Snippet: Storm Front (Twilight Of The Gods I)

18 Sep

Prologue

India, 1949

“It’s time, Your Excellency.”

Winston Churchill, 44th and last Viceroy and Governor-General of India, sighed as the functionary entered the office. It was a magnificent office and Winston knew he would be sorry to leave it, but it wasn’t important. The important matter had been decided long ago, in London and Delhi, and Winston’s opinions had been dismissed as unimportant. India would be granted her independence, the government in London having decided that a peaceful separation was better than a brutal civil war that would destroy everything Britain had worked so hard to build. The Raj was dead. It had died when Hong Kong and Singapore fell to the Japanese, when Japanese troops had reached the borders of India itself. And Winston Churchill, who had fought so hard to save it, was charged with its funeral.

He rose slowly, feeling his old bones creaking under the weight. It had been years since he’d been a reporter, years since he’d served as a soldier, years since he’d been able to keep up with the younger men. The boundless determination that had driven him onwards, through years in the political wilderness and three years as Prime Minister, as Hitler’s armies scored victory after victory, was fading. He had hoped – prayed – to go to his rest after the Nazi beast was slain in its lair, but he knew he wouldn’t live to see it. Hitler’s enemies had fallen before him, one by one; Stalin assassinated during the retreat from Moscow, De Gaulle killed by a sniper’s bullet in Indochina, Roosevelt felled by his own heart. Winston was the last to survive and he knew it wouldn’t be long before he too was lowered into the grave. And the hopes and fears of the free peoples of the world would die with him.

Perhaps not, he thought, as he looked up at the map. Hitler may yet overreach himself.

He had never admitted, not even to his wife, just how much he’d hoped Hitler would declare war on the United States. Roosevelt had done all he could, but America couldn’t – wouldn’t – enter the war against Germany without good cause. Winston had no illusions about what would have happened to the British Empire, overshadowed by its mightier cousin across the ocean, yet Nazi Germany would have been crushed. Instead, Hitler had declared war on Japan, a stunt that had fooled no one but had been treacherously difficult to overcome. He’d even withdrawn the u-boats from the Atlantic, gambling that it would avoid an incident that would bring America into the war. And he’d been right.

Winston shook his head, silently tracing the lines on the map. Hitler’s armies had fallen back from Moscow, true, only to resume the offensive in the following spring. The Russians, their armies faltering as their industry staggered under the weight of the war, couldn’t keep Hitler from seizing Stalingrad, then resuming the drive on Moscow. And, if that hadn’t been bad enough, Hitler’s forces had thrust into Egypt and then Palestine. If the Americans hadn’t moved troops into Iran, as part of an agreement to withdraw the Anglo-French occupation force, Winston knew they might have stabbed into India itself. The weakness of the British Empire had been exposed for all to see.

And now he sits, consolidating his gains, while we have to struggle to survive, he thought, as he followed the functionary down the stairs. He doubted Hitler could hold Russia indefinitely – although the horror stories from refugees had made it clear that the Nazis were far more brutal than the communists – but there was no one left on the continent who could challenge him. He may even start preparing to launch an invasion of Britain.

Outside, the hot air slapped him in the face as he made his way towards the podium. Hundreds of thousands of people were gathered, watching and waiting for the moment when Britain finally granted India her independence, when they could set foot on the world stage as an independent country. Winston couldn’t really blame the Indians for wanting independence – thankfully, the looming threat of the Germans had forced the INC to come up with a reasonable plan for governing the country – but, at the same time, he couldn’t help feeling a pang for everything that would be lost. The Raj had been a proud achievement, bringing government and civilisation to India.

Winston stopped in front of the podium and looked down. The Indians were waiting, dark men in sober white suits; beside them, diplomats from the rest of the world watched with great interest, flanked by reporters ready to jot down whatever he said and misquote it to the world. Winston had been a reporter himself, once upon a time, but his time in the political wilderness had left him with little love for the breed. The age of the daring reporter, along with the brave explorer who brought civilisation to the natives, was over. Instead, there were hacks, liars and bureaucratic beancounters. The glories of the past were long gone.

