1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 22:
USE naval base
Colonel Jesse Wood hung his flight jacket on a peg near the door and then took a seat in a chair against the wall in Admiral Simpson’s office.
“So what’s up, John? Why did you insist I fly out here at the crack of dawn?”
With the passage of time and some shared heartaches, relations between Jesse Wood and John Chandler Simpson had gotten a lot more relaxed than they’d been in earlier days. The two men still weren’t what you’d call friends, but there was a lot of mutual respect between them.
A lot of trust, too, which is what the admiral thought was most critical at the moment. He half-rose, leaned over his desk and handed Jesse a radio message. “This came in yesterday evening.”
The air force commander cocked an eyebrow and started reading the message. It wasn’t very long. By the time he got to the end, his relaxed half-slouch had vanished and he was sitting up straight on the edge of his chair.
“Jesus. H. Christ.” He looked up at Simpson. “I assume there’s no chance this is a fake?”
The admiral shook his head. “The prince had his own codes, which he used. I can’t see how anyone else could have gotten them, since I happen to know — he told me — that he was committing them to memory so there’d be no written copy anywhere except in our records. And who would want to fake such a message anyway? The only people I can think of who’d want to meddle in this would hardly be sending that message.”
Jesse looked back down at the little sheet and then handed it back to the admiral. “True enough. But… What the hell is she playing at?”
“I think you’re using the wrong pronoun, for starters. I’d be very surprised if the guiding mind behind this isn’t Prince Ulrik’s.” Before Jesse could say anything, Simpson made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure he’s not coercing the girl in any way. He wouldn’t need to. He’s very persuasive and by now she’s probably got a lot of faith in him.”
The colonel grunted. “Not to mention that she’s what they call ‘spirited’ herself.” He ran fingers through his short hair, which was starting to thin quite a bit in front. It was getting gray, too — and would probably be a lot grayer before this was all finished, Simpson thought. His own hair was turning white.
“What do you think he’s up to, then?”
Simpson looked out the window. His office was on the third floor of the navy’s headquarters building, so he had a good view of the city’s port. It was not what anyone would call a scenic vista, but the harbor was always busy and there was usually something of interest to watch. For the few seconds it usually took him to get his thoughts in order, anyway.
“I spent a fair amount of time in discussions with that young man during the Congress of Copenhagen, Jesse. He plays it very close to the chest, but I’m pretty sure he’s following the general line of reasoning that Scaglia’s been developing in the Netherlands.”
“Scalia. Alessandro Scaglia. He’s a former Savoyard diplomat who’s now in Brussels working for Archduchess Isabella. He advocates a political policy he calls ‘the soft landing.’ His argument is that the Ring of Fire proves that some sort of democratic political system is inevitable in Europe’s nations, and so fighting to preserve monarchical rule and aristocratic privilege is pointless as well as wrong-headed. At the same time, given the existing realities and what he sees as the excesses that democracy led to in our universe — he’s not very fond of the Committees of Correspondence in this one, either — he thinks a transition period is necessary, during which time ruling monarchs gradually cede their power to democratic institutions of one kind or another. To put it another way, he advocates constitutional monarchy, with the emphasis shifting over time from ‘monarchy’ to ‘constitutional.'”
“Is he really that important? I’ve never heard of the guy.”
Simpson tried to figure out how to respond. It would be rude to point out that Colonel Wood rarely read any political treatises, and none at all written by contemporary down-timers. The admiral, on the other hand, had compiled quite an extensive library of such writings. His wife Mary was an even more assiduous student of the subject.
“Well, he keeps a low public profile. But he has the ear of the king in the Netherlands, I’m sure of that, as well as the queen. And since Maria Anna is the sister of Emperor Ferdinand III of Austria and Hungary — they’re reported to be quite close, too — I’d be surprised if Scaglia isn’t getting a hearing from that branch of the Habsburgs as well.”
He picked up the radio message and gave it a little shake. “The point being that this request — proposal, whatever you want to call it — has all the earmarks of a maneuver in that direction. A very bold maneuver, and if Ulrik pulls it off probably a brilliant one.”