13 April 1941
“Good evening from Pehtrolkagrad. This is Mary Tollbach with Radio Trans Emhist, reporting to you via special arrangement with the Confederated Kingdoms Embassy. As per our coverage of the World Socialist Conference, RTE is cooperating with our embassy to broadcast live from the Kharkov Republic.”
“In statements both in the Kharkov Republic and the Kingdom of Ashlain, commemoration of the 40th anniversary of their alliance were made this week. President Petrovich recognized the long history of cooperative Ashlain-Kharkovite relations in a statement before the Politburo wherein the president declared that “we celebrate the fortieth year of the alliance between our nations, and what brings us together. We are one people, and not simply through politics. As surely as the clans walk between us, so are our people came from the same place long ago. We are one, and we can never forget this. So we celebrate what brings us together, and that we are one people when the sun rises every day!"
In stark contrast to the complicated 18 year relationship between the Confederated Kingdoms and Kharkov, which has been challenged by incidents of political intrigue, the long and fruitful relationship between Ashlain and Kharkov has at distant review been a stable and tranquil one without substantial incidents or upset. In statements within the Kingdom of Ashlain, similar tribute to their strong relationship was made, and the gift of a number of submarines was additionally granted.
“In the Confederated Kingdoms, startling news out of the government’s inquiry into the sinking of the Aerah passenger liner Kaiser Leonard. Counsellor Lady Aleksandra uff de Uthen, a member of the select panel investigating the sinking, announced in a statement that the government inquiry “found strong evidence to suggest that the cataclysmic loss of life aboard that liner was not exclusively caused by the reported ‘super-wave’ that the sinking has been attributed to.” The panel, which last week abruptly became a private investigation as opposed to a publicly accessible hearing by the royal counsel, has not confirmed these statements, but soon afterwards announced both that Lady uff de Uthen had spoken out of turn, that the inquiry was neither willing to confirm nor deny the accuracy of her statement, and that the investigation would be issuing a statement of their own in the near future…”
The facts that had lead Lady uff de Uthen to issue that declaration had unfolded slowly. The first weeks of the hearing had essentially been testimony collection. When it was all said and done, out of the 3,362 reported passengers and crew aboard the massive Aerah liner, only 104 had survived. Of these, those rescued by the first GRCKN ship to reach the scene, SCK Urgent, had been taken to Bonnhaven and interviewed extensively during the course of the necessary paperwork for their return to their original destinations. A similar course of events took place for the passengers and crew of the Ivanhoe . These testimonies were the initial information provided to the “Special Inquiry for the Kaiser Leonard Investigation”, and quickly verified at least some level of the narrative already being reported by Aerah media groups—that the ship had capsized the night of 22 February, that it had been capsized at 0321, and that by the time first responder Ivanhoe reached the scene a little over an hour later the ship was gone, leaving only minimally debris. Later testimony from the Ivanhoe’s radio operator confirmed furthermore that radio contact with the Kaiser Leonard had been maintained as late as 0357.
But things soon began to grow curious.
Naturally, on account of the hour of the sinking few if any of the witnesses could respond confidently as to whether or not they had seen the wave approaching the ship, nor could they give any coherent narrative as to what had happened on the ship after it had collapsed. The vast majority of survivors, after all, would have to have been either on deck or able to jump free of the ship prior to capsizing, though in one or two exceptional cases they had swum to safety from the capsized vessel. But when naval engineers were called in to testify, disturbing questions began to be raised.
A capsized ship should, in theory, still be water tight. The 1918 capsizing of the armored cruiser Persistent in a typhoon demonstrated this point unarguably, with the ship remaining afloat and eventually being recovered and returned to service after extensive repairs. However, in the case of the much larger, more modern and thus theoretically more well built Kaiser Leonard the ship had evidently sank in something around an hour. The conclusion this fact demanded was startling: the hull of the mighty Kaiser Leonard must have experienced substantial physical damage during the capsizing, allowing air out and water thus into the ship at such a rate that even with all the ship’s water-tight compartments were unable to keep the ship afloat for long.