He cleared his throat and stumbled through the speech Prime Minister Atlee had had written for him. It was a cumbersome thing, clearly written and approved by committee; it was hard, so hard, to put any of his passion into his words. But it was what the Indians wanted to hear and they cheered loudly as he told them that India was, from this moment forward, an independent dominion of the British Commonwealth. Thankfully, they’d agreed to stay in the Commonwealth for at least five years. The British Government had that long to convince them to stay permanently.

“But there is another matter I must discuss,” he said, putting the paper notes aside. He hadn’t told Atlee he intended to add his own words to the speech before the world’s reporters – and the assembled world leaders and diplomats. It would only have upset him. “The world is not what it used to be.”

He took a breath. “When I was a young man, a quarter of the world was red and the sun never set on the British Empire. I remember campaigning along the North-West Frontier and fighting a war in South Africa, never dreaming that the glories before me would come to an end. It never crossed my mind that Europe would destroy itself in war. Nor did it occur to me that a great beast would rise from the ashes to enslave the entire continent. I would have thought it impossible, if someone had told me, and laughed in his face.

“But I would have been wrong.

“An iron curtain has descended across Europe, yet we may still see glimmers of the horrors unleashed by Adolf Hitler. A dozen nations have simply ceased to exist. Countless populations have been enslaved or exterminated by the black-clad SS. Those who dare resist are subjected to torture before they are killed. A horror has descended that holds all of Europe, even Germany itself in the grip of fear.

“I remember when the cabinet debated what to do, the day that Hitler’s troops marched into the Rhineland and dared us to evict them. If we had known then what we know now, we would have gone to war and forced the Germans to retreat. But we did nothing. I remember when Hitler demanded the most valuable regions of Czechoslovakia and Chamberlain, a weak man, chose to appease the fascist beast rather than make a stand. We allowed Czechoslovakia to be dismembered and, in doing so, sacrificed our best chance to stop Hitler without major bloodshed. But we lacked the nerve to make a stand.

“We had our excuses, of course. Britain lost nearly a million lives in the first great war against Germany. The French lost nearly twice that and had their country devastated by the war. Our economies were weak, our forces ill-prepared and Hitler seemed to hold the moral high ground. Anything seemed better than war.

“But all that matters, in the end, was that when we determined to take a stand, we had already surrendered far too much to the Germans. When the Phony War ended, Hitler’s forces smashed France and pushed Britain to the wall. Had Hitler focused more on naval matters, Britain too might have been invaded and occupied. Instead, we were forced to watch as Hitler overwhelmed Russia and the Middle East.

“There is a temptation, on this day of all days, for us to forget the threat posed by the Germans. There is a temptation to believe that Hitler is satisfied, that he will be happy with what he has taken by force. There is even a temptation to be pleased that the communist regime that dominated Russia has been destroyed …”

He paused, silently cursing the American industrialists under his breath. They’d hated communism – and, after Finland, they hadn’t been alone. Sending supplies to Britain was one thing, yet sending supplies to Russia was quite another. They had hoped the communists would be destroyed, but what they’d got in exchange might destroy them.

“We can never relax,” Winston said. “Right now, Herr Hitler is experimenting with jet aircraft, with atomic weapons, with rockets that will allow him to target New York or land a man on the moon. It would be dangerously reckless of us to assume that the threat will go away, even if we do nothing to provoke it. We must stake out our perimeter, establish our defences and never, ever, drop our guard until the day the fascist beast is slain in its lair.

“There can be no compromise with evil,” he concluded. “The Nazis will never be satisfied until they have overrun the entire world. And so we must remember, at all costs, that freedom is something that must be defended. Europe forgot that and now Europe is lost. I charge you all to remember that, when they start trying to soothe us. We must hold the line or we will all be lost.”

He stepped back from the podium as the crowd burst into cheers, wondering just how many of them would understand what he’d said. Far too many Indians considered democracy a joke – and who was to say they weren’t wrong? India had seen very little democracy under the Raj. But they’d see less of it under Hitler. The Nazis wouldn’t hesitate to do whatever it took to crush resistance.

