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Grantville Gazette Volume XI

Eric Flint


Eric Flint

Grantville Gazette Volume XI

Preface to:

Grantville Gazette 11

Written by Grantville Gazette Staff

Wow. Who knew?

Back in 2000, when Eric Flint's novel 1632 was published, who even considered the possiblity that nearly three million words dedicated to a 1632 series would have been published by 2007?

Eric didn't, since he'd written it as a stand-alone novel.

Nevertheless, here we are. Grantville Gazette, Volume 11, our first pro issue.

As usual, stories in this volume cover a wide range of topics and events. Virginia DeMarce's "Pilgrimage of Grace" describes what can happen to the family of a so-called traitor. Even when he didn't think that's what he was. Well, it's complicated. You need to read it all. That story was told as "The Suhl Incident" by Eric Flint and John Zeek in 1634: The Ram Rebellion.

Iver P. Cooper has written an exciting adventure in "Stretching Out, Part 1: Second Starts." This one ranges from Germany to the New World. Kim Mackey offers "Land of Ice and Sun," a story about a genuine down-timer who didn't particularly care for the plans her family made for her. Catalina decided not to go along with those plans and made her own.

Kerryn Offord gives us two stories in this issue. "Bootstrapping" shows how hard times really can be overcome and how good it is to give something back. "A Gift of Blankets," co-written by Kerryn and Vincent Coljee, is the sort of story that can give a person the shivers. What could have happened if smallpox had hit Grantville before they were ready for it is out-and-out scary.

"Lessons in Astronomy" by Peter Hobson shows how a hobbyist can change history… with a bit of help. "Azrael's Bargain" by Terry Howard has our favorite cracker-barrel philosopher, Jimmy Dick, attempting to explain… well, you'll see. "O for a Muse of Fire" by Jay Robison explores the entertainment possibilities available, while "The Treasure Hunters" by Karen Bergstralh shows just would could happen, should someone be foolish enough to attempt to fool the natives of another country.

Russ Rittger's offering, "Bathing with Coal," explores alternative fuels. Ah, yes, in 1632, coal is alternative. Gorg Huff and I wondered one day just how to sell all those new products that are being invented and re-invented. The result is "Wish Book." As well, we're continuing the adventures of Bernie Zeppi, off in the wilds of Russia – which isn't nearly as wild as he expected. Well, some days aren't so wild. Others…

Our nonfiction in this issue covers the difficulty of transportation when you can't just hop in the car or truck. Or even on a regularly scheduled train or bus. Iver P. Cooper covers one angle in "Hither and Yon: Transportation Modes, Costs and Infrastructure in 1632 and Beyond," while Karen Bergstralh covers another in "Adventures in Transportation: An Examination of Drags, Carts, Wagons and Carriages Available in the 17thCentury.

Last, but certainly not least, Kevin H. Evans discusses yet another alternative in "Steam: Taming the Demon." The railroads are about to make a big comeback in the world. Mike Stearns thought that in 1632, didn't he?

An interesting issue, this one. We hope you enjoy it.

Paula Goodlett and the Grantville Gazette Staff

May 2007

FICTION STORIES

Pilgrimage of Grace

Virginia DeMarce

"They're not taking what happened in Suhl last January out on Johnny Lee's family because they can't. His dad's been dead for thirty years. His mother wasn't from around here to start with and she moved back to Ohio after a while. Mary Fern – that's his sister, you probably never met her – married one of the Collins boys after she graduated from college and last I heard, they were living in Michigan. You could ask Sandra, I suppose, or Gayleen or Robyn or Samantha, where Ricky and Mary Fern were living, but I don't see what good it would do. It wouldn't bring her back to Grantville to take some of the heat off Kamala."

Cora Ennis plopped five cups of coffee down on the table at the City Hall Cafe and Coffee House, which had only had "and Coffee House" added since the Nasi family had succeeded in importing coffee beans, while she talked. Before the Ring of Fire, it had been a plain sandwich shop. "But anyway, I think it's a shame. Johnny Lee Horton wasn't the most popular teacher at the high school. Maybe he was the least popular one, but he wasn't the worst one. He made the kids learn the stuff, and he commuted to Fairmont State for years to get his master's in math education, all at his own expense. If you ask me, they should have left him at the school teaching. But they wanted to assign him to Greg Ferrara's 'Manhattan Project' and that meant he had to go into the army, and they couldn't get along, Greg and Johnny Lee, which anyone who knew the two of them could have told Mike Stearns ahead of time."

"Cora," Ned Paxton started a little reproachfully.

The interruption wasn't enough to stop her. "But by then he was in the army and the army, even our little army that we've put together since the Ring of Fire, is like that story they taught us in school about the kid who stuck his hand in a jar and picked up so many marbles he couldn't get it out again, but was too stubborn to let go of some of them and his hand rotted off or some such. I knew there was a moral to that story. Maybe that's why it was in the book in he first place. So instead of discharging Johnny Lee, Frank Jackson sent him off to Suhl to pretend to be a soldier, which certainly wasn't any of Kamala's doing."

She turned her head toward P.H. Johnson. "And that's what I was talking about to start with, Henry. I know you covered up what those boys were doing to Shaun at the pool on Memorial Day weekend. Don't blame you for wanting to avoid publicity. No point in making a bad situation worse. They were just kids themselves, and at least you and your JROTC put a stop to that." Cora wiped a little coffee that she had spilled on her hand off on the towel she was wearing as an apron.

Victor Saluzzo picked up the pitcher of milk and poured until his cup was thoroughly whitened. "I got here late. Can you go back to the beginning?"

Cora tossed her head. "I've got other tables to serve. The rest of them can tell you. Let Henry do it." She stalked off.

Saluzzo raised his eyebrows, looking at P.H. Johnson. "There's another brush fire?"

Before Johnson could answer, Kyle Fleming shook his head. "No more than there's been for the last six months. We've been getting an earful from Cora this afternoon because Anse Hatfield was Henry's son-in-law and I'm chairman of the math department, I guess. Though once Johnny Lee quit to work on development, he wasn't my responsibility any longer, and I hardly know his wife. She's a nurse, not a teacher. Lori says that she's pleasant enough, but she must be around twenty years younger than we are, Lori and I. It's not as if we ever socialized with them, and she never had anything in common with Karyn Sue."

Saluzzo nodded in agreement. Kyle and Lori Fleming's only child had barely scraped through high school. They hadn't even tried sending the girl to college. Not that that it kept her from being a loving daughter and a devoted wife and mother. Or a good aide at Heather Beckworth's day care center. Karyn Sue was just a little… dim… and everyone who had ever taught her knew it. Even in Lake Wobegon, Karyn Sue wouldn't have managed to be "above average."

He thought for a moment. "Kamala was in the class between John and Joe. They'd have known her, if they hadn't been left up-time. Kay's three or four years too old; Jim and Vicki are way too young."

Leota Grover picked up her cup. "Our kids were too young for us to really get to know her, too. Susan was the same year as her little brother Jimmy. Plus, they're both up-time, like John and Joe. Kamala wasn't a problem student, though. Far from it. Finished high school; worked her way through college, got married, had a couple of kids. No problems, aside from the fact that her family resented a little bit that she went all the way through college. RN to Celina's CNA. Well, they resented a lot that Johnny Lee made a big deal about having a master's degree. He sure was a blowhard. That's hardly something we can dispose of, though."

"It's not her family that's the problem," Fleming said. "Except, I guess, that their attitude isn't helping."

"Super-patriots, according to Cora," Ned Paxton said. "The rest of the Dunns. Jimmy's in the army and Jerry Hilton feels guilty that because he's an operator at the waste water plant, he's 'essential' and wasn't included when Mike Stearns made his call for 'every able-bodied man who can be spared.'"

Saluzzo looked across the table. "What was Cora talking about, Henry? In regard to Memorial Day?"

P.H. Johnson banged his cane on the floor. "You know what happened in Suhl back in January. Horton was there as the NUS military liaison to the Swedish garrison that wasn't quite supposed to be in the city. The Swedes had put it there before Suhl joined the NUS, with 'protracted' negotiations for its removal. What that meant was that it was still there, months after it should have been gone. What Pat, my son, said to Anse about him was that Horton was dumber than Bruno Felder, the Germany captain of the mercenaries who made up the Swedish garrison, and a hothead. But not lazy, which was actually too bad, considering the way things were there. He was constantly quarreling with the locals, especially with the Suhl militia captain, and usually over things that didn't really matter.

"Ivarsson, the Swedish lieutenant who went along, told Anse that the Swedes hadn't authorized Felder's actions. In confidence, Anse told me that Ivarsson promised that the Swedes would stand aside, whatever he and Noelle Murphy did under the extraordinary powers that Stearns had sent with her, and wouldn't think of criticizing after the fact. And they haven't.

"Horton got involved, along with that Pomeranian captain von Dantz who had been attached to Anse's group by the Swedish commander in Grantville. They wanted to make a fancy statement by attacking the gun makers who were trading with the enemy. Noelle said they had to defend the gun manufacturers because there aren't actually laws against it in this day and age. And, hell, my son Pat is a partner with one of the gun makers who were doing it. So Horton and von Dantz and Felder's mercenaries attacked. Anse and his posse and the gun makers and their Jaeger fought back. Horton got himself killed in the street fight. Yelling that he was the 'ranking American' in Suhl and saying that maybe Noelle's papers were forged."

He decided not to include something else that Anse had told him. That Anse had specifically told one of Blumroder's Jaeger that if shooting started, he wanted Horton dead. Right here and now, that would be a complicating factor. He thought the only people who knew that were Anse and the Jaeger, Noelle Murphy, Frank Jackson, Mike Stearns, and himself. And he wasn't supposed to know.

"Well, the army decided to present the incident in Suhl as a mutiny against duly constituted authority, so that's how it went into the papers here. Nobody's ever told Kamala anything different, as far as I know, and all she's done is sort of try to hunker down and keep on doing her job. That Memorial Day thing. Friday afternoon, I had my JROTC out drilling on the field by the community center when we saw some activity over by the pool. They'd filled it, but it wasn't going to open until Sunday. I thought it was just a bunch of kids and figured I'd let it go when we heard somebody yelling for help. When we got over there, seven or eight boys from the middle school had Shaun Horton – the kid's only six years old, for God's sake – stripped down to his underwear and were trying to make him 'walk the plank' off the high diving board into the pool. Jeering about mutineers and how to treat them. Too many pirate movies."

He nodded at Ned Paxton. "We handled it though the school, and have all the boys in summer school on disciplinary probation, with supervised community service. Ned, Archie Clinter, me, and the families. The boys involved are going to know better than to try any stunt like it again. I told my JROTC group to keep their mouths shut, but I guess someone has said something, since Cora knows. And once Cora knows something, the whole town does."

"The kids know," Kyle Fleming said. "The kids at the middle school, at least. Karyn Sue's boy told me about it a couple of weeks ago. He's in the same class as a couple of the offenders. Eleven- and twelve-year-olds."

Paxton sipped his coffee. "I wasn't happy with that, but as far as I know, it was the worst. There's nothing else going on that the police could do anything about. Little jabs about Johnny Lee. Mouth darts tossed toward Kamala at work at the extended care center. Toward the kids in school and out of school."

"Especially out of school, now," Leota Grover said. "And a lot of it's still in that middle school age group. Cora's all riled up because Shae's quit Girl Scouts. She's thirteen and has been in since she was a Brownie. She was going to be the Brownie leader's assistant next fall, but a couple of the mothers objected. Bad influence on the kiddies to have a traitor's daughter in a position of responsibility. You know the drill."

Victor nodded. "Evangeline Walker said something to Viola. Lolly Aossey is really upset about Shae. She's been preaching that 'Be a sister to every Girl Scout' is part of the Girl Scout Law, just as a starting point. But since both Lolly and Christie Penzey are leading the geology field camp again, there's precious little they can do over the rest of summer."

Leota grinned. "Plus, Jim and Lolly just found out that Lolly's in for a lovely few months of non-stop morning-noon-and-night sickness. Susannah Shipley dropped the diagnosis on them last week."

"She's not?" Cora was wandering by with refills. "At her age!"

"So much for keeping it under wraps for a couple more months." Victor Saluzzo's tone was very dry. "But as for Shae, I hadn't realized that there was anything more to it than a little tempest in a teapot with the Scouts. Maybe someone ought to talk to Archie Clinter again."

Fleming snorted. "The real problem is that it's not dying down. If anything, it's escalating, and has been for six months. It's gotten bad enough that Alice Clements talked to Price Ellis. Families are worrying whether Johnny Lee's wife should be kept on as head nurse at Prichard's. God, what the hell do they expect her to do? Poison the old ladies? Kamala's worked there at the extended care center since before the Ring of Fire. She started the same year Johnny Lee took the job at the high school. She didn't want to be driving to Fairmont, much less Morgantown, and working shifts, with kids at home. Ellis gives her a pretty regular, reliable, schedule. And just where do they think that he can pluck another registered nurse from? Out of thin air?"

Leota Grover laid her cards down on the table. "Isn't there anything you can do, Frank, to make people be kinder to Kamala and the kids? Just a little more… gracious… I guess?"

He shook his head. "Hell, it's not that I don't give a shit. But there's other stuff involved."

"Which you're not going to tell me about, because I'm not in the army. Got it. Don't think you're getting off scot-free, though. I'm going to send Henry to talk to you."

Frank Jackson leaned back in his chair. "The shittiest part of it is that if I'd been there, I'd have probably had more sympathy with what Horton and von Dantz were doing than with what Anse and Noelle did. The guns that Blumroder and his cohorts – our noble fellow-citizens of the New United States in its constituent city of Suhl – have sold to high bidders who aren't us will most likely be used to shoot holes in our soldiers one of these days."

Frank stood up, his hands crossed behind his back. "But in spite of that. I'm the general of this piss-poor army, and the worst thing that I can do is not back up civilian control. Not back up the rule of law. The fact is that according to the laws, Blumroder could do what he did."

P.H. Johnson nodded. "I know. Even my own son Pat was looking the other way. He said as much in one of his letters to me."

Frank started pacing. "Mike authorized Anse and Noelle. They did what they had to. Horton and von Dantz were being a couple of cowboys leading a lynch mob, the way Anse saw it. A real nasty lynch mob. Not to mention that Horton had pretty much just sat on his hands until von Dantz got to Suhl, so he was probably letting himself be used. As far as the army is concerned, Horton was killed while resisting lawful orders and that's got to be an end to it. I'm not going to have my guys, when they get into a shooting situation, worrying about whether I'm going to back them up. Or not back them up."

"Where does this get us?"

"I'm not going to make some sort of mealy-mouthed announcement that says, 'It wasn't all black and white. There were at least ten different shades of gray and Johnny Lee Horton was somewhere in the middle.' When you get right down to it, he resisted lawful orders, he was shot while leading a mutiny, and the New United States has its first traitor. There's not a damn thing I can do to soften what Kamala and her kids are going through. Not without making things worse for the country."

"So, in the long run, according to Johnson, Frank sees it as unavoidable collateral damage." Kyle Fleming put his knife down on his plate. "Not that those are words that Frank would use."

Karyn Sue looked at her father. "What do those words mean, Daddy?"

Lori thought a moment. She had thirty-five years of experience in interpreting the verbal universe to her daughter. "Those words say that sometimes when you do what you have to do, somebody else gets hurt. A bystander. Somebody on the sidelines. And you can't help it."

Karyn Sue frowned. "Mr. Jackson isn't going to do anything?"

Kyle nodded. "That's right."

"No," Karyn Sue said. "That's wrong. Shae and Shaun aren't even grown up. Shaun used to come to Toddler Haven for day care, after Johnny Lee and Kamala moved back to Grantville. He was in my group for two years before he started kindergarten. Do you know what I think?"

"What?" Lori asked.

"I think that people are just being plain mean. And you're all letting them get away with it. It I let the kids in my group get away with picking on someone like that, Heather would fire me. I know she would. And she'd be right to do it."

"The sickest part of it all," Ned Paxton said the next day, "is that they're both right. Frank and Karyn Sue."

P.H. Johnson nodded. "And there's not a damned thing that we can do."

Cora plopped five cups of coffee down on the table. "Except that you haven't heard what Karyn Sue did. This morning."

Kyle Fleming looked at her. Warily.

Cora grinned. "She marched every single kid in her Toddler Haven group over to Prichard's Extended Care, all holding hands like a row of little ducklings as they paraded down the street, and asked the receptionist to call Kamala down to the lobby. And then she had every single one of the kids hug her."

Victor Saluzzo started to smile.

"While Karyn Sue told every adult standing around, in plain and simple words, that it was because people were being mean to Mrs. Horton."

Saluzzo's smile faded.

"Not that most people are likely to take what she did seriously." Cora looked at Kyle Fleming a little apologetically.

"I know," he sighed. "They can always claim that Karyn Sue didn't understand because she's… like that old Christmas song Granny used to sing in the days before we all got politically correct. 'Johnny wants a pair of skates, Susy wants a dolly. Nellie wants a story book; she thinks dolls are folly. As for me, my little brain isn't very bright. Choose for me, old Santa Claus, what you think is right.' The gossips aren't likely to take Karyn Sue's notion of what's right very seriously. I'm sure her intentions were good, but maybe she's just made things worse."

"I just wanted to thank you." Kamala Horton stared at the phone. She'd been crying for two hours before she managed get her voice enough under control enough to pick it up and call Karyn Sue McDougal. "But… but I don't think you ought to do it again. Gary's in the army and you don't want to be getting your husband in trouble. I know he's up at the oil field in Wietze and you might think that's far enough away, but… Karyn Sue, honey, the head guy up at the oil field is Quentin Underwood. I don't think that he'd be very… understanding… if he got it into his head that Gary was a sympathizer to what Johnny Lee did. Or something like that."

There was a pause at the other end of the line. Then, "It doesn't have anything to do with Gary. Or with what Johnny Lee did. It's about the way people are treating you and Shae and Shaun."

Kamala bit her upper lip. "Talk to your mom and dad, Karyn Sue. You don't want people to start treating Michael and Allyson the way they're treating Shae and Shaun. Believe me on this. You don't want them to do that."

"I don't think that they would. Do you?"

Kamala didn't know quite what to answer. Then she decided that she had to be honest. "Yeah, I do. Right now, I do think they would."

Karyn Sue laughed. "Boy, do you ever need another hug."

"Yeah," Kamala said. "I could use one. Believe me. And thanks again. But… maybe you had better just stay out of it. That's as fair as I can be to you. To Gary and your kids. And your folks. I don't want to make things worse by sucking other people – good people – down into my troubles."

"It's not as if I have a choice," Kamala said to Alice Clements. "Up-time, if something like this happened, I could move. Get a recommendation from Price, take the kids, and find a job in some other town. Some other state, where nobody would ever have heard about it. But the way things, are, with the Ring of Fire, I'm stuck in Grantville. Even if they do get this medical school in Jena going, nobody's invited me to be part of it, and what's the point in going to Jena. The NUS army has people there, too. I expect that they'd be sure to let everyone know about Johnny Lee." She laughed a little. "So we'd be in the same kind of situation, just without modern plumbing. I guess I'm just grateful that Price isn't going to fire me. And if you're the one who persuaded him not to – which has to have been hard for you to do, with Jack volunteering to go back into the navy and go all the way up to Wismar to pilot one of those boats – I owe you a lot of thanks."

"Maybe it will die down over time."

Kamala shook her head. "I'm not counting on it. Everybody pretty much knows that the king of Sweden is winding up to a shooting war with the League of Ostend this fall. That'll mean patriotism and heroism and everything of the sort. People in town who aren't heroes and aren't ever going to be heroes will take it out by coming down on Shae and Shaun."

"And on you."

"Well, on me, too. But I'm the adult here." Kamala picked up a pen from the blotting pad on Alice's desk and twisted it in her fingers. "Since you're the business manager here at Prichard, I'll warn you now. Fair and square. If things ever develop in such a way that someone does offer me a real job out of town, someplace where there aren't any NUS soldiers to badmouth us, I'll take it. Plumbing or not. So fast you won't even see the blur as I go by. And it won't matter much to me who makes the offer."

Lessons in Astronomy

Peter Hobson

"Your Eminence, I'm fluent in Latin, German and Italian. My French is passable. My Greek is a little weak and I've forgotten most of the smattering of Hebrew the seminary inflicted on me." Father Scheiner knew he shouldn't be taking that tone with a prince of the church, but it was just so frustrating. So much knowledge locked away behind the wall of up-timer English. "And now I've got to learn English? Why can't you people speak a reasonable language? Or, at least write in a reasonable language?"

"I'm sorry, Father Scheiner," Cardinal Lawrence Mazzare replied. "If we'd known we were coming, we'd have been better prepared."

Christopher Scheiner noted the gentle reproof in the cardinal's tone, and the reminder that he probably failed to realize he had given. Cardinal Mazzare wasn't just a prince of the church. He was a prince of the church who had been put in his position by the hand of God. Yet none of that really penetrated Father Scheiner's frustration with the situation. He picked up a book and flipped through it. "This is supposed to be a basic astronomy text for the beginning student. I can't even understand most of these pictures. What is this Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram supposed to tell me? I can guess that luminosity, from the Latin lumen, is brightness, but what is a spectral class?"

"Don't ask me. There's nine planets and a bunch of stars and that's about all I know."

"Nine planets?" Scheiner shook his head in dismay. "What can you tell me about the extra three?"

"The seventh one is Uranus. The name causes some unfunny jokes you'll appreciate when your English is better. The others are Neptune and Pluto."

"Uranus. That's the Latin form of Ouranos, the Greek god of the sky. It's a reasonable name for a planet, I suppose." Scheiner paused. "But how do they know it's there? Diligent men have been looking at the sky for millennia, how was it missed?"

"Father, I can't answer that question," Mazzare said. "However, in the next week or so Johnnie Farrell will be coming from Grantville. He's been an amateur astronomer for years and has a really good, up-time telescope. Hopefully, he can answer all your questions."

"Father Scheiner, there's an up-time man with a large box who says he's supposed to see you."

"Thank you, Herr Reichter. Please ask him to come in."

A small, rather stout man in his early sixties walked into the room. "Hi, there. You must be Father Scheiner. I'm Johnnie Farrell and this here's my telescope. I'll be happy to tell you what I can about astronomy."

"I'm pleased to meet you, Herr Farrell." Scheiner walked over and shook Farrell's hand. "I have so many questions and my English is not good enough to get them from the books."

"Well, I've got plenty of books and magazines to show you." Farrell beamed. "I can explain a lot that's in them and probably figure out the rest since I've been reading astronomy books for most of my life. I think I know something about it.

"But first let me show you an indispensable tool for any astronomer." Farrell lifted the box onto a table, snapped several clasps, and opened the lid. "This is a Schmidt-Cassegrain eight-inch reflector with an equatorial mount and go-to. Just point this baby at three stars and it'll show you thirty-thousand other celestial objects just by pressing a few buttons."

"I'm sorry, Herr Farrell. I didn't understand any of that."

Farrell sighed. "I guess I'll have to start with the basics. This is a reflector telescope. It uses mirrors to collect the light."

"An astronomer in Rome, Father Zucchi, devised a telescope that uses a mirror, but I have not seen one before. It does look rather strange. I think of telescopes as being long and thin, not short and wide."

Farrell stroked his telescope fondly. "Okay, let me explain how this one works… "

Father Scheiner listened to the explanation and found himself growing more confused. Mirrors, computers, the go-to… it all required more explanation "I think I understand how a telescope uses mirrors but it does not look like what I think of a telescope looks like."

"Okay, Father, let's discuss telescopes. There's two main types… "

More explanation, until he felt his head must be spinning. Light waves then photons, spherical aberration. "Just a minute, Herr Farrell, wave lengths of light? Light is a wave? And what is a photon?"

"Look, we'll get into the nature of light in a little while. Let's not get sidetracked. I'm still explaining telescopes." Farrell continued with more unfamiliar terms and explanations.

Scheiner could feel himself moving from puzzlement to frustration. "I thought you said that light came in waves. Now you say light is particles?"

"Father, light's complicated. Sometimes it acts as a particle, sometimes it's a wave. I don't really understand how it works. A guy named Maxwell described light in four equations. Trouble is, those equations are calculus, which I don't know. Let's just stick with telescopes. I know telescopes. Anyway, what we got here is a Schmidt-Cassegrain, which is a different type of reflector. When the light enters the telescope, it goes through a corrector lens which fixes the spherical aberration."

Scheiner interrupted. "So the light goes into this lens here… "

Farrell seemed to be getting as frustrated as Scheiner was. "Hey, Father, don't touch the lens. This telescope is the only one of its kind in the world and it's irreplaceable. It'll take probably decades before technology is up to duplicating it. We'll have to baby this 'scope, which means no touching the glass. I'll let you use it, but I'm going to supervise you all the time."

"If we use this tonight, can you show me Uranus?"

"I'll just drop my drawers and show it to you now." Farrell blushed. "Oops, sorry, Father. I shouldn't be so crude."

Scheiner couldn't hide the grin. "I now understand something that Cardinal Mazzare told me recently. I really want to see the planet Uranus. Can you show it to me tonight?"

"Sorry, Father, but I can't. I don't know where it is and the go-to doesn't either."

This was even more confusing. "I thought you said that one could just press some buttons and the telescope would point to several thousand different objects."

Farrell blushed again. "Sure, sure, fixed objects, no problem. You want to look at stars, galaxies, nebulas, things that don't move, the go-to can find 'em. But for moving stuff, like planets and comets, the go-to doesn't work. It needs to know what the time and date is for those and I can't tell it what the date is. Yeah, I know that it's May 15, 1635, but that doesn't help. The go-to won't use any dates before January 1, 1990."

Scheiner pondered for a moment. "Can you give me any data on Uranus's orbit? Perhaps we can calculate its position."

"I've got lots of old copies of Astronomy and Sky amp; Telescope magazines, I'm sure they'll give the right ascension and declination of Uranus for various dates. But those dates will be almost four hundred years in the future. What good will that do?"

More unfamiliar terms. Scheiner did his best not to snap his question. "What, pray tell, is right ascension and declination? Or rather, since I can guess they're parts of a system of positioning, what is the basis for the system?"

"They're celestial longitude and latitude, with celestial north being near Polaris and the prime meridian in Aries. I have the details in my books. But I don't know how to calculate orbits. I don't know the math."

"Fortunately, Herr Farrell, I do know the… math. I have the Rudolphine Tables and the rest of Kepler's work on planetary orbits. If you can get me the data, I can do the calculations." Feeling that he was back on familiar ground, Scheiner moved to a chair and waved Farrell to another. "Tell me, what do you know about astronomy? Not the telescope or the go-to. Real astronomy."

Farrell sat and shook his head. "I'm not a real astronomer, just a guy who enjoys looking at stars. I've read some books and magazines, but I'm not any kind of scientist. You've just shown me that I know less about light than I thought I did. I know the words but I don't really know what the words mean. You're the hot-shot astronomer and scientific advisor to the cardinal. History will remember you as an astronomer. History won't remember me at all."

"Herr Farrell, why do you look at stars if they do not tell you anything?"

"But they do tell me things. They tell me the universe is immense and beautiful and that God created it."

"You remind me that I am not only an astronomer but also a priest. You are right, that is a good reason for looking at the stars. My friend, let us learn about God's universe together." Scheiner rose and extended his hand. He was pleased when Farrell extended his own.

"What a beautiful night for observing." Father Scheiner had just reached the observation position they'd been using.

"Yes, it's a gorgeous night. Nice and warm and not a cloud in the sky."

Scheiner smiled. "Herr Farrell, in the past month you have shown me many interesting things. Now I would like to show you something. Please position the telescope at the right ascension and declination I have written on this card."

Farrell made the adjustments and waited for Scheiner to take a look. Instead, Father Scheiner stood aside and motioned for him to look first. He looked through the eyepiece. "I see a disk among all the pinpoints of light."

"Congratulations, Herr Farrell. You are the first person to see the planet Uranus. Perhaps history will remember you as the discoverer of the seventh planet."

Azrael's Bargain

Terry Howard

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"Hey, Jimmy. Why don't I ever see you down at the rail yard anymore?" It was a cold winter night and Club 250 had its every-night regulars and as many more folks who weren't. The young man talking to Jimmy Dick was one of the latter.

Jimmy Dick gazed down the length of his beer bottle at the fellow he thought of as "the kid." Right after the Ring of Fire, when everyone was scrambling to pitch in and make things work, he'd taken a job with the railroad and joined the army. The rails kept the power plant in coal and the army kept the town from being overrun. Now he was in the reserves and the scramble to stay alive was over.

"They don't need me," Jimmy replied.

"Bull shit. You were a lot of help."

"Yeah. They could use me… but they don't need me. There's enough people to get the job done."

"Yeah, okay. But the money's good, and you were good at it."

"Don't need the money. Why work?"

"Ah, come on. You can always use a little more."

Jimmy had gotten by up-time without working because of the disability payments he picked up in Nam (Agent Orange was a bit more effective than it needed to be), and what little profit there was from the real estate holdings he had inherited. There were a lot of vacancies in town at the time. Now the pension was gone but the real estate more than covered things. He didn't need to work to get by and he saw no reason to get ahead.

"Hey, Ken, give me a glass and another beer." Jimmy had to ask for a glass. Bottled beer was becoming synonymous with cold beer. Down-timers wanted it at room temperature in a mug and it was tapped out of a keg. Up-timers wanted it cold. It's easier to chill bottles in ice than it is to cool a keg. Mugs were a down-time thing so most members of the 250 clan had taken to drinking out of the bottle as a social statement. When it arrived, Jimmy poured the rest of his current beer into the glass and then started pouring the new bottle in after it.

"Damn it, Jimmy, stop pouring. It's over flowing already," the kid said.

"Oh? So there is such a thing as not needing a little more."

"I was talking about money."

"Same thing. When you got enough, why get more?"

"Save it for retirement."

"You ever saved half a beer overnight?"

"'Course not. It goes flat."

"That's my point."

"I wasn't talking about beer. Money's different."

Jimmy sighed. How do you convince a young man that he needs to enjoy the journey because the destination might be disappointing? "Kid, let me tell ya a story.

"Seems a rich man died. When the angel of death came to collect him the fellow was setting there on a pile of baggage. Well Azrael looked at him and… "

Jimmy's drinking partner interrupted. "Who's Azrael? I thought he was a character on the Smurfs?"

"Kid, Azrael is the name of the angel of death. I don't know nothin' about what's written on no sponge football.

"Anyway, Azrael says to the rich man, 'Time to go.'

"'Well give me a hand with this,' the rich man said, meaning his luggage.

"'Leave it. You don't need it where you're goin'.'

"'No way,' says the rich man. 'I worked all my life for this I ain't leaving it.'

"'Well, you can't take it with you.'

"'Then I ain't goin',' says the rich man.

"They argued about it for awhile and Azrael finally said, 'Look I don't have all eternity. I'll let you bring whatever you can carry. Grab what you can and leave the rest and let's get goin'.' The rich fellow, he agonizes over what to leave and what to take and finally grabs a suitcase in each hand. By the time they got to the pearly gates he was down to one and covered in sweat.

"Peter looked down at it and said, 'What's that?'

"'It's all the luggage the angel would let me bring.'

"'Well, I can tell you right now it ain't goin' in with you. What did you bring anyway?' The rich man huffed the tote up on the counter and opened it up. It was full of gold bars. A puzzled Peter looked at it and said, 'Paving stones? Why did you bring paving stones?'"

The kid laughed. "That's funny. What's the point?"

Jimmy sighed again and gave up. Sometimes it was just plain too much work to get an idea across. "The point is, I think we need a couple of cold ones down here. Hey, Ken, two more." Jimmy knew there weren't very many problems in this world you couldn't get to go away, at least for a while, if you just kept the beers coming. Maybe some day the kid would figure it out, but probably not.

Land of Ice and Sun

Kim Mackey

The match was tied at four games apiece when I looked up and saw the priest talking to Esteban's navigator, Luke Foxe. He was a strange looking fellow. Oh, he wore the clothing of a priest, but his face was too dark and his cheekbones too high to be a Spaniard or a Basque. He was a forlorn looking man with a black mongrel of a dog for a companion that seemed as forlorn as he.

"Who's that?" I pointed with my chin.

Esteban looked up. He too was catching his breath. Esteban was younger than I, but his time as a whaling captain and successful merchant had made him more portly.

"The priest?"

I nodded.

Esteban smiled. "Father Amancio. He will be quite an asset on our expedition to Greenland."

"Not when I win the next game, Esteban. Then it is back to Cartegena for me. You promised."

He laughed. "Indeed I did, dear cousin Antonio. As did you. And if I win the game, you join us on our adventure to the north lands."

I shuddered. The last thing I wanted was to journey to a land of cold, dark and ice. But if this was the way to settle my debt…

I should have stayed in Cartegena.

I had moved there in 1630 after my dispensation from the pope, Urban VIII. But lady luck, or God, had smiled on me and my gambling had finally earned me a handsome sum. Early in 1632 a coin flip had decided my next destination: heads, Mexico, tails, San Sebastian to pay my respects to my family and perhaps do some traveling in France and Germany before returning to the New World.

It was in San Sebastian that I met my cousin, Esteban Eguino. One night melancholy (and strong drink) got the better of me and I told Esteban the story of how I had secretly been his father's cabin boy in 1603 and stolen five hundred pesos from him before jumping ship in Nombre de Dios in Panama. At first Esteban merely laughed, but then his scheming brain decided to rope me into the plans of his new patrons, the Dutch banker, Balthasar Coymans, and the industrialist, Louis de Geer.

I resisted of course. But Esteban played me like a fish, and eventually I agreed to help him. I blame my sense of honor. For decades I had felt guilty about stealing from my uncle. But still, I was a wily fish, and I agreed to do only part of Esteban's bidding. The rest of it was negotiable. Thus the pelota match.

Esteban smiled at me. "My serve I believe?"

I tossed him the ball. "And none of your tricks this time, Esteban. Play by the rules!"

Esteban laughed and served.

We were playing the classical version, of course, partido. The first person to win five games, each game to seven points. Our front wall was the back of a church, the side wall the back of the church's brewery. We had started to draw a crowd after the sixth game, and a number of bookmakers were in the crowd. Along with a few tittering whores and the young bucks who were chasing them.

Esteban had used the pause well and reeled off three straight points before I got the serve. We were both tired by then, the crowd was getting more raucous, and we both wanted nothing more but to finish and go quench our thirst in the tavern a block away.

But we were both honorable. Neither of us gave an inch and we fought like lions in the afternoon sun.

Finally the score was tied at six apiece and Esteban's serve came at me. I'd seen this one before and had positioned myself well. It was then that the whores' cries broke my concentration.

"Miss, Catalina. Miss it!"

I missed. Esteban threw his arms up in triumph, then around me.

"A match well-played Antonio, well-played indeed!"

"Except for the last point," I grumbled.

The crowd began to disperse and Foxe and Father Amancio came forward. Esteban introduced me to the priest.

"Antonio, Father Amancio. Father Amancio, Antonio de Erauso, my cousin. A true adventurer who will be joining us on our expedition to the northlands."

I clasped Father Amancio's arm. He had strong hands. "A pleasure to meet you, Father."

"And you, Antonio de Erauso. So you are an adventurer?"

I shrugged modestly. "I have been a few places, I admit."

Esteban laughed. "A few! Father, there is no stone Antonio has left unturned in all of South America, especially in Peru and Chile! His exploits are famous!"

We had begun to move down the street towards the tavern, and one of the two whores still leaning against a wall, perhaps emboldened by the three young bucks she was trying to attract, called out to me.

"Senora Catalina, where are you going? Feeling lonesome tonight?"

"My dear whores," I said, drawing my blade, turning to face them, "I have come to give fifty strokes to your bottom and a hundred gashes to any man who would defend your honor." I advanced on them slowly.

Terrified, the harlots ran away, their bucks in tow.

Esteban grinned as they rounded the corner. "So fierce, Antonio! You have quite a temper, my dear cousin!"

I snorted. It was true, of course.

I turned to Father Amancio. "Sorry about that, Father. I have a certain notoriety in San Sebastian."

Father Amancio nodded. "I had not made the connection until the… uh, young lady had spoken. You are the famous transvestite, Catalina de Erauso, then?"

My smile was a thin smile, I admit, but a smile none the less. "Call me Antonio, Father. My life as Catalina ended long ago."

The priest looked at me thoughtfully, then smiled himself. "Of course, Antonio. And, if you would permit, let me offer to buy the first drink to ease the pain of your loss at pelota."

One maxim I had always lived by was to never turn down a free drink. I nodded graciously.

"Onward, my friends," Esteban said, putting his arms around my shoulder and Father Amancio's, "We have a night of drinking, plans, and stories ahead of us!"

The tavern was cool and dark. The owner, Manuel Ortega, escorted us to our usual corner table. Within minutes we were slaking our thirst on Manuel's beer. Rosalita, Manuel's wife, brought out bowls of stew and loaves of bread.

It was an hour before conversation got around to the topic of Grantville.

"So you have actually been to Grantville, Senor Foxe?" Father Amancio asked.

Luke nodded. "For three months. An intensive course of study set up for me by De Geer's niece, Colette Modi. Geology, mostly. But mathematics and geography as well. And as much as they had on Greenland, which wasn't a lot."

"So they aren't devils as some in the Church would have us assume?"

Luke laughed. "Not at all, Father. Except for the vehicles and roads, you might just think it to be an odd little German town, especially now that the German population outnumbers the original Americans."

He shook his head. "No, what is most startling about Grantville is the information you glean from their libraries and from just talking to the American residents. It is then that you truly start to believe that they come from the future… or some future."

"Some future?" I asked. "Not ours?"

Luke shrugged. "How could it be from our future? With the arrival of Grantville everything they knew about their past is changing, and changing rapidly. In Grantville's history Gustavus Adolphus died this past November, and there is nothing in their history books about the formation of the CPE with him as the emperor."

Esteban smiled and leaned in toward the center of the table, motioning us to do likewise. The tavern was beginning to fill now, and while the noise level had risen, it was still possible to understand conversations from other tables nearby.

"We are definitely going to be changing history from what is in the Grantville books," Esteban said quietly. "In their history the mineral we will be seeking, this cryolite, was not discovered by the Danes until 1794. If we can get there before anyone else and stake a claim… "

Father Amancio tilted his head. "Cryolite? Frozen stone?"

Luke smiled. "Exactly right! The mineral is very translucent. In fact, it was written that pure samples can almost disappear in water because of what is called it's 'refractive index.' Did your people know of this mineral?"

Father Amancio shook his head. "I don't know. Certainly not under that name."

"Your people?" I asked. "Are you from Greenland, Father Amancio?" And how would a native of Greenland have become a priest? There must be quite a story there.

"No." For a second Father Amancio's face darkened. "I am of 'The People' or the Inuit as they… we, call ourselves, but from across the Davis Strait in what is now labeled Labrador on the maps, although I was born further north, on what is now called Baffin Island."

"Inuit? Not Eskimo, Father?" Luke asked.

Father Amancio showed his teeth. "Eskimo is what the Abnaki call my people. An insult. It means 'eaters of flesh.'" Father Amancio's bared teeth turned into a grin. "As far as I can remember from the stories our angakok told us… " Seeing our looks of incomprehension, he waved his hand. "… Shaman, gentlemen. The most powerful member of the tribe, even more so than the village elders. Anyway, according to our angakok, it was only during the starving times when cannibalism was practiced. But before that point was reached we would eat our dogs and boil our sealskins to make soup."

Father Amancio's face turned thoughtful. "Although some say parts of my grandfather were eaten when he died, because of the strength of his spirit."

"Grandfather?" My skin crawled at the thought. Wonderful. Cold, dark, ice and now cannibals.

Father Amancio nodded. "One of my grandfathers was an Englishman, a member of the Frobisher expedition. Inuit women are promiscuous by European standards."

A darkness flashed across Father Amancio's face once again. I was beginning to become fascinated by this man. What inner demons were kept contained inside his head?

"So long as the woman does so with her husband's permission, it is accepted. But if the husband didn't know, the wife would be stripped, dragged outside the village, and beaten."

"Well, we won't have to worry about any Inuit attacking us as happened with Frobisher," Luke said. "That is why we have Antonio and his soldiers, right, Esteban?"

I snorted. "Just because a people are primitive does not mean they aren't intelligent… and dangerous." I pulled my shirt down and pointed to my left shoulder. "See this gash? Three times we butchered the Indians on the plains of Valdivia in Chile. And the fourth time? They butchered us. I had three arrows in me, and this from a lance. If reinforcements hadn't arrived, I and my brother and all our companions would have died there. Only the mercy of God permitted me to live."

Esteban smiled. "The way I heard the story told, Antonio, was that you earned the gash chasing down the Indian chief who had stolen your company flag."

I frowned. "And who told you that?"

Esteban laughed. "You did, when you were drunk last week."

Father Amancio and Luke joined Esteban in laughter and after a brief flare of temper, I did as well.

"Well, whatever the truth of the story is, the moral is the same, gentlemen. We will not underestimate the Inuit."

Our expedition left the port of Pasajes in the middle of April, 1633. The miners, carpenters, stone masons and supplies were on the San Juan, a 450 ton whaling vessel that Esteban had picked up from a bankruptcy. Our escort was the Santiago, an eighteen gun, 300 ton cruiser from the Spanish Netherlands. Our scout ship was the 100 ton yacht Viscaya. The voyage to Greenland was uneventful except for the icebergs we had to avoid as we approached the coast near Cape Desolation. It took us almost a week to find the opening to Arsuk Fjord because of the weather, the ice and the fog. At the first protected flat area inside the fjord, we began construction of a stone fort, moving the six nine-pounder guns off the deck of San Juan and onto the shore.

To protect the secret of what we were actually attempting, we had spread the story that we were setting up a whaling station to hunt whales in the Davis Strait with new technology obtained from Grantville. We had also spread rumors that we were hunting gold and silver deposits based on information from Grantville maps. Thus our hunt for cryolite was doubly secure, or so we hoped.

The few Inuit we saw fled quickly, and after a week in the fjord Father Amancio went on the Viscaya to make contact with the larger concentrations we knew were in the year-round ice free areas two days sail north of us. It was the night after his return that I found him on the deck of the San Juan, staring across the water of the fjord.

A brief blizzard in the evening had been followed by a low sun in a dark blue sky, and I couldn't sleep with all the light. I found myself on the deck, settling in for a smoke with my pipe, when I noticed Father Amancio.

"Did your expedition go well, Father?"

It was then that I noticed the tears in his eyes.

"Father?"

Father Amancio took a deep breath. "What am I doing here, Antonio? What?"

I sucked at my pipe. "From what you've said, you are here because Father Miguel de Seville thinks you should bring God to the Inuit."

Father Amancio shook his head. "Yes, a promise I made to a dying man. My patron, my friend, for twenty years. But how am I to do that?" He shook his head again, only savagely. "They are heathens! Godless dwellers in darkness, as I was twenty years ago. Or rather, not godless, but with too many gods! Nerrivik, goddess of the sea. Sila, the weather god, who can only be appeased when a shaman flies into the sky and tightens his caribou-skin diaper. A whole array of pestiferous spirits! I have nothing in common with them anymore." He looked at his hands with disgust. "I can't even hunt seal anymore. All the skills I knew, everything I took pride in as a young man, are gone. Replaced instead by a knowledge of books, languages, and Catholicism."

He looked into my face. "Have I ever told you what my name was among the Inuit?"

I shook my head.

"Seekoo Amaruq," he said. "Which means 'wolf who hunts among sea-ice.' I was the best seal hunter of my village. I was respected, sought after. One season I caught more seal than the next best five hunters combined."

"What happened?"

Father Amancio grimaced. "Hubris. I became vain, arrogant. Selfish." He looked down at his feet, than back up. "The Inuit are very communal, Antonio. Such selfishness cannot be tolerated, for the good of the village, no matter how expert the hunter. I was banished forever. I became… a kivitog. On the brink of madness, living alone on the edge of the ice. Where the Basques and Father Seville found me."

I said nothing, watching Father Amancio struggle with his demons. Finally he looked up at me again.

"Can I ask you a question, Antonio?"

I nodded. "Of course, Father."

"When did you know?"

"Know what?"

He waved his hands. "When did you know you were Antonio, and not Catalina?"

I laughed. Not heartily. But with that brittle core you get in your voice when distant, painful memories come stalking through your mind.

"Ah, now that is an easy question to answer, Father Amancio. For a year after my escape from the Dominican convent of San Sebastian the Elder I traveled around Spain, and it was in Estella in the province of Navarre that I became a page to Don Carlos de Arellano. It was a good life and I was well-fed and well-clothed. After two years in his employment I grew restless and found myself heading for San Sebastian. There I attended a mass at my old convent, the same mass as my mother attended. I don't know why, but deep inside I wanted my mother to recognize me, to see me for who I really was."

