Thursday, February 25, 2010

DBTL 65: Green Hectares

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. The largest state in Central Europe is the Polish Commonwealth, which includes the historical Second Polish Republic, eastern Germany, and following the Second Polish Soviet War of 1944 - 45, the former Soviet republics of Byelorussia and Ukraine.

Huterowo, Belarus Devo, Polish Commonwealth
22 June 1954

"Lavi!" exclaimed Eva Gabor Romanov in her Hungarian-accented Polish. "How long are you going to be up there? Your hotcakes are getting cold!"

Lavrenti Romanov, hanging precariously from the telephone pole, called down, "The operator says I have to deposit another zloty for the next three minutes!"

On second thought, lets leave the Romanovs to their rural idyll and turn our attention elsewhere. For instance, there's Werner Heisenberg, Director of the League of Nations Atomic Control Commission, and also, through a complicated set of circumstances, the head of the Soviet Union's atomic bomb project . . .

DBTL 65: State of Emergency

Nizhnevartovsk, USSR
22 June 1954

Werner Heisenberg reflected, not for the first time, on what a sad thing it was that the Soviets had succeeded in copying the Polish atom bomb project so closely. Whether through coincidence or design, they had managed to establish their own atomic weapons project in a place that was just like the Pripet Marshes, only worse.

There were the same dismal vistas of unhealthy-looking plant life, the same sense of total isolation from civilization. The only difference was with Siberia's insects, who outclassed their Polish counterparts in size, persistence, and unavoidability. He found himself sympathizing with the Soviet scientists and engineers who wanted to test their weapons on as much of the surrounding landscape as possible.

"If we set them all off here in Siberia, we won't have any left to use against anyone else," he told his Deputy Director, Andrei Sakharov. "Marshal Gordov would not be pleased."

"Not that you would mind using up all our bombs in tests," Sakharov said with a chuckle.

"I neither confirm nor deny," said Heisenberg. It had been three years since Gordov had put him in charge of the Soviet atomic weapons project, and Heisenberg had spent every day since then wondering if the mercurial Marshal would decide to have him taken out and shot. So far he had managed to convince Gordov that his direction of the Nizhnevartovsk Project was providing the Soviet Union with the most advanced atomic weaponry in the world. One day, he knew, Gordov would decide that Heisenberg was trying to sabotage the Project. Heisenberg would be arrested and executed, and Gordov would go to war with the League of Nations to insure the continued existence of his independent atomic arsenal. And the worst thing was, the longer Heisenberg managed to delay that war, the worse it would be when it finally came.

Heisenberg's office was on the top floor of the Main Administration Building. The windows provided a panoramic view of the cluster of workshops, laboratories, offices and other buildings of the Project, and of the endless hectares of sickly green vegatation beyond. Being six stories up, Heisenberg could see for quite a ways off. Thus, it was he who first saw the dust trail as the column of vehicles made its way up the lonely road that connected the Project to the actual town of Nizhnevartovsk.

Puzzled, he picked up his phone and rang Sakharov. "Comrade Sakharov, do you know of any supply convoys scheduled to arrive today?"

"We aren't expecting any," his deputy said. "Why?"

"Because there are a number of vehicles coming up the road, and I wasn't expecting any."

Sakharov said, "Perhaps General Malinovsky is rotating some of his troops."

Heisenberg sighed. "I suppose I'd better call and ask him."

General Rodion Malinovsky was Director of Security for the Project. Like Heisenberg, Malinovsky reported directly to Marshal Gordov. Heisenberg was well aware of the fact that Malinovsky's primary concern as Director of Security was Heisenberg himself. If Gordov ever did decide to eliminate Heisenberg, Malinovsky would be the man to order his execution. He might even pull the trigger himself.

Heisenberg, who was as human as the next man, tried as much as possible to avoid contact with the man who would eventually kill him. Besides, Heisenberg's Russian was not terribly fluent, and that was the only language Malinovsky spoke.

He punched up the General's private line, and the familiar voice said, "Da?"

