|Striking the Balance|
|Cover artist||Stan Watts|
|Genre(s)||Alternate History, Science fiction|
|Publication date||November 5, 1996|
|Preceded by||Upsetting the Balance|
|Followed by||Second Contact|
At the beginning of 1944, the Battle of Chicago has ended with the Race's forces decimated as a result of an American atomic bomb - The Fat Lady - detonated in the heart of the city. German forces in Western Europe have successfully kept the Race from reaching the Rhine while managing to hurl back the Race's troops in Poland after a nuclear attack on Oels, near Breslau. The Soviets have managed to stop the Race's assault on Moscow and accept the surrender of a band of disillusioned alien soldiers, including Ussmak.
The United States attempts to reverse engineer captured Race technology in an effort to create ballistic missiles at a military base in Couch, Missouri. Sergeant Sam Yeager attempts to help Robert Goddard and other scientists with this research by interrogating captured aliens. By this point Yeager has become an expert translator of the Race's language, making him an invaluable asset to Goddard. In the process of his work, Yeager has developed a friendship with two of the alien prisoners, Ristin and Ullhass. Both members of the Race show an alarming adaptability to American customs, learning to play baseball and adopting human slang, along with a surprising willingness to help their human captors.
The Race has apparently lost interest in Chicago and seeks instead to capture Denver. Captain Rance Auerbach is among the U.S. Army soldiers who are ordered to try and halt the new offensive. However, the Race's superior firepower and mobility manage to crush American resistance with relative ease. During the fighting, Rance is critically wounded and incapacitated. He awakens in a refugee hospital to find that the Race is advancing rapidly on Denver. General Omar Bradley prepares defenses around Denver which, as the site of America's nuclear weapons program, must be defended at all cost. Fortunately, Brigadier General Leslie Groves and the metallurgical laboratory manage to produce an atomic bomb which they use to halt the Race. Fleetlord Atvar considers a nuclear strike against Denver in retaliation, but decides against it since the nuclear fallout would harm the Race's forces. The sense of victory among Americans is offset by mourning over the recent death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The U.S. Army, under the command of General George Patton, launches a counter-offensive down the Mississippi River, slowly liberating it from the Race. They manage to reach Quincy, Illinois but begin taking higher and higher casualties as they progress. The first American ballistic missiles are also launched against the Race, though they are so crude and unsophisticated that they do little damage against the invaders. Many of these missiles are easily destroyed by the Race's anti-missile systems. Still, the speed with which the Americans and Germans have developed such weapons stuns and frightens the Race.
In Poland, the Wehrmacht continues its advance eastward toward Lodz. However, as they get deeper and deeper into Polish territory, they encounter Jewish partisans whose sympathies lean toward the Race. Mordechai Anielewicz and his fellow Jews do not trust the Nazis and do not wish to see them in control of Poland. They don't wish to see the Race rule the world, either. This situation is exacerbated by the realization that Soviet forces in the Ukraine are slowly making their way toward Poland as well. No one is sure what will happen if and when the Wehrmacht and the Red Army meet on the battlefield.
Colonel Heinrich Jäger, a tank commander who has had experience with the partisans, manages to convince Anielewicz that the German forces will not repeat their previous persecution of the Jews. For a time, the Wehrmacht and the partisans manage to work together against the Race.
In the wake of recent setbacks, especially the Soviet nuclear attack on the Race's forces in Saratov, Fleetlord Atvar agrees to meet with human diplomats from the USSR, Britain, Germany, and the United States for the purpose of negotiating an armistice. Vyacheslav Molotov, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Anthony Eden, and George Marshall head to Cairo, the Race's capital, in order to negotiate with Atvar. However, the chances for peace are severely endangered when Hitler secretly plans to resume hostilities by launching a surprise attack against the Race in Poland.
Jäger is relieved that the fighting has stopped and hopes that it will achieve a lasting peace. However, Hitler sends SS agents into Poland under Otto Skorzeny and they immediately begin to cause friction between the local Poles, the Jewish partisans, and the Wehrmacht. To Jäger, Skorzeny privately makes comments alluding to the fact that Hitler has not by any means abandoned his plans for the Final Solution.
Jäger grows steadily distrustful of Skorzeny and seeks to prevent the SS and Nazis from turning against the Jewish partisans. He establishes a line of communication to the partisans through a Polish farmer named Sascha. When Jäger learns that Hitler is planning to use the negotiations in Cairo as a distraction to detonate an atomic bomb in Lodz, he is shocked and disgusted. Jäger gets word to Mordechai about the bomb through Sascha. Mordechai and his fellow partisans manage to find and disable the weapon. The Wehrmact moves into position for the offensive. When Skorzeny activates the weapon's detonator, nothing happens. Furious, Skorzeny heads into Lodz to discern the problem.
In Cairo, a distraught Joachim von Ribbentrop announces his government's decision to continue the war to the confused delegates. Ribbentrop is relieved when Atvar tells him that no reports of an attack in Poland have been made.
When Jäger finds Sascha tortured to death with SS runes burned onto his chest and his wife and daughter brutally raped and murdered, he realizes that his cover is blown. Soon after returning to camp, he is detained by SS men and interrogated.
Somewhere in Poland, Ludmila Gorbunova crash lands while trying to deliver supplies to partisans. She gets little or no help from the locals who are largely unable and unwilling to aid a Soviet pilot. A Jewish partisan named Ignacy does eventually manage to help her locate a working Fieseler Fi 156 Storch. She takes off with the intent of returning to the Soviet Union after her extended stay in Estonia.
By a shocking coincidence, Ludmila arrives at an airfield in the same location where Jäger is being held captive. Jäger's tank crewmen recognize Ludmila as the woman with whom he is involved. Fearing what will happen to their commander if he is interrogated by the SS, the tank crewmen inform Ludmila about his fate and ask for her help. She readily offers her assistance. The Wehrmacht soldiers kill the SS men guarding Jäger and then lead him to Ludmila's plane. The two take off before anyone realizes Jäger has escaped.
Jäger explains Hitler's plan to Ludmila and they make their way to Lodz. There they make contact with Mordechai and tell him about Skorzeny. All three head to the condemned building where the bomb is being guarded by partisans. They find the Jewish guard dead. Upon entering the building, Skorzeny attacks them with nerve gas and a submachine-gun. Jäger is carrying a medical kit with an antidote to the toxin and manages to inject himself, Ludmila, and Mordechai with it. They manage to kill Skorzeny and avert the detonation of the bomb.
In Cairo, the Race reaches an accord with the human powers. The Race will completely withdraw from the territories under the control of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the Third Reich in 1942, with the exception of Poland, which the Race intends to hold as a buffer state between the Reich and the USSR. Atvar is willing to suspend hostilities with Germany, Russia, America, Britain, and Japan. Atvar has no intention of returning any part of the British Empire to the United Kingdom, except Canada which the Race considers uninhabitable due to its climate, and New Zealand which the Race does not consider a large enough land mass for colony purposes. With that, the war ends. Nevertheless, fighting continues in those territories the Race still controls, especially China where a determined Communist insurgency under Mao Tse-Tung seeks liberation.
It is clear that the peace is only temporary. The Race has not recognized the right of the human powers to their own independence and still officially intends to conquer the entire world at a later date. Nazi Germany is apparently still eager to use force in order to drive the Race off earth completely, though perhaps not in the immediate future. In the Soviet Union, Iosef Stalin assures Molotov that war with the Race and the other human powers is inevitable, especially since the Colonization Fleet is expected to reach earth by the 1960s. In the United States, an America in ruins begins the long process of reconstruction.