"She didn't recognize you, did she?"

I smiled. "Of course not. She saw nothing but a handsome young gentleman with a vague resemblance to a daughter she had placed in a convent at the age of four. It was then I knew that there was no going back. That I truly was Antonio de Erauso, not Catalina."

Father Amancio was silent for several minutes, and I thought to leave him, but I knew I couldn't. Not without some word of encouragement. It doesn't take much. Many times I have been in despair, alone, wanting a touch, a smile or just a simple gesture from a friend that says "You are not alone, Antonio. We're here for you." I could not leave Father Amancio with nothing.

"It is not black or white, Father Amancio."

He looked up at me. "What?"

"You don't have to just be Father Amancio or Seekoo Amaruq. If there is one thing that I have learned in my travels, it is that God really does give us free will. We can choose more than a single path in life, nothing is set in stone. You can be Father Amancio, or Seekoo Amaruq, or even someone else." I clasped his shoulder. "You decide. Not Father Seville, not me, not Esteban. The choice is yours. And whatever your choice, I will support you. You have my word as a Spaniard and as Antonio de Erauso."

For a moment Father Amancio eyes bore into mine. Then he smiled. "Thank you, Antonio."

It was in the middle of July when Father Amancio returned from what we were beginning to call "New Seville" with a village elder, Uutaaq, and his three daughters, Apa, Pipaluk and Sigoko.

They were exotic, attractive women dressed in light seal-skin jackets and breeches and tanned seal-skin boots that nearly reached to their hips. The youngest one, Sigoko, barely sixteen, kept smiling at me. I admit I found her attractive, despite the half-dozen black-blue stripes that extended from her lower lip to below her chin. I even wondered if what Father Amancio had said about their underwear being made of feathers was really true, and what it might feel like. But her smell quenched my desire.

"Comely wenches," I said to Father Amancio at the meeting that night on the Santiago where we were hosting a feast for Uutaaq. "But the smell… " I wrinkled my nose. "Especially the hair… "

Father Amancio laughed. "I know. They wash their hair with urine. It is worse in New Seville. I had forgotten what it was like. In summer a village always stinks of seal guts, unwashed Inuit and dog shit. You get used to it after awhile."

I shuddered. "Better you than me, Father."

Uutaaq pointed in my direction and jabbered away at Father Amancio, who laughed and then turned to me.

"Uutaaq says he noticed your interest in Sigoko. If you would like her for a wife, he is willing… and so is she. Or simply as a kifak, which means housekeeper, if you prefer." Father Amancio's eyes danced with amusement.

"And how would she feel when she discovered the true sex of her husband?" I asked drily.

Father Amancio waved his hand. "Not a problem, so long as you provided for her and her children." He smiled. "And so long as you followed Inuit custom and gave her permission to lay with men occasionally."

I sighed. I admit, I was tempted, but three times in my years in South America I had been nearly trapped into marriage, which would have been a disaster for me. But I had always found a diplomatic way to avoid entanglements. Even if that "diplomatic way" was to get myself onto a fast horse at midnight.

I shook my head. "Tell Uutaaq I'll consider it carefully. But what about you, Father? Apa certainly seems smitten with you."

Father Amancio's smile vanished. Now it was his turn to sigh. "I know, and a relationship with her may be unavoidable, given the additional things that Uutaaq wants."

Esteban had been listening. "Which is what? I thought you said Uutaaq would lead us to the cryolite in exchange for more harpoons, knives and mirrors?"

Despite the fact that we had been actively searching for almost a month, we had not yet discovered the cryolite, the local word for which, Father Amancio had discovered, was orsuksiksaet, "the stone that looks like seal blubber." Both the weather and the terrain had hampered our efforts. Fortunately, the building of the fort at the mouth of Arsuk fjord had gone well. But if we were to depart Greenland on time at the end of August, we would have to find the cryolite deposit quickly to get even a few tons of ore out of the deposit.

"Uutaaq will lead us to the orsuksiksaet," Father Amancio said, and at the sound of the word Uutaaq smiled, "But only if we help him banish the village's angakok, Kinalik."

At the sound of the shaman's name Uutaaq scowled and a dozen sentences in the Inuit language blistered our ears. Father Amancio help up his hand and spoke softly.

"Wonderful," I muttered. "I assume that means they aren't up to the job themselves?"

Father Amancio shook his head. "They are afraid of him. He is said to practice black magic, especially with the ierqat, the mountain spirits." Amancio sighed. "He is also not happy with me, since I have converted several elders and a number of women to the Catholic faith. I think he feels that I am usurping his power." He waved toward the deck where the faint sounds of female laughter and singing could be heard. "Apa thinks he is preparing a tupilait to send against me."

"What's a tupilait?" Esteban asked.

"A tupilait is a potent evil made of animal parts. Very powerful magic. When I was a boy my own angakok said that a shaman had to have great confidence in his abilities or the misfortune intended for the victim would recoil and kill the originator of the spell."

Esteban looked at me. "I think Antonio can arrange such a recoil, if this Kinalik gets feisty. How many soldiers would it take?"

"Ask Uutaaq," I grunted. "He'll know how many followers this Kinalik has."

Father Amancio sent the query at Uutaaq, who held up four fingers.

"A dozen soldiers in armor should be sufficient," I said. "Three with muskets, the rest with swords, armor and helmets. Nice and shiny. It should look impressive. Being confident is sometimes more than half the battle."

Esteban shook his head. "A dozen Bosqueros for four savages? That seems like overkill to me."

I smiled. "And how many Indians have you killed, Esteban, in your many whaling adventures? Uutaaq may be merely underestimating to get us to commit to helping him. Suppose he has twenty or thirty followers instead? Indians are not stupid. Nor are they necessarily trustworthy. A dozen it shall be. And no young hotheads like Sanchez or your brother Christobal. Veterans, men I can depend on when all the plans go to hell." I thought for a moment. "Ricardo, Juan, Julio and Felix, for a start. They will form the core. I'll come up with the rest later."

I looked over at Father Amancio. "But that's not all Uutaaq wants, is it?"

Father Amancio nodded reluctantly. "There have been difficult times along the coast. Not as much ice, which means that more men have been killed seal hunting. In addition to helping to banish Kinalik, I will have to marry two of Uutaaq's daughters. Probably Apa and Sigoko, now that you've turned her down."

I laughed. "So much for a priest's vows of celibacy. Assuming you are willing, of course."

Father Amancio shrugged. "Father Seville told me I might have to make compromises to bring God to the Inuit. And if I am to stay with them, I must re-learn some of the old ways of thinking."

Esteban shook his head in amusement. "Sounds like you may be going native on us, Father."

"Perhaps." Father Amancio looked over at me and smiled. "Or maybe I am simply finding a different path to take."

We landed at high tide on the rocky beach in front of New Seville three days later. The location was close to the town of Fredrickshaab on the maps Luke Foxe had copied in Grantville. It was petty of me to think it, but I still took pleasure in the thought that perhaps our presence would prevent the dour Danes and their Lutheran heresy from making inroads among the Greenlanders.

There were several dozen kayaks and umiaks on the beach. The village itself was larger than I had imagined, several score of rectangular buildings made of wood, stones and turf. As we passed by the large dance hall in the center of the village, however, I noticed that there were very few Inuit about; a few mothers with infants in the hoods of their jackets, a few small girls playing with ivory dolls dressed in fur, a couple of young boys with small bows made of caribou horn and sinew.

As Uutaaq and his daughters led the way along a well-worn path through the willow scrub not too dissimilar from the birch scrub we were accustomed to on Arsuk fjord, I turned to Father Amancio.

"Where are the Inuit, Father?"

Father Amancio smiled. "Did you imagine that only rich Spanish nobles have separate summer and winter homes, Antonio? In the summer the Inuit here move into skin tents on a hill near the lake. Better access for caribou hunting, and breezes to keep off the mosquitos. It's less than two miles."

"I don't like it," Felix Gonzalez, my sergeant, muttered next to me as a willow branch snapped against his helmet. "We can't see shit in this."

"I know, a good place for an ambush, this scrub," I said, watching Father Amancio's back disappear around a bend in the trail. "Pass the word. Tell the men to keep the interval, be alert. Especially the musketeers."

But the scrub soon disappeared and we found ourselves on a small ridge, headed northeast. Off in the distance we could make out the skin tents of the Inuit next to a large lake. When we were half a mile from the summer village, the path descended once again into willow scrub, only denser than what we had already passed through.

The attack came less than fifty yards later.

"Antonio!"

A wave of spears flew from the scrub.

My sword was already half-drawn when the spear aimed for my heart bounced off my breast-plate.

Thank God, stone point, not iron.

My sword was fully drawn as an Inuit came at me from the left, stabbing with one of the basque harpoons we'd sold them.

Not this time, piglet.

I parried the thrust with my sword and then spitted him in the stomach. He folded into a ball when I withdrew my sword.

The muskets went off behind me and I began to turn to shout at my men when a blow to my helmet turned the world black and red and I fell to my knees, then onto my side. I rolled over onto my back.

God, not like this, damn it.

An Inuit warrior stood over me with his spear held high, eyes mad with pleasure, and my body refused to respond to my commands.

The triumphant expression on the warrior's face turned to pain when the tip of a harpoon burst through his stomach.

He fell across my legs.

Father Amancio reached down next to me and picked up the dead warrior's spear just as my Bosqueros came forward along the path.

"Father… Amancio?"

He helped me to my feet. "I see you've met Kinalik the angakok," Father Amancio said drily, pointing to the body with the harpoon in its back. "Apparently Kinalik had a few more followers than Uutaaq thought."

My head began to swim and I staggered.

"Careful, Antonio, that was a strong blow you took."

My arm went around Father Amancio's shoulder as my Bosqueros deployed around us.

"I am in your debt, truly, Father Amancio."

Father Amancio shook his head. "I think not, Antonio. It was merely a payment for a debt I owed you. Thanks to your words, I know what path I will follow." He smiled at me. "And I think from now on I shall be called Father Wolf. Time for a new beginning."

It was the end of October when we finally arrived with the cryolite in Essen. A bribe to a Basque naval officer in Oquendo's fleet in Rotterdam had eased our path up the Rhine.

"That went well," I said smugly, patting the pocket that held the letter of credit Balthasar Coymans had given me. "Now I can return to Cartegena in style while I look for this platinum ore they want me to find."

I looked over at Esteban. "They weren't as happy as I'd thought they'd be with the cryolite. Although they seemed to accept the idea of calling it orsuksite as Father Wolf requested."

Esteban shrugged. "It suits their purpose. It will be hard to keep the mining expedition a secret, but calling it orsuksite will at least misdirect a few people. But you're right, they weren't too happy. They expected us to bring back a lot more."

I snorted. "More than eighty tons? The first season? In those conditions?"

"Well, they were thinking of Frobisher, obviously, who brought back nearly a thousand tons of ore in a single season. But I explained to them that it was more important to get the infrastructure of the mine established this first season than to bring back a large amount of cryolite… orsuksite."

"Well," I said, "It seems to have altered their plans."

"Indeed," Esteban said. "They'll be doing more experimentation, apparently, in hopes that they can develop the processes they want."

"Just one question, Esteban."

Esteban looked at me. "What?"

"What in the hell is a zeppelin?"

Author's note: The narrator of the story, Antonio de Erauso, born Catalina de Erauso, is an actual historical down-timer. Here is some information from the book

Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World

http://books.google.com/books?id=FAtuo0MYVZwC amp;printsec=frontcover

"Catalina de Erauso led one of the most wildly fantastic lives of any woman in history. Refusing to be regimented into the quiet habits of a nun's life, she escaped from a Basque convent at age fourteen dressed as a man, and continuing her deception, ventured to Peru and Chile as a soldier in the Spanish army. After mistakenly killing her own brother in a duel, she roamed the Andean highlands, becoming a gambler and a killer, and always just evading the grasp of the law. Distinguished for her fighting skills and cursed with a quick temper, Catalina de Erauso spent much of her life balancing precariously between valor and villainy. She is an adored folkloric hero of the Spanish-speaking world."

A Gift of Blankets

Kerryn Offord and Vincent Coljee

Quarantine House Alpha, Grantville, 1632

"How do we feel today?" Katharina Anna Schrey asked Quarantine House Alpha's most important patient.

John Thompson Sims looked up from his sick bed. "Lousy!"

Katharina smiled down at the elderly doctor. He'd been her friend and mentor since she started the long course of training that would eventually qualify her as a doctor. "If you can complain, that is a sign you are getting better."

John rolled his eyes. "How badly did I have it?

"Not too badly. There were only a few pustules on your face, and with any luck, they'll barely leave a scar."

John nodded his understanding. "And the child I was treating, what happened to him?"

"He recovered. The whole family is now out of quarantine and has been placed in the refugee center."

"That's good to know." John shook his head in gentle wonder. "I wouldn't have thought my old vaccination would have been much good after thirty odd years. It's nice to think the older people in Grantville have some protection." He stopped when he saw Katharina's shaking head. "No?"

"Dr. Ellis drew blood from the team. We helped you fight the infection by pumping you full of anti-serum."

"Oh!"

"There is a bright side." Katharina smiled at Dr. Sims disappointed face. "Now there are two immune doctors. You and Dr. Abrabanel."

John shuddered. "Do you know how soon I can leave?"

"Dr. Abrabanel will visit later this evening. If he gives you the all clear, we can let you out tomorrow."

John's head sank back into his pillow. "You're all heart, Katharina."

Days later, a meeting room at the Leahy Medical Center

The people of Grantville had been extremely lucky. In a time when smallpox was endemic, they arrived in Thuringia between cyclic waves of the disease. It took an average of five years for the pool of vulnerable people in a community to grow large enough for the next wave. Children born since the last wave made up most of these pools. That's why smallpox was known as a childhood disease in this era. Either it killed you as a child, or you survived. But Grantville was different. Since smallpox was dropped from the national vaccination program in 1972 only the military and a few people traveling overseas might have been vaccinated, and even the military stopped vaccinating against smallpox in 1990. Only about half of the up-timers had ever been vaccinated, and if those vaccinations were more than ten years old, they were nearly useless. That meant that almost the entire up-timer population was vulnerable. If smallpox spread through Grantville, at least one in three up-timers could expect to die. That was if the medical services could cope. If they couldn't, well, there was evidence to suggest that the entire up-timer community could die.

The inevitable had to happen. Smallpox arrived, but the people of Grantville hadn't been standing idle. Precautions were being taken. Precautions most people probably didn't even notice. Then there was the processing of refugees by the sanitary commission. All refugees entering the Ring of Fire were examined by public health officers. The ill were quarantined until they either died or were declared well enough to enter the community. And the doctors had been busy looking for a vaccine.

Dr. Jeff Adams looked around the table. "Five days ago we discharged our first case of smallpox, a young boy from a refugee family. That means we finally have some smallpox virus to start the variolation program Dr. Abrabanel has been advocating this past year. Now we have to work out how to best use the limited supply of virus."

Hope Underwood, president of the Grantville chapter of the American Red Cross, looked over at Dr. Adams. "Isn't using smallpox virus dangerous? Isn't that why they used cowpox back up-time?"

"Immunization using smallpox isn't dangerous if it is done properly, Frau Underwood," Balthasar Abrabanel answered. "I immunized my daughter using the dust from a dried smallpox pustule with no ill effect. You are basing your fears on the abysmal techniques western medical doctors used." Balthasar shook his head in disgust. "Cutting into the arm and smearing the live virus into the wound. What do they expect but that the patients will die?"

"And anyway, Hope, we need a sample of cowpox before we can make a vaccine, and we haven't been able to find any. That's the only reason we're even thinking of using deactivated smallpox," Jeff said.

"What? But there are cows everywhere."

"Yes, there are cows everywhere, but that doesn't necessarily mean cowpox is everywhere. Les Blocker has had feelers out as far as Magdeburg, Leipzig, Nurnberg and Erfurt, but he hasn't heard a whisper of cowpox."

"Didn't Jenner use cowpox for his vaccinations? It must be around."

Jeff gave Hope a wry smile. "There's some question as to what Dr. Edward Jenner actually used. There's even some suggestion he used smallpox. Whatever it was he used, he was in England. Just as being an island protected England from rabies, it's possible that being an island stopped the spread of cowpox to the continent."

"That means we have to send someone to England to get some infected cows, then," Hope said.

"Maybe, but we can't afford to send anybody just yet. Anyway, horsepox should be a viable alternative, and Les is pretty sure there's horsepox on the continent. It's just a matter of finding an infected animal."

"And until that animal is found, we variolate using deactivated smallpox virus," Balthasar said.

Jeff nodded. "Right. We variolate until we can vaccinate with cow- or horse-pox."

Quarantine House Alpha

The house was on the very edge of the town, an older house, occupied by only half a dozen down-timers, though how they managed to rent such a desirable property Georg Lenkert had no idea. He was sharing a much smaller place with a dozen other guys, and even that stretched his budget.

Georg noted the gas and water meter readings, leaving just the electricity meter to go. Before the Ring of Fire it would have been accessible from outside the house, but like so many houses in Grantville, the owners of this one had enclosed the porch to give more living space. Georg knew where the key was kept, but it was good customer relations to check if someone was home first. And besides, if he was lucky, the Girl would answer the door.

The door opened at his knock to reveal… the wrong girl. Georg managed to hide his disappointment. Maybe the right girl was inside. Clipboard in hand, he tapped the official badge of the utility company he wore. "Meter man, Fraulein. I wish to read the electricity meter."

Lise Gebauer smiled and stepped back from the door. "Sure. You know where it is?"

Georg nodded and made his way to the meter, then finished preparing the invoice. The note on the invoice said that this establishment was authorized to pay by check, so he went in search of someone to give the invoice to.

His dream girl was sitting on the sofa in the lounge with a monster of a cat in her lap having its ears gently rubbed. " Lucky cat," Georg muttered.

He waved the invoice. "Fraulein, I have finished. Do you wish to pay now?"

Katharina Schrey called over her shoulder toward the back of the house. "Hans, meter man. Could you bring the check book?" She turned back to Georg. "He shouldn't be long."

Georg moved closer. She was making a fuss over the cat, so he decided to do the same. He knelt beside her and held out his hand for the cat to sniff. After a moment, the cat started to rub his head against the hand.

Georg smiled shyly and rubbed the cat's ears, his fingers daringly close to Katharina's. "He's a fine looking cat. Does he have a name?"

"The girls call the fleabag Trojan. And if you've seen the kittens Frau Patton's prize Siamese had last month, you understand why."

Georg turned at the new voice. He'd been so intent on Katharina that he hadn't heard the man and woman enter. He passed the prepared invoice to the man. "I've seen the kittens. Frau Patton is not very happy. But what do kittens have to do with the cat's name?"

Lise gave Georg a sympathetic smile. "Ignore Hans. That's his idea of a joke. Dr. Ellis suggested the name." She grinned. "He called him a Trojan horse. You see, the fleas came into the house on Trojan, just like… "

"The Greeks in Virgil's Aeneid. When they gained entry to the city of Troy in a wooden horse." Georg finished.

"Yes, like that. And they infested Katharina's bed… " Lise turned to her friend. "I told you not to let him sleep with you."

I should be so lucky.Georg felt Katharina looking at him. For a moment he thought he'd spoken out loud.

"You've read Virgil?"

Georg let out a quiet sigh of relief. She couldn't have heard him if she could ask a question like that. Not with that hint of excitement in her voice. He returned to petting Trojan to hide his blushes. He hadn't actually read Virgil. His Latin teacher had assigned him the task of translating the poem. He'd considered it a complete waste of time, as undoubtedly, the poem had been translated hundreds of times before, by better scholars than him. And he'd been right. For a price he'd obtained another student's translation, which he'd carefully copied, making several deliberate mistakes so as not to make his teacher suspicious. But if his dream girl was impressed by scholarship… "It was a long time ago. My Latin teacher insisted that I translate Aeneid. I didn't do a very good job, but I could follow the story."

"Poor, Katharina. For a moment there, I bet you thought you'd found a fellow scholar." Lise smiled. "Katharina also reads Greek"

Georg glanced at Katharina. She was flushed, probably embarrassed by her friend singing her praises. With a sigh, he stood up. He still had half a dozen properties with meters he had to read today and it was past time he was gone. He traded a receipt for a check from Hans before making his way to the door. "It has been a pleasure meeting all of you. Until next month."

Once out of sight of the house he stopped. So, her name is Katharina, and she is educated. Maybe he should see about taking some classes.

Katharina looked up at the smiling faces of her friends. "Did he really say what I think he said?"

Hans nodded. "He's smitten. Jealous of a cat. And the fleabag, at that."

Katharina reached a hand up to the right side of her face. The side the meter man had been looking at all the time. "He didn't notice my face."

"You make too much of the pox scars."

Katharina looked at the unblemished face of her friend. "That's easy for you to say, with your perfect skin. You didn't see the looks on people's faces when I stopped using the face paint."

"But this guy, this… " Lise looked at Katharina expectantly.

"Georg Ludwig Lenkert." Katharina answered.

Lise's eyes brightened. "You know his name. So you are interested."

"I read the name on his identification card, Lise."

Lise turned to Hans. "I think she's protesting too much. What do you think?"

"I think it is none of my business." Hans grinned. "But he didn't seem to mind looking at your face."

"Hans is right, Katharina. You had no trouble going out without face paint until those kids started making fun of you. Maybe it's just an up-timer thing. Have you noticed how perfect their skin tends to be?"

Katharina slumped into the sofa. "That's because they didn't have smallpox up-time." She gently fingered the scars. "Georg really didn't seem to mind them, did he?"

"It was as if they didn't exist," Lise confirmed. "Now all you have to do is arrange to meet him more than once a month."

"How? I don't know anything about him."

Lise stepped up behind Katharina and put her arms around her. "Don't worry. Hans can find out where you can accidentally bump into him. Can't you?"

"Of course. Consider it my contribution to the star-crossed lovers."

Katharina blew Hans a raspberry.

The VoTechCenter, Grantville, two weeks later

Georg almost froze at the door. When he enrolled in a course on up-timer history the last person he'd expected to see in the classroom was his dream girl. He found a seat where he could look at her without her seeing him.

The VoTechCenter, Grantville, two months later

Katharina was getting frustrated. Two months of attending classes at the VoTech and Georg barely noticed her existence. She turned to Lise. "If Georg doesn't say something tonight, I'm giving up."

"You can't give up now. Maybe he's shy. Maybe you have to make the first move."

She released a sigh. "Very well. I'll sit next to him tonight."

"You'll need to do more than that. Ask him to join us for coffee after class."

Katharina glared. "You're asking too much."

"Katharina, it's been two months with nothing to show for it. You have to do something to catch his attention."

"All right. I'll ask." Katharina collected her dignity before storming off.

" Shehas to do something to catch his attention?" Hans was all smiles as he repeated Lise's last comment.

"Well, she doesn't seem to be aware just how much time Georg spends staring at her when she isn't looking."

"And of course, Georg is unaware of how much Katharina stares in his direction when he isn't looking." Hans placed a gentle kiss on Lise's nose. "Come on, we have classes of our own to attend."

The High School Cafe

Georg had been only too happy to accept Katharina's invitation to share a coffee with friends after class. After two months of watching her from across the room, he'd almost built up the nerve to approach her. Having Katharina make the first move had been a godsend. Sitting beside her and her friends, he looked for something to say. There was always the old standby. "Where do you all work?"

Katharina smiled. "Lise and I are in the nursing program. I hope to get into the MD program later."

Georg looked at Hans. "And you? Are you also training to be a nurse or doctor?"

"Not me. I'm a journeyman mason. I'm a foreman with Kelly Construction doing brick and stone work."

"So how did you and Lise get together?"

"The company pays extra for first aid-certified employees, so I took a course. It just happened to be the same one Lise was taking."

"What about the rest of the people sharing the house? And how can you afford the rent on a house like that? I share a smaller place with a dozen others, and even then most of us struggle to meet the rent." Georg asked.

Lise smiled. "Most of us are in the nursing program. It's a sanitary commission house and they subsidize the rent for health workers."

Georg was a bit confused. "Does that mean you pay full rent?" he asked Hans.

"No. They also subsidize my rent, though not as much. I'm a member of one of their special teams."

"What special teams?" Georg was getting curious. If Hans could get into that house that way, well, why couldn't he?

Hans cast a quick glance around the cafe. There were no patrons close enough to hear. Even so, he leaned closer to Georg before speaking in a low voice. "You know the sanitary commission induction program for all new refugees?"

Georg nodded. When he first arrived in Grantville a sanitary commission official had asked him questions and had him fill out forms before sending him into the showers while they cleaned his clothes.

"The service not only processes new arrivals, they maintain special teams that provide care for anybody in quarantine until the doctors consider them safe to enter the community,"

"You mean like Herr Beasley and Officer Jordan?"

"You know about that?" Hans' voice was shocked.

"For some people, the postman and meter-man are their only source of news other than the radio. We hear a lot of gossip. Do the up-timers know what it was yet?"

"Gossip!" Hans shook his head. "It wasn't smallpox. But that's all the up-timers know. They have no idea what killed that family."

Georg shuddered. If it had happen a couple of weeks earlier or later, it might have been him rather than Officer Jordan who discovered the Beasleys. If gossip was to be believed, he could have been struck down with whatever it was that killed them and almost killed Buster Beasley and Officer Jordan. "Did you have to care for them?" he asked Katharina.

She shook her head. "No. They were taken to a different quarantine house. The worst we've had is a boy with smallpox, and Dr. Sims, who caught it treating the boy."

"Surely caring for someone infected with smallpox is dangerous?"

"No." Katharina shook her head. "As you've probably noticed, I've had smallpox. According to the up-timers, that makes me immune to it."

Georg had noticed Katharina's scars. He'd seen worse. "It sure looks like you had a bad case. Not like Hans, and as for Lise… how did you come through without a blemish?"

Lise smiled. "My grandmother did what the up-timers call variolation to me when I was a baby. If it hadn't been for Dr. Abrabanel being present when I was interviewed for a place on Hans' team I don't think the up-timer would have approved my application. I don't think she believed me. She kept muttering about Jenner being the first to do that in the late-seventeen hundreds."

Georg smiled. "My mother says grandmother protected me from smallpox when I was a baby by smearing a pit of puss from a pox onto my arm and scratching the skin."

"That's the same thing my grandmother did. Dr. Abrabanel and I had quite a discussion comparing techniques. Apparently he learned a different way."

"So I'm also immune to smallpox. That's good to know."

"Georg, how would you like to apply for one of the special teams?" Lise asked.

Georg froze. He looked over at Lise suspiciously, then at Katharina to see how she felt about her friend's suggestion.

"Yes, the commission is always looking for volunteers." Katharina said.

"I'd like to, but what does it involve? Meter reading isn't much of a job, but it pays the bills."

"First, they'll put you through a training course on how to handle contagious diseases, then they put you on a retainer and give periodic refresher classes. They run practice exercises so that everyone is prepared if a contagious disease strikes. Usually it's only a few days a month, and best of all, it qualifies as your militia commitment, too," Hans answered.

"Now that last sounds good. No more slogging up and down hills with a rifle in my arms and a pack on my back in all weathers. I'm definitely interested."

"I'll get an application form for you. Where do I send it?" Lise asked.

"Save yourself the postage. My route on Thursday will take me past the hospital. If you tell me who to talk to, I can collect one."

"Just ask for Dr. Adams' office. Someone there will find one for you."

"Thank you." Georg looked at the clock. "I'm sorry, but if I'm going to be any good tomorrow, I need my sleep." He smiled at Katharina. "See you in class next week."

"There, that wasn't so hard, was it?" Lise asked.

Katharina blushed. She was doing a lot of that lately. "Thank you."

"That's what friends are for. You do remember that Jochim is moving out of the house when he marries, don't you?"

If Katharina had thought she couldn't get any warmer, she'd been wrong. "Yes, I remember. And yes, it would be nice if Georg could move in."

"Just checking."

A couple of months later

Katharina and Georg were poring over their class notes as they wrote up reports for night school. Lise Gebauer stopped at the door to focus on the happy couple. Getting Georg into the house had been one of her better ideas.

"What are you guys working on?"

Katharina looked up and smiled. "We're writing a paper on smallpox in the New World for history class. Did you know that contagious diseases killed millions before the first European settlers arrived?"

"How does that work? How did the diseases get introduced?

"It's thought that early explorers somehow carried the infections without being affected themselves. With a truly 'virgin' population to play with, the diseases ran wild," Katharina answered.

"For a moment there, I thought you were going to say contagious diseases were deliberately introduced."

"Well," Georg started, "there are lots of stories about smallpox and measles being deliberately introduced to clear land of meddlesome natives, but we've only been able to identify one confirmed case where an attempt was made to deliberately spread disease."

Lise shuddered. "Who'd do a thing like that?"

"An Englishman." Georg answered with a smile. "Sir Jeffery Amherst, the commander-in-chief of British forces in North America in 1763. He tried to deliberately infect warring native American tribes by sending them gifts of blankets taken from a smallpox hospital. Not that the histories are sure that attempt worked. There was already smallpox doing the rounds."

Lise shuddered again. "Well, at least that can't happen here. The sanitary commission is set up to prevent things like that."

Georg grinned evilly. "Imagine what could happen if someone could introduce smallpox into Grantville."

"Georg! That's horrible." Lise backed away. When she neared the door she spoke to Katharina. "Hit him for me."

Lise had the satisfaction of hearing a loud yelp of pain from Georg.

2 a.m.the next morning

"Are you sure this is the right place?" Merten Burkhard asked.

"Yes, this is where the women I followed home from the hospital live. See those three trees, and the white letterbox? This is the place. And inside there is a small fortune in medicines," his brother, Dieter, answered.

"How do you know the medicines are here?"

"Because, dimwit, I saw them loading a box when I delivered the laundry. The same box one of the women carried when she left the hospital."

"But where they put them?" Merten asked.

"In the kitchen, of course. Where else would you find one of those refrigerators? The medicines are supposed to be kept cool."

"Oh!"

"Come on, the lights have been out long enough. Everyone should be asleep by now."

They gained entry from a window left ajar. Quietly, first Dieter then Merten crawled through the window. They were in the dining room and could easily see their way to the refrigerator in the moonlight.

"You got the bag ready?" Dieter whispered.

"Yes."

Dieter pulled gently at the refrigerator door. There was a clinking of bottles as the door came open. In the gentle glow of the interior light, Dieter searched for the packages he had come for. Then something hit his face. It was as if a red hot iron had struck him. He couldn't help it. He screamed.

The noises coming from the kitchen had Georg up and out of the bed in a flash. He hit the light switch in the kitchen only seconds later. Using the two-handed grip he'd been taught, he pointed his pistol at the intruders. "Freeze, I have a gun."

Having made his little speech, Georg concentrated on the sight in front of him. Two men were backed into a corner. One was bleeding fairly heavily from deep scratches in his face, arms and hands. The other guy was better off. His face appeared undamaged. They were ignoring him, more concerned with their present danger. Trojan stood hissing at them, daring them to move. The cat's already massive size was transformed to enormous by the way his fur was standing up. Georg licked his dry lips. He'd heard stories about Trojan intimidating vicious dogs. It seemed he was just as effective when dealing with humans.

Hans entered the kitchen, knotting his robe. "What do we have here then?"

Georg grinned. "Just something the cat dragged in."

"It looks like they were interested in something in the refrigerator. Silly people. Opening the refrigerator with Trojan asleep on top. What were they thinking?"

Georg snorted. "I don't think they were expecting Trojan. Would you do something about tying them up? I'd rather not stand here pointing a gun at them until the police arrive."

"You worried about the police seeing you with that gun?"

"It's not the gun, it's the time. The police aren't going to get here anytime soon.

"Fair enough. And you might ask Katharina to grab you a robe or something. It's pretty obvious why you were still awake at two in the morning."

Georg flushed at Hans' sally. So, I jumped out of bed, grabbed the gun and rushed in here without bothering about dressing or grabbing a robe. Time might have been of the essence. Then Georg noticed the gleam in Hans' eyes, and realized what he had seen. His duty to protect the refrigerator over, Trojan was now intent on new game.

"No, Trojan. No!" Georg lowered his hands protectively. Then, realizing that meant taking the gun off the two intruders, brought it back up, then down, then up. Finally, he lowered himself to the ground so he could pull his legs in protectively and still keep the gun pointed at the intruders.

Hans was laughing his head off..

"It's not funny, Hans."

"Oh it is, Georg. Really, it is."

It took over an hour for the police to arrive. It took another hour and several mugs of coffee for the police to take statements.. Eventually they left with their two prisoners.

"Where did you get the gun?" Johann Wantzleben, the other male in the household, asked.

"The utilities company supplied it, and training in using it."

"Why? That's one of the up-timer guns. Why would a meter reader need an up-timer pistol?"

"It's for self protection… "

"You mean because you carry a lot of money with you?" Johann asked.

"I don't actually carry much money. Most people who pay the meter man pay by check. No, the pistol is for protection against wild animals and dogs. There's a real risk of rabies on some of the routes."

Georg's audience shuddered. Rabies was a death sentence. Smallpox only killed one in three people. rabies killed everyone.

August 1632, Grantville

The household had been on edge since the first sound of gunshots. They'd received a phone call telling them that enemy cavalry had been detected close to town and to stay put until further notice. They had prepared to evacuate or to render aid. Now all they could do is wait to see which it would be.

The ring of the phone broke the tense silence. Lise answered it. "Yes. Yes. Very well. I'll pass that on. Thank you."

"Well?" Hans asked for all of them.

"The enemy has been routed. But they were Croats." Lise gave Georg a crooked smile. "It seems someone on the sanitation committee read your paper. We're to go out and check all the dead and wounded for signs of smallpox, and sterilize any equipment they might have with them."

Johann looked from Lise to Georg. "I'm sorry? What's the connection between the Croats and Georg's history paper?"

"Someone in the sanitary commission is wondering whether the Croats might have been someone's version of a gift of blankets." Georg answered.

As Georg's comment sunk in, faces paled.

The Treasure Hunters

Karen Bergstralh

March, 2000

The librarian stamped the book and handed it across the desk. "This is a grown-up book, Mikey. It came all the way from a library in Richmond and you can only have one renewal on it. It must be back by April sixteenth."

Michael Arthur Tyler grabbed the book before she could change her mind and quickly muttered, "Thank you." He didn't want her phoning his mother with a complaint about his manners. Momma might tell him to return the book and leave 'grown-up' books until he was older. Just because he was small everybody thought he was still a little kid. No matter how he stretched, he stood barely 4' 9" in his sneakers. Small, thin, and with an unruly mass of sandy colored hair that flopped over his eyes, people who didn't know him pegged him at eight or nine at most. Lots of folks who did know him still thought he was only ten.

Michael was afraid he would be this small forever. Nanna had told him that his father had been small until he was fifteen and then had started to grow. She always said that he would to grow but Michael wasn't sure he believed her. He didn't know if he could stand another year of being the smallest boy in class.

Once outside the library, Michael shuffled down the sidewalk. His feet absently kicked at rocks in the universal manner of fourteen-year-old boys. His thoughts were far away in place and time. Tucked securely under his arm was his prize, a copy of The Lost Tomb. The book promised secrets of a new Egyptian tomb – the biggest ever found.

"Hey, Dweebie!" Danny Colburn yelled. "Whatcha got there? Didn't your momma teach you to share?" Danny and his twin, Shawn, appeared from around the corner. "Look, Shawn, Dweebie's got a book! Does it have pretty pictures, Dweebie?" The two boys loomed over him. Shawn snatched at Michael's book while Danny made a couple of mock swings at Michael's head. The twins were big. They stood almost six feet tall and were the same age as Michael. Since the third grade the twins been the biggest kids in class. Since the fourth grade, Michael had been their favorite target.

"Maybe it's got real words – really small and simple words. See Spot run. Run, Spot, run!" Shawn guffawed.

"Naw, gotta be pictures – puppies and kitties. Here, gimme that book, Dweeb!" Danny shoved Michael into Shawn's arms and yanked the book away. Shawn pushed Michael hard, forcing him to his knees. Michael made a futile grab for his book before Shawn slammed him face first into the sidewalk.

"Aw, Dweebie. This can't be for you – it's all small print. Maybe it would be good kindling… "

"Give my book back!" wailed Michael. Panic made his voice squeak.

"Hey, Dweebie." Shawn shoved Michael back down with his size twelve shoe. "I didn't tell you to move. Did you tell him he could move, Danny?"

"Naw, Stop wiggling, Worm, or we'll stomp you… " Danny threatened.

Michael, his face squashed against the sidewalk, fought tears. The twins usually were satisfied with giving him black eye and a bloody nose but they had torn up his books before. This was a library book. The last time the twins had torn up a library book all of his allowance and savings hadn't been enough to pay for it. His dad had to make up the rest. Dad had walked Michael down to the library with the money and complained about the cost of the book the whole way there and back. When they got home he'd taken his belt to Michael and warned him, "That better be the last time I have to cough up money for one of your weird books, boy, or your hide will be black and blue for a year. Why'd ya want such a dumb book anyway? For Gods sake, Mikey, grow up and stop reading such useless shit."

What would happen if the twins tore this one up? If he fought back maybe they would just beat him up and forget about his book. He tensed, ready to roll over and grab for Shawn's foot when a loud shout echoed down the street.

"Daniel! Shawn! Get away from Michael right now!" Mr. Reading, the elementary school principal was striding toward the boys. He looked furious. "How many times have you two been told to leave him alone? I'm going to have another talk with your parents." Mr. Reading grabbed both boys and shook them. He looked down and asked, "Are you okay, Mikey?" When Michael scrambled to his feet and nodded, Mr. Reading took the book from Danny's oversized paw and inspected it. "Obviously this belongs to Mikey, not you two louts. Here, son." When Mr. Reading turned away to hand the book to Michael the twins took off at a run. "I'll be calling your parents!" he yelled.

"Umm, thanks, Mr. Reading." Michael said in a small voice. He peered around wildly. Bad enough that the twins had nearly ripped up his book and given him another beating, but this! The school principal rescuing him was almost too much. If he was lucky none of the other kids had seen.

"Still interested in archeology, eh, Mikey" Mr. Reading asked.

"Yessir. "

"Good, good. It's an interesting career. Do you have any ideas on what you want to dig up?"

"Yeah… See, there's this new tomb in the Valley of the Kings – that's what this book is about." Michael politely showed the book to Mr. Reading.

"So you're reading up on the new discovery. That's good scholarship. Keep learning and you'll do well in college. Its good to have high goals, Mikey". Mr. Reading smiled and put his hand on Michael's shoulder. "You keep studying hard and you'll make it. Now, I'd like to hear more about this new tomb."

"Yes sir. See, the pharaoh Ramesses, that's Ramesses the Second, had something like a hundred sons… " Michael's mind raced. If he gave a good enough answer maybe Mr. Reading would be satisfied and leave before anyone saw them together. "… and this tomb – they call it KV5 – well, it's where all those sons got buried." Unfortunately Mr. Reading showed no signs of leaving. Instead he walked beside Michael, asking questions about archeology.

Michael tucked his book under his arm and walked and talked automatically. Inside he wailed at the unfairness of it all. By tomorrow morning every kid in school was going to know Mr. Reading had walked him home. Like he was a kindergardner! When they came to his house, Michael's heart sank further. His father was home early. He could hear him yelling at his mother. With a quick "goodbye" flung at Mr. Reading, Michael fled inside and upstairs to hide his "weird" book.

Spring 1632

Michael leaned on the hoe and eyed the garden patch with satisfaction. Not even Nanna or Gramps would find anything to complain about. He'd turned over the soil, carefully mixing in just the right amount of mulch the way Gramps had shown him. He and Gramps had made a chicken wire mulching enclosure last fall and filled it with raked up old leaves and cut grass. Over the winter it had turned into nice black mulch; just like Nanna said it would. All his rows were straight and evenly spaced. Each had a neatly lettered sign telling what was growing there. Three stake and wire trellises were ready for training the peas and a couple of old tomato cages stood guard at the far end. Gramps had built the fence up high enough to keep deer out. Butch wandered over from his patch of shade and sniffed at the corn sign.

"Leave it be, Butch. Don't you go digging in here or Gramps'll make a rug out of your mangy hide." Michael warned the dog while he scratched the mutt's ears. "Your job's keeping the raccoons and possums out of the garden." He had to lean over to pet the dog, a sign that he was growing taller. Last fall he didn't have to lean over to scratch Butch's back. "Hey, Butch, look at this!" Michael pushed up his sleeve and flexed his arm and eyed the resulting small bulge with glee. "I'm getting muscles!"

Butch panted companionably and wandered back to his shade without voicing an opinion on either the "no digging" rule or Michael's new biceps.

"Hey, Mike! We're going down to the fairgrounds. Want to come along?" Joe Matowski called out. Jon Sizemore and Willy Lutz stood beside him outside the garden gate. "They're having a team roping practice. Annette's dad is going to be there and she said they're looking for somebody to work the gates."

"Yeah, yeah! Wait 'til I tell Mom I'm going with you." Michael grinned at his friends and raced for the backdoor. If Annette O'Reilly was going to be at the team roping, it was likely that her cousin Jo Ann Manning would be there, too. Jo Ann hadn't giggled when he gave his report on archaeology in class. The other kids whispered, giggled, and squirmed in their seats but Jo Ann sat still and listened. She had asked a couple of smart questions and smiled when he answered them.

The boys trudged back up the road, tired, dirty, and happy. The outing had been a success – they had gotten to move the steers in and out of the pens.

"What are you going to do this summer, Mike?" Joe asked.

"Don't know. I've got to keep the garden going and Gramps said he wants me to help out at the restaurant." Michael sighed and tossed a rock.

"That doesn't sound too bad. My folks want me to start Latin class over the summer. Pop's got this idea that I should go to that university in Jena." It was Joe's turn to chuck a couple of rocks.

"I've got a job at the Kudzu Werke. If it works out I might get apprenticed," Jon crowed, throwing a good-sized rock a long way down the road.

"Cool! How about you, Willy?" Michael asked.

"School und… and more school. English and Latin. I am to prepare for the university, also." A pair of rocks whipped out in quick succession from Willy's hands.

"Bummer." Michael sent three rocks after Willy's.

"Yeah, bummer." Joe also got three rocks off but dropped the fourth.

Jon grinned and rapidly tossed four rocks after Joe's.

August, 1632

"Troy is right where Homer said it was." Michael pontificated. He knelt on the floor and reached under his bed. "Schliemann used the description in the Iliad to find it. But he got a surprise when he dug up Troy. There wasn't just one city. He found eleven cities, each built on top of the previous one." Michael pulled out a fat, dusty notebook. "It's all in here. Maps, articles, pictures, and all sorts of stuff. You can copy what you need."

"Wow! Thanks, Mike! This should make our report a lot better than any of the others. Right, Willy?" Joe Matowski grinned at the other boy.

" Ja, ja. But we must change the picture titles to Latin," Willy pointed out, flipping through the notebook. He stopped suddenly, his eyes big. " Ist… is this gold?"

Michael scooted over and peered over Willy's shoulder. "Yeah, oh, yeah. That's 'Priam's Treasure.' Schliemann found it. The woman wearing it in this picture is his wife, Sophia. She was a Greek he met while looking for Troy."

"Gee, I thought you said archaeologist weren't treasure hunters," Joe complained. "You said archaeologists were interested in old pots and things."

"Well, Schliemann wasn't really an archaeologist. He was a rich guy trying to prove that Troy really did exist. Because he didn't know how to do archaeology, he dug great big trenches completely through Troy. The real archaeologists who came latter hated him for doing that."

"But he found this gold?" Joe thumped the picture. "What did he do with it?"

"Yeah, he found it." Michael replied. "I think he gave it to some museum in Berlin 'cause it was supposed to have been destroyed during World War II."

"Supposed to?" Joe asked, his voice showing his interest. Willy also stared at Michael in fascination.

"Everybody thought so until a couple of years ago – ah, about 1996 or so." Michael flipped to the back of the notebook and showed them a newspaper clipping. "Turns out that the Russians stole it and hid it."

"Cool. This is great, Willy." Joe grinned at his friends. "We get all these neat pictures and a treasure, too!" Joe read a bit of the clipping then said, "Says here that Schliemann found Troy in 1871. Does that mean that the treasure is still there now?"

"Guess so… yeah, it would be." Michael nodded and slowly smiled. The thought of an undisturbed Troy appealed to him.

"So maybe we ought to go dig it up."

Michael thought for a minute, then shook his head. "No, what I want to do is get there first and do a real archaeological dig. Just digging for the treasure would mean destroying Troy again. The Treasure of Priam was buried really deep. We'd be digging for years. Besides, there are other treasures, bigger treasures that aren't buried under an entire hill."

