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March to the Sound of the Guns: an alternate history fiction

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Old 07-08-2014, 08:00 PM
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Default March to the Sound of the Guns: an alternate history fiction


Hello guys. This is a story I've been writing, exclusively as a hobby. It explores the era of New Imperialism during the 19th century in an alternate, anachronistic, mildly steampunk Earth.

I've previously posted bits related to the (unrelated) novel I'm writing, but I wanted to take a break from it. I posted this at an alternate history forum, but it's gotten zero attention. I don't mean zero love, because I haven't even gotten criticism on it. It's really not been rewarding, so I'll try my luck here. I welcome suggestions, tips, criticism and the like. Also, please excuse me if I make a mistake, since I am not a native English speaker. Thank you all.

February 10, 1855,
Fort Carnot, approximately 12 kilometers south of the French Concession of Coatzacoalcos, Mexica Empire.

Major Athénien smoked while waiting for the ranging party to return to the fort. Nahua-made cigarettes, which were, according to some, the best in the world. Athénien wouldn’t know if that were true, but they were damn good. The commanding officer in Fort Carnot, Athénien usually smoked from a pipe, but for no reason in particular the pipe had been left at headquarters. A light drizzle had fallen upon the fort about half an hour before, and the skies were still heavy with gray clouds.

Fort Carnot had been built on the side of a mountain, against a natural stone wall which ensured it could only be assaulted from one side. Twelve 24-pounder and four 36-pounder rifled guns defended its walls, with their respective artillery crews, as well as 400 infantrymen with around 90-plus chasseurs à cheval and a dozen native Nahua rangers attached to the garrison.

It was built with pale reddish brick, three concentric, star-shaped walls around a central courtyard. On this courtyard, high on a flagpole, flew the Tricolour.

Accompanying Athénien, who commanded only while the colonel was away, were several officers of the garrison, chiefly Captain Jean de la Bedoyere, whose father had served alongside Napoleon the Great, and Captain Hugo Aubertin, a grizzled veteran and Order of Merit recipient. Also with them was Tototl, a European-educated Nahua in French service.

“What could be taking them so long? They were supposed to be back in the morning. If we had been provided with a single fucking gunballoon we wouldn’t have this problems” complained Athénien, sending another puff of smoke into the air “I don’t like this. Fucking Mexica have been growing bold lately... no offense Tototl.”

“None taken Major. I am not Mexica,” he replied in clear French, curtly, as Nahuas were apparently prone to be.

“Right, right...” said Athénien, who occasionally struggled with the difference between Mexica and Nahua.

Colonel Bodin had gone out with 45 men, chasseurs and natives, seeking to destroy a small rebel encampment which threatened commerce between the French at Coatzacoalcos and the Valley of Anahuac, the Mexica metropolis.

Athénien looked to the left, and gazed upon the Coatzacoalcos River, streaming delicately among the lush vegetation like a pale bluish serpent. The bridge which traversed the river was within range of the fort’s guns, this way protecting the port of Coatzacoalcos from encirclement.

“We should’ve taken Tenochtitlan during the war,” said Aubertin “we left the Mexica strong enough to bite our asses after a few years, which is exactly what they are doing now.”

“Taking Tenochtitlan is probably, probably not as easy as it sounds,” replied Athénien without turning to look at the captain “Otherwise, we would be there now, guarding some hot, swampy fort on Lake Texcoco instead of a hot, swampy fort near Coatzacoalcos.

“Actually Major, Tenochtitlan has mild weather most of the year,” offered Tototl.

Athénien shrugged him off.

“I’m pretty sure this fucking stove is going to blow,” said the Major.

“So then why has Paris neglected to fortify us, to bolster our numbers? They haven’t tried to deter the Mexica in any way,” said la Bedoyere.

Athénien, always the sardonic one, smiled at the captain.

“Because they want to appear to be the wronged ones, treacherously stabbed in the back by a barbarous enemy who just a few years before agreed to peace. They are willing to sacrifice us and even temporarily forfeit Coatzacoalcos and Port Joséphine before thrusting deep into the heart of the Mexica Empire.”

Everyone went quiet, while the Major non-chalantly continued:

“Shortly after signing the Treaty of Tampico, the French government realized the Mexica had no intention of upholding it. A new war is needed...”

“Merde...”

“They, or we, are showing weakness, hoping to lure the Mexica into striking, so we can then come back in force and do what we should’ve done before. In your words, take Tenochtitlan.”

“It’s Kellermann isn’t it?”

“I believe so. Hugo would never pull bullshit like that. Then again, he’s not a warmonger.”

“How do you know all this?” asked la Bedoyere.

“Oh it’s just a theory I came up with.”

“How?”

“I went to Saint-Cyr” replied Athénien with an expression of thinly veiled contempt.

Just when Major Athénien was about to sally with another cavalry detachment, a cloud of dust arose in the distance, signalling the return of their men.

“What in hell’s name happened?” asked Athénien to the dismounting cavalrymen, some of whom were wounded. A chasseur had lost an eye. The spectacle was a sorry one, battered, tired men, their green shirts bloody and tattered, many without their shakos...

None of their Nahua troops had returned. Out of the original 46, only 14 returned.

“Where’s the Colonel?”

“Dead,” someone said, one of the returning Frenchmen, one who was still firmly astride his mount “but it wasn’t the rebels... eagle... eagle troops.”

Athénien stood frozen momentarily.

The Tlatoanic troops had been neutral throughout the anti-French rebellion... until now.

“Eagle troops? Mother of God.”

“There’s a large column coming to Coatzacoalcos. Two week’s march. All tlatoanic units. Jaguars, eagles, otomies, shorn ones, some of them with flintlocks. They pounced on us. For every one of our dead, we took ten from them.

Aubertin gave Athénien a slap on the back.

“You’re in command now Major,” he said “Give us your orders.”

It took a few seconds before Athénien could answer. The shock was maddening. The Colonel dead. Thousands of angry Mexicas coming their way. And now there was a new commander.

“Get me Coatzacoalcos on the wireless. And I want every voltigeur we have out on pickets. Have the guns ready too, advanced raiders wouldn’t surprise me.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She took off her black shako. It was slightly smaller, more practical than the shakos of old, though it still had the imperial eagle in bronze on the front, and a red pompon on the front edge.

She threw her cigarette away and set to the task of accommodating the injured.

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Old 07-09-2014, 02:43 AM
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Eddy Rod-Kubry. I liked this very much; would like to see more.

I'm not entirely familiar with the 'Real' history of this period so some of your alterations may be lost on me. That's the trouble with alternate history, one has to be familiar with the real history to appreciate the alternatives.

Not revealing that Major Athénien is a woman at the start put me in a bit of a quandry. I can't decide if this was deliberate or accidental on your part. I naturally assumed that the Major was a man - based on history (and probably a little sexism). But this is alternate history and anything is possible.

Despite these criticisms I enjoyed your story.

KEEP ON WRITING
Best wishes
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  #3  
Old 07-09-2014, 10:05 AM
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Metairie Road,

Thank you for your response. I do intend to post the entirety of this story here, like I said before I'm doing it for fun. I have also prepared sections dedicated to providing "historical" background. There are not many apparent differences with real life in this first post.

Basically, Kellermann, though a real person, was never Premier of France; In this world, the Mexica Empire was never conquered, but instead developed trade relations with the rapidly industrializing European powers. A "wireless" is mentioned. This refers to radio, which was not yet invented in real life 1855. Flight was also not possible yet, though in my history it is conducted by relatively fast airships.

These are basically the only differences revealed in the first post, with more in subsequent sections.

Not revealing Athénien's gender was intentional. It's another point where this reality diverges. Women are allowed to vote and work the same professions as men, though there is still some sexism, with women not easily climbing to the higher echelon positions.

More to come soon.
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Old 07-09-2014, 10:13 PM
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Here's the next part. Do you think it lacking in detail? I fear it may be, as I try to avoid overwhelming the reader and sometimes I go to far. I'm also considering adding the time next to the date.

February 11, 1855,
Grand Trianon, Versailles, France

The Emperor of the French sat in a curule chair, gilded and covered in red velvet, his orders on his left breast, a cane on his left hand. He wore a three piece suit, black, with satin lapels and a red satin cravat.

His daughter, eleven-year-old Princess Marie Émilie, in her white silk dress, was drawing a sketch of her father. It was of better quality than what one would expect from a girl her age, and her father often indulged her by posing for her art.

Her dog, a Dalmatian pup, slept on a plump red cushion.

Alfred Berton, Grand Marshal of the Palace, walked into the room, quietly.

“Yes Berton?” asked the Emperor.

“Your Majesty,” Berton began “The Minister President is outside, waiting to speak with you. The Ministers of War and of the Navy are with him.

Napoleon sighed.

“My dear, we’ll have to do this later. Papa has work to do.”

He held the documents in his hand. The first one was a wireless transcription which read:

This is Major Charlotte Athénien, Second Battalion, 90th Line Infantry Regiment stationed at Fort Carnot. Commanding officer of Fort Carnot dead, repeat, commanding officer of Fort Carnot dead, Tlatoanic troops on the move, I repeat, there are Tlatoanic troops on the move, marching on Coatzacoalcos, the port is in danger, we request support, the enemy is at approximately two weeks from Fort Carnot, two weeks from Fort Carnot. Please respond, switch.

It had been sent to the Military Commission of the Far West command at Coatzacoalcos the previous day.

The second one was a telegram which read:

ATHÉNIEN’S BROADCAST CONFIRMED AS TRUE. AIRSHIP RECONNAISSANCE REVEALS A FORCE IN EXCESS OF SIXTY THOUSAND MEN MARCHING ON OUR POSITION. PORT JOSÉPHINE CONFIRMS A SIMILAR COLUMN IS HEADED THEIR WAY. TLATOANIC AUTHORITIES HAVE KEPT DIPLOMATIC CHANNELS OPEN AND MAINTAIN THEIR DEPLOYMENTS ARE MERELY EXERCISES, BUT OUR TROOPS CONFIRM ENGAGEMENTS. WE REQUEST PERMISSION TO DETER BY AIR.

GEN. AR. MARTIN, COMTE VIELLEVILLE

Emperor Napoleon sat behind his tall chair, behind his main desk.

They were at his studio in the Grand Trianon, one which he seldom used, preferring to work at the Tuileries, like his father before him.

“I don’t like this Kellermann,” said the Emperor, addressing his Minister President “Those are Frenchmen we are sacrificing. Men and women who pledged to serve us, and we turn our backs on them?”

“Sire, we are not abandoning them. We are going to execute this with very careful, precise timing. The world will not take kindly to our carving up of the Mexica polity unless they gravely injure us in so terrible a manner that our invasion of the Valley will be seen not only as justified but even as necessary.”

“Why do we suddenly care so much about what everyone else thinks?”

“Sire,” intervened Abadie-Robert, Minister of War “We also have the anarchists, the jacobins and the socialists to take into account. We can’t give them any more fuel to recruit.”

“Germany Sire,” added Kellermann.

Napoleon looked at Kellermann, and back at Abadie-Robert, slightly leaning back, mulling what they had just said.

“Germany...” he repeated.

There had been a recent increase in reported socialist activity in Westphalia and Württemberg, both French allies.

Behind the Emperor, there was a portrait of his father, Napoleon I, depicting him at that same study they were now in. It had been a gift from a prominent Scottish Bonapartist, to commemorate his victories in England.

“How long would it take for a relief force to cross the Atlantic?” the Emperor asked.

“Ten days Sire.”

“What is our air strength out West?”

“Twelve dirigibles of the line, seven heavy bombers, fourteen aereofrigates, ten aereosloops and ten gunballoons, spread out between Coatzacoalcos, Port Joséphine and Saint Domingue.

“Move the ones in Hispaniola to the mainland,” ordered the Emperor “And by God reinforce Coatzacoalcos with regulars. This is my final word on the subject.”

The Ministers were silent, and nodded.

“Now summon the War Council, immediately. We’ll discuss the war at length at the Tuileries.”

“Yes Sire.”

He looked at the wireless transcript once more, and frowned, thinking. He looked at the Ministers once more.

