Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sobel Wiki Update 5

It's been exactly five months since I created the Sobel Wiki, an online encyclopedia of Robert Sobel's counterfactual history For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga. 153 days of moderately diligent work on my part has resulted in a wiki with 300 pages, about twenty-five of which are mere stubs. Much of this surge in activity is due to the creation of an archive for the For All Nails project, an extension of Sobel's timeline by a group of alternate history enthusiasts (including myself).

I should note that I was mistaken in Update 4 when I claimed there were 303 For All Nails vignettes. The actual number then was 366, and the number has increased since then to 371. I failed to count multipart vignettes (for instance, number 243, "Napoleon's Nail", is actually 8 parts long, while number 51, "Victoria's Secret", is 14 parts long). Of the five additional vignettes, three were written by me, and one each by my fellow FAN authors Jonathan Edelstein and "President Chester A. Arthur". On top of that, FAN author David Mix Barrington has begun posting his own vignettes to the Sobel Wiki archive, so I may actually have a second regular contributor there. 38 of the 371 vignettes are now available at the Sobel Wiki archive.

FAN lives! Sobel Wiki forever!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

For All Nails #307: In the Country of the Bland

Norfolk, Virginia, S.C., CNA
11 May 1784

The sights, sounds, and smells of a bustling port town were as familiar to Alexander Hamilton as his own name, and were a welcome change of pace after two years spent struggling to build a new settlement on the sun-drenched alien plains of Spanish Tejas. It had been four years since Hamilton had left Norfolk with Nathanael Greene's party of exiles. Back then, the town was still recovering from the fires that had destroyed it in 1776. Now, the newly-established capital of the newly-established Southern Confederation had fully recovered from the former devastation. Houses of wood and brick lined the streets, which were filled with waggons, coaches, riders, and foot traffic.

Hamilton had been two weeks at sea, and was eager to shake off the dust of his travels. Unfortunately, he was learning that public accommodations were hard to come by in Norfolk. The town was full of transients such as himself, all competing for the same limited supply of rooms. Following a disappointing conversation with the owner of the Boar's Head tavern on Duke Street, Hamilton had found a seat in the common room and ordered a tankard of ale. If he couldn't find anywhere to stay, he would have to return to his cabin aboard the ship, a prospect he found unpleasant.

The last thing Hamilton expected to hear was the sound of a familiar voice, but there was no mistaking that reedy tenor saying, " . . . sooner trust one of my coon hounds to govern this colony than that simpleton!" As though to remove all doubt, the speaker followed his words with a phlegmy cough that Hamilton could still vividly recall from his time on General Washington's staff.

Hamilton turned to see the source of the scornful words, and found himself looking at his former comrade-in-arms, Colonel Theodorick Bland the Younger of the First Virginia Cavalry Regiment. Bland was standing in the doorway of the common room, speaking with a second man Hamilton didn't recognize, and holding the all-too-familiar handkerchief to his mouth.

Hamilton rose from his seat, and the movement attracted Bland's attention. There was no mistaking the shock of recognition on Bland's features. A moment passed, then Bland motioned for Hamilton to join him and the other man.

"You'll forgive me if I interrupt our conversation," Bland said to the other man, "but it isn't often one sees a ghost in the common room of the Boar's Head. Mr. Wright, please allow me to introduce Mr. Alexander Hamilton of the State of Jefferson. Mr. Hamilton, this is Mr. James Wright, my fellow Royal Governor for the Province of Georgia."

Hamilton bowed to the other man, saying, "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Wright. The name is of course a familiar one."

"Likewise, Mr. Hamilton," Wright replied, returning the bow. He turned back to Bland and said, "As much as I would enjoy participating in a meeting of old friends, I fear my business takes me elsewhere. Mr. Hamilton, a pleasure. Mr. Bland, I shall save you a seat at the King George." So saying, Wright bowed towards the two men and left the Boar's Head.

"Mr. Hamilton," Bland said, "I would very much esteem it if you would join me for a time in my room."

"Mr. Bland, I would not dream of refusing."

Bland led Hamilton from the common room to a private room in the rear of the Boar's Head. The two men settled at a table there, and after another bout of coughing, Bland said, "You will forgive me, sir, if I seek to satisfy my curiosity. How is it that you find yourself back in the colonies? I was under the impression that when you and your fellows departed these shores, you were going for good and all."