"Come on! What treasures?"

Michael dove back under his bed and pulled out two more notebooks. "The first is the Atocha. It's a real big Spanish treasure galleon that sank in shallow water off Florida. It had tons of gold, silver, emeralds, everything."

"Wow! Way cool!" Joe flipped rapidly through the second notebook. Willy reached over and stopped him at one picture showing a bare-chested man with many gold chains draped over his neck and shoulders.

"So much gold. Where is Florida?" asked Willy.

Joe sat back suddenly and shut the notebook. "It's in America," he said, his voice flat and defeated. "Half way around the world from here. It's also under water and we don't have any scuba gear."

Michael nodded. "Yeah, and even if we had dive gear we don't know how to use it. Well, Troy's on land but its not very close, either."

"What's in the other notebook?" Joe eyed the third notebook, the fattest of all. "Another underwater treasure?"

"Nope. This one's King Tut's Tomb. It's on land, but it's in Egypt." Michael sighed and opened the notebook. There on the first page, in rich color, was the golden sarcophagus of the boy pharaoh, Tutankhamun.

October, 1632

"Wilhelm, come in, come in. See who is here!" Willy's mother called excitedly. "Your Uncle Johannes has come, all the way from Hamburg!"

Willy carefully kept his face expressionless and looked at his father. Uncle Johannes' visits were exciting – filled with tales of the far off places he'd gone and the strange sights he'd seen. But Willy knew how much his father detested Uncle Johannes. Hermann Lutz sat glowering across the table from his brother-in-law. Inwardly Willy groaned. Uncle Johannes's visits meant trouble.

"What a little scholar you've become!" Johannes Fraze smiled warmly at his nephew. "You'll be a professor the next time I see you. A big, important professor with a solemn stare and clusters of students clamoring for your favor. You will be much too important and much too busy to see you poor old uncle."

Willy shook his head. He could feel his ears getting warm and knew he was blushing at his uncle's teasing. "No, Uncle Johannes, I'll never be too important to see you. I'm not really much of a scholar so I'll never be a professor."

"Come now, boy! I seem to always find you reading some textbook or another."

Willy looked up, startled. "This isn't a textbook, Uncle Johannes. I borrowed it from another boy in school to practice reading English."

"There you are! You've learned to speak and read English like one of these Americans. And you're learning Latin, which is the language of scholars. These are not minor accomplishments, my boy. If you don't wish to be a professor, then you can be a merchant. Merchants need to know languages, too."

"How many languages do you know, Uncle Johannes?" His uncle sometimes claimed to be a merchant but Willy's father never believed his claims. Smuggler, thief, or cheat Uncle Johannes might be, but not a merchant. Willy's mother always defended her brother vigorously attributing Johannes's lack of money to robbers and dishonest merchants who didn't pay him for his goods.

"Oh, several – my Polish is very good, so is my Spanish. I can make my way through France without trouble and I've enough Italian to get by on. But English I've never learned. Here, tell me what it says under this picture."

"It says," Willy did a quick translation in his head, "that it is a picture of Herr Howard Carter in front of the tomb of Tutankhamun."

"Amazing! You say these pictures are called photographs?"

Willy nodded.

"All these up-time things are very interesting. Do you know if any of the up-timers are teaching the making of photographs?"

"No, but the teachers at the high school would know."

"Ah! I think I must ask them about this and other things. There are opportunities here for a merchant." Uncle Johannes stroked his chin. "You say that they have classes to teach English? Classes that anyone can attend?"

"Yes, they have them at the high school. Some are in the evenings so people can work and still go to them."

"I think this might be an excellent time for me to learn English. There are good profits to be made in English goods… " Uncle Johannes's face was solemn but his eyes held a glitter and kept darting to the pictures in Michael Tyler's notebook.

February, 1634

Johannes Fraze hummed cheerfully and carefully but quickly packed his belongings. All the other members of the household were away and he wanted to be gone before any of them returned. He neatly wrapped the all-important notebook in a piece of up-time plastic and slipped it into an oiled leather sack and closed it. The resulting package he placed in the bottom of an up-time rucksack he had bought from one of the neighbors. On top of the book went a heavy purse that clinked. Johannes grinned. His year in Grantville had been rewarding in many ways. Several months ago he had slipped one of the color pictures out of the notebook. With that in hand he had made the rounds of down-timers – gullible down-timers.

He chuckled over how easy it had been.

"Herr Arndt, I come to you because I know I can trust you. I have found an opportunity for great wealth. In the library while reading to practice my English I stumbled across records of a statue. It has not yet been found and dug out of its Italian hillside. Such a statue! Solid gold! Here, look at this photograph." One look and the mark was hooked. Arndt had been so eager he hadn't even allowed Johannes to finish his pitch.

"If only I had more money. How much did you say it weighed? Oh, all that gold! Just think of it! We'll all be rich!" Reichard Arndt gibbered. The man's eyes never left the picture while Johannes explained how many shares his money had bought.

Johannes firmly pried the photograph of King Tutankhamun's golden mask out of the man's reluctant hands. When he had Arndt's attention, he explained, "I must insist that you keep this a complete secret. You cannot tell anyone, not your wife, or your sons, or your best friends."

"But why not? Klaus Lumpe and Heinrich Neumann are good men. They deserve to be rich, too!"

Johannes hid a grin. "Ah, so. Let me think about them. The secret must be kept lest other, less honorable men, find the statue first. Should I deem your friends trustworthy enough, you still must swear not to talk about it even between yourselves. It will take time to get all the necessary equipment together. More time will be needed to travel to Italy and locate the hill where the statue is buried. No one else can know what we plan until then or they might beat us to the statue."

And so it had gone time and time again with the carefully selected marks. The quick pitch, their names scribbled on a notepad with other names, and their cash in hand and each sworn to secrecy. Or at least until the previous night at the Gardens.

"Going to look for King Tut's tomb?" an amused voice asked. Johannes quickly turned the photograph over and slid it into his pocket before he replied.

"King Tut? Is that whose statue it is? A true work of art. Do you know who the artist was who made such a beautiful piece?" Johannes kept his face straight and any nervousness out of his voice. Up-timers were tricky to deal with. Some appeared to know little; others had more information rattling around in their heads than a gaggle of university professors.

"Some Egyptian, I guess," said the up-timer. "That coffin was made a long time ago. Well before Jesus' time. It sure is pretty. Strange folks, those Egyptians. All that gold wasted on a coffin."

"Remember the exhibit that came around?" a second up-timer stood beside the first. "My granny took us kids up to Pittsburgh to see it. We stood in line for a couple of hours, but it was worth it. Man, they had some pretty stuff! Set me to thinking about heading to Egypt to find me another king's tomb. I remember how disappointed I was when I found out that a lot of the gold stuff was actually carved wood covered in gold leaf."

"Yeah, that's right." The first up-timer laughed. " We studied the pharaohs in school. A lot of us dreamed of treasure hunting. If you're interested in knowing more about that coffin, you should check up at the school. There's bound to be a book on it. Come on, Ol' I'll Pay You Back Tuesday, this is Tuesday and I want some beer." The first up-timer grabbed his companion's arm and both headed off toward the bar.

Johannes sat and sipped his beer. His thoughts were racing frantically but he knew he didn't dare let anyone see how upset he was. Several of his marks were seated close by. Johannes hoped none of them had heard the up-timers. He considered what to do. These up-timers didn't appear to be suspicious of his intentions nor did they appear interested. Still, it wouldn't do to trust appearances too far. Now might be a good time to move on. In truth, there weren't too many marks left in Grantville. This had been a good swindle, a very good swindle. His purse was heavy and his "partners" were expecting him to depart for Italy. He needed a story for his sister and her family – no, best just leave a vague note.

Glancing around the room he'd shared with his nephew, Johannes contemplated some of the other rewards he'd gained in exchange for the longest stretch of honest work he had ever done. His sister refused to charge him rent and only accepted a pittance to cover his food so he had honestly earned money in his pocket. Even Hermann had stopped glowering and warmed up enough to grant that Johannes might just have had a long and terrible run of luck. It would be weeks before either of them realized how he had gulled them. Another package, as thick if not as carefully wrapped, contained a wealth of up-time materials he could peddle across Europe. The photo he'd used around Grantville rested in his purse, waiting to be brought out again with the plea "if I only had a few florins we could recover it." The world was full of gullible people who were dazzled by pretty pictures and stories of easy riches. He'd sold fake treasure maps and saints' relics all across the land for years. This time he had a real treasure map.

He gave a last look around and knelt down to feel under the bed. There had been a couple of other notebooks under there from time to time. Wilhelm had shown a surprising lack of trust in his uncle after he'd caught Johannes going through the one about a Spanish galleon. Cursing under his breath, Johannes got up and straightened his clothes. There were many things he would miss – indoor plumbing, efficient heating, soft beds, and so on. He wouldn't miss his nephew's sharp eyes. Johannes found himself debating about making one last call on Hilda. Oh-so-willing Hilda who thought they were engaged to be married. Her charms included an extremely gullible father who had borrowed money on his business to fund the treasure hunt. Of course, he and all the other "investors" thought the treasure was a solid gold Roman statue buried in Italy… Johannes chuckled. That had been his best idea.

He might go to Italy, after all. Italy was also full of gullible people, not a few of them quite rich. Italy had many charms – its weather for one, and the fact that it was far from the armies blundering about Germany.

After a check of the closet he shrugged into his coat, hoisted the rucksack and stole out the door.

April, 1634, Naples

"Johannes!" the voice cut through the noises of the crowded market. "Johannes! It is you! How long has it been?"

Johannes found himself facing a familiar man, one Jakob Witterwald.

"Ah, Jakob. So you have managed to stay out of jail?"

"Yes, yes. So have you, I see. Come, old friend. There is an inn down here with the best beer." In a lower voice Jakob added, "They have a room where two old friends can talk alone."

Smiling, Johannes motioned for Jakob to lead the way. They walked to the inn, Jakob chattering on about his relatives, the weather, the price of tobacco, and other meaningless things. Once they were settled in the inn's back room Jakob became serious.

"The last that I heard, you were headed to that place – Grantville. The town full of demons, wizards, witches, and all manner of magic."

"Old news, Jakob. Old news. I did go to Grantville. There wasn't a single wizard or demon in sight. In fact, I spent all of last year there."

"Ah! No demons or wizards. No magic, either?" Jakob sounded wistful. "I've been working a neat little scam based on 'Grantville Magic.' Tell me about the place and I'll have some nice hooks for my scam."

"You would do well to drop it. Too many people know the truth about Grantville's 'wizards.' Unless you stick to backward villages that will trip you up." Johannes shook his head. "There is no money to be made in such places."

"No… true." Jakob shrugged. "Tell me about Grantville anyway. You ar e looking prosperous. Whatever scam you've been running is profitable."

Johannes grinned. "Would you believe that I spent my time in Grantville doing honest work?" He lit his pipe and began to talk.

Well into the evening Johannes pulled out the photo of the mask of King Tutankhamun. Jakob's eyes glittered. Once the up-time notebook was unwrapped and the rest of the pictures displayed Jakob was hooked. He leafed carefully through, asking Johannes to translate, asking questions.

Johannes considered his luck. Jakob had contacts in places Johannes didn't. The two of them had run several successful swindles together. Given the right clothes Witterwald made a convincing professor. There was a certain noble Italian with more wealth than brains…

"Why are you just conning for pocket change?" Jakob suddenly asked. "There is a king's ransom in gold sitting in this tomb. Sitting there, waiting for someone to come along and take it."

The thought stunned Johannes for a moment. He shook his head, answering cautiously. "Do you have any idea how heavy a solid gold coffin is? Or how difficult it would be to move it?"

"Certainly. But it could be melted down. Gold bars are heavy but easier to manage." Witterwald thumped his finger on a picture of several small gold items. "These pieces alone would pay for the trip."

"But Egypt is closed to outsiders." The pictures appeared to dance in the candlelight, beckoning to Johannes.

"When has such a prohibition stopped either of us? I know a man, a Muslim, a wealthy merchant."

There was little doubt Jakob did know such a man. There wasn't a port in the Mediterranean that Jakob hadn't sailed into.

"Will he help us? Say for ten percent?"

"We split the rest evenly?"

"I get fifty percent. You get forty and your Muslim friend gets ten. I discovered this. I researched it and I spent the time learning enough English to understand what is in the notebook. Without my work, you would have nothing."

Witterwald looked mulish for a moment. He sighed, shook his head and replied. "Granted. You get fifty percent. I agree. You have the knowledge to find this tomb and that is worth half. I'll take forty percent. Ali gets ten percent. Done?"

"Done."

The inn by the docks was dim, dingy, and smelled of rotten fish mixed with tobacco smoke. A lack of windows and the few lamps did little to relieve the dimness. The smells exuded from the clothes and bodies of the men siting around smoking, drinking, and gossiping. Johannes thought it wasn't the worst inn he had seen, but it came close. This place didn't seem to fit with Jakob's description of the man they were to meet here, either. Ali El-Rahman was supposedly a wealthy merchant and a Muslim. Both made him a most unlikely client of this inn.

The man Jakob finally greeted didn't look like a wealthy merchant. He did look like an Arab with his dusky skin, dark hair, and close-cropped beard tracing his jaw line. The dirty, tattered clothing didn't fit a wealthy Arab merchant's dress. The man was as thin as a starving dog. Most merchants, especially the wealthy ones, looked far from starving. Johannes grinned. Ali El-Rahman probably was an Arab but Johannes would bet his last florin the man was no more a respectable merchant than Jakob or himself. All the better! Johannes understood rogues.

A little silver got the three "merchants" the use of a back room. With a flourish Johannes produced the up-time notebook and the picture of King Tut's coffin. In the flurry of speech that followed El-Rahman proved to speak acceptable Spanish. That was good. Johannes didn't want to be forced to depend upon anyone, not even an old acquaintance like Jakob, for translations.

In minutes a deal was struck. Ali would arrange passage on a Greek ship bound for Alexandria. "The Greeks hate Turks," Ali explained. "The Greeks won't care if we're all good Muslims or infidels. In Alexandria, the bey uses Turkish troops for customs and to stop infidels from landing. Even if the Greek sailors suspect you two aren't Arabs, they won't tell the Turks."

Summer, 1634, Alexandria

The air was breathlessly hot but Johannes and Jakob sat shut up in the small ship's cabin, not daring to go out on deck. Turkish patrols regularly swept the docks, collecting taxes and tributes and looking for illegal activities and unauthorized infidels. If caught the best they could expect was to be fined and shipped out. At worst they might be sold as slaves. On their last stop they'd learned that anyone claiming to be an up-timer would automatically be put to death if found anywhere within the Ottoman Empire. The idea that the local powers might considered possession of up-time materials the same as claiming to be an up-timer worried Johannes.

Johannes and Jakob had let their beards grow on the voyage and both were sunburned enough to pass for Arabs at a distance. Unfortunately, the only words either knew in Arabic were "Insallah" – hardly enough to stand up to an interrogation. Ali had been unexpectedly reluctant to teach them anything more.

Ali had explained that while Egypt was divided into twenty-four districts, each overseen by a Mameluke bey, the Sheikh al Balad was the most powerful of the beys and should be able to ease their way. The Arab was off the ship seeking out the Sheikh's men to present the requisite bribes. Johannes wondered about Ali and the bribes. The more Jakob swore Ali was trustworthy, the more Johannes wondered.

Johannes had been forced to reconsider the group's financial resources in light of all the bribes that would have to be paid out. He hoped what they had would be enough to pay for a boat to take them up the Nile and leave enough for the bribes they would need when they found the tomb.

Fall, 1634

They had come so far – and now this! The very rocks seemed to mock them. Dry brown stones rested on more dry brown stones along the narrow and twisting little valleys. The lifeless valleys all twisted away from the river. Each had little side branches, equally lifeless, twisting off endlessly. Everywhere the cliffs were riven in wild patterns of cracks. The sun made the shadows darker by contrast. Here, away from the river, even a trace of green was missing.

Johannes wiped sweat from his face on the sleeve of his filthy galabeeyah. In Alexandria, there had been many men in European dress. Ali had explained that some infidel merchants and such were allowed within the city. He had warned them that they needed to visit a market and find local clothing before leaving the city. Johannes demurred, concerned about the lightness of his purse.

Ali's advice had proved correct immediately outside the city. Their European clothes stood out and attracted unwanted attention from every quarter. Coming across three Egyptian peasants, Ali had offered a pair of copper coins and the natives cheerfully stripped off their dirty robes. The Egyptians offered their loin cloths for another copper coin, but even Ali couldn't bring himself to take up that offer. He had given them a copper for their tattered and filthy turbans.

Johannes sat on a large rock and stared at the barren hillsides. Jakob was wandering in circles, staring up at the lifeless cliffs and cursing. Ali simply sat silently in a sliver of shade from a boulder. Johannes wondered if this valley, the fourth they had looked at, was the right one. It had all been there, buried in the up-timer notebook. Several clippings commented on the barrenness and that many of the tombs had been nearly invisible, hidden among cracks and fissures. It was the pictures, the photographs, that had fooled him. All those neat and tidy up-time roads and cleared tomb entrances with staircases and large signs. He'd known not to expect the signs or paved roads. Yet those pictures had beguiled him into ignoring the words.

All of it was in the notebook he had stolen and so carefully carried all this way. The maps in the notebook made it look simple. But now, here in the actual place, Johannes realized the difference between the photographs, maps made in the twentieth century and the reality of seventeen-century Egypt. On the maps it was so easy – "This is the tomb of Ramesses II and here is the tomb of King Tutankhamun." But the neat little dot on the map didn't help him much. Was the Ramesses tomb on the slope just in front of him, or under that pile of rocks to his left? Or was it down the way where Jakob was pacing? Or was it in a completely different valley? The maps didn't show enough details. The photographs were no better. Nothing in them matched what was here.

They might not even be in the right place along the Nile. The ruins across the river should be the temples of Luxor, but he wasn't certain. Giza had been the last place he had been able to match the notebook's information with seventeenth century Egypt. Except – the pyramids looked different. With the help of one article he finally figured out that the difference was the lack of large holes in one pyramid. Somebody had blown huge holes in the side of it before the photographs were taken.

Despite the year he had spent in Grantville learning English, Johannes found it difficult to understand many things in the notebook. He realized that, except for the small section on the pyramids, the notebook held little information about the rest of Egypt. Most of the clippings and articles focused on the Valley of the Kings and King Tutankhamun's tomb.

Nothing in the notebook warned him that Egypt was full of ruins. All the way up the river, they had seen ruins. None matched the photographs in the notebook. Nor did the notebook have anything to say about all the town's names being different. One page did show a map with the village and town names as they had been in Roman times and what they were called in the twentieth century. Once past Giza, the names didn't match either set.

Discouraged, they pressed on, grimly searching each major ruin for clues. A week ago, wondering amongst the ruins on the east side of the river, Johannes had found a section of wall that seemed to match one of the pictures labeled "Temple of Luxor." But they could not be certain it really was. Here, unlike at the pyramids, the ruins were in worse shape than the pictures showed.

Frustrated, Johannes had gone over the entire notebook again. He had even re-read the handwritten list stuffed in the back pocket. It was a list of things needed for an expedition to the Valley of the Kings. Carefully written in pencil it listed shovels, tents, canteens, a compass, and such. Three different hands had written it; the only one he could read easily was his nephew Wilhelm's. Boys they might be. but one of them was pretty sharp for at the bottom was the entry "Money for bribes." Of more use to him were several pages stuck between the photographs and clippings. These pages were Wilhelm's notes in a mixture of German and English. A note stuck behind the section on Luxor had the telltale line "the temples were rebuilt… "

So here they were, highly detailed maps in hand, but not knowing where they were. If the ruins across the river were the Luxor temples then the Valley of the Kings should be found here, directly across the river. If they could figure out which of the featureless wadis was the Valley of the Kings and if they could find the right tomb in the valley, then the maps should make sense…

"There are a couple of openings, Johannes. There's one just over there and another there," Jakob shouted, hope tingeing his voice.

The three men scrambled up the loose scree and into a low, dark entrance. Johannes grinned, his heart racing. It was a tomb entrance! The rock around them had been carved out. If they could identify which one it was the map should at least tell them if the Ramesses tomb was to the east or west of it. The three men lit candles and crawled into the darkness. Half an hour later, filthy and exhausted, they crawled out. It was a tomb, a tomb filled almost to the roof with sand and rocks and having not a single painting to match with the pictures. After a rest the trio tackled the other tomb. This one, higher on the slope, wasn't so full of debris and there were some paintings visible. Carefully Johannes compared the photographs with what he could see by candlelight. Again nothing matched.

Johannes brushed the dust gently with his fingertips. "Here, Jakob, hold the candle closer. Careful you don't drip wax on the photograph again!"

"Hey! Look there!" Jakob yelped in Johannes's ear. "These figures match!"

"And," Johannes sighed, "the rest don't."

"So it isn't the right tomb?" Jakob didn't bother to hide his disappointment.

"Maybe not… I think it might be the name of a relative." Brushing past the other man, Johannes crawled toward the tomb's entrance. In a little patch of sunlight, he flipped through the notebook, searching for a half-remembered picture. He found it and peered at it and then read the paragraph below it. Hope soared in him and he re-read the relevant passage. A noise from outside in the wadi barely registered. He crawled back to the painted wall.

"Look, Jakob. These people match this photograph. That one is the pharaoh and this is his queen." His voice rose with his hopes. "This is the queen's tomb, not the king's. That's why the cartouche doesn't match. We're in the Valley of the Queens!"

"So now we can find this King Tut's tomb and all that gold?" Jakob was grinning widely

"Yes… that tomb is in another valley but now… now I can find the right valley. Put out the candle. We don't have many and we need to save them." Jakob complied, plunging the two men and the tomb into twilight relieved only by the light coming from the entrance. Without a word, Jakob began crawling toward that square of light.

Johannes eyed his companion thoughtfully. How far could he trust Jakob? They had known each other for years and run scams together without problems. Still… Lately Jakob had become very friendly with Ali. They often had their heads together, talking softly. Jakob claimed Ali was teaching him Arabic, but Johannes wondered. He was positive that neither Jakob nor Ali had any knowledge of English. The notebook was useless to either of them. However, once Johannes had identified the marker tombs and located the area where King Tut's tomb entrance was buried, the notebook would become irrelevant. Until then, he suspected his life might depend upon their inability to read the notebook.

Back in Alexandria he and Jakob had discussed when and how to end their partnership with Ali once the treasure was in hand. Neither of them saw any need to waste any share of the treasure on the Arab. Having seen the reality of Egypt, Johannes had revised his plans several times. They needed Ali and his Arabic language skills to get back to Alexandria. Perhaps it would be best to allow Ali to get on the ship with them. Accidents at sea were easily accomplished and left no inconvenient bodies. Johannes now wondered if Ali and Jakob were planning an accident for himself.

Perhaps he should sound out Ali. Jakob's strong back would be helpful in digging out King Tut's tomb. Helpful, but not absolutely necessary… And there were all these handy tombs in which to hide the body.

Jakob momentarily blocked the light exiting the tomb. He yelled something unintelligible but Johannes paid no attention. He was deep in thoughts of double-cross.

Crawling from the darkness into the bright sunlight blinded Johannes. When hands grabbed his arms, he thought Jakob and Ali had decided to put their own murder plan into action. His vision cleared enough to let him see the wadi floor below the tomb.

Ali and Jakob were on their knees, each held by two large men. Ali was pleading frantically. Jakob had the look of a stunned ox. A number of riders surrounded them. The riders, Johannes realized with dread, were the Sheikh al Balad's Turks.

The pair of large Turks holding his arms threw Johannes down the slope. Skidding on his back, he struggled to stop his slide. If he could evade the men waiting below and make it to that other tomb…

Another pair of Turks grabbed him, hustled him the rest of the way down the slope and slammed him to his knees. Someone grabbed Johannes's hair and yanked his head up so that he looked into the face of a richly-dressed man mounted on a magnificent white horse. Something slithered down the scree and the white horse danced and kicked at it. Michael Tyler's notebook broke open and the pages flew about. Several of the Turks' horses shied at the flurry of paper. The Turks' leader curbed his horse's restiveness easily, never taking his eyes off Johannes.

Three Turks scrambled about, grabbing the loose pages. One of them carried the notebook and rescued pages to the leader with the air of a man handling filth. The leader looked away from Johannes briefly. He flicked several pages with his whip. He snarled something at the man holding the notebook. The notebook dropped and the Turk soldier kicked it away. He knelt and scrubbed his hands with sand.

The Turk's leader said a few words and the others replied with a shout of "Insallah!"

Ali burst into a loud wavering wail.

The Turk's leader smiled down at Johannes and gestured. Johannes's head was shoved forward, his ragged turban pulled off and dropped in front of him.

The last words Johannes heard, enunciated clearly in Spanish, were "You are infidels. We do not tolerate infidels."

O For a Muse of Fire

Jay Robison

O for a muse of fire, that would ascend

The brightest heaven of invention!

- Shakespeare, Henry V

Andreas Gryphius, born Greif, waited outside the door to Amber Higham's office. He knew he hadn't done anything wrong, knew that that was not why the high school's drama teacher wanted to talk to him, but Andreas always felt a kind of nervousness when he had to deal with authority. He was also nervous because he was hoping for a teaching position at the high school, and was afraid that he was about to find out whether he'd gotten one.

The door opened and Markus Schneider strode out, nodding a greeting as he left. Behind Markus, and lingering ever so slightly when she saw Andreas, was Antje Becker. Markus was Andreas's age, eighteen, Antje a year younger, and they all knew each other through the high school's RTT – radio, television and theater – program. It didn't take long after the Ring of Fire for Janice Ambler and Amber Higham to realize how vital television and radio would be for information and entertainment. It wasn't enough to have performers and presenters. There would always be a surplus of people who wanted to perform. But any production, be it for radio, stage or television, would need camera operators, electricians, sound technicians, grips and more. Janice and Amber decided to start a joint radio-television-theater program that focused on giving interested students practical experience in the technical side of production. The result was a program for both the radio and television stations, Beyond Our Control, a sketch comedy series produced and performed almost entirely by students. Andreas had become the head writer, Markus the chief director of photography and Antje was in charge of sound.

Andreas was starting to branch out. Writing comedy sketches had become less satisfying over the last few months, especially after he'd written a radio play based on an up-time movie, My Man Godfrey, which cast a mix of local professionals and members of the high school drama club. Keeping the movie's basic romantic comedy and farce intact, Andreas came up with Unser Herr Gottfried, which he considered more suitable for a mass audience beyond the Ring of Fire. It proved quite popular, and Andreas hoped he could parlay his success into the teaching career he longed for, a secure position that would allow him to continue writing his plays and poems and hopefully attract a wealthy patron.

Amber stuck her head out into the hall. "Come on in."

Andreas made himself comfortable in the chair in front of the teacher's desk, but his nervousness must have shown. "Relax," Amber said. "I'm not sending you to detention."

"I had not thought so, Frau Higham. Do you have an answer for me?"

"I do. And I'm hoping you'll see the answer as a positive thing."

Andreas's heart dropped into his stomach. Amber confirmed his dread: He was not going to be hired to teach.

"Andreas, you're better off writing full-time. Teaching's wonderful, so's tutoring, but I know you. You won't be happy doing either of those things because they'll get in the way of your true passion. You'll resent the demands a teaching career will make on you, and you'll take that out on your students, your family and yourself. I've seen too many friends go down that road to want that for you."

"You teach, Frau Higham. And you seem quite happy."

"I do, and I am," Amber said. "But I acted for a long time first. I fed that passion, and over time it became a passion to teach others the craft. But you're not in that place, Andreas."

This was little comfort. "But there's my family's position to think of," Andreas said while trying to hold back tears of disappointment. "My stepfather has never objected to my writing, but he thinks I must find a respectable position to support myself and a future family if I wish to have one. He is not wrong in this."

Amber smiled, a little sadly. "I know we up-timers seem way too eager to flout tradition. But trust me on this one, Andreas. You will be nothing to no one if you go through life miserable and unfulfilled. I don't care what century you grew up in."

"Yes, Frau Higham. I will give thought to your words."

"I know it's scary, but it's time to spread your wings. And I promise I'll do anything I can to help you."

Andreas felt numb as he walked home. Orphaned by the war, he'd traveled west from his native Silesia, sent by his stepfather, Pastor Michael Eder. Andreas found himself in the mysterious new town of Grantville around the time of the Croat raid, traveling there with a group of young nobles and their tutor on a grand tour. The idea was not only for Andreas to get a life education, but also to learn from the tutor, one of the most respected in Danzig. At the tutor's suggestion and with his stepfather's blessing, Andreas stayed in Grantville to take advantage of the high school and its near-university level of education while his traveling companions moved on to Austria and Italy.

Except for one traveling companion. Andreas opened the door to his tiny efficiency apartment. He found his roommate, Paddy, tamping a fresh batch of marijuana into his long-stemmed clay pipe.

Paddy was an orphan too, though unlike Andreas, Paddy had never known his parents. Before Paddy came to Grantville, he didn't even have so much as a last name – he adopted "Antrim" (after the Irish county of his birth) when he arrived – but he did have a quick wit and a likable nature. He also had a beautiful voice, which he could use to imitate nearly anyone after hearing them speak for just a few moments, and when telling his stories, he created different voices for each character. And though he couldn't read ("Never got the knack," he was fond of saying), Paddy could memorize entire stretches of text if someone read passages to him just once or twice. Andreas was often quite surprised to hear his friend spout back scenes he himself had muttered half-aloud while writing.

As Paddy liked to say, all of those gifts were God's attempt to make up for the fact that he'd been born a dwarf and spectacularly ugly. He'd spent his early years in an Irish orphanage. When he was little more than a boy, Paddy was sold to a petty French nobleman who'd wanted a court dwarf. Paddy fully expected to remain in France the rest of his life, but he found himself being traded from court to court, finally landing in Danzig. One of the young noblemen in Andreas's party had brought Paddy along to provide amusement.

The dwarf decided he was staying in Grantville with Andreas and was pleasantly surprised when the local authorities agreed he had a right to do so. Pastor Eder sent his stepson enough for a small room, and Andreas had insisted Paddy move in with him. As Andreas pointed out, it wasn't as if Paddy took up a great deal of space. The money Paddy brought in as a storyteller at the Thuringen Gardens and other places around Grantville helped with the rent and food. Telling stories to the children at St. Veronica's paid for the marijuana that treated Paddy's chronic pain.

The dwarf looked up when Andreas closed the door. "Laddie, you look like someone spit in your porridge."

Andreas watched his friend light his pipe and inhale deeply. "Is the pain bad today, Paddy?"

"Not for much longer. I got to the Medical Exchange early enough to get some Stone Free. 'The stickiest of the icky.'" Paddy said the last phrase in a dead-on impersonation of Tom Stone. Others had started growing the "wonder weed" to keep up with demand for a reliable painkiller that was cheaper than Dr. Phil's Little Blue Pills, but everyone acknowledged that the best stuff came from Tom Stone's greenhouses at Lothlorien Farbenwerke, for which the dyer would take no money.

Paddy exhaled and gave Andreas a stern look. "I'm touched by your concern, lad, but you're changing the subject."

"I'm not going to be teaching this fall. Frau Higham told me I need to keep writing. She said I wouldn't be happy otherwise."

"Frau Higham is a wise woman. You should listen to her."

"But how can I write without a patron? And how can I get a patron without a reputation? If I'd been accepted to teach writing or drama I could have built that, but now… "

"Lad." Paddy said the word this time as a command. "You have a reputation. Your work has already reached more people than most established playwrights. What about your work with the school's television company? Or your radio play?" Paddy slid off his chair and drew himself up to his full height – all four feet of it. "I'll not abide you giving in to pity. The opportunities are there if you'll see them."

Joost van den Vondel sat in the Inn of the Maddened Queen, lost in thought. Anyone looking at the chessboard would see at once that those thoughts had absolutely nothing to do with the game Joost was supposed to be playing. He moved his bishop. His opponent, a thin woman his own age, shook her head before he could take his hand off the piece.

Reconsidering, Joost moved his rook instead. Another head shake. When moving his king brought no head shake, he settled on that move. One of the advantages of playing his wife in chess was that she was a pretty lenient opponent, at least with him.

Mayken De Wolff, Frau van den Vondel, studied her next move. She'd never played maddened queen chess before coming to Grantville not quite a year ago, but she was a natural. Joost, on the other hand, was an atrocious player, no matter what rules he was playing under. He only played because he enjoyed spending time with his wife.

Mayken would never be the picture of health, Joost knew. She was a thin young woman when they met, and giving birth to four children had not been the best thing for her. When they fled Amsterdam just ahead of the Spanish siege, he was sure he was going to lose her. He'd hated being apart from her, spending most of his time in Krefeld with their two surviving children, minding the business, while Mayken lived in Grantville and took advantage of the miraculous medical cures the up-timers had brought with them. Mayken's skill at chess was proof of her ability to look ahead and consider the consequences of many different actions. Joost had missed that, but having her with him wasn't worth her life.

In the end, Mayken's generosity bought Joost three more moves. When she called "checkmate," one of the spectators called out a number. He'd taken bets on how many moves Frau van den Vondel would need to checkmate Herr van den Vondel. Vince Masaniello shouted in triumph.

"You see?" he said to a young German named Felix who was getting chess tutoring. "That's how not to play. If Frau van den Vondel would permit me, I'd like to give her a real challenge."

Mayken was willing. One of the inn's servants brought Joost a coffee and a radio. He and Mayken met regularly for a chess game and conversation when he was in Grantville on business. It was a way for them to connect on days when Joost was busy. When Mayken accepted a challenge from one of the other patrons, Joost ordered a coffee and a radio (the up-timers referred to it as a "walkman"). The Inn of the Maddened Queen kept several of these wonderful personal radios to rent so that if nonplaying guests wanted to listen to music or the Voice of America they could do so without disturbing anyone else. It gave Joost a chance to get lost in thought and get in touch with his muse.

Joost van den Vondel was in the silk business. He was also a dramatist and poet, a very good one. And he was fascinated with the mass communications the up-timers had brought with them. Their "television station," WVOA, reached an audience in the thousands, larger than the audience the largest theater could hold. The Voice of America radio station, which had the disadvantage, in Joost's mind, of not being accompanied by pictures, reached many times more people than the television station did. Joost had resolved to investigate these strange inventions more fully on his current trip.

He slipped the headphones over his ears, expecting to hear music. That's what VOA usually played this time of day. Instead Joost heard: "By popular demand, Voice of America is proud to present Unser Herr Gottfried, starring Helmut Schickele, Maria Bauerin, Patrick Antrim and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. This program has been prerecorded."

What followed was a pleasant and cleverly written farce. It wasn't terribly original, but the writer knew what he was doing and had potential. Someone worth knowing, and if Joost was correct about the writer's age, worth mentoring. The credits after the production mentioned the writer as Andreas Gryphius. Joost decided he should meet him as soon as his schedule allowed.

The Sternbock Coffee House was the preferred gathering place for Grantville's art community, such as it was. Most aspiring writers, painters and performers were moving to Magdeburg to seek their fortunes. Even so, Theophilus Mendes wasn't lacking for customers, who came to drink powerful and robust Greek coffee, eat Helena Mendes' delicious baklava and talk music and literature. Regulars also came to listen to poetry readings or musical performances and to doodle on the coffee house walls. Theophilus had heard of an eatery in the up-time city of Chicago that allowed people to write and draw on the walls, and he thought it was a wonderful idea. Theo's sons Arcadios and Constantinos, who got stuck with white-washing the coffee house walls every few months, were rather less enthusiastic.

Andreas and Markus sat looking glum. Antje sat looking exasperated with both of them. Wall doodling was the farthest thing from their minds. Paddy and his friend Martha sat sipping coffee and nibbling on pastry.

"You both knew you couldn't keep working with the RTT program forever. You graduate, you move on. That's the rule," Antje said.

"That's easy for you to say, Antje," Markus groused. "You didn't get 'the talk.'" Turning to Andreas, Markus asked, "Did she tell you to spread your wings?"

Andreas nodded. "It's not so much having to move on," he said. "It's having to explain to my stepfather that being a dramatist for radio or television is a respectable career for the son of an archdeacon and the stepson of a pastor."

"You worry a bit too much about respectability, lad." Paddy flexed the grasper he carried with him at all times for emphasis. One of the apprentices at Kudzu Werke had made it as experiment in mechanics and given it to Paddy when it proved useful in helping the dwarf grab things he couldn't reach on his own.

The plain-looking young woman sitting next to Paddy nodded her agreement. "Andreas, you did such a good job writing Unser Herr Gottfried. All my friends love it. You should write another story like that one." Martha Schacht was a friend of Paddy's. She worked as an aide at St. Veronica's School where Paddy sometimes went to tell stories to the children.

Andreas shrugged. "Thanks, Martha. I could write another play, but where will I find a patron?"

"Maybe we need to attract a patron," said Antje. "Produce something on our own and play it in front of potential sponsors. Like the Grantville Ballet did with 'Bad Bad Brillo.'"

Andreas immediately saw that this was a good idea. It wasn't as if it would cost him much in time to write a one-act play that could then be easily recorded. The problem, as he saw it, was that with a few exceptions, the nobility – at least the ones with all the money – stuck fiercely to their traditions. They might well prefer to patronize a traditional stage company. He mentioned this.

Markus smiled a bit smugly. "You're stuck in the past, Andy my friend. The plays and programs that run on VOA or the TV station all have business patrons. Advertising, the up-timers call it. I've read all about it in books that Frau Ambler loaned me. Many of the up-timers' greatest writers launched their careers this way, on shows with business patrons. Writers like Serling and Chayefsky."

Andreas was familiar with Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky, even if their work wasn't entirely to his taste. Watching Janice Ambler's precious recorded episodes of Playhouse 90 and The U.S. Steel Hour had been part of his education as a writer once he enrolled in the RTT program. He began to see where Markus was heading and was intrigued enough to ignore Markus's use of his hated nickname "Andy."

"What you're saying," Andreas said slowly, "is that we should film our own television play as a proposal for something like Playhouse 90. An anthology program, I believe it would be called."

"Exactly so."

"But… don't look at me that way, Markus Schneider!" Antje had rounded on the aspiring director, who was giving her a very dirty look. He didn't like being contradicted.

Undeterred, Antje continued: "We should consider doing a radio program instead. It would be much less expensive."

"Nonsense," Markus said. "Television is the way of the future. It's here to stay, and it won't be any problem to film a program right here in Grantville. Everything that we need is here."

"But how will you edit it?"

"Jabe McDougal hasn't had any problem editing his videos for the TV. station. I can buy his equipment or rent it."

Markus ignored Antje as she enumerated the numerous flaws in his argument, beginning with the fact that it was highly unlikely that Jabe McDougal would entrust his precious camera and computer to anyone not intimately familiar with its use. Markus was basically a good person, but Andreas knew that his classmate, son of a newly rich local merchant, sometimes thought he could leap any hurdle by paying the right person enough money. Most of the time he was right. However, Andreas doubted money would impress someone dating the daughter of a painter to two reigning kings.

Even as Andreas listened to Antje's counter-arguments for radio over television, he couldn't help but be seduced by Markus's vision. He'd wanted to write for theater ever since he could remember, after reading the great tragedies of Euripides and Aeschylus, the comedies of Aristophanes and Terence and the poetry of Seneca. And wasn't theater a visual art? The VOA reached many people, it was true, thanks to the reach of the strange lightnings that carried it and the fact that the "crystal radio sets" needed to turn the lightnings back into sound were affordable to all but the most desperately poor people. But you couldn't see the radio. Andreas loved the television and loved that it could transport him to different times and places – as any good playwright in any time could do, given the right stage.

"I'll do it, Markus. I'll write something for you to film."

Joost wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin and heaved a contented sigh. The Willard Hotel was a pricy place for a business lunch – even by Grantville standards – but it was quieter than the Thuringen Gardens and it was easier to reserve a private dining room at the Willard. One only had to make a reservation weeks in advance, rather than months.

As one server cleared away plates and another poured small glasses of dessert wine, Adolf Aaler – Dolf – sat his up-time briefcase on the table and opened it, handing copies of reports to Joost and Mayken. Dolf was a young man, in his early twenties, the middle son of Joost's business partner Adalbert Aaler in the Rheinlander Silk and Fine Linen Company. Normally, Dolf's older brother Dieter would be expected to inherit the business from Adalbert, but everyone acknowledged Dolf's uncommon talent and foresight. Shy Dieter was far happier with his nose buried in a ledger than meeting with customers.

Joost could hardly believe that it had been just over a year since he and Mayken had fled Amsterdam. He remembered all too well when Rebecca Stearns and her small diplomatic party had arrived from France full of dire warnings of the impending betrayal of the Dutch Republic at the hands of Cardinal Richlieu. Unfortunately, Rebecca had only her instincts, which were not enough to convince the Dutch ruling elite of approaching disaster.

Joost had been among the very few who had taken Mrs. Stearns' warning seriously. He hadn't known Balthazar Abrabanel personally, but it was impossible to be a person of any standing Amsterdam and not know the Jewish doctor's reputation. And Joost also knew Balthazar's daughter had inherited her father's intellectual gifts in full measure. If she warned of French betrayal, it wasn't merely to advance her country's anti-French agenda, and Joost would not wait for a signed declaration of war from Richlieu before believing her. Overriding Mayken's objections, he packed up what he could of his family's silk business, liquidated the rest for whatever he could get and left Amsterdam at the first opportunity.

Krefeld, in County Moers, was the logical refuge for them. The van den Vondels were Mennonites, and several Mennonite families had already found refuge there. A hasty letter sent ahead of them paved the way for a partnership with Adalbert Aaler. Adalbert had been just another linen weaver when a small group of fellow Mennonites came to him seeking refuge. They were experienced weavers of silk and velvet, and Adalbert saw the chance to not only do a good deed, but also to be the only person dealing in silk in the area.

Unfortunately, because Adalbert could not match the quality or quantity of silks from Venice and the East, his business balanced on a knife's edge of survival. He had just enough local custom to keep him in business. Joost's capital was a welcome infusion, but it didn't solve the business's basic problem. Joost wanted a solid return on his investment, and Adalbert wanted to leave a prosperous business to his sons and grandchildren.

Ultimately, it was Dolf who found a way out, at a meeting Adalbert had called shortly after Joost bought into the business. Krefeld had its own Committee of Correspondence, which maintained a discreet presence in the shadow of the Archbishop of Cologne, the town's nominal ruler. The local Mennonite community, thanks to Mike Stearns' willingness to grant their co-religionists asylum, dominated the Krefeld-Uerdingen CoC and the local committee worked as hard at distributing the practical business knowledge the up-timers had brought with them as it did their new political philosophies.

"The up-timers have a saying for our situation," Dolf said. "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."

"What's a lemon?" asked Adalbert.

"An exotic fruit with a sour taste," Dolf replied. "But it can be made into lemonade, a very tasty drink many of the up-timers favor. The basic point is that with the right thinking, something that's a weakness can be turned into a strength. Our weakness is that our silk, while very durable, isn't of the quality favored by the wealthy and the nobility for their clothes – unless their fortunes have fallen – and we would hardly want to advertise that fact."

"So what do you suggest?" At the time Joost hadn't been able to see where Dolf was heading.

The young man tossed a bound folio into the middle of the table. Adalbert picked it up and began to thumb through it.

"This folio was specially prepared for me by my friends in the Grantville Committee of Correspondence. The industries and knowledge the up-timers have brought with them require silk for a multitude of uses. Let the Adel preen about in their Venetian silks and pay outrageously for the privilege. We will sell silk for insulation, armaments and motors. Industry. We can establish ourselves in this market and then let everyone else try to catch up with us!"

Dolf's arguments had carried the day, and he turned out to be entirely correct. As Joost saw as he looked over the latest sales figures, he was well on his way to becoming independently wealthy. He nodded approvingly.

"We're making even more money than I thought we would this trip. It definitely justifies opening a permanent office here, even if there weren't other concerns." Dolf nodded to Mayken. "It will be good to have you here to represent us full-time, Joost, and the space with the apartments over it was a real find. And this is even with your continued soft-heartedness where the Grantville Ballet Company is concerned."

Joost chuckled. "Dolf, the day you admit that outfitting the Ballet Company has more than paid for itself is the day I begin to wonder about your sanity." Joost, over the mild objections of the Aaler family, had insisted on supplying Bitty Matowski's ballet company with silk for its costumes at cost, something that had helped build local good will and had fostered contacts with local notables – many of whom were investors in the sorts of industries Rheinlander Silk served. "What about that other matter I'd asked you to look into?"

"Ah, yes, young Herr Gryphius." Dolph slid a scrap of paper over to Joost with an address on it. "The young man's room doesn't have a telephone. I'm also told he frequents the Sternbock Coffee House."

