July 29, 1942
“Prime Minister Churchill, that was an amazing meal,” said Ambassador Ridlon.
“I shall relay your praise to my chefs,” said Winston Churchill. A servant arrived with a carafe of fine port, and he poured two glasses. Next to each glass he set a fine Cuban cigar, and he left a lighter with the Prime Minister. The half-empty carafe he set further away, between the two men.
“Enough for the night. Thank you. Please have the staff respect our privacy until we are done,” said Churchill.
“Of course,” said the servant, an eloquent gentleman of manners himself. With a nod that communicated the greatest respect, he departed the private dining room.
“Port,” commented Prime Minister Churchill. “We need a toast. Do you have one?”
“I do, Mister Prime Minister.”
Churchill nodded. “Your choice?”
Ambassador Ridlon lifted his glass. “God save the King,” he said, firmly but softly.
Churchill nodded. “God save the King,” he echoed. The two men drank just slightly more than acceptable for an after-dinner toast.
“And how is King Charles?” asked Churchill.
“Being honest, as always, he is fragile, Prime Minister Churchill,” said Ambassador Ridlon. “He took the death of his wife hard, and we don’t know how much the radiation poisoning affected him. As I’m sure you know, he’s stayed in Boston, and he’s accepted most of the burden of leadership back from the Prince, who is in or near Halifax. We wonder how long he can do this.”
Winston Churchill nodded. He sipped his port. “Well, my best,” he offered.
“Of course,” answered Nate Ridlon. “And King George VI?”
“Declining. He won’t stop smoking, and he needs to do so. But for us, the war is over.”
“Yes, it is, Prime Minister Churchill. And I am happy for you and the Empire.”
“In all of military history, I do not believe that an ally has suffered a separate peace with the grace of New England.”
“Mister Prime Minister, we are still allies, if not co-belligerents,” said Ambassador Ridlon. “You must understand, the King and Prince bear your nation no ill will for your choice, only gratitude for your continued support.”
“You know that the U-Boats will starve you in weeks once they redeploy.”
“We do not think so.”
Winston Churchill raised an eyebrow. “You, son, know something I do not.”
“I know many things you do not, and a man of your education and wisdom knows far more that I do not. But yes, Prime Minister Churchill, we believe that we have answers for the likely U-boat challenge.”
“If the U-boats don’t defeat you, the American Army will.”
“The Housatonic Line is repaired,” said Nate Ridlon, sipping his port.
“They have over a hundred divisions.”
“None of which have a winning tradition in this war. Standish massacred the Americans at the Battle of New Haven, as it’s come to be called, although most of the bloodshed was along the Housatonic River and in Milford. Patton and Little have ripped apart the Americans and Mexicans time and again, particularly the American armor. The Scots-Irish of the Appalachian Mountains are proving themselves remarkably strong. They have a hundred divisions. We have something they do not.”
“The Americans have something you do not.”
“If you mean the atom bomb…”
“That is only a weapon. No, something more powerful.”
“A Former Naval Person.”
“Exactly. My friend, Franklin. Nate, FDR cannot abide New England. He will endure whatever losses necessary to depose the House of Adams.”
“Why?” echoed Churchill. He took a large sip of port. He bowed his head and paused. Then he looked up, and said, “Because he sees your nation as evil.”
“Because of your form of government. Come now, Nate, how do you regard Germany, or the Soviet Union? Truthfully, now.”
“Those nations are very different! They murder their citizens!”
“Indeed. And what is the sentence for treason or anarchy in New England?”
“Death, of course, but only for the few.”
“The few who oppose the King. But if it were many? What then?”
“Why would anybody oppose our King?”
“And there, young man, is your blind spot,” replied Churchill. “England loves King George VI. Scotland and Wales, not so much. He is unpopular in Ireland, particularly Catholic Ireland. In India, he is hated, and Gandhi is loved. In our African Crown Colonies, all leaders are hated, and they want to revert to rule by clans and tribes. Love and loyalty are relative, son, and good or bad cannot explain the difference.”
Nate Ridlon paused. “Then why does FDR hate our king?”
“Because royalty is inimical to his world view. My friend believes in rule by the wealthy, and he believes—he knows—that money buys votes. Huey Long is not so very different. But the richest family in New England serves your people selflessly and responsibly, as they have done for over a century, while FDR offers bread to the masses and caviar to his peers. The contrast is intolerable. And that, son, is why you are at war with the United States.”
