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Turning Points

Phil Berry writes mainstream and sci-fi stories when he's not doing what he is supposed to be doing, which is working as a hospital doctor in London. His writing activities can be explored at philberrycreative.wordpress.com.

Beynon, a little known Near Space historian, found himself thinking about Winston Churchill as he transferred into Jovian orbit. Churchill, ignoring his advisers, had flown 18 hours from a meeting with the U.S. president in Bermuda back to England during the height of the Second World War. Miraculously he evaded detection by the Luftwaffe.
Beynon was taking an equally large risk by taking an interplanetary flight during the 52nd year of the first Galaxial War. Not that there was a choice; he had been ordered to attend the off-world Academy of War following an unexpected reversal near the Procyon system.
A magnetic storm had descended on the quadrant without warning. A finger of radiation extended into the fleet, disrupting communications and crippling the first three attack lines. The skins of the terrestrial spacecraft came alive with sparks; waves of unwanted electricity flowed down their flanks, neutralized the protective mechanisms and melded the circuits. A massacre ensued. Nobody had seen it coming. No astrophysicist had predicted it.
In the high offices of the Academy, Beynon's eccentric and hitherto disregarded views suddenly became interesting. He was invited to give a presentation.
Beynon scanned the row of representatives before him. They were dressed in dark blue uniforms, only the small, silver symbols on their collars differing in detail. All of Earth's armies fought as one now. Each continent made contributions to the Combined Force, but to maximize morale each continental division retained their own, native general. There were seven generals here.
"You have five minutes," said the Chair. Once the Prime Minister of India, he was skilled in the art of consensus. The Generals were politicians rather than soldiers.
Beynon began; "Thucydides, the founder of history as we know it, described a crucial sea battle in the Bay of Syracuse. A proud and well-trained Athenian was defeated. The event sent shock waves across the western world and led to Athens' ultimate defeat in the Peloponnesian War. The golden age of Greece came to an end. The world changed forever."
"So," barked the European general, a corpulent cynic.
"In the lead up to the battle there was a lunar eclipse. It was interpreted as a bad omen and the Athenian commander delayed his planned retreat. The Syracuseans were able to receive reinforcements from the Spartans, and by the time battle commenced they were unbeatable."
"I know that story. They believed in omens back then."
"But there should have been no eclipse. There was one, it is well reported, but I have checked the charts and gone through the calculations. There should not have been an eclipse."
This silenced the European. Beynon continued; "Next. Mid-20th century. The German army is within binocular range of Moscow. The temperature drops suddenly. The grease in their guns freezes. Tanks lay inert. There are 130,000 cases of frostbite. The Russians counter-attack and the eastern half of the German army is defeated. The outcome of the war became clear from that point onwards."
The African General objected, "This is plain history. We all know this. Napoleon fell into the same trap on his way into Russia. You are wasting our time. We need to be at our posts. I'm going." He stood.
"Wait!" Beynon surprised himself. Authority did not come naturally to him. "Please, wait." The Generals settled. They sensed something. "Yes, the weather is cold during a Russian winter, but I have studied the atmospheric physics. I've modeled it on the quantum array--there is no explanation for the sudden drop in temperature. It plunged to minus thirty, in one day! Nobody predicted it. It shouldn't have happened."
"So what is your hypothesis, Historian?" The chair again. Beynon had noticed him exchanging glances with the others.
"I would like to present you with more evidence. I have examples from Alexander's Asian conquest, the 2nd Punic war, The Battle of Agincourt,... even, with permission General Solade, your own stunning victory off Kepler-101B in 3026." The Australasian General clearly did not wish to know more about his single defeat in an otherwise glittering career.
"Your theory?" he demanded. The Chair nodded in agreement.
"Just this. At critical junctures in numerous battles over the last four thousand years, inexplicable changes in the natural environment have helped one side, hindered the other and influenced the outcome."
"Your explanation?"
"An intelligence. An external power. A single force, patient, strategic--"
"You are suggesting we, the human race, have been under observation all that time, have been manipulated--by our enemy?"
"No. I don't propose that our current enemy has been interfering. Not the Centaurians, something higher than that, more distant. Something that does not want to be noticed."
"God, perhaps!" jested Solade. They all laughed.
"It may as well be. What I am saying is that the position we find ourselves in now may have been pre-determined. Our ultimate victory or defeat in the Galaxial war may not be in our hands. Perhaps we are destined to win. Perhaps this greater power wishes to see us lose. If I am right, and if we choose, if you choose, to change our tactics in light of this understanding, we may be able to surprise that power and turn the tables. I cannot make a guarantee, but it is a possibility. That's all I can say."
The Generals withdrew. They agreed. Give the Historian a chance. Let him work up a strategy and present it to us. We will probably reject it, but... what is there to lose?
Beynon was sent back to Earth. As his transport drew away from the orbiting Academy and coasted over the gas giant's indistinct surface, a focus of high pressure developed in the central mass of metallic hydrogen and a lethal, inexplicable jet erupted....
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Author Comments

Reading a biography of Stalin it struck me how conditions beyond the power of individuals or armies can change the course of military history. It has always been thus, and it will be the case for many thousands of years to come. Turning Points allowed me to describe how events in Earth's history might intersect with a galactic timeline. There's a bit of Asimov in there I'm sure, but that's no bad thing!

- Philip A Berry
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