of Christmas of 1915, the site had been prepared and the streets were laid out, but it was mostly open fields and trees. Real construction wouldn’t begin until the early Spring of 1916. On the site of the New City, ground was officially broken on future memorial. 

- Collins, James. Remembering Christmas: Birth of the Modern Holiday. New York: Scholastic Corp. 2001. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Titanic Colony: Part 3

TITANIC COLONY

The old White Star Flag, which served as the flag of the Republic of Avalon from 1912 (Year 1) until 1914 (Year 3). 

Part 3: In Congress Assembled

May 21, 2276 (Year 364), Titanic City

            The government car headed east on Vault Street, all the way to Lowell Street on the east side of Manhattan Island. They passed the Security Ministry, the Health Ministry, the Colonial Office and the main campus of Avalonia University before Vault Street came to a dead end at the Memorial Dock, and the car turned north onto Lowell. The car passed shops and town houses, some of the oldest buildings in the city. About a mile and a half up from Vault, the car came to a stop at Andrew’s home, a three-story brick and wood townhouse that had been built over 100 years ago. Across the street was the river park, where parents were strolling with their children, a few elderly citizens were sitting around feeding the birds, and one young couple sitting on the ground having a picnic. Andrews got out of the car and walked up the steps into his home. He walked through the door to hear his two youngest children running down the stairs shouting “Daddy!” at the top of their lungs. His middle child, 10-year-old Margaret, reached him first, giving him a big hug. Her 4-year-old brother Edward was not far behind. He picked up Ed and walked into the parlor to the left of the main hall, where his wife was getting up from her seat.
            “It’s good to see you darling. How was your day?”
            “More and more reports. The Colonial Office wants to start on the next phase of expansions in New Albion and Atlantia, and they have to have Congress to give the go-ahead. Hopefully we’ll get through it by the end of the week.”
            “That’ll be good. You know my sister is considering going out to Atlantia. She wants to start fresh after the engagement to Robert fell apart.”
            “That’s definitely a fresh start. Life’s a little rough out in the new colonial expansion. Lots of wilderness still to tame.”
            “Sarah’s a tough girl. I think she can do it.”
            “Perhaps. Well if she does I wish her luck. Not something I’d want to do.”
            “I don’t know dad, it sounds kind of exciting to me.” Said James, Andrew’s 16-year-old son, his oldest. “Henry and I were talking about it today. If we don’t join the Navy for our two years of service after school, we may go to the Colonial Force.”
            “We’ll see about that. The men in this family have served faithfully in the Navy for generations. Would you really want to break that tradition?”
            “Well…when you put it that way….does make it harder to say no to the Navy. But I still think the Colonial Force would be more exciting.”
            “Thankfully that’s still two years away,” Andrew’s wife, Clara, piped in, defusing the situation. “Dinner should be ready soon. Why don’t you go and change clothes and we’ll eat darling.”
            “Okay, that sounds like a plan.” And with that, Andrews walked up the flight of stairs to the master bedroom and changed out of the suit he wore to work and into some more comfortable clothes to relax for the evening.
            At dinner, Andrews told his wife about the request from the Prime Minister.
            “Astor House? That’s the second event you’ve been invited to this year. Do you think the Prime Minister is planning on giving you some sort of political promotion?”
            “Clara I’ve considered that. It’s quite possible. Maybe a junior ministry appointment or something like that. But I’ve not heard anything official. Only time will tell.
            As dinner was finishing up, Maria, the housekeeper, came in to the room.
            “Mr. Andrews, there is a telephone call for you. It’s from Prime Minister Guggenheim.” This immediately got Andrews’ attention and he excused himself from the table to take the unexpected call.
            “Mr. Prime Minister, to what do I owe the honor of your call?”
            “Mr. Andrews, I apologize for interrupting your dinner. I assure you I’ll be brief. I need you to come by my office first thing tomorrow morning before you go the Congress building.”
            “Of course Mr. Prime Minister. I’d be happy to. I’ll have my driver bring me by Astor House first thing tomorrow. I should be in before 9 o’clock. Will that work?”
            “Yes that would be fine. See you then. Goodnight.
            “Goodnight, Mr. Prime Minister.” And with that the conversation ended. Andrews was deeply puzzled, and told his wife as much when she asked.
            “Who knows,” she said, “maybe some junior position has suddenly opened up. Or maybe he just needs your help introducing some new bill into Congress.”
            “Well I will find out tomorrow morning.”