Ambassador Ridlon thought for a moment. “So, if New England were to establish a unicameral legislature, then…”
“It would be useless,” interrupted Prime Minister Churchill. “The Royal family must die. The entire line of direct succession. FDR will not settle for less.”
“So to win the war, we must kill President Roosevelt,” said Ambassador Ridlon.
Churchill sipped his port. “New England has been our greatest ally. Franklin Roosevelt is my personal friend. Some things cannot be said.”
July 30, 1942
The Starling Burgess slipped out of the narrow channel to Pearl Harbor.
“Nice view,” said Mike Whitten. The two-man stateroom actually had a porthole.
“Matter of taste,” replied Ted Williams.
“Oahu? Everybody likes Oahu.”
“Dunno. The whiskey’s expensive.”
“Do you always complain?”
Ted Williams pondered a second on that. “No,” he replied. “I’m fond of Doris. I like fastballs over the plate. I prefer enemy fighters in my sights to those on my tail. And I really love fishing.”
“You mean you really love Doris.”
Ted Williams was silent.
“Splinter?” asked Mike Whitten, laughing.
“I’m thinking,” replied the baseball star.
July 31, 1942
“Your Majesty, welcome to the Navy War College,” said Vice Admiral Alden.
King Charles III, Admiral Lodge, and an aide who looked old enough to be a young Lieutenant Commander were all dressed in canvas coveralls as if they were construction workers. Even after dark, even with blackout conditions across base, the rule was that all individuals entering or leaving the wrecked Navy War College posed as construction workers. The King followed the protocol.
“Thank you, John. Roberta, good to see you again,” said the King.
“My honor, Your Majesty,” replied Chief McGuire, correctly performing a curtsy despite wearing Tropical Khaki shorts.
“But my pleasure, Roberta. John, you know that you have the best secretary in New England?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. And I intend to keep her, King Charles.”
“Appropriate assertiveness, son. Let’s go to your office.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. Up this staircase,” said Vice Admiral Alden.
The first flight of stairs was undamaged. The polished bannister glistened, especially at the newel post where it bent back upon itself on the way to the second floor. At the second floor landing, the King stopped. Two bullets had fractured the hardwood bannister. At the end of the hallway, four more bullets had pierced the wall.
“This is the best way to my office, Your Majesty,” said Vice Admiral Alden, pointing up the next flight of stairs.
King Charles III gestured to his left. “This end of the passageway is ruined by bullets. There are blood stains on the plaster and even the hardwood floor. What will I find on the next flight of stairs?”
“Just the blood stains from where Captain Christopher killed a man with his fist in the first of the two attacks, Your Majesty.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Let’s go down the hallway. I remember a staircase on the other side.”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” said John Alden. Roberta McGuire looked at him worriedly. John Alden shrugged.
The King walked about ten steps and looked up. “Why is the ceiling ruined here?” he asked.
“Lieutenant Jewell was using a grease gun with which she wasn’t completely trained. She hit her target, but instead of firing in a burst, she let the recoil drive the gun upwards and she emptied her magazine, Your Majesty.”
“I see,” said King Charles III. “Let’s go on.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” agreed John Alden. “Shall we go back to the staircase?”
“No, let’s see the other one.”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” agreed John Alden. “But, before we get there, please understand that after the corpses were removed, we simply closed the doors. The air is…malodorous, and there are insects and such.”
“I served in the Spanish War,” replied the King. “I saw combat.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“There are blood stains here on the floor and the walls, especially there to our left,” said the King.
“Yes, Your Majesty, this is where the action started. That stain on the wall was an American commando’s brain. Captain Christopher hit his neck so hard that his head drove into the wall and leaked from his skull. We cleaned it as best we could. We use this floor.”
“Of course. Now, open the door to the staircase.”
John Alden moved to comply, then paused. “Of course, Your Majesty, but…the scene behind this door is gruesome. Would you rather control the door yourself, so that you may close it more swiftly if you choose?”
“Is it that bad?” asked the King.
“Yes, Your Majesty, it is,” confirmed John Alden.
“If you feel it wise, I shall open the door.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty. Here, take my place. Let all of the rest of us step back.”