Atlee wouldn’t be happy, Winston knew. It was unlikely he’d be offered another government post in the future, but he’d assumed the Labour Government wouldn’t have a use for him in any case. He was, after all, an embarrassing old lion, a relic of the past …

… But as long as he lived, he would do what he could to alert the world to the dangers of Nazism. He could do naught else.

Chapter One

Berlin

17 July 1985 (Victory Day)

It was, Finance Minister Hans Krueger concluded darkly, a very impressive parade.

He stood with the other ministers, one arm raised in salute, as endless rows of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and mobile missile launchers drove down the parade and past the stand, before being carefully directed to staging areas on the outskirts of Berlin. The crowd roared its approval as the vehicles passed, followed by thousands upon thousands of soldiers wearing their fanciest uniforms. They’d have no trouble finding companionship tonight, Hans thought wryly, as the soldiers vanished into the distance. All the nice German girls loved a man in uniform, particularly if he were unmarried …

Not now, he told himself firmly, as the crowd roared again. Not on Victory Day.

He twisted his head, slightly, as a dull roar echoed over the city. A trio of heavy bombers, capable of flying from Berlin to Washington without refuelling, flew overhead, so low he almost felt as if he could reach up and touch them. They were followed by a force of fighter jets, antiaircraft missiles slung under their wings; they in turn were followed by a small flock of assault helicopters, freshly painted after their return from the front. The crowd went wild with delight; he smiled to himself as he saw a line of uniformed schoolboys breaking ranks to wave at the aircraft as they passed overhead. Their teachers wouldn’t be happy – discipline was everything in a parade – but hopefully they’d let it pass.

“Little brats,” Foreign Minister Engelhard Rubarth muttered. “Can’t they stand in line like everyone else?”

“They’re eight,” Hans told him, dryly. The boys would have gotten out of bed at six in the morning, forced to don their dress uniforms and marched to their spot in the square, where they’d then had to wait standing in line for hours. He still had nightmares about his time at school, even though he’d been lucky enough to avoid a Victory Day parade. “Let them be children, just for a while.”

“They’re disrupting the parade,” Rubarth said. “The teachers will be furious.”

“I don’t envy them tomorrow,” Hans agreed. “They’ll be spending half the day running laps around the school.”

He made a mental note to have a word with the parade organiser about the children, although he knew it might be nothing more than tilting at windmills. Everything must be in order, they’d say; it had been a principle of the state since Adolf Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany and set out to reshape the world in his image. Clearly, they’d never seen the confused mishmash of ministries that made up the government. When he’d been younger and more idealistic, Hans had planned a cull of government officers; older and wiser, he knew there was no way to streamline the system. Too many people had a vested interest in keeping the system as it was.

Another pair of aircraft flew overhead, disgorging a line of black-suited figures that fell towards the ground. Hans knew the whole routine had been carefully rehearsed, but he couldn’t help feeling a flicker of doubt as the figures kept falling, without even trying to open the chutes. And then, in perfect unison, the chutes popped; the parachutists slowed their fall and landed neatly in front of the Fuhrer’s box.

Heil Bormann,” they snapped. The crowd picked up the salute and repeated it. “Heil Bormann!

“The Fuhrer seems pleased,” Rubarth said.

“Good,” Hans muttered. Adolf Bormann might be the son of Martin Bormann, but he lacked his father’s political skills. Fuhrer wasn’t precisely a meaningless title these days, not when an entire continent saluted him every day, yet Adolf Bormann had little real power of his own. And he didn’t even have the sense to know it. “That will keep him pleased.”

He turned his attention back to the parachutists, just in time to see them turn, fold up their chutes and march off, still in perfect unison. Moments later, a long line of soldiers marched into the square, turning to salute the Fuhrer as they passed. The schoolboys seemed to have lost all sense of discipline; they were waving and shouting at the soldiers, some even dropping into line beside them. Hans winced inwardly as a stern-faced teacher came forward, his face darkening with fury. He’d be blamed for their poor conduct by his own superiors and probably wind up being dispatched to Germany East. It was rare for a teacher to volunteer to serve in Germany East.