April 25, 1912 (Year 1), Onboard the Titanic

It was just before 10:00 a.m. as Captain Smith walked into the First Class Lounge on A-Deck where the members of the Constitutional Assembly had gathered, Several of the recently elected delegates shook his hand and greeted him, including Margaret Brown, who had handily won the support of her peers and sent to the Assembly.
“Good morning Captain. Are you ready to make history today?”
“Why Mrs. Brown, I think we are about to do just that. If we are successful in making this settlement, I’m sure students hundreds of years from know will have to memorize this day and learn our names. Quite a strange feeling.”
“Yes I know exactly what you mean. I keep thinking about the Founding Fathers of the United States. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin. I wonder if they felt like this, if they knew what they were doing would go down in history.”
“Oh I don’t doubt your countrymen felt the same things we are now. And as the historical importance of the moment wasn’t lost on them, I don’t think it is lost on us either.”
“Well put Captain. Well put.”
Captain Smith made his rounds among the delegates, making a point to shake hands and greet each of the 40 members of the newly elected Constitutional Assembly. As the clock struck 10, the members of the Assembly found their seats, and the Captain made his way to the front of the center hall, opposite the main entrance, where a long table had been set up with seats facing the delegates for the Captain and his council. The captain was seated in the center. To his right were the senior officers: Chief Officer Henry Wilde, First Officer William Murdoch, Second Officer Charles Lightoller, Third Officer Herbert Pitman, Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe, and Sixth officer James Moody. To his left were Thomas Andrews, J. J. Astor, Bruce Ismay, Benjamin Guggenheim, Archibald Butt, and Master-at-Arms Thomas King. The delegates were seated in four rows all facing the Captain’s Council, with five members of each constituency seated on either side of a central row. As everyone else sat, Captain Smith stood at his place and opened the meeting.
“Gentlemen, and ladies,” nodding to Margaret Brown and the 5 other women who were present among the representatives in the room, “As one of you told me when I arrived here this morning, we are here to make history today. Indeed, the actions we take over the next few weeks and months will greatly shape the lives of our descendants. This morning’s session is just the beginning. A chance for us to begin to chart our course. Together, I believe we can establish a nation based on the principles that we all cherish from our homelands. We must establish a nation that respects the freedoms and liberties of the individual, but also protects the needs of the whole. From this seed of 2,200 souls we must grow the future of mankind. So, without further pleasantries, I hereby declare open the first session of the Constitutional Assembly of the Titanic Colony.” Captain Smith received a robust applause from the delegates and his council, before continuing on with the business at hand.
“Our first order of business is to establish a few ground rules. I will serve as a non-voting speaker of this Assembly, only to vote in the case of a tie. The rest of you, including my Council, will each have one vote. An agenda will be drafted for each day by the Council and adopted by all delegates at the beginning of each day.” The captain went over procedures for voting and adding new material to the agenda before he finally turned the floor over to Mr. Andrews, who’d been elected as Chairman of the Captain’s Council, who presented the days agenda, which really had only one all encompassing item.
“Honored delegates, our agenda for today is really quite simple, but also quite broad. We must settle on a very basic outline of how we want to set up our future government. Not the details, but the overall layout. Do we want a president, a monarchy, a board of directors? Should we have a legislature? What about a court system? Once we decide on some of these broad generalities, we will break down our coming days to handle the specifics of our future constitution.
Now, on the council, there are two primary competitors for what we feel the most appropriate form of government should look like. I will allow my colleague Mr. Bruce Ismay to take the floor first to present one view, followed by Mr. Astor with the opposing view.” With that, Mr. Ismay stood up and addressed the Assembly. In his proposal, the Captain would be installed as the colony’s leader and there would be a small council of representatives to run the colony for the time being, with options to expand the council at a later date once things were more established. Several times Ismay stressed that this was to serve as a temporary measure until the colony was more settled and a more representative government could function properly.
After Ismay was seated, Astor made his own address. He supported keeping the Captain in place as head of state, but wanted to see an elected legislature making most of the decisions, perhaps adopting some sort of Westminster-style of governance where the legislature elected from it’s membership a head of government that would run the day-to-day aspects of the government.
Once these two views had been presented, the floor was open to debate. To no one’s surprise, the delegates from the crew and third class balked at Mr. Ismay’s proposal and strongly supported Mr. Astor’s proposal. In the Second Class and First Class, things were more mixed. By two o’clock, a motion to vote was made by Archibald Butt, and in a vote of 36-16, the so-called “Astor Plan” was approved. The government of the new colony would be governed by a legislature and executive.

