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For All Nails #150: The British Are Coming

Bogotá, Kingdom of New Granada
2 January 1975

Prime Minister Alexander Elbittar did not particularly mind that Reginald
Skeffington-Smythe, the British Ambassador to New Granada, did not speak a word
of Spanish.  The British had been masters of the world for over a century and a
half, and in that time they had come to feel (quite rightly, in Elbittar's
opinion), that such a position made it incumbent upon others to learn /their/
language.  Although the British themselves were no longer undisputed masters of
the world, they and their cultural stepchildren in Australia and the CNA still
held the balance of power.  Elbittar did not particularly mind having to speak
English to Mr. Skeffington-Smythe, but he /was/ determined that in the future,
it would be the Anglos who would have to learn Spanish rather than the other
way around.

Elbittar was seated behind his desk in his office in the Royal Palace.  Seated
on a sofa to his right were King Fernando and Queen Sophia.  The Ambassador
entered and bowed to the royal pair with a smooth "Your Majesties," before
turning towards Elbittar and saying, "Prime Minister, it was good of you to
agree to see me on such short notice.  I very much appreciate it."

"Not at all, Your Excellency," said Elbittar, "I am always pleased to meet with
the representative of our British friends and allies."

The Ambassador had a distinctly uncomfortable air about him. "Before we begin,
sir and Your Majesties," he said, "I have an official message from my
government that I would like to read."

The King and Queen had warned him to expect something like this, so Elbittar
was not surprised.  "Go ahead," he said.

Skeffington-Smythe took a sheet of yellowish paper from his briefcase. "His
Majesty's Government," began the Ambassador, "views with alarm recent
developments in Eastern Asia and Central America, with specific reference to
the detonation on the island of Bali of an explosive device of hitherto unknown
power, known to have been developed within the Kingdom of New Granada, and the
claimed responsibility for that device of Colonel Vincent Mercator, whereabouts
currently unknown but believed to be resident in the Kingdom of New Granada.

"His Majesty's Government accordingly calls upon the Government of the Kingdom
of New Granada, by 9 January 1975, to: 

"(a) Take immediate and decisive action to locate the person of Colonel Vincent
Mercator and arrest him, pending the framing of capital charges against him by
such Court as may be appointed by Powers declaring an interest in the matter.

"(b) Cooperate fully with the investigative arms of the Governments of Powers
declaring an interest in this matter, such cooperation to include the granting
of access to such investigative agencies as may be designated by Powers
declaring an interest to any installation in the continental or offshore
territory forming part of or administered by the Kingdom of New Granada, such
installations specifically including military reservations.

"Should the Kingdom of New Granada fail fully to comply with either of the
conditions above, His Majesty's Government will reserve the right to consult
with other Powers declaring an interest in the matter in order to establish the
precise measures to be taken to coerce the Government of the Kingdom of New
Granada into compliance, such measures to be undefined and unlimited in scope."

Sophia was the first to speak.  "Sir Geoffrey is issuing an ultimatum?"

"Not exactly," Fernando told her.  "If I remember correctly, an ultimatum
includes a specific threat of war upon failure to meet its required conditions.
 Since Mr. Skeffington-Smythe's note does not specify what actions we are being
threatened with, it would more correctly be termed a demarche."

"Erm, yes, that is correct, Your Majesty," said Skeffington-Smythe.

"Of more interest to me," Fernando continued, "are these 'other Powers
declaring an interest'.  What other Powers might these be, Mr.
Skeffington-Smythe?"

"His Majesty's Government," the Ambassador explained, "has been in contact with
the governments of the Kingdom of Scandinavia and the German Empire, as well as
our allies within the Canton Pact."  The latter, Elbittar recalled, included
the Kingdoms of Australia and Siam, as well as the Republic of Taiwan.  Not for
the first time since the Christmas Bombing, Elbittar gave thanks that he had
Fernando on hand to advise him.  He himself would never have noticed the
Ambassador's use of that phrase, or understood its implications until it was
too late.

"You've been consulting with the /Germans/?" said Sophia, and Elbittar could
well understand her astonishment.  For over a quarter of a century, the English
Channel had been the main battle line of the War Without War, patrolled
ceaselessly by British airmobiles and warships, and guarded for the last eight
years with atomic-armed airmobiles and missiles.  If ever the War Without War
became a War With War, it was widely expected that the English Channel would be
the place where it would begin.

"This is a matter of utmost concern to all of our governments," the Ambassador
explained to the Queen.

"It is a matter of utmost concern to us as well," said Elbittar.   Not least
because that bastard Mercator had left New Granada in the lurch, with no fusion
bombs of her own.  That's what I get, Elbittar thought, for having trusted a
Mexican.  Never again!

