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////// Baalkpan, Borno October 20, 1944
"God, I miss Idaho," mumbled Alan Letts, the newly appointed Chairman of the United Homes, staring at the sloshy, muggy Baalkpan afternoon. He'd never thought he'd miss how cold it got in Stanley, or Grand Forks, North Dakota, either. That was another place he considered home after spending half his childhood there. But it was rarely anything but hot-and wet-in Baalkpan, the capital city of the new Union he'd helped build. The daily shower had finally passed and he and his wife, Karen, the assistant minister of medicine, stepped outside the main entrance to the Allied Naval Hospital east of the Great Hall. That was Karen's principal domain, and between her long hours and his crazy schedule, Alan sometimes gloomily suspected their little daughter, Allison Verdia, was the only child they'd ever get the chance to make. But at least he could see his "youngling" and "mate," which was a hell of a lot more than most could say these days. So many younglings had at least one parent deployed, sometimes both. Alan tried to prevent the latter, but that had been a losing proposition from the start. Lemurians made no distinction between sexes when it came to military service, and that was probably the only reason they'd had the numbers to survive. But new regulations decreed that pregnant females returned home, period, and he tried to keep them as trainers as long as possible.
Even so, there were a lot of orphans running around. The youngest went entirely naked, scampering about on all fours as often as not, their frizzy tails held high. A pack of them dashed through a puddle, splashing water and mud, before rocketing up a heavy wooden pier supporting an old-style aboveground structure built in the time before genuine fortifications protected the city from large predators-and invading Grik. The younglings flowed through a window, raising alarmed, angry voices, then skittered down another pier to vanish in the bustle of the city. Alan laughed at the sight, but supposed it wasn't really funny. Lemurian younglings were boisterous by nature and their antics were well tolerated by adults. In the past, however, they'd been equally well supervised. That was no longer the case, and they now ran in packs almost as wild as Griklets. Alan tried to be philosophical about it. At least they didn't swarm all over people and eat them like Griklets. But even as they were losing an entire generation to the war, Alan feared they might lose the next one, too. Culturally, at least.
"Mind your shoes," Karen scolded, as Alan carefully negotiated the planks laid down to the paalka-drawn carriage outside the hospital. "And at least try to keep from making mud pies in your best whites! Maybe I don't have to clean them anymore"-she flapped her own clean but dark-stained apron for emphasis-"but somebody does. And it's a chore nobody needs!"
Alan had been caught by the rain while visiting wounded 'Cats and men; something he did every week. And he didn't mind that the deluge had delayed his busy schedule, heartrending as it often was to speak with the shattered victims of this terrible war, or simply view those who couldn't even hear him. It also filled him with hope that, despite their pain, so many Lemurians-and humans from the Empire of the New Britain Isles, for the most part-remained so dedicated to the cause. Indeed, most were eager to return to the fight, regardless of how . . . unlikely that might be in many cases. They'll get back in somehow, Alan promised himself-as he'd promised them-even if they never see the front again. We need instructors, engineers, and shop foremen who've been at the pointy end and seen what works. We may've lost their direct combat skills, but we can't afford to lose their experience. God knows we need them.
"I'll try," Alan assured, stepping into the carriage and nodding at the 'Cat Marine on the front seat, holding the reins. The Lemurian made a curious chirping sound and whipped the reins. Moaning rebelliously, the paalka squished forward. Alan swayed, still looking at Karen and the hospital behind her. The hospital wasn't as large as the great factories now crowding the Baalkpan waterfront, once so charming with colorful, bustling bazaars and brisk commerce, but it was the biggest building past the Great Hall, in Baalkpan proper. That was a source of pride, as well as sadness. It said a lot about how committed "his" people were to helping those who served them. His expression turned stony then, because as much as his visits to the hospital inspired him, they also renewed his resolve to exact vengeance against those who'd caused so much suffering in the first place. All of them, he secretly swore, with a fresh stab of furious grief over the sinking of SMS Amerika, and two- thirds of the wounded she carried, by the shadowy League of Tripoli. Some of Amerika's survivors had finally reached Baalkpan, and between their accounts and what Matt sent from Grik City, they had a better idea of what happened-and of what the League was, even if its motives remained obscure. Three wars now? Alan mused grimly. No, not yet. Not if we can help it. We can barely handle the two we've got. But there'll be a reckoning.