"Very good. Thank you, Dolf. For everything."

It was a couple of weeks before Joost could follow up on contacting young Gryphius. Meetings with clients, taking orders and personally delivering an order of silk to Bitty Matowski occupied his time. Finally, though, he managed to have a few hours free on a weekday afternoon.

He found Andreas by himself in a corner table at the Sternbock Coffeehouse, lost in thought, surrounded by crumpled pieces of paper and empty demitasses. The young man was red-eyed and jittery; clearly, he'd been working hard and sleeping little.

And he was lost in thought. Young Gryphius didn't even hear Joost walk up to him and was very surprised to see the Dutchman standing in front of him.

"Herr Greif?" Joost decided to address the young man by his birth name rather than his nom de plume.

Andreas stood up in a hurry, scattering paper and knocking over an ink bottle – fortunately empty. "Yes. Sorry. I'm afraid you have me at a loss, Herr… "

"Vondel. Joost van den Vondel."

"Of course. From Rheinlander Silks, right? You make good costumes, Herr van den Vondel. Very durable material, Frau Matowski says."

Joost nodded, pleased. "You've had occasion to work with the ballet company, then?"

"Not much. I've passed on interesting-looking librettos from time to time, but not much more."

"In any event, Herr Greif, it's not regarding librettos or silk costumes. I wished to talk about your writing. It's quite good, and I feel I may be able to offer you some small opportunity to hone your craft and further your career."

Andreas shuffled the papers spread out in front of him, tapping them together in a neat pile. He began laughing hysterically for a minute or two, then looked at van den Vondel. Joost wondered if his writer was taking leave of his senses. After a minute, Andreas wiped his eyes.

"I apologize. My father and stepfather often said that God has a sense of humor. I think this proves it." Andreas signaled a young man acting as waiter for the establishment.

"Do you care for coffee, Herr van den Vondel? Or perhaps pastry? Frau Mendes is a most talented pastry maker."

If Andreas could count how much sleep he'd gotten over the last week or so, he suspected he could count the hours on one hand. Maybe two, but he was certain he wouldn't need to take off his shoes and socks.

Markus Schneider – Sartorius, these days – was a very good director of photography, probably the best, when it came to using up-time video equipment. He'd always been fond of sketching, and when the Schneider family came into money, they arranged for Markus to take lessons in painting. His talent in that area would not be great enough to allow him to be more than a skilled hobbyist, but it taught him how compose scenes so they would fit into a frame. Behind the lens of a camera, the mediocre would-be painter became a genius DP.

Unfortunately, Markus knew this, and it fed his considerable ego. Andreas had been utterly unable to convince his director to leave the writing to him. Andreas had had a pleasant little one-act comedy, modeled on the work of his beloved Terence, that he'd been working on. It would have been ideal for their "pilot," as Antje called it. Simple story, small cast, and it would take – at most – only two or three simple sets.

Alas, "simple" had no place in Markus's grand vision. At first the changes Markus suggested made sense, along with some ideas Antje contributed. Antje's ideas continued to make sense, but at some point Markus had… what was that phrase one of his up-time classmates used? "Jumped the shark," that was it. Andreas was still not entirely clear about the origins of that phrase and had only a vague idea of what a shark was, but it felt correct to his writer's instincts. In the beginning, he'd rather liked this little piece, trifle though it was, but the more drafts he produced, the more he hated it. He couldn't even remember what it was he'd liked about this piece in the first place. He'd walk away from this project if he could, but too many people were depending on him. He had his duty.

The interruption by Herr van den Vondel was most welcome. After introducing himself, the Dutchman wasted little time in getting to the point.

"I heard the play you wrote on the radio, Herr Greif," van den Vondel said. "It was quite good. You have much potential, I believe."

"I thank you, mein Herr. I know your company's reputation as a supporter of the arts."

The Dutchman chuckled. "God has blessed me with two gifts, young sir. He has blessed me with a modest talent for business and a talent for writing. Which may be as modest as my talents in business, but my desire to write poetry and drama is far greater than the desire to succeed in business."

Andreas thought about this for a moment. "How do you reconcile those two desires?"

"With the knowledge that business success funds my artistic endeavors. Which is why you find me here today, young sir."

Van den Vondel accepted tea and baklava from Arcadios Mendes and continued. "I am relocating to Grantville, partly to better represent Rheinlander Silk's many interests here, but mostly to pursue patronage of the arts. I find I have the resources to fund a small drama company, and the… I believe the up-timers call it 'mass media'… offers great opportunities to present work to a very wide audience indeed. I am told by my business contacts here that this technology will only spread further in the coming years, and I find that the first to grasp a new opportunity may capitalize best upon it, even in the face of inevitable competition. In any event, Herr Greif, I believe I would like to engage your services as a writer, and I seek your counsel as to how to proceed."

Andreas knew an opening when he saw one. He told Herr van den Vondel of the video production he was working on with Markus, Antje and a few others from the high school RTT program. Van den Vondel even commiserated with him over the endless rewrites.

"It's not that bad," Andreas said, though he didn't sound convincing even to himself. "So far Markus's father has been willing to fund us."

Two bells tolled out across Grantville. The up-timers had had to accommodate themselves to laxer standards of time-keeping than they'd been used to, but bells still rang out on the hour during the daytime. Joost looked up in surprise and a little alarm. He handed Andreas a card.

"I'm afraid I must take my leave, as I have business this afternoon. Please contact me when your video production is complete. I would be most eager to see it. I have the feeling the two of us will be able to help each other a great deal."

With every meeting of the main creative team, Andreas, Markus and Antje's planned television pilot spiraled out of control. Matters came to a head just a few nights after Andreas met Joost van den Vondel.

It began with Markus suggesting – very forcefully – yet more changes in the story, which invariably involved more sets, actors and complicated shots. He showed them the new estimated budget for the production. Andreas couldn't believe the total. Antje was livid.

"You mean your father is going to agree to just give us all this money?" Lukas Schneider was well-known as a shrewd businessman – and not someone inclined to be overly indulgent, proud as he was of his son's talents.

"Er… no," said Markus. "But I figure we can chip in the difference."

Antje spluttered with rage. Andreas said, in a weak voice, "Markus, I don't have any money. The allowance I get barely pays food and my share of the rent. And Antje's family aren't poor, but there's no way she can contribute what you expect to come up with."

"Well, she'll have to. I'm willing to let you off the hook, Andy, because you've been working damn hard. But it's time for some people around here to start pulling their weight."

That remark earned Markus "Sartorius," would-be genius of television, a hard slap across the face. She stormed out, slamming the door so hard the windows rattled. Markus shook his head and managed a look of regret that was almost sincere.

"Now, Andy. I need to talk to you about the part you wrote for your friend Paddy. I'm not sure his character still works."

Andreas didn't manage quite a spectacular exit as Antje, though he was willing to bet he was just as angry. Maybe angrier. For over two weeks now, he'd hated this project more and more and wanted out, but he didn't want to let anyone down. But nothing was worth betraying Paddy. The Irishman was his best friend, like a brother to him. Damaging that relationship was something Andreas couldn't do.

Paddy was still awake by the time Andreas got home.

"Antje told me what happened. Thank you, lad," he said.

"For what?" Outside of mourning his parents, he doubted he'd ever felt worse.

"For doin' what's right. I would've understood, but I'm glad you didn't throw me over."

Andreas managed a wry smile. "Don't flatter yourself. I just felt that prick needed someone to stand up to him." Paddy laughed. "Seriously, though. I don't know what I'll do. I don't know what I'll tell Herr van den Vondel."

"Come up with something. I know you've got it in you, lad."

"I told Markus he could do whatever he wanted with the story I gave him, as long as he put a pseudonym in place of my name in the credits."

Paddy nodded. "It's probably for the best. But before you decide anything rash, Fraulein Becker left some things for you."

Paddy pointed to a stack of compact discs, mostly homemade, with a scrawled note on top saying "Listen to these." Andreas looked through them: The Best of Stan Freiberg, The Goon Show, The Shadow, "War of the Worlds," and many other titles. All classics of radio, many of which had been played as programming on VOA. Andreas listened to them all, and when he woke up the next morning, he was inspired for the first time in weeks.

About a month after Joost van den Vondel met with Andreas Gryphius, Joost received an invitation, cosigned by Andreas and "Markus Sartorius" – presumably the young man Markus Schneider who Gryphius had been working with previously.

Joost knew all about the split between Andreas and Markus, though Andreas had been close-lipped about what he was working on. Joost had taken time to speak with Janice Ambler and had gotten most of the story from her. She said that the "runaway production" had a long and honored history up-time, mostly in something called "the movies," though Joost was unclear on how "the movies" differed from what was called television. Nevertheless, he understood completely. He'd heard of more than one entertainment whose costs had spiraled out of control.

Now, though, he'd see the results. Theophilus Mendes had agreed to host the presentation for Joost and a few local businessmen and potential patrons at the Sternbock. Markus would present his production, followed by Andreas and his "Grantville Radio Theater." Mayken was delighted at the prospect and decided to make an evening of it. Her new friends had told her she needed a "date night" with her husband – whatever that was.

There was already a small crowd at the Sternbock when he and Mayken arrived. Joost knew most of the people there. They were local businessmen, mostly down-timers, and a few minor nobles. Exactly the sort of people who would be most interested in gaining prestige through art patronage. Markus Schneider, with a pretty young woman on his arm, mixed enthusiastically with the attendees. Joost recognized the girl as a local actress, one who'd been compared – unfavorably – to Els Engel. Looking around for Andreas, Joost found him standing in a corner of the coffeehouse, nervously conferring with his dwarf friend and a couple of others. Before Joost could go speak with him, it was time for the evening's program to begin.

Markus Schneider, Markus Sartorius as he called himself, introduced his production and wheeled out a television with a small box attached to it. Inserting a cartridge into the box, he pressed a button. The television flared to life and Theophilus Mendes dimmed the lights in the coffee house.

Andreas had been half-anticipating and half-dreading Markus's pilot. The credits certainly looked good, touting "A Markus Sartorius Production," though Andreas had to suppress a laugh when his chosen pseudonym, "Cordwainer Bird" (he'd gotten that name from Janice Ambler), flashed on the screen.

What followed was a train wreck, if a fascinating one. Outside of televised stage plays and a few documentary-style news pieces by Jabe McDougal and a couple of others, no one had attempted a video production on the scale Markus was aiming for. And it was clear that whatever his talents, Markus had aimed too high.

The sets looked horrible, the sound was uneven and the editing was clumsy. Andreas had resolutely avoided seeking any news of the production, trying to distance himself as far from it as possible. He'd heard rumors, though, that the sets had been rushed, and when Jabe McDougal had declined to sell, or even rent, his digital camcorder and editing software, Markus had had to make do with other equipment. Finding video cameras wasn't a problem. There were a number of them that, though obsolete at the time of the Ring of Fire, still worked perfectly well. The editing rig was the real problem. Markus had had to improvise a video editing setup, and the results showed. When the pilot television episode finished a half an hour after it started, there was polite applause.

Now it was their turn. Antje set the small radio with the CD deck on a table and plugged it in. Andreas indicated to Theophilus to keep the lights dim. Paddy stepped up and, with a neat sleight-of-hand trick, produced a phosphorus stick between his fingers. He struck it. The flare and flame seemed bright in the dim light.

"O for a muse of fire," began the Irish actor in his rich voice, reciting Shakespeare's (or the Earl of Oxford's, if one preferred) appeal to the power of imagination that began Henry V.

"Think when we talk of horses, that you see them printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth; for 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, carry them here and there; jumping o'er times, turning the accomplishment of many years into an hour-glass." Paddy bowed, and Antje hit "play" on the CD player.

What they'd produced certainly wasn't Shakespeare. When Andreas and Antje were desperate for an idea they could produce quickly but still do well, it was Martha Schacht who suggested continuing the story of the movie Metropolis. Fritz Lang's silent opus was a popular movie on WVOA, both because it was a German production and because its themes of class struggle and noblesse oblige played well in the seventeenth century. Less than a day later, Andreas had produced a draft for a fifteen-minute radio script continuing the story of Joh Frederson and his lady love, the saintly Maria, in the vast city of Metropolis. They kept it simple, and Paddy did almost all the voices. Antje worked on the editing until nearly the last minute, but they were all satisfied with the result.

Their audience was satisfied, too. Andreas and his fledgling radio theater company received very warm and enthusiastic applause. Enough of the businessmen present were interested in sponsoring the Metropolis series that he was confident it would launch, assuming Voice of America agreed to air it.

Only after the crowd began breaking up did Joost come up to him, shaking his hand and giving him a friendly clap on the back. He shook Paddy's hand as well.

"Well done, young Herr Gryphius, well done indeed. I understand why people love television, but you and your actors painted a real picture with just words and sounds. I would be honored to be patron of your company – if you would be my head writer."

If Andreas managed to stammer out his agreement, he couldn't remember it. He must have because Joost look pleased and shook his hand again.

"It seems you have advertising sponsors for your Metropolis series," Joost continued. "But I would also want a program exclusively presented by Rheinlander Silk and Fine Linen. Perhaps it could be one of these 'anthology programs' Frau Ambler told me of. And of course, we will have to find a better name for this company."

"As patron, Herr van den Vondel, the honor of naming the company is yours."

"Yes it is, husband," Mayken said. Andreas and Paddy watched as she thought for a moment. "I rather like the sound of 'The Firemuse Radio Dramatic Company' myself."

That did sound good, thought Andreas. Speech still hadn't returned to him, though, and all he could do was nod.

"Excellent." Joost beamed. "We should get the first episode of both shows on the air as quickly as we can. Do you have any ideas for the debut of the Rheinlander Silk Hour?"

Speech at last returned. He'd been thinking about this very thing quite a bit.

"Herr van den Vondel, there is an up-time farce that would probably be quite suitable. A young nobleman and a Moorish vagabond find their stations in life interchanged through the offices of two capricious and malign princes. The two men gain revenge against the evil princes in a most humorous way."

"Sounds interesting, Herr Gryphius. Let us discuss it further. I've been thinking of a play about the fallen angel Lucifer. Perhaps it might be best to start with lighter fare."

They talked for hours into the night. The first thing they agreed on was that the debut episode of The Rheinlander Silk and Fine Linen Hour would need a catchier title than "Trading Places." Frau van den Vondel had an excellent title suggestion, and production soon began on the anthology show's first episode: "Die Gluecksritter."

Bathing With Coal

Russ Rittgers

Fall, 1633

"Barnabas Kitchner! Wake up! It's Tuesday morning and you have to buy wood for the bathhouse fire."

The thirty-eight year-old man rolled over in bed and opened one eye. His wife, Margarete Lutsch, was already dressed and standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips.

Tuesday. People bathed on Saturday and Tuesday in this town of a thousand souls. Saturdays were regimented about who bathed and when. Mothers with young children bathed first. Then old women. Then teenage girls and single women. Single and old men, and then married couples. But today was Tuesday and in this town that meant first come, first served, no separation of ages or sexes. Each day had a completely different social atmosphere which served the community.

The early risers wanted a warm bath, no matter what the season. The late bathers, especially in summer, didn't mind cool water as long as it was halfway clean.

And oh, dear God, did they have clean water. The large reservoir for the baths had to be refilled at least three times every Saturday. Trip after trip, hauling water a hundred yards from their river near the Elbe, back and forth. The small consolation was that he didn't have to personally haul it all. The bad news was that his helpers, Lucas and Peter, lived with their parents and had to be lightly shepherded. Everyone in town had some kind of a useful job, including those who were not as smart or clever as others. Bigger towns and cities had pumps but using Lucas and Peter to haul water was far cheaper and gave them regular employment.

"But it's not even daylight yet! Nobody's going to be at the bathhouse." His feeble protest fell on deaf ears. As usual.

"Get up! You know Augustin Ramminger will be there even before the water is hot enough for you to finish filling the bathing tank. Now get moving!"

Yes, he did know. Augustin had been Barnabas' rival for Margarete's hand ten years earlier. Not infrequently Barnabas asked himself what Augustin would have done in his situation and decided that was why he was now Margarete's husband.

Barnabas had been footloose and fancy free sixteen years ago, the third son of a Lutheran pastor who had no inclination to follow in his father's footsteps or scholastic ambitions beyond his city's gymnasium. So he was without regular gainful employment when he arrived in town. Margarete was good-looking and full-bodied, the daughter of the only bathhouse operator in town. When Barnabas was hired by her father to service its water and fires, he thought himself incredibly lucky. Not only would he have regular employment but he would be in contact with the object of his affections on a daily basis.

One thing led to another and her father – being wise enough not to object – agreed to their marriage ten years ago. The only surviving child of Papa Lutsch, Margarete inherited the bathhouse along with the family home three years later. And in arguments never let him forget where the source of his livelihood originated.

Barnabas sat up in the bed, sighed and scratched his head. There was only the slightest hint of light outside their window.

"Good morning, Barnabas. I've already set aside your usual order of wood." Titus Erlingen pointed towards a stacked pile. He gave a sigh. "But I'm going to have to charge you more. Because of all the construction in Magdeburg, prices for wood, even firewood such as I provide, are going sky-high."

"How much higher?" Barnabas twisted a lock of his graying hair. Margarete was going to give him fits if it was much above what it had been last Saturday morning. Her father had taught her how to manage the bathhouse and one of those skills was bookkeeping.

Titus grimaced. "Ten percent higher today than it was the other day. Heaven only knows when the prices will come down again."

"Ten percent! That's robbery, pure and simple! Why don't you just get out your knife and slit my purse?"

The wood-seller raised his eyebrows in innocence and shrugged. "You know I wouldn't charge you that much if I didn't have to. As it is, I'm barely covering my own costs. I'm having to go farther and farther afield to find firewood, so much of it having been burnt or otherwise destroyed by the imperial forces or the Swedish army. Every stick of this firewood had to be purchased from its owner, or from a villages' allocations."

Barnabas had no idea of where Titus acquired his firewood but had his own suspicions. For one thing Titus was here every Tuesday and Saturday morning, which meant he couldn't have gone that far, not out and back with his lone horse pulling the cart. For another, Titus was simply too well-fleshed. Barnabas suspected that Titus knew of an abandoned farming village and just gathered it himself without payment.

That said, in the fifteen years Barnabas had been buying, Titus never charged more than his competition.

He tried not to moan. "Five percent. I have to be able to tell my wife that I didn't pay the price you first quoted."

Titus shook his head. "Nine percent. Because we've been dealing with each other so long."

Barnabas hesitated. He might be able to get Titus down to seven but he doubted it. Titus looked entirely too unhappy even quoting the nine percent.

"Eight percent, all dry wood and you have a deal."

"Done. You can check each piece yourself."

Barnabas always split some of the new wood into kindling after he filled the stone heating tank. It also gave him something to do while he thought about how to tell Margarete about the price increase.

"Will I have to wait long?" Augustin asked, leaning at the open doorway, a towel over his shoulder. The still unmarried Augustin had done well in the past dozen years. He'd gone from being Barnabas' equal, a gymnasium graduate, to something of a dandy, working as the town's bookkeeper. Barnabas didn't envy him his position or money. He didn't hate Augustin either, but there was no love lost, mostly because he still flirted with Margarete. All Barnabas knew was that there'd never been any gossip with real substance.

Barnabas opened the stopcock on the side of the heating tank and tested the water. "Fifteen minutes, no more."

"Quite all right. I'll just go back to the entrance and talk with your lovely wife." He turned gracefully and walked back towards the front of the bathhouse where Margarete would be waiting at the entrance for early bathers. She enjoyed his company entirely too much. Barnabas growled, thinking about it.

Years ago he would have seethed with indignation for an hour, but now he simply returned to his work.

The bathhouse wasn't large as such things go. Not halfway comparable to the one in the city he came from. No, this bathing tank was only a dozen feet across with room for no more than several bathers at the outer rim. On Saturdays there would be a line of waiting bathers, but on Tuesdays most of his hot water didn't go into the bathing tank.

Tuesday was when the townswomen did their laundry. Barnabas took each woman's bucket, filled it and received a token in return. Margarete sold the tokens while she took bathhouse entrance fees. A simple enough process but one which drove Barnabas crazy on those occasions when Margarete had been ill.

Katerine Paffenburg handed him her bucket. "How are you today, Barnabas?"

Barnabas placed it on the stand and opened the stopcock. "Not bad, not bad, Katerine. How's your husband? I hear he's back to working as a regular crewman on the river."

The sturdy woman gave Barnabas a grudging smile. "Yes. He's transporting coal downriver to Magdeburg. They need tons of it every day."

He gave a sour grunt. "Tons of coal and the prices of firewood are going up every time I buy. Too bad I can't… " He stopped, his mind racing faster than he could put together coherent speech. If Magdeburg was using tons of coal every day, then either the city was richer than Croesus or… coal was dirt cheap.

"Well, I for one wouldn't want to use coal at home," Katerine sniffed. "Willi brought home a sack of it last week and threw several chunks into our fireplace while I was out. Our entire house stank by the time I got home! I tell you, I gave him a piece of my mind!" Her red face was pinched in memory of her anger.

"Umm, I think I heard about that. Hadn't heard the details though." In this town, everyone knew almost everything about their neighbors, whether it happened outside or inside the walls of their home. Katerine was not known as a mild, submissive wife who had nothing but adoration for her husband. She'd given him much more than her opinion.

On this occasion, she chased Willi out of the house and down the street, screeching and hitting him with her broom every third or fourth step. Gossips of both sexes had a gleeful field day and last Saturday the bathhouse was filled with reports of the incident.

Barnabas gave Katerine an appreciative smile as he handed her the bucket of steaming water. "Well, now I'll know not to do that myself."

The day went smoothly. Barnabas only had to drain and replace the bath tank water once. The heating tank, on the other hand, had to be topped off frequently.

"What are you thinking about?" Margarete asked as they sat facing the fire after supper that evening. "You're normally complaining about your back or how slow Lucas and Peter refilled the reservoir."

He gave a sigh. "Like I told you, the price of firewood went up again. I think it will keep going up as long as they're building in Magdeburg."

"Well, I think Titus is overcharging. I've looked at the records and we've never, ever paid that much, except when Tilly's army was nearby, seizing all the available firewood for their own fires. Well, and during the middle of winter. But it's certainly not that now."

Barnabas shook his head. "Same or better price than the other woodsellers. I checked. What we need to do is change over to coal. I hear it burns hotter and is cheaper."

Margarete disagreed. "And it stinks. This bathhouse has been in my family for over a hundred years and we've always used wood. Besides, where would we get coal? Our customers would smell of coal fumes when they finished their baths. Surely you heard about Katerine and Willi the other day."

He rubbed his tired eyes. "Okay, you tell me. How much money did we make today, what with having to pay more for firewood?"

His wife's lips tightened into a pucker. "Not nearly enough."

"I'm going to Magdeburg to find out how to use coal to make hot water."

"Lignite," Willi, Katerine Paffenburg's husband, told him Monday morning, taking a rest from poling as the barge floated down the Elbe. "That's what we're hauling. Not the best kind of coal. That's anthracite. Almost as hard as rock and black as pitch. This isn't as hard and doesn't burn as hot, but for most purposes it's good enough. There are boats coming from elsewhere bringing anthracite to Magdeburg."

As soon as the boat docked in Magdeburg, the boatmen began shoveling coal as fast as they could onto the waiting carts. Barnabas jumped off and ran to talk to the first teamster whose cart was nearly full.

"Yeah, I'll take you to where I take this but you'd be better off to run over to the building over there. He pointed to a series of tall brick smokestacks belching a dark brown smoke.

"Heating water?" the foreman asked over the din of men shoveling coal into fiery openings behind him. "That's all we do here. See those fires? "Inside the firebox, just past the fire is a cluster of water-filled tubes. Water flows from a feed water tank through the tubes. Gets boiling hot and powers its machine through steam pressure."

"No, no, that's not what I meant," Barnabas broke in, uncomfortably aware that the boat would soon be empty and, as his fare, he had to help pole it back upriver. "I operate a bathhouse. How hard would it be to heat water using coal?"

"Easy as pie. Same operation, but you don't need to keep it under pressure. You'll have to be careful to fill the feed water tank before firing the furnace. That's number one. You'll probably want cast iron tubes for a more efficient transfer of heat. Never, never let them go dry with a fire under them. Number two, you'll want a smoke stack. Not as high as these because you're not going to do that much volume. But high enough to be taller than any chimney in town. That way the wind will blow the smoke away from town. Otherwise you're going to have a lot of unhappy neighbors. They won't like the smell of coal smoke, anyway, but that's the price you have to pay."

"Right. Thanks. I really have to leave. What's your name?"

"Krupp. Andreas Krupp. I'm from Essen but didn't want to be a gunsmith."

"Cast iron water tubes in the furnace and a tall chimney?" Margarete repeated. "That has to be expensive. Very expensive. We simply don't have the money."

"What if we got a loan?"

"Papa always said never to take out loans because it gives the lender power over you."

"Well, I guess we could raise the price of the baths and the water. Or did Papa Lutsch have something against that?"

His wife thought for a few moments. "No, not really. But we'd practically have to double our prices at a minimum. As it is, we charge two pfennigs per bucket. Add a third and you've increased the price by half again. We'd have the same problem with baths. I don't know what people would do but it wouldn't be nice. Probably riot." The corner of her mouth turned in a way that told him she really wasn't worried.

"Margarete, honey, wait. Could we increase the one and not the other?"

She shook her head and then reconsidered. "Bathing, yes, we could do that but not the hot water. Women would simply start a fire earlier in the day. Baths are a luxury, a social gathering and a necessity. No one wants to smell bad. Yes, we could raise that price."

"But that wouldn't solve our problem," Barnabas persisted. "The price of firewood is going up and up. So we'd have to keep raising our prices. Why not take out a loan and just pay that? It's bound to be cheaper to operate."

Margarete gave her head a quick, determined shake. "No. And that's the end of it. Interest rates are far too high. What would happen if we defaulted because of war or a plague? I'd lose the bathhouse, that's what would happen." Barnabas noted it was only she who would lose something.

"Here's an idea. If we said we were putting in a new, improved heating system, wouldn't they pay more for that?"

"Ha! How many years have you been living here? As long as the old system works, they'll stay with it."

"Okay, let's assume we raise the prices enough to cover the cost of the firewood. Everyone knows its price is going up anyway. How long can we continue to raise prices before people stop coming every Saturday and just wash off at home with water they've heated?"

His wife frowned. Then clenched her teeth. Then shook her head and sighed. "A little over a year. Maybe more. Even after construction is finished, Magdeburg's going to need a lot of firewood. The land where they'd been getting their firewood was cleared during the six months of its siege."

Barnabas' mind was made up. "I had hardly any time in Magdeburg before the boat was leaving. This time I'll stay overnight and take the boat back Friday."

"To put in a smokestack won't be cheap but you can get some of new brick at a much lower cost than ever before," Paul Detleff, the first journeyman mason Barnabas ran into, told him. "I know the master mason who owns the best kilns in the city. Caspar Maurer. It's not firebrick, but you only need that for the firebox. Which you'll have to rebuild because no way will a firebox built for wood will survive the high temperatures of coal. He can supply the firebrick as well."

In his small office at the mason's hall a short while later, Caspar Maurer gave Barnabas an intense look and then a wry smile. "All this for a small town bathhouse?"

"Yes, Herr Master Mason," replied Barnabas stiffly. "I like wood. I enjoy the smell of wood, but it's getting too expensive. My wife tells me – she keeps the books – that at the way prices are rising, despite owning the bathhouse, we'll be out of business in a year even if we raise our prices. The people just won't pay enough to cover the costs and give us a living. So we'll have to borrow money for the new furnace, boiler and the smokestack. But what choice do we have?"

Caspar had given him an inscrutable twist of the mouth when he mentioned that his wife kept the books. "I know of a bank that makes such loans for small businesses. Reasonable rates. Okay, let's assume you keep the same size bathing tank but replace your stone heating tank and firebox." He paused. "You might want to reconsider how many days you heat your water for bathing. Presuming you have some margin of profit each time. Helps pay off the loan faster. How many gallons does your current heating tank hold?" He scratched out a grid on a piece of paper.

"Master Maurer learned the Grantville advanced mathematics," Paul told him as they walked away with a preliminary estimate for the new construction. "He was already a master mason but taught himself more about using mathematics to determine, among other things, precisely how to draw the smoke from a fireplace all the time, not just most of the time. As you may appreciate, coal smoke is much better far up in the air than down where you're breathing.

"This coming winter the apprentice and journeymen masons here in Magdeburg will be attending classes on physics and mathematics and how to apply them to our work." The young man gave Barnabas a bright smile. "I plan to study as hard as I can so Master Maurer will hire me."

They arrived at another small office a few minutes later. The bell on the door rang as they entered and several heads lifted from the papers being worked on. "Is Catherine Menz around?"

A red-headed woman in her mid-twenties whose dimensions could only be called statuesque came out of a doorway a few moments later. "Did I hear my name called? Oh, hello, Paul."

"Fraulein Menz, this is Barnabas Kitchner. He and his wife own a small bathhouse in a town upriver. They want to upgrade their heating plant."

Catherine gave him a doubtful look and sighed. "No doubt Caspar wrote the estimate. Otherwise you wouldn't be here. Now run along and play. I'll talk with Herr Kitchner."

" Jawohl, former chairwoman Menz." Paul bowed deeply to Catherine's obvious exasperation. She made a comic half-hearted swing at the back of his head and he was gone.

"Paul only made journeyman this year," Catherine explained. Which didn't explain anything about the content of his remark. "Come. Sit and tell me about your operation."

Within minutes Barnabas found himself telling Catherine all about the bathhouse, his wife and his town. She was the pleasant kind of woman men liked chatting with. Not only was she willing to listen with genuine interest but she also kept asking him intelligent questions.

"How much do you know about the Committees of Correspondence, the CoCs?" she asked with a warm smile. When Barnabas shook his head, she went on. "They're primarily social and political organizations, set up to protect the rights of ordinary working people. Among other things, this one provides loans to small and start-up businesses."

Barnabas tried not to squirm in his chair. "I don't get into politics and I don't really want to join any organizations."

Catherine gave a charming smile that warmed the inside of his chest. "You don't have to. One of the founding directors of this bank made it more than clear that our real business was not to make loans but to make money. So we make loans to reliable people with small businesses. Based on what you've told me, you and your wife fit that category. Naturally there will be an appraisal and several documents you and your wife will have to sign, but right now I don't see a problem, especially with Caspar being in charge of the construction."

"The master mason, Fraulein Menz?"

"My future husband. Someday. After certain legal impediments have been removed. But yes."

Suddenly, and for the first time, Barnabas completely understood the term "covet" and why it was prohibited in the Ten Commandments.

"So tell me more about this red-headed hussy you met in Magdeburg," Margarete demanded after Barnabas returned from his two-day trip. He had not been able to remove his enthusiasm for Catherine from his report.

"Nothing much more to tell. That was the first and last time I saw her during my visit. Less than an hour. She's just… a really nice person who knows how to listen. When she wants," he added with haste. "I told her all about you and the town."

His wife gave him a baleful glare. "So I'm not a nice person who doesn't know how to listen?"

"No, not at all. You're my wife," he babbled, desperately trying to escape what he knew would be a disaster.

"So the only reason I'm acceptable is because I'm married to you? Is that it?" she raged, coming to her feet and hurling aside Caspar Maurer's estimate.

Barnabas had learned through years of frustration and bitter experience that the only way to survive when she was in this kind of a mood was to first say he was sorry, apologizing for anything he might have said. Second, to leave. There was a nice tavern not far away from where they lived. But he couldn't leave before she'd had her say.

"Being out of town the past two days, you couldn't have heard the big news." The tavern keeper grinned as he handed a mug of beer to Barnabas. "Ursula Futter, the burgermeister's widowed daughter, is going to get married again." He paused.

"Who's the poor ba… uh, lucky fellow?" Barnabas asked, taking a large swig.

"Augustin Ramminger." Beer sprayed from Barnabas' nose and mouth.

"You bastard!" Barnabas was both choking and laughing. "You timed that deliberately!"

Johann could hardly disagree, as hard as he was whooping with laughter.

Once he regained his composure, he said, "From what I heard today, they've been seeing one another regularly – in his office – for the past year or more. Yesterday her father and another man entered and caught them doing more than just kissing. Just what exactly they were doing depends on who you talk to. The marriage contract hasn't been written and the banns haven't been read, but it'll happen, sure as the sun rises in the east."

Barnabas was still chortling. Ursula Futter had certain less than desirable traits in common with Katerine Paffenburg. Dear Augustin. Oh, dear, dear Augustin, who after so many years of flirting with Margarete and others, was about to enter the dangerous world of matrimony. Dangerous to him, at any rate.

Barnabas took another deep swallow of beer and leaned forward over the bar. "I guess it's either marry her or leave town. When the burgermeister dies she'll have some inherited money and property to add to what she got from old Carl Wetter. She was his second wife and he had four children from his first. All she got was a widow's portion. But that's far more than Augustin would have if he left town."

Johann lifted his eyebrows and gave a sly smile. "Wasn't Augustin always flirting with your wife at the bathhouse? Wasn't he another suitor for her hand back in the day?"

Feeling all was right with the world, Barnabas responded with a broad grin. "Sure. But she and her father both knew that if he'd married her, one of his first acts after Papa Lutsch died would be to try to sell the bathhouse. If there's one thing that she'll never do, it's sell the bathhouse. So flirting, yes, but I knew that's all it'd ever be," he lied. "It kept her feeling young and desirable, so why not?"

He finished his beer and put the mug on the bar. "I think I'll go home. Margarete will surely be in need of some deep consolation, losing Augustin so suddenly and in such a tragic fashion." No wonder she'd been so… testy this evening. He gave Johann a big evil grin. "Somehow I don't think he'll be allowed to flirt with her any more."

Barnabas stopped outside the door to their house and took a deep breath. Then lifted the latch. Margarete was waiting in her usual chair near the fire. "You heard, didn't you?" Her voice was dry and cold.

The corner of his mouth wrinkled. "It's a small town. News that exciting doesn't stay secret for more than a day." He brought his chair next to hers, where she sat with her hands together in her lap. He put his hand over hers. "How do you feel?"

"I… knew. Oh, not any details but I knew he was close to someone. His… attitude was subtly different. More assured. You wouldn't have noticed. But any woman he'd been flirting with for years would." She sighed and then made a deep frown. "You must find all this very funny."

He gave her a sympathetic smile and squeezed her hand a squeeze. "Partly." He gave a small chuckle. "The part about him. Not about you. Frankly, I thought he had better taste." His voice took a sarcastic turn. "Ursula Futter?"

Margarete turned towards him and the corner of her mouth turned up. Her eyebrows raised and she chuckled.

Encouraged, Barnabas turned toward his wife and put a second hand on hers. He looked at her. "Flirting with you meant to me that he recognized the same beauty I saw in you when we first met."

"Huh!" she grunted and eyed him scornfully. "Trying to get around me. You're trying to get me to agree to build that new water heating system, aren't you?"

"Oh, uh, well, not exactly. I mean, uh, no. Not at all."

"Won't work, Barnabas. You can't tell me you hadn't thought about it a moment before you walked in through the door," she said. "I'm not going to agree just because you make a few compliments."

Barnabas' face drooped. "You won't?"

Margarete shook her head as if in sadness. "Some women are so anxious to get a compliment that they'll agree to anything afterwards. I'm not like that. Not at all."

She took a deep breath. "On the other hand, I had two days to think about what you wanted to do. I looked over the books and made some estimates based on what we've been experiencing. I decided that if you came home with proof that the project was possible and we could afford it, I'd approve."

Barnabas stared at her for a moment. "Then you approve?" he asked weakly. His face brightened and he grinned in relief. "You do approve!"

She gripped his hands and smiled at him. "Yes. Now I want to hear all the compliments you were prepared to shower upon me. I warn you, though, that I may not wait until you finish before banking the fire and blowing out the candle."

He stroked the line of her jaw a moment later. "You know, I never would have stayed in this town if I hadn't desperately needed a bath the day I walked in. Your mother took my coin and you walked out of the bath house looking like Venus arising out of the sea, your towel covering… "

Bootstrapping

Kerryn Offord

Winter 1631-32, Jena

Catherine Mutschler made her way carefully through the winter mud. She was tired and listless after being kept up most of the night by Maria, her three-year-old daughter. She'd finally managed to settle Maria only by feeding her the last of the bread mixed with thin soup, but that meant Catherine had only had thin soup to eat today. That should change at her next stop. Ursula Mittelhausen was the housekeeper for a successful alchemist and not only did she provide a lot of sewing work, she also gave Catherine any scraps from the kitchen. Catherine had learnt to accept charity with dignity. It had been all that stood between life and death for her and her children after her husband died in a road accident in Jena. She had been extremely lucky – and the city council continued to remind her of her good fortune – that she and her two children had been granted poor relief even though they weren't citizens or residents. Not that the alms went far. Before getting the sewing work from Ursula, Catherine had been struggling to provide her and her children with the necessities of life. Even by sharing a room with another widow, a spinner, and her children, their combined income had never quite been enough to pay the rent and buy firewood, clothes, and sufficient food. The six of them, Catherine and her two daughters, Marguerite and her son and daughter, had been slowly starving to death.

She looked up at the sign over the door of the house that Ursula kept. "HDG Enterprizes" it said. Catherine had reason to be thankful for Doctor Gribbleflotz. The extra work he provided had made a considerable difference in Catherine and Marguerite's life. With the additional income from making and repairing the "lab coats" and aprons Dr. Gribblefltoz insisted his apprentices wear, she and Marguerite had just taken over the lease of a pair of rooms. The extra space would make it easier for them to work without the children getting underfoot all the time. With more space they would be able to take in more work. Maybe they'd survive the winter.

She knocked, shivering from the damp cold that was seeping through the layers of clothes she was wearing. The door was opened by a youth. If he had looked well-fed Catherine would have though he was about twelve, but in these times of shortages, he could be as old as sixteen. As malnourished as he looked, he had to be a new apprentice. Ursula, and to be fair, her employer, insisted that the apprentices all be well fed. That meant business was good for Doctor Gribbleflotz, and what was good for the doctor was good for Catherine. She smiled for the first time in she didn't know how long. In a lighter mood, Catherine followed the youth toward Ursula's office.

The clack-clack-clack sound of a machine made Catherine stop. She peeked through the open door of a side room, and froze. For a moment she couldn't believe what she was seeing. Then she collapsed.

Catherine came to with a jerk. Someone was passing something under her nose. Spirit of Hartshorn. The fumes could raise the dead, and Catherine wasn't even half-way there yet. She was confused. Ursula Mittelhausen came slowly into focus, and the bottle of hartshorn was removed, to be replaced by a bowl of stew. Mechanically she ate from the bowl.

When she finished the stew, Catherine lowered the spoon and slumped a little in the chair. She wasn't ready to discuss what she had seen in that room yet, and she knew it would be a few minutes before she felt better. She looked around the room. It was the kitchen, and it looked as if it had been invaded by apprentices. She watched a pair of female apprentices slap pale green dough from a cooking pot into molds.

"What are they making?"

"They are making pill boxes for Dr. Gribbleflotz' little blue pills." Ursula reached over to a tray on the sideboard and passed Catherine one of the completed pill boxes.

Catherine had been watching Ursula. Her face had suddenly lit up when she talked about the pill boxes. Catherine wondered what she was thinking about.

"Catherine, do you have access to a cooking fire?"

Catherine nodded. That was one of the reasons she and Marguerite had taken the new rooms. Being able to cook at home would save them money. She thought she could see where Ursula was going. There was no way Ursula could be happy with the way her kitchen had been taken over by the apprentices. For the first time since she had looked into that room, Catherine had hope. She ran her fingers over the pill box "Are they easy to make?"

Ursula smiled in obvious relief. "Yes, it's just a mixture of milk and vinegar. If the girls and boys can make it, I'm sure you would have no trouble." She sighed and gave Catherine a guilty look. "I'm sorry about the sewing machine. Dr. Gribbleflotz bought it without consulting me. However, if you can make the pill boxes, I'll see that you don't lose by it."

"How many boxes are you going to want?" Catherine asked.

"Thousands, Catherine. At least a thousand a week. The demand for the doctor's little blue pills is enormous. We'll pay you," Ursula paused to think for a moment, "Three taler a thousand. That should give you more after expenses than you've been earning from sewing."

Excitement grabbed Catherine. Three talers a week!. That was more than a skilled craftsman normally earned. And she could work from home, with no trouble from any guilds, because she was sure there was no plastic-makers guild, yet. Then reality struck. "But, that much milk and vinegar, and the cooking pots and fuel. Neither Marguerite nor I can afford that."

"Never you mind, Catherine. To get my kitchen back, I'll even loan you the money myself." Ursula paused and shook her head. "No, the company can loan you the money." She smiled and shook her head. "You wouldn't believe the funds coming in for the Doctor's pills and cooking powders, especially the pills. The small amount needed to help you get started won't even be missed."

"If I borrow money, I pay it back, with interest." Catherine stared pointedly at Ursula. She was not going to accept more charity than she had to.

"Very well, you can pay it back with interest. Now, why don't you let the girls show you how it's done and then you can go home and talk to your friend Marguerite."

The ground conditions stopped Catherine running home with her news, but she still made good time. The plastic was easy to make. Making it well, that would take a little experimentation. And making good boxes, well, Catherine had been horrified at the number of failures the girls were throwing away. But by watching carefully, Catherine had come to believe that most of the failures were due to disinterest on the part of the girls. To them it was just a boring, repetitive job. If Catherine and Marguerite started making the boxes, rejects would be taking food from their children.

She skipped through the door, shut it and started to strip off her outer layers. "Marguerite, Marguerite, I have such news."

Marguerite slipped out of the back room. "Catherine, did you get lots more work?"

"No, no. Ursula Mittelhausen's employer has bought a sewing machine… " Catherine rushed on with her tale to when she saw Marguerite's confused look. "But Ursula has offered us a new career. Plastic making. Wait, I'll show you one of the boxes."

Catherine pulled one of the pill boxes out of her bag and started to describe the process she had seen.

"Three taler a week?" Marguerite cut straight to the bottom line. "That's a small fortune."

"Yes." Catherine nodded. "But that's gross. It'll cost us for material and fuel. And that is per thousand that passes inspection. But we should earn almost four taler a month, with a fire going all the time and all the milk we can drink."

Marguerite's glowing face suddenly shut down. "How can we afford the materials and everything, Catherine? These rooms took nearly everything we had."

"Ursula said the company would make a small loan, a month's payment in advance, just to help us get started, and we can buy the molds and cooking pots they already have."

"It is a loan, isn't it? Not charity?"

"Definitely a loan, Marguerite. I made that clear to Ursula. So, are you interested?"

Marguerite's eyebrows shot up. "Four taler a month? Do you have any idea how much more than the weaver's guild pays spinners that is? Of course I'm interested."

Spring, 1632

Catherine Mutschler stormed home. She was almost furious. After she had had time to think, she was sure she was going to be very furious, but right now, what she needed was someone to share her fury with, and who better than her friend and business partner, Marguerite Lobstein. She was sure Marguerite would agree that Ursula Mittelhausen's refusal to accept repayment of the loan she had extended reeked of charity.

She pushed the door open with control. Controlled fury, but control. The children might be around and she didn't want to upset them. "Marguerite!" she called.

"Mommy, Mommy. Look what I made."

Catherine's fury disappeared in a flash. She bent down and ran a finger down her eldest daughter's cheek, pleased to see the rosy, happy look of her daughter's face. "Hello, darling. What is it you've made for Mommy?"

Maria opened her hands so Catherine could see. "Buttons, Mommy. You said you needed some new buttons, so I made some."

Catherine had mentioned to Marguerite before going out to take the loan repayment to Ursula that she had to buy some more buttons. "That's very nice, Maria." Catherine smiled down at her daughter. Suddenly, she froze. Then she took a good look at the buttons Maria had made. They were childish pieces of squashed waste plastic with two, three or four holes in them. As buttons, they were crude. Catherine fingered them, and looked up to see her friend Marguerite smiling from across the room. So, Marguerite realized what Maria had done. "That was very good of you, Maria. Now, why don't you go and play while I talk to Tante Marguerite?"

Catherine watched Maria skip away, then she turned to Marguerite. "How did we miss making buttons? All those bits and pieces thrown out as waste."

Marguerite nodded. "We've been so busy working so we could pay off the loan we haven't had time to think. We'll have to explore better ways of making them, but I think buttons might become a new product line. And they don't have to be pale green." Marguerite beamed. "Just think, buttons in any size, shape, and color you want."

