In the past, meetings between the leaders of the Web’s two largest Communist countries had been cause for great celebration and fanfare. They had been a major propaganda event, showing the solidarity and power of communist ideology across the Web.
But now, Alkar the Black and Travin were meeting in secret. Alkar had come to Scande in a nondescript, unmarked vessel not unlike the many grain transports that regularly came to Dragon from Merge. An in-person meeting was deemed more secure than a transmission that could be intercepted by a listening post; since the return of Norstein Bekkler to ZAPs, the Scandians felt they needed to show Guardia’s intelligence service proper respect.
Alkar was not happy. Of course, Travin never exactly a barrel of sunshine, either; but Alkar’s hostility emanated from his very skin. It was impossible to see his expression underneath his hood, but he was far from inscrutable; it was very clear to anyone who saw him that the master of the Merge League, one of the most powerful living magic users in the Web, was pissed.
“So, Comrade Travin,” spat Alkar, his voice dripping with acid, “I suppose you have called me all the way out here to this spider-hole to discuss some stupid thing in Crystal.”
Travin’s guards gave an involuntary start; for anyone in Scande to speak to koyzha that way would be to invite certain death. Travin himself, of course, was unperturbed.
“This is an opportunity, Comrade Alkar,” said Travin.
“Funny,” said Alkar, “I would have said the opportunity to end the threat of Guardia was years ago when they launched their aggressive war against the Merge League.”
Travin was, of course, fully expecting this argument. In the late forties, Guardia had arrayed a “Coalition” including Eblan, Hyland, and the Kuat Consortium in order to launch an armed intervention in Merge in order to prop up Bal. At first, the Merge League had humiliated and frustrated the Coalition; for a time it might appear that a Fringe nation might actually triumph over a Great Power.
In Alkar’s mind, that would have been the time for Scande to start the Second Leviathan War. And Scande did what it could to support the Merge League, using Unbound smugglers to supply weapons, sharing intelligence information, and loudly condemning Guardia’s continuing hegemonism in the Alliance Congress.
But Scande didn’t start a war in the Core. They definitely acted like it a few times in order to distract Guardia, but the reality was that all its aggression and expansion had left Scande over-extended in the forties. Travin also felt that Alkar failed to appreciate the nuances of power politics of the Core, where it was necessary that Guardia be seen as an aggressor in the eyes of neutral powers in order to delegitimize it in the eyes of the Web and isolate it from other potential allies. If Scande actually went through with attacking Truce, it would almost certainly have provoked Halberg’s Esper Union as well as the Tasnica Republic, a war that was unwinnable.
And so the Coalition-Merge War ground on, a bleeding sore for Guardia for years. Though their hopes for a quick victory were dashed and they suffered many initial humiliations, a Great Power of the Web of Worlds does not go down easily. The sent large forces to Merge, and borrowed heavily to play for an expanded military. Although the expanded war was unpopular – and a major cause for the Guardian Civil War – the Coalition did eventually succeed in taking back Bal, and was beginning to eye the total expulsion of Merge League forces from Merge World II. But the Guardian Civil War interrupted operations, and Rhodes Palmerston negotiated the Treaty of Tule that officially ended the war.
Alkar hated the Treaty of Tule, too. He hated that it ended the war as Guardia was falling apart and there was an opportunity to make good his lost gains. He hated that significant territory for Tycoon was restored at Travin’s behest.
Alkar and Travin did not have to say any of this to rehash it; it was, after all, well known to both of them.
“War is coming,” said Travin. “Guardia is divided. The Esper Union lacks strong leadership. The Tasnicans have grown fat and lazy. The time of the ‘Great Powers’ is ending. This is your chance to finish the unification of Merge.”
“The unification of Merge does not happen on the Core’s timetable, Comrade Rumanski,” said Alkar.
“So,” said Travin, “you would miss this chance?”
“We will need some time to prepare,” said Alkar. “The Guardians still have significant forces stationed in Bal…once they have suffered a major defeat in Crystal, they will be forced to withdraw.”
“So,” said Travin, “you mean for Scande and Mysidia to do all the heavy lifting?”
Mentioning Mysidia was a calculated insult; Alkar never really cared much for the Crystal mages. “It’s about time you start doing any lifting at all. For all the bluster of the great, the mighty Scandian League, you have done precious little to stem the tide of the Guardian menace.”
Travin frowned; the slight change in his impassive countenance sent chills through the room. “You need to learn patience, Comrade Alkar,” he said. “When the Coalition-Merge War started, things were very different. TO Halberg was still alive. There was a strong anticommunist faction in Tasnica still. We had to build our strength and bide our time.”
“That’s easy to say when your country is not on the front lines.”
“The Dragon Dimension has been on the front lines of all the Web’s conflicts for more than a century,” retorted Travin.
Neither Travin or Alkar were exactly used to being disagreed with. As the virtually uncontested dictators of their respective countries, it was uncommon for them to have to deal with an argument. The tension hung in the bunker for a moment.
“The war is coming,” said Travin. “It has been decided. And when it comes, do you really think the Guardians will be content to honor their peace treaty in Merge?”
“No,” said Alkar, “I think the Guardians will any excuse to re-assert their hegemony over the dimension. Very well, Comrade Travin, I have a proposal for you. The Merge League feign non-aggression towards the Guardians until such time as events in the Core have forced them to withdraw their troops.”
“That is what you offered before, Comrade Alkar.”
“It is the circumstances my country will bear,” said Alkar. “Remember Damcyan, which enthusiastically entered a war before it was ready and suffers under Fabul’s jackboot to this day.”
“Very well,” said Travin.
“There’s more,” said Alkar. “You claim that this is the time to ‘remake the Web’. Then let us remake it. When the Guardians have come crawling to the peace deal, they must be removed totally from the Merge Dimension. And I do not mean merely Merge World I and Merge World II…they must agree to transfer all of their space colonies to Merge League control.”
Only a handful of countries in the Web actually had space colonies, and almost all of them were held by Great Powers. It would be hugely symbolic for the Merge League to gain space colonies of its own; Alkar had long styled himself the leading power of the entire Fringe.
“It is…rash…for us to count our grimfowl before they are hatched.”
“Do you doubt our ultimate victory?” chided Alkar.
“War has its fortunes, good and bad,” demurred Travin. The truth was, it was very difficult to imagine beating the Guardians in Mergespace. It was one thing to fight them in Crystal where the Scandians had prepared a massive defensive battlestation based on a version of Ticondera’s SkyNet technology, and the goal was merely to keep the Guardians from intervening on the main world of Crystal. But seizing space colonies from the Guardians was not something SLCM-Space was equipped to do. Then again, Derik would surely see a handful of space colonies in Merge as a fair trade if Scande held Truce itself.
“Very well, Alkar,” said Travin. “It is, after all, far past time that the people of Merge are masters of their own fate. The Web as we knew it is ending.”