"And put on your hat!" Karen admonished, raising her voice and gesturing at the sky. The sun was stabbing through the clouds, raising steam from the sodden ground. Alan Letts had a very fair complexion and burned easily. He didn't spend as much time outdoors these days and sometimes forgot to protect himself.
"Yes, dear," he called back dutifully, quickly adjusting his high, tight collar and plopping the white hat on his head. "I'll see you and the girls tonight," he added, finally sitting as the carriage lurched onto the main, gravel-mixed street. For all the younglings running loose, even more had been adopted by females working in the shipyards or factories, both Lemurians and expat Imperial women. Some families with the wherewithal, still intact because they ran businesses essential to the war effort and weren't allowed to fight, had adopted half a dozen or more. Alan and Karen had taken two themselves, both female, and treated them as their own. They would've taken more, but their duties already required that they have a nanny-a young, one-armed Marine veteran of the Battle of Raan-goon named Unaa-Saan-Mar-with three younglings of her own. For the first time, he noticed the many furry Lemurian faces watching from the newly built ground-level shops and porches lining the road, their amused but respectful blinking still coming as a surprise.
They actually enjoy that I'm henpecked! He realized with a mental snort. Then he reconsidered. But maybe that's why they've accepted me. It makes me more a person to them, regardless of what . . . species I am. Alan still found his official status as the leader of the new, wildly diverse nation they'd built a bit overwhelming, and more than a little unbelievable. True, he'd been accepted as acting chairman during Adar's absence, and the members of the Grand Alliance, including the Empire of the New Britain Isles and the Republic of Real People, which hadn't joined the Union, were accustomed to that. He even thought he'd done a good job, under the circumstances, managing the logistical side of the war effort in particular. But he'd never dreamed he'd be practically drafted into the job for real, after Adar fell into enemy hands.
It might've been easier to understand if he'd just been acclaimed High Chief of Baalkpan. He was well-known there, and even-as were all his surviving shipmates from USS Walker, USS Mahan, and S-19, to various degrees-beloved. They'd saved the city, after all. But the fact they'd also, literally or by extension, saved Aryaal, B'mbaado, B'taava, North Borno, Sembaakpan, Sular, Austraal, Chill-Chaap, the Shogunate of Yokohama (which included the tragic village of Ani-Aaki), and all the Filpin Lands-not to mention the eleven seagoing Homes that had joined the Union-apparently hadn't been lost on anyone. Though still amazingly fractious (particularly in the case of Sular, which still argued over representation after all the seagoing Homes joined as a single, relatively high-population state), the various Homes had apparently recognized the validity of some version of the old axiom "Never change horses in the middle of the stream." Or war.
It also probably helped that Alan came from the one Home or Clan that every other had to materially support and considered most impartial: the "Amer-i-caan Navy Clan." It not only protected everyone, but most of its members now came from every clan or Home. They swore allegiance to its flag and a constitution that had served as a guide for the one adopted by the Union, but though their loyalty to its high chief-Captain Matthew Reddy-was unquestioned, everyone knew they remained loyal to the United Homes as well. In addition, every Union warship belonged to the Amer-i-caan Navy Clan except those designated as reserve, such as Salaama-Na or Salissa (CV-1), and an increasing number of auxiliaries entering service. It was no longer required that all sailors join the Amer-i-caan Navy Clan forever, but officers must in order to be commissioned. Regular sailors' oaths would be allowed to expire (if they wanted) when the war was over and they went home. But the Marines practically belonged to Captain Reddy. The Navy Clan also had a few land possessions, such as the islands of Tarakaan, Midway, and Andamaan. And there was a "daughter" colony being built at a place it called Saan Diego, so far away that it was literally on the bottom of the world as far as most were concerned. Even that didn't cause disputes, because all contributed solely to the maintenance of the navy and would never become independent Homes.
