Admiral William Caldwell, Commander of His Majesty’s Third Fleet, leaned back in his chair as the analysts from Intelligence laid out the situation in the Americas.
“Our sources on the ground are reporting more skirmishes along the Spanish border with the Inca. The IHS Kon and Apocatequill have been deployed from Vilcabamba and are headed North. In response the Spanish are mobilizing their El Cid battle group out of Panama City.”
“What’s the composition of El Cid?” Asked Admiral Black, Commander of His Majesty’s Second Fleet.
“Three Barclay class heavy battleships, one Isabella class carrier, seven Conquistador class destroyers, and about a dozen lighter support craft,” answered another man from intelligence reading from an open folder.
Black shrugged at Caldwell, “They might have a chance.”
“How serious are they?” Caldwell asked.
“We can’t be sure,” the intelligence man who was standing in front of his projected map said with a slanted tone. Implying he had a very strong opinion.
“Best guess?” Caldwell pressed.
The man with the folder looked over to the corner of the room, where a gentleman with a cane nodded, and the folder man answered, “We don’t think El-Cid is under orders to engage, but we have a detailed profile of their commanding officer, and we absolutely expect him to do something foolish if he meets the any Incan ships, no matter the size.”
“So the Inca and the Spanish have another spat, how is this news?” Lord Admiral Anderson said with a yawn.
“The Americans,” The man with the cane said with flatly.
“What’s that? Can’t hear you from all the way over there M,” quipped Anderson sarcastically.
The man in the corner chuckled, tapped his cane and nodded to his man at the projector.
“Yes, sir. Slide please,” the man said to the secretary at the back of the room. The slide that replaced the map showed a high altitude photograph of a river valley. “What you see here, ladies and gentlemen, is troop movement in First Nations territory, mostly Kwahare militia near the Mexican border. No airships in play as yet, but we have a source that says the tribes are meeting, as we speak, to answer an ambassador of the Incan Hegemony on whether the First Nations will back them if it comes to war in Central America.”
“Oh, bloody hell,” Anderson sighed.
“And how do we expect that to play out?” Black asked, absently straightening her sleeves.
“Unclear,” said the folder man.
The projector man continued, “We suspect they’ll tentatively commit to the Inca, but how much that commitment will translate to in terms of manpower or aide is…very uncertain.”
“Very well,” Anderson stood, collecting himself. Black and Caldwell followed suit, but the fellow in the corner did not. “I assume you want something from Airborne or we wouldn’t be having this meeting. So what is it?”
“Intelligence would like to propose the Seacole battle group be deployed on a training exercise,” the folder man said.
“A ‘training exercise?’” Black asked.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied.
Caldwell felt he had to ask, “How will that do anything other than escalate our problem? The last thing we want is another war in the new world.”
The projector man answered, “We only need the battle group to put a ship fifty miles from the coast of Panama. After that we…,” The man was interrupted by the tapping of a cane. He continued, “How much do you wish to know, Lord Admiral?”
“That’s plenty I think,” Anderson said removing his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose, “I assume Seely has signed off on this?” Both men nodded. “Then fine. We’ll send the order out within the hour. Will that be all gentlemen?”
“Yes, thank you, Sir,” both men began gathering up their materials.
The man in the corner came to his feet and addressed William, “Could you hold back for a bit? I have a quick question for you.”
Black gave Caldwell a look, but all Caldwell could do was shrug to her.
As the rest of the Admiralty vacated the room, the man with the cane opened a small box, wound up a crank inside, and then set it on a window sill to tick down softly.
“Still paranoid, Admiral?” Caldwell asked smiling.
“Always, but more so in the last few days,” the man, Melville, whose official codename was ‘M’ but most in the Airborne simply referred to him as ‘The Admiral’, returned to his seat in the corner of the room and spent a good five seconds looking at Caldwell, “I had the most intriguing conversation with the Secretary of State for War last night. Seely had the most vivid memory of you authorizing the deployment of two of our chatter-code cylinders for private use.”
Caldwell shrugged, “And?”
“And,” the Admiral parroted, “I’d like to know where they are.”
“Vice Admiral Vasquez sent me a request for them. One for the Falkland base and the other for his residence on the mainland. It didn’t seem untoward, and Vasquez is a man we trust. I understand he has a little brother aboard that little pet project of yours.”
The Admiral nodded, “It’s true, Vasquez is a man we trust, and you noted as much in your request. But when was the last time you actually spoke to Vasquez?”
Caldwell felt a chill run the length of his spine. He searched his memory frantically, it couldn’t possibly have been that long ago. “I…I don’t actually recall. I couldn’t have been that long ago.”
“Six months ago at the Falkland base inspection was the last time I recalled seeing you together,” the Admiral said, his tone serious and his frown obvious, “I on the other hand spoke to him on the wireless earlier this morning. I asked him about those code cylinders, and he had no idea what I was talking about.”