"If we have time. Frau Mittelhausen has told me that they need more pill boxes… "

Marguerite waited expectantly. Catherine smiled grimly. Calling Ursula Frau Mittelhausen had been a red flag warning Marguerite that something was wrong. "And she has refused to accept the loan repayment. She said to treat it as a bonus from the company in recognition of our good work."

"Charity!" Marguerite almost snarled the word.

"That's what I said, but she still refused to accept it. She said we might need it to enlarge our operations to cope with demand."

"I'd rather scrimp and starve than use that money."

"So what do we do with it? Give it to the church?"

"Yes. Give it away." Marguerite halted. "No… wait a moment. Elisabeth Hafner was complaining the other day about the price of good boots. Her husband's a laborer, and he needs boots to work. But they can't afford the good ones, so he gets cheap ones and his feet suffer. Last year he had to miss several days due to foot problems."

"Are you suggesting we give Frau Hafner enough money to buy some boots?"

"Of course not, Catherine. We make a loan. Anything else would be… charity."

That last word sealed it for Catherine. Accepting charity was the last thing most people wanted to do. A loan, with interest. That wasn't charity. That allowed people to maintain their self respect. "And what do we do with the money when they pay it back with interest?"

Marguerite sighed. "Loan it out to someone else."

"You do realize that the money will just grow?"

"Yes, but what is the alternative? Just give it to the church? At least this way we can be sure that it does some good."

"So how do we start?"

"I take some money and talk to Elisabeth." Marguerite smiled. "I better take most of the money. Elisabeth's husband won't be the only person who would benefit from having good boots."

Grantville, Christmas 1633

Catherine and Marguerite walked along the main street of the city of Grantville. It was their first visit, and they were enjoying the sights while their children played at something called a child care center. One of their first stops was the Kacere Knitware Kompany shop, which sold a lot of their casein products. The knitting needles, the crochet hooks, buttons, and of course, small plastic boxes for every need. This trip to Grantville was a business trip, after all. So they discussed the new Maria Huffner design range of buttons and plastic boxes with John and Christine Kacere. Apparently there was good demand for the highly original range of shapes, colors and patterns. The Kacere's suggested that they would like to meet the designer, but Catherine and Maguerite made apologies. They didn't think the rest of the world needed to know that the head of artistic design for Fantastisches Plastik, as they called their company, was Catherine's five-year-old daughter.

The next stop was the Grantville bank. They needed some advice, and it had been suggested that the American banker might talk to them. In the nearly two years since they started making small loans to people, the original sum had gone forth and multiplied. Currently they had over a hundred loans on their books for such things as boots, and the new steel picks and shovels. It was well past time they got their little banking operation on a firmer business footing.

They walked out with bundles of pamphlets and notes. Coleman Walker, the bank manager, and Edgar Zanewicz, the loan manager, couldn't have been more helpful. Catherine and Marguerite were glowing from all the good things the bankers had to say to them. Apparently they were running something the Americans called a micro-credit bank, and doing a remarkably good job of it too, considering their lack of knowledge. Edgar had promised to get as much material as he could on the subject together and translated so the women could improve the service they were offering. They had also talked about what to call the bank, as every business needed a name.

Edgar had suggested they might name it after their first loan. Not after the borrower, but after the purpose of the loan. Boots. He and Coleman had shared smiles as they talked of 'bootstrapping' people. After explaining the reason for their laughter Catherine and Marguerite had agreed. Boot's Bank it was, and if people asked to see Mr. Boot, well, they'd worry about that when it happened.

Wish Book

Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett

"Gary Jordan!"

Gary Jordan Burke flinched. He almost always flinched when Joyce got to screeching. It was an automatic response to her high-pitched, overly-loud voice. You'd think the woman thought everyone was deaf.

"Gary Jordan!"

"Yes, dear?"

"Go downtown and get some more paper scrap. We're nearly out."

"Yes, dear." Gary suppressed a sigh. Still, he'd best get downtown and do as Joyce wanted. If he didn't she'd get into his garage again, looking for non-glossy paper. She mostly left the glossy stuff alone, but any thin sheet of print was in danger around Joyce. Of course, so were ear drums.

Gary spent a lot of time in the garage. He almost had to, considering how crowded the house seemed. Heck, Joyce and her screech were a crowd all by themselves, but add in visits from kids, grandkids and assorted relatives – well, the place was a mad house half the time.

"A man can't hear himself think around here."It had been bad enough, back before the Ring of Fire. It had gotten three… no, six… no, twelve… well, a whole lot worse since then. Mom and Dad were living with them now, since they'd sold their house when they ran out of money. That was bad enough. But the worst was Aunt Muriel. Oh, Lord… Aunt Muriel.

The woman never, ever quit talking. Talking in the same kind of screech Joyce had. Even so, she did pay rent. Which was more than Mom and Dad did. Mom and Dad just assumed they'd be welcome until their dying days. Which they were, really. It was just that money was so damned tight. And feeding everyone wasn't getting any cheaper. And Gary really, really didn't like thinking about the property taxes and the way they were probably going to go up.

So, going out after paper scraps wasn't all that much of a chore. Well, it was, but it was worth it to get away from the screeching and protect what was left of the reading material in the house. Which, come to think of it, was mostly what people had used just before the paper scraps. He remembered old stories about the Sears and Roebuck catalog, back before it became the Sears catalog. How people would go to the outhouse and use the Wish Book twice. Now, that's recycling.

Gary froze. The Wish Book. They called it the Wish Book and everyone in America had one. Almost, anyway. Now that he was thinking along those lines, he remembered other stories told about the Wish Book; people ordering whole houses out of it and life-saving things. Teachers teaching children to read using it. Talk about advertising penetration. He'd been trying to figure a way to make some more money for a long time. And now he thought he'd found one. The big problem was that he didn't have a lot of money to put into the idea. Which meant he needed to talk to Mom and Dad. And Muriel.

"So, I don't see any reason to wait, Aunt Muriel. In fact, we shouldn't wait. Somebody else might beat us to the punch if we do."

Muriel watch him squirm for a few moments. It had to have been hard for him to do this. Gary Jordan was a proud man, one who'd done well by Joyce. But times were hard and getting harder, at least in this household. Too many people, not enough income to support them all. "I'll do it. And I'll get your parents to invest, too. It'd downright foolish to sit on what they got for the house, planning to leave it to you and Duncan when they croak. It'd make a lot better sense to put it into the business. Instead of the Sears and Roebuck catalog, why couldn't it be the Burke catalog? Running a mail order business out of the garage ought to work."

Well, that meant the garage would be lost as a quiet haven, Gary knew. But he needed to do something. So he'd have to sacrifice. Who wasn't, these days?

"First thing we need is a catalog."

Muriel shook her head. "First thing we need is some inventory. We ought to be able to buy in bulk and get a discount. And then we need an engraver, to do the pictures to go in the catalog. Then we get it printed up and sent out."

"But there are already such things," Ursula Reifsniderin said. "There are seed catalogs and catalogs of other things as well." Ursula was a refugee who had needed a place to stay. She acted as primary translator for the family as well as general help and instructor in the German language and German ways. She was still learning English, but was learning it a lot faster than they were learning German.

"You mean they already have the Sears catalog?" Gary asked.

"I don't know about this Sears. I don't know that word, but merchants have listings of their products they send out."

That got them into a discussion of what would make their catalog unique, which led to a discussion of what had made it unique in the original time line. It took some working out and some research. What they finally determined was that it was a combination of things. The Sears catalog had been a general merchandise catalog with a lot of products, which made it distinct from the more specialized catalogs. It had also been published in a time when transport had gotten much cheaper. Which made Gary and Muriel nervous, but pleased Ursula because the same thing was happening around the Ring of Fire with the new roads and the railroads getting started.

The first catalog was a simple thing. Not very big at all. Not too fancy, either.

But it was an actual book, well, booklet, bound with thread and it did work. In some ways, it worked too well. Orders poured in from as far away as Jena. More than they had the stock to fill. Which caused it's own problems, including letters of apology and refunds when requested. Each of which cost them money. And some of the suppliers jacked up the price for products they had already ordered. They ended up selling some stuff at below cost because of that. In spite of all the headaches, they made a profit that first year. Not as large a profit as they'd have liked, but still a profit.

Muriel kept the books. The woman was a whiz with numbers and she had all day free, unlike Gary and Joyce. They kept their day jobs. Had to keep body and soul, together, after all. Mom and Dad helped, too. Most of their inventory was small stuff, so no one had any trouble lifting the various items and packing them up.

The hardest part of it all was reading the handwriting on the orders. Ursula Reifsniderin was a treasure. She was the one who took the packed up orders to the post, using the red wagon that had been around since the kids were little.

Ursula looked in the mirror and grimaced. She wasn't fond of her face. She had survived some rough times in her life and they had left marks. Grantville had been her salvation and the Burkes her blessing. She remembered a line, she couldn't remember where she had read it or heard it, but when she thought of Burkes it always came to mind, "Who is your family? The ones who put you out or the ones who took you in? " The Burkes were her family now and the Ring of Fire her fatherland. In general, it was a good family and a good fatherland.

She abandoned the fruitless examination of the mirror and set to work. They needed a bigger cart than the little red wagon.

"Look, Papa."

Johan stopped what he was doing and straightened up, grabbing at his back when he felt a twinge. "Yes, Anna? What is it now? And have you finished your chores? Picked up the bread, as your mother asked?"

Papa's back hurt a lot. Anna repressed some concern about that. It did tend to make him a bit irritable. "Papa, look at this. A man dropped a whole stack of them in the village. I've been reading it. It says here that you can order all these things from Grantville. I think Mama would love one of these." Anna pointed to the drawing.

Her papa grunted and took the book. He began flipping through it. The words "Pain Relief" caught his attention. "Dr. Gribbleflotz' Little Blue Pills of Happiness. Says here they're good for all matter of ache and pain."

"The little box is pretty, too." Anna hesitated. "It couldn't hurt to try them, could it?"

"Perhaps not. And you're right. Your mama would like that."

"I don't believe it for a minute," Hans said. "All of it is too cheap. It must be a scam."

"It came from Grantville," Freidrich pointed out. "And Pastor Schultz says they do things differently there. He's even been there."

"The whole village knows that." Hans' voice was full of scorn. "Like you could not know that, the way the man talks about it." He flipped another page. "Hm. Ursel would like that."

"Mama, Mama!"

Adele flinched at the shrill shout. Children. You just can't keep them quiet. "Shh, child, shh. Not so loud please. What is it?"

"It was so exciting, Mama. An up-timer came through the village. In one of their pick-up trucks. And he had a box of these. Then he gave me one. Look."

Adele shook her head even as she reached for the pamphlet her son held out. "Child, child, child. Your curiosity is going to get you in all sorts of trouble one of these days." She began flipping through the pages, looking at the drawings. "Oh. Papa would like one of those, don't you think?"

"What about the 1633 catalog?" Joyce asked. She and Gary were in bed watching TV, just like before the Ring of Fire. Of course, the movies were all reruns and the news was about broken armies, new business, and, of course, the weather and what the little ice age meant to their future.

"What about it?" Gary mumbled, not really paying attention. She could tell. Sometimes it seemed the only way she could get his attention was to screech.

This time she used an elbow to the ribs. "How are we going to handle it? Last year we bought the stuff in advance and ran out a lot. We need a better system."

"Oww. What sort of better system?"

"I don't know, but we have to come up with something. I'm not sending out any more 'Sorry, but that product is out of stock' letters if I can avoid it." She gave him a look. "Aside from what it does to our profits, it hurts our reputation."

"Joycie is dead right about that," Pop Burke said. He always had been pretty partial to Joyce. "We took their money, then we had to give it back. It cost us to do that. What we really need is a way to do Collect on Delivery, like they did back in the old days. Didn't do that much anymore, not even up-time. Everyone was using credit cards and checks."

"I don't know if we can work that part out," Gary admitted. "Maybe we can. What we'll have to do, though… I think, maybe… is get the suppliers more involved, get them to give us better discounts for one thing. Freight costs… man alive, those are terrible. But we need guaranteed stock, no more of this 'oh, we're out of that.' And, considering how well we did do, I think a bigger, better catalog will help a lot."

Muriel nodded. "That last one was pretty plain. I bet it got lost in the mail half the time. We need a better cover, something that stands out. Color if we could get it."

"Whoo hee." Pop chuckled. "And pretty girls modeling underwear?"

Mom swatted his arm. "You old coot."

"Hey!" Pop rubbed his arm. "I don't see why not. They did that, even back in the old days."

"I don't see why there shouldn't be pretty girls. And good-looking guys, for that matter," Joyce said. "Whatever it takes to sell stuff. And we've got some good products. Life-saving products, even, now that they've figured out the household fire extinguisher. Adolph Schmidt's gold-plated flatware ought to sell like hotcakes, too. We ought to be able to double the pages this time."

"Me? To model?" Ursula's hand flew to her face. "Oh, no. Not me."

"Herr Gruber will leave that out, Ursula." Joyce smiled. "Back up-time they airbrushed out all sorts of defects. I mean, you'll never convince me that they didn't airbrush the Playboy bunnies right, left, up-side-down and sideways. You're the right size and the right build. We'll put your hair up pretty and get you a real nice outfit. That won't matter."

"But… "

"It's keep it in the family, or we have to hire someone else. And the more we can keep it in the family, the more money we get to keep."

Ursula reluctantly agreed. Joyce had the right of it there, as much as she hated to admit it.

"I'm sorry, Herr Kruger. But unless you can guarantee a supply of your vise grips at a consistent price, they won't be in the Wish Book this year." Gary Jordan Burke was learning to play hard ball, or at least he was trying. Herr Kruger was one of the people who had jacked up prices last year, which left them selling his product for less than they paid for it. It hadn't been entirely his fault; he had had to put on extra people to fulfill the demand. On the other hand, he wasn't the one that had taken the loss.

"But you won't guarantee to buy them. That is hardly fair."

"You're right. But having your product in our book is very good advertising." Gary shrugged. "It's your choice."

"No, Herr Schmidt, it's not about the flatware." Joyce smiled at the rather beefy down-timer. "We would like to include the Higgins Sewing Machine in our Wish Book. The way it would work is we would forward orders received to you, then receive a commission on sales you made through our Book."

"How much of a commission were you thinking about?" It went on from there and took several weeks to work out all the details. Of course, Gary and Joyce were working out the same issues on other products at the same time. It depended on the product and the company as to how things worked. Sometimes they bought stock outright, sometimes they acted as agent for other companies. Sometimes their agreements were exclusive, sometimes not.

"Oh, I really like this section." Muriel flipped through the pages of the 1633 Burke catalog. "That was clever, naming each section that way."

"Working Man Blues for the overalls is cute, I suppose." Mom sniffed. "But I'm not at all sure about that Mail-Order Bride section."

Pop cackled. "Keep your wife as happy as a new bride." Then he snorted. "But that sure didn't work the time I bought you a new vacuum, if I remember right."

Mom threw him a look. "You old coot. That was our twentieth wedding anniversary. You coulda made some kind of effort."

"Mail-Order Bride?" The caption brought Paulus Sandler to a brief halt, then he saw the rest of it. "Keep your wife as happy as a new bride. Ha! As though that can happen." He started to toss the book back on the table, then caught sight of the cover. "Hmm."

He looked at it again, then flipped through it a bit more. "Hmm." He looked at the cover again.

"See something you like?" Albrecht Pfister asked. The other men around the table laughed. Paulus looked over at Albrecht, who was suppressing a grin and not doing a good job of it. Paulus had been a widower for two years now. His partners had each tried to find him a new wife amongst their relatives, but Paulus wasn't impressed with the results. He knew they wanted him to remarry. He even realized that they probably had a point. Maria had been the joy of his life. He still felt it when he thought of her and probably always would. He looked back at the book and Albrecht spoke again. "Think you ought to send off for that one, do you?"

"They're not selling the woman, you idiots. They're selling the things she shows. You know that as well as I do. Besides, I doubt she's real. Or, if real, I doubt she looks like that."

"Dare you to write and find out." Albrecht took a sip of beer. "You never know. It came from that Grantville place. I hear they're strange there."

That put a slight damper on the conversation. Everyone had heard they were strange there and more. By now everyone had met several people who had visited the place and seen the wonders. What they were concerned about was how those wonders would effect them. Paulus and his partners were in the shipping business. They owned, between them, half a dozen barges, and owned or had a agreements with dozens of inns and mule teams for the shipment and storage of goods. They had heard of the railroads but they were far away… at least for now.

The drawing of the woman was a topic of conversation time and time again. After a week, Paulus gave up. "All right, all right. I'll write the letter and order the woman. But you know she isn't real."

Paulus knew she wasn't real. He knew this wouldn't happen, that he wouldn't receive a bride in the mail. But she sure was pretty. Perhaps, if she was real, just maybe she would write to him. But she wouldn't be real, not looking like that. It was impossible. Real women didn't look like that.

"Because I can order it cheaper than we can go there." Johan Weisel shook his head. "To travel to Grantville would be too expensive. To order this, even with the freight charges, I can afford."

Barbara Weisel hid a smile. She'd been pretty sure that was the right approach. First she'd started by asking that they make the trip to Grantville and see the sights. She'd known all along that wouldn't happen. But enough display of unhappiness had gotten her what she really wanted. She would be the first woman in the village to have gold-plated flatware. Wouldn't Maria be envious?

The Gerber Bargain Book came out about three months after the 1633 Burke Wish Book. Gerber had copied their idea and there was absolutely nothing they could do about it. A lot of their nonexclusive suppliers had their ads directly copied in his book.

No one was sure how he had gotten the print plates. Perhaps he hadn't; perhaps all he had done was use their book as a model. That's what Herr Gruber, the engraver, insisted. There were, he said, little differences in the Gerber book and the Wish Book. They actually talked to a lawyer about suing Gerber, but the lawyer told them it probably wouldn't do any good because the guy was based in Halle. Even if they won, the suit was likely to cost more than it would gain them. No one was sure what it would do to sales but they were all worried.

Johan groaned and stretched. "My pills, dear. Please."

Barbara nodded. She was happy that Johan had discovered the Blue Pills of Happiness. He was much less grumpy these days. She had used them a time or two herself, when the monthly cramps got out of hand.

All in all, she thought that many people in the village were a good bit less grumpy these days. Even her mother, who took the pills for the constant toothaches she suffered. "It's getting to be time to order more. But I think we should try the ones from the Bargain Book. They're cheaper."

"I'd be afraid they wouldn't work as well. Let's stick to the Gribbleflotz brand… just in case."

"Those are in the Bargain Book, too."

"But we know the ones from the Wish Book work."

Barbara shrugged. "As you wish. And your trousers are worn to the weft again. How about you try a pair of torberts?"

Ursula sighed. There were order forms in the Wish Book which made it easier to tell what was being ordered, in spite of which a lot of people put their orders in letters. People just didn't follow instructions. Still she had a job to do. She opened the letter and quickly realized that there was, in this case, a good reason for not using the order form.

Dear Sirs,

I would have used the order form but the item that captured my interest possessed neither order number or price. This is entirely understandable, for the young lady displayed on the cover and in your Mail Order Bride Section is clearly a pearl beyond price. Capture my interest, did I say? Nay, more. The kindly sparkle of her eyes, the clever wit of her smile, hold me an entranced prisoner even now.

I am not a fool, good sirs, though I know I must sound one. Such a one cannot exist in our poor earthly world. Not unless an angel from heaven snuck to earth in the fabled Ring of Fire. No, it must be the work of a latter day Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci, who has, in turning from uncouth men to lovely ladies, put Michelangelo'sDavid to blushing shame. And in his model found a smile that causes the famed Mona Lisa to raise her hand to hide the smile that, until now, men so remarked upon.

Still, even the greatest artist must needs have inspiration to work from. And the inspiration for these works of art must have been more than a mere physical model. Clearly the artist has managed to capture a bit of the beauty of the model's soul. Nor, I know, can such a thing be bought. It must instead be won. Did I but live in an earlier age, I would don armor and seek out a dragon to slay or perhaps take up my lute and compose ballads by the score.

But we do not live in such times and my singing causes children to flee in fear, convinced, no doubt, that some horrible monster approaches. I am but a man of accounts. A merchant, who even now kicks himself for not having the wit to offer my customers such a compilation of products to be ordered with such ease. So, while I would willingly and happily order all of the items in the Mail Order Bride section of your Wish Book – did I have such a bride as the one you show to gift them with. Alas, the one that would make the others worthwhile is unavailable. But, on the infinitesimal chance that I am wrong… that there is such a paragon of the womanly virtues as the pictures display… How might she be contacted?

Yours Most Sincerely,

Paulus Sandler

Ursula sat frozen in her chair, staring at the letter, unsure whether to laugh or cry. Clearly the letter was intended to offer the writer up for friendly ridicule for the amusement of the reader. But she was sure that there was a touch of genuine desire hidden in its lines. There was a loneliness in it that she recognized as her own. A loneliness that didn't really expect to find easing. It was that realization that tipped the balance in favor of tears, for she could almost – but not quite – believe that she could ease that loneliness and her own into the bargain. And the certainty that she couldn't weighed on her with a weight she couldn't bear. Tears filled her eyes, a little for the letter but mostly for the knowledge that she would live and die alone. Leaving the letter where it lay, she got up and ran from the room.

"What was that all about?" Gary asked.

Joyce was quicker. She went to Ursula's desk and looked for what some cretin could have written that would upset the normally unflappable young woman to the point of tears. Ready to give the cretin a piece of her mind, she of course saw the letter immediately. And began to read. Gary shortly was reading over her shoulder.

"What's the big deal?" Gary asked, just like a man. "So the guy was over the top. Why not just trash it if she didn't want to answer it."

Joyce slammed him with an elbow to the ribs. "Don't be more of a jerk than you have to, Gary. The problem is she does want to answer it."

Gary stepped out of range because he knew he was about to earn another elbow. "So why not answer it?"

Joyce didn't answer, she just looked at him and sighed. "Stay here. And don't say a word about this to Ursula. Ever! I'm going to talk to her."

Ursula was crying in her pillow when she heard the knocking and realized that she had run out of the room. Embarrassment fought grief and won, at least for the moment. She wiped her eyes and went to open the door. When she saw the letter in Joyce's hand, a new embarrassment added its weight to grief and the tears came again.

"I knew I shouldn't have agreed. I knew it."

"Honey, it's a beautiful letter. It's kind of like the man really wants to know you. He sounds very sweet." Joyce pointed to the phrase "children run screaming in fear." "You've got to like a guy who can put himself down like that."

Ursula blinked back tears. "And now I have to tell this perfectly nice man that I am not what he thinks. I knew Herr Gruber was doing wrong, making me too pretty. No one has ever offered me marriage. My family didn't even want to look at me, not after… Mama cried every time she looked at my face. That is why I left. I could bear it no longer."

Joyce patted her shoulder. "You are too that pretty. Why, if we were back up-time, they could fix that in a heartbeat."

"But we are not." Ursula stood, then wiped her eyes. "We are not."

Dear Sir,

I regret that I must decline your kind offer. It is quite true that nothing was added to that drawing, that I will attest to. But I'm afraid something was left out of it. I feel that it would not be to your advantage, or mine, to correspond.

I thank you for the letter you sent and will treasure it.

U.R.

Ursula considered and worked on her response for a week. Even though Joyce had offered to write it, she felt that she must. After at least fifty starts and stops, she finally decided that short and simple was best. But she couldn't resist letting Paulus Sandler know that she did treasure his letter.

"She writes a beautiful hand," Albrecht pointed out. "I wonder what she means, 'something was left out of it.'"

"Pox marks, I'd bet."

"Fat as a house, maybe?"

"No teeth?"

Paulus read the letter again. Something about it spoke to him. But he didn't know what. "I suppose we'll never know. I told you there would be something like this." Even as he blustered, he tried to hide his disappointment.

"Business is slow," Albrecht said. "You could go see. Don't even have to give your name. Just go and look."

"Bah! Pointless."

"Well, there's always my niece, Anna."

Paulus flinched. Anna was, in his opinion, a shrew and as close to witless as he had ever seen.

"Then you ought to go. Every man should travel now and again." Here, fishy, fishy.

"Pointless, I say."

"Dare you. Besides, we need someone to have a look at those railroads and see if we can get shipping contracts from Grantville. We got some from that Simpson fellow in Magdeburg."

"We don't have much in the way of connections in southern Germany. We always thought they weren't needed."

"True enough, before the Ring of Fire happened. Now I'm not so sure. It's been a couple of years and they're still there. Even getting bigger. I really do think it's time we started paying attention, don't you?"

The suppliers, some of them, were doing it again, in spite of the contracts. "Unavoidable delays." "We're sorry, but there are just so many hours in a day and we're working our fingers to the bone as it is." It was even true. Of course, some of the stuff they were working their fingers to the bone making was going to Halle to the Gerber warehouse. Gerber's advantage was that he had more startup money. He could make bulk orders, put them in his warehouse in Halle and have them ready for the orders to come in.

"I'm getting worried about this," Joyce said. "This is the fifth 'out of stock' letter I've had to write this week. If this keeps up, it's going to ruin our reputation."

"It's going to ruin us entirely. Waiting for those products is costing us money. And we're still getting orders from last year's Wish Book at last year's prices." Muriel was getting worried. When they had decided to seriously expand the Wish Book for 1633, they had put up the house as collateral for a large loan. They had gone with a truly monstrous print run, fifteen thousand copies and hired extra people. All of which would have been fine if they had or could get enough product to support their orders.

At seven months after the publication of the 1633 Wish books they had filled sixty-three thousand orders and had just under twenty thousand waiting, at an average of three point seven items per order. Mostly small ticket items: measuring cups and spoons, scales, even fabric tape measures, were selling faster than they could be produced. So they had a fair-sized staff that was mostly sitting on its hands waiting for the manufacturers to deliver the product so that they could package it and ship it. And they couldn't let their people go; they had become like family. Instead, she had missed the last two payments on the house. The worry was affecting her temper, which was none too even to begin with.

Paulus Sandler couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. The Wish Book came from here? A small, inconspicuous building, off the main streets of Grantville? There was no warehouse. There was barely room for a person to turn around in the crowded space. How could this possibly be the headquarters of the Wish Book?

He stopped staring in the window, squared his shoulders and tapped at the door. In the few hours he'd been here, he'd already learned to call this kind of building a "garage." It appeared that many of these garages had been converted to living spaces or workshops for various manufactories.

"Come in!"

Paulus flinched. The voice was very high-pitched and screechy. Perhaps that was what U.R. meant when she said that something had been left out. He cracked open the door. "Hello?"

"Come on in. I'm in the back."

Paulus made his way around a stack of barrels. "Ah?"

"What can I help you with?" The woman who spoke was very old, but her eyes behind the thick spectacles were bright. "Were you looking for Gary or Joyce?"

"Ah… no." Paulus held out the letter he had received. "I am looking for the person who wrote this."

Muriel looked at the letter. She knew all about it, of course. You couldn't keep a secret in the Burke household. "You the man that wrote?" He wasn't a bad looking man, she thought. A bit beefy, maybe, but nice looking.

"Yes. And I could not help myself. I must know what got left out of the picture. I simply must."

Muriel picked up a copy of the Wish Book and pointed to the cover. Then, with a finger nail, she indicated a scar on the beautiful face. "Ursula has a scar here. A bad one, caused by one of the men who attacked her. But that isn't the worst scar she carries. The worst one is the scar she carries in her heart."

"Ah." Paulus stopped.

"So tell me, buster. Does that change things for you? She's not quite what the picture shows. But she's really a lot more than it shows, too. I've never met a more caring person, up-time or down. And as they say, beauty is only skin deep."

"How am I supposed to know that?" Paulus complained. "I have never met the woman. I don't know how things would go between us even if she looked exactly like the picture. What's she like? Will she find me an old, fat man?" Paulus wasn't fat but he was solidly built and not overly tall. Nor was he a doddering oldster, though there was some gray in his blond hair and lines of care on his face. He looked like what he was, a middle-aged, fairly prosperous merchant. But he knew that to the callow youth he had been, he would look an old man. "Does her smile in the picture there reflect her laugh or is it the artist's grace? Does she laugh with joy or at another's pain?"

He shook head unable to really explain what had brought him here "It's true that I came about the girl, but I knew it was probably a fool's errand even as I made the trip. I have no desire to hurt the girl nor any great desire to be hurt myself. The excuse I gave myself was that I was really coming to look over your business. Perhaps it's best we leave it at that for now?"

"Oh no! Gerber's already killing us. Now you want to jump in."

Paulus laughed. "Not necessarily. It's more curiosity than anything else. Is Gerber really hurting you that much? From what I hear back home, you seem to have plenty of customers."

"That's not the problem. It's the suppliers." And from there they went into a detailed discussion of what the business was doing and how it was working. That's what Ursula found Muriel and the stranger talking about over an hour later.

As she usually did around strangers, Ursula stood with the good side of her face toward anyone she didn't know well. This sometimes took some maneuvering, but to Muriel it seemed that it was almost second nature by now. "I'm back, Muriel. Shopping done and the day's packages delivered to the post. The new cart makes that job much easier."

Muriel smiled. "We're pretty much done for the day, then. And I'm tired. Ursula, this is – "

She stopped abruptly because Paulus cut her off. "Albrecht Pfitzer, at your service." He bowed. "Frau, ah, Muriel, rather, has been telling me about you."

Muriel kept herself from flinching. She could understand that Paulus might not want to embarrass Ursula, but she was pretty sure he was making a big mistake. "Albrecht is going to have supper with us, Ursula. He's got some very good ideas about how we could expand the business and I want to pick his brain a bit longer. We'll need to tell Joyce to set another place at the table."

Albrecht was a very nice man, Ursula thought. He hadn't visibly flinched when he saw the scar she bore and had kept up dinner conversation very well. He'd also borne up under the noise level, which was something that Gary didn't always manage very well. Ursula knew that Joyce, Mom Burke, and Muriel couldn't help the pitch of their voices. It did make for piercing conversation, though.

Paulus thought about the Burkes and Ursula all during the walk back to the Higgins Hotel. The Wish Book had been a good idea, one that was clearly working and that had a lot of profit potential. But, as good-hearted and kind as the Burkes were, none of them had a head for business. They'd done reasonably well, even so. What they didn't have was the capital to grow. And he knew, from talking to Muriel, that they were in serious danger of going under. It was a case of too much success, too soon, compounded by the problems with their suppliers.

He, though, had capital. And business sense. And it was clear that Ursula was a part of the Burke family, an important part. He doubted that she would look kindly on him taking over if she thought it would damage her adopted family.

And, now that he thought about it, keeping his real identity a secret might have been a mistake. It had been a spur of the moment thing, an unthoughtout attempt to save them both embarrassment. It had suddenly occurred to him that maybe her letter had simply been a kind way of telling him she wasn't interested. He had never thought that before and nothing Muriel had said supported the notion. It was seeing her face. The unscarred side of her face. She had looked like the pictures. Just like the pictures. What could such a woman see in him? Now he faced another problem. How would Ursula feel when she discovered his deception? Having Ursula think he was dishonest would not make him happy, he acknowledged. She was beautiful in spirit and that spirit called to him. Probably he should have admitted who he was immediately.

Of course, if he helped the Burkes out of their troubles, surely that would make her look kindly upon him. Perhaps even enough that she would forgive him the deception.

He worried at the problem most of the night, even as tired as he was.

Paulus Sandler wasn't the only one worried. All through dinner, Muriel had worried. First, that he had involved her in his lie. Then about why he lied. Was it to save Ursula embarrassment or had he decided as soon as he saw her that he wasn't interested? That actually seemed to make more sense, though he hadn't acted uninterested in Ursula. If he was going to fade away, it might be best if Ursula never found out that Paulus Sandler had come to visit. That led her to worrying if perhaps he hadn't come here about Ursula at all and was just here to scope out their business. For all she knew he worked for Gerber. Finally after dinner she talked to Joyce and Gary about it. Then they started worrying.

"No, I don't think it was all a scam to get a look at how we operate." Gary grinned. "He was looking at Ursula all night and it wasn't the scar he was looking at."

"Gary Jordan, you are a dog." Joyce glared.

Gary grinned. " Arf, arf. But I'm your dog, darlin'. Point is, he was interested. Of course, he could be interested in both. There are guys who are interested in more than one thing." He pointed at his chest with his thumb, waited a beat for Joyce's disbelieving snort, then said, "I've met some."

"So what do we do? Drag him back down here and make him fess up?" Joyce asked. "He's going to have to sooner or later – and the longer he waits, the worse it's going to be for everyone."

Gary had been thinking about that. "I think the first thing to do is for me to go down there and have the 'what are your intentions' talk."

"Gary, Ursula's a grownup." It was clear from Joyce's tone she wasn't entirely convinced.

"I know she is, but she's also family, or close enough, and she's been hurt. I don't want to see her hurt again."

"So, if you're satisfied with his intentions, you're going to drag him back here to face the music?"

"I'm not sure. On the one hand, he surely deserves it. On the other hand, it seems like a great way to screw up any hope of them working things out. Ursula is liable to say something because she's pissed. He's liable to say something because he's trying to cover his ass. It might be better if he's not handy to pound on when Ursula gets the news."

Joyce shook her head. "Won't work. If he's not here, Ursula's going to feel like it's because he can't stand to look at her. I know it doesn't make sense, but that's how she's going to feel. Anyway, she's going to figure that the whole different name thing was just a way for him to wimp out. She's going to be hurt and if he's not here to explain himself, that's just going to nail it down."

"What are your intentions toward Ursula?" Gary felt like an idiot saying that but he couldn't think of another way to put it. Nor was he sure how he would answer if Paulus Sandler asked him what business it was of Gary's.

Instead, Paulus seemed relived. "I thought it was too late… " Paulus trailed off, clearly looking for the right words and not finding them.

"Okay." Gary sighed. "Let's go get some breakfast and you can tell me about it."

The tower, if you could call it that, of the Higgins Hotel wasn't finished yet so the restaurant was still located on the second floor of the middle building. But it was pretty darn fancy anyway. Which didn't seem to bother Paulus at all.

They sat down to scrambled eggs, bacon and pancakes while the merchant told his story. After he had gone through it all and explained why the sudden name change, Gary agreed that he was in some trouble. "The good news is you get to figure out what the dog house is like early."

"That news doesn't seem all that good to me."

"Well, you earned it and you know it." Gary grinned.

"You wouldn't sort of, well, explain the situation to Ursula?"

"Nope. I thought about it. But Joyce doesn't think it would be that good an idea. She figures if you don't show, then Ursula will think it's because you can't stand to look at her."

"That makes no sense!"

"Since when have women ever made sense?"

"But Ursula is clearly a pleasant and reasonable young woman. Surely… "

"Ursula got cut up and and assaulted eight years ago and the people of her village blamed her for 'inviting' it. A bunch of sickos blaming the victim, if you ask me. Anyway, from what we can gather, she was pretty vain about her looks before that and probably something of a tease. She figured she had lost everything. Which was what the SOB apparently had in mind. Now she figures she's the next best thing to the hunchback of Notre Dame. I know it's not that bad, you know it's not that bad. There's no convincing Ursula, though. You've seen how she hides that side of her face."

"Is that how it happened?"

"Well, that's how we've put it together from the odd comment she's made and a couple of crying jags when she'd had a bit too much wine. Point is, if you're not there to tell her different, she's going to figure that it's because you can't stand to look at her. And that, my friend, means you're going to have to be the one to tell her you were lying about your name." By now Paulus was acting like a ten year old who knew he was caught and was trying to figure out a way to get out of 'fessing up. Figuratively speaking, Gary grabbed him by the ear and dragged him home.

Judging honestly, Gary felt that Paulus held his own fairly well. Of course, it was Ursula who had most of the ammunition. The results were not deep passionate love. It was way too soon for that. Some pictures in a magazine, one letter each way. One dinner when one of the pair hadn't even known who the other was. And one "how could you do such a thing?" It was more like an armed truce. Paulus had not lived up to Ursula's expectations; he was on notice that he was on thin ice and he'd already cracked it.

At the same time, Paulus had stood up there at the end and let Ursula know that she could well win a Pyrrhic victory and run him off, and was getting very close to doing so. Yes, he had blown it. People sometimes do. No, he didn't find the scar much of an issue, not nearly so much as the "holier than thou" attitude. No, he wasn't going to run screaming because her face wasn't perfect, but neither was he a lap dog for anyone. Not even her. Looking at Ursula's face, Gary figured she was rather pleased with that last.

"So how do we keep him here long enough for something to grow?" Joyce asked after the fighters had retreated to their respective corners to get ready for the next round. That is, Ursula went to her room and Paulus went back to the Higgins Hotel.

"Do we want to?" Gary asked.

"Gary Jordan!" Joyce screeched.

"Well." Gary defended himself as best he could. "We don't really know all that much about him. We know he's a merchant, a friendly guy and he wrote a funny letter. But that's about it. He could be the next thing to a con man for all we know."

"So find out!" Joyce commanded.

What Gary found out over the next few days, first from Paulus himself, then from some of the commercial interests that were now based in Grantville, was that Paulus was generally considered honest enough, if a bit hard-nosed, in matters of business. That he was a fairly successful wholesaler of everything from pig iron to pepper. The way they decided to keep him around, even before they had confirmation for most of this, was to see if they could get him to help with organizing their business.

"Transportation." Paulus sighed. "The problem, Ursula, or the biggest problem, is transportation." He took a big drink of his beer. "The railroad will help. It will help more than I would have imagined possible before seeing it. But it will be months before it reaches Halle, and longer still before it reaches Magdeburg. And it's running at close to capacity now. What that means is that something like seventy percent of your sales have been within natural-gas-car range of Grantville or the railroads. That's a corridor about twenty miles wide on either side of the railroad in which you have unbelievably cheap transport. After you get out of that pocket, the cost of transport goes way up – to the point that it cancels out the advantage you have in mass production. It works the other way, too.

"Getting the raw materials up here costs a lot more if they aren't local, Look at the prices of your goods. Where the raw materials come through Hamburg, the cost of your goods is four to ten times higher than if the raw materials are found locally. What happens when your competitors have factories and warehouses in Magdeburg and yours are still here? Even with the railroad, they will be able to undercut your prices. You have to plan for the future."

"Is the river really that much cheaper then the railroad?" Ursula asked. "I mean, once the railroads reach Halle and Magdeburg?"

"It can be and it will be. Don't forget that by the time the railroad reaches Halle, it won't be competing with the little barges we have now. We'll build big barges with engines on them, maybe steam or, perhaps, internal combustion. We're still working that out. But my partners and I will have big barges built in Magdeburg before the rail line hits Halle. We'll be able to ship a hundred tons for what it cost us now to ship ten. And we'll have those hundreds of tons to ship, too, because of the industries that are starting up in Magdeburg and all along the Elbe."

Ursula was a bit worried. This particular batch of beer was pretty powerful. Apparently the local brewers were getting ready for the harvest celebrations. She'd determined that the last thing she wanted to do was get falling-down drunk in front of Paulus. Falling down might not be so bad. It was the drunk part she didn't much want. "But this is their home, Paulus. Many of the up-timers, especially the older ones, are afraid to leave Grantville."

Paulus burped. "Mark my words, my lovely, mark my words. It won't be that long until all the modern conveniences are available everywhere. Think about it. I come here and stay at the Higgins Hotel. I get up in the morning, walk to my own little bath house right there in my room. Get hot water with the turning of a knob. What do you think I'm going to do when I get home? The plumbing is coming. Well, for the wealthy. You can already buy a generator for the electric. There's no reason not to locate the business in a more optimum location."

Ursula grinned. Paulus had been doing a lot of talking with Huddy Colburn and picked up quite a bit of his vocabulary.

He swept his hand in the air, gesturing at the full room. "Every one of these people who wants to make money needs to consider the transportation. It will never be economically viable to have the mail order business located in such an inconvenient location. Well, the business offices can stay here. But not the warehouses and the shipping. What we need to do is convince Gary Jordan and Joyce. And Muriel. And Mom and Pop Burke." He grinned a bit blearily. "The old coot and the old hen. They don't all have to move. Muriel should probably stay here and it might be better for Mom and Pop Burke. Grantville does have the best medical facilities in the world."

"I've been reading, too. We need a parcel service like they had up-time. You Pee Ess, they called it."

"Might be possible, too. All the independent couriers… like that Martin over there… " Paulus paused. "Hm. I need to talk to Martin, I think. He'll have contacts." Then he shook his head. "That's for the future. Right now, what about us?"

He must be a bit drunk, Ursula thought. He was usually much more reticient. "What about us?"

"You still mad at me?"

Ursula took a sip of beer to delay answering. "Not really, I suppose." Their relationship had smoothed considerably in the last month. Perhaps it was time. "I'm not sure I ever really was. I was… " She touched the scar. "I was… afraid. Afraid that I would be alone forever. And then your letter came. And I thought maybe… but then… "

"I was afraid, too. Afraid I had destroyed what could have been."

Paulus had spent a lot of time with a new book in the last month. It had been written by some of the professional researchers who worked in the national library. It was a translation of management and organizational techniques developed up-time. Quite a bit of it was stuff Paulus already knew from experience, but it was organized and boiled down. Looked at in the light of Paulus' experience and "Business Management 101," the problem with the Burkes' business was that they were running it like a corner shop. They didn't have flow charts or much in the way of organizational structure. They weren't looking at who their suppliers were or, really, who their customers were. They weren't looking at what parts of the operation cost what, or seeing where things could be improved.

Paulus grimaced a bit. A lot of that could be applied to his own business as well. He and his partners had a great deal of experience. Between them they knew their business inside out, but not in a very organized way. Right now, he was a bit scared for his own fortune and his partners. It was unlikely that they would go out of business, but they could be hurt by the changes that were radiating out from the Ring of Fire. They were shippers of goods, mostly transhipers. They shipped quite a bit by barge up and down the Elbe and the Rhine, but they also had contracts with inns throughout northern and central Germany. They ran several mule trains carrying wine, cloth and all sorts of other goods. And one of the problems facing them was the change in the transportation picture. What was going to happen to the muleskinners when the railroad came? What would happen to their business as the muleskinners were affected?

While he had been building business flow charts for the Burkes, he'd also been building them for himself and his partners. Partly because he had an entirely different sort of merger on his mind, he started noticing the merger potential between the Burke's business and his. What he and his partners had was a distribution network, seventeenth-century style. What the Burkes had was access to the suppliers of up-time goods and a really good marketing idea that was already being copied. He started drawing new boxes and new lines, combining the two companies into one larger company, using each to add to the other to fill in missing pieces.

It was really just an exercise. Neither his partners nor the Burkes were likely to agree to it. His partners because they could copy the parts that the Burkes did readily enough. They hadn't yet because they mostly dealt in bulk goods. The Burkes because – like a lot of the up-timers – they seemed to want to keep control of everything in their own hands. At the same time, he did have a responsibility to his partners. The way things were looking, they were going to lose a lot of their trade over the next few years to the railroads.

"So you see, I really must be getting back. Albrecht, the real Albrecht, has written, asking for more details."

Ursula nodded. She and Paulus were walking through Grantville, her to do the shopping, Paulus just to keep her company and because he wanted to pick up some things he'd ordered. "You've been a lot of help. Even Gary says so. I did speak to him of the transportation problems. He is unsure."

"Ah. Here we are." Paulus put his hand on her waist and guided her through the door of Eberhart Leather. "I'm to pick up the briefcases today. Which will be much more professional-looking than a canvas tote."

Ursula giggled. "The mark of a businessman is his fancy leather brief case. Gary is going to start calling you a 'suit.'"

The counterman, having recognized Paulus, brought out the four briefcases he'd ordered. He'd had the initials of his partners applied to each. "Most excellent," Paulus said. "Most excellent. Wrap those up, please, but I will take this one now." He started transferring the load of file folders out of the tote, but he was a bit clumsy with it. One folder fell, spreading the contents over the floor.

It had to be that folder.Paulus reached for the organization chart, but it was too late. Ursula had already picked it up.

She looked up from it, face flushed. "Just what kind of merger are you planning, Herr Sandler? I don't recall… "

"Please don't be upset." He hesitated a moment. "I'm not really planing much of anything yet. It's more of a possibility than a plan."

"It looks pretty detailed to me."

"Yes, detailed, but not probable. What I haven't been able to figure out is the key to the whole thing… how to get anyone to agree to it." The clerk was looking at them, so, leaving Ursula in possession of the flow chart, Paulus took her arm and led her out of the shop.

"What do you mean?" Ursula waited till they were in the street to ask. One of the things that had impressed him about her was that she noticed things.

"Let's find a place where we can sit and talk." Paulus looked up and down the street for someplace fairly private.

A few minutes later, Ursula was seated in a corner of a cafe, waiting to hear Paulus' explanation. She hoped it would be a good one because she didn't really want to believe that he was going to try to steal the Wish Book from the Burkes.