Alan often wondered to himself if the mishmash they'd put together would survive the war. He also worried that the unusual powers he'd helped reserve for the Navy Clan might be abused by some future high chief after they were gone. He hoped not. He hoped the tradition of selfless service Matt and the others had established at such a terrible cost would last a very long time. Either way, though, for now at least, the Amer-i-caan Navy Clan-as the one most responsible for the conduct of the war-had to remain a very slight "first among equals," even as it truly was viewed as the most neutral when it came to disputes among other Homes.
He stuck two fingers in the collar at his neck and pulled. Damn thing's getting tighter as I sweat! he grumped to himself. What the hell was wrong with my khakis? It was his wife's idea that he always wear his best whites in public. Despite his complaints, he supposed it made sense. He was the chairman-practically president, for God's sake!-after all. He should try to look the part. And at least whites don't show sweat like khakis, he conceded. But maybe most important, the uniform's a good recruiting tool. We need more people than ever to crew the ships and fly the planes we're building, and fill the ranks of our armies.
Conscription had been instituted in the Empire of the New Britain Isles, and now in the Republic of Real People as well. But nothing like that had been proposed in the Homes forming the new Union simply because, once the war practically surrounded them, there was no place left for "runaways" to go. Particularly after the battles of Aryaal and Baalkpan. That was when it was driven brutally home that there weren't any noncombatants and it became understood that every person, male or female, capable of bearing arms and living under the protection of the Alliance from the Malay Barrier to the Filpin Lands, was a member of a local guard. Even factory workers attended daily drill sessions (usually at work) and fell in for larger unit instruction once a month in the open killing grounds beyond the ever-expanding earthen walls protecting the cities. Armories stocked with old-style muskets were conveniently situated and factory and yard workers were assigned defensive positions close to where they worked.
That was all well and good, but though anyone was theoretically subject to being called up and sent to an Advanced Training Center and assigned to a building regiment, or shipped off to replace casualties, it almost never happened. They needed workers as badly as troops. The addition of the Great South Isle, or Austraal, to the Union would help a great deal-eventually. The populous Homes there had remained an untapped reservoir of potential sailors, soldiers, and labor for most of the war. Now they were in it, and though most had to stay and build their own factories and defend their cities, many wanted to fight for their people-and their new nation. Getting them here-or anywhere-was a major problem, however. The Allied sea-lift capacity was stretched to the breaking point, supplying forces in the east and west, halfway around the world. And Austraal didn't have the same nautical mind-set of other Homes in the Union. Their huge island was lush and fertile (on this world) and never depended as much on the sea. They had a few decent shipyards, but it was taking time for them to gear up-and there was no point in building more old-style ships like they were used to, in any event. They'd agreed to focus on heavy haulers and auxiliaries, based on the hull design of the Scott class steam frigates, but half again as big. In the meantime, Allied seagoing Homes ponderously freighted steam engines down to Austraal shipyards, and just as tediously returned with loads of volunteers. Alan considered it his duty to, by example, get those recruits to choose the Navy or Marines. Besides, he thought, wearing the uniform lets me remind everyone that I belong to the Amer-i-caan Navy Clan, and, chairman or not, whether I currently outrank him or not, Captain Reddy's still my high chief.
The carriage slowed as it passed the growing military cemetery on the shady grounds surrounding the Great Hall, and finally stopped. The Great Hall was once supported high in the air by the massive Galla tree growing up within it, but had "expanded" down to the ground. Alan was running late for his rendezvous with Lord Bolton Forester, ambassador from the Empire of the New Britain Isles, but the tall, gray-haired man with a huge mustache stood from a bench on the hall's porch and smiled up at Alan. Forester's aide, Lieutenant Bachman, had been pacing on the carefully fitted timbers, watched by a relatively short and wiry, and also apparently amused, man named Henry Stokes. Stokes had been a leading seaman aboard HMAS Perth, and was now Director of the Office of Strategic Intelligence (OSI). Alan remained in the carriage as a pair of Lemurian Marines escorted the men to join him, ready to assist them up if necessary.