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Grantville Gazette.Volume XIII

Eric Flint


Eric Flint

Grantville Gazette.Volume XIII

About the Grantville Gazette

Written by Grantville Gazette Staff

The Grantville Gazette originated as a by-product of the ongoing and very active discussions which take place concerning the 1632 universe Eric Flint created in the novels 1632, 1633 and 1634: The Galileo Affair (the latter two books co-authored by David Weber and Andrew Dennis, respectively). This discussion is centered in three of the conferences in Baen's Bar, the discussion area of Baen Books' web site. The conferences are entitled "1632 Slush," "1632 Slush Comments" and "1632 Tech Manual." They have been in operation for almost seven years now, during which time nearly two hundred thousand posts have been made by hundreds of participants.

Soon enough, the discussion began generating so-called "fanfic," stories written in the setting by fans of the series. A number of those were good enough to be published professionally. And, indeed, a number of them were-as part of the anthology Ring of Fire, which was published by Baen Books in January, 2004. (Ring of Fire also includes stories written by established authors such as Eric Flint himself, as well as David Weber, Mercedes Lackey, Dave Freer, K.D. Wentworth and S.L. Viehl.)

The decision to publish the Ring of Fire anthology triggered the writing of still more fanfic, even after submissions to the anthology were closed. Ring of Fire has been selling quite well since it came out, and a second anthology similar to it is scheduled to be published late in 2007. It will also contain stories written by new writers, as well as professionals. But, in the meantime… the fanfic kept getting written, and people kept nudging Eric-well, pestering Eric-to give them feedback on their stories.

Hence… the Grantville Gazette. Once he realized how many stories were being written-a number of them of publishable quality-he raised with Jim Baen the idea of producing an online magazine which would pay for fiction and nonfiction articles set in the 1632 universe and would be sold through Baen Books' Webscriptions service. Jim was willing to try it, to see what happened.

As it turned out, the first issue of the electronic magazine sold well enough to make continuing the magazine a financially self-sustaining operation. Since then, nine more volumes have been electronically published through the Baen Webscriptions site. As well, Grantville Gazette, Volume One was published in paperback in November of 2004. That has since been followed by hardcover editions of Grantville Gazette, Volumes Two and Three.

Then, two big steps:

First: The magazine had been paying semi-pro rates for the electronic edition, increasing to pro rates upon transition to paper, but one of Eric's goals had long been to increase payments to the authors. Grantville Gazette, Volume Eleven is the first volume to pay the authors professional rates.

Second: This on-line version you're reading. The site here at http://www. grantvillegazette. com is the electronic version of an ARC, an advance readers copy where you can read the issues as we assemble them. There are stories posted here which won't be coming out in the magazine for more than a year.

How will it work out? Will we be able to continue at this rate? Well, we don't know. That's up to the readers. But we'll be here, continuing the saga, the soap opera, the drama and the comedy just as long as people are willing to read them.

– The Grantville Gazette Staff

The Anaconda Project, Episode Two

Eric Flint

Chapter 2

"You look tired, Melissa," said Judith Roth sympathetically. She gestured to a luxurious divan in the great salon of the Roth mansion. "Please, have a seat."

Melissa Mailey went over to the divan, hobbling a little from the effects of the ten-day journey from Grantville, and plopped herself down. Her companion James Nichols remained standing, after giving the couch no more than a quick glance. Instead, his hands on his hips, he swiveled slowly and considered the entire room.

Then, whistled admiringly. "Well, you've certainly come up in the world, folks."

Judith smiled. Her husband Morris looked somewhat embarrassed. "Hey, look," he said, "it wasn't really my idea."

"That's it," scoffed his wife. "Blame the woman."

The defensive expression on Morris' face deepened. "I didn't mean it that way. It's just…"

The gesture that accompanied the last two words was about as feeble as the words themselves.

"The situation," he concluded lamely.

Nichols grinned at him. "Jeez, Morris, relax. I understand the realities. What with you being not only one of the King of Bohemia's closest advisers but also what amounts to the informal secular prince of Prague's Jewry. Half the Jews in eastern Europe, actually, from what Balthazar Abrabanel told us."

Looking a bit less exhausted, Melissa finally took the time to appraise the room herself. And some more time, appraising Morris' very fancy-looking seventeenth-century apparel.

Then, she whistled herself.

" Et tu, Brutus? " Morris grumbled.

"Quit complaining," Melissa said. "That is why you asked us to come here, isn't it? With 'Urgent!' and 'Desp'rate Need!' oozing from every line of your letter."

"Asked you," qualified Nichols. "Me, he just wanted to come here to give some advice to his fledgling medical faculty at his fancy new university. I'm just a country doctor."

"From Chicago," Melissa jeered. "South side, to boot-which has about as much open land as Manhattan."

James grinned again. "Oh, you'd be surprised how much open land there is in Chicago's south side. Vacant lots, I'll grant you. Nary a crop to be seen anywhere except the stuff handed out by drug dealers, none of which was actually grown there. My point remains. I'm here in Prague as a modest medical adviser. I'm not the one who just landed a prestigious position at Jena University as their new-and only-'professor of political science.' I'm not the one Morris asked to come here to explain to him how to haul eastern Europe kicking and screaming into the modern world, which is one hell of neat trick seeing as how that half of the continent didn't manage to do it in our old timeline."

"They got there eventually," Judith pointed out mildly.

Melissa's expression got very severe. "Yup, sure did. In most places, because Stalin forced them to, after World War II."

James looked surprised. "Since when did you become a Stalin fan?"

"Not hardly," said Melissa. "He was a monster. But I'm not blind to historical realities."

She leaned forward a little. "Poland's the center of the problem-and the opportunities-here just as it was in the world we came from. A brilliant nation, in lots of ways, but one that was completely crippled by three factors."

Now she began counting off on fingers that looked far too elegant for a former sixties radical. "First, they were dominated by the szlachta, a huge class of noblemen that, for my money, ranks as the sorriest and most worthless aristocracy in the historical record. They paralyzed Poland politically for centuries with their petty self-interest, greed and pretensions. In the real world, their so-called 'Golden Freedom'-which some people even have the nerve to claim was a form of democracy which it only was in the same sense that South African apartheid was 'democratic' provided you belonged to the master race-"

James and Morris were frowning, trying to follow the convoluted presentation, but Melissa continued blithely onward. "-simply made them patsies for every nation surrounding them. All a Russian tsar or Prussian king or Austrian emperor had to do was keep a few szlachta on the payroll to guarantee that their absolute right of individual veto meant that Poland couldn't do anything effective politically. Secondly, and largely as a result, Poland was locked into a form of serfdom that was every bit as bad as anything that ever existed in western Europe in medieval times. In the sixteenth century-less than a hundred years ago, in the here and now-Poland was one of the centers of the Renaissance. Two centuries later, it was one of the few countries in Europe that managed to wind up poorer and with fewer and smaller cities that it had when it entered the so-called 'early modern era.' And with its industries in decline, to boot. That's because the nobility, especially the great magnates, locked the whole nation's fortunes to the Vistula grain trade. They believed in 'King Grain' just as vehemently as the slaveowners in the American south believed in 'King Cotton'-or those stupid rich bastards in Argentina believed in 'King Beef.'"

Now, Judith was looking a little cross-eyed. "How does Argentina figure into this?"

Melissa flashed her a smile. "History's a comparative science, insofar as it's a 'science' at all. It's like a lot of biological study, or even some aspects of astronomy. You can hardly do 'controlled experiments' on history, anymore than you can on the evolution of dinosaurs and trilobites-or stars on the main sequence. Right? So, what you do instead is study the material by comparing it with similar phenomena."

She shrugged. "Of course, that's a lot easier to do with astronomy and even biology than it is with history. Stars are simple things, compared to human societies, and there are trillions of them to compare to each other and against a vastly longer time frame. Still, the principle's the same."

Again, she flashed that quick smile. "So, that's what Poland and the antebellum South and Argentina have in common. In all three cases, societies that started out with lots and lots of potential got crippled by the greed of their elite, and their fixation on a single crop. Most people don't realize it-Americans, anyway-because they think of Argentina as a 'third world' country. But in the late nineteenth century, it wasn't. Measured by almost any important social or economic indices, Argentina was more advanced than most countries in southern Europe. Then, especially during World War I when the price of beef went through the roof, Argentina's upper crust locked the country into monoculture-just like the Poles did with grain in this century and the American slaveowners would do with cotton in the nineteenth. The specifics varied a lot, naturally, but they all resulted in stagnation-and a political structure where an elite of not more than ten percent of the population lorded it over everybody else."

She leaned back in the couch. "So that's it. In our timeline, Poland was hamstrung for centuries, and since it's the center of gravity in eastern Europe it more or less pulled half the continent down with it. Not without lots of help from the Austrian Hapsburgs and the Hohenzollerns in Prussia, of course, who were no prizes themselves."

Morris had never stopped frowning. "I'd think Russia was more in the way of eastern Europe's 'center of gravity.'"

"Actually, no. Not yet, I should say. There's a misconception among Americans, mostly because of the Cold War, that Russia was always the aggressor against Poland. But here in the early seventeenth century-and for at least two centuries earlier-it's actually the Poles and Lithuanians who've been seizing their neighbors' lands. Besides, it's something of a moot point anyway. I don't see where there's much you or me or anyone could do in October of 1634 to start turning around that mess called 'Russia.'"

Morris grimaced. "Well, thank God for small favors. I've got enough to deal with as it is. Especially since you seem bound and determined to plop Poland into my lap too, right after Wallenstein and Pappenheim dropped everything south of there."

"Sorry, Morris, but there's no way around it. In the long run, nothing you accomplish here or in the Ruthenian lands will be stable if you-or somebody-doesn't transform Poland. Poland and Lithuania, I should say."

Morris finally took a seat himself, looking very tired. "Talk about the labors of Hercules," he muttered.

Melissa started to say something, but Judith interrupted. "You said there were three factors. What's the third one?"

"Huh? Oh. It's implicit in what I just said. Their protestations of always being the victim of history notwithstanding, the fact is that in this time period it's usually the Poles who are aggressing against their neighbors. So, on top of their existing problems, they added the third one that so-called 'Poland' was never coterminous with where Poles actually lived-until Stalin came along. To get back to the monster I started with."

Again, she started counting off her fingers. "First, he destroyed the szlachta. They'd officially been abolished after World War II, but they still had a lot of power. He destroyed them literally, in some cases. A big percentage of the fifteen thousand Polish officers he had massacred in Katyn Forest were noblemen. Mostly, though, he simply destroyed them as a class by expropriating their property. Secondly, he ended serfdom. Brutally, of course, the way he did everything. And stupidly too, in the long run. But, say whatever else you will about his forced collectivization of agriculture, one of the products was the elimination of serfdom. And, finally, for the first time in centuries, he made Poland's boundaries coincide with the actual lands of the Poles. The Poland we knew in the post-World War II period was something like ninety-seven percent ethnically homogenous, which it had certainly never been prior to that. That's the reason that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, nobody actually proposed to change any of the national boundaries Stalin created. Not Poland's, anyway."

Morris wiped his face. "Wonderful. Stalin as my role model."

"Oh, cut it out, Morris," said Melissa impatiently. "I was simply pointing to what Stalin did, not how he did it. Creating a modern Poland-forestalling its decline, I should say, which has only started-can be done by other means, too. It certainly should be. But the prerequisite is that you stop thinking of 'role models' in the first place."

"Meaning…?"

"Forget Hercules and his labors. Meaning no offense, Morris Roth, but you bear as much resemblance to Hercules-or Stalin-as I do to the man in the moon."

"Just what I tried to explain to Wallenstein and Pappenheim!"

"So quit thinking in those terms altogether. The one thing eastern Europe does not need is another damn overlord. Instead, approach the problem like a political organizer. You don't really do anything. You just organize other people to do it."

"Like who? And to do what?" He looked a bit sullen, and more than a bit like a twelve-year-old.

"Stop pouting, Morris," said his wife. "I can figure that much out, and so can you."

She started emulating Melissa's finger-counting. "First, get some people who know something about military affairs, which you don't. Whatever else, you'll need a real army, and you can't call on Pappenheim. He's tied up facing the Austrians to the south and the Saxons to the north, which is the reason Wallenstein handed you the assignment in the first place. Failing anything else, hire somebody. You're rich enough, these days. Europe's got plenty of mercenary officers, many of whom are quite good and some of whom are even loyal to their employer."

Another finger got wiggled. "Second, the Jewish so-called problem runs all through the area. That, you can handle directly insofar as politics goes. But you really need to get a lot of rabbis on your side to handle the rest of it."

She gave him a cool smile. "You do know some rabbis, right? I'd recommend starting with Mordecai Levi and Isaac Gans. And Jason, for that matter, and his fellow students."

She went back to finger-counting. "Third, get the Brethren involved. Fourth-whatever else you do-make sure Red Sybolt's involved."

The thumb got wiggled now. "Fifth-maybe this should actually be first-establish contact with some Polish radicals."

She gave Melissa a querying glance. "I assume there are some in the here and now, yes?"

Melissa made a face. "Hell, my knowledge of Polish history is only general, it doesn't run to details like that. But… I'd say there pretty much have to be. Poland produced almost as many radicals and revolutionaries over the centuries as it did grain and layabout noblemen. For that matter, the nobility itself produced a fair number of them. Remember Count Casimir Pulaski, in the American revolution?"

James looked startled. "Is that who Pulaski Boulevard in Chicago is named after?"

"Doctors," scoffed Melissa. "Talk about a self-absorbed class of people. Yes, dear, that is who one of your home town's main streets is named after. But don't get a swelled head about it. There must be a thousand Pulaski streets or avenues or boulevards in the United States, in just about as many towns."

She looked back at Judith. "So, at a guess, I'd say you're right. Keep going, girl, you're doing fine."

Judith switched hands and started counting the fingers of the right. "Sixth-"

"How the hell am I supposed to find Polish revolutionaries?" demanded Morris. "I'm a damn jeweler. Fine, my family came from Krakow. That's ancient history."

"Stop whining, husband. We're in ancient history." As deftly as you could ask for, Judith switch her hands back and wiggled the ring finger of the left. "Red Sybolt, remember? He's been a labor agitator for years. By now, if he hasn't run across some wild-eyed Polish rebels, I'll be surprised. Plant Red in a desert island in the middle of the Pacific, and he'd somehow manage to rouse a rabble."

Morris chuckled. "Well, that's true. Of course, first I'd have to track him down. He hasn't been in Prague for months."

"That's a manageable problem. Somebody will know where he is. Moving right along"-she switched hands again and wiggled a forefinger-"you need to get Uriel Abrabanel-remember him? he works for you already-to start investigating the chances of cutting a deal with the Austrians. Now that that bigoted bastard Ferdinand II died, we're dealing with a new emperor in Vienna. And his son's a lot more capable than his father, by all accounts."

"Certainly is," said Melissa. "He's not narrow-minded, the way his father was-and his sister Maria Anna just turned half of Europe upside down thinking for herself." She gave James a smile that bordered on being lascivious. "I was in such a hurry to get back to my squeeze after we got out of England that I didn't stick around in Holland long enough for the wedding between Maria Anna and Don Fernando. But I got plenty of details from Rebecca, while I was there. The sister is smart as a whip-and she thinks very highly of her brother the new Austrian emperor. So does her sidekick who pretends to be a feeble old lady, Dona Mencia, and let me tell you that no moss ever grew on that woman's brain."

Morris scratched his jaw. "'More capable' could be bad as well as good, y'know. Still, it's worth looking into. In fact, if I know Uriel, he's already started." He eyed his wife skeptically. "And how many more rabbits are you going to pull out of your fingers for me?"

She took a deep breath. "One. See if you can make an accommodation with the Cossacks. You'd have to find a suitable emissary, of course."

Morris' eyes widened. " Cossacks? For God's sake, Judith! They're the same murderous bastards who led the Chmielnicki Pogrom-which is named after their leader-in the first place! Not to mention such minor accomplishments as the pogroms at Kiev and Kishinev." His face grew hard. "Or the massacres carried out in the Ukraine during the Russian civil war by the counter-revolutionary armies, half of which were made up of Cossacks or their hangers-on. The stinking swine murdered something like a hundred thousand Jews before the Red Army put a stop to it. Fuck the Cossacks. Every one of them can rot in hell, as far as I'm concerned."

"I'm with Morris," said Nichols stoutly.

"Stick to doctoring," sniffed Melissa. "See if you can come up with a cure for excess testosterone, while you're at it." To Morris she said: "You're being childish, to be blunt. How is dealing with Cossacks in the here and now any different from what Mike Stearns has been doing dealing with Germans? Compared to what they did to Jews in the Holocaust, the Cossacks are nothing."

"Well, yeah, but…"

"But what? Since when did you start believing in racial destiny, Morris? Nazi Germany was the product of centuries of history. Change the history, like Mike is doing, and you eliminate them before they even appear. So why can't you do the same with the Cossacks?"

"Because they're nothing but a bunch of-"

"Mounted hooligans? Thugs? For Pete's sake, Morris, in this day and age-early seventeenth century, remember?-the 'Cossacks' are barely even 'Cossacks' yet. They're just getting started. A lot of them are former serfs, in fact, who ran away from their masters. We're at least a century away from the time they started serving the Russian tsars as their mailed fist. This is the best time I can think of to stop that in its tracks, too."

Morris looked mulish. Melissa looked exasperated. "Dammit, you asked. At my age, I'd hardly have come racing to Prague on horseback of my own volition."

"You rode all the way?" asked Judith.

James grinned. "She rode on a horse for exactly one day. After that, she put her foot down and insisted we hire a carriage. One of those litter-type carriages, of course, not a wheeled one. Going over the mountains on a wheeled vehicle is best left to mad dogs and Englishmen."

It was Melissa's turn to look defensive. "I spent my youth waving a placard at demonstrations. I did not attend the kind of ladies' finishing school where Mary Simpson learned to ride."

"How's she doing, by the way?" asked Morris.

"Given her recent hair-raising adventures, quite well. It helped a lot, of course, that when she got back to Magdeburg her son was waiting for her along with her husband. It was quite a family reunion, after their long estrangement. I know, because I was there."

Judith peered at her. " You were there? I thought you detested the Simpsons. Well, except Tom."

"I did, sure, when John Simpson ran that godawful campaign against Mike three years ago." Melissa waved her hand airily. "But three years is ancient history, as fast as things have been changing since the Ring of Fire. I think quite well of them, these days."

She pointed an accusatory finger at Morris. "And there's a lesson for you. If I can make friends with Mary Simpson, why can't you do it with Cossacks?"

He threw up his hands. "They're barbarians, for the love of God!"

"Again, so what? Yes, they're not far removed from barbarism. What do you expect, from a society being forged out of runaway serfs and bandits on the borderlands? Nobody is simply one thing or another, Morris. It's always more complicated. To go back to Mary Simpson, she's still haughty as all hell-can be, anyway-and I don't think she'll ever really be able to see the world except through her own very upper crust perspective. But that's not all there is to the woman, not by a long shot. The trick is finding a way-which is exactly what Mike did-to match her and her husband properly to the right circumstances. Bring out their best, instead of their worst. So do the same with the Cossacks."

"They don't have a 'best side,' that I can see," Morris groused.

"Oh, that's silly," said his wife. "Of course they do, even if it's only courage. If they hadn't been tough bastards, the tsars couldn't have used them in the first place."

A young servant entered the salon. "Dinner is ready, Lady Judith."

Judith rose. "Thank you, Rifka. Come along, folks. You must be starving by now."

***

Protected Species

Garrett W. Vance

Summer of 1634

"All right everyone, hold real still!" The small group of third graders froze, looks of excitement on their faces. What great kids! There was movement in the tall reeds along the edges of the narrow inlet; once a West Virginia hollow, now an arm of a tree lined lake formed by a Thuringian stream colliding with a Ring of Fire hillside appearing in its path. It was harder to see 'the rim' of the ring these days, time had meshed and melded the North American and European ecologies along its border. From out of the native water grass that had found a home in the formerly West Virginian soil appeared a mother duck and ten brown downed ducklings, much to everyone's delight.

"That's a 'Wood Duck'!" Pam told the gathered students of the summer nature program she was putting on in conjunction with the middle school. "It's one of the species that came through the Ring of Fire. This new lake has created a perfect habitat for it. I'll bet her nest is in those pine trees over there." Pam pointed to the pines that lined the lake's edge in what had once been a Thuringian stream valley. The ghostly silver tops of less fortunate trees below them poked out of the surface along the wooded shore; they had drowned when the lake formed but their protruding upper branches and sunken trunks provided excellent homes for fish and water insects as well as protective cover for shorebirds. Pam's practiced eyes found a European kingfisher perched on a dead branch waiting for a fat minnow to target. The kingfishers were shy but maybe the kids would be able to get a glimpse later if they stayed quiet-right now there were ducklings in front of them. There was no point in trying to drag their attention away just yet; baby ducks are a hard act to follow!

"The male of this species was considered to be one of up-time America's most beautiful birds. There are no other ducks like it in Europe, fossil studies told us that it originated in North America and its closest relative is the Mandarin duck of China. I'm really glad they came along with us. If we're lucky we will see this group's poppa before we end the day." The kids oohed and aahed appreciatively. Their accompanying schoolteacher asked the kids to open their sketch books to record their sighting as the family of wood ducks paddled around in the nearby shallows. Pam wandered over to where Gerbald stood careful watch farther up the hollow's steep side. Despite his usual impassive expression Pam could see wrinkles of pleasure had formed around his bright blue eyes. Gerbald was such a softy under that stony exterior, the retired soldier was immensely enjoying playing bodyguard for the children.

The summer nature program was proving to be a resounding success; everyone involved was having a lot of fun, even stoic Gerbald. Pam felt proud of the program that had been her brainchild. Her interest in birds had grown to include the entire ecology that they were a part of, she had spent long hours in the National Library devouring all the material she could find; she was a well trained researcher and had rapidly absorbed a vast amount of information. She was also making progress on her pet project, writing and illustrating her Birds of the USE -A Field Guide. It was fun to think that she would be the default 'John J Audubon' of this universe, something that would have been impossible to imagine in her old life. She smiled up into the blue skies of seventeenth-century Germany, a place that was finally feeling like home.

***

The next day, Pam and Gerbald led a group of lively sixth graders up the now well worn trail to the lake. She enjoyed their cheerful banter as they lollygagged along, even though the noise was probably scaring off all the birds within a mile radius. Pam marveled at the adaptability of children, the mixed group of up-time and down-time Americans were yakking away in an untidy mishmash of English and German. Pam's German had progressed to where she could catch most it but apparently an arcane slang vocabulary was already developing, indecipherable to the hopelessly un-hip ears of an adult.

As she walked through the sun dappled woods listening to the babble around her, Pam reminisced on a long ago dinner party at the home of a work colleague from Morgantown who had spent many years working in Japan and had returned with a Japanese wife. At the table the two of them spoke in perfectly normal English. Of course, his very charming wife barely had an accent; but, when they were alone together in the kitchen bringing out more wine or another course, Pam overheard them both switch to a nearly incomprehensible mix of their respective languages. " Atsui yo, use the oven mitts, neh! " Pam didn't want to embarrass them, but couldn't help but ask them about it; her hosts just laughed. "Forgive our 'Japan-glish', we can't help it!" They explained that some words just "sounded better" in one or the other languages and so when trying to get an idea across they chose freely from both vocabularies. Listening to her junior birdwatchers Pam was sure she was hearing the sound of the future of their hybrid nation. Up-time Americans were going to have to get bilingual fast or they wouldn't be able to understand what their own kids were talking about!

Pam shushed the exuberant group as they arrived at the inlet. "All right everyone, it's time to be quiet and see which birds are here with us today. Yesterday there was a mother wood duck with her ducklings and they were darn cute!" The kids quieted down more quickly than she would expect. An excellent German influence on our up-time kids-when it's time to be quiet they do it, no argument! Pam was not one who flinched at applying some strictness in a child's upbringing, and rather admired the Germans for their expertise on the subject. She hoped her own Walt didn't resent her too much and she was awfully proud of how he had turned out. I wasn't the easiest mother to have, I know… I liked things my way and was damned picky! But maybe the discipline I taught him is making things easier for him as a young adult in this age. I hope so, anyway.

The kid's school teacher at Fluharty Middle School, Stacey Antoni, a very pleasant lady who had lost a husband to the Ring of Fire, had gathered them by the shore in a semblance of order, ready for Pam to get started. Gerbald had taken his usual watchful place on the hill side, their safety was in good hands. Pam began her introduction.

"This lake is an excellent example of the adaptation and mixture between North American and European ecologies along the Ring of Fire's rim. These reeds are a native German species that find they like the richness of West Virginia's soil much to their liking. The reeds are providing excellent habitat for a North American duck species, the wood duck, which we will hopefully-" Pam stopped her lecture when she noticed she had completely lost the attention of several schoolgirls nearest the water's edge.

"Oh, look! The liebchen, they are so cute!"

Baby ducks. Pam smiled ruefully. There is no competing with baby ducks.

