It was a dream of a desolate Western Europe controlled by American expeditionary forces. It was the mid 1860s and the Americans had been there since the beginning of the decade. A disaster of epic proportions had depopulated Britain, France, Iberia etc, and the Americans had stepped in to enforce order. But their rule was decaying, decrepit, the generals and colonels who commanded the forces increasingly disillusioned and exhausted, the new recruits resentful of a posting so far away from home for a purpose they could little understand. Some commanders had given up all but a pretence of military discipline and spent their time hunting or fishing, whilst their troops sulked in barracks or roamed the barren countryside. Nature was reclaiming its own at a phenomenal rate, and the small surviving native populations were not enough to sustain widespread food production.
The Americans had established full colonial bases at places like Brest, Londonderry and Bristol, but controlled the rest of the countryside through various puppet governments, more on paper that in actuality as the disaster had shattered native communication, leaving the Americans as the ones who now controlled the few remaining, or rebuilt, railways, canals or serviceable roads, the latter mainly restricted now to military highways.
In a few places pockets of native survivors did remain, such as in Southern Portugal where the native aristocracy cavorts with the American diplomats who rarely get further into Europe than the Algarve and issue their orders from villas, or palaces, with little understanding of the tented camps and broken communications that lie beyond this corner of civilisation. Some Irish aristocrats survived, Anglo-Protestants who now roam the barren lands with little travelling courts, visiting American commanders or what passes for native authorities in decadent splendour.
As the disaster had spread, the states of Central Europe had enacted scorched earth policies on their borders, creating shattered borderlands where the population density is higher in the barren lands but where all pre-existing native authority has been destroyed. American forces also occupy these lands, but with a higher density of population, and with more serviceable communications and industry, the successor regimes in Flanders, Wallonia, Lorraine and so on are more in control of their affairs than their puppet counterparts in France, Britain or Iberia. American forces in Flanders are there as guests, not as as controllers, they have helped the native aristocracy reimpose order, and proclaim new kingdoms than serve as a buffer between American-controlled lands, and the Central European states.
Some of the South-Eastern coastal towns in Britain survive as habitable, and from here a rudimentary seafaring operation is run into the Baltic, cruise liners (such as they are in this period) taking Americans like visiting aristocrats into that Northern sea, but the allure is dying off and the liners are now sparsely populated, the crewmen from Kent or Sussex surly, or despressed, and the few guests either ageing rich women or pensioned off military commanders. A few others come now and then, an industrialist trying his luck for all that the Germans and the Swedes have closed their markets to American goods, or younger officers on furlough. But the once-full pleasure cruises are now a thing of the past.
On land, a few American commanders still strive to do their duty, hitting out at the delinquency and dereliction of duty of their colleagues, but even for such men there is the awakening of the question of what they are doing there, why they are bothering, and would it not be best to decide one way or the other, rather than to try to have it both ways – either annex the barren lands, as overseas territories to Union, or withdraw the troops and leave the natives to their own devices, maybe providing support to whoever proves stronger in the long run.
And underneath, or running through, all this is another question, that of race or slavery. The army units, their commanders and the civil servants, diplomats etc are all white. There are some black individuals serving as Rangers, akin to Marshals in the West, and these Rangers operate independently under American government writ, focused mainly on the border kingdoms, enforcing American law and liaising with state organisations in the Central European states. Whilst most of the Rangers are white, a sizeable minority are black.
But apart from amongst the Rangers, blacks can largely be seen in the ports as slave labour, or at best as indentured labour, serving the equivalent of military conscription. The need for large numbers of men in the Western European provinces has given a boost to slavery, and American ships now once again trade with the West African kingdoms, buying their slaves from kings and aristocrats happy to trade their people for luxuries or manufactured goods. American troops and ships have taken over the trading posts and bases that the shattered, vanished nations of Western Europe once possessed, and from Senegal to Cameroon, the slave ships on the one hand, and the traders bringing American goods on the other, are booming.
That is what I saw in the dream. As far as I could see, my role in the dream was that of an Examiner, visiting the army camps, meeting the generals, colonels etc and hearing of the situation from their mouths, whilst at the same time “knowing” the rest of the story, the way you do in a dream. There are a lot of unanswered questions, and these must be approached not from the direction of dream memory but from that of alternate history.