"How many of the businesses in Grantville are now run by down-timers?" Paulus asked.

Ursula gave him a look but answered anyway, figuring this was part of the explanation. It had better be. "I don't know the exact numbers, but quite a few."

"Neither do I," Paulus acknowledged. "But I have noticed that a lot of them seem to have a certain amount of resentment attached to it, even when the up-timer gets rich off the deal… which a lot of them have."

Ursula nodded and waited.

"A lot of up-timers seem to think that just because they are from the future they know how to run a business. Well, they don't. You've heard the horror stories; I know you have. Even the up-timers have, though they don't seem to be listening all that well."

"If they're that bad, why are you carrying around up-time style management flow charts?" She held up the document in question.

"The up-timer management strategies in the business books that came back with the Ring of Fire are often brilliant and mostly useful. But most up-timers don't seem to have read the books." Paulus grinned at her and she had to acknowledge the truth of his words with a nod.

"It takes more than just the books, anyway," Paulus said. "It takes experience to understand what the books mean and most up-timers don't have it. I doubt if there are fifty up-timers who ran a business before the Ring of Fire. It's a different world view."

"Okay. So the up-timers aren't the world's greatest business people. What does that have to do with what you said before?"

"That's less the problem than the fact that most of them don't seem to realize it. What do you think the Burkes would say if I offered to take over?"

Ursula grinned. "I'm not entirely sure, but I think you might be surprised." She knew that the pressures of running the business weren't doing good things for the Burkes. That they weren't all that happy with the way things were going. "Is that what you have in mind? To take over the Wish Book and make us all rich?"

"Sort of. I have partners too, you know. I have a responsibility to them." Paulus hesitated then burst out. "The truth is, if it weren't for you, I wouldn't be considering a merger at all. And even if the Burkes agreed, I doubt if my partners would."

"Why not?" Ursula tried to keep her voice level in spite of the sudden realization that he cared a great deal for her. She had come to know Paulus and one thing she was sure of was how important doing the best job he could was to him.

"Because they don't have that much to offer. The concept of the Wish Book, which, as Gerber has shown, we don't need to pay for. A little good will, but not that much. I know what my partners are going to say. 'Sounds like a great idea. What do we need the up-timers for?' Unfortunately, I don't have a good answer for that question."

Ursula cocked her head to the side. "You're not as smart as I thought you were. You know what? I have a good answer for that question."

"What?"

"Knowledge. Not business knowledge. General knowledge. Look, a few months back someone wanted us to sell an electric belt that was a cure for everything from the black death to back pain. Could an electric belt do that?"

"Well, from your voice I guess not." Then he grinned. "But if I had just seen a proposal for such a product, I would have no way of knowing."

"Joyce took one look at it and laughed. The idea that electricity could cure a disease was ridiculous to her. On the other hand, the magnetic stand that lets another magnet float above it? I would never have believed that if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. I would have thrown that one out. But it does work. It's not good for all that much, I grant, but it's a very impressive knickknack and we've had a lot of letters about how much people love playing with them. There have been a lot of things like that over the last couple of years. They know a lot about what works, stuff that makes no sense to us and would take years to pick up on. That's their value. That's what they have that makes including them in the deal a good idea."

Paulus tried to keep his nervousness from showing. "Let me start with my business. My partners and I own several river barges and part ownership in some inns, as well as a piece of several mule trains. It's partly what your up-timer books would call a distributed network transport system. Say a load of iron comes in through Hamburg. A merchant there will buy part of the load, then sell it to foundries and smithies. Then he will contact us and tell us how much he wants to go where. We'll agree on a price and a timetable, then we'll send it by barge up river or by mule train, east or west. To an inn, where the shipment will be split and then sent by other barges and or mule trains to different destinations, or wait in a back room in an inn until there is transport available to ship it where it needs to go. We only own a few of the steps in the chain, but we have standing agreements with a lot of others. Sometimes we're carrying their stuff, sometimes they are carrying ours. Once in a while, we work out who's been carrying more of whose cargo and pay each other to keep everything pretty much balanced. Scheduling isn't quite catch-as-catch-can, but it's not all that precise, either. It's a fairly slow way of getting your goods from one place to another. On the other hand, it's quite a bit cheaper than hiring a mule train to take your cargo where you want it in one shot."

Joyce and Gary looked at each other. The way that tied in to the Wish Book business was obvious. "Why did you tell us you were a merchant?"

"Because I am?"

"But why didn't you tell us that you were in transportation?"

"Oh. It didn't occur to me for a while that my business and your business had much to do with each other. You see, we don't ship to Mr. Smith on Baker's Lane or Mrs. Jones on Market Street. We ship to Smith and Sons Fine Blacksmiths or to Jones' Tailor Shop."

"You don't do retail?" Muriel asked "Why not?"

"I have been asking myself that same question since I looked at the open spaces in your business flow chart and compared them to the boxes in ours. One reason, I think, is that the guilds wouldn't approve. Have you noticed how much of your sales are to small villages instead of towns?"

"Most people live in villages."

"True enough, but the money is concentrated in the towns. Most towns have rules limiting the import of goods that are already manufactured by the guilds in that town. So, ready-made boot sales are limited to villages where there isn't a shoemakers guild. A battery or crystal set or record player, you can sell most anywhere. Ready-made pants are likely to be blocked. Not always, by the way. If you send it by post, it will mostly get by. What they are really after is someone bringing in a cart load of shoes to sell in town. That might change, though, if more people start using the Wish Book, the Bargain Book or the others that are sure to follow."

Paulus watched their faces. "Anyway, that's why I wasn't thinking in terms of a connection between your business and mine. We don't generally do retail. Then a few days ago I happened to have projections from your business and mine on the table at the same time and suddenly saw the connection. It seemed like we could fill in a lot of the holes in your organizational chart and that you could expand our business. What it didn't seem like was something that either you or my partners would agree too. I went ahead and did the work-up as practice. A way of learning to use what I found in the books. Then Ursula saw it and convinced me that you at least might consider it."

Paulus then launched into a detailed plan of how it would work. He answered questions about how their business would change and be helped by his. When the questions came back to the workings of his business, he said, "You should come with me and see how it works." He wondered if they'd go for it, frankly. While quite a number of up-timers had gone off to other places, a far larger number seemed to be planted in Granville to stay.

Sure enough, they were surprised by the idea. "Ah… we'll have to think about it," Gary said. "We hadn't… "

Ursula kept quiet. In her own opinion, as good as they'd been to her, up-timers were a bit soft. And very attached to their luxuries.

"We did used to camp," Gary pointed out. "Not much difference, sanitation wise."

"I always hated it," Joyce grumbled. "Always, always, always. Go out in the hot, go out in the cold, pee in the woods… hated it."

"Joyce." Muriel glared. "You are such a wuss."

"Am not, either," Joyce screeched.

"Are so," Mom Burke screeched back. "You'd never have made it through the Depression. You're only fifty-five. I'd go, only I'm way too old. And the arthritis has me down too bad."

"Oh, yadda yadda yadda. Do we get the 'walked to school in the snow' lecture now?" Joyce slumped into her recliner. "I didn't say I wouldn't go, people. And there's more than the potty issue, you know. Wasn't that long ago we got attacked, remember? I can't help it. I'm nervous about leaving Grantville."

"You ain't no spring chicken, either." Muriel grinned. "If you don't want to go, I will. What the heck. I'm seventy-four. How many adventures can I expect?"

Joyce snickered. "I can see it now. You on a horse."

"You're a wuss, Joyce."

Ursula went to her room. They were all wusses, she thought. That didn't mean she didn't care about them. But they really were wusses.

Joyce, Gary, Muriel, Ursula and Paulus stepped off the barge in Lauenburg and looked around.

"Sure is a busy place," Gary mumbled.

It was. The barges were lined up, waiting to unload and new piers were being built to accommodate them. Men with carts trudged to and from various warehouses; the taverns were full to overflowing.

Paulus' expression was one of satisfaction. "Yes. And getting busier. Come, please."

"We don't really need them," Albrecht pointed out. "Yes, it was a good idea. I can agree with that. But we don't really need them."

"Yes, we do need them." He explained about the knowledge they all had. "They will keep us from accepting a reasonable sounding impossibility and let us consider impossible sounding things that do work. They also have connections in Grantville that will make dealing there and with up-timers in general easier. Besides, he thought, I need Ursula. And with Ursula comes the Burkes.

Muriel spoke up. "Reputation is important in retail. It affects sales and can even affect whether we are allowed to sell in towns. Heck fire, the arguments the guilds usually use to justify blocking imports is quality." Then she discussed the patent medicines that used to be sold in their world, and were sold even now all over Germany. Nasty stuff that did no good, but only made things worse. "We can prevent a lot of those mistakes. There will still be some, but if we can keep the number low enough, we can maintain a reputation for quality that will make keeping us out harder and harder as the years go by."

Albrecht was watching Paulus. Suddenly he grinned. "Acquired a bit more family than you thought you would, looks like. All right. I'll go along. But I want some use of those connections. I want my son to go to Grantville, to help there. And my daughter. To put her to school."

"I'm sure it can be worked out," Paulus said. "They have a saying, these people. 'Love conquers all.'"

"They're crazy."

"Yep." Muriel agreed with a smile. "We sure are."

Trommler Records

Written by Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett

"Just sign right there." The blond man, Contz Beckenbauer, indicated the space for her signature and handed her the pen. "Right there, as I said. Then we'll talk about what you will sing for the record."

Els hesitated a moment. She was just about to move to dip the pen when Herr Beckenbauer said, "The offer could be withdrawn at any time, you know."

That just didn't sound right. This man was in a bit too much of a hurry for Els' comfort. There must be something in this contract that he hadn't properly explained. Els could remember spoken words very well. She had a little more trouble when it came to reading them. The counselor at the high school had called it dyslexia. That diagnosis had come as a relief. It explained why she could memorize spoken lines for plays but had trouble reading them herself.

Els stood. "I will have my father look at this." She picked up the up-time style handbag that had been a gift from Trent Partow for her eighteenth birthday and shoved the contract inside. "I've been told many times that a person should have a contract examined by a legal expert." She headed for the door, over his protests.

"I will withdraw the offer, then," he said. "You will not record for my studio."

Els turned. "As you wish. But I'm still going to have this contract 'checked out,' as they say." Perhaps you are not an honest man, Herr Beckenbauer.

Judy was almost dancing in her seat at Cora's, waiting for Els to get there. When Els came in, she jumped up. "How did it go? Did you get a contract?"

Els slumped into the booth. "I got one. But I haven't signed it and now he says he withdraws the offer. Here." Els scrabbled around the bag. "You look at it."

Judy knew about Els' problems with the written word. Els didn't like to talk about it, but they'd grown close over the last couple of years. She took the contract and worked her way through it. It was in legalese, which she didn't speak, but it felt off. That was okay; she knew lawyers. "You were right not to sign it. I can't really read it either, between the German and the legalese, but I think it's a case of "what the large print gives, the small print takes away.'"

Judy caught up to Els in second period practical math. "Good thing you didn't sign it," were the first words out of her mouth. "He'd have had you tied up for fifteen years for one thing. You wouldn't have gotten any royalties for your records, either."

Judy looked ready to bite some one's head off. "We're going to have to put the word out about this turkey. I hope there aren't a lot of people who've signed this sort of thing. Professor Gruder says it's as near to a contract of indenture as makes no difference. Except a contract of indenture actually pays you something." Gruder was one of the teachers from Jena who had come to Grantville to learn up-timer law and teach down-timer law. He was positively fierce and scared everyone in class. Except, apparently, Judy.

Els slumped into the desk. "Wonderful. I finally get a chance and this happens. I want to be a star, Judy. I've wanted that since I first discovered what it meant. Not just for me. For my family. For Trent. So he will have a wife of property, not just a player."

"You already are a star," Judy insisted. She was supported by a couple of nods from some of the other kids near them. "Besides, you know that Americans don't think that way, Els."

"No, they don't," Els conceded, after giving her a look. It was true mostly, though the exceptions weren't as rare as Judy seemed to think. "But my own people do. To become famous… it would mean a lot."

Judy's expression went a bit sad for a moment. Els knew she was remembering Katrina Kunz. Katrina was from a wealthy family in Badenburg. She was the one who had explained to Judy that players were not socially acceptable.

Katrina had been trying to be nice and keep Judy from making a social error that might ruin her prospects, or so Judy had insisted. She had returned the favor by explaining that in the up-time world having successful actors for friends was a good thing. Katrina hadn't taken it well. She no longer talked to Judy, who hated losing friends, especially over something that just didn't make sense to her.

Els examined Judy, her friend. Four years after the Ring of Fire, Judy was no longer the cute little sister of Sarah Wendell. She was the acknowledged queen of Grantville High. She was five feet nine inches tall and could be a runway model if she had time. Herr Schroeder had asked her. She was, in Els' opinion, the prettiest girl in school. She made Els feel better about being thin just by being there.

Judy tapped her fingers on the desk. "What you need is an agent."

Els pulled herself back from her thoughts. "Agent?"

"Right. Up-time actors have agents."

"What do agents do?"

"They… " Judy paused, then grinned. " Wetake ten percent off the top." Els gave her a look. This was Judy the imp. Judy the plotter. Els knew she was in trouble. When Judy the imp got started you ended up doing the craziest things… but they all seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.

Judy started laughing. "An agent handles things like contracts, does the negotiating, has the contacts. Arranges things. It should be someone with your best interests at heart." Judy stood and grabbed her own bag. "C'mon. Let's go to the library. I need to do some research. Agent and manager. That's something I could do. I'm sure of it."

Els rolled her eyes. Judy wouldn't actually do the research. She never did. She would grab someone and have them do her a favor. Probably Susan. Susan was good at research.

"All right. But I've got to be at the lounge at six." Els had been singing in the lounge in the Higgins Hotel three nights a week for the past two years.

Ritter Jost von Reinhart was quite pleased with the overall situation. He was rather short at five foot four, with sandy hair and gray eyes. People who called him fat were both unfair and unwise. He was big-boned. Granted there was a certain amount of padding on the bones, but a surprising amount of it was muscle. He was, as usual, meticulously dressed and groomed. Every hair in place. There were rather fewer of those hairs than there had been in his youth. He pushed a button and the servant came and exchanged this course for the next. While his estates were near Berlin, he had a house in Magdeburg from which he did most of his business.

He was, of course, disappointed that Contz Beckenbauer had failed to get Els Engle's signature on the contract. There was still hope, though not much if the young lady actually did take the contract to a lawyer. Beckenbauer should never have let her take it out the door. Thankfully, most didn't seek legal advice. Even if this girl did, though, he still might get her. Many people were desperate to get a record cut and become famous stars in the up-time fashion. He doubted that she'd be able to do that. He had too much control already.

Jost owned – indirectly – a record player manufactory and a record cutting studio. And had a contract with Adolph Schmidt at the pressing plant. He also had several other contracts. Jost paused a moment and chewed. This up-timer catfish was excellent. Completely unlike the inedible down-time sort.

His cutting shop had contracts with several recording studios that delivered tapes to him. He owned one of them already and expected to pick up the other soon. The other one was a studio with some good portable equipment, perfectly suitable for recording live concerts and plays. It was expensive equipment – quite expensive – and he could probably pick it up fairly cheaply in exchange for not prosecuting when Jacob Trommler defaulted on his contract.

Jost grinned and patted his mouth with a napkin. It was a good contract, that one. It obligated Trommler Records to buy at least one cut master a month at a set price. If Herr Trommler didn't buy the master, he didn't just owe the cutting shop for it, he owed a penalty as well. Of course, Jacob had not been quite so naive as the "want to be" stars whose contracts Jost owned. If Trommler did come up with something to cut a master of, the von Reinhart cutting studio was obligated to do it.

But Jost doubted that Trommler would have anything more than another speech he wanted recorded. The man was too civic-minded for his own good. Jost grinned again. The radical ones often were. Jost was a fairly conservative man. He was willing enough to use the technology the up-timers brought. He was less happy with their radical political notions. Trommler had insisted that he be able to cut and distribute anything he wanted to and hadn't paid much attention to what else was in the contract. Which meant that, soon enough, Jost would own Trommler Records.

"Because," Judy said, weeks later, "Speeches aren't especially entertaining. She was sitting in a rather dingy office outside Magdeburg where the rents were cheaper. And talking to a committed record producer. Or perhaps one who should be committed. "They're topical, I'll give you that. People need to hear them, but mostly they only need to hear them once. Maybe twice, in an election year. Records are for stuff you want to listen to every day or every few days or maybe just when you're in the mood."

Trommler Records wasn't doing all that well, not these days. Clearly, Jacob Trommler thought it was a wonderful idea to make records of speeches. Mike Stearns' speeches. Wilhelm Wettin's speeches. Speeches from the USE House of Lords and senators. Judy had gone over his sales list and inventory.

"But speeches are important," Jacob said. "Not like the silly music." Jacob broke into song and Judy winced when she heard it. "In the big rock candy mountains, you never change your socks," he warbled. "And the little streams of alcohol come a trickling down the rocks." Thankfully, Jacob quit singing. The wobbling of the guy's Adam's apple had been almost as bad as his singing voice. He started talking again, which wasn't as bad.

"How is this of value? It goes against the sanitation lessons. It goes against what we are told of the evils of too much drinking. Speeches matter, Fraulein. They tell people what is going on in the world." It was clear that Jacob, a skinny guy with muddy brown hair and glasses, was trying to impress her.

Judy sighed a bit. Since moving to Magdeburg after graduation she had been quite busy. It had taken a telegraph message from Trent to remind her of her promise to Els. Feeling guilty she had moved into high gear and found Trommler Records. "Herr Trommler, yes, they do. But they are not entertainment. A person will go hear a speech, yes. Listen to it on the radio, yes. But the election is over. It's done. And people don't want to listen to politicians spout off every day. " Judy could see him getting ready to object and held up her hand. "They aren't going to buy that kind of record. On the other hand, they do listen to music every day."

"I have inventory. The speeches will sell, given time," Jacob said. Inventory he did have, Judy knew. Inventory of a bunch of records of speeches he hadn't had to pay an artist to record. The only thing keeping this guy afloat was the one really good idea he'd had. The record sets of "Learn Up-timer English" sold well. The record sets of "Learn Latin" sold even better. True, he did have two speeches that sold reasonably well. One was of Gustavus Adolphus, the other of Mike Stearns conceding the election to Wilhelm Wettin.

"Herr Trommler, I'm not arguing the moral merits of music versus speeches. What I am saying is that people won't buy the speeches, not in the numbers you need to make a profit. You need an entertainment division to support your other, more high-minded, products. For that you need a name. Someone who is already recognized by the people you're trying to sell to. Someone like the Old Folk's Band. Marla Linder. Or Els Engel."

Jacob's eyes lit up a bit. Els had become fairly well known after singing at the hotel lounge, appearing in plays and doing a few commercials on the radio. Well, and not to mention that she provided the voice of Maid Marie for the "Robin of the Committees of Correspondence" radio serial.

"I would have to pay for cutting the records," Jacob said. "I have very little cash left, as you know. Else you would not be here."

Judy grinned. "True. But it just happens that I know someone who has a very great interest in music recording. Cash flow can be arranged, assuming you're willing to have a couple of partners."

"I already have investors." Jacob sighed. "And debts and contracts. I will not lie to you, Fraulein. The debts and contracts I already have threaten to run me out of business."

The contracts were the key to the whole deal. Friends had looked them up in the records offices in both Grantville and Magdeburg. Those friends would end up owning a small part of Trommler Records if this worked out. Judy took care of her friends.

"So when do I make a record?" Els asked.

"When I get finished with all this, this… stuff." Judy's voice was strained. Els looked at her. Judy looked angry. Quite angry.

"What is wrong?"

Judy sighed. " Susan and Professor Gruder ambushed me. Professor Gruder even took the train to Magdeburg to do it. That contract got him interested and he started looking into things. When he got to Magdeburg, he and Susan put together a report and are making me read it. It turns out that this Ritter Jost von Reinhart is up to something nasty."

Els rolled her eyes a bit. "Umm. Right. What is so bad? And why can't I make a record, yet?"

"If you want to sign something that amounts to an unconscionable contract, you can go right ahead. But I'd advise against it."

"What?" Els looked startled.

"An unconscionable contract is basically one that is so one-sided it makes the judge puke. The problem is that the dear ritter left just enough on the other side that the judge just might not lose his lunch. But if you're in so much of a hurry that you want to wind up practically indentured to this jerk, go right ahead. But don't say I didn't warn you."

"The contract was with Contz Beckenbauer, not von Reinhart."

Judy snarled. "Yes, it was. And Beckenbauer works for von Reinhart. He's just a front man for the creep. He'd have turned the contract over to him and you'd have been stuck but good. Just give me a little more time. I think Susan and the professor have pounded this stuff into my head. Susan says we've got to get all the girls together on this."

"As long as I get to make a record someday." Els sighed.

Judy pretended she was staring into a crystal ball, even though it was actually a coffee cup. "I see," she intoned in a mystical voice, "stardom in your future." She reverted to her usual voice. "Just keep your shirt on, will you?"

"Take a look at these," Susan said. She passed copies of various contracts around the table. The Barbie Consortium was meeting in a private dining room in the recently-built Capitol Restaurant. Judy had just returned from Grantville and her meeting with Els. Judy and several of the girls were giving the G amp;M rail line quite a bit of business since they'd graduated.

Susan looked at Judy and quirked an eyebrow. Always one of the more serious of the girls, Susan believed in preparation. Judy nodded, indicating that she had in fact read them and Susan grinned. Susan had been much happier since leaving Grantville. They waited for the rest of the girls and Helene Gundelfinger to finish reading.

"So," Heather Mason said, "This Ritter whoosis… ah… Reinhart, that is, has controlling interests in most of the local entertainment companies. And contracts that are going to let him wind up with a monopoly, considering how many of these people don't know squat about business. Is that a pretty fair summation?"

Susan grinned. "Ten points to Heather. And would anybody care to guess just how appreciative the USE government is going to be about the possibility of a media trust?"

"The current government or the previous one?" Vicky Emerson muttered.

"Now, now," Judy cautioned. "Prime Minister Wettin has sworn to uphold the laws of the USE."

Gabrielle, just back from a visit to the University of Jena, said, "Whatever. The thing is, this guy is trying to take over the whole media industry before it gets off the ground good. And your Herr Trommler signed the contract. So he has to buy a cut master, every single month. At a set price, in case you didn't notice."

"If we catch Judge Riddle in the right mood… " Susan began.

Judy grinned. Like a shark, some might say. David Bartley, now on the board of OPM, didn't call her "Judy the Barracudy" for nothing. "Yeah, maybe. But do we really want to try and break it? You'll notice that the price is set. Von Reinhart can't change it. So all we really have to do is make some records that will sell." Judy's face grew serious for a moment. "What I'd really like to do is break Ritter Jost von Reinhart. He's a self-proclaimed patron of the arts, but what he really is, is a rat.

"That will have to wait, though. Jacob Trommler has already missed two months. When you add up the fee for the cutting, the penalty and the interest, he'll owe von Reinhart a fortune if he doesn't catch up. But the contract doesn't specify that the master has to be a speech, either. It can be anything."

Helene Gundelfinger, who'd made a day trip to Magdeburg for this meeting, grinned. Like a shark, some might say. Some did, in fact. "I like it."

Judy smiled a little grimly. "It's a start. You saw the contract that Contz Beckenbauer wanted Els Engle to sign. She'd have wound up working for von Reinhart. I don't like this guy. I don't like what he's trying to do and he's way too close to succeeding. So, ladies of the Barbie Consortium, do we or do we not take this turkey down?"

A number of sharkish grins went around the table.

"Aye." "Aye." "Aye."

No one was opposed.

Jacob Trommler's investors weren't happy campers.

"How did this Jost character get so much of the business so fast?"

"Blackmail," Judy explained. "Well, greenmail, maybe, since it was all about money. I've spent the last couple weeks researching the mess. The thing about the recording industry is that if you have control of one piece you can screw everyone. Of course, you screw yourself, too. But if you have more money than the other people in the game, you can run them out of business or force them to do what you want. It's more complicated than that, really. But that's what it comes down to. And that's what von Reinhart is trying to do."

"So how do we avoid that?" Frantz Erwin was Jacob's largest, and most vocal, investor. And the unhappiest, for that matter.

"It's mostly cash on hand." At Herr Erwin's puzzled look, Judy clarified. "When von Reinhart got involved, most of the rest of you had already spent most of your money. It was tied up in things like the record press or the master cutting house. He bought out the guy who was making record players and stopped selling them. No new record players. No new record customers."

"He did," Jacob confirmed. "And none of us could raise more money to start building more."

"Someone will, sooner or later," Herr Erwin said.

Judy nodded. "Sure. If someone had had the guts, the money and the interest to go against him when he already had a factory up and running. He didn't stop making them, just selling them. The other guys in the business couldn't afford to wait or to start their own record player company. They caved and he got the cutting house for next to nothing and has a contract with the pressing house."

"Again, why won't that happen to us?" Herr Erwin's face was flushed.

"Because for a piece of the business, we're going to rescue your silly asses," Vicky muttered.

"Trommler's record contracts," Judy said quickly, giving Vicky a harsh look, "have considerable value. Also, after von Reinhart got what he wanted, he started selling record players again. Everyone who can afford one is buying them. That's a one time trick and we've got cash, which you guys didn't. So we propose to invest in this company. If you will give Jacob a bit more time. If you prefer to cash out, I'll buy your shares."

Frantz Erwin and a couple of other investors elected to cash out. They didn't want to be invested in a company run by such young people, and the offer was fair considering the circumstances. They didn't lose that much. Judy and the Barbie Consortium now had a controlling interest in Trommler Records.

"Heather, we'll need your CD collection, I expect. We'll need to have Els go through a bunch of songs to pick out what people will like. Not to mention, she learns lyrics and lines by listening to them. And I'd like, if we could, to have her cut the first hit record of 1635."

"Works for me," Heather said. "I don't see why a pretty good number of my oldies won't work, if they get translated properly. Change a word here, change a word there. It ought to work."

"But, Judy," Millicent Anne Barnes piped up, "what are you going to be doing?" Millicent still looked like a moppet, with her curly dark hair and tiny size.

Judy grinned. "I'm going to be investigating what will sell. I was struck by something Herr Trommler did while I was in his office, back weeks ago. I know a lot of us," she waved her hand at the table, "like some of the more modern music. Well, except for Heather, that is."

The girls laughed. Heather's passion for oldies had been a joke with them for several years. Judy shook her head. "The thing is, if you'll pay attention sometime, people around here don't go around doing rap under their breath, do they? Even with as much of it as some people play." Judy cast a look at Hayley Fortney, who stuck her tongue out at her.

"No taste," Hayley remarked. "No taste at all, Judy."

"Anyway," Judy said, "the song Herr Trommler sang to me – and I should probably mention that he's got no more voice than a frog… " The girls laughed. Neither did Judy, as she well knew.

"Anyway," Judy said, after the laughter had died down, "the song he sang wasn't rap. Or one of Heather's oldies. Or that opera that Marla Linder does, either. Although I have heard some of her Irish folk tunes being hummed around town."

"Oh, God." Hayley groaned. "Don't tell me what I think you're about to tell me." She buried her head in her hands. "I bet I don't want to hear this."

Judy grinned. "'Fraid so, Hayley. It was one of the numbers the Old Folk's Band does. Something about a big rock."

Sharkish grins disappeared. Most of the girls at the table groaned. But Helene Gundelfinger grinned and winked at Judy.

"That's just plain rotten." Mr. Buckner and the rest of the OF Band were in their backyard again. "Pickin and grinnin," they called it. "Not that I know a heck of a lot about business, you understand."

Judy nodded. She was just off the train from Magdeburg again. There were some things you needed to do in person and persuading people to sign with a record label was one of them.

"But we haven't signed any contracts." Huey Jones rattled his tambourine. "We're doing well enough already. The girls have the boarders and all. So we didn't figure we needed to make a record, back when that Beckenbauer guy tried to get us to sign up with him. We just pass the hat at the Gardens and have a meal. Suits us, that way."

"I'm glad to hear that." Judy smiled. "That you didn't sign the contracts, I mean. But not about the record. I think you ought to get all your music recorded, myself. So it doesn't get lost in time, or get all jumbled up with other stuff. It would be a part of the historical record, in a way." Judy tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. The breeze was a little too strong for a good hair day.

It took a fair bit of talking them into it, but Judy left with a proper contract with the OF Band.

Jost von Reinhart took a sip of beer. "It will not matter. Up-timers do not know what people like to hear. I do. So even though they have a controlling interest in Trommler Records, it will not matter."

"It isn't just the contract with the Engle girl," Contz pointed out. "They have one with the OF Band, too."

Von Reinhart's face changed a bit. Contz though he might be a little more worried, now. Just as well, Contz thought. The… well, fink, to use an up-time expression… had nipped his own production company in the bud, after all. Perhaps these girls would give him something to think about.

"So I finally get to cut a record?"

"Yes, Els, you do," Judy said. "Have you picked out the song? Or songs, for that matter. You can get about six and a half minutes at sixty rpm. Not quite five minutes if we go to eighty."

Els considered a moment. "I have listened to both. The sound quality is not that different. The eighty rpm records would be better for opera, but for my voice the sixty will do. It will mean I can record two songs on one record."

Heather nodded her head earnestly. "And that's why we think you should be recording. That way Mother Maybelle's heritage will never be lost."

"And you'll pay us to sing for the record." Minnie wanted confirmation.

"Absolutely," Heather said. "And royalties, once the sales have paid for the advance. Of course, it all depends on how many sell, but we're doing the stocking at the stores. The stores are mostly going to be taking the records on consignment, so we'll know how much of what sold."

Bennie Pierce nodded. "Always was a crap shoot, the recording industry. No way to know but to try it."

"Pretty much," Heather agreed.

"Here it is." Hayley shook her head mournfully. "Our first master. And it's a country song. Not even decent rock and roll."

"Els thinks it will sell better," Heather said. "And I do, too. So, just shut up and soldier, Hayley."

Hayley grimaced. "A country song. Shudder. Changed lyrics, and only Mr. Simmons playing the guitar for accompaniment. Yerg."

"It's going to take some time to get things turned around," Judy noted. "But Els is going to sing it on the radio program tonight. She got the writers of Robin to agree to work it in. Free advertising. The changed lyrics had had a lot to do with that."

Hayley grimaced again. "Yerg."

Tip's was quiet tonight. It usually was on Friday night, when it was time for Robin of the CoC to be broadcast on the Voice Of America. The crowd listened intently, as they usually did. The crowd at the Freedom Arches was doing the same thing. Robin was a popular show.

This time, Robin was riding to the rescue of Maid Marie, who had been captured – again. She got captured fairly often. Which was understandable since her duties as an agent of the Committee of Correspondence took her to some dangerous places. While Robin of the CoC had started out as an adaptation of the Robin Hood stories, they were, of course, influenced by the famous Gretchen Richter and Jeff Higgins. Robin was a noble who had taken on the goals of the CoC and Marie was a farmer's daughter. With her parents safe again after the arrival of the Ring of Fire, she had joined the CoC. There she had met Robin and become his partner. In a number of important ways, Els' role was more akin to the Bill Cosby role in I Spy than to the average Maid Marian. In fact, she was often the rescuer, rather than the rescued.

This time, while held by an evil ritter, she sang to the absent Robin, not knowing he was hidden just around the corner waiting his chance to set her free:

"I don't believe in right of kings,

good blood, bad blood, silly things.

I don't believe in stories told

of maidens weak and knights of old.

That might is right and weak is wrong,

or God's word can't be set in song.

That life and love are some cruel jest,

or some are simply born the best,

But I believe in love.

I believe in freedom.

I believe tomorrow's hope,

'Cause I believe in you."

The response was surprisingly fast for a world that mostly lacked telephone and telegraphs. The VOA was deluged with requests for the song. First from the area right around Grantville, then, as the days passed, from villages and towns all over the VOA's listening area.

They had thought they were ready. Trommler Records had a lot of prints ready for shipping. They sold them in the first three days. Eventually, it became the first gold record in the new history by passing the half million records mark without even slowing to look as it passed. It took some time to pass that milestone, mostly because of the time it took to stamp the records.

Of course, by then the Barbie Consortium had run off to Vienna, leaving Els' career in the capable hands of the Gertrude Schmidt Talent Agency. Sometimes called "Gerty's T amp;A" because of the large number of young ladies it had signed, it was listed as GSTA on the Grantville exchange. The Barbie Consortium, as might be expected, owned a fair chunk of that stock. Trommler Records was left with a down-timer merchant as the CEO and Els' Uncle Heinrich as the vice president of the Entertainment Division. Herr Trommler was now VP of News and Education.

Jost von Reinhart was not a happy camper. He had a fair number of singers under contract but since Els Engle's hit, the label of choice for aspiring artists was Trommler. Old Folk's songs, while not selling quite so well, were selling, and so were recordings from the new talents TR had signed. Even the silly speeches were selling better.

Fuming, he pushed the button to call for the next course. He was already in a foul mood. That mood was not improved when the butler carried in the next course. Whistling. That song.

CONTINUING SERIALS

Stretching Out, Part One: Second Starts

Iver P. Cooper

Grantville, May 2, 1632

"Race time ten minutes," blared the speaker. The murmur of the fairground crowd rose, and then subsided.

"I can't believe you talked me into this," Maria Vorst said. Maria had come to Grantville with her brother Adolph, the curator of the Leiden Botanical Gardens, and a member of the faculty of medicine. They had visited Grantville's greenhouses, and Adolph had met with Doctor Nichols and Doctor Adams. Adolph had returned to Leiden; he had classes to teach and meetings to attend. Maria had stayed in Grantville to study botany and gardening.

Her partner, Lolly Aossey, waved to some of her middle school students. Lolly was their science teacher. She was also a girl scout leader and a gardener. Maria was boarding with her.

"Good luck, Ms. Aossey!" they chorused.

"Thanks, kids!" Lolly turned to Maria. "Don't worry, Buffalo Creek is about as gentle a river as you are going to find anywhere."

"There's that drop," said Maria doubtfully.

"Oh, that? Two feet, maybe three. Now, if we were running Schwarza Falls, upriver, you'd get some real action."

"Buffalo Creek is more than enough for me, today."

"Wait until you take my whitewater kayaking classes. Then you'll look forward to a fifteen footer." Lolly taught canoeing, climbing, spelunking and other wilderness skills at the Girl Scout's outdoor adventure camp each summer.

Someone bugled the traditional horse racing "first call." Lolly and Maria stood on either side of the middle of their canoe.

"Welcome, folks, to the fifth running of the Great Buffalo Canoe Race. Sorry we missed last year, but we didn't expect to enter a time warp.

"Contestants, line up according to your entry number. The first team will start at the sound of the starting gun. After that, the teams will enter the water at one minute intervals. Sorry you can't all start at once, but the creek's a wee bit too narrow for that. We will call you by number.

"Each team must start on the bank, at the starting line. Getting your canoe into the water, and yourselves into the canoe, is part of the fun.

"When you come to a drop, you can portage, but you must carry the boat and get back on board without outside assistance.

"Friends, don't forget that one of our sponsors is Thuringen Gardens. Show them you appreciate their support of this event. Of course, if you're a contestant, you might want to wait until after the race.

"All rise for 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'" The middle school chorus sang the anthem. The ceremonial marshal, standing on the footbridge, waved his staff.

That was the announcer's cue. "Team One, on your mark, get set… " The starter fired his gun. "Go!" The Baker twins, Billy Joe and Jim Bob, grabbed the gunwales of their canoe and ran with it to the bank. One jumped down, painter in hand, and started pulling, while the other went to the stern and pushed. The canoe lurched down the bank, and the canoeists slid it into the water.

"Team Two!" The second pair, Walt Jenkins and his apprentice barber, Erhard Matz, headed to the water. The Germans in the audience cheered.

"Team Three! Hey, it's a brother and sister team, Phil and Laurel Jenkins. Try not to kill each other."

"Team Four!" That was the cue for Phil's friends, Larry and Gary Rose. They were carrying a garishly painted Chestnut Prospector.

"Team Five!" That was Lewis and Marina Bartolli. Their parents owned Bartolli's Surplus and Outdoor Supplies, so they had a real racing hull, an eighteen foot long, 3x27 pro boat. "Buy Bartolli's" was painted on both sides.

"Ouch," said Lolly.

Maria flinched. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, look at that canoe. The longer the boat, the faster it can go in the water."

"Ouch, indeed."

"On the other hand, it's a pain in the butt to carry, it turns slowly, and I have my doubts as to how well it will do in whitewater."

"Team Six!" Phil Gerard and "Ikey" Pridmore were upholding the honor of Grantville Sporting Goods, the Bartolli's main competitor. They, too, had a USCA competition cruiser. "Go, Grantville Sporting Goods!" they shouted in unison, and picked up their canoe.

More teams followed. Finally, it was Lolly and Maria's turn. They walked a bit further than the others, in order to go down to the river where the going was easier. The time they lost up on the bank was regained when they descended rapidly and safely to the water. Lolly held their canoe, a fourteen foot Mad River Synergy, pointing upstream, and Maria swung herself into the bow position. Then Lolly jumped into the stern, and they came about and edged their way into the main current.

Seeing all the other canoes in the river ahead of them was discouraging, but they knew that contestants' actual running times would determine their placement.

"Buffalo Creek's a bit woollier than it used to be," Lolly remarked. "Faster and deeper. The water from the Upper Schwarza tumbles a few hundred feet down the southwest ring wall, rushes into the Spring Branch and then into the Creek. Which is a real river, nowadays."

A couple of strokes later, Maria did a double-take. "Wait a moment, you said it was gentle."

"A gentle river. Just not a creek anymore."

Walt and Erhard's canoe entered the Hough Park loop; staying on the inside.

"Bad choice," said Lolly. "That may shorten the distance, but the current is strongest on the outside of a curve." The wind carried her voice forward. Maria nodded.

"But you don't want to get too close to the outer bank. That's where the erosion is greatest, and so you tend get fallen trees there. We call 'em strainers, 'cause they let water through but trap boaters."

The canoes passed under Hough Street bridge. Its pilings acted a bit like a "rock garden" on a wild river, creating little eddies. But they were easily avoided.

A few minutes later, the contestants were approaching the mouth of Dent's Fork, on river left.

"Be careful here, Maria. If you look closely, you'll see the shear line, where the waters merge. Stay away from it."

The pack swept past Dent's Fork, and under the Clarksburg Street bridge. The bridge was packed with spectators. Maria couldn't help but wonder whether some poor soul would fall off and have to be rescued.

High Street Bridge. Lolly and Maria were fourth from the lead, at this point. Pretty good, considering that they had started last. Phil and Laurel Jenkins were in the boat ahead of them.

A ninety degree turn. Now they were heading east southeast. This was a long straightaway, and it gave a bit of an edge to the longer canoes.

Route 11 Bridge. More onlookers. Another ninety degree turn, bringing them into a nearly southerly course.

High up on the bank, they saw the sign, "Leaving Grantville."

Some minutes later, they were approaching Rainbow Plaza. The crowd assembled there yelled encouragement (and an occasional jeer).

The high school was the next major landmark, and it signaled that they were approaching the wilder part of the river.

Now came the Drop. This was a broad ledge, two feet high, extending the full width of the river. A large crowd stood nearby, on the low bank. It was a popular vantage point, since the spectators got to see how the contestants would handle the drop.

Walt and Erhard took the easy way out. They ferried over to the side, where the current was weakest. They clambered out, holding their canoe in place, and then walked it over the Drop.

Phil and Laurel paddled up close to the ledge, then set their paddles down, grabbed both bulwarks tightly, and braced themselves. The water carried then to the brink, where they teetered, and then crashed into the foam below, with a teeth-jarring crash. But they were upright, and more or less dry, at least.

Billy Joe and Jim Bob tried to copy this move, but with both hands raised in the air, like thrill seekers on a roller coaster. That wasn't a good idea. Their boat rolled to port, and without paddles, there wasn't much they could do to stop it. In a moment, they were taking a swim.

"Count the fish!" a spectator yelled. They righted their canoe and pulled themselves back in. With grim expressions, they resumed paddling downstream.

Lolly and Maria's canoe neared the Drop. As it did so, they increased the power of their strokes, accelerating. As her toes came even with the lip of the drop, Maria planted her paddle where the green water met the white, like an Olympic pole vaulter preparing to jump. She pulled back on the paddle, bringing it past her hips. Lolly's paddle struck the water at the same time and grabbed more water, adding to their forward momentum.

Their canoe went airborne, traveling several feet, over the boil where the waters fell, before pancaking in the quiet water further downstream.

Phil Jenkins had turned his head back a moment earlier to see what was happening behind him, and had watched the whole boof. "Wow," said Phil. "Who's the pretty girl with Ms. Aossey?" Maria was blond and blue-eyed, which was very definitely Phil's "type."

He had also stopped paddling, and the boat had veered a bit. "Keep your mind on your oarwork," Laurel snapped.

Larry and Gary Rose, battling to catch up with Lolly and Maria, were also impressed. "How are we going to top that?" said Larry. "It's not like we're going to win the race, so we have to find some way to impress the girls."

"I dunno. Maybe we can strike a pose?" Gary said sarcastically. "How about we just finish the race?"

"Great idea! Let's strike a pose," Larry said, ignoring his brother's obvious dismay. "The girls will love it. When we're almost at the Drop, back paddle to hold us there. This'll be spectacular."

It was. Although not perhaps the way Larry had in mind.

Gary held the boat against the current, so it jutted out over the Drop. Larry, in the front seat, set his paddle down, and shook his fists in the air. The crowd roared appropriately.

"Bring us back a little, Gary," Larry ordered. Now lean back, and keep paddling." Gary groaned, but complied. Larry slowly rose up from his seat, extending his arms for balance. The boat trembled as Gary fought the rush of the water. Larry was standing now, and brought his hands together, like a prizefighter after a K.O.

"Can we go yet?" said Gary, through gritted teeth.

"A moment more. I can see someone adjusting a camera."

An inquisitive wasp buzzed Gary's head, and he lost control as he tried to keep an eye on it. With a great lurch, the boat toppled. It first penciled down, throwing Larry into the water, and then its butt dropped with a great thud. Since the falling water had carved a deeper hole at the base of the ledge, this in turn caused the prow to seesaw upward. At some point, Gary also lost his seating, and joined his partner in the drink. The boat bobbed downstream as the Rose boys scrambled, sputtering droplets, out of their little bubble bath.

"So, did we impress the girls yet?" asked Gary.

"That was fun!" said Maria. "I'm glad we did those practice runs, though. I would hate to mess up in front of a crowd like this."

"Practice makes perfect," Lolly acknowledged.

"So what's the next step?"

"In whitewater rafting? You need to learn to handle a kayak. Start on flatwater, then try the lower Schwarza. Once you have enough experience, you can tackle Schwarza Falls, upriver. Or at least the little falls below it."

"Little falls?"

"Where the Schwarza flows over fallen chunks of the ring wall."

"Sounds good to me."

Grantville, Summer 1632

"So you're the plant ladies."

"That's what people call us," Irma Lawler acknowledged. She studied Maria. "You're the Dutch gal who's boarding with Miriam's daughter, Leila?"

"That's right." 'Lolly' was Leila Aossey's nickname.

"Edna and I know Miriam from the Garden Club. So you want to buy a few seeds?"

"A lot, actually." Maria took a deep breath. "Probably some of every variety you have, if that's possible."

Irma looked at Edna, then back at Maria. "Well, now. That's sounds like a lot of business, and we can use the money. But some of the varieties are getting a bit scarce. We give them to you before we grow any more, and other people will have to go without. For a long time; it's not like we can just order more out of a catalog."

"Why do you want so many seeds, girl?" asked Edna.

"It is for the Hortus Botanicus, in Leiden. It's the botanical garden of the University of Leiden; my brother Adolph is in charge. As was our father before him. The medical students use the garden to learn the herbs used in medicine, and scholars come from all over Europe to study its many botanical curiosities. Those are exotic plants, sent to us by the Dutch East India Company, or by other gardens."

"And you send plants to the other gardens, too?"

"Yes, we trade."

"Well, why don't we compare inventories? We'd like to expand our own collection."

Maria saw her friend Prudentia Gentileschi leaving the Nobili house, and waved. Prudentia was the daughter of the world-famous artist Artemisia Gentileschi, and a part-time assistant in the middle school and high school art classes.

"Prudentia!" Maria crossed the street and joined her. "On your way to class?" Prudentia nodded.

"I'll walk you there, if you don't mind. Shall we take the scenic route?"

They walked a bit, in companionable silence, then Prudentia spoke up. "So what's new, Maria?"

"I got a letter from my brother."