Admiral Lodge said, “John,” moving as if he, too, wanted to see the staircase. He saw the look on Vice Admiral Alden’s face and stayed back.
King Charles III opened the door.
Two senses were more compelling than vision. The first was the smell of the rotting blood and flesh left behind in the hurry to clear the corpses. The second was the sound of thousands of blowflies, each sound so weak as to be blocked by an old hardwood door, but the chorus overwhelming in cacophony.
But the sight was, in and by itself, both gruesome and terrifying. The bannister was ruined. The newel posts were fractured. Several stairs were broken like panes of glass. Body parts and bone pieces almost, but not quite, picked clean by maggots were scattered about. And the blood…the blood was everywhere, in dried puddles on the stairs and the landing, and in splashes and fractal patterns interlaced upon the staircase walls. Hundreds of bullet holes dotted the ruined walls.
King Charles III let the spring push the door back to close. He fell to his hands and knees and started to retch, but he caught himself, swallowed, and willed himself to continue.
“May I offer you a hand, Your Majesty?” asked Vice Admiral Alden.
“Yes, son, thank you,” said the King, taking John Alden’s hand and pulling himself up from the floor. He looked back at the door. “Was that done just by grenades, or did they have satchel charges?”
“That, Your Majesty, was done by Captain Christopher. He was blinded in the hallway when they shot off his glasses. He stepped into the staircase, he swung blindly until he had killed every American around him, and then he leapt down the staircase to the safest place from all the bullets, the middle of the American soldiers. He caved in three helmets that were never meant to bend a fraction of an inch. He killed every American in the staircase but one before he passed out from loss of blood. Commander Adams killed the last one.”
“Thomas?” asked King Charles III, surprised and, somehow, concerned.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“My goodness. We have all changed,” said the King, his eyes uncharacteristically haunted.
“We have, Your Majesty,” said Chief McGuire. “But come, let’s go up to the office. The others are waiting.”
“Of course. Thank you, Roberta. Let’s go.”
The five turned around back down the hallway. “You know, we saw Captain Christopher late this afternoon,” said Admiral Lodge.
“He’s alive?” asked Chief McGuire.
“Barely, but yes,” replied Admiral Lodge. “The King awarded him the Revere Cross for his heroism in action here. We hadn’t understood the full magnitude of what he’d done, but the after-action report was clear enough. He went forward alone against a crowd of elite American paratroopers with nothing but a mace, blinded by loss of his glasses. We knew he’d done that, and that you all had survived. We hadn’t imagined the carnage, but what we knew was enough.”
“So, the first soldier from any Allied nation to receive the Revere Cross?” asked John Alden.
“Yes,” answered King Charles III, following the Vice Admiral up the cleaner staircase. “It wasn’t a close call, and everything I’ve learned here reinforces my original decision. I wish that I had known him.”
“If he’s made it this far, I expect that you will have the chance,” said Chief McGuire.
“We are still at war,” said King Charles III. He put his right hand to his left shoulder as
he took the last two stairs. Then he
turned, and stopped, gazing at the ruined hardwood veneer around the entire
passageway, as well as the torn and broken plaster walls. “Warrant Officer Bernier’s last stand,” he
“Yes, Your Majesty,” said Vice Admiral Alden, even though the words had not been a question.
“Let us go into the office,” said Chief McGuire.
“Of course,” said King Charles III. He started moving again. “This war has been terrible for you here,” he uttered from his chest.
“Damn right, Your Majesty,” said Roberta McGuire from the back of the line. “But everybody in that office is expecting all of us to smile, and I’m going to do that.”
King Charles III stopped and turned. “Roberta, you are and always have been, a saint,” he said.
“Your Majesty…thank you. But we have a show to put on,” answered Chief McGuire.
“Your Majesty, shall we?” asked Admiral Lodge.
“Of course,” said King Charles III, gazing at the wrecked hallway sadly. “Let’s go.”
The five walked around the corner into and through the outer office. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the King,” said Vice Admiral Alden. Everybody rose, Commander Adams assisted by Petty Officer Chiang.
“Seats, please,” said King Charles III. “Except for you. George O’Brien. I believe that I’ve met everybody in this room except for you, the one living person to whom I’ve awarded the Revere Cross in absentia. Son, may I shake your hand?”
“Yes, Your Majesty!” said George O’Brien, smiling. The King extended his hand. Captain O’Brien gripped it. They shook, firmly.