"It is I, Comrade General," said Heisenberg. "I can see vehicles approaching the compound. Are you expecting them?"

"I am expecting no vehicles," Malinovsky answered. "What kind of vehicles?"

"They are too far away to see well," Heisenberg said.

"I will look into it," Malinovsky said, and hung up. Heisenberg's displeasure at being so abruptly cut off was tempered with relief that the conversation was over.

His relief ended quickly as Malinovsky entered his office accompanied by his chief aide, Major Dmitri Yazov. "Show me these vehicles," he said to Heisenberg.

Heisenberg pointed out his window at the line of vehicles slowly approaching. Malinovsky pulled a set of binoculars out of a case on his belt and deftly focused them. "My God," he exploded, "it's an invasion!"

"What are they?" Heisenberg asked.

"Armored cars and trucks," Malinovsky answered. "And some artillery." Still looking through the binoculars, Malinovsky said, "Major, have the troops take up a defensive position by the fence. I'm going out to investigate." Putting the binoculars away again, the General strode out of Heisenberg's office. The physicist followed him.

An hour later, Malinovsky's men had dug themselves in behind the compound's barbed wire fence. A roadblock had been set up two hundred meters beyond the gate. The lead unit of the "invasion force" as Malinovsky called it, an armored car with machine guns mounted, had come to a halt in front of the roadblock.

From his command post in the guardhouse, Malinovsky had established radio contact with someone in the invasion force. "Who are you, and what are you doing here?" Heisenberg heard him say in his usual direct way.

A voice on the radio squawked back, "We've been sent by the State Committe for the State of Emergency to reinforce the Nizhnevartovsk Project."

"State Committee for the what?" demanded Malinovsky. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? Why haven't I heard about this from Marshal Gordov?"

"Marshal Gordov was taken ill yesterday. General Secretary Mikoyan has established the State Committee for the State of Emergency to administer the government until he recovers."

Heisenberg motioned to Malinovsky, and the General cut off the radio. "It's a coup," said Heisenberg, "it must be. Mikoyan and the Politburo are trying to depose Gordov."

Malinovsky's brows drew together as he pondered Heisenberg's statement. At last he said, "You may be right, Comrade Director. What do you suggest we do?"

Heisenberg was momentarily taken aback. It was the first time in three years that the General had sought his advice. It was a moment before Heisenberg figured out why. Malinovsky wasn't sure which side he should be on. If Gordov had already been ousted there would be no point in opposing Mikoyan and the Politburo. On the other hand, if Gordov managed to put down the coup, anyone who had come out in support of the Politburo would be in for a hard time. Heisenberg remembered a phrase he had heard Oppenheimer use during a meeting in Warsaw: passing the buck. Malinovsky was letting Heisenberg make the decision so he could disclaim responsibility if it should turn out to be the wrong one.

Very well then, Heisenberg told himself. What should they do?

Given Gordov's control of the Soviet military, Mikoyan's Committee probably had relatively little firepower at its disposal. They would need something to counter the might of the Red Army, and Heisenberg felt unpleasantly certain that the Nizhnevartovsk Project was that something. They would use Heisenberg's atomic weapons to blackmail their way to absolute power. And if Gordov refused to let himself be blackmailed?

The result was obvious: an atomic-powered coup d'etat. Rebellious military units and cities instantly obliterated. An empire bludgeoned into submission with an atomic club.

"We fight," Heisenberg said finally. "Let Mikoyan build his own atom bombs, because he's not getting any of mine."

Malinovsky switched the radio back on. He said, "Director Heisenberg denies the authority of the State Committee." Resetting the radio frequency, Malinovsky continued, "All units, prepare to resist attack."

"Carry on, General," Heisenberg said. Malinovsky saluted him -- another first -- and turned back to the radio.

Heisenberg left the guardhouse as a brisk walk, making for the Main Administration Building. He'd have to get Sakharov to round up some of the engineers. Just in case Malinovsky failed to hold off the attackers, he wanted to be ready to destroy as many of the production facilities, and as many of the existing bombs, as possible.

And if all else failed, he could always set off one of the bombs himself.

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