"You don't sound happy about it. Is there bad news?"

Maria sighed. "Nothing like that. He's fine, his wife Catarina is fine… " Her voice trailed off.

"It's just that he's so lazy. So smug. So uncomprehending of all his advantages, denied to those of our sex. So – "

"So male."

"A decade ago, he and cousin Gijsbert got to go on a grand tour, see England, France, and Italy. Whereas I thought myself lucky to visit Amsterdam, or Delft. And, in Italy, they studied at the famous University of Padua. While I made do with academy classes and language tutors. And puttered about in the garden with Papa, of course."

Maria shook her head. "Adolph came home in 1623, and, the next year, he was appointed professor extraordinary of medicine, with a salary of six hundred guilders a year. In 1625, when father died, he became curator of the Hortus Botanicus. Did he continue to recruit departing ship captains to bring home exotic plants, as Papa did? No, he was content to administer potions to rich merchants, and flirt with their daughters."

"Catarina was the last of those daughters, I hope."

Maria nodded. "Then the curators of Leiden University told him he needed to… what is the American term? 'Publish or Perish.' So he produced a catalog of the plants in the garden."

"That's the one you illustrated, is it not?"

"Yes. Elzevier will be publishing it. Next year, I hope.

"So, that was his big chance to honor our father's work. Even then, Adolph did the minimum work possible, contenting himself with the garden inventory. I prepared the list of 289 wild plants. Limited to the vicinity of Leiden, of course, because I didn't get to travel to anyplace exotic, unlike Adolph."

Prudentia gave Maria a quick hug. "None of what you have told me would have seemed at all surprising before we came to Grantville,"

"That's true."

"So what's in the letter?"

"Complaints. The students are complaining that he doesn't spend enough time with them, don't they realize he is a busy man? Catarina has extravagant tastes, doesn't she realize he is just a scholar, not a wealthy merchant like her father? Why am I lingering in Grantville, when I should be home in Leiden, seeing to the cataloging and description of all the seeds I have sent him. And planting them. The gardener quit and so he must do it himself."

"Poor baby."

Grantville, Fall 1632

Maria was standing in front of an easel, a canvas in front of her. On it was a half-finished rendition of one of the "Painted Ladies" of Grantville. This one had a covered porch, a turret, and an attic with a rayed window. It was colored blue and green, and a tall sugar maple, the official tree of West Virginia, stood beside it. At least in Maria's painting. Maria had exercised artistic license and moved the tree to stand beside her favorite Victorian. The tree itself was a brilliant mass of scarlet, its leaves having already turned.

"Hi, Maria. What are you drawing?"

"This is – " Her voice faltered. Looking up, she realized that she didn't recognize the woman addressing her. She was an elderly up-timer, dressed conservatively, but without any concessions to down-time practice.

"You don't know me, but I am one of Lolly's colleagues, Elva Dreeson. I teach art at the middle school." She offered her hand; Maria took it.

Maria smiled apologetically. "I am sorry, she introduced me to so many people, so quickly, when I first came to stay with her."

"Actually, you didn't meet me that time. I heard about your visit, but I was out sick that day. Another of our colleagues pointed you out to me, when you and Lolly were out paddling in the Great Buffalo Canoe Race. And when I heard that you were an artist, I resolved to look you up. So here I am. Belatedly."

"Well, I'm not really an artist."

"Oh? That looks like art to me." She pointed at Maria's canvas.

"I mean, I'm not a professional artist. For a women to be a master in the painter's guild, she pretty much has to be born to it. Like Artemisia Gentileschi. Or Giovanna Garzoni."

"And you weren't?"

"Why, no. My late father, Aelius Everhardus Vorstius, was a great scholar. At the University of Leiden, he was Professor Extaordinarius in Natural Philosophy, Professor of Medicine, and Curator of the Botanical Gardens."

"So how did you learn to paint?"

"I attended an academy. They cater to amateurs, especially high-born women who see it as an elegant pastime, like playing the harpsichord."

"And is that how you see it, as a hobby?"

"While I find it relaxing, it isn't just a hobby. When I was young, it was a way to help my father. I could draw specimens which had been loaned to us for study. And my brother, who is the present Curator, has written a Catalogus plantarum, a description of our entire collection, and I illustrated it."

"You know, I have a book you might like to read. It's about women artists throughout history."

"That sounds fascinating. But I don't know when I am going to find the time. I need to finish my paintings of the West Virginia trees before they all lose their leaves. I have to complete my thirty hours of volunteer work to get my Master Gardener's certificate. And I have so much homework for Lori Fleming's biology class. And the geology class Lolly roped me into."

"Tell you what. I'll give it to Lolly just before winter break. You'll have some time to spare then."

Maria bent down to study a wildflower by the side of Route 250, near the high school. Phil Jenkins came up behind her, and watched her for a few moments. Finally, he coughed. "I hear you've been looking at people's houseplants."

She looked up, and gave him a smile. "Yes, that's right. I am making drawings of them, and sending seeds and cuttings to Adolph."

"Who's Adolph?" he asked sharply.

"My brother."

"Oh… You know, lots of people here in Grantville have houseplants, but I am something of a specialist."

"How so?"

"I grow trees."

"Your house must have very high ceilings."

Phil laughed. "No, that's not necessary. Although it would be nice. The trees just don't grow as tall as they would in the wild."

"So what trees do you grow? Sugar maple? Sassafras? Pitch pine?"

"Hmm, you've been studying West Virginia trees. But there isn't much point in growing those indoors. I mostly grow tropical trees. Would you like to see them?"

Maria considered the invitation. He was so much younger than she was, he couldn't possibly be courting her, but still, what would people think?

"May I bring a girlfriend?"

Maria and Prudentia arrived at the Jenkins house the next day, arm in arm.

Laurel Jenkins opened the door. "Oh, I recognize you," she said. "You were the star of the Canoe Race in May."

"You are kind to say so. We are here to see your 'house trees.'"

Laurel turned and yelled upstairs. "Phil, turn off your stupid CD! You have company."

She shrugged her shoulders. "Brothers."

"Hi, Maria! Hi, Prudentia. You came at a good time, my Angel's Trumpet's in bloom. Come along, I'll show you. There, you can see how it gets its name."

Maria admired the plant. The gracefully arching branches were festooned with long white trumpet-shaped flowers. "What lovely curves." Phil was thinking much the same thing, but not about the Datura suaveolens.

"That's from Brazil. Now, can you guess what this is?" The plant had nondescript green leaves, perhaps six inches long, and many flowers, each a five-pointed white star. There were also a few green cherries. The girls shook their heads. Maria actually recognized the tree – the Leiden Botanical Garden had gotten one from Aden years ago – but Phil was so obviously proud of his specimen that she didn't have the heart to say so.

"This is Coffea arabica – the coffee tree. From Ethiopia, originally."

Prudentia pointed to one of the cherries. "I have seen coffee beans here in Grantville. This doesn't look like one."

"It isn't. There are two beans, seeds really, inside each cherry. You wait until the cherries turn red – that means they're ripe – and then you take out the beans, and roast them."

"So, do you supply coffee to Grantville?" asked Maria.

"I wish. You can't get a lot of coffee beans out of one tree, I don't have room for a whole bunch of trees, and it's too cold in Thuringia to grow them outside. The coffee comes from the Turks. When they feel like selling it to us."

"I don't care for the taste myself," said Maria. "Too bitter."

"Okay, here's another tree. Any guesses?"

Maria looked it over closely. "Some kind of fig?"

"Yep." He favored her with a big smile. "This is Ficus elastica, the Indian Rubber Tree. East Indian, that is. Cut it, and it bleeds a sap, latex, that hardens into a kind of rubber."

Maria fingered the stem. "So that is where you Americans get the rubber you use in your tires?"

"Uh, uh. Some of that's made from the latex of a different rubber tree, Hevea, and the rest is synthesized from chemicals. But if you want to know more about that, you'll have to check the encyclopedias."

"Perhaps I will."

Fort Zwaanandael (modern Lewes, Delaware), December 6, 1632

Bones. They gleamed in the winter sunlight, amid the white sparkling sand, and the chill which Captain David Pieterszoon de Vries felt was not entirely due to the coldness of the air. Here was a femur, there, a skull. David reached down and picked up an arrowhead. It was easy enough to visualize how this particular colonist had met his Maker. David didn't know if he had been fleeing, or had bravely faced his attacker. Certainly, he had not escaped from this beach to the dubious haven of the waters of the Zuidt River Bay.

The dismal find had not been a surprise. In May, the Kamer Amsterdam of the West India Company had heard, from its agents in Nieuw Amsterdam, that the Zwaanandael settlement had been wiped out, save for one survivor. David had been about to leave, with two ships, to go a-privateering in the Caribbean. Since the easiest return route to Europe was to go partway up the American coast before heading east, he logically had planned to stop at Zwaanandael along the way. Sell them European manufactures in return for tobacco, grain, and fresh meat. And perhaps do a bit of whaling as well.

The news of the massacre, of course, had been devastating to David and his fellow patroons. And surprising, because the Lenape had been friendly the previous year. But David had hoped that either the ill tidings would prove to have been exaggerated, or that the breach with the natives could somehow be remedied. At the least, that he could trade for furs.

Briefly, David had toyed with the idea of making a quick trip to Grantville, the mysterious town from the future, to see if its fabulous library could tell him whether Zwaanandael had indeed survived. But he couldn't afford the time; it would have delayed him enough so that he would have been sailing in the Caribbean at the height of the hurricane season.

David's longboat was beached just behind him. One sailor had stayed behind, to guard the boat and man its swivel gun. The small cannon was loaded with grapeshot. The yacht Eikhoorn stood just offshore, ready to lay down covering fire if need be. David's own ship, the Walvis, was anchored in deeper water, closer to Cape Hinlopen. It was a 400 ton flute, with eighteen cannon, which likewise were in range.

Still, David couldn't help but feel a little anxious about how exposed he and his landing party were. The dark forest could conceal ten Indians, or a thousand.

The sailors spread out in a ragged line abreast. Ahead of them was Fort Zwaanandael.

David's cousin, Heyndrick de Liefde, put his hand on David's shoulder. "Where are the walls of stone? The moat and drawbridge? The portcullis?" He had been shown the settlement plans.

"Just what I was wondering," David replied. "Especially since we went to such expense to provide them with everything they needed. And I checked the equipment myself, before it was loaded onto the Walvis."

Instead of a granite wall, the settlement had merely a palisade. There was no portcullis, just a wooden gate, now hanging askew from a single hinge. The only part of the fort which was more or less as David expected was the great brick blockhouse, the warehouse and strong point of the colony. Although it was ash-black now.

"They should have given me command of the Walvis back then, not that idiot Heyes."

Heyndrick nodded. "Even back home in Rotterdam, people were talking about him. He sent the Salm ahead, and lost it?" The Salm was a yacht, like the Eikhoorn, used for inshore work.

"That's right. Taken by a Dunkirker, with all our harpooners, and their equipment. And he brought the Walvis back, nine months later, without a cargo." That was sacrilege, to a Dutch merchant. "We lost a mint."

Despite Heyes' blundering, David and his fellow investors had been confident that the colonists could grow wheat, tobacco and cotton, and hunt the whales which frequented the bay from December to March. Now that seemed a forlorn hope indeed.

David poked around in the debris at the foot of the gate, and found the bones of a large dog. A spiked collar and several more arrowheads lay nearby. David detailed two men to stand guard at the gate, and the rest of his party followed David inside.

All was chaos, both inside the blockhouse, and without. The fort, quite clearly, had been looted. All that was left were the items that the savages had no use for. And the skeletons. David had hoped to find a diary, which might reveal the reasons for the attack. If one had once existed, it had burned, along with the furnishings, when the invaders had overturned lamps in their pursuit of the settlers inside. Or in their haste to find loot.

They then checked the fields. There was no sign, there, of any organized resistance. The skeletons of the Dutchmen, and their livestock, were scattered over the weed-infested fields. If they had been carrying arms, these were now in the hands of the Indians. The Lenape, David assumed, although it was possible that some other tribe, perhaps the Minquas, had been the enemy.

By now the sun was low in the horizon. This was no time to linger in hostile territory. "Back to the ship," David ordered. David and his search party returned to the longboat, and rowed over to the Eikhoorn.

Jan Tjepenszoon Schellinger, the yacht's captain, greeted him. "What news?"

"The colony of Zwaanandael was wiped out, as we were told." Some thirty men had sought a new life at Zwaanendael, David mused, where there was land for the taking. And their lives, all save one, had been taken instead. He wondered why this had been God's will.

"Now what?" Jan asked. David was the squadron commander.

"Captain Schellinger, please fire one cannon. Just powder, no shot. I am returning to the Walvis for the night."

"Yes, sir."

Heyndrick looked at David quizzically. "I am telling the Indians that I am would like to negotiate," David explained.

"Negotiate? With those savages? After they massacred our people?"

"We will hear what they have to say. After that, there will be time enough to take vengeance, if that is called for. Trouble is… " David bit his lip.

"Yes?"

"I knew Gilles Hosset, God rest his soul. I don't like to speak ill of any man, but never was there a man less suited for command. Slow of thought and quick to anger."

The next morning, David was awakened early.

"Captain, the lookout saw a column of smoke. From the pine woods outside Zwaanandael."

"I'll be right up."

David checked his pistols and cutlass, and came out onto the main deck. He pulled out a spyglass, a Dutch invention. "I don't see anyone in the open. Still, we accomplish nothing by sitting here. Mr. Vogel, on the double, please!" Vogel had been the interpreter on the Walvis ' last trip to Zwaanandael.

"First mate, detail seven men to join us in the longboat. All fully armed, muskets and cutlasses, if you please. Heyndrick, kindly bring your shotgun. Come along, Vogel."

Some minutes later, they were past the breakers, in water they could wade in. David had decided not to land until he had seen the reception committee. They waited, sure that they were under observation, but saw nothing but the lapping of the waves on the beach, the wheeling of the birds in the sky, and the caress of the wind on the branches of the woods beyond.

The gulls cried overhead, like lost souls, and still the Dutchmen waited for the Indians to reveal themselves. David pointed out a particularly large bird to his cousin. "Heyndrick, bring that fowl down." Heyndrick, readied his shotgun, and waited for the gull to fly near. He fired, and the hapless bird fell to the beach below. The crewmen cheered, and an answering cry came from some riverside weeds.

The Indians rose, with broken stalks littering their long hair. They waved their arms, and shouted something. The sailors gripped their weapons with white-knuckled hands.

"What are they saying?" David asked Vogel.

Vogel grinned. "They applaud our Heyndrick's prowess as a hunter." At this, the boat party gave its own cheer, and relaxed a bit.

David held up his hand to quiet them. "Tell the Indians to come down to the beach."

Vogel cupped his hands, and shouted this invitation. The Indians conversed among themselves, and then answered. "They say to come ashore."

"Hah! It will be a fine day in Hell before I do that. Tell them the tide is too low now, we will visit them at high tide tomorrow morning."

At dawn, David transferred to the Eikhoorn, and had it sail close to the fort, into waters a fathom or two deep. He had Vogel urge the Indians to come to him. "Tell them we have a fine present for one who comes to us."

One fidgeted, and then walked slowly toward them, hands open. He stood on the strand for a moment, watching them. Then he swam out, coming alongside. "I am Temakwei – the Beaver. Because I am a good swimmer. What do you have for me?"

The crew threw down a rope to him, and he climbed up. David handed him a blouse and breeches. Temakwei held each up, and compared it to what David and his shipmates were wearing. At last he laughed, and pulled them on.

David held up a bottle. "Perhaps you'd care for some schnapps?"

"So Temakwei, why did your people slay mine?"

"Your sakima Hosset put a metal shield on the gate of your village. It was small, but very beautiful. It showed a great golden panther with the sky behind it. It walked on two feet like a man, and carried a white knife in one paw, and seven white arrows in another."

"He means a lion, not a panther. And a sword, not a knife," said Heyndrick. David shushed him.

"One of our chiefs, Taminy, thought that it was a great waste that this pretty thing sit on a gate. So he borrowed it to make a tobacco pipe, so we could smoke it together and honor the peace between our people."

Hendrick reinterpreted this statement. "Stole it, he means."

David sighed. "The Indians don't have much of a property concept. Stealing isn't a crime, so far as they're concerned. It is a chance to demonstrate that they are cleverer than you. If you don't like it, steal it back."

"Your Hosset said many bad words to us. He told us we had taken a… I don't know the words."

"Coat of arms?"

"That sounds right. A 'Koh-Tah-Ahms' of the Dutch people. He told us that this was a terrible insult to your chief of chiefs, and to your Manitou, your great spirit. That the thief must be punished.

"That was when we realized that we had committed a great wrong. Clearly, the 'Koh-Tah-Ahms' was strong medicine. To take it away was to hurt the Dutch people, our friends.

"So, the next day, we brought the head of Taminy to your Hosset."

Heyndrick's eyes widened. He started to speak, but David raised a finger in admonition, and Heyndrick subsided.

"Your chief told us that he didn't mean for us to kill Taminy, only to make him bring back the spirit-shield, and apologize. Still, he was pleased that we had punished Taminy, and he sent us home with pleasant words. But the brothers and sons of Taminy were angry that Taminy was dead. And the sister-sons of Taminy were angry, too. They waited and waited, but Hosset did not send them any wampum to atone for the death of Taminy.

"It was an insult not only to Taminy's kin, but to his entire clan."

"And then what?"

Temakwei fidgeted. "They did what they must. They wiped out the dishonor in blood."

David and Heyndrick watched Temakwei jump off the Eikhoorn, and swim back to shore. They couldn't see any other Indians, but they knew there had to be some there.

"So much blood spilled, over a stupid piece of tin," David said. "I hesitate to waste more."

Heyndrick protested. "But surely you can't let the Indians think that they can get away with pillaging our colonies."

"That's true. But we could go on playing tit-for-tat, indefinitely. Like Italian families with a vendetta. And we aren't going to make a profit that way.

"So we need to be conciliatory, but at the same time, show we are strong. Temakwei is carrying our message to the chiefs. When they come, we will give them a demonstration of the power of our cannon, it will seem pretty strong magic to them, I think. Then we will offer them presents, propose a peace pact, and pass around the pipe."

Heyndrick looked skeptical. "You think that will solve everything?"

"No. We must forgive, but not forget. We must be friendly, but always on guard. They will trade with the strong, but prey upon the weak.

"In which regard, to be blunt, they aren't very different from us."

Grantville, Winter Break, 1632

Maria had actually welcomed the coming of winter. It gave her the chance to catch up on her pleasure reading. In particular, she was finally able to tackle Elva's book on woman artists.

Her friend Prudentia's mother, Artemisia, was in it, of course. And Maria was pleased to see that the book mentioned the work of Clara Peeters, a Flemish still-life specialist, and Judith Leyster, the portraitist from Haarlem.

But what truly caught Maria's attention was the description of two other artists. One was Rachel Ruysch of Amsterdam. Her father was Anthony Frederick Ruysch, a professor of anatomy and botany. Much like Maria's father. And apparently, he passed on some of his scientific knowledge to her, because the book said, "Ruysch brought a thorough knowledge of botany and zoology to her work."

Maria also thought much about Maria Sibylla Merian. She had come to art by the more usual path, being the daughter of an engraver and the stepdaughter of a flower painter. Merian had published her first book, a collection of flower engravings, when she was only twenty three – younger than Maria. But Merian's great passion was to understand and depict the life cycles of insects, especially moths and butterflies.

In 1699, Merian actually traveled to fabulous Surinam, in South America, on what the Americans would call a "government grant." The result was her masterpiece, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium.

"Lolly, about the Ring of Fire. I know that it has already changed history. Gustavus Adolphus doesn't die at the battle of Lutzen, and all that. What happens to the people who would have been born after the Ring of Fire? Are they still destined to come into the world?"

"It depends on when and where they were born," Lolly replied. "The effect of the Ring of Fire diffuses out, from Grantville. It couldn't affect the New World, say, until a ship crossed the Atlantic with the news. But it doesn't take much to change who is born. A soldier leaves his mistress a day earlier than in the old time line. A couple fails to meet, and the two marry other people. A person's father or mother dies earlier than in the old time line, because an army takes a different path, or a plague ship comes to a different port."

"The people I am thinking of, one was born in 1664, and the other in 1647."

"Not a chance, then. Even if their parents are alive then, and married to each other, they will have different children."

After Lolly left, Maria thought further about the question she had raised. Neither Rachel Ruysch nor Maria Sibylla Merian would ever brighten the world. Their contributions would be limited to the fragments imported from the old time line.

The more Maria thought about it, the more it seemed that, though born in an earlier age, she was their intellectual heir, and that it was her duty to posterity to make a similar contribution. And, with her father and husband both dead, she had a degree of independence that was unusual for women her age.

Surinam. Also known as Guyana. The Wild Coast of South America, between the Maracaibo and the Amazon. There was a Dutch settlement there, she was sure. Her ex-husband, a merchant, had mentioned it more than once. And Catarina, Adolph's wife, was from a commercial family; she and her kin might know more.

Perhaps it was worth consulting one of the Abrabanels, too. Maria could do more than just draw nature, she could collect it. Was there something in Surinam that the up-timers wanted badly enough that they might pay to send Maria there to look for it? The Abrabanels would know, she was sure. And, as the daughter of a Dutch doctor, she didn't have the usual Christian prejudice against Jews. Well, some, she admitted, but after more than a year in Grantville, she had been forced to rethink a lot of what she had been taught.

And she mustn't forget that the library might have books, or at least encyclopedia entries, which would reveal facts not naturally known to anyone of her time.

What would Adolph say if she announced that she was going to Suriname? Even if she were joining a Dutch household there? Oh, the conniptions he would have.

That was just the icing on the cake, so far as Maria was concerned.

Delaware River, near modern Philadelphia, January, 1633

David took command of the shallow-drafted Eikhoorn, and left its former skipper, Jan, with the crew of the Walvis, to build and run a shore-based whaling operation. He also had the Walvis and its boats, should he need to take refuge from the Indians.

David, in the Eikhoorn, sailed up the Zuidt River, and, near Jacques Island, the going became rough. The temperature dropped sharply overnight, while they were at anchor, and, the next day, the nineteenth of January, they found the river to have almost entirely crusted over with ice. They had to pick their way, looking for open leads or, if those were absent, areas where the ice was thin enough for them to crash through. The ship shuddered at each attempt, making the crew more than a bit nervous. If the ship foundered, they wouldn't survive long in the icy water.

"A whale (walvis) would be more at home here than a squirrel (eikhoorn)," David joked. The crew laughed, but their mood soon turned somber again. David tried heading back down river, but the ice there seemed even thicker.

David pointed out a creek to the helmsman. "Turn in there."

"You think our chances are better in that kill?" Heyndrick asked.

"Yes, the current's stronger, that will tend to keep it from freezing solid. Unless it gets colder." The Eikhoorn crept into this uncertain haven.

The Dutchmen needed to conserve food, if possible, so David sent out a hunting party, led by Heyndrick. He was whistling, slightly off-key, when he returned, and all of his followers had something in hand.

David thumped him on the back. "The hunting went well, I see."

"Very well. We bagged several wild turkeys. Look at this one." He held up a carcass. "Must be a good thirty-six pounds.

"And that's not all. There are wild grapevines everywhere, so we did some picking."

"Hopefully we won't be here long enough for the grapes to ferment. But let's call this creek 'Wyngard Kill.'"

The weather worsened, and great chunks of ice came down the creek, and battered their hull. David had the crew cut down some trees, and construct a raft upstream of the Eikhoorn, to serve as a bumper.

On the third of February, the weather relented, and the Eikhoorn headed back toward the coast. But the respite was a short one. Ice reappeared, and once again the Eikhoorn took refuge in a swift-running kill. This cold spell was worse than the one before, and even the creek froze over.

They were trapped in the ice. But at least there were no sign of Indians nearby, hostile over otherwise.

Not until a week later. Fifty Indians, carrying their canoes, walked across the frozen river.

David turned to Vogel. "Order them to halt."

The Indians looked at the leveled arquebuses, and the steel breastplates of the sailors, and stopped, lowering the dugouts onto the ice.

One stepped forward. "We mean you no harm."

"But you are dressed for war," David declared.

"We are Minquas, and yes, we are at war, but with the Armewamens, not you. Six hundred of us have come, and the Armewamens flee in terror. We have burned their homes, and their women are now ours. We hunt the few braves who escaped into the forest."

"There are no Armewamens on this ship, so you have no reason to linger here."

"No reason," the spokesman acknowledged. However, the Minquas did linger, carefully inspecting the Eikhoorn and its crew, before they finally trudged on to the far bank.

"Tide's coming in, sir," reported a crewman.

"Good," David said. "Let's get this ship out in the mouth of the kill, where the water is widest. Preferably before nightfall."

David divided the men into two parties, and sent one to each bank, with a heavy rope in hand. There, they started hauling the Eikhoorn down river. They moved it twenty-five painful paces, no further.

David went out on the ice and studied the lie of the ship. "The creek's too shallow, we must lighten the Eikhoorn to make more headway. I need four men to go to the ship and toss out the ballast."

"We can't do that, Captain," said the helmsman. "The Eikhoorn is tall-masted, prone to listing."

"That's right, sir," said one of the mates, "we'll capsize before we reach the Walvis." There was a general murmur of agreement.

David frowned ferociously. "It's a risk we must take. Did you see those painted savages, the Minquas, eyeing us? They'd love to take our guns, our gold, our food. And do you know what they'll do to us? You'll be lucky if you are just shot with an arrow, or tomahawked, in battle. If they take you prisoner, they'll torture you for their evening entertainment. You must lighten the ship, and trust to Divine Providence to save you from the river's embrace."

The mate was unimpressed. "If we are going to trust to Divine Providence anyway, why not trust it to save us from the Minquas, instead?"

"What do you want me to do, David?" whispered Heyndrick. "Start throwing out ballast myself? Shoot the ringleader of this mutiny?"

David ignored him. "The tide's going out, men, even as we argue, and soon the Minquas' will be coming in, with blood in their eyes. I have three demijohns of rum in my locker, and I'll share one out tonight if you throw the ballast overboard. But you must act now."

Sullenly, the crew came aboard, and jettisoned the ballast. The ship slowly rose in the water, and lurched downstream. It reentered the main river, but proved difficult to control. A thousand paces below the kill, it was swept toward the bank, and the bowsprit was wedged in-between the horns of a double-crested hillock of ice.

At dusk, the Minquas attacked. Several feet of icy water still separated the exposed part of the ice from the actual bank. Hence, they had to first leap across the water, onto the midget iceberg, then clamber onto the bowsprit, which pointed landward.

Two of the Indians made it onto the ice, but were confronted by all eight of the crew, armed and armoured. They retreated. Throughout the night, David kept two men on the alert at the bowsprit, and the others slept on deck, in their armor, with their weapons beside them.

At dawn, they were still alive. Standing, half-asleep, David read to them. "Let us, with a gladsome mind, praise the Lord, for He is kind."

The river rose. The ice floated away from shore, carrying the Eikhoorn with it. The iceberg ran aground on a sandbar, and the river swirled angrily around them. The ship creaked in response, and David wondered how long it could endure this treatment.

Then the Indians who were their foe unwittingly became their saviours. The lookout spotted two dugout canoes, unmanned, floating toward them. At David's order, the crew caught them, and pushed them under the bow. As the waters rose still further, they buoyed up the canoes, and thus the Eikhoorn 's bow as well. At last, when David had almost given up hope that this ploy would succeed, the Eikhoorn was freed from the ice.

By the fourteenth, the wind shifted to the southwest, and brought in warmer air. The ice softened into slush. At their first opportunity, the crew gathered stones for ballast, to restore the yacht's balance. Soon, they were back in Zuidt River Bay.

By the end of March, it was clear that the whaling had been a failure. Jan's people had harpooned seventeen whales, but had little to show for it. Most had been struck in the tail, whereas a Basque or Cape Verde harpooner would have aimed for (and hit) the fore-part of the back. As a result, only seven carcasses had been brought in, and those were the puniest of the lot.

David sighed. "Thirty-two barrels of train oil. My partners will be furious."

"It's not your fault that they didn't give you experienced harpooners, or proper whaleboats, or strong enough cables or winches to handle the larger whales," said Heyndrick. "Godijn chose the ships and the whaling expert." They were back on the Walvis, where Jan couldn't hear them. Still, he kept his voice down.

"Godijn won't remember that when I return," said David gloomily. "I will be thrown to the sharks.

"But that's how it goes." David raised his voice. "Helmsman, set a course for Nieuw Amsterdam. Pieter, signal the Eikhoorn to follow."

David turned to Heyndrick. "After we re-provision there, we'll head home. And then I am going to find myself a new patroonate, and new partners. Ones with more trust in my judgment."

Grantville, July, 1633

The theater at the Higgins Hotel was packed with people. The men wore everything from a twentieth-century jacket, pants, and tie, to seventeenth-century breeches, blouse and cloak. The women were even more varied in their appearance; black cocktail dresses for some, bodice and bell skirts for others. And of course there were those who wore some combination of up-time and down-time styles, or who had decided to copy a garment of the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.

"This is a madhouse," said de Vries. He was seated at a small table at the front of the theater.

Kaspar Heesters, an Amsterdamer who had escorted David to Grantville, shrugged. "There's method in their madness."

Hugh Lowe, the former President of the Grantville Chamber of Commerce, tapped the microphone. The loudspeaker squealed. "Can everyone hear me? Welcome to the Grantville Investment Roundtable.

"Our first guest is Captain David Pieterszoon De Vries, a patroon of the Dutch West India Company. He has an investment proposal for us. Remember, Captain, we limit the summaries to two minutes. Here, speak into the mike." He put it in front of de Vries, who stood up.

"Thank you, Herr Lowe. My proposal is to establish a colony in Surinam. That is the Dutch name for the Wild Coast, the area of northern South America between the Orinoco and the Amazon. The English call it Guyana.

"I intend to transfer my patroon privileges in the West India Company from America to Guyana. I would be entitle to a patroonate of, oh, about twelve hundred square miles." There was a gasp from somewhere in the audience.

"This would be, primarily, an agricultural colony. It would grow tobacco and cotton, of a surety. Orlean, too, that's an Indian dye plant. Sugar cane, if we can find a suitable teacher. And I hope that there may be plants not yet known to us which are of value.

"As to other possibilities, once the colony is established, I can take a yacht upriver, to look for the gold which Guyana is reputed to possess." He was referring to the legend of El Dorado, and the Lake of Manoa. "Or I can take my squadron privateering; that can be very lucrative."

David finished off by discussing how much money he was trying to raise, and what it would be spent on. "There is a – " He looked blank for a moment.

"Handout," whispered Kaspar.

" – handout by the door. Thank you for listening to me." He sat down.

"Are there any questions for the captain?" said Hugh.

David Bartley stood up. "Aren't you worried that the Spanish will wipe out your colony?"

David de Vries was surprised that a youngster would ask questions in such a gathering, but answered his question politely. "There are already Dutch, French and English settlements on the Wild Coast, and the Spanish have simply ignored them."

"And where are you going to get your colonists? I don't think you're going to find many here in Grantville."

"There are many displaced peasants in Germany and Flanders, thanks to the wars. This would be their big chance to own land of their own."

Chad Jenkins, one of the major landowners in Grantville, stood up. "Captain De Vries, you are going to have to find a suitable site for this colony of yours. Do you have experience as an explorer?

"Yes, in the Barents Sea, in my youth, and more recently in the Americas, between the Zuidt and Noord Rivers."

"The South and North." Kaspar Heesters explained. "What up-timers would call the Delaware and Hudson Rivers."

Chad wasn't finished. "And have you been in more tropical climes?"

"I spent several years with Coen in the East Indies, and I also visited several islands of the West Indies on my last voyage."

Claus Junker raised a newspaper. "Joe Buckley says here that you were involved in the Zwaanandael disaster. The attempt to found a colony in Delaware."

David's face reddened. "That was hardly my fault. I had sought the command of the first expedition, but it was denied. Indeed, I had to stay at home, trusting to the leaders picked by my partners. And on the second trip, it was the so-called whaling expert who failed, not me."

Endres Ritter chimed in. "You know all about financial disasters caused by picking the wrong partners, don't you, Claus?" It was a reference to Claus' ill-fated investment in microwave ovens. The two men glared at each other.

Claus returned to his original target. "But even if it weren't your fault, your… association with a failed venture has made it difficult for you to raise money for your latest enterprise, hasn't it?"

David folded his arms. "It made it difficult for me to fund it myself. But I do have prospective investors. Jan Bicker of Amsterdam, for one. And two of his friends." There was an answering murmur from the financiers in the room. "Coming here was not a necessity. I was hoping to raise more money, be able to give the colony a more secure foundation.

"And I hoped that there might be some Germans here who had a yen to own their own farm in the New World."

An up-timer stood up. "And I imagine your colonists are going to steal their new farmland from the natives. And then either force them into labor, or kill them outright."

"That's Andrew Yost," Kaspar whispered to David. "He's manager of the Grantville Freedom Arches, and one of the leaders in the local Committee of Correspondence. I told you about that."

"Herr Yost, if you examine the history of what someone earlier referred to as the 'Zwaanandael disaster,' you will find that despite great provocation – the murder of thirty settlers in America while I was still in the Netherlands – I did not retaliate in kind. I was able to trade for furs, with the Lenape. And I kept all of my crew alive, without having to kill any Indians."

A gentleman with a moustache and a goatee stood up. He was dressed in a staggering variety of colors, leaving David with the impression of a somewhat cadaverous peacock. "Captain, I am Doctor Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz. You mentioned mining for gold. But there is a mineral, prolific in Guyana, which is a necessary precursor to the preparation of the 'Quinta Essentia of the Human Humors.' This mineral is called bauxite. Perhaps – "

"No," Tracy Kubiak moaned. "Not aluminum, again."

Doctor Phil sighed. "Perhaps we should talk about it privately. I will call upon you."

There were no more questions. Hugh Lowe repositioned the mike. "Okay, our next speaker is going to bring us an update on the concrete project… "

"Captain, I am Johann Georg Hardegg, of the law firm of Hardegg, Selfisch, and Krapp. My clients were quite interested in your presentation last week. They think there could be some commonality of interest."

"I beg your pardon?" said David. He had learned English in his youth, but he wasn't sure whether that was what Hardegg was speaking.

"He thinks you can work together," Kaspar explained.

"If you will follow me, I will introduce to the principal members. "

They walked down an elegantly decorated corridor of the Higgins Hotel, and Hardegg knocked on the door. David heard a muffled "About time."

There were both up-timers and down-timers in the room. David recognized several of them, and exchanged greetings with Hugh Lowe and Endres Ritter. There was no sign of Claus Junker.

The nobleman at the head of the table said, "My name is Count August von Sommersburg. I am also the Secretary of Transportation of the USE." David bowed.

"Our group has some interest in that part of the world. For example, in Trinidad. It has great deposits of tar."

"The place Sir Walter Raleigh visited when he needed to caulk his ships?"

"Yes, that's right. We can use that tar in road building. Then there is a material called rubber. It's used in the tires of our cars. The rubber comes from – call it the sap – of certain trees."

David raised his hand. "I know nothing about trees."

"That's all right. We have a tree expert who wants to go to Guyana to study and do research. As for your proposed colony, Captain, hopefully it will be able to tap the Guyana rubber trees. If not, we have some other economically interesting plants which we are hoping can grow there. Coconut palms, coffee, a few others. Of course, you should be looking for native plants of value."

"Tell him about the other rubber trees," urged Joseph Stull. He was the SoTF Secretary of Transportation.

The count nodded. "If we can't get rubber from Guyana, you'll have to go into the Viceroyalty of New Spain."

David steepled his fingers. "They don't exactly welcome foreigners."

"The source we're interested in is pretty far from the Spanish towns. Here, let me show you on a map." He rolled one out on the table. He jabbed a finger down. "There." He was pointing at southern Honduras.

"Hmm," said David. "That's convenient." He pointed to the eastern coast. "Here – " he twirled his finger over the Bay of Honduras " – that's prime hunting ground for capturing Spanish galleons."

Hugh Lowe shook his head. "We aren't interested in privateering. We don't see a distinction between it and piracy."

"Oh, no? I think Dutch privateers capture a ship a week in that part of the world. Galleons, caravels and coasters. Ship and cargo worth as much as two hundred thousand guilders."

Someone in the back of the room muttered, "let's keep our options open, then. It's not like the Spanish are friendly to us."

"You have been in sea battles, Captain?" asked the count.

Kaspar interrupted. "Captain De Vries is famous in that regard. He had some great victories against the Barbary pirates."

"But no Spanish treasure ships came my way, unfortunately," David admitted. "Or I wouldn't be talking to you now."

"So, Captain, I understand that your only reservation to our 'counterproposal' is the choice of a woman, Maria Vorst, as your, uh, 'Chief Science Officer.'"

"That's right, Herr Lowe. I am sure that she knows her plants and all, but I don't believe that she can possibly comprehend the rigors of an expedition.

"It is true that there are Dutch colonists already in Guyana – at Fort Kykoveral on the Essequibo – but I doubt that there are any white women among them. It would be one thing if she were going to stay in the new colony, but she intends to join us in exploring the rainforest.

"Moreover, it is quite possible that we will have to go to the Miskito Coast for this rubber, which will put her in hazard of capture, and worse, by the Spanish.

"How can I agree to put this delicate flower of Dutch society into such straits?"

"Hmm, well, you did agree that it was only fair to meet her before making any decisions."

"Yes, I so agreed. I am not sure why we had to meet out here."

"I think she wanted to show you something."

They stood on a hill near the southwest rim of the Ring Wall. When Grantville was deposited into seventeenth-century Thuringia, it was such a way that, in general, the Grantville terrain was lower than the surrounding Thuringian land. Nowhere was the transition more dramatic than here in the southwest, where the Ring separated the power plant from the castle of Schwarzburg.

"Well, I can't complain about the view." Where the Ring Wall was intact, it was perfectly smooth, and shone like a mirror in the morning sunlight. Some of the rock had been destabilized by the change, and had fallen onto the American side. The Schwarza river dropped sharply, perhaps fifteen feet, forming the Schwarza waterfall. It was a triangular curtain of water, higher on river left than river right. It then descended, in a series of smaller drops and rapids, over the bed newly formed by the fallen rock, to the Grantville valley floor. The path was not a straight one. First, it paralleled the Ring Wall, then it curved away. Ultimately, the water entered the Spring Branch, a tributary of Buffalo Creek.

"So, when will I meet this Maria?"

"Here she comes now." Lowe pointed upriver, at a lone figure in a bright red kayak at the top of the falls. As David gaped, the kayaker pencilled over. David ran to a better vantage point, expecting to see an overturned kayak, and perhaps, a lifeless body spinning in the foam.

Maria was already past the hydraulic at the foot of the falls, and gave them a quick salute with her paddle as she rested in an eddy. She then paddled on. They watched as she boofed over a second, smaller waterfall.

"So, I hope you are up to a bit of a hike, now. We have to go down to the valley floor so you can properly question this, uh, delicate flower of Dutch society."

To be continued

Butterflies in the Kremlin, Part Four

Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett

Yaroslavich Dacha, outside of Moscow

A Dissertation on the Value of Freedom and Security

"Those that give up their freedom for a little temporary security deserve neither freedom or security and ultimately will lose both." So goes an up-time quote. This humble writer doesn't know if that' s true or not. It is demonstrably true that the nation it comes from – founded on principles of freedom – grew to be one of the richest and most powerful in the world.

That nation had no greater resources than the Russia of its time. But it had a great deal more wealth. Why is that, I wonder? The question troubles my sleep at night.

The 'Time of Troubles' is a weak name for what Muscovy went though at the beginning of this century. It has perhaps made us a bit timid, afraid of freedom. It's so much easier when everyone knows their place and no one is allowed to argue or try something new. So much safer it seems. But I wonder, safe for how long?

The bandits are mostly gone from our roads and villages now. Surely that is a good thing. It seems worth a bit of freedom. What use, after all, is freedom to a man murdered by bandits? Is it worth, perhaps, the right of a serf to leave the lands of his lord? Some of those serfs might become bandits and make our roads unsafe yet again. Yet, why was this America, with its freedom, so rich? Where did its great wealth come from?

Much of it came from people leaving their work and striking out on their own. From people who left their homes and tried to do something that they had never done before. A man named Bell tried to find a way to make the deaf hear. Instead he found a way to send his voice and thousands of other voices thousands of miles along a wire. Another man, named Edison, hated transcribing the messages he received to send on. So he made a machine that did the job. This type of event happened again and again and made the land that the up-timers came from the richest in their world. Was it the freedom that did it? I think it may have been. For the same rule that prevents a serf from becoming a bandit also prevents him from becoming an inventor, or a merchant.

As I think of these things I can't help but wonder if we are beggaring our children to buy a bit of security for ourselves. The history of Holy Mother Russia that was written in that other time saw the fading away of the Zemskiy Sobor. It is barely even mentioned in their records. How did we allow that to happen? Are we, perhaps, afraid of the responsibilities of voting for representatives we trust? How will Mother Russia compete with nations that have spent a bit of their security to buy a little freedom for themselves and their posterity?

The Flying Squirrel

What Russia was, Natasha decided, as she set the pamphlet aside, depended a lot on how you looked at it. She had looked at it one way all her life now she was looking again. "Aunt Sofia, what do you think of democracy?"

The woman chuckled. She was tiny, four foot ten and weighed all of eighty pounds. Yet, when needed, she could put on such an expression of fierceness that boyars and bureau chiefs blanched. Fortunately at the moment she didn't have her game face on. Her eyes twinkled. "Bernie again or the one of the pamphlets? I don't know enough about it to have much of an opinion. From what I've heard, I cannot imagine it working, but obviously in some way it did. It must be different from what the Poles have that leaves their government so paralyzed."

"Well, according to Bernie, women vote as well as men, peasants as well as princes."

"I approve of the first and disapprove of the second. Peasants lack the knowledge of the wider world to understand the issues if a great nation. They lack the intellect for matters of state. Instead, they have low cunning." The eyes laughed. "Of course, I am a woman of the nobility. Were I a man – and a peasant – I might have a different opinion."

Natasha looked up at her smiling aunt with some irritation, then back down at the piles of papers on her worktable. The pamphlet on the cost of freedom and security was in one corner. In another were letters from Grantville. She picked up one of them. "Vladimir's friend Brandy wrote an answer to my question." Natasha felt her face flush a bit. She'd been wondering what life in Grantville must be like for weeks now. The Victoria's Secret book, along with translations of Brandy's letters, was in her bag for this visit to Evdokia. The czarina had been asking a lot of questions about up-timers lately.

"And what does she say?"

Natasha felt her face heat, with a blush. "So much and so… different. Brandy, she says I'm to call her Brandy, says that every person gets the same opportunities and it is up to them what they make of them. And that many, many up-time women choose not to marry and not to have children and not to live with parents and not… "

Aunt Sofia lifted her arms and patted the air. "Calm, child, calm. Stop and think a moment. Women do the same in Muscovy. Not all calls to holy orders are calls to God. Quite a few are calls away from the restriction of the outside world."

"But they don't… " Aunt Sofia was holding up her hand.

"I understood what you meant," Sofia said. "My point was that there was already an acceptable way to avoid the responsibilities of family. And how do these women live? They get jobs, I assume."

Natasha nodded cautiously.

"What jobs? Something like what your friend Brandy does in Grantville?

"Well, yes."

"And, Natasha, what do you do in the Dacha?"

Natasha stopped dead. What she did in the Dacha was run it. She used Vladimir's authority as head of the family, but she ran the Dacha. Her authority there was pretty much unquestioned. "I wasn't just thinking of me. Though I would like to see Grantville. Perhaps even live there for a time. I was thinking of all the other women of Muscovy."

"Of course you were." Aunt Sofia sounded doubtful. Then she laughed at Natasha's expression. "I know you were, dear." Aunt Sofia's voice was much more understanding now. "But all the women of Muscovy can't move to Grantville. What would the men do? Nor can we make Muscovy into a copy of Grantville, not without losing Russia and ourselves in the process. Quietly, calmly. Think each step through. Plan. You are a knyazhna, not a peasant. Consider the church, also. Think about what the church will have to say. If that doesn't calm you down, consider how most of the women of Muscovy will react."

Sofia held up her hand. "Consider," she insisted again. "If a woman can be a soldier then a woman can be made to be a soldier. Yes? Would you have women of the boyar class working in the fields like peasant women? Would Madame Cherkaski agree to have her status based on her position in the bureaucracy? She can't read, you know. And she heartily disapproves of those who can. It wasn't the men of Muscovy who poisoned Mikhail's first choice for a bride. Think about that. For now at least, leave politics aside and concentrate on the Dacha."

