Another short story involving the Connacht Disaster Zone. The original title was “Spymaster”, and the downloadable version is still named that for convenience in URLs, but the full name is as above.
While working on my earlier pieces, I’ve had something in the back of my mind about how the other powers of the world would react to the disaster zone. More specifically, the fact that the British Empire has to keep a standing garrison around it. In this case, the Kingdom of Scandinavia are looking for ways to draw attention away from themselves, though they probably won’t be the only people using the disaster zone as a distraction.
The swift, efficient rat-tat-tat on the door broke the Admiral’s concentration, just as the cigarette lighter had come to life. Scowling briefly out one side of his mouth, he held the old bullet case to the top of the pipe and puffed as the tobacco began to smoulder. Even before he could ask who it was, the door swung halfway open to reveal a woman in a severe navy-blue tunic that marked her as a Lieutenant. Icy pale blue eyes peered out of a face that was lined with middle-age, her mouth turned down in a disapproving look.
“Sir, Mr Bjornsson has arrived,” she announced in a clipped, efficient tone.
“Thank you, Miss Nilsdottir. Send him in,” the Admiral growled. She withdrew her head long enough to hold the door open, gesturing for the visitor to enter.
He was completely unremarkable; had the Admiral passed him on the streets, the light grey suit, matching open overcoat and Homburg would barely have registered. A thin grey moustache hung limply beneath half-closed eyes and, as he removed the hat. Even his white shirt took on a grey cast. The only vaguely colourful article about him was the light brown attaché case in his right hand.
“Vice-Admiral Falsen,” he whispered languidly. Somehow, Falsen suspected that the man have known long before he set foot in the Ministry’s corridors, even if his name was on the door.
“Mr Bjornsson,” Falsen nodded, waving to one of the seats in front of his desk. Bofors furniture, like everything else in the building – all plain pine and steel. The man carefully folded in the seat with an economical movement that had to have been practised repeatedly, setting his attaché case to one side and withdrawing something from an inner pocket.
The identification card looked correct to the Admiral’s eyes. Jens Bjornsson, Ministry of Security. Birthday 19th of February, 1865. Height 165 centimetres – which looked about right. Hair colour – grey, of course. Eye colour – blue – and here he had to double-check. The watermark bore the Ministry’s emblem – a pair of ravens, each bearing a pendant of an eye that represented Odin’s. All in all, everything looked correct, so he begrudgingly returned it and waited for the man to speak.
“Admiral,” Bjornsson began, “the Ministry requires some naval expertise on a hypothetical contingency plan. You may be aware of the quarantine zone around western Ireland – more specifically, the dwarven homeland region in Connacht.”
Falsen nodded, puffing twice on his pipe. Of course he knew of it. Anyone who hadn’t been living under a rock knew of the dwarves of Ireland and had heard the ludicrous tales of a region where reality had just gone out to lunch about sixty years ago. Gravity spontaneously weakening, pah! To say nothing of the monsters that had begun to appear in their stead.
“One of the most important issues that the British and the dwarves face is how to keep that area quarantined, and keep the…Fomorians…from escaping,” Bjornsson continued blandly. “There is a thought in certain quarters that not enough is being done to…address this concern. The landward side is formidable enough, but it would appear that the naval side is…somewhat lacking,” he concluded.
Falsen began to mechanically tamp down the tobacco in his pipe as he considered this request. He was well aware of the disparity between the Nordic Royal Navy and their British counterparts; in the event of the war everyone foresaw within the next year or two, he didn’t see any chance of knocking them out. If they could draw a few ships away…
“One of my officers specialises in that region and was working on something along those lines,” he growled. Without waiting for a reply, he stood up and strode over to the door. “Miss Nilsdottir, tell Commander Rasmussen I want to see him,” he barked.
“Yes, Admiral,” she called, lifting the telephone earpiece from her desk. As he closed the door and returned to his seat, he was mildly irked at Bjornsson’s comment.
“Thomas Rasmussen…former deputy naval attaché at the consulate in Dublin, I believe. Did he not fall in love with a local…woman of the town?”
Falsen glowered as he sat back down. “If you know that, then you probably know damned well that he reported it immediately. In fact, he made a damn fine job of using it for interference.”
Bjornnson smiled, though it did not reach his eyes. “One wonders how much time and money Chief Inspector Byrne spent on that.” Falsen chose to puff on his pipe rather than reply verbally, not that he had much time before a quick double-tap on the door announced somebody. At a barked command to enter, the door swung open to reveal a younger man with a neatly-trimmed black beard and moustache – very much a man of the sea back on land.
“Commander Rasmussen reporting as ordered, sir.” Prompted by the unexpected guest, the man raised his hand as though to salute, but stopped as Falsen waved him towards the second chair.
“Sit down, Rasmussen,” he growled, tamping down the tobacco again. “Mr Bjornsson here wants to hear about your interference proposals for Ireland.”
Rasmussen glanced at the visitor, who merely stared back with a faint half-smile. Shrugging, he slid his long, thin fame into the chair, one arm hanging off an armrest.