Hans sighed, then waved to one of his aides. “Yes, Mein Herr?”

“Go tell that teacher he is not to punish the children too severely,” Hans said. He was one of the three most powerful men in the Reich. What was the point of having power if it couldn’t be used? “And then see to it that he doesn’t suffer too badly himself.”

“Yes, Mein Herr,” the aide said.

“You always were sentimental,” Rubarth commented, as the aide scurried away. “That’s how it begins, you know. The problems the Americans had in the sixties started with a lack of discipline.”

“And yet the Americans are richer than us,” Hans pointed out. It was an old argument, one he’d found himself repeating to both the military and the SS. If the Americans were so weak and feeble why were they the ones who had established the first true settlement on the moon or developed the first anti-ballistic missile shield? “How does that square with a lack of discipline?”

“The Americans are protected by their ocean,” Rubarth countered. That too was part of the argument. “They wouldn’t stand a chance if we could cross the waters.”

Hans shrugged. Very few in the Reich would admit it, but the Americans were more advanced than the Reich. Maybe they did pour fewer resources into their militaries than the Reich, yet their advanced weapons more than evened the balance. What was the point of investing in thousands of ICBMs if the Americans could stop more than half of the missiles before they reached their targets? The cost of trying to keep up with the United States was draining the Reich dry.

And their educational system is better than ours too, he thought, as he watched his aide quietly explaining the facts of life to the teacher. They actually teach their children to think.

He pushed the thought aside as another flight of aircraft roared over the city. There would be time enough for the endless argument tomorrow. Today … was a special day.

***

Weakling, Reichsführer-SS Karl Holliston thought, as he watched the interplay between Hans Krueger’s aide and the teacher. In Germany East, such behaviour would never be tolerated for a moment.

He sighed, briefly considering sending an aide of his own to the school. A formal complaint from the SS would be enough to get the teacher sacked and the children severely punished, but it would be nothing more than spite. The Berliners hadn’t faced war for forty years, since the last time the British had bombed the city before coming to an uneasy peace with the Reich. Even a handful of bombs planted by particularly foolish Gastarbeiters hadn’t disturbed the peace of the city. The Berliners simply didn’t know the true danger of living on a frontier.

The little brats should all be sent to spend a year in Germany East, he thought, darkly. It would seem an adventure, at first, until they realised that a terrorist sniper could strike at any moment. They don’t have the mindset to survive.

He gritted his teeth in outrage. He’d grown up in Germany East; his father an SS trooper who’d been granted a farm in the settlements at the conclusion of his service, his mother a stout German woman who’d already buried a husband who’d been killed by the insurgents and brought two children to her second marriage. Not that Karl’s father had cared; he’d been happy to bring up an additional son and daughter. Repopulating the steppes with good Germans was more important than his personal feelings, after all. Karl had grown up knowing he might have to fight for his life at any moment, learning to shoot almost as soon as he could walk. And, by the time he’d left school and volunteered for the SS, he’d been shot at several times by the insurgents. How many of the bratty schoolchildren below could say the same?

None of them, Karl told himself. They grew up in safety.

He pushed the thought aside as the first row of SS troopers marched into the square. They were a magnificent sight; hundreds of black-clad men, their insignia glittering under the light, walking in perfect unison. It was men like them, Karl told himself, who were the true defenders of the Reich. The army, as powerful as it was, didn’t have the same determination to do whatever it took to protect the country. Hadn’t Rommel proved that when he’d captured Jerusalem? The treacherous Field Marshal had even allowed the Jewish defenders to withdraw, with their weapons, and escape to Iraq! Rommel simply hadn’t the stomach to do what needed to be done.

Heil Bormann,” the troopers bellowed, saluting. “Heil Bormann!”

Karl kept his face expressionless with an effort. Adolf Bormann was an idiot, plain and simple, and the Deputy Fuhrer was even worse; they should both have been put out to pasture long ago. Giving the title of Fuhrer, the title that had been practically defined by Adolf Hitler himself, to an idiot was an insult. But it couldn’t be helped. No one really wanted a true Fuhrer, one with the power of life and death over the entire Reich, save perhaps for Karl. And he only wanted to be the Fuhrer himself.

