Sunday, October 18, 2009

DBTL 39: As Sweet As Any Harmony

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth, creating the potential for a European nuclear arms race . . .

Gevena, Switzerland
18 September 1946

Werner Heisenberg was engrossed by an article in Time magazine describing the frenzied crowds that were greeting the Vontzim upon their arrival in New York City. He was a trifle startled when the door suddenly swung open, for reflexes honed by five years under the Röhm regime and another four years directing a top secret military project are not easily put aside. He relaxed when he saw it was Stanisław Skwarczyński, Minister of War for the Polish Commonwealth.

"Herr Minister, what news?" he asked Skwarczyński.

"The news is good, Herr Director," Skwarczyński answered. "Negotiations have been successfully concluded. We will all be present at the conference room tomorrow to sign the treaty creating the League of Nations Atomic Control Commission. The terms are substantially those we have been pursuing for the last year."

Heisenberg closed his eyes in relief. "That is good." For the last six years, ever since the publication of his paper on uranium fission, he had been prey to fears of Europe being wracked by wars fought with atomic weapons. Those fears had grown ever greater as Poland and the other Great Powers had pursued their own independent atomic weapons programs. Just one year ago, he had been sleepless with anxiety as he followed Mussolini's attempt to blackmail his way into control over Yugoslavia, and as the other three Atomic Powers had counter-blackmailed him into withdrawing. The whole episode remained unknown to the world's general population, who to this day were unaware of the existence of atomic weapons.

Still, that time had been the low point. Mussolini had fallen from power shortly thereafter, and the new government of Marshal Badoglio had been receptive to Skwarczyński's proposal for international control of atomic weapons. Prime Minister Attlee had concurred as well, and the last impediment had been removed with the fall of the Weygand ministry and the return of Leon Blum to power in France.

"I cannot tell you," Heisenberg continued, "what a relief it will be to have this burden lifted from my shoulders at long last."

Now the glowing expression on the War Minister's face dimmed. "Ah, Herr Director, there is one final item of business from the negotiations that you ought to know."

Heinsenberg felt the blood freezing in his veins. "Is there something wrong?"

"Oh no, nothing wrong, it's just that, ah, when it came time to choose the new head of the commission, the delegates all felt that, ah ..."

Heisenberg was dumbfounded. "They chose ME?"

"Well, you did write that paper, and you are the Director of the Sklodowska Institute."

"Why not Einstein, or Fermi, or Bohr?"

"Einstein and Bohr know nothing of the work that has been done in this field, and the Italians would never agree to Fermi. I'm afraid it has to be you, Herr Director. The delegates could agree on no other candidate."

As he gave the matter consideration, Heisenberg found that the prospect was not quite so terrifying as he had initially thought. After all, his new job would be to stop the terror weapons from being used, and that had to be a more noble pursuit than building them in the first place. And from a strictly scientific point of view, it would be wonderful to follow developments in the field firsthand, instead of having to rely on military intelligence briefings of dubious provenance.

"Very well, Herr Minister," Heisenberg said at last, "I will accept this appointment."

"Excellent, Herr Director, that is excellent. After the ceremony tomorrow morning, you can meet with Attlee's intelligence people. He says they've got some fellow named Kurchatov who's turned up in New Delhi claiming to be the head of a Soviet bomb project."

No comments: