Part 15: Prologue: Ill Portents
Again, the whole world seems poised upon the brink of disaster. Amid the last gasps of failed diplomacy, armed legions around the globe make hurried preparations for the conflict their very bones tell them is coming soon...
Years later, historians looking back on these days will voice the names of six nations whom they will hold responsible for going and ruining things for everybody else.
"The League of Nations (LoN) is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and the achieving of world peace. The LoN was founded in 1913 to stop wars between countries and provide a platform for dialogue after the last group of godless heathens attempted to unite the world through military prowess." ~Riskipedia
Unfortunately, over time the once glorious and humane Council has degraded into a corrupt political body full of backstabbing and bribery. By the time news of an incoming world war was discussed in the Council, its members were already halfway through calculating how to keep the war going and maximize profits from the resulting carnage. When one still pure soul suggested that they vote on whether or not the World's Finest Military should be deployed to keep the peace, laughter shook the halls like never before.
Unfortunately for the corrupt Councilmen, a few drunken bets allowed the motion to be passed the next day.
Commander: Supreme Commander of the World Twiddy
The World's Finest Military is made up of able-bodied men offered by the nations of the world as a price for joining the Gentleman's Club that the Council has become. Through intense physical and mental training, they have lost none of their allegiance to their original countries and have gained an intense hatred for the League. Their Supreme Commander, Twiddy, was promoted to his prestigious position straight from private due to his stellar record of having no education, no leadership skills, and no combat experience. Being straight from the uncultured hicklands of Australia, he was elected after the Council evaluated that he would be least able to stage a coup.
After years of not fighting a single war, the Supreme Commander of the World must now face his greatest challenge of keeping the peace using the World's Finest Military, the secret military technology of the League of Nations, and whatever armies compliant nations decide to donate to his command.
Lusitania has long been regarded as a minor nuisance in world affairs. A tiny, overpopulated island nation, it subsists almost entirely on what it can steal from its neighbours. Almost every Lusitanian owns a boat, dinghy or raft of some description, and it is a rare for a weekend to go by without the scabrous Lusitanian hordes setting out to loot, plunder and scavenge goods for the week ahead. While this would normally provoke an international incident, it has typically been easier for the victims of Lusitanian raids to simply take out their extra pair of suspenders, or buy a new loaf of bread. In fact, Lusitanian raiding has historically propped up the economy of the small inland town of Cobblerham, renowned for their hat-makers, due to the Lusitanian proclivity for flamboyant headgear.
Traditionally, Lusitania is nominally ruled by a Grand Admiral of the Fleet, though until recently this position has been largely ceremonial. Rank is denoted through certain traditional items of headwear, that, in keeping with Lusitanian custom, frequently change hands. Thus, whoever steals the Grand Admiral's hat thus becomes the new Grand Admiral. This tendency for power to quickly shift from person to person has created a culture in which Lusitanians tend to be relentlessly individualistic, hard-headed and reluctant to take orders, since the Grand Admiral of today might well just be another pleb tomorrow.
Commander: Grand Admiral of the Fleet Guitar Hero
All this has changed, however, with the rise to power of Grand Admiral Guitar Hero. Little is known about his childhood, but what we do know is that he grew up in one of the many shantytowns on Lusitania's shore. His life, and the direction of his country, would change forever when, on his first raid at the age of 10, he saw exactly how massive the mainland was.
"Wouldn't it be great," he thought to himself, "if you could steal a whole country?"
His first attempts, while he was yet a young man, were largely unsuccessful. His efforts to tow away bits of the mainland and glue them together garnered little interest from his fellow Lusitanians, and although he tried to run for office in another nation, it failed due to his not being corrupt enough - history of petty thievery notwithstanding. After repeated failures, he decided that a change of plans was in order. Lusitania would become a military power under his leadership and begin to annex its neighbours.
Becoming Grand Admiral was simple enough: with a boathook, he snagged the hat from the nightstand of the previous incumbent and his neighbour, Grand Admiral Jonesy, then set about distributing propaganda that read:
"Big ships...BIGGER theft! Join the Lusitanian navy and steal the world!"
Lusitania was transformed almost overnight at the thought of larceny on a global scale. A series of robberies at assorted army and naval bases assured Lusitania's military might, and they immediately set out to launch attacks upon other nations.
As things currently stand, Lusitania controls territories scattered across the globe, and it seems almost inevitable that they will try to expand their reach sooner rather than later. The only hope for a peaceful resolution lies with appeasement - or, possibly, by stealing the Grand Admiral's hat.
Brazen existed as the monarchy of Brazen for many centuries. A recent long bout of especially vicious incest had left the last king with a two word vocabulary, "ongh" and "blargh", making public appearances more or less impossible (but to be fair, a vast improvement over his father whose vocabulary had been composed of "killemall", "morebeer" and "gimmewench").
The explosion of the new power plant made room for a newer, better Brazen, a progressive nation built for the advancement of science and the accumulation of knowledge. A steam-powered horseless carriage in front of every house, a difference engine in every living room, and electricity and running hot and cold water for all. And libraries. And giant airships, bristling listening-funnels and compound eyes to watch for criminal activity. And a secret police. And "processing centers" for discovered criminals and anarchists. Since recently many great scientists and engineers have been discovered to be quite anarchistic, there has been a slight dip in maintenance for pretty much everything, but steam technology is built to last and probably won't suffer much from abuse and neglect. At least it looks pretty.
Brazens' citizens, meanwhile, stroll leasurely through the huge cities' shopping districs, their faces forcefully unconcerned at the whistling of leaking pipes and the buzzing of life cables lying in puddles of oil, their waistcoats, top hats and monocles a splendid sight to behold.
Commander: Esteemed Gentleperson Herr Zwiebel
During the final years of the monarchy of Brazen, Herr Zwiebel seemed to be engrossed in and happy with the exploration of steam technology and its use for scientific progress and the betterment of mankind. His colleagues didn't realize his true intentions... until it was too late for them. A carefully planned explosion of the huge boiler of what was to be the newest, greatest power plant of the fledgling nation's capitol took the lifes of the former monarch and all of Zwiebel's competitors, and in the ensuing power vacuum, he stepped forward to "save the nation from anarchy and chaos".
A few years later, he dropped his title of Steward and Protector of the realm in favor of the presently used Esteemed Gentleperson (The use of "gentleperson" might be because his only child is a daughter and the title is hereditary). These days, his top-hatted, be-monocoled form is mostly made out in the glass-and-brass tower of power, where, protected by mechanical spiders with steam hearts and difference engine brains, he lords it over his subjects and contemplates new projects. He has been known to cackle when he perceives himself to be alone. His daughter, Victoria, is mostly found in her room where she writes gloomy poetry, obsesses about young, strapping airship heroes with tragic pasts and listens to these unbearably cacophonic noise kids these days call "music hall" on her vitrola.
Vynnland's birth can be contributed to the intersection of two fortuitous circumstances. The small island chain was originally founded as another tax haven for rich industrialist, but a miraculous discovery found it's soil rich in potassium carbonate AKA pot ash. A land-grab led by chemical and agricultural companies quintupled Vynnland's population with an influx of laborers and industrial bureaucrats. Within a matter of months Vynnland's GDP could rival that of actual countries, which caught the attention of eccentric CEO Marvin Bacchus, head of the Cornucopia Investment Group and laissez-faire booster. Bacchus headed a hostile take-over of Vynnland Nation Bank, the only indigenous company on the island, and restructured both companies into a new entity: Vynncorp.
Vynncorp mainly offers services normally provided by a tax funded government: roads, running water, health care, ect. In Vynnland, though, these services are a for-porfit operation, in exchange the lack of government means no taxes are levied on either goods or income. Many a libertarian have flocked to the islands with dreams of striking rich through hard work, responsibility and a monetary system based on the gold standard. Unfortunately, due to import complications, the Whole Foods supermarkets that are the main source of nutrients for the island's inhabits experience food shortages that lasted weeks. Riots soon erupted.
Bacchus, a life-long objectivst, knew that his free market paradise could not flourish while other countries with their petty "governments" continued to mooch from his nation's labors. Another hostile take over was in order, but this time the winner wouldn't be decided by who had the most money, but who had the bigger guns. An army need to be organized, or bought.
Commander: Pinchy 'The Lobster'
Pinchy "The Lobster" was head of Vynnland Nation Bank during the take-over. As a show of respect, Bacchus had Pinchy elected to the board of directs of Vynncorp and then promoted him to Chairman of the Board. With the recent acquisition of a defense contractor and a questionable mercenary company, Pinchy now has the task of leading the Merger and Acquisition Team (AKA the Vynnland Army). Bacchus, true to his name, is a natural party boy and spends most of his time on his yacht Fortunato. Pinchy, on the other hand, is a neurotic-type who doesn't see this war business turning out well, but lack the courage to tell his boss (or the shareholders) otherwise.
The population of Wessex are a largely rural folk, content for the
most part with a flagon of cider and a bit of a sing, and fiercely
distrustful of folk who "bain't from round 'ere." As a result, the greater
acreage that can be defined a "round 'ere", the happier they'll be. The
desire for a quick campaign is paramount, as the harvest will need getting
in before too long, and although farmers' wives are capable, they can't do
it all. The 12-bore double-barrelled shotgun is the standard firearm of
the Wurzel army, with pitchforks and scythes used in melee combat and a
combination of tractors and combine harvesters used as transport and tanks
Commander: Grand Wurzel Sebzilla
Sebzilla won the position of leader of Wurzellonia in part of a
promotion by Taunton's Cider, and upon recovering from his hangover was
amazed to discover that he had risen to control a network of farms and
smallholdings throughout the world, united by their love of cider and the
music of the Wurzels. In the first meeting with his staff, he proposed a
campaign of aggressive expansion to bring the pleasures of a West Country
existence to the rest of the world. The "Arr"s had it, and so firing up
their combine harvesters of war, the Wurzel community set off on their
imperial campaign, with the voice of Adge Cutler ringing in their ears.
The religious people of the Kamigonian tribe of Scotland are well-known for their love of alcohol and prayer. The only time that they are not drunk is when they are praying, which is soon followed by the imbibement of much ale and wine! As such, their main exports are alcohol, religious paraphernalia and liquid chemicals (plus allied industries).
The leaders of this society are the priest-presidents of the large corporations, each with a monopoly on an individual market sector. Said leaders are also prohibited by religious law from being drunk; the question if they powerful because they are sober hardasses- or they are sober hardasses because they are powerful is one of the most debated topics in the society. These corporations work together under the lead of the Most Peaceful One to secure trade routes, price out competition and be dicks overall to other nation's economic engines. If they can't get drunk, then no other leaders should be able to afford liquor either!
The peaceful people themselves are lulled into complacency by the state controlled media. In the run-up to the current "weaponized spill over of economic diplomacy," the media reported that organized mafias were shutting down the economic tradelanes and railroads they depend on for their economic lifeblood. Any temporary expansion of territory was to make safe the areas for economic development to occur once again. Temporarily, of course, with nothing at all to do with the extra markets to be monopolized at gun point.
Commander: Most Peaceful One Slaan
Most Peaceful One Slaan was born into a successful merchant family. High in the hills of outer Scotland, his family grew wealthy from an Empire founded upon the dual products of Ritual Ales and Wines and Poisonous chemicals. Being shrewd business-men, they realized that as people used their chemicals, idiots would get sick and die from them. Which, of course, meant that they would go to church for funerals and hope-of-not-dieing; and, by coincidence, these churches would need ritual items. The heir of this trading Empire, Slaan was able to corner the market so well, that the Church of Peaceful Platitudes was forced to name him the head of their church, the Most Peaceful One, by the time he turned 25, or face not having the alcohol needed for their primary rituals.
From there, Slaan quickly used his newly found social might, and his corporate allies and money, to seize control of the mass media and town militia. Being a peaceful people, the masses accepted this with little protest and acceded to his all-knowing nature; after all, if the Universe didn't want Slaan in power, it wouldn't have put him there! Slaan now wishes to protect, and extort money from, his people for the benefit of all (in his family). If the other nations get in the way of his highly-well armed tax collectors, well, then that is their fault.
In the waning days of what few still call 'peace', the global balance of power is thus:
Who will strike the first blow? And will they have the strength to see through what they have begun?
To be continued...