"-see today. Well everyone, it appears that we have met our American ducks. The mother wood duck has grown accustomed to our visits and is no longer very shy. They like to stay in shallow water where they can find a lot of small insects to eat-"

"Ms. Miller!" A sweetly gawky-looking boy whose weight hadn't caught up with his latest growth spurt interrupted her. "Ms. Miller, where is the mother duck?"

Pam stepped closer to the still waters. The ducklings were huddled together beside a clump of marsh grass. They were strangely quiet and weren't engaged in their usual search for food. Pam scanned the shore for the wood duck hen; she was nowhere to be seen.

"That's odd." Pam looked back at the silent ducklings. There were only eight of them-the day before there had been ten.

Pam saw Gerbald, who seemed to possess an uncanny sixth sense when it came to trouble, was already coming down the hillside toward the group; a flash of blue as well trained eyes scanned the terrain from the shade of his monstrous hat's floppy brim.

Pam turned back to her group of students. "Well kids, it is a bit unusual for a mother duck to leave her babies unattended, but not unheard of. She may just be out looking for food and thought they would be safe here. Now is a good chance for you to get out your sketchbooks and get a picture drawn of them while they are sitting still." Pam flashed a quick concerned look to their teacher who returned a subtle nod. Message received, good teachers have an instinct for trouble. The teacher quickly went about getting the notebooks deployed and the students distracted with work. Pam walked casually but quickly to Gerbald who had moved quietly along the shore toward the inlet's mouth, his gaze alternating between the muddy ground and the vicinity.

"Gerbald, the mother duck and some of her ducklings are missing. I have a bad feeling about it… Maybe a fox?"

"Pam, I am looking for tracks. If they are here I will find." They didn't discuss the subject much but Pam knew that Gerbald had extensive hunting experience. As a former professional soldier there was no doubt a good many of his meals had come from the region's many forests. Gerbald was a very savvy woodsman. Born and raised in West Virginia, Pam was no stranger to the hunter's art. She had even brought down a buck herself on a hunting trip with her uncles and cousins back in her teens. She hadn't burst into tears as so many do, she had established too tough an exterior for that, especially in front of her boy cousins; but she hadn't relished the experience one bit either, and felt some regret at the sight of the death she had made. She accepted her family's praise, ate the venison, enjoyed the taste; but once was enough. Hunting was all right and a fact of life-within reason.

"Not… a fox." Gerbald said quietly as he peered into the rushes. Gently he extracted a duck's pinion feather from a clump of stalks; her heart sinking Pam saw that it was a female wood duck's. Gerbald used it to point at the damp ground.

"There-a boot print in the mud. There-more feathers. The bird, it struggled. Here-this is where they tied the snare; you see the marks." Pam nodded solemnly at the dead branch, some of the rotting bark had peeled away when the twine was untied. She felt a great surge of emotion building in her, a potent mix of grief and rage. No time for it, she could get upset later but not now, not in front of the kids.

"Which way did they go, Gerbald?" Her voice was even and hard as an iron rail.

"Up the hill, but the tracks are not clear. I am not sure how many, maybe two or more. This was only some hours ago." Pam peered up at the steep formerly West Virginian hill, into the shadows beneath sugar maples, beech and yellow birch trees. She nodded slowly.

"All right. They're for later." Squaring her shoulders Pam marched back to the young teenagers. They stopped their talk, sensing that something was wrong from her face's stony set.

Mrs. Antoni looked very worried. "Pam? Is everything okay?"

"No, I'm afraid its not." Pam considered for a moment softening the story but decided against it. They're old enough, they should be told. "The mother wood duck is dead. She has been killed by hunters. Human hunters." A distressed murmur went through the group. Pam looked at the huddled mass of ducklings in the shallows. There was no escaping what came next, as much as she hated to remove a wild thing from its habitat she had no choice. It was unlikely that the two missing ducklings were taken by the hunters, they had probably fallen victim to a crow or some other opportunist-a baby duck alone would make an easy snack for a variety of creatures.

"What we have here now is an endangered species. These may be the only transplanted wood ducks in the whole Ring of Fire. I'd like very much to save them and I need your help."

A murmur of excitement went through the group-"Of course we will help!" It was unanimous. Pam smiled a little at their youthful good will. These are good kids. I'm glad I am here, doing these things. Pam rarely thought of her life before the Ring of Fire anymore. After her divorce she had disappeared into a glass bottle world comprised of her tiny house and secluded back garden. Seeing herself standing in front of a bunch of people, even if they were mostly kids, and being the one in charge, the one who knew what to do-she never would have expected this… or how much she liked it.

"All right. Here is the plan. Now that they have no mother we need to catch them and take care of them until they are older. Boys, I'd like to ask you to take off your shirts and give them to the girls." This couldn't help but produce a few giggles. Pam had to have a chuckle herself, despite the tragic nature of the situation. "Well, we aren't going to do it the other way!" Everyone snickered now and Mrs. Antoni gave her an alarmed look. "Girls, you are going to be the catchers, I think you'll be gentler than the boys, ja?" One of the girls in the group, and it sounded like a down-timer accent muttered "Duh!" Yes, we are also having a marvelous influence on this century's youth!

"You boys are going to roll up your pant legs and wade out into the lake from over there." She pointed a few meters down the shoreline toward the main lake where they wouldn't disturb the ducklings too soon. "Be careful, it drops off pretty sharp about six yards out. I want you to slowly make a half-circle around the ducklings so they can't swim away in any direction-if they try to go past you I need you to grab them with your hands! They are very fragile so you must be careful; it's easy to injure them.

"Girls, you are going to make the other half of the circle along the shore. Crouch low and have the boy's shirts ready. When I give the signal the boys are going to start making noise and will move towards the shore. That's going to drive the ducklings up onto the grass where you can drop the shirts over them. Once you have a duckling caught under your shirt hold it there and I'll come get it to put in my bag here." Pam quickly emptied the contents of her rucksack onto the ground, she could fit most of it in her coat pockets for the trip back, and it would make a nice safe container for their fuzzy little captives. "Does everyone understand? Stacey and Gerbald, you stay back a ways-if the girls miss any then it's up to you to grab them." The teacher gave her a determined nod and Gerbald had developed an exceedingly wry smile.

"Yes, ma'am," he drawled in his best West Virginian; obviously he had been practicing.

Marshaling her troops in a loud stage whisper Pam directed the boys out into the water. Good Lord, I hope no one drowns on my watch! They moved surprisingly quietly, lanky young teen herons stalking through the reeds. The cluster of ducklings had begun to peep softly, looking around nervously, their instincts told them something was up. Pam got the girls crouched in their circle, shirts spread wide between their hands, ready to make the catch. 'Operation Duck-lift' is a go! The excitement of the rescue operation had lifted Pam's spirits quite a bit. She might as well enjoy the fun now and ask questions later about why this had happened and what she was going to do about it.

"Boys-move in! Slowly!" The waders had formed a wide ring and now carefully closed it. Soon they were all within an arm's reach of each other. Ready… steady…

"Do it!" The boys began to move rapidly into shore whooping merrily. As hoped for the ducklings lost their nerve and broke from cover; they made a plaintive peeping plunge for the grassy shore. Perfect! "Here they come, girls!" To their credit the girls remained calm and quiet, waiting for the madly fleeing ducklings to get within reach-and down went the shirts! Six of the girls had a duckling thrashing about under cotton T's and homespun linen shirts, which were now being cut in up-time style as was, not too surprisingly, the burgeoning fashion amongst Grantville's kids. Pam, distracted by the action almost missed the duckling that ran between Mrs. Antoni's legs and was headed straight for her. Plop! Down went Pam's rucksack over it.

One more had broken the shirt line and was weaving madly toward the hillside. Gerbald, with a delicate flick of the wrist, tossed his ridiculous floppy hat on it. He rarely took the misshapen thing off, only when his wife Dore threatened to render grievous harm at the dinner table, so Pam considered it a generous gesture of solidarity on her bodyguard's part. Figuring that Gerbald could suffer the dread German summer sun on his head for a few minutes, Pam scooped her own catch deeper into the rucksack. She then proceeded to gently pry struggling ducklings out from under the shirts. Soon she had six loudly protesting balls of fuzz. When she retrieved the one under Gerbald's hat they exchanged a quick grin. Yeah, that was fun! The students were laughing and hooting now as the boys tried to regain their shirts from the girls, who were engaged in a merry game of keep-away with the bare shouldered boys. Mrs. Antoni just shook her head and let them have at it. She walked over to Pam and Gerbald. Pam smiled warmly at her.

"Thanks for letting me use the kids as a wildlife rescue team, Stacey."

"No problem, it was good for them. At first the Grantville kids and the new kids were really shy with each other, it was to be expected. But now I'm at the point where I forget which is which-they're all just kids now, American kids. They have really become a tight knit group."

"Can you understand that mixed up slang of theirs?"

"Good heavens no, I never expected that! In class they must communicate correctly in one language or the other depending on what's required for the lesson. Out of class there is no stopping them, and the funny thing is I catch myself doing it sometimes, too!" They all shared a chuckle. Pam was shortly reminded of her responsibility by the gently squirming weight of her rucksack.

"We need to round these guys up and head back for Grantville pronto. I've got to get these ducklings out of this bag and into temporary quarters." Mrs. Antoni proceeded to bark orders and within a relatively short time blushing boys were reunited with their grass-stained shirts and the students were assembled. Pam gave them a brief thank you speech congratulating them on their helpfulness after which they began the trip back to town brimming with pride and tuckered out from all the hullabaloo.

As they were leaving the inlet Gerbald lingered behind a long moment, gazing up the hillside. Anything that distressed his dear employer and 'little sister' Pam would have Gerbald to contend with. In case anyone may be watching and he thought he knew who might be. He made a show of touching the hilt of his katzbalger, a lethal shortsword designed for wreaking havoc in the close quarters of unwieldy pike formations.

"It is still sharp." he announced to the shadowy trees, turned martially on his boot heel and marched after the group.

***

By the time Pam and Gerbald had been relieved of their charges and said their goodbyes it was getting near dinner time. They walked to Pam's house where Gerbald helped her extricate a dirty sea-green kiddy pool from its place leaning against the side yard's overgrown fence. Pam had thought she might use it as a refreshing spot to lounge on summer afternoons back up-time; she'd used it exactly twice. She found the extra pounds she'd put on during the divorce and the more extra pounds she'd put on after had pretty much wiped out all desire for getting into a bathing suit, much less venturing outside in one. Once the leaves and dust were knocked out of the thing they dragged it into the living room where it filled most of the floor space. Pam sacrificed a cardboard box, cutting one end of it off and turning it upside down over a folded fluffy hand towel within the kiddy pool's confines to form a cozy faux nest. Next she added a wide, shallow glass baking dish with water for them to drink and bathe in. Throughout this part of the process Gerbald stood holding the bag of softly hooting little creatures well away from his body with a long suffering look.

"What's the matter Gerbald?" Pam asked slyly.

"Nothing, of course." He smiled unconvincingly.

"Hey, you are awfully good with those little fellows Gerbald, so gentle… maybe you would like to keep them until they are old enough to go out on their own! I bet Dore would love them!" Pam grinned like a coyote.

"Wass? Nein!" Lapsing into German was rare for Gerbald who rather prided himself on his English mastery. He moved purposefully toward the temporary enclosure, thrusting the rucksack toward Pam, who backed away, making him follow her in a circle around the kiddie pool.

"Pam! Take your baby ducks now, bitte!" Pam shook with mirth at her friend's discomfiture.

"So much for being a macho man with a sensitive side, Gerbald!" Pam set the rucksack down on the plastic pool floor, giving a gentle shake to dislodge the small refugees. They ran around willy nilly for a minute, but once they found the water they calmed down, engaged in the very messy process of splashing all its contents out of the bowl onto the pool's floor. They were still peeping, but at a much less frantic pitch.

Gerbald peered down his nose at them, a glimpse of narrowed eyes beneath his voluminous hat's drooping brim. "Do they always make such noise? This pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-ing of theirs?"

"Oh, I should think not. Once they settle down they'll probably go right to sleep, they must be exhausted. Now, you're sure you wouldn't like to have some pets for a while? I think it would be good for you, taking care of something so small and cutsie-ootsy-wootsy!"

Gerbald grimaced at the thought. "I do not do 'cute,'" he announced firmly. Pam laughed at his use of the up-time turn of phrase. Determining that his duties had ended, Gerbald flew out the door so fast his shadow almost got left behind in the living room.

"See you tomorrow!" He called back from the safety of the road, which he had sprinted all the way down to.

"Coward!" Pam waved.

Out of sight down the road Gerbald slowed to a thoughtful pace. He had said nothing to Pam about his suspicions regarding the morning's events. It would not do to worry her further and it was something he had rather not tell her about in any case. He would see to the matter tomorrow…

***

As she ate her dinner Pam listened to the ducklings; pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee! "Poor little things, I know you miss your momma. I'm going to make sure you grow up into big wild ducks, I promise." pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee!

Working on the drafts of her growing field guide Pam felt sorry for the orphans behind her. pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee! "I am going to find out who did this and put a stop to it my little friends, don't you worry. I don't care if they make it a law or not, nobody is going to kill up-time birds if I can help it. I'll sic Gerbald on 'em all right, that will fix their wagons." pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee! Shortly she gave up trying to get any work done and headed for the bathroom. pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee!

After a quick shower and tooth brushing Pam tiptoed through the room. They had grown quieter. She switched off the table lamp. pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee! With a grimace she turned it back on. pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee! "Okey dokey, goodnight now! I'll leave the light on." She said tenderly to them. I'm talking to ducks now. Softly she closed the bedroom door. Even closed she could still here an only slightly muffled pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee! Poor little guys.

"They'll settle down after a while." Pam crawled into bed, well worn out after the crazy afternoon. pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee! She turned on the bedside reading lamp to enjoy a mystery novel she'd borrowed. She had finally gotten past the point where reading any up-time fiction had filled her with homesickness and despair at never seeing the twentieth century again. Now this was home and she could enjoy a good up-time read with just a tinge of nostalgia. pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee! It was hard to concentrate with the endless chorus going on next door. After she had read the same sentence five times in a row she gave up, flopped the book down on the bed stand, turned off the light and scrunched down under the covers. pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee! "Poor… little… things…" pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee!

"Maybe I should turn their light off now." Pam crawled out of bed and crept into the living room. Eight pairs of glossy black eyes peered nervously at her from within the box's shelter. pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee! "Shhhh, you guys go to sleep now!" pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee! Pam blinked tiredly at them, then went back to her bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind her. It was already eleven she saw as she got back in bed; she felt unnaturally heavy, drooping with exhaustion. pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee!

Midnight. pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee!

One in the morning. pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee!

Two in the morning.

"You don't know just what an endangered species you are becoming, little ducks…" A muffled voice emanated from beneath the pillow. pee-pee-pee-pee-pee-pee!

***

It was early Saturday morning so Pam was considering sleeping in. The problem was, now that the ducklings were finally quiet she was growing worried about them. Around seven she got up to have a look. She found them all in a cozy bunch sleeping on the soft towel. You guys had a hard day yesterday… hopefully today will be a better one.

She walked into the kitchen to get the morning coffee going. If she ever met any Turks she would probably hug them, tears of joy streaming down her face. The reintroduction of coffee to seventeenth-century Grantville had been a tremendous comfort to her as it was to most other up-time Americans. Turkish coffee, yum! Moving quietly Pam sat down at her window-side table. The bird feeder had its morning crowd; bluethroats, towhees, pirols, titmice, and her treasured cardinals, the usual mix of native German and transplanted up-time birds. She watched the brilliant red cardinals with keen pleasure.

"The American redbird," she reminded herself looking at the noble form of the cardinals. "That's a better name for you in this day and age." In the guide book she was creating she had listed the name 'cardinal' as an "archaic" up-time appellation (best not to think too hard on that), in the New United States the startlingly bright plumaged bird was now widely known among down-timers as the Amerikanische rotvogel.

Watching her breakfast guests tearing into the sunflower seeds grown on her front yard plantation Pam let out a sudden gasp. Good lord! What do I feed the ducklings? They must be half starved! Pam grabbed her paltry collection of American field guides, pushing aside the old familiar regret that she had not bought more bird books before the Ring of Fire came. File that under 'Lost Chances and Failed Romances,' Pammy old girl. She would do what she could with what she had-a skill set that had acquired much honing of late. There wasn't much in the books regarding feeding, and nothing specific on ducklings. She knew wood ducks were mainly herbivorous; they were considered a perching duck but shared some traits with dabblers like the mallards. Thinking hard, Pam distinctly recalled seeing the ducklings when they were still up at the lake going after small insects as well as pondweeds; all baby birds needed high quantities of protein.

On her way out the kitchen door she turned off the stove, the coffee would have to wait. She grabbed a small trowel and a pail as she headed for the sunflower field. Most of her wide, sloping front yard was devoted to sunflowers, they provided excellent bird feed and besides-they were just damn pretty. She stuck the trowel into the dark, dew-moist earth between the rows.

"Bingo!" Her first scoop yielded two wriggling pink earthworms. "Breakfast is served!" Once she had five of the unfortunate invertebrates in her pail she washed them briefly in the wall spigot. Back in the house she placed one on the cutting board, proceeding to chop it into very small pieces. Briefly a voice in her head, her own mother's traveling across the space-time continuum, admonished her. "That's disgusting-you eat off that, too you know!" Pam grinned as she realized she could care less. She heaped the minced earthworm into a shallow bowl filled with water. She noticed that some of the pieces were still moving. All the better.

Her downy house guests had awoken and were now peeping softly, poking their heads out of the box's shelter, the ringed markings around their eyes giving them a charmingly mischievous look. Pam gently placed the bowl on the kiddy pool's bottom, then stepped back to watch quietly. The ducklings peered shyly at the new object at first but once they caught the scent all shyness evaporated. Feeding frenzy! Pam marveled. Very hungry ducklings tore into the earthworm soup with relish. "So, you guys were hungry. Is that why you kept me up half the night?" I hope this is the right stuff for you…

Pam knew it was time that she got some help with this. She needed someone who knew something about raising fowl. She hauled out the Grantville phone book, found the name and dialed the number. He's a farmer-he'll be up early.

"Hello, Willie Ray? This is Pam Miller. I wonder if maybe you could help me out…"

***

Pam felt awful as she gently placed the frightened ducklings back into her rucksack-it was still the safest way she could think of to transport them. Soon she was headed down the sunny morning road whistling Zippity Doo Dah to a chorus of muffled peeps.

Willie Ray Hudson's place was well-known to every Grantviller. She found Willie Ray still nursing a cup of coffee on his wide front porch. As it turned out the friendly old farmer had spent the prior evening long and late at the Thuringen Gardens public house and he now rather resembled a tree full of owls blinking at the bright morning sun as if it were an unexpected calamity. Pam took his offer of "A cup of Joe." She hadn't gotten around to hers this morning and Willie Ray obviously needed some time to rally. He gave Pam a sheepish grin.

"This coffee is doing the trick, Pam. I'll be up an at 'em pretty quick. A fellow my age putting down that strong German beer like it's Sunday picnic lemonade, I should know better. Made a damn fool of myself. I think I ended up back here courtesy of a wheelbarrow!" He grinned, his jaw a field of gray stubble growing on darkly tanned furrows of weathered wrinkles.

"I know how you feel, Willie Ray. I got into some of that moonshine the boys are making these days a while back. My hired man's wife had to put me to bed like a baby, thank heavens for Gerbald and Dore! I was a mess, I felt like I'd been kicked in the head by a mule the next afternoon when I came to." They shared a laugh at their respective misadventures in the realms of the spirits. Something about Willie Ray and his farm made Pam feel comfortably rustic. She had spent plenty of time here and in places like this in her youth.

"Now, what you got in that old travellin' bag, Miss Pam? By the sound of it I'll bet it's not canned beans and frankfurters. Must be those orphans."

"They're wild wood duck ducklings, Willie Ray. Have you ever seen the ducks with the long crest coming off the back of their heads? The real pretty ones."

"I know what wood ducks are; seen a lot of birds here on the farm over the years, usually going after my patch of corn. Just what happened?"

"Their mother was killed by a trapper up along the rim. Probably a hungry down-timer shacked up in the German pine woods north of town. Gerbald and I are going to go see if we can find who it was later today. I was ready to kill them yesterday but now I think I'm going to try to reason with them, get them to hunt somewhere else outside the Ring." Pam's brow furrowed. She really hadn't a clue how to deal with the situation but she knew she had to do something.

"Well, being reasonable is always a good place to start. Come on, Pam. Let's show these little peeps their new home." Willie Ray stood up slowly. He stayed in great shape working his farm but the years had taken their toll; he wasn't a young man any longer.

The cloud passed from Pam's face. "Really? You do have a place for them?"

"Sure I do. What's a farm without a duck pond? It's out back of the barn, remember?" It had been quite a few years since she had visited Willie Ray. She felt guilty for a moment but the genial farmer wasn't the type to fuss over that kind of thing. Folks were welcome to drop by the farm when it suited them. Pam followed Willie Ray around the side of the house and down the bare path through the grass to the barn. They walked through the large outbuilding, a couple of cows giving Willie Ray a scolding moo for being late with their milking.

"I hear ya, girls. Dang it, where are those hired men of mine?"

"Were they with you last night?" Pam asked with feigned innocence. Willie Ray flashed her a rueful grin.

"Why, I do believe they were. Come to think of it last I seen they were singing drinking songs while propping each other up. Figure I'll see 'em around noon then. My own damn fault, I was buying the rounds."

Heading out the back of the barn they arrived at the duck pond. It was fairly spacious, a good twelve yards wide and fifteen long. One end had been left natural, full of cattails and lily pads. The end nearest the barn had a muddy beach crisscrossed with the tracks of various fowl, a gnarled willow tree providing shade. The entire area was surrounded with a sturdy looking chickenwire fence, dug well into the ground, something to keep the chickens in and the weasels out. The enclosure also included a roomy bird yard and several coops and pens, all occupied by an untidy population of clucking, quacking, honking and gobbling critters. A very large red rooster gave Pam the evil eye, an intruder in his domain. It advanced menacingly a few steps but Willie Ray shooed him off with a raised boot. The rooster held its head high in the air, stalking off with greatly injured pride.

"Never mind Pete, he's more bark than bite. But I seen him give a weasel the spur once, cut the varmint's throat wide open! He earns his keep. Now, let's find Matilda." They walked over to the water's edge where a motley collection of drakes and hens milled about, made up of assorted domestic ducks, semi wild mallard ducks and those that were clearly a mix containing varying degrees of both. They walked right into the middle of the congregation, the ducks only acknowledging their presence by stepping casually out of their path.

"Matilda! Tilda, Tilda!" Willie Ray called, followed by a sharp whistle. From the shore a very large and obviously well fed hen waddled toward them. She was a mutt all right; she had the markings of a mallard hen but instead of brown and white they were in shades of dark and light gray. Her beak and feet were a very un-mallard shade of blue. Pam had never seen a goofier looking bird and had to smile outright.

"This here is Matilda, mother to the world. She's a good old gal; poor thing's eggs haven't hatched for a few years. She has adopted everything from goose goslings to a Labrador retriever puppy-good thing they're swimmers! Damn dog still thinks he's a duck. She ought to be right pleased to have some ducklings again. Here Pam, let me have that bag."

Pam handed him her peeping cargo a little reluctantly, but the old leathery hands were as gentle as a cloud. He bent over with a small grunt to hold the rucksack open on the ground, lying on its side. Matilda hurried over to look inside, waddling so fast she almost took a nose dive. Pam laughed aloud.

"Watch this, Pam." Willie Ray grinned up at her.

Matilda stuck her head right into the bag. A gentle grunting quack could be heard. Suddenly the ducklings poured out of the bag to form a huddle around Matilda's big blue feet. Matilda put her head down in amongst them so they could all get a good dose of each other's scent. Then she looked up at Willie Ray and gave a quack that was surely filled with pleasure and pride. "Thanks for bringing them to me; I'll take it from here!" Spreading her wings gently she herded them over to the water. The ducklings followed along eagerly and were shortly feasting on duckweed, a happy and hungry line paddling behind their new surrogate mother. Pam could sense the waves of relief coming from their tiny bodies. Some people didn't think animals felt emotions the way humans do, but she had always strongly disagreed with that notion. She felt her eyes moistening with joy. Oh hell, now I'm going to cry.

Willie Ray watched the scene with serene pleasure. He took a look inside the rucksack to make sure all the ducks had been released. Satisfied, he handed it back to Pam.

"Well, that's better. Those little guys were sure scared shitless."

Pam nodded. "Yeah, they probably were." She sniffled happily.

"Darn right! Just look in your bag!"

***

Pam still had a few more hours to wait for Gerbald to finish his day time job. Willie Ray invited her to have another cup of coffee so they returned to the front porch. Sitting there watching the grass grow and the farm dogs playing Pam could almost forget about the Ring of Fire. This was still "home" after all, a chunk of the West Virginia she had grown up in. She had traveled a little up-time, been to New York and down to Florida, made it to Montreal, Canada, but unlike so many young people in the hills itching to escape their rural beginnings, Pam had been happy going to college nearby, then taking a job only twenty miles from home. It was a good place, and it was still good, even beneath the skies of history book Europe.