Further unexplained variables followed: if the ship had capsized at 0321 and maintained radio contact till 0357, how had the radio room (which must surely have been damaged during the capsizing, noted multiple naval architects brought in for testimony) managed to maintain power for 36 minutes? It was certainly curious that the radio operator—described as having “seemed absolutely cool and clear-headed, his sending throughout being steady and perfectly formed” in ‘Nachrichten in Aeraschwinsuchle’ reporting, and confirmed by other vessels which heard the transmission—had managed to maintain such inhumanly perfect performance in an inverted room presumably with damaged equipment, and in all likelihood without steady power. The liner, it was worth noting, was not equipped with an auxiliary battery bank for occasions when the generators were not available.
Furthermore, the notion of “getting the women off the ship” poses the unlikely scenario of an organized effort aboard a vessel only minutes earlier from this 0346 radio transmission to presumably have scores of people—already assembled and behaving rationally, it is assumed—into the depths of a capsized and evidently quickly sinking ship is, as an anonymous source would later confide to a reporter, “questionable.”
The hearings by this point had gone from public to private, and public curiosity into this disaster was not at all placated by the sudden wave of secrecy. Inside the inquiry, two camps of thought were developing: the more conservative of these being that, through some form of catastrophic engineering failure the ship’s hull had been shattered during the capsizing which allowed her rapid succumbing to the wave, and that miraculously such catastrophic damage had not hindered the operation of the radio systems, and that the vast majority of the crew had behaved with superhuman strength and commitment to duty…
…or, more ominously, that the ship’s too quick disappearance, combined with her too perfect radio messages and her impressively reliable power system when capsized all added up to too perfect a story: in short, some form of deception. With limited witnesses, most having seen little except for the sudden leaning of the hull and desperate escapes, the ship’s comparatively rapid sinking combined with reports of perfectly organized crews and orderly passengers, it was impossible to rationally accept the official account being issued by the Aerah press.
Add to this the fact that no other vessels in the area had been damaged by this unnatural wave, and skepticism began to run rampant.
These two options rivalled one another, and it was not clear how to proceed. If the ship had essentially behaved as reported, then undeniably the disaster, though natural in origin, was terribly compounded by some form of structural failure which in all likelihood pointed to serious engineering shortcomings. If it had not behaved as reported, then in all likelihood it pointed to some form of conspiracy. There was only one real agreement by the inquiry: something beyond an act of god had doomed so many thousands of lives to a murky deep sea tomb.
As to how to proceed, the SIKLI group had three options: one, to announce that their findings indicated some damning engineering failures on the part of the Grüvver & Harssely Company who had built her, or the Gold Star or GBTH companies who had approved the design. It did not help the fact that the liner, hardly three months into service at the time of her loss, was so new and had such minimal at sea experience.
…or, that their findings brought into question the entire narrative of the ship’s sinking, and bordered on the outright outrageous: a conspiracy of unknown parties.
Then there was the third option—to suppress their findings and aim to maintain stable relations with Aerah, and to aim for the smoothest, least significant sort of summary of the event. It would have been by far the simplest option to proceed with, the least damaging, and the most efficient at closing the gaping wound that was 3,000 lives lost. Or, as uff de Uthen might have muttered, “evidently lost.”
Though not willing to publically accuse Aerah of some form of conspiracy, Lady uff de Uthen was not willing to let the inquiry bury these revelations. She was, in fact, on the far end of the spectrum—well willing to suspect Aerah of some degree of deception and trickery in the events. Aleksandra uff de Uthen even went so far as to instruct ODIIN to investigate the possibility that the ship had not even been sunk, which nominally they did—though even ODIIN had their doubts about the possibility of such a claim.
So one morning, uff de Uthen, out of concern that the other royals were unwilling to pursue the truth to the ultimate end of the line, teased what would become one of the biggest mysteries of the year:
…what really happened to the Kaiser Leonard?