“I suppose the best place to start is with the British Navy’s dispositions around the disaster zone. The primary role is preventing smugglers or pirates from entering or exiting the peninsula, so there’s not many warships. There might be a destroyer or two, but nothing more than that; most of the ships are converted drifters and trawlers.”
“Why would they use fishing vessels, Commander?” Bjornsson asked. He had not moved his hands at all, as though he didn’t need to take notes.
“For the dwarves of Ireland, it’s their homeland region. But to the Royal Navy, it’s a backwater, even if it’s only a few hundred kilometres from Dublin. Most of the ships that are left in orcish control are similar or lesser, with few weapons – if they even have any left. The dwarves have eight destroyers and three light cruisers between Belmullet and Limerick, so the British don’t really need much in the way of warships.
“What they do need are long range and high seaworthiness. Trawlers and drifters are designed to work in rough seas, and they’re quite a bit cheaper than a dedicated warship. That does free up the rest of their vessels for naval use.”
“Did they ever try any other types of vessels?”
“Yes, they did attempt seaplane tenders, but I’m only aware of that happening once in 1911 and once again in 1914. The local papers made quite a big deal about them.”
“The newspapers? They allow this information to be published openly?” Bjornsson sounded almost bored by this admission, even though he probably knew the answer himself. Rasmussen smirked.
“Sir, the local papers can be quite valuable. They’ll be light on technical or tactical details, but the society pages tend to keep track of whoever’s in town – especially the commanders of the ships or regiments. Just knowing where they are and have been recently is useful information, and if it’s readily accessible…” he trailed off, making a circular motion with his left hand.
“I see. So, not very many warships. You have proposals to draw some away from the northern seas? In the event of a war…merely hypothetical, you understand,” the grey man continued.
Rasmussen nodded. “They’re just proposals that have been kicking around my skull, sir, and some are a bit fanciful.” He paused, either for dramatic effect or to gather his thoughts. “The first, and most absurd one, is to set up a radio broadcast apparatus nearby as “Fomorians” and taunt the local garrisons. Slight problem – nobody is going to believe those savages capable of it, and almost nobody else is going to have a wireless set.”
Bjornsson made a noise that could have been disagreement or agreement. Falsen huffed and rolled his eyes at this idea.
“Suppose we go through with this. Once we set up a radio for the Fomorians, how is that going to draw the British navy away?”
“That was the other main problem with that idea. My second idea was to perform some small-scale sabotage or vandalism along the coasts – again, posing as Fomorians. A few problems that I can see with that idea,” Rasmussen continued, punctuating each problem with a raised finger. “One: who do we have that could do this? Two: how do we get them there? Three: how do we cover it if it goes keel-up? And four: it strikes me that this could just as easily be countered by increased land patrols.”
“So why is that more sensible?” Falsen growled around his pipe.
“It would be more believable – that’s the whole point of the Wall, to keep the Fomorians in Connacht. However, I believe that the third idea I have is more practical for keeping the Royal Navy on their toes. In short, use one of our submarines to drop a crate or two of older weaponry off the coast – not even near the quarantine zone.”
“You would recommend this one? Why?”
“Well, the Fomorians aren’t the only…armed group in the island. A few widely-used rifles landing on the coast would have to be met with a response, especially if they begin to suspect that it’s a submarine behind it. We’re not the only people who use them – so do the Americans, the Germans and the French.”
“What sort of rifles?”
“My first thoughts are Mausers, since everyone and their dog uses them in one form or another.” Rasmussen began to count off the nations on his left hand again. “We use them ourselves, but so do the British, the Americans, and obviously the Germans. The alternatives would be some Austrian, Italian, French or Russian guns, but we’d have to acquire them ourselves.”
“How effective would you rate this at keeping the Royal Navy out of the Norwegian Sea?” Bjornsson asked.
“In itself, not very. We might get a few antisubmarine ships away, but I wouldn’t expect more than that. However, it might have some knock-on effects.” He paused. “To be honest, I don’t think one single run would be enough. It would have to occur a few times, which runs the risk of being spotted more easily.”
Bjornsson nodded slowly. “Thank you, Commander. If you have copies of these proposals, I would be interested in studying them more closely.”
“Umm…” Rasmussen tilted and scratched his head. “I only have a single draft in shorthand. To be honest, this was just something kicking around my head-”
“Even so, I would like to review them. Admiral, you can contact me by telephone when this is ready, preferably within a week. I shall collect it myself.” The grey man rose and unobtrusively retrieved his hat. As he closed the door, Falsen could just about hear him addressing the lieutenant outside. As always, it caused a tendril of fear to run down his back, almost like he was back in the Greenland Sea against the Americans in ‘93. Was she reporting to Bjornsson or somebody else on the side for the last five years?
Rasmussen exhaled a sigh of relief. “He’s with the Ravens?”
Falsen grunted and tamped down the tobacco in his pie again. “Indeed. He knew of that attempt at snaring you back in Dublin. Anyway, you have a week. Consider this your priority.”
Just as he laid his hand on the door handle, Rasmussen hesitantly turned to look at the Admiral. “Sir…I know he said this is purely hypothetical, but what if it isn’t?”
Falsen shrugged and grunted again. “Just do the best you can, Thomas. Oh, and before you go, tell Ms Nilsdottir that I want Johansson in here.”