"Pam, I've heard about what you are doing with the school. That nature program is a fine idea. Kids should feel connected to the land and get to know the wild things around them. I think you're doing a real good thing."

"Thanks, Willie Ray. I'm glad to hear you say so. Sometimes I wonder if I've gotten a little nuts about it."

"Well, it's a good kind of nuts if it is. Say, bring those kids out here some time, you can visit your baby ducks and show the kids all them birds that are eating up my corn patch. There are these little blue ones that are real hungry buggers, never saw them before."

"Those are bluethroats! Blaukehlchen. They're one of the native German birds that have taken a liking to Grantville and my sunflower seeds in particular. And bringing the kids out here would be great! I really appreciate you helping me out today."

"Pleasure's mine. Another thing, I read your proposals on protected species and a national bird. I want you to know I support both of them. I'm going to do what I can to get them passed, especially the protected species part. I figure any critters which came through that thing with us deserve to live as much as we do, and I'm not the only one who thinks so."

Pam slumped back in her chair. It had been a year since she had sent that proposal in and she hadn't tried to follow up on it. Apparently it still existed in governmental limbo. "That is really good to hear. I thought for sure everyone would just think I'm a dingbat, worrying about birds when we're still trying to figure out how we're going to just survive in this time."

"Well Pam, you know we are starting an industrial revolution here. I'm hoping we do it with a lot more compassion for both people and nature than happened in the old history. Might as well start now teaching folks to value nature and protect it. Seems like we have a second chance at that."

"Willie Ray, I would never have guessed you were an environmentalist."

"Now, don't start calling names! You'll tarnish my reputation as a red neck hillbilly! I'm a farmer and so I understand that we need to live in balance with nature. I've been joking about those birds getting into my corn; well, they eat some, but I still have plenty left. The thing is, those birds are also eating insects, and insects do a lot more damage to a crop than birds do. It's a good balance. I want to keep those birds around. There's nothing like seeing a flock of red birds in the trees, that's somethin' well worth protecting. My mother was quite fond of them; she used to feed them sometimes, called them 'red birds' instead of 'cardinals' too, a lot of folks did. Anyway, I'm not sure if they're going to make it as a national bird, although they were a fine choice as West Virginia's state bird, and I'd hate to see them all made into hats before they had a chance to build their numbers here."

"A lot of new Americans are already mostly sold on protecting red birds thanks to my friends spreading the word. Right now I'm mostly worried about the up-time game birds, like the ducks. I'm hoping that at least the original Grantvillers will stop hunting them, but I know it's hard to tell folks not to shoot something they like the taste of."

"Well, I think I can help with that. I know more than a few members of the UMWA, including the Prime Minister." He grinned widely "Whoever thought a hick like me would keep such fine company? Anyway, I'll see if I can get them boys squared away on the issue. Law or not, if the UMWA is behind it it's as good as law in these parts." He paused for a moment. "You know, I'm not sure some of them would know a wood duck from a snow goose-if it's a bird with webbed feet they'll shoot it. Do you think you could show them some pictures or something? That wild bunch of gun nuts could use a dose of nature program themselves."

Pam stopped her coffee cup in mid sip. Pictures… "Willie Ray, you are a genius!" She jumped up, startling Willie Ray which caused him to stand up as well. "That's the best idea ever, I'm going to get right to work on it! I'll see you soon, thanks Willie Ray!" Pam bestowed an enthusiastic hug which almost knocked the old farmer over and then went down the porch stairs two at a time. Willie Ray leaned on the rail watching her run up the drive. "You're the best, Willie Ray. A real genius!" she called back as she reached the road.

"Well, that's good to hear Pam, but do tell me just why I'm a 'genius' sometime. Ain't never been called that before!"

***

Pam hurried down the asphalt road to Fluharty Middle School. She had already walked at least three miles today and would walk many more before the day was done. She allowed herself a small sense of satisfaction, back up-time she would not have been able to sustain such a pace. If the Ring of Fire had not brought an unexpected end to things as they were she wondered how long she would have continued her bonbon eating binges of self pity. Now she could barely imagine an alternative future up-time for herself; this was her life, right now, in sixteen hundred and thirty four. It didn't matter to her how they got here, act of god or the devil himself; she was here and making things happen. It felt like a second chance.

At the school Pam sought out Mrs. Antoni. She explained her idea and asked if the students could be brought to the task. Mrs. Antoni shared Pam's excitement.

"That's a wonderful idea, Pam! This will be an excellent learning opportunity, a good dose of civic action. Why not start now since you're here? I have them this next period and my lesson plan can wait for a good cause."

The sixth graders listened to Pam eagerly, after all she was the nice lady who broke them out of the stuffy old classroom ("School in summer? It's not fair!") to go on fun nature walks ("Our hero!"). Anything Ms. Miller needed she would get. As Pam explained the project Mrs. Antoni was readying the butcher paper and poster paints.

"In your notebooks you've drawn a lot of pictures of the birds you've seen. First we are going to make a list of all the American birds from your notes. Next we will assign each student, or group of students, one of those birds to make a poster for. We need a painted picture of the bird and text in both English and German asking people to please protect this species. The more posters you can make, the better!"

Soon the room was a buzzing beehive of activity. There were some pretty good artists in the group; Pam was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the paintings as she walked from table to table. A menagerie of tempera birds was taking shape; a common loon seen down by the power plant, a cedar waxwing found just down the drive from the school, a red head duck spotted on Plum Run, a summer tanager sighted on a fence post beside a farmer's field. The American birds had survived the trip intact and their numbers were increasing. Pam had not dared hope for so many species; it was another example of the resiliency of nature.

A painted slogan above a fair rendering of a Baltimore oriole caught her eye, big bold red and white striped letters with a blue outline: "Don't shoot! I'm an American!" Pam laughed. That will do!

"That's great!" Pam cheered them on. "You guys are doing great! I have to get going but I want to thank you all for the help!" Pam left to a chorus of cheers and encouragement from her nature program students. The future birdwatchers of America, and maybe more. The seeds have been planted and a crop of nature lovers is growing.

***

As she went up the long sunflower-lined walk to her front door Pam felt that something was amiss. The door was open and she could hear the sound of bustling activity inside. The lawn chair that Gerbald would have waited for her in on the narrow concrete porch stood empty.

"Gerbald? Dore?" She called through the door.

"I am here but you will not find that foolish man!' Dore's voice rang out harshly. Uh-oh. Pam entered to find Dore dismantling the temporary duck shelter, her hands moving with a harsh precision that spoke of a towering rage.

"Where is Gerbald, Dore?"

"Gerbald? You mean The Great Soldier? Why he is out hunting of course, hunting for blood." The towel the ducklings had slept on flew into the laundry hamper with hurricane force.

"What do you mean? What's going on, Dore?" The older woman paused in her frenetic cleaning. Her face was red and her eyes puffy; she was full of anger but there was also something of fear written across her broad face. She blew a hot puff of air from her button nose, her shoulders slumped as if letting go of some heavy load.

"The men who killed your wooden duck." Dore's English had greatly improved but still had some idiosyncrasies Pam often found too amusing to correct right away. "Gerbald knows them."

"What? How?" Pam moved closer, stunned at this revelation.

"They were soldiers with Gerbald. He knew them by the way they made trap, it was Gerbald who taught them that. They are bad men." A gray, worried expression swept the red from her face. "Pam, Gerbald is not like them, you do understand? He was a soldier, but he never did the bad things, the things to women and children. He hated the men who did those evils. He spoke against them. It became trouble for him."

"Is that why he left that army? I knew it was something like that. What happened?"

"Dear Pam, it is not my story to tell you. Gerbald will when he is ready. But now those old troubles have found us here." Tears were building in Dore's eyes, her wrath had run its course and left a tired woman afraid for her husband. Pam gave her a fierce hug. Dore hugged back, nearly hard enough to break Pam's ribs. No words were needed. After a minute Pam released herself from Dore's powerful washerwoman arms.

"How long ago did he leave, Dore?"

"An hour. He had the look that comes before battle. He said that you that you must stay here with me."

"I'll stop him. I can catch him." Oblique terror came to Dore's hazel eyes.

"No! You must not go Pam, it is dangerous! Gerbald is a strong man, a good soldier. You must let him do as he will."

Pam stood undecided. Dore was probably right, Gerbald could take care of himself. But what if something went wrong? She had come to love the man like a brother, he was without a doubt her closest friend in the world, and when it came down to it, other than Dore, he was her only close friend.

"Goddamnit, that stubborn billy goat! I'm putting a stop to this." Pam grabbed a gnarled oak walking stick from the corner of the room, it had been her grandmother's. It was hard as a rock and the only thing she had resembling a weapon; carrying it would make her at least feel somewhat safer. It wasn't going to come to that anyway, not if she could help it.

"Pam, no, you are crazy! They will kill you, those bad men, or worse, I know… Don't do this, please!" Dore moved her solid frame between Pam and the door. Pam felt sorry for her friend but she had made up her mind.

"Dore, don't be afraid for me, please. I'll stay hidden if I can't catch him first, and if he's hurt I'll bring help. They won't see me unless I want them to. Let me go, please." Pam met Dore's fretful look with a cool, confident gaze. There would be no changing her mind. Dore relented, crumpling into a shape much frailer than Pam ever could have expected of the seemingly indomitable woman.

" Ja, I know. You have a soldier's courage in you my Pam. Go then, find Gerbald. Damn fools the both of you. I will clean up this barnyard you have made of your house." With a curt gesture of her chin Dore turned to advance menacingly on the soiled kiddy pool. Pam hurried down the walk, not saying good-bye.

***

She ran up the road as fast as she could. If she could only catch him before he left the inlet. She exited the road to head up the trail, moving fast on the well packed earth. She kept her breathing as regular as possible, she was in the greatest shape of her life but sustaining an all out run was taking its toll; she was no track star. Fast enough, I'm fast enough. He's hunting men and will go slow, he'll never think that I would dare come after him. Doubt threatened her as she huffed along. Should I really be doing this? What if we both end up getting killed? This isn't a game Pam, these people are killers. The walking stick she carried before her in sweating hands suddenly seemed an ineffectual and foolish hope-what good would it be against trained soldiers? She almost dropped it beside the trail but held onto it anyway, it was all the protection she had if something went wrong. Stop thinking, it isn't helping. Just catch him.

The inlet was quiet, the dark water calm. Gerbald was not to be found. Damnit! Pam went to the spot where they had found the bird snare. To the left the inlet opened onto the wider lake. To the right the sliced West Virginian hillside made a flat edge along the water's edge. There was a new looking boot print on the muddy shore headed toward the hill and Pam remembered Gerbald saying they had gone in that direction. Up we go.

Keeping well away from the unstable edge Pam followed what she thought might be the possibility of a trail. A scuff mark here, a bent branch here-she began to feel like a genuine Davy Crocket. A sincere regret that she had disdained the ownership of a firearm as an adult filled her, she had been such a promising shot as a youngster. A Winchester rifle would have provided a wealth of comfort at the moment. She used Grandma's walking stick to impatiently bash a clump of scratchy brush out of her way. Quiet now Pam, you are going to let the birds know you're here. An image came to her of murderous looking cartoon birds: crows, vultures and evil-eyed eagles sharpening wicked battle axes with feathered hands; nearby a fire with a big Pam-sized cook pot bubbled. Birdwatching. A nice safe hobby. Too bad they don't have gator wrestling in these parts, I could use the relaxing change of pace.

Pam came to the corner of the lake, a jumbled landscape where the hardwood forested West Virginia hilltop abruptly adjoined a pine covered German ridge. The trail seemed to continue to the hard left along the ridge top past the rim, there were signs of recent skids on the still mostly bare soil of a steep two meter tall elevation mismatch. Pam slid down it into Thuringia proper. The ghost of a trail continued roughly northwards away from Grantville into brooding pines. Pam felt a momentary thrill of fear. Okay, I've never been here before and I've left home territory. There are killers and rapists out there, and I'm looking for someone who is looking for them. I must be crazy and I better be careful.

Pam walked slowly through the Thuringian forest, listening for the sound of movement or voices. She stayed low and wary, not wanting to be seen or heard. There was no more rushing to stop Gerbald, this was now… What, a rescue? Hardly! She certainly wasn't the cavalry coming. Why didn't I call the police, tell them what's going on? It had never occurred to her to do so. Too late now. Doubt threatened to turn her back; she fought it, willing it away. This is something I have to do for Gerbald and Dore. That was reason enough for the risk.

The ridge curved sharply away east, the lake forming another inlet below her. Pam stopped to think. How am I ever going to find seasoned woodsmen who don't want to be found? A breeze wandered through the pine branches, it felt good. Voices came with it; the voices of men. .. angry men. Pam froze. After listening very carefully Pam thought she knew which way they were coming from. She slowly made her way in that direction. At least they're upwind of me, I'll take that break.

She soon found herself crouched under a bush watching three men arguing loudly in German. Realizing one of them was Gerbald her heart leapt. She forced herself to stay in hiding instead of rushing to his side, instinctively sensing that would not be a good move. There were two exceptionally scroungy-looking characters standing in front of a dilapidated shelter. Two earthen walls were covered by an incongruously bright side of aluminum sheeting, obviously filched from the outskirts of Grantville. Objects hung from a length of twine across the shack's opening; dead birds and small animals. Pam's heart wrenched as she recognized a Baltimore oriole and a redhead duck drake next to a fox pup. A fury began to kindle within her. There were many other items lying about the decrepit shack; a child's bicycle, a coil of rusty chain, a gas can. These men were thieves at the least.

The shouting had resumed. Gerbald was gesturing angrily at the stolen goods and the hung carcasses. She could only catch about half of his rapid fire German, it wasn't the Thuringian dialect and she guessed that every other word was an exotic blaspheme or bloodcurdling curse. The two dirty men glowered at him, she saw that one lightly held the heft of a sizable axe and the other had a long knife stuck in his ragged belt. The murderous crow and vulture. They were unmoved by Gerbald's fiery lecture but not willing to challenge him either. She had never seen Gerbald like this. He was furious, his voice a thundering avalanche of icy shards and unstoppable boulders. Although his stance seemed relaxed Pam knew he was coiled to pounce, one hand eagerly gripping the hilt of his prized katzbalger shortsword. This is what Gerbald looks like when he's going to war.

The harangue continued. It occurred to Pam from watching the demeanor of the two ruffians that they had experienced Gerbald's rage before. These were once his men! He must have commanded them back when they were all soldiers! Pam nodded slowly at her revelation. I wonder who's in command of them now?

A hard, heavy boot placed itself firmly on Pam's bottom where she squatted. With a mighty upward shove it sent her sprawling face first out onto the scrabbly ground in the hut's clearing, in full view of Gerbald and his former command.

"Well, we have guests I see!" a sneering voice announced in false friendly tones from behind her. The man's German was slow and clearly spoken, undoubtedly for her benefit since she was clearly dressed as an up-timer and would be unlikely to understand anything but the simplest language. Pam kept enough wit about her to hang on to her walking stick as she rolled quickly to the side. She regained her feet in a ready crouch, backing carefully away from the man who had kicked her. The evil eyed eagle had arrived. Gerbald quickly hid his look of unhappy surprise at Pam's presence, but the unpleasant newcomer had seen it well enough. He continued in taunting tones.

"So, Gerbald, you have found yourself a woman amongst these American witchfolk. You are doing well, she is a fine improvement over that old potato you used to keep. That old sack wasn't even good for birthing! Tell me, I have wondered what these Grantville she-devils must be like, I have heard they think themselves the equal of any man. When you have your way with her does she howl like a wild creature? Has she taught you some new sins?" Pam gazed at him with a mixture of disgust and disbelief

Gerbald's face went radish red with wrath. He snarled. "She is a sister to me, Kurt, so stop your filth. Your mouth is a pit full of shit and rotten puss. One more word and I'll shut it for good." Gerbald was advancing toward this Kurt creature, the two men he had been haranguing forgotten. Pam feared the look in Gerbald's eyes nearly as much as she feared the three evil men. She noticed, much to her terror, that the first two had readied their weapons and were quietly in step a few yards behind Gerbald. The leader of their flock had returned and now they were emboldened. Gerbald was outnumbered three to one. Well, I'm here, too…

"Oh, your s ister! Well in that case, I must surely taste such delight for myself!" Kurt gave a sharp nod to his two cronies who now rushed at Gerbald. Gerbald, no fool, knew they were coming from behind but Kurt was already lunging toward Pam, one hand reaching to grab her, the other pulling a shortsword from its scabbard. Pam knew he would go for Kurt at all cost to prevent the man from touching her, ignoring the approaching threat. Men. Some tacticians they are. A rage had been building in Pam as well, enough to match Gerbald's-maybe more. She had to prevent Kurt from taking her hostage so that Gerbald wouldn't end up with an axe in his back thanks to his heroic foolishness. She took a step back, planted both feet, gripped the walking stick like a baseball bat and let fly the mightiest swing of her life, shouting in German:

"TASTE THIS!"

KE-RAK!!!

The length of hard oak shot above Kurt's grasping talon, colliding solidly with his jaw. The jaw gave way to the walking stick, bone breaking with an awful splintering sound, teeth spilling out like rice thrown at a wedding. A gush of blood followed as his head snapped sideways at the blow. He went down in seeming slow motion, an inhuman sob emerging from his throat. Gerbald stopped in his tracks stunned at the unexpected sight. Pam shouted at him in English. "Behind you!" Idiot!

With Pam no longer in immediate and distracting danger Gerbald's years of battlefield experience kicked in. It occurred to Pam that he had never fought directly for a loved one before, and the concept had distracted him from his usual combat savvy. Well, that is kind of sweet. With a practiced move Gerbald's katzbalger found the poorly guarded gut of the knife wielding enemy to his left, his thrust leaving a spreading circle of red on the man's wool tunic. With a low moan the man fell forward on his face. The other attacker swung his axe at Gerbald's head. Gerbald side-stepped that blow but tripped against the fallen form of his first target. This gave the axe wielder another shot, he connected a cruel cut into Gerbald's lower left thigh. This caused Gerbald to grunt with pain but it didn't stop him. His short sword was a silver blur as the man was pulling his axe from Gerbald's flesh. The katzbalger's razor sharp tip darted into the man's throat and twisted. Pam found the look of surprise on the man's face more shocking then the streams of bright blood coursing down his front. That's death. That's what death looks like. Lifeless hands released the axe, the man fell backwards with a gurgling cry.

Despite his pain Gerbald spun around, sword raised, crimson and thirsting for more. He stepped heavily toward the spot that Kurt had gone down thanks to Pam's at bat. Kurt wasn't there. Pam saw him slipping into the bushes, one hand holding shut his broken jaw. Gerbald started to lurch after him, laying a trail of his own blood next to that which Kurt had left. Pam's wits returned reluctantly, trying not to look at the two gored corpses slumped at their feet.

"Gerbald!" she shouted. "Stop!" It was a command. She pointed grandma's walking stick at him like a general's rod. Gerbald took another uneven step, awkwardly trying to hold the blood seeping from his thigh in with his free hand. He wasn't having much luck and knew it. Slowly he turned back to Pam as the despicable Kurt made his escape, fleeing whimpering into the brush.

"Yes, ma'am?" in that infuriatingly accurate hillbilly drawl he had made such a point of mastering. Pam shook her head in relief, horror, exhaustion, joy. It was really all a bit much for a summer afternoon.

"Hold still right there and let me wrap that wound. War's over." Gerbald nodded resigned assent, there was no way he would catch his enemy in rough terrain with such a wound hampering him. He wiped his gory shortsword nonchalantly on the pair of Levi's jeans he had come to favor. Later he wouldn't be happy about that tear in them. Pam handed him Grandma's walking stick which he used to take the weight off his injured leg.

"A handy thing." he remarked, idly stroking the smooth wood. "Very effective."

"No kidding. I can't believe I did that. Good lord, what would Grandma say!?" Gerbald handed her a length of linen bandage from one of the many useful pockets within his sage colored wool soldier's coat. It didn't matter how hot it got, he rarely took the thing off. Pam wrapped the bandage as tightly as she could around the wound; the blood slowed but didn't stop. "Can you walk?"

"I can, at least for now. A valkyrie from the old stories guides me to my spot at the table of heroes." She took his other arm and did her best to help support him. She couldn't help but look again at the two dead men as they passed by. A sudden realization shocked her.

"Gerbald! These men! I've seen them before!"

"Where, Pam? When?"

"In the woods along the rim a couple of years ago, not too far from here. These were the three men I saw who scared me when I was out birdwatching alone. I hid from them. It happened the day before I met you! They were why I hired you!"

Gerbald nodded. "It is good they did not see you then. Also, hiring me was a very good idea." Wry Gerbald charm despite the severity of the situation.

"Yes, I'd agree, most days… Boy are you in trouble. Do you want to tell me about it before Dore gets hold of you?"

"Not really. I knew them. They were under my command for a time. I felt a responsibility. I thought they were near but so far they had contented themselves with thievery. Eventually the rapes or murders would start as their fear of Grantville left them. It is all a bad story, we've had enough blood for today. Another time I'll tell you, please?"

"All right soldier, but I'll hold you to it. What about the bodies?"

"I am not a religious man, Pam. I'd as soon leave them for the carrion crows, they deserve no better. I suppose we should alert the Grantville authorities, especially since Kurt is still out there… Do you think I will be in trouble for this?" his eyes looked questioningly at her.

"As far as I'm concerned they got what they deserved. I'll tell them you were defending me; you aren't going to be in any trouble. Besides, it's kind of like the wild west these days, anyway."

"Yippee!" he cheered faintly. Why did the Germans love cowboy movies so? Gerbald's face turned serious again.

"Pam, this is important: That man, Kurt. It was brave what you did, who would have guessed our gentle bird lover contains such fury? He has hurt many women, it was good to see him get some measure of justice at your hands." Gerbald paused, making sure to catch her eyes with his. "It would have been much better if I had been able to kill him. Please understand, a wounded beast is more dangerous still. He will want revenge, in time he will come looking. You must be careful. I will always watch over you but he will try to find a time when I am not there, he is a coward but still very dangerous. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, Gerbald."

"When I heal I will begin looking for him if the Grantville police don't find him first. I will finish today's work before he can make more harm."

Pam nodded, accepting this unsavory necessity. "All right, Gerbald, I get it. But be careful, you're just way too much fun to have around."

"Yes, today was fun, don't you think? A real ass-kicking good time, a right fine shivaree!"

"Don't push your luck, Ivanhoe."

***

They were fortunate to find a ride when they hit the pavement, a mineworker with an official truck hauling something that was apparently valuable under a canvas tarp. It was a good thing, too, as the injured Gerbald was putting more of his weight on Pam as he grew weaker, and she was about done for herself. The driver was a down-timer and didn't ask many questions. He drove them directly to the hospital where Gerbald grinned at being pushed along in a wheelchair to the surgery.

Doc Nichols gave them both an appraising look as he cleaned and stitched the deep cut.

"And you about knocked this thug's head off with your grandma's walking stick you say?"

"Yeah, he was making a grab for me so I let him have it. Broke his jaw for sure. Gerbald killed the other two while defending me." There was pride in Pam's voice. The doctor's eyebrows were raised high as he slowly shook his head.

"Ms. Miller, you sure don't look like the type, but wow! Remind me to stay on your good side!" They shared a grin, the fact that the esteemed doctor had been an inner city brawler in his youth had become well known. "Crazy times, crazy times." he mumbled as he stitched. While he finished Pam borrowed the phone to make the call to the Grantville police. They'd come out to the house later to hear their full reports.

With Gerbald patched up and with strict orders to take it easy for a few days they were given a ride in a hospital car back to Pam's house. As the two of them limped up the walk Dore stood in the doorway, fixing them both with a fearsome scowl. Pam noticed her rucksack had been washed and was hung to dry on the clothes tree. The woman is a saint. The tirade began when they arrived at the porch.

"Well, well, the great heroes return. And in how many pieces? They nearly cut off that leg I see, it is a shame they did not aim a little higher and to the center! And you, foolish young woman, you look like a fox after the hunt, you have run yourself half to death, and are filthy! All for this buffoon of a man, this old soldier who does not know when to let the proper authorities do the work while he should be staying home looking after the helpless women folk in his charge!"

Pam almost lost it when she heard that one. Dore? Helpless? Pam recalled that not an hour ago she had taken down a professional soldier with her grandma's walking stick. No, not so helpless are we! Dore's pitch went up as she shifted her scolding into high gear. Pam took a moment to appreciate that Dore's command of English had improved greatly over the year.

"How dare you go off like that knowing that dear Pam would follow you? She is new to these times and doesn't know the dangers. You are an idiot, a blockhead, a dimwit, an oaf!" Running out of English expletives she launched into a barrage of German and possibly Italian ones. The woman was shaking with anger but Pam knew that it was her way of showing how much she cared.

