BARCELONA, SPAIN — Civil war rages in Spain. The battlefields of Catalonia are a world in microcosm, a crucible testing the twentieth century’s grand ideologies. The Fascist governments back Franco, the Socialists back the Republic, while Liberals dither, fearful of another world war.
Meanwhile, radio-listeners and newsreel-watchers worldwide thrill to the exploits of ex-Royal Indian Air Force pilot Eric “Dusty” Blair, Frenchman Antoine “Santo” de Saint-Exupéry, and the rest of the international rogue’s gallery of volunteer aviators known as the Fabian Aces.
With the help of two-fisted American mechanic “Papa” Hemingway, the Aces are the backbone of the Loyalist resistance, turning back Franco and his moros again and again. The worldwide popularity of Blair and his Aces is a constant goad to the Fascist governments and an ever-present rebuke to the Liberals’ policy of neutrality. When Blair’s De Havilland finally meets Fascist ace Charles Lindbergh’s Messerschmitt over Barcelona, the back of Franco’s coup is broken. Though the United States will not allow the League of Nations to act, Britain and France, shamed by the bravery of their countrymen, nevertheless enter the war on the Loyalist side.
Forced into a general war before their preparations were complete, the Fascists, though mounting a stubborn resistance, are nonetheless made step by step to retreat. By the summer of 1939, not only has Spain been liberated and the Republic restored, but French poilus are across the Rhine, and the British are advancing on Rome.
From Moscow, Stalin watches unfolding events with dismay. The intervention of the Liberal states has made a hash of the Comintern’s attempt to take control of Spain’s motley collection of left-wing groups — anarchists, communists, socialists. Fearing the consequences of an Anglo-French victory, he strikes a devil’s bargain with Hitler and Mussolini, bringing the Soviet Union in on the Fascist side. With Russian industry and Russian oil behind them, the totalitarian axis first stands, then begins to advance. The French are rolled back to the Maginot line; the British are pushed back down the Italian peninsula, hill by hill and castle town by castle town.
Desperate, the Liberal states turn again to the Fabian Aces. In late 1942, word reaches them of a gathering of the three totalitarian leaders at Elbrus, Stalin’s secret compound in the Caucasus. With the help of Polish and Ukranian partisans, the Aces make a daring midnight strike on the mountain citadel. Saint-Exupéry dies in an aerial duel with Mussolini himself, sacrificing his Dewoitine D.520 to destroy Il Duce’s Fiat G55, while Blair and the other Aces land and pursue Hitler and Stalin into the depths of the mountain. Stalin escapes by means of an underground train, but Hitler is captured, and the Aces spirit him away in a captured Ju-52 — leaving a mortally wounded “Papa” behind to hold off SS and NKVD reinforcements. Hitler is imprisoned on St. Helena, in the same cell as Napoleon.
Italian Fascism collapses immediately; German Naziism takes a little longer, but in 1943 a coalition of army officers and diplomats deposes the embattled Nazi leadership and signs an armistice, offering German support in the continuing search for Stalin. In Moscow, the hunted dictator’s enemies quickly take advantage of his absence; Stalin’s Georgian coterie disappears into the cellars of the Lubyanka, and a Politburo faction composed primarily of Jews and intellectuals takes their place. Anarchist Catalonia is the first to recognize the new government, and the Treaty of Barcelona leaves the chastened Communists in control of the Soviet industrial heartland, while a multi-national force pursues Stalin fruitlessly into the Central Asian wastes.
In 1946, a Franco-Polish task force discovers a hidden rocket base in the foothills of the Pamirs, controlled by Stalin loyalists and SS holdouts, and staffed by imprisoned scientists from both Russia and Germany. Many of the scientists are killed by their captors before the allied troops can rescue them, but not before Werner von Braun reveals the location of Stalin’s secret lunar fortress.
The liberated scientists are quickly put to work by the allies. In 1951, a moon rocket designed by Sergei Korolev and R.J. Mitchell is launched from Woomera, Australia, carrying the reconstituted Fabian Aces, and the battle against oppression, to the heavens.¤