“George, well done. I am grateful—our nation is grateful—for your exceptional service. There are those who live moments of heroism. As best I can tell, you have lived half a year that way. Thank you.”
“Your Majesty, it is my honor to serve for what I believe,” said Captain O’Brien.
“Of course. And what are your duties here right now?”
“Your Majesty, the Simulation Team needed Petty Officer Chiang’s ability to do calculus, so I am currently the cook. I am proud to serve the role, and I admire Vice Admiral Alden for seeing that it was the best use of my abilities at the moment.”
King Charles III smiled. “I am glad that you are enjoying the moment,” he said. “And this is your dog?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I had received word that you wished to meet him. August, up!”
The Doberman Pinscher beside Captain O’Brien stood up on his three legs and looked at King Charles III. The dog smiled.
“Good dog,” said the King. He reached out and scratched the Doberman’s ears. He knew where it itched. August leaned into the scratching.
“He likes you,” said Captain O’Brien.
“He just wants immigration privileges to become a citizen,” laughed the King. “He was born in the CSA, right?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“George, a question,” said King Charles III. “Nobody has ever won two Revere Crosses. You deserve that honor. I’ve heard that you don’t want it. Is that true?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” answered George O’Brien. “The first one meant a lot. But, Your Majesty, being here, with this team, means more—and your asking me this question means far more than any medal. Thank you, Your Majesty. I would do what I do without recognition, but this helps.”
“Well said. But you cannot turn this down: I hereby promote you to Major, retroactive to December 7, 1941, with full pay and benefits awarded as if lost due to combat circumstances. Major O’Brien, congratulations, and thank you for everything.”
The unnamed aide passed to Major O’Brien a promotion certificate folder and a small pouch that was obviously the seven months’ salary, in gold.
“My sincere thanks, Your Majesty,” said Major O’Brien.
“You’re most welcome. But I have a little something else. Tell your dog to sit.”
“August, Sit!” commanded Major O’Brien.
The Doberman happily sat, panting merrily. He was surrounded by good people.
“Under the Constructive Service Act of 1839, intended to reward those who had served New England as citizen soldiers, I award August O’Brien pay and rank as a Private First Class in the Royal New England Army retroactive to December 7, 1941, and I award him that position in the New England Royal Army from that date. August O’Brien has served loyally and faithfully in training and in action since that date in our Kingdom’s conflict with the United States of America. By signature of the King, be it so, this day, the 31st of July, 1942.”
The crowd in the Inner Office applauded politely. August had no idea what was going on.
“Attention to orders!” barked the unnamed man accompanying Admiral Lodge and the King.
Everybody stood, even Commander Adams, with Petty Officer Chiang holding him up.
“For service to the Crown of the greatest caliber and sacrifice, Private First Class August O’Brien is awarded the Revere Cross at the decision of King Charles III of New England. Private O’Brien, abandoned by fate of military action in Texas, crossed over one thousand miles of enemy territory, alone, to rejoin himself with his immediate superior in command. After this unparalleled act of insight and loyalty, Private O’Brien acted as a matchless scout until, in an opposed withdrawal, Private O’Brien threw himself over a death-defying precipice to carry an enemy soldier away with him, saving his immediate superior in command from near-certain death. For this exceptional service to the Crown, Private First Class August O’Brien is awarded the Revere Cross this day, Thirty-One July, 1942. His Majesty, King Charles III.”
The seven survivors of the Navy War College applauded.
“Major O’Brien, for your records, here is the framed citation, and the framed medal crafted by Paul Revere.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty!”
“But if you would set those aside, we have something more. This is a crafted iron and canvas facsimile of the Revere Cross. Could you place it on your dog and would you mind if we photographed it?”
“No, Sir, Your Majesty!” With highly uncharacteristic tears dribbling from his eyes, Major O’Brien allowed himself to be captured in images with his dog, the dog wearing a Revere Cross Medal, himself wearing a Revere Cross ribbon.
July 31, 1942
General Malcolm Little looked at the microphone. By itself, it was nothing.
He prepared himself to speak.
July 31, 1942
“Good photographs,” said King Charles III.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” said John Alden. The others had left, and, for a moment, the two were alone together.
“Draw up a plan for Major O’Brien assassinating FDR. See me in a week,” said the King.