Gerbald nodded, reconciled to his fate. "Yes my dove. You are right in all things, as always. Is there perhaps dinner? Let's eat before the coppers get here." Using the oak walking stick he made his way onto the porch, ducking past Dore's raised fist. Pam followed, receiving a brief, hard squeeze on the arm from Dore. Pam smiled at the older woman, her very dear friend who had spent some very worried hours waiting for them. Gerbald had gone into the kitchen to sit at the table. Pam saw that no sign of duckling presence remained in her living room, everything was where it should be and sparkling with post Dore cleanliness. As she entered the kitchen Dore bellowed at Gerbald:

"And take off that DAMNED FOOL HAT!"

Ahhh, home. Pam sighed happily.

***

A few days later Pam and Gerbald walked at a gentle pace over to Willie Ray's farm. Gerbald still limped and had taken quite a shine to grandma's walking stick upon which he had bequeathed the title "Headbanger." When he wasn't using it for support he sometimes playfully reenacted Pam's lethal swing. As they strolled Pam saw that nearly every fence post, power pole, and unmovable structure sported a brightly painted bird and beseeching phrases like "Protect me!", "Give us a chance!", "Let us live, too!" in both German and English. It looked like every kid in Grantville had made a poster, maybe twenty. The entire town was wrapped in the things. Willie Ray's open front gate boasted the Baltimore oriole proclaiming "Don't shoot! I'm an American!" Pam laughed with pleasure as they headed to the farmhouse.

Mrs. Antoni and her sixth graders were there as planned. Pam thanked them all again for the wonderful job on the posters and for all the work they had done plastering the town.

"Do you think there are enough, Ms. Miller? Do you think people will do as we asked?" the students asked her.

"I can't really say for sure kids, but I do know we've made a good start. You should all be proud of what you've accomplished. Our birds are worth saving and you have sure let people know it!"

Willie Ray came around the side of the house, fresh shaven and brimming with easy country graciousness. "Hey everyone, let's go have a look at that old duck pond."

As they entered the barnyard fowl's enclosure Willie Ray stood back, letting the kids wander among the tame flocks. He caught Pam and Gerbald's eye, then led them over to the pond's edge. Pam saw Matilda and her adopted children serenely feeding in the shallows under the willow tree. The ducklings had grown already, how could it happen so fast?

"They look good, Willie Ray. Thank you so much for giving them a home and looking after them for me!"

"Well, it's a pleasure. I'm not the only one who has taken an interest in our little fellows, though. Look up in that tree."

Pam put her hand on her forehead to make shade from the afternoon glare. She and Gerbald scanned the tree, four sharp eyes, birdwatcher eyes. They found it perched in the lower branches, an unusual type of bird to see in a tree, a peculiar trait of this species. An emerald sheened head enhanced by striking white markings was held erect above a russet breast with highlights of rich purple and spotted by bright specks of white. The dramatic swoops of white on its face framed ruby eyes which now regarded its observers with interest. A sleek pointed crest with a jaunty white streak was combed back from the top of its bill, falling stylishly down its neck. The bill was marked with flame orange and black, coming to a point sharper than most ducks. It looked more like a fancifully carved and painted imagining of a duck than a real animal. It was in fact a male wood duck, a spectacularly plumed drake and quite probably the father of the ducklings below.

Pam gasped with delight while Gerbald looked on appreciatively, pleased to see that its presence made Pam happy. Willie Ray grinned so widely as to nearly split his head open.

"He's been here a couple days, Pam. He mostly stays in the tree and keeps an eye on things. I figure those little fellows are well looked after."

"I'd say they are. It's a good feeling…" She looked to Gerbald who allowed himself a satisfied smile in the shade of his ridiculous hat. "… being a protected species."

***

A Tinker's Progress

Terry Howard

Jack Jones made his way into the sleepy little town of Elstow, about a mile south of Bedford in Bedfordshire, home to perhaps five hundred souls-give or take half a hundred. There was a notable stone cross in the center of town where he stopped to survey for a tinker's shop. "A bloody tinker!" he muttered. "I'm carrying mail for a tinker? What next, a milk maid? A bar wench? At least he's one of the better sort with a forge and a settled station." In a bit, when it was not obvious where he should go, he headed to the parish house next to the church of Saints Mary and Helen and approached to knock on the door. By chance the vicar himself answered.

Jack asked, in a slow voice, watching his word choice carefully to be better understood, knowing that his accent was often something of a bother, "Good marrow, good sir. Could you be directing me to the shop of one Thomas the son of Thomas, a tinker?"

"And you are?" the vicar asked.

"Jack Jones, dispatch rider, at your service. I'm up from London with a letter for Goodman Thomas, the tinker."

"A letter you say?" The vicar looked skeptical. "And just whom in London would be writing a letter to Thomas?"

"It was given me by the office of one Isaac Abrabanel just east of Temple Bar."

"Don't tell me Thomas has gone and borrowed money from a London Jew that he can't pay back?" The vicar let out a deep sigh. "That man will end in debtor's prison and his wife will be asking for charity. I knew it. I told her father not to let Margaret marry beneath herself. This is what comes of marrying for love."

"I wouldn't know anything about that, Vicar. I just have a letter to be delivered. Could you please tell me where I can find him?"

"Go to the cross. Face east. Take the middle of the three streets. When it forks, go left and the shop will be on your right. There is a shingle of a mended pot hanging over the door." The vicar started to close the door.

"One more question, of your grace, please. Would you know if Thomas has his letters or do I need to take a reader with me?"

"No, he does not. But his wife, poor woman, does." And with that the vicar did indeed close the door.

***

Jack led his horse through the town. When he entered the front door of the tinker's shop he was promptly addressed.

"What can I do for you?"

"Are you Thomas the Tinker?"

"No. Thomas is my brother. We share the shop. What can we do for you?"

"Does Thomas have a son named John? The lad would be not yet seven years of age."

"That's right. What is this about?"

"Could I have a few words with his wife, Margaret?"

"You could… if I have a mind to call her from the kitchen, which I am not about to do until you tell me what this is all about!" By this time the tinker had put down his tools and stood up from the bench, quietly picking up the heaviest of his hammers.

Jack decided he'd better answer quickly. "I have a letter for your brother. I suppose it will be all right if I give it to his wife, seeing as Thomas hasn't his letters and she will have to be the one reading it, anyway."

"A letter, you say?"

Jack lifted the flap on the pouch over his shoulder and brought forth a folded parchment, sewn with a string, set with wax and sealed with a stamp.

"Maggie?" the tinker called out.

"Yes?" The answer came from the back of the house.

"Can you come out to the shop, please?"

Margaret pushed open the door that separated the shop from the living area. She was drying her hands on her apron as she did.

"This fellow says he has a letter for your husband."

"How very odd," she replied. "Are you sure?"

"The letter is for one Thomas, the son of Thomas, a tinker in Elstow, who has a son named John," Jack said.

"That would indeed be my Thomas. But why, in the name of all that is holy, would anyone be sending Thomas a letter?"

"Goodwife, could you tell me your father's family name?"

"What an odd thing to ask."

"True enough. I've never been instructed to asked the likes of it before but-" Jack put the letter back in the shoulder pouch and lifted a small bag of coins. He tossed it up and down in his hand, causing it to clink with the distinct sound of large silver coins. "I was told to ask and if I didn't get the right answer, the letter and the money are to go back to London."

The tinker promptly answered. "Bentley. The family name is Bentley."

Jack set the bag down and dug a stoppered inkwell out of his shoulder pouch along with a quill and a bit of paper. "Goodwife, would you please assure yourself that the seal on the coin bag is unbroken and then sign a receipt?"

"What is the money for? What is all this about?"

"Now, how would the likes of Jack Jones be knowing that?"

"Perhaps I had better read the letter before I sign anything."

Jack shrugged and handed her the missive.

***

As she read it, her lips moving silently as if in prayer, her face became increasingly contorted by puzzlement. The tinker's face held ever more curiosity until it erupted like a spit melon seed. "Well? What does it say?"

"The money is to pay Thomas' expenses to go to London to discuss a business matter with one Isaac Abrabanel. Thomas is to see him three doors east of Temple Bar."

"A London Jew? What business does Thomas have with the likes of that?"

"You would know better than I, as tight lipped as the two of you are about money matters."

"You and Rose don't need to be worrying about how much is on hand and what is coming in."

"No. We're just supposed to figure out how to feed the lot of us when there isn't anything left to buy food with."

"Times are hard, woman. Thomas and I are doing the best we can. If you are so all fired concerned, we could save the cost of sending John to get his lettering."

"For sure, and then he could go through his life at the mercy of who ever it is that is reading to him. If he doesn't go now, he'll not go later when he's old enough to be of some use."

Jack was growing more and more uncomfortable. These were family matters that should not be discussed in front of a stranger.

The tinker opened his mouth and shut it. Jack suspected that he wanted to say "it never hurt me any," as many men would have. But Jack could well imagine many disputes-had even had some himself-that would not have happened if people had written the agreement down to begin with. It was a common enough problem in life.

Jack cleared his throat, "Gentle folk, if you could, I need a signed receipt. Then I can be getting on my way."

"What can you tell us about this?" the tinker demanded.

"I'm naught but a dispatch rider. I just need you to sign the bloody paper."

"Well, I'm nothing but a tinker and I don't give a damn what you need. She isn't signing anything until you tell us all you know."

Jack reached for the money but the tinker was faster. He held the bag out of reach. "All I know is what I've told you already."

"Well, tell us about this Abrabanel man."

"I never set eyes on him. I talked to a clerk in the front room of a fancy office with a big brass handle on the front door and an even bigger glass window. Now, either sign the bloody paper or give me the money and the letter to take back to London!"

"Sign it," the tinker told his sister-in-law.

***

Later that day Thomas came back from making the rounds. He walked through the door and before he could put the new lot of pots to be mended down he was hit by a question. "Brother, what business do you have in London?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Why does a man in London, and a Jew at that, want to see you in his office at 'your earliest convenience'?"

"Have you lost your head?" Thomas asked. "You know I don't know any Jew in London or anywhere else."

"Margaret, bring that letter out here and read it to your husband."

"Letter? What letter?" Thomas was puzzled.

"The one that came from London today while you were out. The one that came with more money than we've had at one time in years. Enough for you to take a coach to London and dine in fancy inns along the way."

***

Margaret pushed open the door. The total puzzlement on her husband's face told her all she needed to know. He obviously didn't know one iota more about what was going on than she did. She held up the letter for him to see, then she began to read it aloud.

Thomas listened to the end without saying a word. "So all I've got to do for this money is go down to London and talk to this man?"

"I read you the letter, Thomas. You can ferret out the meaning as easily as I can."

"I know, but it doesn't make any sense. What does he want with me? They've got tinkers aplenty in London."

"Well, brother, I guess you'll just have to go down there and find out."

"You say there's enough money to take a coach?"

"Don't go getting any fancy ideas, brother of mine. There was enough. After I pay off what we owe the tin man-and pay for the next round up front to get the discount we never have been able to afford-then there's enough left to take care of you, there and back. As long as you start out with a cheese and a loaf and don't dally along the way."

***

Margaret met her husband at the door with a satchel holding a small cheese about the size of a good cabbage, and two loaves of bread about the same size. "The cheese should see you there and back. You can buy more bread before you leave London." Two loaves, two days walk, fresh enough, but there was no point in Thomas eating stale bread when it could be had for a fair price. She gave him a peck on the cheek.

"Margaret, please. What will the neighbors think?"

"Thomas, the day I can't send my husband off to London with a kiss because the neighbors are Puritans is the day we will move to Rome. I still think you should have hired a horse, or taken the coach."

"No. My brother is right. The money is better spent. I'd walk twice that for a lot less. Besides, I probably couldn't stay on a horse anyway, then it would run off and how would we ever pay for it? I've got my walking stick. I'll see you in five days."

"Thomas, when you get there call yourself a brasier instead of a tinker. It sounds better."

With these words of advice from his wife, Thomas set off for Temple Bar in London, wondering each step of the way what it was all about.

***

While munching the last of his bread in the last of the daylight Thomas found Temple Bar. He asked where he could find the office of Isaac Abrabanel, thinking to locate where he would go in the morning.

"It's right there. That's his shingle hanging over his door, just three down. The one that reads Isaac Abrabanel, Importer. Didn't you look, or can't you read?"

Thomas suspected that the fellow he asked couldn't read either, but wasn't about to admit that to some bumpkin just in from the country. To his surprise, the window spilled lamplight out onto the street. A glance through the glass made it clear that people were about.

"Well, the sooner begun, the sooner it's finished." Thomas pushed the door open and walked in.

***

The clerk summed up the man in front of him with a glance. "It's after hours. Come back tomorrow."

"Is this the office of Isaac Abrabanel?"

"Yes. We open at eight in the morning."

"He wants to see me."

"I'm sure he does! Tomorrow."

"Tell him Thomas Bunyan was here, then. I'll be back tomorrow."

"Thomas Bunyan? The tinker from Elstow?"

"I prefer to think of myself as a brasier."

As Thomas turned to leave, the clerk realized he had just made a big mistake. "Please, wait a moment, sir. Let me check with Mr. Abrabanel. I know he is anxious to speak with you."

The clerk came back in short order. On the one hand, he was vindicated. His boss would see the ragged scarecrow tomorrow. He was in a conference at the moment and it would run late. On the other hand, he was unhappy. Yes, he could lock up and leave, but he was to buy the dusty countryman a good dinner and settle him into a decent lodging. And he was to see the fellow back to the office in the morning. It wasn't the way he'd intended to spend his evening.

"Mister Abrabanel is tied up right now. He will see you in the morning. Join me for dinner and then-"

The tinker brushed at his shirt. "I've eaten."

"Are you sure? There is a very nice dining establishment just around the corner."

"I'm sure."

Avram, the clerk, was annoyed again. There went the paid for dinner he was looking forward to, even if it meant being seen with a tinker. "Well, then. Let me get you settled into your lodging for the night."

***

Thomas took one look at the hired room. It was, without question, the finest room he had ever even seen and he would be spending tonight here. There was a huge bed, a fireplace laid but unlit on an August night. The wash stand, sink and pitcher, along with an actual bath tub were absolute luxuries. "I can't afford this."

"Oh, but it's at our expense."

"You're sure?"

"Of course." The clerk hesitated a moment. "Dinner is at our expense also… if you would care to change your mind?"

***

Later, Thomas, smiling, stuffed and bathed, settled into bed with the knowledge that his laundered clothes would be returned in the morning. "A fellow could get used to this if he wasn't careful."

***

"Master Bunyan, it is good to meet you. Please be seated. How was the coach ride down from Elstow?"

"I walked."

"Oh, I see. Your wife and young John, they are in good health?"

"Yes."

"Well, Thomas… do you mind if I call you Thomas?"

"Most do."

"Yes, well… Thomas, I have been instructed to pay all of your expenses if you will relocate your family to the town of Grantville in the Germanies."

"Grantville?"

"You've heard of it, I'm sure."

"Yes. I've heard of the city from the future… and I've heard of the sea monsters that dwell in the lakes of Scotland. You might as well pay my way to the New World so I can move into one of the Spanish cities of gold and start making golden pots and kettles."

"I assure you, Grantville is real. I have a cousin there. He wrote me concerning you and your family. You are wanted in Grantville. All expenses are to be paid. A complete shop will be provided and there will be more than enough work-at a sufficient rate of pay to more than provide a good living for your family and a good education for your son."

"Why?"

"What?"

"Why? They have tinkers in Germany. Why does someone want me?"

"Well as you have heard, Grantville is from the future." Isaac held up a hand to forestall Thomas' objection. "I assure you it is true. So, while you may have lived a very ordinary life up till now, it would seem that you will do something extraordinary in the future and someone wants that to happen in Grantville."

"What?"

"I have no idea. Perhaps you will invent something or create some notable works. Perhaps it is young John who is to do something of note, or a child yet to be born? I wasn't informed and I don't know. What I do know is that you are wanted there and I am to see to it that you get there if you are willing to go."

Thomas' mind raced. The bag of coins in his brother's keeping, the room and the meal last night, the bath and the clean clothes, the fancy office. Someone was willing to spend money like Thomas had never had and never dreamed of having. Still… "There is a war in Germany."

"Yes, but not in Grantville. It will be quite safe, I assure you."

"This is beyond belief!"

"Yes, I imagine it is. But it is quite true. Master Bunyan… Thomas… there is a ship leaving in six days. I would like it very much if you and your family were to be on it."

Thomas sat in silence.

"You will want to discuss this with your wife." Isaac brought a small bag of coins out of his desk drawer. It had been prepared for just this point in the conversation. He let it drop several inches, in a spot Thomas could reach. It made the sound that only comes when gold meets gold. "Take a coach home. Think about the offer, and then bring your family back to London by coach. At least, let your wife sit in on the discussion." Isaac had laid the bait. Now it was time to set the hook. "I am authorized to tell you that money for a return trip will be on deposit with us until you use it or it is released to your heirs at the time of your death."

***

Secure in the belief that the Abrabanels would be successful, and looking to the patent and copyright laws in the books he'd read, an attorney in an office in Grantville was quietly preparing a brief to claim the royalties for Pilgrim's Progress for young John Bunyan. True, John hadn't written it or any of his other works yet. But he was undeniably the author. It was a fine point. A very fine point of law. He would have to argue it in court, of course. But he thought he had quite a good case.

Elsewhere in Grantville, an old Free and Approved Mason was wondering what John Bunyan's output would be when he had received a first class education. The expense to find out was well worth it.

***

Nothing's Ever Simple

Virginia DeMarce

Grantville, December 1633

"That's probably about the best we can do." Roberta Sutter looked at the stacks of paper on the table in front of her with considerable dissatisfaction.

"We've interviewed everyone in town," Sandra Prickett said. "We've made them look for family Bibles and scrapbooks and newspaper clippings and birth certificates and applications for delayed birth certificates and applications for Social Security cards and… Anyway, quite a few people got annoyed and said things, like, 'Don't you realize there's a war on?'"

"We've gotten a lot that we didn't have before," Mary Jo Blackwell added her bit to the Genealogy Club council meeting. Mary Jo was always spoiling someone else's desire to have a good fight. She was a nuisance that way, sometimes.

Marian Butcher nodded. "Some surprises, too, like how Rose Howell's descendants knew that some of Cyrene's great-grandkids lived here in town and that they were related, but Cyrene's had forgotten all about it."

Miriam Miller looked at Jenny Maddox. "I guess the point is-does the Bureau of Vital Statistics want us to stop the blitz? Have we done enough for the records you need?"

"More than enough, probably. We're going to put copies of everything in the public library. Marietta's fine with that. People can come look up their family trees if they're interested. Down-timers as well as up-timers."

Roberta frowned again. "The down-time stuff is still mainly oral history. It's not properly documented. When the wars stop, maybe we can write to the parishes where people told us they were born and married and get copies of their baptisms and weddings for our files."

"With your approach to genealogy, there will never be an end to it."

Roberta looked at Jenny, honestly surprised. "Of course not. Everyone who's ever been born has two parents, and lots of them have aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. And cousins. Even Jesus had cousins. The historian Josephus wrote that Roman officials interviewed them, about thirty years after the crucifixion. Oral history is an important part of the process, even though it isn't sufficient in itself." Her voice was starting to perk up again.

Sandra Prickett sighed.

February 1634

"I hate to say it, Melvin, but I think they're losing their enthusiasm."

Melvin Sutter chewed his sausage. Personally, he had sort of hoped, after they adopted a couple of children after the Ring of Fire and Roberta got a full-time job, that she would lose some of hers. Not that he had anything against family trees. But their house didn't have just plain family trees. It even had family trees that Roberta had cross-stitched, framed, and put up on the walls. There was one hanging right over his head, here in the breakfast nook.

"I started to explain how we could supplement the oral history we collected for the new immigrants. I need documentation for our own children. I've already written to Gotha for Albrecht and Margaretha and to Kitzingen for Martin. Now if I could just find someone who remembers exactly where Verena was baptized, since she doesn't seem to be related to any other of the Elsisheimers who have immigrated to Grantville-not that I'm sure they're telling me the truth. They're a bit evasive, especially Magdalena Albert. She's Kunz Polheimer's wife-her first husband was an Elsisheimer, though she didn't have any children by him. If it's because Verena was born out of wedlock and her mother Maria was actually a relative somehow, then…"

Melvin, a veteran of such speculations, tuned it all out and continued chewing.

Until he heard the dire words, "… and I'm not going to put it off any longer. I'm not going to wait until it's too late."

"Uh. Put what off?"

"Melvin, you haven't been listening."

He didn't even try to defend himself.

"I know we don't have any natural children, but Marilyn has Matt and it's likely he'll marry and have children one of these days. So I really need to finish the Hooper side of the family. Before the Ring of Fire, I took it as far as the church records from Schwarzach that had been microfilmed by the Mormons would let me, but they only started in 1612. If I go to Schwarzach now, before it's too late, I can interview living ancestors. I'm sure with what they remember, I can add a couple more generations to the family tree. Huber, it was, in Germany, before the Germanna immigrants Americanized the spelling. I hope that my ancestor Georg Huber is still the mayor of Schwarzach."

"I hate to say this, but we've got four adopted children, now. Their mother can't just go haring off someplace to do genealogy."

"They're not babies. Albrecht's sixteen; Martin's fifteen. Margaretha's eleven. Even Verena's five, not a baby any more. Marilyn will help you. I'm sure she will, especially now that Matt's off in Magdeburg. It's her family tree too, after all. You can manage on your own this coming summer."

"Marilyn just got married again last fall. Baxter Harris may not want for her to be babysitting a batch of kids all next summer."

"Since she married Baxter, she's Trissie's stepmother, and Trissie's the perfect age to baby-sit Verena and Margaretha, plus she's in the same class at school with Albrecht." Roberta patted Melvin's cheek. "Don't worry. It will all work out fine."

Melvin shook his head. "It won't be that simple. Things never are."

July 1634

Roberta sat quietly.

Roberta quiet was Roberta dangerous.

"Just where is this Schwarzach place, anyway? Why don't you write them?"

"After the Benedictine imperial abbey there was secularized in 1803, it became part of the Grand Duchy of Baden. That was the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg in our day. I did write to the mayor, last year. And to the Catholic church, but I haven't gotten an answer. So I need to go."

"By my count, there's close to a hundred seventy-five years of politics between now and 1803. Where is it now?"

"Um. In Swabia."

"Horn has a Swedish army in Swabia."

Roberta tilted her head. "Not in the part of Swabia where Schwarzach is."

"Just what part of Swabia is Schwarzach in?"

"It's on the Rhine. And now I have a contact there, so…"

"You have a contact there? I thought you said that they hadn't written back."

"Well, Mayor Huber hasn't written back."

"And…"

"Uh, you remember that Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar offered Kamala Horton a job? And she took it and shook the dust of Grantville off her feet, so to speak? She and the kids left right after school was out in May."

"Yeah…"

"Well, Duke Bernhard has his military headquarters at Schwarzach. That's where Kamala and her kids are. She's going to Besancon this fall, but there's stuff they want her to do in Schwarzach first. They've been given quarters right in the abbey buildings because she's working on military sanitation first. I can stay with her while I'm doing the research, which will save a lot of money in hotel costs.. ."

"Roberta!" This time Melvin practically shrieked. "You'll be walking right into a war zone."

"But not through a war zone. I can go straight over to Frankfurt and then take a boat down the Main and up the Rhine."

"Roberta! It's fucking dangerous!"

She looked at him, honestly bewildered. "Well, that's sort of the point." She patted his cheek again. "If the war is moving that way, I need to get in and copy the records for our family tree now, before things like tax records get destroyed or someone who remembers important information gets killed or dies. Think how many courthouses got burned during the Civil War up-time. It was horrible-just horrible."

***

"It's not common to have such a long family tree that's all made up of perfectly ordinary people," Roberta said. "There's not a famous person on it. Just farmers and innkeepers and stonemasons and carpenters. People like that. And their wives. I have all the maiden names back to the Georg Huber who is alive now, in this year 1634. Matt's the thirteenth generation. If I can just talk to this Georg Huber-a lot of the records spell his given name as 'Jerg'-then I'm sure I can add his mother's maiden name and he almost certainly knows the names of his grandparents. All four of them. His father was named 'Jerg' too. I've only been able to determine from the microfilmed church records that the older Jerg died some time between 1629 and 1641. If I'm really lucky and that ancestor is still alive, then he should remember the names of his grandparents, too. That would give us fifteen generations to my nephew Matt. At worst, I'll be able to find out Jerg, Sr.'s date of death and enter it on the charts."

Ed Piazza wished that he dared reach up and massage his temples. Roberta Sutter's family tree-to be more precise, Mrs. Sutter's extended disquisition on the topic of her family tree-was giving him a headache. Not only the abstract "problems for the consular service" headache that would result from her intention to go kiting off into Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar's little personal sandbox, but a very real one, here and now, in the front of his brain. This was worse than Count Ludwig Guenther's librarian in full spate on the topic of relationships among the ruling families of the various states and substates of the USE.

"Of course, it's not entirely a male-line pedigree. It was male-line up to my sister Marilyn, but then she married Harry Tisdel, so Matt's a Tisdel. Of course, she'd divorced that bum even before the Ring of Fire and Matt didn't see much of his father. Maybe he'd be willing to change his name to Hooper and carry on the family name." Roberta smiled brightly. "I'll write him in Magdeburg and ask. He's up there training to be a Marine since he graduated from high school this spring. There shouldn't be any legal problems."