If they let me claim that power, he thought, his eyes seeking Krueger. The fat man was watching the SS troopers with wary eyes. I will be opposed by the rest of the trio.

Karl ground his teeth in silent frustration. The Finance Minister fought tooth and nail over every funding request, doling out money as carefully as a farmwife who distrusted the local tradesmen. Krueger wouldn’t let Karl become a real Fuhrer without a fight – and he’d be supported by the military, who wouldn’t be pleased at the thought of an SS Fuhrer. The Heer, Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe only agreed on a handful of things, but disapproval of the SS was one of them. Karl knew, without false modesty, that he could split the different military commanders on smaller issues – the Heer, Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe heads fought each other with more determination than they fought the rebels in South Africa – yet they’d unite against the SS. Krueger, damn him, wouldn’t need to call in any favours or strike bargains to block Karl from claiming the topmost position in the Reich.

He leaned forward as the row upon row of SS stormtroopers passed through the square, silently gauging the crowd’s reactions. The younger children were still cheering loudly, but there was something forced about the cheers from the older civilians. Karl had no illusions about the popularity of the SS, yet it still bothered him. The vast majority of recruits came from Germany East, where the SS was genuinely popular, but it wasn’t enough. He simply didn’t have enough recruits to meet the state’s manpower needs in peacetime, let alone with a war on in South Africa.

And the war has to be won, he told himself, grimly. The Dark Continent was an untapped treasure trove of raw materials and he had no intention of leaving it to black communists and American capitalists. No matter the cost, the war has to be won.

But it was a problem. There had always been questions raised about the racial purity of Germany South. The settlers there didn’t give a damn about someone’s ancestry, as long as he looked white, and they resisted any attempt by the SS to hunt down rogue Jews, let alone someone who might be French or Italian pretending to be of good German stock. And South Africa wasn’t much better. They’d been happy to accept the Reich’s offer of military assistance, but they’d flatly refused to hand over their Jews to the SS. Indeed, Karl was sure that senior figures in the South African government had been encouraging the Jews to flee before it was too late.

Maybe we should just decapitate the local government and take over, he thought. There was a contingency plan to do just that, one he’d been putting together as a last resort. That, at least, would make it easier for us to fight the war.

***

“The Nasties do put on a good show, don’t they?”

Andrew Barton, Office of Strategic Services, nodded in agreement. It was an impressive parade, all the more so for being something he would never have seen in America. The Nazis wanted to show their might off to the world, displaying their power for all to see. It just didn’t happen in Washington.

“Take careful note of the number of aircraft you see at any one time,” he said, dryly. A decade ago, a team of American observers had been fooled into believing that the Reich had over a hundred intercontinental bombers when the Germans had flown the aircraft over Berlin and then circled around, out of sight, to fly over the city for a second time. “We don’t want to be fooled again.”

He looked down at the crowds from the balcony, wondering absently just how many of them truly wanted to be there. The kids in the front rows might have thought it was going to be fun, but he doubted they were enjoying themselves after waiting in line for hours; behind them, the lines of watching civilians seemed slightly disorderly, as if the crowd was already bored and resentful. That too wasn’t something he’d have seen in Washington. If there had been a parade, attendance sure as hell wouldn’t be compulsory. The crowd would have been composed of men and women who wanted to be there, waving flags and cheering loudly.

“Ah,” Robert Hamilton said. The CIA operative leaned forward. “The meat of the matter.”

Andrew leaned forward too as the first of the heavy mobile missile launchers made its way onto the square. It was a truly impressive sight, he had to admit; the giant vehicle, the missile mounted on its back, inching forward as the crowd went wild. The Nazis had claimed, in their boastful speeches, that the mobile missile could be fired from anywhere within the Reich and hit the United States, although Andrew was fairly sure that was nothing more than empty bragging. Unless the Germans had made a radical breakthrough, the rocket simply didn’t have the fuel to fly further than 1500km. Not that that kept it from being a major headache, he had to admit. England was easily within range and the Germans had enough nukes to turn the United Kingdom into a radioactive slagheap. The ABM shield simply couldn’t guarantee to block even half of the salvo from reaching its target.