Fernando said, "Mr. Ambassador, I can assure you that New Granada is as
horrified by the events of the past week as you are, and that we will make
every possible effort to bring Mercator to justice."

Skeffington-Smythe nodded towards the King.  "Your Majesty has been at some
pains to let the world know of your nation's dismay."  For the last week, King
Fernando had been conducting what he called his "damage control operations". 
He had made a vitavised speech to the New Granadan people the night after the
bombing condemning Mercator's actions and pledging New Granada's support of
efforts to find Mercator and bring him to justice.  He had even convinced
Elbittar of the necessity of publicly admitting to New Granada's own role in
the development of Mercator's bombs.  Since then, Fernando had granted
interviews to dozens of foreign journalists, and had even appeared via
satellite on that North American show with the football player.

"However," the Ambassador continued, "I must be blunt.  There are many
important people, both within His Majesty's Government and among our fellow
Powers, who feel that your protestations of innocence are insincere.  They
believe that Mercator was acting with your full knowledge and approval, and
that despite your denials to the contrary, you are still harboring him within
your borders.  I fear that they will be satisfied with nothing less than the
dismantlement of your atomic weapons facility in Camacho City and the
establishment of a permanent weapons inspection team within New Granada to
ensure that Mercator's actions are not duplicated."

"Unacceptable," Elbittar stated.

Fernando was quick to expand on Elbittar's brief declaration.  "Your
Excellency, I am in complete agreement with the Prime Minister.  It would be an
insufferable infringement upon our nation's sovereignty to allow any foreign
powers to maintain a permanent presence within our borders, or to allow
ourselves to be dictated to concerning what sorts of armaments we might wish to
acquire.  Cooperating with an investigation is one thing.  Surrendering our
independence is quite another."  Elbittar and the King had discussed this
question at some length, and they had agreed that allowing some sort of foreign
inspection of Ciudad Camacho was unavoidable, but that nothing more intrusive
or permanent would be acceptable.

Sophia added, "Would Sir Geoffrey permit such an infringement of British
sovereignty?  I strongly doubt it."

The Ambassador gave Sophia an undiplomatic scowl.  "His Majesty's Government
has not been so foolish as to assist a madman in the creation of his own
arsenal of terror weapons.  /Your/ government has, and must face the
consequences of its own willful blindness."

"Let me be equally blunt," said the King.  "Is it the intention of His
Majesty's Government and its /interested Powers/ to demand a permanent presence
in New Granada?  Or would a temporary investigation be sufficient?  Your
demarche was ambiguous concerning this point.  As I have said, the latter would
be acceptable, the former certainly not so."

The Ambassador's expression had resumed its diplomatic imperturbability.  "As I
say, there are some within His Majesty's Government who would press for the
former.  I cannot speak with any certainty, but I believe that your own stated
willingness to grant access to the facilities in Camacho City would strengthen
the hands of those who wish to pursue the latter course of action."

"Very well," said Fernando.  "If that proves to be the case, then I feel
certain that my government would be willing to discuss the implementation of
such an investigation with representatives of the interested Powers."  The King
glanced at Elbittar, who nodded.

Skeffington-Smythe nodded as well.  "Thank you very much, Your Majesties and
sir.  As always, it has been a pleasure."  Bowing again towards the King and
Queen, the Ambassador withdrew from the office.

"He's lying," Elbittar told the royal couple.

"I beg your pardon, Prime Minister?" said the King.

"He's lying," Elbittar repeated.  "He knows that his government will insist
upon shutting down the weapons works in Ciudad Camacho.  Once his inspection
teams arrive, they will not leave.  If we try to remove them, it will mean
war."

Fernando seemed ready to argue, but Sophia placed a restraining hand on his
shoulder.  "Fernando, he's right.  I know Sir Geoffrey, and he won't be
satisfied with a temporary presence.  As soon as the Ambassador mentioned a
permanent weapons inspection team, I knew that that was the real purpose behind
all this."

"Would Sir Geoffrey really abandon his alliance with us over this?" wondered
Fernando.  "Does he think we're in league with Mercator?"

"Whether he does or doesn't is irrelevant," she answered him.  "He can say he
does, and that gives him all the justification he needs.  And as for the
alliance, if Sir Geoffrey thinks he can get what he wants without it, he'll
tear it up in an instant."

Elbittar nodded with approval.  Dr. Alvarez was right about the girl - she was
indeed very quick-witted.  "I would expect nothing less of him," he said.  "Sir
Geoffrey is a very practical man.  He will take our oil as an ally if he must,
but he will take it as a conquerer if he can." 

Fernando looked back and forth between Elbittar and the Queen, then he let his
head drop into his hands.  "Then it's going to be war after all, isn't it?"

"Yes," Elbittar answered him.  "It will be war."