"I have been in correspondence with Mr. Loudon in New-York," Hamilton answered. "He seems to feel that the reading public here in the colonies would be interested to hear the thoughts of an exiled Patriot on the changes that have taken place since my departure. The mails between Jefferson City and New-York being uncertain at best, I felt it would be best to bring Mr. Loudon the manuscript in person. Captain Reynolds has put in here in Norfolk for several days while he sees to business of his own, and so I decided to procure a room for the balance of my stay. I fear my efforts in that direction have been unproductive."

"You pique my curiosity, sir," said Bland. "I for one would indeed be interested to hear your thoughts. You may take this as proof of the soundness of Mr. Loudon's business acumen."

"Very well, Mr. Bland. If I were to sum up my thoughts in a single word, that word would be 'regret'. Had I thought it possible to stay, I would have done so. Sadly, sentiment was running high against those of us who sought independence from the British Crown, and so I felt it best to depart."

"Nonsense, sir!" Bland insisted, followed by a fit of coughing. "If you wished to remain, there was no impediment to your doing so. After all, I was as much a Patriot as you, and yet now I find myself entrusted with the rule of the Province of Virginia."

"You, sir, are a respected member of a long and illustrious line of gentlemen of Virginia," Hamilton pointed out. "You had a place in society waiting for you when you retired from the Continental Army." Hamilton remembered that Bland's health had always been poor, and had finally led him to resign his command of the First Virginia Cavalry a month after the Battle of Germantown.

"I, on the other hand," he continued, "am naught but a fatherless emigrant. I had no patron or place to safeguard me from the opprobrium of the triumphant Loyalists. I shall not go into my experiences in New-York after the end of the Rebellion, other than to say that they gave me ample proof that I would be better off elsewhere. And so, when I heard of General Greene's proposed expedition to New Spain, I determined to join him.

"But now that you have my tale, sir," Hamilton concluded, "I must have yours. How does a former rebel cavalry commander find himself chosen to be Royal Governor of Virginia?"

Bland paused a moment to collect his thoughts, then said, "Sir, I am certain you recall the temper of the times after the loss of Philadelphia and Albany."

"I do, sir," said Hamilton, and so he did. After that double disaster, the heart seemed to go out of the Patriot cause. Men such as Dickinson, who had always questioned the wisdom of declaring independence, had gained popular support, and sentiment grew for a return to British rule.

Nodding, Bland continued. "The House of Delegates had turned against independence, and found itself at odds with Governor Henry, who continued to support it. When Henry attempted to dissolve the House and rule by decree, it became necessary to remove him from office. A number of men from the First Cavalry were in Williamsburg at the time, and they sought me out for the purpose. I agreed, and so Henry was placed under arrest and the House chose Mr. Hubard in his place. When Sir Henry Clinton was placed in command of the southern colonies, he restored Lord Dunmore to his place. That proved an unfortunate choice, for Dunmore seemed to think himself still living in the time before the Rebellion, and came near to setting it off again with his intemperate speech and actions before Sir Henry relieved him."

" 'Dunmore should have done less.' " Hamilton quoted the familiar Virginian aphorism.

"As you say, sir," said Bland with a chuckle that became another cough. "By that time I was much in Sir Henry's confidence, and he chose to make me acting governor. Lord North saw fit to confirm the appointment, and so I remain."

"In that case," observed Hamilton, "I would expect to find you in Williamsburg, rather than Norfolk."

Bland shook his head sadly. "Mr. Hamilton, nothing would please me more than to remain in Williamsburg and deal with the business of Virginia. Unfortunately, Lord North's judgment in filling the offices of state here in America remains erratic."

"Then the word that has reached us in Jefferson City is true?" said Hamilton. "Mr. Connolly has been named Governor-General of your new confederation?"

"You have heard correctly, sir," said Bland. "He has indeed."

When he had first heard the news, it had taken some time for Hamilton to place the name. Finally, he had recalled Connolly, a physician and soldier-of-fortune from Pennsylvania. After the battles of Lexington and Concord had set off the Rebellion, Connolly, then a resident of Fort Pitt, had approached Lord Dunmore with a scheme to travel to Fort Detroit and there recruit a force of Loyalists and Indians. Connolly would then lead this force, which he meant to call the Loyal Foresters, to Fort Pitt to recruit more Loyalists, and finally to Virginia, to combine there with a second force called the Ethiopian Regiment that Dunmore had recruited from the escaped slaves of Patriots. Dunmore meant to use this mixed force of Loyalists, Indians, and freed slaves to put down the Rebellion in Virginia.

Even nine years later, Hamilton was still appalled at the folly of the idea. Burgoyne had recruited Indian auxiliaries for his invasion of New York, and it had come near to ruining his plans. Indians were uncertain allies at best, and they often failed to discriminate between Loyalist and Patriot settlers, one white scalp being as good as another to them. In any case, word of Connolly's business had gotten to General Washington, who alerted the Committee of Safety in Maryland. Connolly had been captured in Hagerstown in November 1775 with several incriminating documents in his possession, and had spent the remainder of the Rebellion in gaol.