“Is this the same Athénien-
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Old 07-12-2014, 10:56 AM
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Default March to the Sound of the Guns

Things that are working well in this draft are introduction of character along with the plot changes. Right away we see Athenien as a character with whom we should probably sympathize.

Athenien is introduced along with the Major who cares enough to offer Athenien the luxury of cigars. It helps us to see where Athenien should be placed on the totem pole. Aggression not required, Athenien earns the trust of the reader as the story progresses.

We never see it coming. When the plot changes, Athenien gets asked to command the crew. The major exits the plot and then we know that Athenien will be in charge now that we have given our trust.

Good decisions. This is very likeable.

A second draft should include more narration. Try not to depend so heavily on the dialogue to provide the grounding historical information.
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  #6  
Old 07-12-2014, 11:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Escriber* View Post
Things that are working well in this draft are introduction of character along with the plot changes. Right away we see Athenien as a character with whom we should probably sympathize.

Athenien is introduced along with the Major who cares enough to offer Athenien the luxury of cigars. It helps us to see where Athenien should be placed on the totem pole. Aggression not required, Athenien earns the trust of the reader as the story progresses.

We never see it coming. When the plot changes, Athenien gets asked to command the crew. The major exits the plot and then we know that Athenien will be in charge now that we have given our trust.

Good decisions. This is very likeable.

A second draft should include more narration. Try not to depend so heavily on the dialogue to provide the grounding historical information.
Thanks for the feedback. When you say major, do you mean the colonel? Because Athénien is the major.

More narration as in, for example:

...the garrison had been in alert for weeks, ever since the Ihuil Cayotl Movement had solidified its presence in the surrounding settlements. They were with all certainty supported by the Mexica government...

?
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Old 07-13-2014, 02:38 PM
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Here's the next part:

February 19, 1855
Fort Carnot

Charlotte Athénien sat on the colonel’s desk, her shako, with it’s silver cords, on its surface, to the side. Her coppery hair was fixed in a knot. She was in full uniform, dark blue coat with red piped blue collar and cuffs, silver epaulettes, red trousers, black boots, a black leather belt with matching black shoulder belt. At her right hip, attached to the shoulder belt, hung a black cartridge box. Below it, she had her curved officer’s sabre. She wore her badge of a Knight of the Imperial Order of Merit, a silver and blue six-pointed star on a blue ribbon, over her heart.

She had earned it from her actions during the Whiskey War against the Mexica, when she was a young Sous-lieutenant of the Grande Armée, fresh out of the School at Saint-Cyr, eager to carve her name in the world, away from her family, and the plans they had for her.

She had been one of the first over the ramparts of Acatzingo, with the grenadiers. For her heroics during the assault, she recieved her badge from the hands of General Patrice de MacMahon, along with congratulatory letters from Minister President Hugo and His Majesty the Emperor, letters which, despite her cynic worldview, she treasured deeply. And she did it not out of love for the Emperor or for the government (even though she was pro-Hugo, considering him to be quite different from most other politicians), but out of a strong sense of pride. The letters themselves were not important, they were only paper and ink. What made them matter was that she had received them because of her prowess, and they were important as a symbol of her own success.



She did miss her family, her mother, her brothers and sisters, and at times even her suffocating, controlling father. At times.

Her door was open, and the fort was buzzing with the sounds of booted footsteps, the clank of rifles and bayonets, the puffing of horses.

She had arranged for ammunition caches to be placed near the walls, behind the men, containing cartridges and percussion caps.

She herself was cleaning her standard issue revolver, a .45 caliber Metz-AAF Armée 52,

A young female private, blonde and blue eyed, walked into the command office, clicked her right boot against the floor and saluted the major.

“Yes Private?”

Charlotte lifted her eyes at her as she kept sliding the cleaning rod down the gun’s barrel.

“Ma’am, we just got supplies from Coatzacoalcos. Two wagons from General Vielleville. He also sent us four 5 inch anti-air howitzers Ma’am, Captain Aubertin is distributing them.”

“Very well. Have you cleaned your rifle Private?”

“Yes Ma’am of course,” replied the woman, emphatically.

“Clean it again,” ordered Charlotte “dismissed.”

“Yes Ma’am,” replied the private, before saluting again and exiting the room.
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