Ed pulled his shoulder blades together as inconspicuously as possible, trying to relieve the tension in his neck. Roberta Sutter had been in his office for an hour. Unfortunately, he hadn't primed his secretary to interrupt with an urgent appointment. Maybe the kid liked being a Tisdel. Who knew?

A knock on the door. A wonderful, blessed, knock on the door. It opened. Jamie Lee Swisher's head poked through. "Mr. Piazza, guess what? Mr. Ferrara is here. I just knew that you'd want to see him."

"Yes. Thank you, Jamie. Get him a cup of coffee, will you? I'll finish up here." He prepared for some difficulty in disposing of his current visitor, but Roberta Sutter was already picking up her purse.

Unfortunately, as she went out the door, her parting words were, "I just knew that you would understand how important the project is. I'm meeting Melvin and Henry Dreeson for lunch at Cora's. I'll tell them that you don't have any objections at all."

He did. He could think of a dozen perfectly reasonable objections. He just hadn't been able to get in a word edgewise, which was-unusual for him.

If she had stayed a little longer, he would have told her no. Now, unless he actually chased her down the corridor, she would be out in public announcing that he had given permission to go to Schwarzach before he could do anything about it. That kind of announcement was hard to retract without ending up with egg on your face.

He looked at Mrs. Sutter's departing rear and reminded himself to be careful, because sometimes you get what you wish for. In this case, an interruption. One more premature than timely.

Anyway, why did Mrs. Sutter think that Matt Tisdel needed to carry on the Hooper surname line if the ancestor was alive right now? Presumably carrying the line on himself. Why couldn't anything ever be simple?

At least, Greg was carrying two cups of coffee.

Ed smiled. "Greg," he asked, "do you happen to be interested in genealogy?"

Another hour later, well into the permutations of the Ferrara family tree, which involved the Trapanese family and the second marriage of Greg's mother to one of the Zeppi boys, Ed made a note to himself in regard to an addition to his personal list of "Questions a Sensible Person Never Asks."

Schwarzach on the Rhine, August 1634

Abbot Georgius of the Abbey of Saints Peter and Paul at Schwarzach on the Rhine looked at the papers on his pedestal desk. Then he reached out and felt them again. Maybe for the tenth time since the up-time woman arrived. Perhaps for the twentieth time. Possibly for the hundredth time. So slick, so smooth. He had received descriptions of up-time paper from the librarians of the great Stift at Fulda, but this was the first time he had seen it for himself. Much less touched it.

Schwarzach was a Benedictine abbey, an imperial abbey, but not an important one like Fulda. One small town and a few villages, occupying seven square miles. Seven square miles-not seven miles square. Smaller now than it had been in the middle ages-the tribulations of the past couple of centuries had forced the abbey to sell some of its holdings to the margraves of Baden. A few thousand subjects. A ferry across the Rhine at Greffern-the tolls from that, far more than the modest taxes and dues paid in by the village farmers, kept the abbey going in a moderate sort of way. A very moderate sort of way, as evidenced by the fact that there was not a single nobleman among the monks and had not been for generations. Schwarzach did not have sinecures that would support the younger son of an influential family in the style to which he wished to remain accustomed. The monks of Schwarzach did not have to make any significant effort to fulfill their vows of poverty. They doubled as the parish priests for the villages. Sometimes, in difficult circumstances when no fellow villager would serve, they also doubled as godfathers for the children of the abbey's parishioners.

Or for children who did not belong to the abbey. His mind wandered back, briefly, to the annus terribilis of 1622, when the imperial troops had been quartered on the abbey. Sometimes he wondered what had happened to those soldiers and the women to whom the abbey's monks had married them that winter. What was the fate of the children who had been born in a dozen different camps and finally baptized here, on the banks of the Rhine, sometimes three or four years later?

He picked up a piece of the wondrous, slick, smooth, paper.

"Photocopies" the up-time woman called them. "Photocopies" that she had made by a machine from something called "microfilm."

He turned to the other pedestal desk, the one he had borrowed from Father Gallus' cell. On it lay the church registers for Schwarzach and its villages, meticulously maintained-or as meticulously as possible, given the exigencies of the war-in accord with the prescriptions of the Council of Trent. He picked up one of the pieces of paper, turned a few pages of the register, and compared.

It was true. Exactly and precisely true, just as Father Gallus had said. This woman had brought, from the far future, copies of pages from their own church registers. Black, a bright white, and gray, rather than the gentle cream color of the paper in the church books. On the copy from the future, one could see little tears at the edge of some of the pages, broken corners, an occasional stain that didn't yet exist on the originals. But the abbey's own registers, without a doubt.

Father Gallus' own handwriting, plain and straightforward, just like Father Gallus himself. Gallus was a solid man. Plain spoken. Abbot Georgius' right hand in these difficult times.

Here was a page with Father Bonifacius' delicate script. It always surprised correspondents when they first met Bonifacius in person. He was a big man-bigger even than Gallus-who looked like he would destroy anything in his path, but somehow he walked without making a sound. Of all the monks, he was most successful at keeping the Great Silence. Abbot Georgius always chose him if there was detail work to be done.

The woman, Mrs. Sutter, had expected Father Christophorus to be much older. The style of his handwriting, she said, belonged to the middle of the previous century. But Christophorus, barely thirty, was the youngest of them all. Excited by new things, his writing was where he stepped back, at least in form. Not to mention, of course, that his village schoolmaster had been nearly eighty years old. Perhaps Christophorus simply shaped his letters the way he had learned them as a child.

Father Paulus wrote this page. His script, as usual, was clear, but a little cramped. Paulus was a fussy little man, insistent on getting the details right, sometimes at the expense of the big picture. But he was also the man who, wondering about the Latin baptismal record that listed a child's mother as "Regina" when no one in the village called her that, had gone back, year by year, realized that the priest from Lorraine who thought that he was hearing "Konigin" and translated it into the Latin "Regina" was misunderstanding "Kunigunde," and had given the young mother her proper name back in the registers. Abbot Georgius smiled briefly at the thought of a village woman named "Queenie."

Father Augustinus, large and florid, but without flourishes. An excitable fellow. Sometimes loud and with just the touch of a fanatic about him. Very sure of his beliefs, but kind for all of that. He had spearheaded that 1622 campaign to regularize the military marriages and legitimate the children, completely ignoring demands that he first seek permission from the regimental commanders.

Father Anselmus. His handwriting was difficult, but consistent. The up-time woman had remarked that she had found it hard to decipher originally, but once she had become used to it, had no further problems. Anselmus was also difficult, in a way. He struggles with his faith, the abbot thought. Anselmus wants to believe as a little child, but he can't help questioning.

Father Beda's small, angular, uncomplicated script-as close to a printed page as handwriting would ever come. A cold man, Abbot Georgius thought, though he tries to be a good one.

Father Geroldus. He always had Father Beda enter clean copies of his scribbled notes, kept on random scraps as he went from village to village, into the permanent register. Geroldus was a natural persuader and organizer. The scrawl of his signature indicated that everyone else should be grateful that he had persuaded Father Beda to write out his documents.

Father Gabriel. Abbot George smiled again at the up-time woman's description. What had she said? "Presuming that he believes in purgatory, I hope he spends a couple of centuries there, writing on the blackboard, getting his cursive improved under a stern taskmaster who will also break him of that obnoxious habit of throwing in non-standard abbreviations at random." It was true. Father Gabriel was creative and sometimes half out of control. His thoughts came too fast for him to keep track of. The other up-time woman, Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar's "nurse," called Gabriel, "an absent minded professor type."

Father Antonius, whose writing was even worse than Gabriel's. The up-time woman had said, "I couldn't even decipher his surname. If anyone ever wants to keep a secret, just have this guy write it down; flocks of cryptographers will perish in despair." Georgius had thought briefly that he might be able to get some money from Duke Bernhard by loaning him a short little red-headed monk with a pot belly and a goatee." Then Frau Sutter had destroyed this hope by adding, "Of course, the recipient won't be able to make heads nor tails of it, either. If possible, I would like to be permitted to work with him, and have him read his entries to me out loud."

And Father Gregorius, the paper consumer. One would think his entries had been written by a lady-in-waiting at the court of Ferdinand II, with the wide margins, the wide spacing between the lines, and all the flourishes on the capital letters. Still, the page was legible, and that was what mattered. Gregorius willingly assumed the tedious responsibilities associated with vestment repair, the mending of liturgical books, the cleaning of stained glass, the thousand minute and unending tasks associated with keeping a centuries-old church building intended for a far larger congregation usable and in a condition that honored God. In return, Abbot Georgius did not begrudge him twice as much paper as anyone else used.

And that was the venerable Benedictine abbey of Schwarzach anno domini 1634. An abbot and eleven monks.

Until Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar's Kloster arrived and took up quarters in their cloister.

Whatever else might be said about Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar and his advisors, they were scarcely monks. Georgius was grateful that they spent much of their time out campaigning or at the duke's new capital in the Franche Comte. Although, to give them credit, they appeared to be reasonably chaste. They had not defiled the abbey's walls with loose women.

The duke also insisted that his soldiers attend church services, albeit heretical Lutheran ones. His Protestant chaplains made an effort to keep a rein on the blasphemies falling from the soldiers' mouths, although they did little about other obscenities and profanities. Still, Bernhard's men refrained from taking the name of the Lord in vain. At least when the officers and chaplains were present.

Abbot Georgius picked up the sheet of paper again, sliding his thumb over its slick surface.

He was an old man. He had been in office since 1597. Every year became a little more difficult. He, too, like Father Anselmus, longed for the simple faith of a child. But it seemed as if nothing was ever simple. Duke Bernhard had recently gone south to join the troops he had called into the Breisgau. He would have to notify the duke of the woman's arrival. The duke would undoubtedly want to know that the up-time "nurse" had another up-time woman staying with her. One of Jerg Huber's sons-in-law could take a message down to Lorrach. They were reliable men, and close-mouthed. Simon Jerger, Sibilla Huberin's husband-he would do. Simon could take Susanna Huberin's son, young Regenold with him. The boy was fourteen, and didn't get along very well with his stepfather. He was restless. Eva Reinlin had been complaining about his behavior, just the other day. The errand would do him good.

***

Lawrence Crawford hated this job. He was twenty-three years old and had been a soldier since he was fifteen. From the age of fifteen, he had fought in the armies of Christian IV of Denmark and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. He had fought in the name of young Karl Ludwig, the Elector Palatine, after the death of the Winter King, who was at least properly Calvinist. He had joined Duke Bernhard to fight, even though he, like the Dane and the Swede, was only a Lutheran, which was a poor substitute for the truth of God, if you asked him. Charles I and Laud were very close to being papists, and the Lutherans weren't much better.

Was he fighting? No. Instead, he had been assigned to a monastery to act as translator for the up-time "nurse." The woman's German was very poor. She said in excuse that she had spent the four years since the Ring of Fire mainly either at work in a nursing home, which seemed to be some kind of Spital, or attending her children's school events. In any case, it was still very poor and almost entirely limited to phrases such as, "When did her symptoms start getting worse? And "Is his temperature coming down?"

The woman's English wasn't much better. At least not from the perspective of a man who had been born in Jordanhill in Glasgow. In Scotland. He and Mistress Horton were divided by a common tongue. Not to mention by the fact that she belonged to some kind of sectarian church. Crawford did not hold with toleration of Independents and other religious radicals. Disciples of Christ-that was what she called her body of dissenters.

And now she had brought another up-time woman to Schwarzach. Whom he was to escort to meet the mayor.

Mistress Sutter's German was better, at least.

***

Jerg Huber was nearly sixty-five years old. An old man. Almost as old as Abbot Georgius. He had been mayor of Schwarzach since 1615, and on the town council long before that. The two of them had worked together for half their lives.

It was one thing for a man to have children. He had seven children who had survived. Five had already married and established families of their own. He had nearly two dozen grandchildren already-a blessing from God in these days of war and disease, these latter times of tribulation.

Though he could wish that Hans and young Jerg would get married. Except for Michael's two, all of his grandchildren came through the girls. He had only one grandson named Huber, so far-Michael's four-year-old Jerg.

They were good, steady, sons, though: hard-working and civic-minded, all a reasonable man could ask for. Barring famine and plague, one of them would probably, some day, become mayor of Schwarzach in his stead. Presuming Hans and Jerg got married, that is.

But.

He could not see that it was a divine blessing to have someone suddenly appear in the world who claimed to be his descendant thirteen times removed.

Not all miracles were necessarily blessings. Undoubtedly the fig tree cursed by Our Lord Jesus Christ had come to that conclusion somewhere in the process of being the object of a miraculous action. So he had ignored the letter from this woman, Frau Sutter, when it arrived the previous winter.

Now she was in Schwarzach.

It was hard to avoid a miracle when God wanted you to undergo it. Consider the fate of Jonah. Jerg Huber paused during his morning's work and considered the efforts of Jonah to avoid destiny. The maneuvers of Joseph. The evasions of Elijah.

He had to answer the message from Herr Crawford. He sent his granddaughter up to the abbey to say that he agreed to meet with the up-time woman.

If a miracle wanted you, it would get you.

Although why God thought she really needed to learn his grandfather's name was well beyond his comprehension.

Anyway, it had been Huber. Of course. What had she expected?

***

Father Anselmus came with Frau Sutter, most times. Abbot Georgius thought that his faith could benefit from close contact with a modern miracle.

Officially, Abbot Georgius had assigned him to make copies of all the information that Jerg was remembering about earlier times in Schwarzach and the people who had lived there. He said that he would place it in the monastery's archives, next to the church registers. Perhaps, some day, if he had time, he could turn it into a chronicle.

Jerg Huber took exception to Frau Sutter's assertion that his family tree consisted of "perfectly ordinary people." He was, after all, a citizen of Schwarzach. The mayor of Schwarzach. Not some insignificant day laborer or vagrant.

"Well, I meant…" She sputtered a little. "Not nobles or anything."

Their conversations continued. One day, the topic was Jerg's maternal great-grandfather's sister's stepdaughter. Whom he had never met. That was the day that Father Anselmus mentioned that the abbey had tax and lease records much older than the church books. Mrs. Sutter gave him a blinding smile.

Jerg Huber gave him a blinding smile, too. Even if Father Anselmus didn't, quite, believe in miracles, he had performed one, at least in Jerg's opinion. Since then, the up-timer hadn't pestered him any more, but rather had buried herself in the muniment room at the monastery, assisted by Father Paulus. From first daylight to the last dim remnants of dusk, according to Herr Crawford, the day he left Schwarzach to escort Mistress Horton to Besancon, she made copies of financial documents and put them in her files.

As Jerg Huber lighted a votive candle in the great church at the Abbey of Saints Peter and Paul, he gave thanks that the world still contained small miracles as well as large ones. Miracles such as the diversion of Frau Sutter to the abbey's archives.

Moreover, he had received, through this woman, the knowledge that his fatherly patience would be rewarded. Eventually, Hans and Jerg would marry-marry well, both of them-and father families. There would be only daughters for Hans, but four sons for Jerg.

If things remained the same in this world as they had unfolded in the one from which Grantville came, of course. A man could only hope.

September 1634

"Send her home," Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar said. Firmly. "By the time we wind things up here and das Kloster returns to Schwarzach to start planning next spring's actions, let her be gone. Absent. Removed. No longer present. While I admit that the likelihood that she is an intelligence agent seems to be…" His voice trailed off.

"Diminishingly small, on the basis of everything Crawford told us," Friedrich von Kanoffski contributed.

"Minute," Duke Bernhard admitted. "Minuscule. Nevertheless, we have Mistress Horton on her way to our civil headquarters, where she can do the most good now that she has provided directions for our new medical corps and well away from the location where we will be considering our… upcoming enterprises. Let the other one depart as well."

"You are assigning Colonel Raudegen to guard Frau Dreeson and Signorina Allegretti," Kanoffski suggested. "I will have the boat stop at Schwarzach. He is surely capable of removing Frau Sutter from the abbey and ensuring that she returns to Grantville."

"If anyone is. He can certainly try," Duke Bernhard rubbed his stomach. "But I remember all too well what it was like when I was a boy and my tutors started talking about the genealogy of the Wettins."

Grantville, October 1634

"Do you realize, Melvin?" Roberta asked. "The colonel would not even tell me his actual name. The one with which he was born. He claimed that he had used his military alias since he was old enough to run away from home and it was good enough for him."

"Ummnn," Melvin said.

"But I kept talking to him, and I got a lot of clues. I'm pretty sure I know what village he was born in, now, but I need a good map of Lower Austria. And his mother was called Barbel. I'm pretty sure that with those clues to go on, I could work out his family tree, with enough time and effort."

"Sounds like more trouble than it's worth, to me. Especially since Raudegen doesn't want you to research his family tree. Why don't you just keep working on our kids, now? There's a whole batch of stuff that came in while you were gone, from Kitzingen and places like that. I piled it all in your inbox. It doesn't sound to me that doing research on Raudegen's family would be easy."

"But it would be a challenge, Melvin. A challenge." Roberta waved both her hands. "Nothing worthwhile is ever simple. Nothing."

***

The Ear of the Beholder

Terry Martin

"No way, man, I thought they were Brits!"

"Way, dude. They were Brits. But their first record was in German." Danny grunted to signify that was settled. "Not only that, but it was recorded in Paris."

"France?"

"Is there any other?"

"Well, not any more there isn't." Carson chuckled. Danny nodded in agreement.

Colby shook his head. "Man, that Rishloo character ain't gonna like that much."

"Jeez, Colby, Rishloo was long gone when-" He was interrupted by an explosive sneeze from the drummer. " Gesundheit! Anyway, that guy was long dead before the Beatles came around."

Colby shrugged. "It sounds pretty weird, but if you say so…" He turned to the drummer. "Hey, Carson, you may want to wipe yourself off. You got a massive snoogee running down your shirt from that sneeze." He snorted a laugh as he pointed.

The drummer looked down to see the 'snoogee' oozing down his shirt. His cuff smeared it into the fabric.

"Good enough, dude." Colby snorted again.

"Nice," was all Danny could think to say.

They had all been learning German and so the lyrics were not much of a challenge, but the slow and steady beat was giving Carson fits. "There's no place in this song for me to really show my stuff."

Danny knew 'show my stuff' translated into 'bang on the drums in a mad frenzy.' And that was probably how his parents had agreed to let them practice in their basement-they had already become accustomed to the noise of his showing his stuff. And Colby was having a similar problem playing a steady rhythm.

"Do you guys really want to be musicians or are you so pigheaded you won't play anything but the heavy metal you love? Personally, I don't mind 'down-sizing' the rockness of the tunes so the locals can start to know us better. After that, we could ease them into the heavier stuff. You dig?"

"Yeah, but." Colby gestured helplessly. "C'mon, guys, I mean 'soft rock'? Really! I don't think I could stomach that."

"Know what you mean, dude. Can't stand to even listen to the stuff myself."

Danny threw his hands up in exasperation. Ever since the Ring of Fire had left them stranded in this world of minuets and dirges, the four of them were about the only heavy metal freaks around. Before that they always had friends in Barrackville, the record store in Fairmont, and the occasional concert at WVU in Morgantown.

"Guys, c'mon. What good is being a 'professional' musician if you can't play anywhere? I know Carson would love to strut his stuff and Colby would love to wow the ladies with his licks, especially Carson's sis, Natasha. Which I suspect is the real reason you wanted to join the band."

Colby began a feeble protest, but Danny continued. "The point is, fellas, we're pretty good at what we do and would be no good to anyone in a machine shop, construction crew…"

"Or the army," Colby added.

"Or the army. Except maybe with their band-if they had one. But all we really want to do is play music. And if it's that important to you-and I mean music is all you feel passionate about…"

"Except for maybe my sister." The drummer laughed. Colby glared.

Ben, being the youngest, had let his elders carry the conversation. Now he blurted out his biggest fear. "All the down-timers want to hear is country music, and I know I don't want to play that. Don't even think I can. Just as soon not play music at all if that's all there is."

Danny relaxed a bit and laughed. "Well, I can't say I don't agree with that sentiment. It's at least got to be rock for me, even if we have to play the 'oldies.' Otherwise we'd just be another polka band."

"Yeah." Colby laughed. "And I never learned the accordion."

They all shared in a laugh then, and Danny felt the tension ease. "So, I figure if we can slow the beat down a bit-c'mon, Carson, you can do it!-and let up a bit on the rhythm, I think we can get the audience to like us."

Ben sighed. "Better than last time, I hope." Even Danny winced at the memory. "I thought no one was ever gonna talk to me again."

"Yeah," Carson added, "we didn't make many friends that night."

The silence that descended over the group left each in their own embarrassment. They had fast-talked a gig at the Gardens one night when some group from Jena did not show up. It did not take them long to get their equipment there and set up-each was high on adrenaline and ready to shine.

The first song was "Sugar" by System of a Down. They had changed some of the lyrics to make it presentable to younger people. At the end of the song a waiter had approached and whispered to tone it down, as people were trying to eat.

What? They could not eat with the music playing? So they toned down their second song. Something mellower: Anthrax's "God Save the Queen." Someone pulled the plug before they got thirty seconds into the song. Literally pulled the plug on their equipment.

That was the extent of their professional performances. They never even got to what they considered their 'signature piece,' "Caught Somewhere in Time" by Iron Maiden.

"That song would've really rocked," commented Ben.

"What song are you talking about?" Colby was still depressed remembering that night.

"'Caught Somewhere in Time.' It was, like, so perfect for what's happened to us."

"Know what you mean, man." Danny tried to shake off the mood. "But we gotta pick a new signature song and try it again. We can't give up."

"Okay." Carson twirled his drumsticks. "What say we give this Beatles' song a try?"

***

It took every bit of charm Danny had to just get his foot back in the door at the Thuringen Gardens. Their prior engagement was still the stuff of legends and he had to convince them that an audition would be worth their time.

"Okay, fellows. We got one shot to do this." Danny spoke quietly to the band after they had finished setting up the equipment. "Are we ready to wow them?"

Colby nodded. "My ax is tuned and ready to rock-rock quietly, that is."

Carson and Ben nodded their agreement. Danny turned to the crowd of three: the manager and two of the wait staff. "We'd like to start out with an old favorite."

Carson was able to get the simple beat going. Soft, slow, and steady. Danny took the mike and sang, in German.

After three songs, the manager signaled them to stop and tipped back his chair. "Well, boys, I must say. I'm quite impressed with the change in your sound. Do you have enough material to play a couple of sets for an evening?" He leaned forward to set the chair aright. "I mean without resorting to the kind of stuff you played the first time?"

"Yes, sir." Danny replaced the mike in its stand. "We have enough similar material ready to do three or four sets, if you like. Soft rock, middle-of-the-road…" He chuckled. "Stuff that will not destroy anyone's digestion or drown out their conversations."

"Very good. I think I can get you in for one night next week-how's Wednesday sound?" He came over and extended a hand. "And we'll see how it goes from there."

Danny shook the hand. "Fantastic! I know you won't be disappointed."

The others also shook the hand and murmured their thanks. Then quietly got to the task of putting everything away.

Walking home with their heavy load on a couple of dollies, they said little. Danny wondered if it was some sense of having sold themselves out or simple elation at a chance to redeem themselves.

Colby voiced his concerns. "Man, after all these weeks of practice, I sure hope they like us."

Carson smirked. "I am sure Natasha already approves."

***

Now that it was over, it was all well worth it-all the hard work and practice, practice, practice. Their performance pleased everyone as much as the tryout.

The early Beatles went down well. The up-timers knew the song well enough, even if the lyrics were in German, which pleased the down-timers.

Most the stuff was old Beatles' tunes and the like. Even one Garth Brooks piece that was more rock than country. Still, the high point of the evening was when they played the John Denver classic "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Most the up-timers sang along and quite a few of the down-timers as well.

And they were all smiling when they got to tearing down their equipment.

Carson nudged Colby in the ribs. "I noticed Natasha was pleased with the performance-especially yours."

"Maybe so." Ben laughed. "But he was spending most of his time flirting with Cheyenne Bledsoe."

"Oh? So, what, Colby? You already dumping my sister?"

"Hey, there's nothing wrong with your sister, man. I mean she's nice and all." He shook his head. "But Cheyenne is hot!"

"See fellas? It's like I told you. Being a professional musician will get you noticed. If we had stuck to the metal, no one would be talking with us." Danny paused a moment. "I think the Denver and Brooks songs got the best audience response. Maybe we could add a few more of those. Y'know… country and folk?"

Carson shrugged. "Okay by me. At least we're playing."

"Me too. And you know? I was thinking about that beer barrel polka song. I remember it from a movie or something."

Ben stopped and stared at Colby. "Are you kidding? A polka?"

"Well, I mean it could be kinda fun playing one of them."

Danny nodded. "We could check into it."

Three of the members nodded together and continued rolling up cords.

Ben hung his head in disbelief and moaned.

***

Out of a Job?

Iver P. Cooper

I am no ordinary assassin. As one of the foreign agents of the Most Serene Republic, it is my task to bring our wayward glassmakers back into the fold. I prefer the carrot to the stick, and the stick to the dagger.