"Whatever could have possessed Lord North to make such an appointment?" Hamilton wondered.

"This was more of Lord Dunmore's work, you may depend upon it, sir," said Bland. "Connolly was Dunmore's creature. And so you find me in Norfolk as Virginia's representative on the General Council. Mr. Wright and myself and the others see to it that Connolly has no opportunity to get into mischief. He still hopes to make himself master of the Southern Confederation, but I mean to break him of that ambition."

"It seems to me," Hamilton observed, "that you risk your own position. What is to keep Connolly from complaining about you to his friends in London and having you replaced with a more biddable man? You serve at the King's pleasure, after all, just as he does."

"Oh, complain he does, I assure you of that," said Bland, with another chuckle that devolved into a fit of coughing. "But for every report Lord Germain receives from Connolly denouncing me as an obstreperous villain, he receives another from Sir John praising me to the skies." It took a moment for Hamilton to realize that Sir John was the Viceroy, Sir John Dickinson.

Bland continued, "Best appointment Lord North could have made. The only man north of the Maryland border who isn't a damned scoundrel."

Curious, Hamilton said, "If you'll pardon the observation, sir, I don't recall you being so set against the northern colonies during the Rebellion."

"And who else was it but the men of the north who removed General Washington from command of the army?" Bland demanded. "Especially that rascal Rush. The general was our only hope of victory, and the fools cast him aside!"

Hamilton's own recollection of events was that it had been General Charles Lee, the Englishman-turned-Virginian, who had led the effort to remove Washington from command of the Continental Army, but he let Bland's accusation stand. Instead, he said, "And how is the general, these days?"

Bland's temper instantly subsided, replaced by sadness. "As well as can be expected, I suppose. I see to it that he does not suffer unduly. He lives the life of a country gentleman, the life he has always sought, at Mount Vernon, with Lady Washington beside him. He may correspond with whom he will, and may see whom he will. He has all that any man might wish."

"Except his liberty," said Hamilton.

With a sigh, Bland agreed, "Except his liberty." His expression became dour again as he added, "Connolly feels that I am too lenient with the general. This, too, he complains about to Lord Germain. Fortunately, Sir John feels as I do, and so Connolly's complaints fall upon deaf ears."

Hamilton raised his tankard in salute, and Bland returned the gesture.

"I must say, Mr. Hamilton, that I much admire what you and General Greene and the others have done," said Bland. "And better by far to seek out new lands to inhabit than to continue the fight as that lunatic Marion has done." Francis Marion, Hamilton knew, was a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army who had refused to lay down his arms following the armistice of June 1778. Instead, he had retreated into the Carolina and Virginia back-country and attracted a band of like-minded men who declared themselves to be the "provisional government of the United States of America." Marion, who had raised himself to the rank of general, used the tactics he had learned in the Cherokee War in raids against "Tory" targets, and had so far managed to elude or defeat every army Bland had sent against him.

"I can assure you, sir," said Hamilton, "that the effort is much more admirable from a distance than it is in person. The land is harsh, and the Indians in that country are as fierce as any you will find here in the colonies. There is much to be done, but we are so few that it is all we can do to maintain ourselves."

"I think I know where you might find more settlers for your new land," said Bland.

"And where might that be, sir?"

"Why, right here in the Southern Confederation," Bland replied. "I may tell you that Lord Germain is entirely too niggardly in opening new lands to settlement. There are thousands here who wish to settle beyond the mountains, but cannot for want of land to settle on. From what you tell me, sir, there is land in plenty to be found in Jefferson."

"Would they be willing to make the journey to Jefferson?" Hamilton wondered. "The way is long, and the destination, as I have mentioned, a harsh one."

"They would be, despite the hardships. If," and here Bland paused. "If, I say, they could be assured that they would suffer no persecution at the hands of their predecessors. Would you and your Patriots denigrate them for lacking your revolutionary zeal?"

"There you may ease your mind, sir," Hamilton responded. "General Greene is as mindful as I am of the difficulties presented by our small numbers. He would welcome with open arms any man who chose to settle in Jefferson, whether Patriot or Loyalist. In fact, I may say, sir, that I at least would be happier to have more men in our new country who were not so adamant in their disdain for the CNA. I think it would be a mistake to oppose ourselves to Great Britain, and I see no need for hostility between our two countries. It would be better, I think, if we could let the disagreements of the past stay past, and seek more amicable relations. Jefferson's destiny lies to the west, beyond the Mississippi, and it would be better to have a friendly CNA at our back."