“I was thinking,” Hamilton said. “Do you think they’ve left the nuke in the rocket?”

Andrew shrugged. The Germans would have to be insane to take the risk, no matter how many safeguards they’d worked into the warhead, but the Germans were the only people to ever use a nuke in combat. On the other hand, nukes didn’t go off if you hit them with a hammer. It was quite possible that the warhead was completely safe, no matter what happened. But they’d still have to be insane to mess around with a nuke.

He turned his attention towards the podium at the other side of the square. The Fuhrer was there, exchanging salutes with the missile crew; the Reichsführer-SS, one of the most evil men Andrew had ever met, was sitting just two seats down from him. If something happened in the parade, the Reich would be deprived of both its titular head and one of its most powerful men. It was hard to be sure just how powerful the other casualties were – in the Reich, power and title didn’t always go together – but a disaster would throw the entire state into confusion.

If nothing else, the SS will be holding competitions to see who’s evil enough to become the next Reichsführer-SS, Andrew thought, darkly. Winner must be a treacherous unprincipled bastard, with a goatee he can stroke at particularly evil moments …

He shook his head, annoyed at himself. He could make fun of the Reichsführer-SS – God knew there were hundreds of old WW2 cartoons still running around the internet that made fun of Hitler, Himmler and Fatso Goring – but none of the people below dared say a word against the Fuhrer and his cronies. The military might marching through the square was one thing, yet the true horror lay in the hundreds of thousands of listening ears, ready to report a single word against the state. Wives could turn on husbands, children on parents … Nazi Germany was a nightmare few ever escaped.

And I will go back to America, when my stint is up, and wash the stench of Nazi Germany from my clothes, he added, silently. The people before are trapped.

“They’ll be running more soldiers and machines through the square tomorrow,” Hamilton observed, as the final set of tanks rumbled past. “Hopefully, they’ll get themselves some more watchers too.”

“We have to be back,” Andrew said, feeling another stab of pity for the children. He checked his notebook, where he’d scribbled down a brief report of what he’d seen. He’d write out a full report once they returned to the embassy. “You want to go get a beer?”

“I’d sooner go find out what’s under those uniforms,” Hamilton said. Andrew followed his gaze and saw a handful of blonde-haired women wearing strikingly ugly and shapeless clothes. They were army nurses, he thought. “German girls are hotter than hell.”

“And you’ll be in hell if the ambassador catches you in one of them,” Andrew pointed out. It wouldn’t be the first honey trap the Nazis had tried, either. “Let’s go get a beer instead.”

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10 Responses to “Snippet: Storm Front (Twilight Of The Gods I)”

  1. David September 18, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    Oh yes please!

  2. Ira Tabankin September 18, 2015 at 7:04 pm #

    When are you publishing this? I like it.

  3. Bob G September 19, 2015 at 1:23 am #

    like it!

    a missing “me” perhaps?
    Nazi Germany from my clothes, he added, silently. The people before are trapped.
    Nazi Germany from my clothes, he added, silently. The people before me are trapped.

  4. Anarchymedes September 19, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    Paratroopers landing on the parade, saluting, etc., then folding their parachutes and marching off, presumably in an orderly fashion? Chris, if you don’t mind me asking, have you done any skydiving? If not, then I suggest you try it, preferably in the USA where you’re not forced to make your first jump tandem as here in Australia. Try to control the parachute after landing. You’ll see. 🙂

  5. Jonathan October 4, 2015 at 6:00 am #

    This looks like a dynamite book. How many books are planned in the series?

  6. No such name October 5, 2015 at 7:32 pm #

    Andrew leaned forward too as the first of the heavy mobile missile launchers made its way onto the square

    “I was thinking,” Hamilton said. “Do you think they’ve left the nuke in the rocket?”

    Rocket or missile Chris?

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