But if need demands it, I am an assassin. In Normandy, I left one recalcitrant glassmaker with a dagger in his heart. And, lest his colleagues think it a chance street killing, I attached a note to the hilt. It bore but one word: "Traditore." As the French say, " pour l'encouragement d'autres." Or perhaps that should be, " decouragement

"?

How I despise these ingrates. The security of the Venetian Republic rests on its economic power, and that, in turn, on its mastery of certain arts, glassmaking being primus inter pares. Yet they dare to pass on our precious secrets, knowing full well what damage it will do to their homeland. And are not the glassworkers the most pampered of craftsmen? Why, regardless of their birth, the masters are permitted to marry the daughters of the nobility.

My bird, Tomasso, had flown the coop again. We had tracked him to London, and a member of the Ambassador's staff had been sent to offer Tomasso a nice sum of money to return home. He had laughed, assuring our envoy that his noble British patron would pay him more, and that if he had to be confined to an island, he would rather it be England, not Murano. Despite the difference in climate.

The domestic branch of my department had been watching his family, of course, hoping that he might come home for a conjugal visit, and arrested his wife as she tried to slip out of the country to join him. She was imprisoned, and persuaded to write letters begging him to return. We passed those letters on to Tomasso.

They seemed to have some effect on him and he promised that he would come home as soon as he finished a particular job for his nobleman. One, he assured us, that didn't implicate any Venetian secret. Then it was until an outbreak of the plague subsided. Then he had to wait for the roads to clear.

I decided I had heard enough excuses, and set up the arrangements to abduct him. Such are tricky, since you must find the renegade alone, if at all possible, and get him out of the country before he is missed. He must have noticed something, because next thing I knew, he was gone.

I rode the post to Dover-which ate quite a chunk in my expense account, being eighty miles at two and half pence to the mile-but by the time I got to the docks, he was off and away.

Nor did I find him in Calais.

The first new rumor I heard of him was in Paris. I hoped he would settle down there long enough for me to set up a retrieval, but he didn't oblige me. Couldn't find a good enough deal, I suppose.

My pursuit was a blur of long roads and bad food, crisscrossing France, the Netherlands, and Germany. I caught up with him at last in Lauscha, in Thuringia. There, he had settled down to a life of making titanic gilded waldglas beer goblets for the feasts of barely literate princelings. What a comedown!

The town was small enough for strangers to be noticed, so I spread some coins about and waited for him to head out. I knew he would do so, eventually; he was in town only to sell his wares and buy supplies. The walglashutten, where the glass is actually made, have to be located near a source of wood for the fires, and as soon as they exhaust the local supply, they are moved.

We took him like a coney in a trap. Within a trice, he was disarmed, bound and gagged. At first he thought we were common bandits. Well, that was probably the usual occupation of my hirelings, but he realized quickly enough what I was.

He made gagging sounds.

I cuffed him. "You wish to scream for help? So sorry, I cannot oblige you."

He shook his head vigorously.

"You wish to tell me something?"

He nodded.

"Very well. I will let you speak. In a whisper." I put my knife against his throat, and one of my henchman removed the gag, then stepped back. "Remember. Whisper."

"This is an exercise in futility. There is nothing I know that is of any real value to Venice. Not anymore."

"Do you not know the secret ingredients and proportions of crystallo? Have you not the craft of blowing bubbles of glass, and spinning them out to form a perfect circular pane? Or of swinging it into a sausage, and slitting and unrolling it to make a broadsheet? Are you not also one of the specchiai, who know how to make a glass mirror without cracking it with heat?"

"All of that, and more, but I say again, it doesn't matter. Look at the manuscripts in my bags."

"Bide a moment in silence, then," I said, and replaced the gag. I searched his belongings.

What I found there was… disturbing. The worst offender was a manuscript, written in English, and entitled "1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica-Glass." It contained both formulae and descriptions of manufacturing techniques. What shocked me the most was its nonchalant statement that the methods could be used to produce single sheets measuring more than twenty-seven feet by thirteen feet. How did the English make such an advance, and how could our ambassador have been so derelict as to fail to report it?

"Where did this come from?"

"From Grantville."

I had heard of Grantville, of course, who hadn't, but up to this point it had had no obvious connection with my work. I was more concerned with the mundane disappearance of glassworkers than the magical appearance of alleged towns of the future.

"So… you have stolen their guild secrets? You offer me their secret craft manual in return for your freedom, and that of your wife's?"

He laughed, but not pleasantly. "I am tempted to say yes, but you would probably think better of the bargain too soon for my wife to be released. That is no secret manual, you can buy it in any bookshop in town. As you can many other articles of the infernal 1911 Encyclopedia ."

"Perhaps it's a scam," I said. "Whoever heard of single sheets the size of a house?"

"Tell you what," said Tomasso. "I will wait with your men. You go into the town of Grantville, and look at their windows for yourself. Then decide if my secret knowledge is so important, anymore, that you must immure me and my wife on the island of Murano for the rest of our lives."

After some thought, I consented to this arrangement. I moved Tomasso off the road to a cave my henchmen knew of. Their knowledge of potential bandit campsites didn't surprise me in the least.

I visited the town of Grantville. Many times since then I have wished that I hadn't, for there I saw that the great days of the Most Serene Republic were past.

"Well?" Tomasso asked, when I returned to our little cave away from home.

"You were right," I admitted. "Even little stores had windows, so clear that a bird could fly into one by mistake; larger than that found in any palace in the world. And mirrors, likewise of fantastic size, and with images so clear that you thought that the legends of doppelgangers must be true."

"Just to be fair, those windows were made by a technique which isn't in that 1911 encyclopedia. Let glass spread on molten tin, under a special kind of air. But before you think that a trade secret, it's in another encyclopedia, and you can buy copies of articles from that one, too."

I didn't know what to say, at first. At last, I sighed. "Very well. For my masters to save face, I will have to offer them something in return for your family's freedom. Give me the 1911 manuscript, and write out a description of that molten tin business. For that, I will endeavor to obtain the release of your wife, and the cancellation of the order against you."

"I suppose I will have to be content with that," said Tomasso.

I ordered my hirelings to release him. They hesitated for a moment, until I assured them that they would be paid just as if we proceeded with our original arrangement.

As Tomasso clambered back onto his mule, he delivered one parting shot.

"So, Mister Secret Agent, I am no longer a master of the glassmaking art. No Venetian is, anymore. I eke out a living now in this little forest village, but it's only a matter of time before the Grantville methods come here. And what happens to me when that happens?

"And I imagine there isn't going to be much of a market anymore for secret agents to retrieve Venetian glassmakers, since they don't know this new technology.

"In short, we're both out of a job."

***

The Truth According to Buddha

Terry Howard

"Hey, Jimmy Dick." Bubba sidled up to the bar and waited for Jimmy to order him a beer. It was Thursday and Bubba was broke. "You hear about the horrible way the school treated preacher Wiley's kid?"

"No. What happened?"

"He was up there giving his Indian arrow presentation and they flat kicked him out in street 'cause he said he believed in science."

"Bubba?" Jimmy said, waving two fingers at the bartender, "You'll believe anything, won't you?"

"Whata' ya mean, Jimmy?"

"You heard Will's side of the tale and swallowed it whole. You didn't bother to find out the other side or to even think that there might be one. I bet ya' this is just another huha Wiley's brat is stirring up."

"Well hell, Jimmy. How am I supposed to know what the truth is?"

"Bubba, let me tell you story. I had a dream I had last night. In my dream I heard a voice-

"'Docket number 659,656 being an alleged violation of the protocol compact limiting direct intervention in the affairs of the worlds of men by gods.'

"'Now comes Tyr speaking for the complainant Odin and all others, before the supreme council of all the gods.'"

"Hey, Jimmy? I know who Odin is. He's Thor's sidekick in Super Hero's, but who's Tire?"

"Other way around, Bubba. Thor is Odin's sidekick. Tyr is a god just like Thor, another sidekick of Odin's. Thor was famous for his hammer, Tyr was famous for always telling the truth. He got his hand bitten off by a wolf while he was saving the world."

"You sure about that, Jimmy?"

"Yeah, I'm sure about that. Now can I tell the story?"

"Sure, Jimmy."

"'Well,' Tyr said, 'Most gracious judge, for nearly two thousand years, ever since the Roman Christians brought the Semitic god, Jehovah-'"

"Roman Christians? You mean Catholics, Jimmy?"

Jimmy sighed. "Yeah, Bubba. I mean Catholics. Now can I tell the story?"

"Oh, sure, Jimmy. Sorry."

"'Ever since the Roman Christians brought the Semitic god Jehovah into the lands of the Germans-'"

"Semitic? You mean like in anti-Jewish?"

"Bubba, have I ever told you you're dumber than a box of rocks?" a frustrated Jimmy Dick asked.

"Yeah. But does that mean Semitic means anti-Jewish or not?"

" Huuuuuh. Semitic mostly means Jewish. It doesn't mean anti-Jewish unless you say anti-Semitic. You got that?"

"Sure, Jimmy. I was just wondering."

"Now can I tell you this story or not?"

"I'm listening."

"'Ever since the Roman Christians brought the Semitic god, Jehovah, into the lands of the Germans, we have bided our time without having farther disturbed this council once you ruled that the saints were not gods nor were they avatars and therefore what they did in the world could not be considered a violation of the compact of non-interference. We have watched their direct intervention in the world of men, an absolute violation of the compact if it were done by a god, and-save for the complaint that the saints were being prayed to as gods and not just petitioned as venerable ancestors, a claim supported by the accusation of the reformed Christian priests against the Roman Christians-we have said nothing.'"

Ken put two cold bottles down in front of them. Jimmy grabbed them both.

"Hey, I thought you were gonna buy me a beer," Bubba said.

"I thought you were going to listen to a story?"

Bubba started to say something and stopped. He got the message. Jimmy slid the bottle over to his captive audience and continued the tale.

"'We have wept at the abuses fostered on our peoples at the hands of their priests. And though we have often contemplated doing so, we have not bothered this council with that compliant. Nay, we have said nothing.'

"'We have watched in silence while they have destroyed our holy places on every high hill, their believers being stronger than ours, because they had the aid and succor of the saints. And we have said nothing.'

"'We have said nothing while the mother of their god has appeared to every shepherd girl in Europe making and fulfilling promises that are a direct violation of the compact. But we have said nothing, for even the mother of their god is protected as a saint.'"

Bubba started to ask a question. Jimmy looked at the beer and Bubba shut up.

"'We have watched their priests steal our customs and our holidays. We have watched as they changed the names of the high, holy days, perverted the meanings of the observances and the symbols and not given credit where it was due for their origin even though they have nothing to do with the history or customs of the Semitic faith. And we have said nothing.'

"'We have waited in peace for their influence to fade so we could reclaim our territorial rights.'

"'But this is too much. The Semite has moved a village from half the world away and from four hundred years out of time into the middle of Germany. Even if it were the work of a saint, which it is not, any saint that can do that surely must be considered a god and must be under the ban of non-interference.'

"'We submit that this council is obliged to require the Semite to return the town to its proper place and time. We farther feel that it is only fitting, in light of this clear and flagrant violation of the compact, that the Semite's saints be barred from the farther usurpation of the duties of gods and that for a period of at least three hundred years we, the true gods of the Germanies, be allowed to commune directly with our few remaining believers and aid them directly in overcoming this gross invasion. I thank the most gracious judge for hearing our petition.'

"'Now comes the saint Elijah speaking for the defendant Jehovah in each of his three forms.'"

Finally it was more than Bubba could take. He had a question he just could not hold in. "You mean Elijah, like in the bible? I thought you were talking about a made-up Jewish god. I didn't know you meant God. This ain't funny, Jimmy."

"Bubba, do you want to drink my beer or not?"

Bubba shut up by sticking the rim of the bottle to his lips and lifting the bottom high.

"'Well,' Elijah said, 'Most gracious judge, once again we are forced to answer the whining snivels of Oden from his grave in Valhalla. My god has abided by the compact that he asked for in the days of the Babylonian exile when his, his and her chosen people asked that he end the oracles of other gods. To do so he, has given up the giving of prophecies and direct appearances and assistance, even to the bother of his becoming a man to teach as a man and to die as a man. It was a wise choice that has stopped much destructive warfare between the gods.'

"'I have checked with my god, and neither he, nor he, nor she had anything in the least to do with the anachronistic appearance of Grantville in the 1600s. It is a clear violation of the compact. We agree. Something should be done. But it was not done by my god.'"

"Tyr, waving the empty stump where his hand was bitten off, called out from the bar, 'Your high priest in Rome and your high priest in Moscow say your god has done this thing!'

"'My good god Tyr,' Elijah responded, 'surely you of all beings know, priests lie!'

"'If your god did not do this then who did?' Tyr demanded.

"'Our best guess is that it was an act of Science.'

"'Shit!' screamed Tyr, 'Science again? Gracious judge, something must be done!'

"Buddha, whose turn it was this eon to sit in the seat of the judge and be chair-deity of the council spoke. 'i AM AFRAID, TYR, THAT science IS NOT SIGNATORY TO THE COMPACT AND DOES NOT RECOGNIZE THE AUTHORITY OF THIS COUNCIL.'"

Bubba had the bottom of his beer bottle between his face and the ceiling until it was dry. He set the empty down on the bar. "What's all that supposed to mean, Jimmy?"

Jimmy sighed. "I think it means we need another couple of beers down here."

***

Sailing Upwind

Kevin and Karen Evans

Late September 1633

"Sally, did Mr. Pridmore say where he was going?" Reva leaned toward the young receptionist, to keep the conversation a little more private. Reva worried about Marlon. He hadn't been eating or sleeping well for the last week. Just like he had last September, he'd gotten moody and irritated. And today, instead of finishing work, he just stood up and walked out of his office.

"No, Miz Pridmore. When he didn't see you, he told me to tell you he was feeling poorly, and then got his coat and left."

"Yeah. I guess he's got the flu, just like last year." Reva went back to her station behind the teller window. No use going after him. I might as well finish work.

***

"You sitting here moping again?" Reva came into the living room to hang her coat in the closet. While lights were on in other parts of the house, he was sitting alone in the dark. "I swear, you're gonna wear me out with your sour moods this time of year."

Marlon grumbled, "Tomorrow is October first. This weekend would be the beginning of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. And I let Hilde down again."

"I know. I heard it all last year. Same old story. You were gonna help him get the money for an airship, and then you weren't there to hand it over. Nothing new. I thought you were over this."

She waited for him to respond, and when he didn't she continued. "I've worked at that bank with you for more than twenty years, and put up with your moods here at home. But you don't have an excuse to sit here and feel sorry for yourself. You don't need to be in here moping like this, Marlon Pridmore. Life goes on."

He glared at her. It was an old argument. "Reva, you just don't understand. I gave them my word and I failed. I've been adjusting, but when it starts to get to fall weather like this rain, it makes me long for the things we used to do. You enjoyed that balloon fiesta as much as I did, and you know it."

"Now, don't pull me into this mess, old man. Yes, I liked going to Albuquerque just fine. But that was then, this is now. We can't go back, and that's that."

He stood up and started walking toward the kitchen. "I'm going out to the barn. Don't wait up." He walked out the back door, hands shoved into his pockets.

***

Marlon sat out in the dark barn, drinking kirshwasser in memory of Hilde, mourning the loss of his friend once again. Marlon and Reva had both grown up in Grantville and most of their family still lived in the area. They had never had children, so there were no grandchildren left up-time. Now all that Marlon missed from West Virginia, besides getting a new computer once in a while, was Hilde and balloons.

Hilde and Marlon had planned to get some investors, including a loan from Marlon's bank, and buy the envelope and basket for a thermal airship. This wasn't just any balloon; it was a hot air blimp that could be steered against the wind. It was going to be their entry in the Gatineau Challenge, a thermal airship race with the prize of half a million dollars.

Reva found him in the barn later that night. She stepped under the single bare light bulb and put her hands on her hips. "Okay, I've had it!"

"You just don't understand! I gave my word I'd be there, and there's no way I can get there now."

"Listen here, Marlon Pridmore. You need to stop this pity party of yours, and go build yourself a balloon. You can do it. There ain't anyone here down-time that knows more about it than you do. But it ain't gonna happen with you out here drinking brandy, and feeling sorry… "

Marlon interrupted. "What did you say?"

"I said you need to stop this pity party…"

"No. The part about the balloon."

Reva stopped glaring, and laughed. "Swordfish, you're an idiot. What you miss isn't that silly airship project you set up in Leipzig. You miss spending time with balloonists. You miss flying. I just think that if you want a balloon so bad, there isn't anyone around here that knows more about building one than you, now is there?"

Marlon thought for a moment. He'd never considered building his own airship. Up-time, it was much easier and safer to have a professional company sew the envelope out of high tech materials, and just gather the money together to buy it. He took another sip of the brandy, then looked at his glass. He couldn't seem to remember why he was sitting out in this damp barn drinking in the first place.

Reva shook her head, then hurried back into the house. He sat for a moment more, then stood and ambled over to an old dresser at the back of the barn. He had always used it for plans and notes and such. Maybe there was still some of that graph paper in one of the drawers.

***

"Herr Pridmore, have you been out here all night?"

"Hmm? Is that you Bernard? What time is it?"

"It is just before dawn, time for me to milk the cows. Can't you hear them calling me?"

"Oh, yes, so I can. Well, don't let me stop you." Marlon was busily drawing diagrams, figuring volume, referring to old ballooning magazines that had been stashed in the bottom drawer of his dresser.

Bernard Brenner, with his wife Agnes and his fifteen year old daughter, Helga, had come to town as refugees in 1631. Bernard had been a distiller of cherry wine before the war destroyed his village. Now the Brenner family was woven in as part of the Pridmore family. By now, Bernard was accustomed to Marlon's eccentricities, like becoming obsessed with an idea, and forgetting to eat or sleep.

Marlon looked up from the paper. "Bernard, what do you know about cloth? I think I have a new project that you can help me with."

***

It was late in the day when Marlon and Bernard came back from the barn. Agnes had peeked at them several times that day, and even taken lunch out when they didn't show any sign of stopping to eat.

"Reva, I think we can do it. Sure, Bernard and I have to do some more research, and it's anyone's guess what it's going to cost, but I think we can get the cloth we need and somehow make it hold hot air.

"Well, I kind of thought there would be a way. I'm sure that you can find someone either here in town or up in Magdeburg that can give you price estimates and such."

"That's what I'm thinking, hon. Look at these here figures, and tell me, do you think we can afford to do this? You know what we have, and what we need to keep going. What do you think?"

Reva sat down at the kitchen table and spread out the papers that Marlon handed her. Together they looked over the figures and diagrams. "Well, Marlon. I guess it depends on what you're willing to give up. You're probably going to have to sell some things. And it isn't going to happen all at once. We're going to have to take some time to raise some money. But I can see us doing this over the next couple of years. That is, if you're willing to give up some of your other toys and projects."

Marlon grinned like a ten-year-old boy who had caught his first fish. He pulled Reva to her feet and swept her into a big hug. "Sweetpea, we can sell whatever you say to get this done."

April, 1635

It took almost two years, but finally it was coming together. The gondola, woven from wicker, was complete, and the last shipment of Indian muslin had been delivered. So this morning, Marlon and Bernard were busily working on their toy. Marlon was in the yard stirring a huge vat of brown smelly stuff.

"What is in that stuff?" asked Bernard.

"This, Bernard, is a modern miracle. It is a conglomeration of lacquer, gum Arabic, turpentine, and resin. It's gonna keep the hot air where it belongs."

"So you say, Herr Pridmore. But how do we get it on the envelope?"

"I'm glad you asked that, Bernard. We're going to soak each and every piece of cloth in this stuff and let it dry. Local weather wizards say we have about a week of clear weather, so we've got to jump on this."

"Oh, I see. Hmm. I think I've something to do in town…"

"No, you don't. You're my helper, and this is what you're helping with. Reva already bailed out on me, said she'd rather boil soap. Can you imagine that?"

Bernard looked as though he, too, would rather stir stinking soap over a hot fire than drag fifty foot lengths of cloth through the vat and lay them out to dry. But there was no escape.

"Don't worry. I got more help coming. You remember them boy scouts over at the Methodist church? One of the boys won't let me alone with questions about hot air balloons. The Council has agreed to allow him to work on a hot air balloon merit badge, and named me as the local expert. He and about ten of his friends are headed over to learn how to build a balloon. With all those hands, and youthful enthusiasm, we should be able to get through this today."

The boy scouts arrived in good time, and all set to work with a will. The weather was fine and warm, and while it was uncomfortable standing by the fire, the breeze helped. By the end of the day, the muslin was coated, and drying on every bush and clothes line in sight. Marlon, Bernard, and eleven boy scouts were coated with gummy brown stuff from head to toe.

September, 1635

Ulrich Schwarz frequently felt like he wasn't a good choice for leadership of a scout troop. He had never been a boy scout, and wasn't always comfortable with all the customs of the troop. The boys knew much more about the requirements and the confusing paperwork for these merit badges. He had been methodically working through his first-class qualification, sharing one of the books they had for the group of new scouts.

He liked the idea of Boy Scouts. It really was a good idea to have training for young boys, and the uniforms and mottos were certainly uplifting. But he still didn't feel comfortable as the authority.

"Herr Schwarz, have you ever read Tom Sawyer?" The question brought Ulrich back to reality.

"No, I do not read English so good, yet. Do you like it?"

Fritz Metzger and J. D. Cunningham were bent over a book, trying to read it together. "Yeah. I think it's great," said J.D. He was an up-timer, and seemed inseparable from his friend Fritz. "See, there is this boy named Tom, and he's got a friend called Huck. And they go on adventures, and get into a lot of trouble."

Ulrich wasn't sure how advisable it was to give these boys a book about more trouble. They were well capable of finding their own.

"Boys, it is time to put the book aside. We must start our troop meeting." Ulrich watched as almost twenty boys ranging from ages eleven to fifteen settled into chairs. The meeting was held in a classroom at the Methodist church, and it was the first time that Ulrich had to run the meeting. Between the colds and flu that were going around, he was the only adult available today.

After the opening flag ceremony, and recitation of the motto, Ulrich nodded to Levi Carstairs, the oldest boy. Levi stood and walked to the front, carrying a small pocket notebook.

"Before we get to today's activities, I want to remind you about the Orienteering Hike we've got this weekend. We have permission to set up the course in the hunting preserve of the dukes of Saxe-Weimar on the northeast of town. It's only a couple of miles away. How many of you need this for first class qualifications?"

Only the two youngest raised their hands. Levi nodded, and then looked at Ulrich. "Herr Schwarz is going with the Tenderfoots, so you two make sure you take good care of him. Mrs. Moss wouldn't take it too well if you let her handy-man get lost."

"No, and neither would my platoon sergeant." Ulrich had been sworn into the army when he turned eighteen and was very proud of his rank of Private First Class. If only it was as easy to get a promotion in the scouts.

Levi looked sternly at the boys. "Now for the rest of you. We will meet here at the church on Saturday morning. Remember to be on time!"

***

Everything for the balloon was ready. Reva and Agnes had worked hard to get the enormous envelope sewn together. It was a good thing that Reva owned one very good sewing machine, and the other older one she had kept after upgrading.

Bernard and Marlon were in the barn, gathering bits and pieces. Marlon grinned and asked his friend, "Where is Helga today? She was up so early."

"She went with some of the girls from school. I don't know exactly what their plans are, but they have chaperones along. Agnes is with her. That soldier, Ulrich Schwarz, has been showing a little too much interest in her lately, and Agnes decided to put a stop to 'accidental meetings.'"

Marlon straightened from where he was laying out all his brand new instrumentation. "I think I've met that young man. He stays over there with Geneva Moss, doesn't he? I heard he was helping supervise a boy scout troop. Those boys get a mite rambunctious now and again. Ulrich seems to have a steady hand with them, without losing his temper. Good practice for him, I'd say."

"Ah, Marlon. You just don't understand. You don't have a daughter who is approaching womanhood. When I see all the young men in town follow her with their eyes, I just want to knock their heads together."

Marlon smiled, and crouched to the ground. Along with the instruments he had built for the airship, he laid out the hand-held radio that he and Reva had used on chase crews over the years. And Reva insisted that he add in the first-aid kit he had carried in his car for a couple of years.

"Herr Pridmore, those instruments are amazing. Do you think they will work?"

Marlon smiled, and nodded. "Yes, I think they will. I've done all the tests on them that I can think of. Now we just need the field test.

***

Saturday morning arrived with clearing skies, which calmed one of Ulrich's fears. He had done maneuvers with the army in the rain, but he really didn't relish the thought of dealing with the boys in that weather.

Levi whistled for quiet, and stood on a stump that was there just for that purpose. "Okay, everybody. This hike today is for Orienteering. I want everyone to remember that as scouts, we leave a site better than we found it. We don't disturb the trees or animals, and only pick up deadwood if we need it. We want the duke to be glad he let us use his preserve again. And make sure that everyone stays with their group. Safety first, you know.