Now Bland had a look of interest upon his features. "Are there many in Jefferson who feel as you do, Mr. Hamilton?"

"All too few, at present," Hamilton admitted. "Most feel as Jay and Gallatin do, that enmity with Britain and the CNA is inevitable, and that we ought to ally ourselves with France against you. All the more reason, to my mind, for men of a different temper to come settle in our country."

"I see," said Bland, nodding. "I am pleased to have had this chance to converse with you, Mr. Hamilton. And I think I may safely promise you that there will indeed be men of your cast of mind coming to settle in your country. A great many men."

Bland smiled, then, and added, "If you do well by them, sir, I think I can guarantee that they will do well by you in return."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Digital Day 011111


Monday, January 10, 2011

Digital Day 011011


For All Nails #305: The King's Justice

(UPDATE: After considering the advice of Noel Maurer, I've decided to make a slight change to the ending of this vignette. The original ending can be found below.)

Buenos Aires, Argentina
9 February 1981

King Fernando III of New Granada felt that he was showing admirable restraint when he said to his pilot, "Mary, are you certain?" instead of "Mary, are you insane?" Fernando had been brought here to the Nueva Granada from a reception at the Presidential Palace by his secretary, Oscar Ortiz, who had refused to say why. He had found Captain Mary Smith, chief pilot of the Nueva Granada, holding a man at gunpoint, bound and gagged, in her cabin aboard the airmobile. She claimed he was Martin Falcone, a former Army Intelligence officer from Mexico, and an agent of former Secretary of War Vincent Mercator. [1]

Fernando had heard the name before; Alexander Elbittar had mentioned having dealings with the man between the overthrow of the HermiĆ³n regime and the Bali massacre. Since then, he, along with the rest of Mercator's retinue, had vanished from sight. That had been over six years ago.

Smith answered decisively. "Oh, yeah, I'm sure. I never forget a face."

Queen Sophia spoke up. "How did you find him?"

"Me and some of the crew of the Nueva were pub-crawling earlier tonight, and I recognized him at a place called the Red Parrot," said Smith. "We grabbed him and brought him here, then I called up Serjeant Gomez and had him bring you two."

There was a surreal quality to the situation that Fernando found most unnerving. Vincent Mercator had been the most wanted man in the world, since setting off a hydrogen bomb at a meeting of Kramer Associates executives on Bali on Christmas morning 1974. The incident had ultimately led to the invasion and occupation of New Granada in the Alliance War. If Mercator were to be captured now . . . .

"Remove his gag, please," Fernando ordered. "Let us hear what your man has to say for himself."

Gomez kept a gun trained on the bound man while Smith pulled the gag from his mouth. Falcone -- if it was Falcone -- remained defiantly silent.

"Are you Colonel Falcone?" Fernando asked him.

"I would like to speak to a lawyer," the man answered.

"That is not possible," said Fernando.

"You are holding me against my will," the man said. "That is a crime here in Argentina, and you will have to answer for it."

"If you are Martin Falcone," said Fernando, "then you are a wanted man in Argentina, and my crew acted properly in taking you into custody."

"In that case," said the man, "please turn me over to the authorities. You have no jurisdiction over me."

"As it happens, I do," Fernando said. "The Nueva Granada falls under the right of extraterritoriality. New Granadan law holds sway here, and under that law, I, as sovereign, have the power to conduct legal proceedings. It is not a power I have ever had cause to exercise, but thanks to your associate Mr. Elbittar, I do have this power. And under that power, I have chosen to detain you as a material witness concerning the whereabouts of Vincent Mercator. If, that is, you are in fact Martin Falcone, formerly of the Army of the United States of Mexico. Do you wish to confirm or deny this?"

There was a long pause before the man said, "Yes, I am Martin Falcone."

"Thank you," said Fernando. "Now, can you inform me as to the whereabouts of Vincent Mercator?"

"He is dead."

It took a moment for Fernando to wrap his mind around Falcone's pronouncement. "Dead? How can he be dead?"

Falcone shrugged as well as he could under the circumstances. "He was an old man. Old men die. He was dying even while he planned the strike against el Pulpo. A cancer. Two weeks after the bomb went off, he passed away on board the Cochise and was buried at sea."

Smith spoke up suddenly. "Remember right after the Bali bombing, when all those men that looked like Mercator started turning up? And they all turned out not to be him? [2] I bet he planned it that way the whole time, to leave people wondering."