May 22, 2276 (Year 364), Titanic City

            The morning commute to the Government Quarter went very quickly as Andrews sat in the back of the government car, headed to the Prime Minister’s residence at Astor House. The historic residence was on Captain Street, halfway between the Congress House and Edward Palace, on the west side of the street across from Colonial Park. With morning traffic, the drive took nearly half an hour from Andrews' townhouse on Lowe Street, putting Andrews at his destination just before 9 o’clock. The three-story brick building with white columns lining the street-facing front dominated that section of the street. Andrews’ car pulled up and the driver let him out, and said he would pull around back and park. Andrews approached the gate and gave the guard his identity card and told the man he had an appointment with the Prime Minister. The guard conferred with a registry in his guard post and, after seeing the Congressman’s name, allowed him entry. Up a short flight of stairs that led him to the porch underneath the portico, Andrews approached the front door that was opened by a porter.
            “Welcome to Astor House, Mr. Andrews. I’m Martin Andbrown, the Prime Minister’s secretary. He’s in the study, waiting on your arrival. Follow me.” Andrews followed Andbrown into the study. He mused momentarily about the secretary’s last name. In theory they were distant relatives. Andrews was a descendant of the second son of Thomas Andrews and Margret Brown-Andrews, Lionel. Andbrown would be a descendent of Thomas and Margaret’s third son, Samuel, who changed his last name as an adult to reflect both his father and mother’s last names. It seemed as though most people were distantly related, at least in Titanic City. With everyone descended from a mere 2,200 people, it was hard to avoid.
            Andrews’ musings ended there, as he entered the famed study of Astor House, the formal office of the Prime Minister of Avalon. The room was painted a pale blue, with several white bookshelves filled with a vast assortment of titles. The Prime Minister’s desk was built of luxurious dark oak, and dominated the room. Richard Guggenheim III, the thirty-fifth prime minister of the Republic, was sitting behind the desk and looked up as Andrews entered. He’s been in the office for four years, and looked likely to stay in office after the general election next year.
            “Mr. Andrews, thank you for joining me this morning on such short notice.”
            “My pleasure, Mr. Prime Minister. What is that you’d like to talk to me about this morning? I assume it’s something important since you had me come on relatively short notice like this.”
            “It is important, Mr. Andrews. You see, David Bracken, the Deputy Prime Minister, has tendered his resignation.”
            “Well, that is a surprise. And I’m sorry to hear that. Bracken is a good man.”
            “Yes, it is very unfortunate. Tomorrow, this will be announced publicly. And I intend to announce a cabinet reshuffle at that time as well. Interior Minister Samuel Deacon will be moving up to fill Bracken’s spot. And, I would like you to fill his.”
            “You want me to be the Interior Minister?” Andrews asked, surprised.
            “Yes. You’ve worked extensively with the interior ministry projects that have been passed through Congress, and you’ve done other work back in New Eire. I believe you’d be perfect for the job. And if you must know, I’d already planned on tapping you for the cabinet after the elections next year, but with Bracken’s resignation it seemed like the perfect opportunity to move that plan up.”
            “Well sir I am quite honored. Thank you very much for the offer.”
            “You’re welcome, Andrews. Will you accept?”
            “Yes, absolutely. I’d be happy to.”
            “Excellent. We will make the announcement here at noon tomorrow. I’ll see you then. Oh, and Andrews, this will mean you will be at the main celebration on Foundation Day later this week.”

May 25, 1912 (Year 1), Outside the Vault

            Captain Smith looked out at the crowd that had gathered outside the Vault. A stage had been assembled in front of the massive concrete structure on the center of Manhattan Island. The rest of the Captain’s Council sat on stage with Smith, and in the first row of the seated crowd the forty members of the Assembly waited for the ceremony to start. Behind the Assembly members, a vast majority of the passengers and crew were in waiting for the start of the ceremony. Behind those seated on the stage, the pennant flags of the White Star Line fluttered idly in the wind. Although it had been decided that the White Star flag would not serve as a permanent flag for the soon-to-be republic, the Council felt that it would be a good temporary stand in until a new flag could be created.
            Off in the distance, the Titanic’s whistle blasted long and loud, the signal that it was noon, and time for the ceremony to begin. Captain Smith rose from his seat and walked up to a podium set up on the stage. In the Vault, the Quartermaster had discovered an audio projection device so that all those assembled could hear the Captain and the other speakers. The Captain cleared his throat, and began to speak.
            “Ladies and Gentlemen of this brave new civilization. We are gathered here to mark the beginning of a brilliant new future. Over one month ago, we found ourselves upon the shores of a North America nigh unrecognizable to us all. We have been swept across time and space, something that none of us quite understand or can explain. We are here now, and that is all that matters. We must move forward and prepare for what lies ahead, and create a world suitable for our children and their children and many generations thereafter.
            Today, myself and my council and the forty representatives the people of this new nation elected will sign our new constitution into law. Today is birth of our new nation. From this day forward, we are no longer American or English, Canadian or French, European or Asian. From this day forward we are all citizens of the Republic of Avalon.” A great cheer and applause came up from the crowd as the Captain finished speaking. Following his remarks, the forty representatives of the Constitutional Assembly filed on stage and signed the Articles of Governance, followed by the Council, and finally Captain Smith.
            The document signed in to law that day would be a somewhat temporary system, with such a small population. Later on, the way the new Congress would be elected and how such representation would be proportioned would change as the population grew and spread out along the continent. The Captaincy became a permanent institution, a figurehead leader of the new Republic. The Prime Minister would be chosen from the members of the Assembly, and a cabinet would be appointed by the Prime Minister, all ruling in the name of the “High Captain.” While the High Captaincy isn’t a hereditary position, the custom will be adopted that the reigning High Captain will appoint their successor.