"Now, who has a compass?" Five of them held up their hands. Ulrich did also. "Right. There are seventeen of us here this morning. Let's break up into three- or four-man groups, and share the compasses. And we have a small prize for the first team that finishes the course and returns with the flag. Here are your instructions."

The boys sorted themselves into groups, and Ulrich found himself with Fritz and J.D. Fritz said, "Herr Scoutmeister, I have your compass, and a canteen. J.D. can carry lunch for us, and we will let you be in charge of the instructions. Is that okay?"

" Ja. That is good. We can trade later, so J.D. learns to use the compass also."

Levi held up his whistle and shouted to be heard over the tumult. "Everybody ready? On your marks! Get set! Go!" He blew a mighty blast on the whistle.

Like racehorses responding to the trumpet, the boys took off at a run. It had begun.

***

Marlon and Bernard spread the envelope out flat on the grass. Flattened, the envelope was more than one hundred fifty feet long, and sixty feet wide, and weighed four hundred fifty pounds. This airship was a monster! It had a gondola that would seat three and mounted two forty-horsepower ducted fan engines (robbed from two defunct dirt bikes). The frame had an inverted "V" tail. Lift was provided from a set of internal burners that blew hot air inside the sealed envelope. The gondola was hung from curtain catenaries.

"Bernard, the difference between this beast and a regular hot air balloon is the engines. If we didn't have them and the vector fans, we would be subject to the whim of the wind."

Bernard nodded as he listened to Marlon, but truly it didn't make much sense to him. He hadn't seen a "regular hot air balloon" to compare to this one. It would just have to wait until they got it up in the air.

***

Ulrich shook his head as he tried to make sense of the directions. They had been walking for two hours, and had not found point M, which was the second to last mark on the map before the flag. It had not been as long between any of the other locations, and he was sure that they were lost. It also didn't help that none of them had been here for other scout activities.

"J. D., hand me the map again." Ulrich had already examined it not five minutes before, and this time didn't change anything. They were still lost. He didn't recognize any of the landmarks.

Fritz held up the compass once again. "I think we have come too far north and not far enough east. What should we do?"

"Well, a scout should always be prepared. What did you bring for emergencies?"

"I brought a blanket in my pack, in case it rained again," J.D. said.

Fritz's eyes lit up. "I have some extra crackers and cheese."

"Good. You're both learning to be prepared. If we do not find our way home tonight, someone will come and find us. And I think we have enough to be okay tonight." Ulrich could tell that the boys tried hard to keep fear from their faces. It would not do to act like babies.

Ulrich looked around, and pointed to a hill southwest of them that seemed taller than the others around. "We will go to that hill, climb to the top, and see if we can spot something familiar from there. I think the sun has only two more hours before it sets, and we may have to be out here after dark."

***

Getting everything laid out, strapped on the gondola, and prepared for inflation took the men most of the daylight, with a short break for sandwiches and beer.

"Well, look at you two, smug as a cat with a mouse between his paws," said Reva.

"Darlin', I think this thing is really gonna run. You shoulda seen the fire-up on the burners before we set them in the envelope. Bernard just about burned off his left eyebrow." Marlon elbowed the tall, thin German in the ribs, and laughed.

Bernard grinned sheepishly. "One would think that I would remember to keep mein head away from it."

"I think you were mistrusting me about whether or not this thing would really burn."

Bernard frowned. "I've never seen something like this. How was I to know?"

Agnes hurried over to examine Bernard. Marlon stretched, and looked at the horizon west of his place. The sun had already passed behind them, and the sky was darkening. He shook his head. "I think it's too late to try this today. Don't want to be fiddling in the dark."

Reva put her hand on her hip, and got that same old belligerent look. "Course not. Just get your tarps and whatnot, and cover it up till morning, and we can go in and have a nice supper."

She walked back into the house, shaking her head, and muttering to herself. Reva didn't always need others around to have a conversation, especially when she was irritated with Marlon.

Her husband grinned at her back, then turned to Helga. "So, girl, you gonna be around in the morning to help with liftoff?"

Helga's eyes glowed. "Yes, I think I will. But it doesn't look like it will fly. It looks like an auto with a very large cloth cover."

"Oh, it'll fly, all right. You just be here at five a.m. and see for yourself."

***

Ulrich and the boys neared the top of the ridge. There weren't too many trees, and bare rock jutted from the side of the trail they followed. At the crest, both boys sat on a large boulder to catch their breath. The walk uphill had been a little longer than Ulrich thought it would be.

He looked out over the landscape, and didn't see one thing that he could identify on the map. They were well and truly lost.

"All right. I cannot see a way to go, and it is almost dark. Right here by this rock will be a good place to shelter. J.D., you start gathering some wood. And remember to only pick up dead branches. We don't want to disturb this forest any more than we already have."

***

Ulrich and the two boys huddled together under J.D.'s blanket. They were burrowed into dead leaves between the roots of an oak tree.

It had gotten cold. Ulrich slipped out of the blanket to put more wood on the little fire, and then stepped out from under the branches of the tree. The night was very dark. No starlight, or even the moon, was visible through the clouds. At least it wasn't raining.

He turned at a small rustling sound behind him. "Who is there?" he whispered.

"It's me, Fritz. I've to go."

"Okay. Over there by that hazel bush. Be careful in the dark."

As Fritz scampered off toward the area they had decided was their privy, Ulrich sat back down by the fire. The crackers and cheese they had eaten at dusk now seemed ages away. He was saving Frau Moss' oatmeal cookies for breakfast. Now he wished he had thought to carry more food. They had enough water, but not much else.

"Fritz, where are you? You have been gone so long. Are you all right?"

There was no answer. Ulrich checked the fire, and on J.D., snoring away in the pile of old leaves. Both could be alone for a few minutes. He stood for a moment outside the circle of firelight to let his eyes adjust, and then walked toward the bush.

"Fritz?" Ulrich listened for a moment, and then heard leaves rustling and the soft crack of a twig. It was coming off to his left. "Fritz, are you there? Fritz?"

Still he could hear nothing except rustling leaves. And he couldn't tell if it was Fritz, or a slight wind in the treetops.

Then a terrified scream split the night. It was ahead of him, and a little more to the left. "Fritz, answer me!"

"Ulrich? Can you hear me?"

"Yes, Fritz. Where are you?"

"I… I don't know."

"Just keep talking, and I will find you." Ulrich thought that Fritz's voice sounded strained and frightened.

"Ulrich, my leg really hurts. I thought I saw a light over here, but when I came toward it, the ground suddenly disappeared."

Ulrich was inching forward with his hands feeling the dark ground in front of him. "Keep talking, Fritz. I am close. I will help."

"I thought it was a lantern or something through the trees, and I thought I could find someone to help us. I guess it was a witch light, like in Tom Sawyer."

Ulrich felt bare rock, then nothing. He laid down on his belly, and inched forward until his head was hanging out over a chasm. In the darkness, it was difficult to tell how large it was. Fritz had fallen into a sinkhole. "Fritz, where are you hurt?"

"I don't know, Herr Scoutmeister. My arm isn't moving too well, and my leg really hurts." Ulrich could hear suppressed tears in the boy's voice.

"Don't move! I will get a light."

***

Marlon rolled out of bed promptly at 4:30 a.m., as he had done every morning at any balloon rally he had attended. Balloonists know that in the hour right at dawn, the air is at it's coolest-which aids in hot-air inflation-and the wind was usually still. He didn't want to inflate this monster in anything more than a one- to two-knot ground breeze.

"I'm going to go start breakfast," Reva said, a bit drowsily.

"Woman, don't bother with food right now. I got too much on my mind for that."

"I got something special planned for you, you old goat. I don't want no backtalk, either. You hear me?" The last was delivered with a stern expression, but the twinkling gray eyes and wry smile let Marlon know she was teasing him.

He grinned. "Yes, ma'am."

***

Bernard and Helga were pulling on coats and work gloves. Marlon pulled his old leather gloves from his back pocket and did the same. "I'm kind of glad we don't have everyone in the neighborhood underfoot when we try to launch today."

Bernard nodded. " Ja, it is better to fail without an audience."

"What do you mean, fail? Don't you think we'll get it off the ground?" Marlon turned his grin on Helga. "Maybe I shoulda had you get that young man to help us today. We've still got a lot of work ahead to get this beast off the ground." Marlon's eyes twinkled as he teased her. "What was his name? Oh, yeah, Ulrich. Maybe he could come over and help out. We could use another strong back."

"I think he does not like me now," Helga said. "He said he would call last night when he got back from the hike. But he didn't."

"That's too bad. He'd have been a great help."

Bernard frowned. "I think we can do this without that man."

Marlon laughed out loud. "Well, Bernard, we're gonna have to, I guess."

They proceeded out to the meadow. The morning was crisp and cold, just like the weather guessers said it would be. In the pre-dawn, the wind still hadn't risen and that argued for little or no wind at dawn.

"We need to christen this ship before we launch," Marlon said. "And I think I know what to name her. Helga, go ask Reva for something fizzy to launch this with."

Moments later, she returned carrying a beer bottle, and a strange paper contraption, followed by Reva and Agnes.

Laughing, Marlon took the items. "Looks like Reva anticipated what I'd want again."

They stood in a half-circle around the bow of the ship. Marlon didn't want to break a good bottle or leave glass in the meadow. So he opened the flip lid and said, "I hereby christen thee Upwind." He splashed about half the beer on the nose of the gondola, and then they shared sips of the rest of the brew.

"Okay, time to get this show on the road. I need to know wind speeds in the upper levels of atmosphere."

While Reva and Agnes went back to the house, Helga picked up the paper construction she had carried from the kitchen. It was a small handmade balloon with a cup on the bottom that held a candle stub. She held the paper form from a string in the top.

Marlon went into the meadow to get a good clear view. From forty feet away, he shouted, "Light it up." Soon the paper balloon was filled with hot air, trying to escape sky ward. The balloon had a white ribbon hanging from the cup.

"Let her go!" Marlon couldn't keep the excitement out of his voice.

The balloon rose gracefully upward. drifting a little away from town. At about two thousand feet, the candle guttered out. Even the ribbon wasn't visible.

"Almost no wind. It'll be a good flight," Marlon said. "Now be careful when we take up the tarps. The dew has settled, and we don't want the envelope wet. Pick the tarp up, and let the water pour off the side. And for heaven's sake, don't step on the envelope."

Bernard and Helga lifted the tarps and poured the little rivulets of water to the side. Marlon stood for a moment, admiring the ship.

Reva came out of the house with a tray. Agnes followed behind her with a steaming pot of tea and four cups. "Marlon, before you go too far, it's time to eat."

"Woman, I don't have time for that. We need to get this thing off the ground!"

"Now, none of that, Swordfish." She motioned to Bernard, who took the small TV table from under her elbow and set it up. She set the tray on the table, whisked off the towel, and there, steaming invitingly, was a collection of bundles wrapped in napkins.

"What is it?" Marlon stepped closer, and got a whiff of beans and chili. "My favorite. When did you make breakfast burritos?"

"I put them together this morning. Went over to Monica's yesterday, and we made up a batch of refried beans and some of her carne adovada. What do you think I was doing all day, lollygagging?"

***

The envelope was inflated, and the engines were running. Helga and Bernard had taken their seats in the gondola, and Marlon was doing final checks.

Reva nodded. "Nothing to worry about, Swordfish. Do everything by the numbers, and you'll be a winner."

Marlon wrapped his arms around his wife and leaned his cheek against the top of her head. "Woman, how could I have ever done anything without you?"

"You couldn't, of course." With that, Reva released Marlon, and then stepped back to the truck next to the bow line.

Marlon grinned and climbed into the gondola. He throttled up and looked to where his wife was waiting, next to the truck.

"Reva!" Marlon chopped his hand down, and she pulled the link. The bow line fell away from the truck. With another pull at full burner, the ground fell away just as the sun broke over the horizon.

Helga let out a long sigh and stared at the ground. "Herr Pridmore, this is marvelous!"

"Yes, it is. I remember my first flight. Today's flight will be special for all of us. Where should we go first?"

Helga shrugged and giggled like a little girl. "Oh, Herr Pridmore. Wherever you take us is fine. I just love the trip."

Leveling off at five hundred feet above ground level, Marlon gave the controls a work-out. He steered the airship to the left, then right, all the time drifting slowly backwards. This was definitely not something you could do in a balloon. He maneuvered the controls up and down, watching as small movements of the pitch wheel easily changed the attitude of the ship.

He looked over his shoulder at Bernard and Helga. "So, what do you think?" He had to shout to make himself heard over the fan and the burners.

Bernard was gripping the back of Marlon's seat so hard that his knuckles were white. Helga, on the other hand, was leaning across the edge of the gondola, and waving down at her mother and Reva. "Hello Mutti, hello Reva! Oh, Poppi, everything looks so small!"

Bernard nodded, and forced himself to look down at his wife, then closed his eyes, and continued holding on. Marlon hid a smile and remembered his first trip above the ground. There were a few moments of terror, but he couldn't even remember what that felt like.

The radio, popped a short shot of static. "This is Sweetpea. Ya having fun?" Reva's voice had the same smile in it that he had heard on other balloon flights. She had gone up a couple of times, but enjoyed the chase crew more.

"Swordfish back at ya. This is great! Did you see me steer it in a circle? I've wanted to do this most of my life. For now, I'm gonna take her out about a mile or so. I'll stay in line of sight and radio range."

"Sounds about right to me. If you have to put it down, I'll run the truck out to find you."

"Roger. Swordfish out."

***

Ulrich sat at the top of the sinkhole and tried to comfort Fritz through the coldest part of the early morning. The darkness was easier for Fritz to bear when he knew he wasn't alone. Just before dawn, J.D. woke up alone and cold. Ulrich brought him over by the sinkhole and built another fire. They tossed the blanket down to Fritz, but could do nothing else.

Ulrich was still grateful for small miracles. He was certain that if it had really gotten cold last night, they would all be in very bad shape. Something nagged at the back of his brain, something about emergency situations. He couldn't remember what it might be. First, he decided, he would get the boys warm, attend to Fritz's wounds, and then try to remember.

***

Reva was changing into her Sunday best when the phone rang. "Hello?"

"Mrs. Pridmore?"

"Yes. Who is this?"

"Ma'am, this is Matt Prickett, from the police department."

"Oh, yes. I remember. Is there a problem, Officer Prickett?"

"Yes, ma'am, there is. Is Marlon around?"

"Oh, dear. I'm afraid he's out right now. Is there something I can do for you?"

"Well, Mrs. Pridmore, we got us a search and rescue situation here. The boy scouts had an activity yesterday out there at the duke's preserve, and three of the troop didn't come home last night. They searched as well as they could with torches and such most of the night, but didn't find any trace of them. So we need all the volunteers to report to their teams."

"Oh, my goodness. Which boys are they?"

There was a rustling as Officer Prickett turned pages. "I have the names Ulrich Schwarz, Fritz Metzger, and J.D. Cunningham. The first one is the assistant scout leader, and the other two are both eleven year olds."

"I'll go out and find Marlon, and call you back."

"Call the department and the dispatcher will know where we are. Let's just hope that they just got lost, and haven't run into some dangerous individuals."

"Okay, Officer. I'll have Marlon call back soon."

Agnes asked, "Something is wrong? What has happened?"

"I think Helga's sweetheart, Ulrich, is in trouble. We've got to radio Marlon and Bernard."

***

Marlon didn't even notice the cold. The burners inside the envelope were keeping a lot of heat close, and it was almost uncomfortably hot when he pulled the burner controls.

Bernard was still clinging to the back of Marlon's seat, and had not quite gotten his eyes open. Helga was reveling in the experience. When she saw Marlon looking, she laughed.

"Oh, Herr Pridmore, this is glorious! This is how I think that angels fly to the heavens."

"Yeah, Helga. I think you got that just about right. Just like an angel." His musings were cut short by a static burst on the radio.

"Marlon, do you read me?"

"You're four by four. Are we late for church or something?"

"Now you quit your teasing and listen to me for a minute. The police department just called. Helga's friend Ulrich is missing. He went out with two eleven-year-old boy scouts yesterday, and they haven't come back. They're putting together a search and rescue, and you need to get back down here and help."

"Don't you think that it would help if the search and rescue team had an eye in the sky? This is the perfect rescue machine."

There was silence from the radio. Marlon knew from long experience that Reva was thinking about what he had said before answering.

"Maybe you're right. I'll find out where they think the boys might be."

***

Things were a little more cheerful in the daylight. Ulrich dug out the oatmeal cookies and they divided them for breakfast. Fritz didn't look good. He couldn't speak much, and his leg bent at an odd angle. Ulrich had not climbed down into the hole because the sides were narrow and unstable. Ulrich was afraid crumbling debris would fall on the boy. They could see that Fritz was pale and sweating, though. It was high time to find a way to get him home.

"J. D., you stay here and keep this fire going. Maybe someone will see the smoke and come to help. I will go back to the top of the hill. That reminds me of something." He had finally remembered what had been bothering him. It was from his army training. They told him that three of anything meant emergency, like three gunshots. Or three smoky fires.

At the top of the cliff, he carefully cleared and piled three bonfires. It would not be possible for him to carry Fritz home in his condition. They needed to be found.

Soon, three smoky fires were burning in the open glade. Ulrich went back to the sinkhole. "J. D., look there. Do you see those fires?"

J.D. stood up, and looked at the cliff. "Yeah, I see them."

"Okay. It is your job to take care of them. Don't let them go out, and don't let them get away from you. We don't want a brush fire, just a rescue signal. Keep putting wood on each one. This will help them find us, so they must keep burning and smoking. Can you do that?"

J.D. brightened at being given such a responsibility. "I sure can, Herr Schwarz." He hurried off to watch the fires.

Ulrich peered over the edge of the hole. Fritz still looked a little grey, and his eyes were not open. This wasn't good. "Fritz, can you hear me?"

The boy groaned and mumbled, but didn't open his eyes. Ulrich got the canteen, tied a cord to it, and lowered it to Fritz. The boy roused a little and sipped from the canteen. He seemed to come more awake, and drank a couple of sips of the water. Ulrich settled down to wait.

***

Matt Prickett was just getting ready to assign grid squares to the twenty or thirty men in front of him when another officer stepped up and got his attention.

"Matt, I just got word from the dispatcher that Marlon Pridmore is on his way over and should be here in a minute or two."

"That was quick. Reva must have had a good idea where he was."

The other officer hesitated, and scratched his head. "Yeah, Matt, but you ain't heard the rest of it. The dispatcher said that Reva said to tell you that he's coming over here in a blimp."

"A what?"

"Matt, all I can tell you is what the dispatcher said to me. She said that Reva said that Marlon is coming over here in a blimp.

"I heard a rumor that he was working on a balloon. But I didn't believe it. We'll just have to see what he's got when he gets here."

***

With the engines running, it wasn't silent like a hot air balloon would be. Two motorcycle engines put out more noise than Marlon had thought they would. He watched the ground flow away underneath him. He didn't have radar, but he had a stopwatch and estimated they were doing about twenty-six knots. He was concentrating on where the boys might be and making contact with the search and rescue team. He hadn't even considered how the ground troops might react when they caught sight of him. His attention was pulled away from his instruments when he heard shouts from the ground.

Helga was practically standing up in her seat, waving like a maniac. Bernard wasn't. "Helga, sit down this instant, before you fall to your death," he said through clenched teeth.

"Oh Poppi, I'll be all right." A blazing smile lit her dark features, and her hazel eyes gleamed with enjoyment.

Down below, men and boys were running and pointing, and the babble of their voices wafted up to the airship in the eerie way they always do. Marlon spotted Matt Prickett standing in the bed of a pickup with his mouth open.

"Sweetpea, you catching me darlin'?"

"I'm right here. And I'm gonna stay right here till you land."

"Good deal. Okay, tell me where they've been looking for the boys, and where they're gonna go today."

"Gotcha. I'll get back to you in a minute."

Marlon was again glad that the telephones still worked. His radios were not wired quite the same as the others, because they were German, and used slightly different bandwidths. They had their own private channel, but he couldn't contact the team directly.

"Dispatcher says that the scouts searched the eastern side of the preserve last night, and the plan today was to try more to the south," Reva said.

"Sounds good, darlin'. I think we might circle the area and see what we find."

"I'll let the dispatcher know. You take care and don't fall out of that contraption."

"Don't you worry your pretty head about that. I got my seatbelt on. Besides, Bernard is doing enough worrying for the both of us. Helga's having the time of her life, though."

The smile in Reva's voice was clear, even through the static. "I'll just bet she is. Most exciting thing that has happened to her in a blue moon."

***

J.D. wiped the smoke out of his eyes after sticking another branch on the middle fire. He felt lonely here away from Ulrich and Fritz. And hungry. Then he heard something.

It was like the chainsaw he had heard a long time ago. He looked at the trees around him, but didn't see anything. And then the day got a little darker, like when a cloud goes over the sun for a moment. J.D. looked up and saw something amazing. It wasn't an airplane, but something entirely different. It reminded him of the Goodyear blimp they used to have at football games when he was little.

"Herr Schwarz! Herr Schwarz, come quick!" J.D. waved his arms over his head to get the assistant scoutmaster's attention. "You have to come and see this. I don't know what it is exactly, but it's coming this way. Hurry!"

***

Ulrich dropped the stick he had been using to stir his small fire, and hurried up to the signal fires. J.D. sounded disturbed. It took him a few minutes to reach the boy. And when he did, J.D. stood staring up into the heavens.

Ulrich didn't wonder about that. It was unbelievable, all right. An egg-shaped thing colored in red, black and yellow. Like J.D., Ulrich stood staring with his mouth open. Then he noticed that it was coming toward them.

***

"I see something. There to the left," Helga shouted.

Good thing I brought her along, Marlon thought. "You got good eyes, girl. I see it. Three columns of smoke."

Marlon adjusted the yoke, crabbing sideways some. "Helga, I'm gonna come in from downwind, keep a look out." Swinging the tail of the ship as it drifted by the signal, Marlon brought up the throttle as evenly as possible. The airship began to settle. Marlon helped it along with a degree or two of down-thrust from the engines. He picked up his radio handset, and thumbed the button a couple of times.

"Sweetpea, I think we got something. There are three columns of smoke over here. We're past the northwest corner of the preserve."

"All clear, Marlon. I'm relaying the info to the dispatcher now."

***

"Ulrich! Ulrich, can you hear me?"

He looked at the flying egg, and then saw a face, and an arm waving. "Helga? Helga, how are you up there?"

The egg came closer, and he saw that it was much bigger than he had thought at first. In fact, it was the largest vehicle he had ever seen, more than a hundred and thirty feet long, and at least forty feet high. And Helga was in a small sort of cart at the bottom.

The ship came closer. Now he could see that not only Helga, but her father, Herr Brenner, and their employer, Herr Pridmore were in the cart.

"Ulrich, where is Fritz? Where is the other boy?"

Ulrich shouted up, "Fritz fell in a hole over here. We were unable to move him. He has been hurt."

"Stay right there, we will swing around and see him."

The egg moved right overhead where they could look down the hole.

Marlon leaned over the edge, examining the sinkhole, the injured boy, and the path up and down. "Herr Schwarz, I think we can help get the boy out of there. You cut a couple of poles, and use that blanket to make a stretcher. Herr Brenner, here, will help you."

He directed the airship past the signal fires and into the open glade. "I'm gonna drop a rope. But don't touch it until I tell you." He was well aware of the dangers of static electricity. How many times had he seen that footage from the Hindenburg?

Ulrich and J.D. retreated to a large boulder, and watched. Marlon detached the bottom of the bow rope, and let it dangle. It dragged on the ground for a moment. "Okay, Ulrich. Run over here, and grab this rope. You can help steady us as we land. Herr Brenner is climbing out, and I don't want to overbalance."

Ulrich grabbed and held tight to the bow rope. Herr Brenner climbed out of the gondola, then leaned back in to retrieve something. But Ulrich didn't notice exactly what. He was looking into Helga's eyes. Truly, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her cheeks were red from the wind, and her hair was fly-away and tangled. But the look on her face was priceless. Her hazel eyes seemed to pull him into deep water. He hoped that she would continue to look at him like that forever.

"All right, you two." Marlon grinned when he saw the two young people gaze at each other as if they were seeing each other for the first time. "You'll have time for that later. Right now, we gotta get this rig back in the air."

Ulrich blushed and hurried backwards. He still didn't take his eyes from Helga. He stepped backward until he ran into J.D., and they both watch the airship lift off the ground.

"You boys get that stretcher put together. I think that with Bernard's help, you will be able to get Fritz up here to the landing zone."

***

"Swordfish, you got info for me?"

"Reva, you got the prettiest voice." Reva could feel the blush. Here the man was saying things like that when there was an emergency going on.

"Enough of that. Have you got the boys?"

"Yeah, I got 'em spotted, but one is hurt. I need you to call the hospital and let them know."

"Who's hurt?"

"It's Fritz. He's in bad shape. We have to make this quick. Tell the hospital we have the boy, Tell 'em we're inbound. ETA about thirty minutes."

***

The men wrapped the blanket around two saplings, and pinned the ends down to create a rough stretcher. Ulrich and Bernard carried it to the side of the hole and examined the problem. They had to lift Fritz up out of the hole without hurting him more than they had to, and get him on the stretcher for the airship to carry.