"Can you prove that Mercator is dead?" Fernando asked.

"Not directly, no," said Falcone. "But you may remember that in his vitavised speech, [3] he made certain demands of the governments of Scandinavia, Australia, and other nations, and threatened them with similar attacks if they did not comply. They ignored his demands, and suffered no consequences. Secretary Mercator had only the single device he used against el Pulpo. The rest was a bluff, and the nations called his bluff. It did not matter. He struck the blow he meant to strike."

"He was mad," Fernando stated, "and both Bali and New Granada payed the price for his madness. And what is more, he failed. Kramer Associates suffered a blow, but it was not a mortal blow. The company is still the largest in the world, and still growing. And if K.A. no longer claims to be a world power, that was a claim it gave up before Mercator's attack, when it turned over its weapons to the Taiwanese government." [4]

There was another pause before Sophia said, "Do you believe him? Do you believe Mercator has been dead all along?"

"It would explain why nobody has been able to find him after searching the world for six years," said Fernando. He turned back to Falcone. "And what became of the Cochise?" It had been the prototype for the USM's fleet of atomic-powered submersibles, and Mercator's people had made off with it a few days before the Bali bombing. [5]

"We scuttled it, about twenty miles beyond the mouth of the Rio de la Plata," said Falcone. "It was the Secretary's last order."

Fernando felt a sense of anticlimax. For six years, Vincent Mercator had been the world's greatest villain, a terrorist armed with his own atomic arsenal. Now he was gone. He had never been there at all. It had all been one last mad trick by a dying lunatic.

"May I go now?" Falcone asked. "You have what you wanted."

Fernando considered Falcone's request, then said, "Very well."

"What?" Smith exclaimed. "You're letting him go?"

"As I said," Fernando explained, "Mr. Falcone is a material witness concerning the whereabouts of Mercator. Now that we know that Mercator is dead, we have no further reason to hold him."

"Suppose he's lying?"

"That has no bearing on the question. Mr. Falcone has given his statement, and that is all that I required of him. I might also add, Captain Smith, that holding on to him would necessarily involve informing President Taveras that members of my flight crew have been kidnapping people off the streets of Buenos Aires, which would be awkward for a number of reasons. No, my decision stands."

Falcone turned to face Smith then. "How unfortunate for you, Alexandra. You will be cheated of your revenge."

Smith's expression showed contempt. "Mister, I don't need revenge. I'm the goddamned chief pilot of this bird. I kept the king and queen there safe and sound while the whole motherfucking Bornholm Alliance was trying to track 'em down. You know what that makes me? A big damn hero! I even got an executive pardon from Governor-General Carter fucking Monaghan, courtesy of His Majesty there. Fuck revenge, I've got a motherfucking life!"

To Fernando's surprise, Falcone burst into laughter. "And here I thought the age of miracles was over. Your Majesty, you've done the impossible: you've taught Alexandra Stapleton the value of loyalty. For that, I salute you."

Shaking his head, Fernando said, "Serjeant, please see that our guest is safely escorted off the Nueva Granada. The Queen and I have a reception to return to."

1. See FAN #303.
2. See FAN #203.
3. See FAN #143.
4. See FAN #43.
5. See FAN #153.


"May I go now?" Falcone asked. "You have what you wanted."

Fernando shook his head. "I think not. You might be lying, after all. And you are still a wanted man. I believe the best course of action would be to turn you over to President Costigan, and let him decide your fate."

Falcone turned to face Smith then. "You, at least, must be pleased, Alexandra. At long last, you have had your revenge."

Smith's expression showed contempt. "Mister, I don't need revenge. I'm the goddamned chief pilot of this bird. I kept the king and queen there safe and sound while the whole motherfucking Bornholm Alliance was trying to track 'em down. You know what that makes me? A big damn hero! I even got an executive pardon from Governor-General Carter fucking Monaghan, courtesy of His Majesty there. Fuck revenge, I've got a motherfucking life!"

To Fernando's surprise, Falcone burst into laughter. "And here I thought the age of miracles was over. Your Majesty, you've done the impossible: you've taught Alexandra Stapleton the value of loyalty. For that, I salute you, and I go to my fate at el Enano's tiny hands with a glad heart."

Shaking his head, Fernando said, "Serjeant, keep our guest safe. The Queen and I have a reception to return to."

Friday, January 7, 2011

For a minute there, I lost myself

Today's embedded music video comes from 1996: "Karma Police" by Radiohead.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy birthday Isaac Asimov

I'm sorry he's gone, but at the same time I'm glad that he passed away before the country he loved began its long, ugly downward spiral.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Digital Day 010111