The sound of the toilet flushing woke Filip Pavlovich from a light sleep. That was the disadvantage – well, the largest disadvantage – of the toilets Bernie had insisted on. The noise. The sound of running water had the usual effect. He got up, threw on a heavy robe and headed to the bathroom to answer the call of nature. When he opened his bedroom door, he saw Bernie, carrying a candle and a book, heading toward the back of the house.

After taking care of business, Filip decided that he would investigate Bernie's whereabouts. Probably the kitchen, he thought. Bernie seemed to have a strange attachment to kitchens.

Not the kitchen after all, he was surprised to see. Another room close to it. Filip walked in just as the cook's assistant was lighting a few more candles. Bernie was opening a book, preparing to study for a while. "Another night owl?" Bernie grinned. "Feel free to join me. Anna Stefanovna will get us a beer and a snack if you want."

"Why aren't you asleep?" Filip yawned. "It's the middle of the night."

"Not really." Bernie looked at his watch. "It's only about 10:30. You know, that's one of the hardest things to adjust to, this living in what might as well be dark. I never used to go to sleep until about two in the morning, back home. Even after the Ring of Fire, I could still watch a movie on my VCR if I wanted to. I hate going to bed early, always did. Even when I was a kid it felt like sleeping was a waste of time. There was always something else I wanted to do."

The servant was placing a plate of Bernie's sandwiches in front of him along with a mug of beer. "You want a beer?" Bernie asked. "You're up anyway. Have a seat."

Filip nodded. "Why not? The older I get the less I sleep, anyway. Tell me about up-time. Did no one sleep the night through in your up-time?"

Bernie took a sip of his beer as the girl placed another mug in front of Filip. He shook his head. "Hardly anyone. Kids, maybe, and people who had to get up real early for work. Back there, all you had to do was flip a switch and you had lights. You could read all night if you wanted to and it would be just like daytime." Bernie grinned a bit. "There was a story they told. All about a man who became president way back when. The story said that he stayed up, reading by firelight, and educated himself that way. He was a really great president, too. And I've got a lot more respect for him, now that I know just how hard it is to read by candlelight. Not that I ever did that much reading."

Filip Pavlovich was gradually reconsidering things. Filip was a very smart man. He was also of reasonably good family and had an excellent education for his time. He was familiar with much of the work of the great minds of his era. He had worked quietly in the Embassy Bureau most for of his adult life, coordinating the reports of the agents around Europe on matters of natural philosophy, what the up-timers called science. His position and the nature of his work made it unlikely that he would ever be recorded in a history book. This didn't mean Filip wasn't as bright and capable as the more famous western scholars. It just meant that his work rarely bore his name.

Bernie had been sort of an insult. It was amazingly unfair that this up-timer should, by no other virtue than the accident of his birth in the future, know so much that Filip Pavlovich didn't. That was bad enough. Worse, though, Bernie Janovich couldn't explain it to him in a coherent way. At first he had occasionally wondered if Bernie was pretending ignorance just to frustrate him. Or, perhaps, Bernie didn't want the czar and people of Muscovy to have the benefit of the knowledge that he was being paid to provide. By now Filip knew that was not the case. He had seen Bernie's frustration and knew it was real.

Filip knew Bernie wanted to help. Bernie had seen little of the grinding poverty of the Muscovy peasants and the town poor, but even that little bit was apparently too much for him. It was the kind of poverty that made taking out someone's chamber pot a position to be sought after. Filip had seen this poverty anew, through Bernie's eyes. He didn't like seeing it, not at all, and he knew Bernie hated it. Filip was beginning to wonder if being smart was the best thing a man could be.

Bernie was good. Good in a way that almost no one outside of a saint was good in the here and now. Not that Bernie was a saint, exactly. He liked girls and beer too much for that. And, Filip was saddened to note, Bernie didn't really care for church.

Somehow, over the time that Bernie had been here, Filip had come to like the young man. He liked that Bernie was willing to admit when he didn't know something and try to learn it. And, Bernie had made it clear that he respected Filip for his knowledge and ability to understand Bernie's bits and pieces of information. He even liked that Bernie some how saw people as equal and felt that all of them were deserving of respect.

Without even realizing it, Filip had decided he would teach this man from the future to understand the knowledge he carried in his head. Enough, at least, so that Bernie would not be discarded as a used up receptacle in a few years. The fact that Bernie would probably look at the prospect of such an education with dread didn't bother him in the least. In fact, he rather enjoyed it. There was a touch of sadism in Filip's soul. Not a lot, but enough so that the prospect of making Bernie's life miserable for a while – in a good cause, of course – was kind of pleasant.

"So." Filip grinned. "What do you study tonight, Bernie? And what noisy, smelly experiment will it lead to this time?"

It was nice of Filip to help him out, Bernie thought, but it would be okay if he went to bed soon, too. He'd been teaching Anya stuff for a little while most nights. And Anya was too shy to sit down at the table with Filip there.

Finally, after about an hour, Filip gave it up for the night.

"Yeah." Bernie stretched a bit and yawned. "I'll be crashing pretty quick. One more chapter, though."

Filip's eyes were getting bleary. "Without me, I think." He yawned. "I don't have the stamina of youth." He stood and yawned again. "In the morning, then."

Bernie watched him leave, then grinned at Anya. "Finally," he whispered. "Alone at last."

Her blue eyes were merry. "Oh, yes, my dahlink. Fearless Leader has left the building and now we may play." She retrieved the papers of their latest project and sat down beside him. "Now, check my homework, please."

"It would be a lot quicker if I'd thought to bring a calculator," Bernie grumbled. He added up the columns of figures and checked that she'd posted the imaginary expenses to their correct imaginary accounts. "You got it, babe. Everything is in the right spot."

Anya clapped her hands, quietly. "Good." She checked the accounting textbook. "Trial balances and closing entries are next."

Bernie groaned and reached out to grab her by the shoulders. "Come, my little babuska." He used his Boris voice. "We will attend to the moose later. Right now, I merely wish to enjoy myself. No more studying tonight."

"Alexei?" Bernie had begun to wonder about this. "What about taxes? Do you deduct it from my income or what? Like the man says, there's two things certain in this world, death and taxes."

Alexei Alexandrovich stared at Bernie. "You want to pay taxes, Bernie? Why?"

"No, I don't want to pay taxes. No one wants to pay taxes. But, I don't want to go to jail for not paying my income tax, either."

"What's income tax? Is this yet another moose?"

Bernie grinned. Moose had come to mean a lot of things at the Dacha. Anytime anyone was hunting for an answer they were "looking for the silly moose."

"Kinda sorta. Income tax is how you support the government. You have a job, you get paid every month and your employer takes out a part and gives it to the government to pay for roads and the army and stuff like that. And, there's also property tax but you don't pay that unless you own property. It usually supports local government and schools and stuff."

Alexei, as Alexei often did, doodled with his pen. "What if you are not paid a salary? What if you're a craftsman?"

"I'm no expert." Bernie thought it must have been the thousandth time he'd said that since he had gotten to Moscow. "I think you pay income tax anyway, but it's a percentage of your net income."

"And what is net income?"

"Well, you figure all the money you took in that year. That's your gross income. Then you subtract the deductible stuff. What's left after that is your net income."

"And what… " God, it's like pulling teeth, thought Alexei… "is the deductible stuff?"

"Uh, well… your kids, for one thing. The more you have, the bigger the deduction. And, I guess if you're a smith and renting your shop, that would be a deductible expense and the iron you use to make the horseshoes or whatever. Stuff like that." It was dawning on Bernie that they did it differently here. "How do you do taxes here?"

That was a dangerous question. There were a number of subjects that they had all been informed they were not to discuss with Bernie. Both Boris Ivanovich and Natasha Petrovna had been very, even painfully, clear on that. "Well, Bernie, as far as you're concerned, the best way to figure it is your taxes are taken out of your monthly pay. That's not exactly how it works but close enough."

"And it wasn't just the income tax." Bernie had long since realized that there were certain things the bosses didn't want him to know. Which was okay with him. He didn't want to get involved with Russian politics if he could help it. And besides, he probably didn't want to know. So he explained a bit more about taxes.

Alexei's head was about to burst, but he had to ask.

"Not just the income tax?"

"Nah," Bernie said. "We paid the Fica, too."

"Ahh… Fica?"

"Yeah. I don't remember what it meant, but it was Social Security."

"You paid to be socially secure?" Alexei's head was going to explode, he just knew it. Any moment now.

"Yeah. In a way. Sort of." Bernie shrugged. "It was for the old folks. You paid the Fica for every day you worked. Then, when you got too old to work, the Fica paid you back. It wasn't as much as you paid in, maybe, but it was almost enough to live on, if you were careful. Anyway, guys, you could have just told me that they were paid in the first place." Bernie headed back to the shop.

Petr Grigoryevich, their "math whiz" began doodling on a sheet of paper. "I wonder," he muttered, "how much a ten percent income tax leveled on everyone… the great families… and, well, everyone, would produce. I wonder if it wouldn't produce even more money than the peasant farms and communes that the czar owns, the taxes on the serfs and the poor city folk and the special taxes. There might be even more money for the czar and the church, if everyone in Muscovy paid a certain percentage of what they earned."

"It would never happen. The great families would never allow it to happen." Alexei shook his head. "Still, it's an interesting speculation." The group fell into calculations.

Guba Ivashka Kalachnikov was very interested in the knowledge from the future. "Mercury," he whispered, "is a poison?" He wasn't that concerned about the lead that the ladies used in their makeup. There were other things that would work as well for that. He was busily trying to integrate the things that were coming from the Ring of Fire with his experience. He had a lot of the latter; he had been a healer for over forty years.

He listened to the rest of the list. It was something called a cheat sheet and was being read to him by a clerk from the Grantville section of the Embassy Bureau. The clerk was a lad of fifteen and, even though he was Guba's social superior, worked for him doing reading and writing. He paid the boy and thanked him for the service. Guba had never bothered to learn reading and writing. At least not what most people would think of as reading and writing. He used a set of symbols that was part inherited from his teacher and part made up by him to keep track of what drug,prepared in what way, was in each container.

He worked with potions to relieve pain and balance the humors. He had mixed potions for Czar Ivan when he was an apprentice. Potions that included mercury. The knowledge that his potions might have been what drove Ivan mad didn't sit well. "Mercury causes delusions?" he repeated. "I made drugs that drove Ivan Grotzny mad. Drugs without which he would not have killed his son and the Time of Troubles would not have happened?

No!he thought. It's lies. It must be. And yet. He could think of no reason for them to lie. At least none that made sense given the circumstances.

The shop was in Moscow and up-scale. Guba knew about drugs and acupuncture and a number of other treatments. He had a large number of very wealthy customers, and he wasn't sure what to do. In more than one way. First, the potion for relieving the pain of swollen joints worked. He knew that; he had seen it. Mercury potions were also the only effective treatment for syphilis that he knew of. The dementia, if it was caused by the drug and not the pain, was a side effect that took multiple doses over a period of time to manifest.

Nor did he have a replacement for the drug. Not one that was nearly as effective. He understood from some of the things the boy from the Grantville section had said that Grantville did have drugs that were effective. The little blue pills of happiness that were supposed to relive pain and restore manhood. Another called Mary Jane. It didn't matter; he didn't have them and had no practical way to get them or make them.

Grantville

"So what else is on the list of impossible demands this week?" Brandy asked.

"Bernie, or rather 'one of the brain cases,' wants a computer. The patriarch wants proof of the dangers of lead poisoning and an alternative makeup, because certain women in Moscow are having fits. Also, tons of antibiotics. I'm sending him cheat sheets on how to make chloramphenicol. I have one here from the Polish section demanding a generator 'if such things really exist.' We sent one to Bernie a while back; that must be where they heard about it. So, make unreasonable demands of me, Brandy. I'm getting used to it."

"Hmmm." Brandy considered. "Hmmm. No one has ever suggested that before, I don't think. How about a reasonable demand? How about we take off early? I want you to tell me about Moscow."

"Why not?" Vladimir shrugged. "Why not? The demands will still be here tomorrow."

It was three nights after the car had left for Russia that the prince from Muscovy made up his mind he would ask for permission to marry the girl from the future. He pulled out a pen and began the two letters. One to Natasha informing her that he would be seeking Brandy's hand and asking for her help in persuading the czar. One to the czar asking his permission to marry a foreigner. The fact that his older sister had married a foreigner would not make it easier. He would wait to ask Brandy until he had permission because he didn't know what he would do if the permission were not forthcoming.

Yaroslavich Dacha

"Oh, man." Bernie sounded worried. "Why him?"

Natasha looked up from her latest letter from Brandy Bates and watched Bernie for a moment. His beard had grown in rather nicely, she thought. His clothing, though. She shook her head. Just when she had thought the jeans were worn completely out, the unforeseen consequences of the sewing machine had resulted in Vladimir's gift of something called "torberts."

The jeans had been bad enough, in Natasha's opinion. The torberts were worse and they were catching on. That's how Bernie put it, anyway. They lacked the proper drape of Russian clothes and what was the fetish men seemed to have with pockets everywhere? The torberts were, according to Bernie, just farmer's overalls made down-time to up time design. He insisted they made good work clothes.

If that had been all they were used for Natasha wouldn't have objected. Well, not as much. But some of the other men at the Dacha were using them for social wear now, as a sort of a proclamation that they worked there. Even Bernie didn't think them appropriate for "parties and such," but he insisted he "wasn't the fashion police." Whatever that meant. He refused to explain the inappropriateness of wearing torberts into Muscovy. Bernie was Bernie. Too stubborn by half. "Why who?"

"Cass Lowry." Bernie waved the letter at her. "He used to be a friend of mine when we played football together. I thought he was so cool. He was smarter me and was always coming up with stunts to pull. The thing is, Cass never could take anyone's advice on anything. He was going to go to college on a football scholarship. Studying was a waste of time." Bernie laughed. "I was the same way. Everything that happened to us was someone else's fault. I was right with him all through high school. It was the nerds screwing up the bell curve. It was the teachers that had it in for us jocks." Natasha wondered why teachers would have it in for jocks but didn't bother asking. Bernie was still talking.

"Then, after the football scholarship fell through, Cass blamed me for keeping him from studying." Bernie looked over at Natasha and gave a shrug. "There may have been some truth to it but other guys on the team did study and went on to college. Somewhere in there, I got over myself and started to grow up. But from the letter, it doesn't sound like Cass ever did. Now he's blaming everything on the down-timers and Mike Stearns." Bernie waved the letter. "That's what this letter comes down to. I hope no one ever reads this, Natasha. Because it's pretty rude."

Natasha knew that quite well. It took some effort to control her expression. Cass Lowry's comments about "krauts," "russkies" and "I guess you're living in the armpit of the universe" had not gone unnoticed. Not in the least. "Brandy says it is because he was the only person who knew cars well enough who was willing to make the trip. Vladimir wanted, very much, to have someone who knew cars travel with your 'Precious.'"

"My what?"

"See." Natasha waved Brandy's letter. "Brandy says 'tell Bernie that Cass is traveling with Precious because Cass is the only guy we could find who wasn't doing something else.'"

Bernie's face was a study. Part outrage, part pout. "The car is not named Precious. Are you sure she didn't say 'your precious car' or something?"

Natasha perused the letter again and shook her head. "No. It even has the capital P. I assumed it was the name for it. At any rate, your Cass will be arriving in a month or so. We should probably arrange for you to meet him. He, according to Brandy, wants to visit us for a while. And you never know, he might help."

Bernie slumped into a chair. "I doubt it. Don't get me wrong. Cass is smart smarter than me. It's just… I don't know… he has a knack for screwing things up. You're probably not going to care for him one little bit. Neither will Boris or Filip." Bernie shook his head in disgust. "Why did Brandy have to send him?"

Brandy had not sent him, Vladimir had. He had been fully aware of Cass' drawbacks and had stressed the need to put up with them while he was milked for information, especially on weapons and tactics used by the up-timers. "Mr. Lowry," Vladimir had written, "is not a person we would want in our home. But he does have knowledge that could be useful to Muscovy. Try to keep anyone from killing him for the insults he will surely give." Natasha had wondered if Bernie's view would agree with Vladimir's. While there were subtle differences, for the most part it did.

Bernie shivered. Theatrically, Natasha thought. "Well, at least it's not a horse. It may be colder than a witches… ah, never mind. It may be really cold, but at least we aren't riding horses."

"Indeed, we aren't." Natasha smiled. "And you must admit that it's a very nice coach, Bernie, very nice."

And it was, in fact, a very nice coach. It had special springs for the skis. Outside it was cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey and the snow was still pretty deep. But the streamlined coach-on-skis had double-walled construction and a lacquer polish job that acted as sealant, as well as making the whole thing shiny as all get out. It was relatively warm inside, even if it did look kind of weird. It needed high road clearance because even the improved roads weren't exactly highways in the up-timer sense of the word. They were reasonably well-graded dirt roads with a bit of crushed rock spread over them. Plus, at the moment, a layer of snow. There remained rough bits here and there. The coach was not as high as the old west stage coaches, but was higher than a modern car. Most of the time the coach could travel ten to fifteen miles per hour. There were places, though, where they had to slow way down and work their way between ruts.

Only a relatively small part of the design for the coach was from up-timer information. More of it had to do with a down-timer coach maker who had joined the team after the czar had seen some up-time car magazines. Czar Mikhail had liked the idea of cars and smooth rides. He'd decided that if he couldn't have an engine, he at least wanted a streamlined design and shock absorbers.

The coach maker, Ivan Egorovich Shirshov, had taken note of that desire. The czar had seen to that. Ivan Egorovich had arrived at the dacha with a medium-sized chip on his shoulder over the whole mess. Then he talked to Bernie and found that Bernie agreed with him. But it was no more up to Bernie than it was to him. They had gone over Bernie's car magazines, then over sleigh designs and coach designs, trying to figure out what they could do. Ivan Egorovich now had a permanent dent in his forehead from pounding it against the wall in frustration. And Czar Mikhail had a new coach. So did Bernie.

Bernie grabbed the edge of the seat. "Hang on. We're about to hit another rutted bit. And I still can't figure out why you wanted to come on this trip, ladies. You're probably going to get frostbite on your noses."

"The 'advance team' as you call it has made arrangements, Bernie. We will be comfortable. And I like traveling. Vladimir and I did quite a bit of it, you know, back when our father was alive."

Aunt Sofia grinned widely. "The weather, it is not so bad."

Bernie shuddered. If it hadn't been for the long johns, he'd have had frozen b… ah… parts by now.

The trip to the Swedish border had several purposes. One was to investigate the road work. Road work had been continuing apace since only a month or so after Bernie's arrival. Since he had worked on the road gangs around Grantville and had a mechanical turn of mind, he had a good knowledge of the horse-drawn grader and other horse-drawn road improvement equipment. The equipment he had helped design for Muscovy had been used extensively for almost a year now and was showing real effect. The czar's highways mostly went south and east, roughly toward China. One, however, went north and west toward the coast of the Baltic Sea.

That was the highway they were traveling. It was a fairly slow trip. They stopped occasionally to examine the road work. Most important to Bernie, though, was that the trip's second purpose was to pick up his car. It had been shipped from Grantville by way of the Baltic Sea to the Swedish-owned coast.

Muscovy had lost this particular bit of land to Sweden a couple of decades before. Thankfully, relations between the two nations had greatly improved in the ensuing years. This was mostly because both Sweden and Muscovy disliked Poland more than they disliked each other. But, also, Czar Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov was honestly impressed with the charismatic Swedish monarch.

Natasha had decided to join the party at the last minute, well, the last day. The amount of advanced planning needed to travel just a couple of days was mind boggling to Bernie. And this trip would take at least a month, new coach or not.

"I can't believe it." Bernie's voice was harsh and his nose bright red from chapping. "I can't believe it took five freaking weeks to get here and the ship still hasn't made it." Bernie stomped around the room for a bit, working off some excess energy.

"Now, Bernie." Vladislav Vasl'yevich Vinnikov, Natasha's captain of guards tried to soothe him. "It was a long way, a hard trip at this time of year. I would imagine that it was even worse on the sea. Your friend will be here. You must just be patient."

"Why the heck can't we just go to the coast to meet him?" Bernie threw his hands in the air. "I'm worried. Why stay here, so far from the coast?"

Vladislav Vasl'yevich wasn't about to answer that question directly. It wouldn't be the correct thing to do. Bernie just didn't, as he himself often remarked, "need to know."

"The villages in the area, Bernie. We should look at the villages. The soil is a bit different, perhaps. You could take notes, it would help with the development of the plows and reapers, I'm sure."

Bernie brightened a bit, not much. "Well it's, something to do anyway. Sure, we'll go take a look."

Natasha, who had been quiet for a few moments, added, "As well, Pavel Andreyevich would like you to design your plumbing for his home. He is most interested in it. And you are invited to utilize his banya, if you wish."

Bernie grinned. Banya's were certainly a way to get warm. Overly warm, if the truth were known. Bernie hadn't quite been able to make it to the third level of the banya back at the dacha, not yet. Nor had he quite had the guts to roll around in the snow afterwards, although he had progressed to dumping buckets of not-quite-cold water on himself. Banya's were sort of a sauna, but not quite; sort of a steam room, but also not quite. And the first time Filip had shown him the use of the venek, well… that had been sort of a revelation.

"Sounds like a plan." Bernie sniffed. Cold always made his nose run. "After four hundred miles in this kind of freaking cold, a banya sounds really good."

Natasha smiled as Bernie left the room "That might have been more difficult."

"True." Vladislav Vasl'yevich nodded. "I wonder what delayed the ship."

They had planned not to reach the border till after the car was already there, but didn't want it waiting too long. Natasha had spent a worried week thinking up things to keep Bernie occupied. As yet, Muscovy had been able to recruit a total of one up-timer. That up-timer was Bernie Zeppi. Cass Lowry was a temporary hire.

Czar Mikhail and Patriarch Filaret were quite insistent that Bernie not leave Muscovy territory. At the same time, Mikhail Romanov expressed a personal desire that Bernie not be made to feel abused or trapped. Natasha was stuck with the job of keeping Bernie from leaving Muscovy while keeping him from realizing that he couldn't.

It was important that Bernie remain willing to stay in Muscovy. Bernie was in regular correspondence with Brandy Bates and his own family in Grantville. A sudden end to those letters would be reported to the government of the USE, most likely. Muscovy, decidedly, didn't want to annoy the USE at the moment.

"What did you do, Cass, beat the damn thing with the tire iron?" Bernie felt like he just might cry, manly or not. The car! The poor car. "What the hell happened?"

Cass Lowry glared at him from beneath the hood of his camouflage-fabric parka. "Everything you can think of, dude. Everything. Hail. Freezing rain. A goddamn storm at sea. Not to mention that we had to make the trip in the middle of a frigging war. The Dutch were occupying a fair chunk of the coast and blockading part of the rest. So don't bitch at me. I got the damn thing here, didn't I? Not to mention the drums. And let me tell you, those were a ring-tailed son of a bitch, they really were. And expensive! You'd never believe what Yaroslavich had to pay for those fifty-five gallon drums, not to mention what's in them."

Bernie decided yelling at Cass wouldn't help. But, the car! What had happened to the car? "Look at those dents, man. It looks like someone took a baseball bat to it."

"More like baseballs." Cass demonstrated with his hands, making a circle of his fingers. "Big freaking hunks of ice the size of your fist. Nothing I could do, either, Bernie boy, not a damn thing. I tried. Even brought some blankets, but I only had enough to protect the glass. Figured that would be hard to replace. Besides, you can beat out the dents. You know that. Remember what the car looked like back when you bought it?"

"It sort of was a mess, wasn't it." Bernie grinned. "What the hell, you're right. We can fix it, probably. And I'm happier than you know to have fifty-five gallons of gas, I promise you. And motor oil. That's a bonus I didn't expect."

Cass smirked. "I told Brandy. I told her and that Vlad the same thing. 'It's not going to do any good if you just send the car,' I said. 'You've got to send some gas and oil.' It cost Vlad a bundle, Bernie. But he did it. And there's a whole pile of boxes in the wagons, too. Everything anybody could think of to send you is in a box or wrapped up in the trunk of the car. Brandy hit every garage sale and junk sale she could to find stuff to send you. And books – you'll never believe the books. Piles of them."

Bernie grinned. "Great. We need every one we can find. Come on. Let's go get the introductions over with. Things are kind of formal around here, Cass. You need to watch your step. Just follow my lead and things will probably be okay."

"Natalia Petrovna Yaroslavicha, may I introduce, Cass Lowry. Cass, this is Vlad's sister, Natalia Petrovna. And this is her aunt, Madame Sofia Yaroslavich."

Bernie thought he'd done a credible job on the introduction until Cass opened his big mouth.

"If you're Vlad's sister, why isn't your name Natasha? That's what Brandy said, Natasha."

Bernie sort of kicked Cass in the ankle and made a face at him. "I'll explain later." It came out as a hiss. "Just say hello, would you? And be polite, damn it."

Cass glared a bit, but nodded. "Ma'am, I'm pleased to meet you. I did bring a load of letters for you. They're from your brother and Brandy. And there are some presents, too. They're in one of the boxes."

Natasha nodded graciously. "My thanks. We appreciate your trouble and invite you to share our hospitality at the Dacha for a while. Vladimir Petrovich was pleased that you accepted his commission."

"Yeah, well, I stung him pretty good on the fee." Cass snickered. Bernie knew there was going to be trouble sooner or latter. Cass was acting like he was still up-time and still a football star.

"Natalia Petrovna, we will take our leave of you for the moment," Bernie said. "My friend and I need to have a talk. If you will excuse us?"

Natasha inclined her head. "Certainly, Bernie. Perhaps we shall see you and Cass at dinner?" Bernie suppressed a groan. Cass, Natasha, dinner… what was wrong with that combination? Bernie didn't want to think about it.

Dinner, to say the most he could about it, was strained. Cass seemed to be playing the part of "the ugly American" to the hilt. Bernie was seriously considering knocking him out. Soon. Maybe twice.

"Yeah," Cass was saying, "winding up back here before the world got civilized was sort of hard. Wars all over the damn place, the food sucks, and there's all this religious bullshit, too." The religious bullshit, in the form of Father Pter Stephanovich, was having dinner with them. Pete was a nice guy. "Every time you turn around someone is in your face about religion. Who freaking cares, I ask you? Who freaking cares?" Pete cared. Bernie knew that.

Natasha's face was cold as she regarded Cass. "Indeed. And are you Americans godless? I have had one of those 'hamburgers' you speak of. Bernie built a 'charcoal grill' and cooked them for us. Quite frankly, I do not find that they are particularly appetizing."

Cass leered a bit, and Bernie was more and more sure he was going to have to hit him. Then Cass laughed raucously and snorted beer up his nose.

When all the spewing and coughing was finally over, Bernie looked at Cass. He was pretty drunk. "I think I've had enough, Cass. I'm going to crash. You ready?"

Cass was a little bleary from the vodka he had consumed, but wasn't ready for sleep, apparently. "No, dude. I don't think so. You go on. I'll just keep the lady company."

Natasha's already cold face froze. Bernie could see it happening. "I, myself, am quite tired. You gentlemen feel free to enjoy… whatever it is that you enjoy. Until the morning, then." Natasha rose and swept from the room, casting a telling glance over her shoulder. Aunt Sofia's glance was even more telling.

Bernie got the message. Cass had to learn to behave properly.

"That one will get himself killed," Vladislav Vasl'yevich murmured. "Soon, I expect."

"Not by us, though, and preferably not in Russia. Let some other nation do the world the service." Natasha agreed with his assessment. Cass Lowry was a barbarian. "I know he's already said things that would be reason for a duel. Certainly most would already have been punished for those remarks. But the czar will want to meet him, just as he met Bernie and Russia needs what he knows. Vladislav Vasl'yevich, we need to avoid any incident. You'll have to restrain yourself and your men."

"At least Bernie did not intentionally insult. This one, though." Vladislav shook his head ruefully. "He is a different type of man. He thinks himself a boyar's son, protected by his father's position. He seems to think that everyone in Muscovy is a peasant."

Cass was a bit drunk. Not much, just enough to take the edge off. He was wondering what the fuck was Bernie's problem. Had the little shit gone native? Could have happened, he figured. Bernie had been all alone with a bunch of down-time barbs for over a frigging year. "What is your problem, man? They're just down-timers. They need us, we don't need them. Ain't you figured that out yet? Hell, even up-time kids are getting rich."

"So what are you doing here, Cass? Since you're so rich, I mean?" Bernie shot him a look.

Cass flushed. "Cheap shot, man. The breaks haven't been going my way. It's Stearns' fault. Treating the down-timers like they're real Americans and selling us out to the Swedes like he done." Cass knew if it weren't for Stearns, all the up-timers would be rich and powerful with dozens of girls and solid gold crappers. But Stearns was giving it all away.

"Cass, we're not in high school anymore. There's not a cop you can call." Bernie stared at him intently. "Some breaks are coming your way, sure enough. Broken arms, broken legs and a busted head. The lady you were hitting on is a frigging knyazhna, Cass. That's Russian for princess. Don't think for a minute that her guards won't cut off your dick and feed it and the rest of you to the pigs."

"What the hell is your problem, Bernie boy? Afraid of the competition?" Cass pulled his new Peace Maker and pointed it casually in Bernie's direction. Just to make a point. Besides he liked the gun and how it made him feel strong and dangerous. It was modeled loosely on the Colt Peacemaker but made in a down-time gun shop. "Anyone wants to cut me, they had better bring a whole lot more fire power than these candy-asses have." Bernie froze. At first Cass thought he had made his point, but Bernie wasn't really looking scared. Mostly he was looking pissed. What the fuck was Bernie's problem anyway?

Slowly, it occurred to Cass that pointing a loaded gun at Bernie might be pushing it a bit more than he'd meant to, at least right off the bat. He really hadn't meant to piss Bernie off, not till he got the lay of the land, anyway. Especially, he hadn't meant to let Bernie boy know that he was competition. "Hey man, it's no big deal. If you got dibs on her, I'll back off." Cass put away his gun and left the brown-nosing asshole. He need to walk off the booze a bit, anyway.

Cass knew he was smarter than Bernie. He hadn't done well in school, but didn't mean he was stupid. School just bored the shit out of him. Besides, he was a football star. He didn't need to bust his hump in English class. He knew he could pick up what Bernie was doing pretty quick. He could probably push Bernie out, if he wanted to. But he wasn't going to put up with much crap from the dumb-ass down-timers. Not him. Not ever.

Cass winced at the bright sunshine when he walked out the door three mornings later. "Oh, man, that hurts."

"Think you might want to be a little more careful with the booze?" Bernie's smirk was insulting. "Sun shining off snow can really dazzle you, but the biggest part of your problem is your hangover. Three days and three hangovers. No wonder it hurts."

"Maybe," Cass muttered. Drinking was about the only thing he was enjoying. Well, that and the girls. Every place they stayed had servant girls. Even staying away from the bitch princess wasn't hard, not when you had all those girls around.

Bernie put on his heavy coat. "You ready? Let's get a move on. This trip is taking forever. I wish the car was running, I really do. Steering and braking with no power while being towed behind a team of horses is a real pain."

"What did you expect? The thing sat on blocks for fucking years, man." Cass snorted. "Let's go. Get to this dacha place and see if you can get it running."

Hours in the carriage with only a couple of troops who didn't speak English was a real bore. But Cass didn't want to ride on one of the carts out in the open and especially didn't want to be on horseback. Too cold for that, by half. It was the usual order today. Out ahead of everyone, a double column of ten guards on horseback spread out. Then came the rolling stock. First came the fancy-ass sleigh that Bernie's girl was in. Cass hated to admit it, but it was actually kind of neat. Boxy, but still sort of streamlined and buffed to a high gloss. Then Bernie was freezing his ass off in that damned old junker of his. Cass was behind Bernie's car in his carriage. Then all the carts with all the stuff the Yaroslavich dude had sent. At the end of the line there were six more guards. Plus guards in some of the rolling stock.

Bernie patted the dash. "Oh, yeah. Once I get it running it will be able to do thirty miles an hour at least. Even on these roads and pulling a bunch of stuff."

Vladislav Vasl'yevich was riding beside Bernie's car just then. Partly because he was actually interested in how it worked and could see lots of military applications for these motorized vehicles. Mostly, though, over the course of a day's travel, he would spend time all along the column. He checked everything, several times a day, to make sure everything was working and looked for trouble before it happened.

Vladislav had seen and reported on hundreds of military applications in the time that Bernie had been at the dacha. He hadn't exactly been ignored. The czar now had a 30-06. It was hand-made with gold engraving, but there was a very limited supply of bullets. There were people making new guns, flintlocks, but only in small numbers, as experiments. There were the war games in the Kremlin, but darn little in the field. The military had been, in Vladislav's opinion, slow to consider the potential usefulness of the up-timer's innovations in weapons and tactics.

"I wouldn't mind seeing that… " Vladislav stopped at the shout from the front of the column and shots ringing out. "Bandits. To the knyazhna." He looked around to assess the situation.

The road here curved from southeast to east. The bandits had either been spotted by the guards out in front or had jumped the gun. Probably spotted, that shout had been Petr Kadian. It was a large party, it must be. This many trained solders wouldn't be easy to overcome. From the noise, there were probably around thirty or forty bandits. Most were hitting the front of the column, and the outriders on the north side, which was the inside of the curve. That meant that Vladislav's men were more spread than the bandits were and the bandits could react a little faster. Vladislav noted in passing that Bernie was trying to get his 30-06 out of the back seat of the car. That could help, depending on how Bernie held up in combat.

Surprisingly, the other outlander, Cass, was out of his carriage and running toward Bernie's car. "Get down, you idiot." Vladislav shouted. "Get down before you get shot."

What was the idiot doing, Vladislav wondered. He was playing with the back of Bernie's car. The back of the car opened like a great mouth, hiding Cass from Vladislav's view.

There hadn't been bandits in this area for years. It was too well patrolled. Not out of fear of bandits, but to provide warning of an attack by Poland. Vladislav waved to the Embassy Bureau troops who were bringing up the rear. "To the knyazhna. Don't worry about the carts, protect Natalia Petrovna and Bernie." They could probably replace the stuff in the carts if they had to, but they had to protect Natasha Petrovna and Bernie. Vladislav shot one of the bandits and dropped the pistol. He drew the second. He always carried one in each boot and two in his belt.

" Yeeeehaaaw!"

Vladislav looked around, startled by the scream. Cass had reappeared from the back of Bernie's car and was carrying a long gun of some sort. He was running at the woods on the north side of the road, screaming like a banshee. Clickety boom, came the noise. And again. Clicktey boom. Clicktey boom. Two bandits were down, one with most of his head blown away. Vladislav watched as Cass cut to the right. Clickety boom. Cut left. Clickety boom. Cass ran in some sort of wild pattern that the attackers couldn't follow. Neither could Vladislav.

Crack. A different noise sounded. One of the bandits fell from a horse. Since most of the bandits had been on foot, Vladislav figured he was probably their leader. They should have been paying attention to Bernie, who knelt behind his car taking well-aimed shots at the attackers. Vladislav could see his head and shoulders. The bandits would be lucky to see his head, or the 30-06 that was killing them. It would take a special miracle to actually hit a target that small.

Vladislav looked around again. The situation wasn't as bad as it had at first appeared. The attackers had been spotted before most of the column was in the trap. Bernie had apparently gotten their leader who was trying to shift his troops. And Cass, the madman, was spreading panic in their ranks. Vladislav's men were pushing against their northwestern flank and pinning most of them away from the body of the column. Vladislav wanted to charge the bandits; to use the loss of their leader and the panic. A charge now, even with the few men he had, would break them and send them running. If these were all there were. But, what if there was another group? His job was to protect the knyazhna and Bernie, not to leave them unprotected while he went on a boar hunt.

Clickety… click. The madman was out of ammunition and out of position, as well. Cass was well into the trees. Vladislav knew he was going to lose men he couldn't afford if he rescued the maniac. Yet keeping the up-timers alive was vital. While he was considering his options, there was another new sound.

Blam. Blam. Apparently, the madman had another gun. Vladislav's guards were now in control of the fight. Cass' mad dash toward them, added to Bernie's cool, continuous fire had thrown the attackers into confusion and depleted their numbers. They were falling back. "Hold," Vladislav shouted. "Don't chase them. Hold your positions." Vladislav hated to do it, but their job was to protect, not chase. "Back," he shouted. "Back."

Cass let the adrenalin leak away from his system. He'd been an avid hunter since he was ten and a halfback all though high school. Since the Ring of Fire, he had hunted wild boar a lot. Moving fast, moving through woods, and shooting things were all things he did quite well. The being shot at was a lot less fun. He was scared shitless every damned time. When he had agreed to bring the car from Grantville, he'd put the guns in the trunk because he figured that the down-timers wouldn't know to look there. He'd used quite a bit of Vladimir's advance to buy guns. He reloaded the shotgun and the Peace Maker, as much for something to do with his hands as anything else. His hands were shaking a bit.

Bernie had done a bit too good a job on the commander, or boss bandit. The rest were run-of-the-mill bandits, collected for this. They knew very little. Just that they had been hired and paid unusually well to attack this particular group. They were to kill everyone, take as much as they could carry and burn the rest. His equipage and clothing suggested that the commander might be Polish, but anyone could have hired him. The troops were spending quite a bit of time talking about Cass' "broken field running," as Bernie called it. It made up some for the things he had been saying since he arrived. If he could learn manners, he could be an asset.

"Vas'ka Kadnitsa will probably recover." Bernie washed his hands. "But I wish we had a real doctor." He didn't specify what he meant by a real doctor. Another example of Bernie learning manners. By now, even the doctors at the dacha acknowledged that they needed to go study with the up-timer doctors in Grantville. Bernie knew it, Natasha knew it, Vladislav knew it. There was no reason to harp on it.

"I have sent a man to the nearest village to report and bring more troops," Vladislav reported. "About all we know is that it wasn't a random attack. It could have been the Poles trying to deny us access to up-timer knowledge. That will be what most people will assume. On the other hand, it could well have been a faction in the court, Perhaps someone who opposes the income tax or the constitution."

Vladislav paused a moment, then his curiosity overcame him. "Bernie, what was that long gun Cass used?"

"A pump-action shotgun." Bernie grinned, albeit mirthlessly. As though he knew that more information would be requested, he continued. "It's a smooth bore weapon that can fire a solid shot or a bunch of smaller pellets every time it's fired. Cass was apparently using buckshot. It spreads, so you don't need to be all that accurate and is heavy enough to take a man down at close range."

A scout rode up. He and Vladislav conferred for a moment. "We will camp a mile or so up the road. There is a good spot that can be made quite defensible. I don't want to do any more traveling than we have to, not before we are reinforced."

Bernie and Natasha nodded. He was the captain and knew what he was doing.

Dinner had been served outside and Natasha had gone to her tent. Cass had watched Natasha move around all afternoon. She was a stone fox, that was for sure. A rich one, judging by her clothes. They must have cost a bundle. She must have a lot; look at what her brother was paying him. Cass took another drink of the vodka. He'd been drinking all afternoon. First to stop the shakes and calm down. Then to have something to think about besides how scared he had been while the fight was going on. By now he had decided he hadn't been scared, just excited.

There went old Bernie boy. What a suck-up he'd turned out to be. Yes sir, no sir, three bags full, sir. Putting up with crap Cass wouldn't put up with, that's for sure. The girl was in her tent. What a prick tease. She's been asking for it. Probably taking off her clothes. Cass imagined that for a while, imagined it really well. I bet she's a lulu, he thought, once you get her going. And I bet I could get her going.

Vladislav kept a close eye on Cass. A dangerous man in a fight, that one was, and a drunkard. It was a volatile combination. The camp was defensible, at any rate. Which left only the uncultured outlander to worry about. He hadn't let loose of the shotgun all day. And had been passing out insults ever since the battle. After-combat jitters, perhaps. Trying to convince everyone, especially himself, that he wasn't scared. Vladislav had seen the reaction before. Then Cass had gotten quiet. Vladislav expected trouble. Soon.

The madman stood up and began to walk toward Natasha's tent. Bernie stepped in front of him. "Hey, man. What's going on?"

Cass shoved Bernie away. "Get away from me. I'm going to have me a real nice time. She's itching for it. And I'm gonna give it to her."

Bernie had been trying to calm the situation and not ready for an attack. The uncultured outlander's shove had pushed him back and his foot slipped on some rocks. Vladislav stepped in. The shot gun had to go. He grabbed it from Cass and tossed it to one of his men, keeping the barrel pointed to the sky. Fighting man or not, valuable outlander or not, this one needed a lesson in manners. He hit Cass in the gut. Hard. Then in the face.

Vladislav had been restraining both himself and his men with some difficulty. He had orders to treat the new American with kid gloves. He actually did respect the courage of the man in combat, though no more than he respected Bernie's cool headed shooting or his own men's courage and discipline. But now that Cass had threatened to assault the knyazhna, it was too much. Cass had gone down at the second blow but he was getting back up. He went for the Peace Maker, and Vladislav kicked it out of his hand. Cass went down again. "I've been protecting Knyazhna Natasha since she was a child, little man." The outlander might not have been little physically, but he had a little soul. "I can live with your uncultured ways if I have to… "

As Vladislav pulled Cass up from the ground – Grunt, not little physically – he heard Bernie talking to the guards. "Hey, guys, I can wait my turn, but at least let me watch." Some of the guards had thought Bernie was coming to the outlander's defense.

Holding Cass by his collar, Vladislav said, "I can put up with your 'I'm better than anyone else' attitude, but you won't lay a hand on her. Not if you want to keep that hand." Vladislav hit him again.

Cass flew into the table and made quite a racket going down this time. As Vladislav was picking him up again, Natasha appeared.

"What are you doing, Vladislav?" The noise had brought her from the tent. She was shouting. "And why are your men holding Bernie? Neither of these men is to be harmed. You know that. Let them go."

Vladislav let go of the outlander, who promptly fell on the ground, holding his guts, trying not to heave. The other guards let Bernie pass.

Bernie took a few steps and reached Cass. "Good. Is it my turn now?" He bowed graciously to Vladislav. "I didn't really mind waiting, Vladislav Vasl'yevich, but you might have left a bit more for me. Don't worry about it, Natasha. Every man here has wanted to give Cass a lesson in manners from the moment he arrived. He's earned this, in more ways than you know."

Bernie picked Cass up and leaned him against the handy cart, propping him carefully. Cass' knees buckled and he went down again. "I do think you could have left me some, Vladislav. Considering it was me he pushed."

"I apologize, Bernie Janovich." Vladislav bowed precisely. "But there was very little to it. I thought there would be more. Perhaps tomorrow." Cass groaned.

Natasha sniffed loudly and retreated to her tent. "Men!" She stopped at the entrance. "It has been a busy time and I do not read well in a coach. I have not had time to read any but the most essential messages from Grantville. We finally have an evening not filled with politics and you children decide to throw a brawl. Keep the noise down. I don't wish to be disturbed again tonight."

Fifteen minutes later Bernie and Vladislav had arranged the semiconscious Cass on one of the carts. They were about to walk back to the fire when Natasha came storming out of the tent again. "You fool!" she shouted at Cass. "Why didn't you tell me that my brother wishes to marry Brandy Bates?" Then she hit him.

"Darn it!" Bernie complained, laughing. "I never get a turn."

Of that charge, at least, Cass was innocent. He hadn't known. He had left Grantville before Vladimir had sent the letter and it had caught up en route.

Yaroslavich Dacha

"What are we going to do about Cass?" Natasha asked Boris two days after they had gotten back. "He managed, just barely, to be polite to the czar. Other than that, he has offended everyone who has met him."

Boris grinned. "I am giving him to the military. Specifically to the Streltzi bureau." The Muscovy military was a weird mix of feudal duty and bureaucratic confusion. The bureaucratic nobility were also the officers in time of war. Each, depending on the amount of lands he held, was required provide so many soldiers. They were the officer corps and the cavalry. The Streltzi, who didn't receive land for their service but the right to do business, were the infantry. Added to the mix over the last few years were mercenary companies hired from the west, who had a different way of fighting.

Natasha was nodding. Bernie had been urgently called to various military bureaus over the last few months. Especially the Streltzi bureaus. The Streltzi preferred to fight behind walls, city walls, because they were mostly city guards. When they could not fight defensively behind the walls of a city they wanted to fight behind walking walls. The "stand and take it" philosophy of the western mercenary infantry was not in their traditions. They had no objection to dishing it out and did not lack courage, but standing in the open and taking it just seemed stupid. "Do you think it will work?"

"Perhaps. But in any case, it gets him out of our hair and gets the military bureaus off my back."

Natasha laughed out loud. "So the gun shop, as Bernie calls it, will have their own up-timer."

To be continued