A short, short History of the Alternate Time-line for Cuttlefish

A Short-Short history of the Alternate time line for ‘Cuttlefish’.

Cuttlefish history branches not with a General changing his mind or being killed, or a battle going differently, but with a simple pre-marital argument in 1898.

Dr Clara Immerwahr (a brilliant chemist) has an argument about the purpose of science with her intended, Dr Fritz Haber (something that would happen in the marriage and result in her untimely death in our timeline). She broke off the engagement. Her family, one of the leading Jewish families in Breslau, felt this a disgrace and sent her off to visit relations in England. She never returned, married happily there, had a daughter in 1907, and took a different direction within chemistry working on fabric dyes.

Fritz Haber never recovered from this blow. He began drinking too much, and changed his direction from working on the synthesis of ammonia to the extraction of gold from sea-water (a direction he took anyway, after the apparent suicide… well, death of Clara). While other continental scientists were working on ammonia synthesis they were somewhat behind Haber, and whereas the Haber-Bosch process was up and running by 1911, and able to supply the German war machine with feedstock for the manufacture of nitrates, this was not true in this time line. The British Empire controlled access to the main natural supply of nitrates in the World (the Chilean caliche deposits), and World War One was a very short damp squib (as it would have been without artificial ammonia synthesis) as despite their use the Birkeland-Eyde process (a way of making artificial nitrates), the Central Powers having badly hurt Russia, began to run out of munitions after four months — at which point it became a race between the Austria-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and Germans to see who could reach a peace treaty first, knowing that would be to their advantage.

Austria-Hungary won that and suffered a minor break-up of their territory. The Turks found the cave-in fraught with uprisings and lost much of their Empire to the French and English, or independence.

Germany… the British Empire was determined to see it did not threaten them again. This meant breaking it up into states, and getting rid of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The ‘agreement’ was to allow him to have had a mental breakdown, which would allow him ‘retire’ gracefully. However, his abdication would have made his sons rulers and the British Empire was having no more of that. So the remaining German states were placed under the Regency of Adolf Schaumburg-Lippe. This minor German Prince, with his vivacious very pro-British wife Viktoria (a granddaughter of Queen Victoria) were so adroit at reconciliation and in dealing with the German High Command that a Royalist uprising by Wilhelm II’s sons was successfully put down. France however seized the moment to invade a small German principality.

Thanks to Prince Adolf – and especially to his wife the British Empire intervened on the side of their historic ally, Germany, in the process mending many fences. The result of this was an arranged marriage between Edward VIII of the United Kingdom (who in our time line married Wallis Simpson in 1937, and had to abdicate to do so) and the daughter of Prince Adolf and Princess Viktoria (in our timeline their only child was stillborn) Princess Alexandria in 1916. And thus a new Imperial line was founded, in which the German Empire and British Empire largely became one. Russia still had something of a revolution – but the Mensheviks won. France, having alienated Britain, found itself mired in colonial wars.

And the world had no synthetic Ammonia, and the British Empire, dominant in coal, saw to it that coal, not these new-fangled oil-derived fuels stayed dominant. The Windsor-Schaumburg-Lippe family controlled vast coalfields… and had the means to slap punitive taxes on oil and control and tax the shipping of it.

Coal ran the Empire.

But coal is a very dirty burning fuel, and as Europe had neither WW1 nor the Spanish ‘flu, it had many people and much use. Emigration particularly to Africa and Australia went ‘full steam ahead’. Colonialism and racism flourished. So did the massive infrastructure of a steam-driven world.

By 1935 environmentally things began to go wrong, just as the British Empire began cracking under the strain of too many people and too little food, as Synthetic Ammonia has been the basis of much of the fertilizer used in our timeline. The coal-based society was pouring out massive amounts of soot (particulate carbon) caused substantial ice melting in the Arctic, particularly in Russia.

And that led to a methane burst (where methane locked in by ice or pressure reaches a point where a lot of it is released) in the tundra.

Methane is a short lived (breaking down in the atmosphere) but very effective (around 72 times as effective as CO2) greenhouse gas.

This caused real environmental catastrophe Massive melting of ice, more outgassing methane… a warmer world. Over seven years average temperatures rose 7 degrees.

It proved a disaster for the earth, but the saving of the Empire. Governments failed to cope as heatwaves ruined agriculture and their coastal cities and plains were flooded. World weather conditions were very erratic, causing the collapse of already overstretched agriculture, widespread starvation, wars, mass-migration.

Elected governments in many countries failed. Government was suspended, martial law imposed, in the British Empire with authority returning to the Royal Family. Military intervention was largely brutal and self-serving… except that the British Empire, with more military might and infrastructure than any rival, did a generally better job of restoring order and seeing people at least got some help. More if youe were white and British of course. In India the suffering was terrible. But Commonwealth countries who tried to go it alone – Australia, Canada, South Africa — rapidly became chaotic, soon begging the Crown to intervene, and restore direct rule. Which it did, and managed to stabilize things over the next few years (as the weather was re-settling, at hotter levels.) The Empire had its finest hour — along with some colossal failures, but these were lesser than the disaster’s impact elsewhere.

Slowly (by about 1942) things began to return to a new form of normal. A normal where London is largely flooded, but not abandoned. Like Venice, Her streets have become canals.

The British Imperial House was not ready to hand back the power it had been given or taken. The Canadian Dominions, with vast new arable lands and new settlements in Newfoundland and Greenland was a major engine for Empire. The restive factories of India provided goods for the Empire. In Australia — the Western settlements had suffered withering drought and had been abandoned by the Empire, with forced resettlement to the East coast and Tasmania.

At home Ireland seethed. And coal, the driver of the Empire, began becoming more difficult to source and more expensive. In the tunnels and tubes under the drowned city, anti-imperialist republicans and Irish rebels, part of the Liberty – the people who would see a return to older values and free elections eke out a strange existence. They are served by a fleet of Stirling engined submarines. After the 1914-15 War, submarines were outlawed by the treaty of Lausanne, as the Kaiserliche Marine submarines had inflicted considerable damage on the Royal Navy, and were thus hated. But the revolutionaries, the underpeople, operate a small clandestine fleet smuggling illegal goods — chocolate, teak, quinine.

The year is 1953. This is when ‘Cuttlefish’ is set.

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3 Comments

Filed under books, Writing

3 responses to “A short, short History of the Alternate Time-line for Cuttlefish

  1. Fascinating… I like it.

    But just one question, what has happened to Japan? One assumes it is a loyal British ally or was until the mid 1920s at least. But what happens after that? especially during the great heating?

    • A good question — one I’d be curious in Mike-working-in-Japan input too. I’d envisaged Japan having pushed into Korea and possibly China, and being rather embroiled there, but also supporting Peru (in opposition to the the British Empire, which supported Chile), in the smouldering Caliche (nitrates) war. Japan survived the Melt rather better than other less disaster-innoculated cultures, IMO. But I’d like to build up a bigger world picture.

  2. Martin

    Oooo….. I like.

    Looking forward to this one greatly, Dave.

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