Ulrich took the rope and tied a bowline on a bight, making a boson's chair. Then they lowered the chair down to the injured boy.

In his best fatherly voice, Bernard instructed Fritz. "Lad, when this rope comes down, slip it underneath you like a chair. Then Herr Schwarz and I will pull you up. Hang on tight."

Fritz whimpered a little as the rope lifted him. Tears were streaming from his eyes, and he was holding on the rope with the whitened knuckles of one hand as he came to ground level. Gently, the men took him by the shoulders and hips, and laid him on the stretcher. They splinted the injured leg to the other leg, and bound them both together.

Before picking up the stretcher for the trip back to the glade, Ulrich said, "J. D., you put out this fire, like they showed you in scouts. Use that stick as your shovel, and pour the rest of the water from the canteen on it. I don't want to see any smoke. We will keep the signal fires over there smoking until the others get here."

"Yes, sir."

Ulrich and Bernard carried Fritz to the large boulder. It was worrisome that with every bump and jolt, Fritz would groan a little.

They carefully put him on the ground, and signaled the airship. Not too long now, and everything would be all right.

***

"Hello, who is this?" The man's voice sounded almost as frustrated and harried as Reva had felt a few moments earlier.

"This is Reva Pridmore, and I'm trying to let someone over there know that you have a patient arriving in about fifteen minutes."

"Okay, I got that. How are they arriving?"

Reva hesitated a moment, then dove in. "They're coming in on an airship. You know, like a blimp?"

There were a couple of moments of silence, and then the man said, "You mean it's like a life flight? I think we can handle it. I'll get a gurney and a couple of men out into the parking lot to meet it. Don't worry, I'll take care of everything."

***

Helga had not taken her eyes from Ulrich and her father. They were both busy taking care of the poor little boy. Then Ulrich looked up at her again, and began to wave his scout scarf.

"Herr Pridmore, I think they are ready. Ulrich is waving."

After settling the airship to the ground, Marlon had Helga pull the pin from the middle seat, and it laid down flat, like a bed. He waved Ulrich and Bernard over. They carefully placed Fritz and the stretcher into the gondola, and stepped back.

Marlon handed another canteen to Ulrich. "You take care, I've got to get this little fellow to the hospital double quick. The search and rescue team will get here as fast as they can." Marlon pulled both the handles to the burners, and pivoted the engines so they were thrusting straight down. Balancing on the thrust and with the heat in the balloon increasing, the air ship rose rapidly in to the air. Still at a full burn Marlon began pivoting the engines to thrust them forward.

He thought for a moment, then eased the throttles all the way to the stops. Hilde always said that a ship like this could do fifty kph. I'm gonna call him on that. He could feel the pull of acceleration, and the cold wind whipping past the windshield.

***

The parking lot at the hospital resembled a hill of ants that had been kicked open by a curious boy. People hurried everywhere, carrying supplies, watching the sky for the life flight, or just standing in the way gawking.

"All right, listen up!" It was the ER doctor and, as hospital protocol required, all personnel stopped for a moment to listen. "I want this area cleared of anyone who doesn't have a real job. The rest of you, stay over there on the grass. I don't need any rubber-neckers underfoot."

The crowd sorted itself out, and the tumult died down for a moment. The sound of a couple of trucks could be heard down the road, and a police car pulled into the parking lot.

"Albert, get that cop car out of our landing zone, then find out what he wants." All eyes looked into the sky. No one knew exactly what to expect. No description of the airship had been given to anyone.

"There it is! I see it!"

"Wow, it's beautiful!"

" Coool."

"Okay, everybody. Just like we practiced it in the drill, only with a blimp instead of an ambulance."

***

Marlon looked down in frustration. "This thing needs a horn." The blimp was rapidly approaching the hospital. Pitching down, Marlon began to ease off the throttles.

He leaned over the side and shouted, "Grab the rope. Grab the rope!" The bowline was already dancing across the parking lot.

Luckily, they came to ground with a gentle thump. The gondola slid forward to a stop in the parking lot. As people swarmed over, he yelled, "Grab the sides of the car, so we can stay down." He ignored the furor that was going on behind him as the boy was removed, and people were already shouting orders in incomprehensible medical jargon.

Grinning, he picked up the radio again. "Reva, could you pack up some kind of picnic? I could run it back out to those boys in the bush, and let them have something to eat. They haven't had much since yesterday."

"That's a really good idea, Marlon. You wait there. I'll be there in two shakes of a lamb's tail. Then we'll go home for a proper celebration."

Marlon kept the burners going periodically to keep the envelope inflated, but not lift them off the ground. He had wrangled a couple of bystanders to hook their elbows over the edge of the gondola to keep it on the ground.

One of the men holding the basket grinned. "Marlon, when you gonna build one of these for me?" His jibe stirred laughter from those standing around doing nothing.

"Well, I guess that depends. I'm willing to advise any one of you who wants to build one, but you're gonna have to do the building of it. I'm outta the balloon-making business. Got more than enough on my plate right now."

***

Bernard, Ulrich and J.D. were sitting near one of the fires. With the rescue and the excitement over, they all felt just a little let down.

J.D. spoke first. "I wonder how long it will be until they find us?"

"Not so long. You will be home before supper." Seeing the worry in the boy's eyes, Bernard grinned and said, "And if you're hungry now, you can always have an extra drink of water."

Ulrich had been staring at the sky, the last place he had seen Helga. He couldn't believe how wonderful she really was. He had been watching her, and thinking that in a couple of years he would like to settle down with someone like her. Now it seemed much more urgent. He needed a good job, and a bank account, and somewhere decent they could live. It would take at least that much for her father to consent to. ..

"There they are again!" J.D. was on his feet, jumping up and down and pointing. And sure enough, the flying egg had returned. As it came close, Helga leaned out and waved again.

After the landing, Marlon called from the front of the gondola. "We came back to take J.D. home, if he thinks he can stand to fly in this thing."

J.D. hesitated for only a flicker of a moment, then darted to the gondola, jumped over the side, and snapped his seatbelt.

Marlon laughed. "I guess he really wants his mama's cooking. And speaking of food, Helga's got something special."

She bent down and reappeared with a basket. "It is from Frau Pridmore and my mother. I hope you like it." The airship lifted off the ground again, and Ulrich still stood with the basket in hand, watching.

"And Ulrich, I expect you to call the moment you arrive home, so that we know you're all right."

"I will call, Helga. As soon as I step foot in Frau Moss' house."

Bernard frowned at Ulrich's enthusiasm, and shook his head. It didn't seem as if he was going to be able to keep his daughter from this young man. Perhaps it was time to get used to the idea.

Marlon leaned over the edge of the gondola and waved. "You boys keep out of trouble. Reva says that search and rescue is already halfway here. Be good."

***

The sunset painted the sky before Bernard arrived back home. The clouds that had been threatening rain all afternoon cleared and the sun was glorious through the trees to the west. Reva and Agnes had prepared a sumptuous feast for the Sabbath, and everything was ready when Bernard came through the front door.

"Did J.D. get home? Will Fritz be all right? And Herr Schwarz?" Helga tried to sound concerned with the scouts, but everyone could tell that she wanted to know about the scoutmaster.

"Yes, Liebchen, everything is good. The police tell me that Fritz didn't need surgery, and is conscious. His parents are at the hospital, and J.D. is home eating fried chicken and mashed potatoes." He frowned a little at his daughter, and didn't mention anyone else.

Marlon slapped Bernard's shoulder. "I'm glad you finally got home. You know, if you had stayed with me, you'd a been here a couple of hours ago."

Bernard held up his hands as if to stop any more such suggestions and began to take off his gloves. "No, my friend, I've had my first and last ride in your airship. If God had intended for me to fly, I would have been born with feathers."

"Oh, Poppi, I think it was wonderful. I can't wait to go again." Helga's eyes still gleamed, and she seemed almost a different girl. She had more of a confident air about her as though she had seen what she wanted, and was going to do her best to get it.

"Now hold on there, Bernard. We still have some business to take care of."

"What is it that is so important? I've not had any decent food since this morning."

Agnes whirled around and put her fists on her hips. "Why you terrible man. How could you say something like that, after the beautiful picnic Frau Reva and I sent to you? Now you just turn yourself around and go out to the barn. We have an important ceremony."

Bernard turned and walked back out into the night while the rest followed. Around back, near the barn, he could see a dark lantern standing on a small table, along with some papers, and a bottle of beer.

Marlon stepped up to the table and lit the lantern. He began in a sonorous voice. "As long as men have been flying in hot air contraptions, they have been honored with entry into the Society of Fire and Air. The tradition is ancient-or I guess it will be-so you must do as I say. Bernard, you stand here. Helga, over here next to him."

Bernard and his daughter obediently lined up shoulder to shoulder, facing the table. Reva and Agnes stood behind Marlon, who was next to the card table.

"Mother Nature has taken you into the skies and returned you gently to Earth. So you become new creatures, that fly through the air.

"Now, both of you kneel on the ground." Marlon turned to the table, and picked up a long wooden match. He lit it in the lantern, picked up the beer bottle, and set a small piece of Bernard's hair on fire. Before the frightened man could jump up, Marlon poured beer on the flame and put it out. Not even an inch of hair was gone.

He reached over, and caught an end of Helga's hair, but she knew what was coming and held still. The beer drenched her head as well.

"The fire symbolizes the power to reach the heavens, and the beer symbolizes the power to celebrate our return to earth. Welcome to the ranks of the aeronauts!"

Agnes stepped up to Bernard, gave him a ceremonial kiss on the cheek and handed him a small towel. Reva held a towel for Helga, but they could hear the telephone ringing.

"Oh, it must be for me!" Helga grabbed the towel, and sprinted off for the back porch to answer the phone. Nobody had any doubts that the young scoutmaster was checking in as promised.

***

Joseph Hanauer, Part Two: These Things Have No Fixed Measure

Douglas W. Jones

12th of Sivan, 5391 (June 12, 1631)

As Yossie walked down the road Thursday morning, he was struck by an unlikely fact. His surroundings no longer shocked him. When he'd arrived in Grantville, the well-painted houses made of sawn planks had seemed very alien. Now, only a week later, he was living in such a house in the outlying village of Deborah. Then, the sight of the yellow buses taking children to the huge school down the valley would have frightened him. Now, he had ridden such a bus once, and he was about to ride one again.

The marvels that Grantville had somehow brought from the distant future were overwhelming, but after a week, Yossie was starting to see more. The future world from which Grantville had come may have had its wonders, but it had not always been kind to Grantville.

In the world Yossie knew, he could blame abandoned houses and recent ruins on the war that had now lasted for more than a decade. As he passed the remains of abandoned buildings that divided upper Deborah from lower Deborah, he wondered what had happened in Grantville's world to cause such damage.

When he came to the main road through lower Deborah, Yossie put aside his questions. Two men were standing on the corner where he'd been told to wait for the bus. They were wearing the closely cut trousers of faded blue twill that many Grantvillers favored, but his eyes were on their helmets. They were not like the military helmets he knew, and their colors were both bright and strange.

The day before, Yossie had gone to a meeting in Grantville for refugees who wanted work. Most of the Grantvillers with jobs to offer needed the help of translators to address their German-speaking audience. The man who spoke for Grantville's coal mine had been an exception, speaking fluent but oddly accented German.

Yossie had heard several times about the mine, but he had never seriously considered working there until that meeting. The man who'd spoken wasn't a very good salesman, although he did try. He spoke about how important the mine was to Grantville, and about the value of the coal rock they would mine. That was not what moved Yossie. The first thing that impressed him was the man's apparent enthusiasm for working in the mine, while the second was his plain-spoken honesty about the dangers of the work.

Yossie was also curious about the man's strange position at the mine. He'd said that he wasn't the owner or foreman or overseer, but just a mine safety engineer. The term was strange, and after he'd explained it, the idea was even stranger. Yossie had never imagined that a nobleman or company would hire someone just to prevent others from hurting themselves.

The bus interrupted Yossie's thoughts as it rumbled into view. After it stopped, he hesitated briefly, watching the Grantvillers get on. The smell and noise were still strange, but if the Grantvillers could ride, he could too.

The bus was another example of Grantville's odd mixture of wealth and disrepair. Yossie couldn't even begin to estimate the value of the machine, but he was sure that it was immense. Why, then, had nobody made an effort to repair some of the torn seats?

The bus stopped several times on its way through Grantville, picking up more men at each stop. The Grantvillers rode together at the front talking and laughing. It seemed that they all knew each other. The Germans riding in back were quieter. For many, this was their first ride on such a vehicle. They were all refugees as well, strangers in Grantville and mostly strangers to each other.

At a stop in central Grantville, a man sat down beside Yossie. "I'm Thomas Schmidt," he said said as the bus lurched onward. "Who are you? I saw you talking to Herr Koch yesterday."

"Joseph Hanauer," Yossie answered, puzzled by the man's accent. It was not the Thuringian accent he was growing used to, nor any accent he had heard in the lands to the west.

A month ago, he would not have expected a Christian stranger to sit by him. Now, Yossie understood that his status as a Jew was invisible to the man. Yossie was not trying to hide it. His clothing proclaimed that he was a Jew, but the Germans of the Thuringerwald didn't seem to understand what would have been obvious to those of the lands to the west.

"Who is Herr Koch? Do you mean the man from the mine?" Yossie asked.

"Yes," Thomas said. "Herr Koch said this mine needed a smith, and I am the son of the son of a smith. If it can be made of iron, I can make it. Do you have a trade?"

Yossie started to tell about the print shop in Hanau. The bus turned onto a well-graded gravel road that followed the curve of a side valley while he talked. Yossie had just started to explain that he hadn't been an apprentice but merely a common laborer when the view out the window drove thoughts of Hanau from his mind.

A line of alien structures came into sight. Two round gray towers dominated the curving row of buildings that followed the valley floor. The complex was almost half a mile long, and each building was linked to the next by a long sloping tube. The towers looked like they might be made of very fine stonework, but the other parts were a mystery. Were the rust stains on some buildings evidence that they were made entirely of iron?

The valley ended abruptly in a high black cliff not far beyond the strange structures. Yossie knew those cliffs, but neither he nor anyone else understood them. They marked the border between the familiar German lands and the strange land of Grantville that had somehow come from almost four centuries in the future.

One of the Grantvillers riding at the front of the bus stood up, holding the seats at each side for support as he addressed them, in English. "Welcome to Murphy's Run Mine, folks."

The bus went past many of the mine buildings and through a gate in the woven wire fence that paralleled the road. They passed a strange framework with great wheels on top and then came to a stop.

Yossie recognized the man waiting for them despite the helmet he was wearing. It was the man Thomas Schmidt had called Herr Koch.

"Good morning, Guten morgen," he said, after they had gotten off of the bus. "I am Ron Koch," he said, and then he repeated himself in strangely accented but fluent German. "Our job today is to take this thing apart." He waved at a long line of machinery that ran up the side of the valley.

After giving more detail about the day's work, he announced that each of the Grantvillers would begin the day by supervising one or two of the new men. Then he began calling out names and handing out slips of paper. Yossie's slip of paper said "Joseph Hanauer arbeit mit Bob Eckerlin." Yossie was briefly puzzled by the printing. It was blurry, almost as if a layer of inked cloth had been set between the type and the paper as it was printed.

After a bit of confusion, Yossie found Bob Eckerlin. Each of them had pronounced the name of the other so badly that Yossie wasn't sure of their pairing until he'd seen Bob's sheet of paper. Bob's paper was printed in the same odd way as his own, but it said much more, and all in English.

For the next few hours, Yossie did his best to do as Bob directed. Bob began by showing Yossie how to wear a helmet like those worn by the Grantvillers. The hard hat, as it was known, had a complex web of straps which had to be adjusted to make it fit his head. It was lighter than he expected and surprisingly comfortable, but it was some time before he got used to wearing it instead of his own felt hat.

Yossie and Bob had the task of removing things called rollers from the long framework that led up the hill away from a strange structure in the valley. There seemed to be hundreds of these rollers, and Yossie could easily see how their arrangement had allowed something to slide along the structure with almost no resistance. Each roller was held in place by screws that worked exactly the same way as the great screw of a printing press. All of them were iron, though, and perfectly identical.

Bob Eckerlin knew almost no German, except a few stock phrases, but he knew enough to teach Yossie the names of things. They were using wrenches to remove bolts from the rollers that were part of the conveyor, and then putting the smaller parts in a cleverly made metal bucket.

Unfortunately, Bob's sparse German was insufficient to explain what it was that this conveyor had once done. Above them, the conveyor disappeared over the curve of the ridge, in the direction of the ring of black cliffs that marked what some Grantvillers called the Ring of Fire. Only a week ago Yossie had looked down those cliffs to see Grantville for the first time.

Working up on the side of the valley, they had a good view. The conveyor rose from the base of a metal building and what looked like another conveyor ran from there up to the top of a round gray tower. More conveyors linked that tower to a black building, and there were towers and conveyors beyond that.

Other crews were at work along the conveyor. Some were removing the arched roof over the rollers. Others were doing more mysterious things. A teamster with a freight wagon made regular trips along the conveyor taking loads of salvaged material down the hill.

Yossie enjoyed the view of the thick forests covering the hills but he wondered why the cleared land in the valley and along the conveyor looked so poorly tended. Much of the land looked like it had been roughly plowed and then abandoned to grow weeds and scrub.

Around midmorning, Ron Koch called a break. "Does anyone have questions?" he asked.

Many of the men were drinking water from strange conical paper cups, but Yossie ignored the offer of a drink. He was suspicious of the water and he was puzzled about the kosher status of the cup. A tin cup would have posed no problem, but paper cups were a novelty and he doubted that the glue holding them together was made from kosher hide.

"What was this thing?" someone asked, pointing to the spidery structure of the conveyor.

"A conveyor belt," Ron Koch said. "It was used to move waste from the coal washing plant to the waste pond. The pond was just outside the Ring of Fire, so we need a new place to put our waste.

"There was a sheet like a wide belt that rode on these rollers. The belt carried the waste. We removed the belt already. We can use it down at the mine when other belts break. We need to get all the iron here, that is your job."

"Do we get to keep these helmets?" someone called out.

"Yes, so long as you work for the mine. If you quit your job, you must return them."

"I thought we were going to mine coal," someone else said.

"We will, "Ron said. "And soon, I hope. First, though, we need to get the mine ready. For that, we need to make some things from the iron we get here."

"But where is this coal?" another man asked. It was Thomas Schmidt, the man Yossie had spoken with on the bus.

"The Pittsburgh coal is about four hundred feet below you," Ron answered. "There are other layers, but that is the big one."

"When we came here this morning, you called this place the mine," another man said. "I'm a miner, and I still see no mine. Where is the hole in the ground?"

"All the buildings down there are part of the mine," Ron said. "See those towers with great wheels on their tops? Those are the headframes, the hoists built over the holes. The west one is for lifting people in and out, the east one is for lifting coal. The big towers are silos for storing coal. The building between them is for washing the coal."

After the break, Bob Eckerlin left them, and Yossie was paired with Thomas Schmidt. "So Joseph," Thomas said, as they worked at opposite ends of a roller. "You said you came from some town near Frankfort. Was it a Protestant town?"

Yossie knew he was being asked his religion, but he wanted to avoid that question, so he answered literally. "Hanau is just up the river Main from Frankfort. That land is all borders, with Catholics to the south, Lutherans to the north, and Calvinists to the east. All of them come together in Hanau, and we have a colony of Walloon Calvinists too."

"Before I came to Grantville, I would have thought that was crazy," Thomas said. "Now, I am not so sure."

"Grantvillers are a shock," Yossie said. "I have never met anyone like them."

"Where I come from, we were all Lutherans," Thomas grumbled.

"Where is that?" Yossie asked, before putting his weight into loosening the next bolt.

"North of here, on the edge of the Harz mountains, a town called Thale." Thomas grunted as he started the bolt turning on his end. "It was too close to Magdeburg so we came south when foragers began stripping the countryside all around. I thank God that we left when we did."

He paused, with a pained look on his face. "Just a few weeks ago we had to run again. A band of stragglers came and burned the village outside Jena where we were staying, may they be eternally cursed. We didn't run far enough the first time."

Thomas and Yossie lifted the roller free and set it on the edge of the walkway, and then Thomas spoke again. "Why did you leave Hanau with the war so far away from you?"

"The man I worked for died, may his memory be a blessing," Yossie answered. He didn't want to talk about himself, so he changed the subject as they began work on the next roller. "Thomas, you said that you were a smith. I know a little bit about smithing. How did they make this thing?"

Thomas looked baffled. "I have no idea. There are no hammer marks on the ironwork, and all these bolts and rollers seem perfectly identical."

That topic occupied them for a good part of the day as they worked their way up the conveyor. Yossie wasn't bothered by the identical bolts because of his experience with printing type, but he had to explain to Thomas how type is cast so that all the copies of each letter are perfectly identical.

In turn, Thomas had to explain why the ironwork bothered him so much. "This is all wrought iron, it must be," he said, banging his wrench against one of the bars of the conveyor framework. "Nothing else would ring like that. If it is wrought iron, it was hammered to shape, but there are no hammer marks."

He paused to run his fingers over one of the joints in the structure. "These two bars look like they were joined by melting. I could join lead bars that way, but these are iron. Nothing I know would make enough heat to do that, but most of the joints in this thing are made this way. It is as if welding was easier than riveting."

When they stopped work for the midday meal, the divide between Germans and Grantvillers was apparent in a new way. The Germans had all been told to bring food. They had, in bundles or in baskets. In contrast, all of the Grantvillers seemed to have metal boxes or pails to hold their food. Many of them had metal bottles of some evil smelling black drink that smoked as if it was hot, even after being left all morning.

Yossie's bundle held a hard chunk of the sausage he had helped make less than a month ago in Kissingen, a small loaf of home-baked bread, and a bottle of watered wine. Some of the Germans had less, few had anything more elaborate.

Yossie considered the bread he was eating to be something of a miracle. The house they were living in had a very strange kitchen, with an even stranger oven. They had not even understood that it was an oven until the old lady who owned the house showed them how it worked, and then Yitzach ben Zvi had filled the whole house with smoke when he lit a fire in it to make it kosher.

After he'd eaten, Yossie left the group to say the grace after meals. He walked well away before he pulled his bentscher out of his pocket. He didn't want anyone to see the Hebrew text of the slim little prayerbook or to hear him chanting the long prayer in that tongue. Grantville was supposed to be indifferent to the fact that he was a Jew, but Yossie wasn't ready to test that indifference, much less the tolerance of his German coworkers.

That afternoon, there seemed to be no end to the job of removing rollers. Yossie and Thomas were getting better at it, but the number of rollers to be removed was immense. Guessing the total number was an interesting challenge. The conveyor had a set of three rollers every few feet, and if it ran all of the way to the cliffs of the Ring of Fire without a change of direction, they agreed that there must be well over a thousand rollers to remove.

As the afternoon passed, Yossie told stories of the trip east. He said something of the group he'd traveled with, but he carefully avoided all mention of religion. What seemed to interest Thomas most were stories of the smithies and glassworks he'd seen in the Spessart and in the Thuringerwald.

In turn, Thomas told of the Harz mountains south of his home in Thale. He said nothing of his encounters with the war, his departure from Thale or his more recent flight. He'd hinted that he had a family, but he never mentioned them. Instead, he focused on his old smithy and the peaceful years before the war had come to his home.

By the end of the afternoon they were working in silence, and they remained silent on the bus ride home. It had been a long hard day doing very strange work. Yossie was content to sit quietly on the bus and passively watch as it followed the road into Grantville.

When he said goodbye to Thomas, Yossie was startled to realize that, for the first time in his life, he was not an alien Jew among Germans. Despite the gulf that separated them, he and Thomas were as similar as brothers when compared to the Grantvillers. They were two strangers in a very strange land.

When Moses had named his son Gershem, which means "a stranger there," he was describing his experience in the land of Midian. Yossie wondered if Midian could possibly have been as strange to Moses as Grantville was to him.

16th of Sivan, 5391 (June 16, 1631)

By Tuesday of the next week, they had stripped almost everything from the upper end of the conveyor. Where it had once gone somewhere beyond the wall of cliffs that bordered the Ring of Fire, it now ended above a small hollow. From there to the cliffs, it had been reduced to bare ironwork, and parts of that had already been cut up.

Yossie spent the morning assigned to work with an American woman named Gayle. He had heard rumors that one of the American miners was a woman, but that didn't prepare him for the fact. From a distance, he might not have known that she was a woman until he heard her voice. She was dressed like a man, in blue twill trousers just like the men of Grantville wore, and her helmet was no different from a man's.

Gayle was an electrician, which meant that she worked with the mysteries of electricity. Yossie already knew that the Americans burned electricity in their lights. Apparently, the conveyors had also burned electricity. For the entire morning, Yossie helped Gayle disassemble the electric wires for a device Gayle called a conveyor drive motor.

Every day, Yossie had been assigned to one of the Americans for at least an hour, and sometimes much longer. Ron had explained that he wanted the Americans and Germans to work together so that they would learn from each other, and he wanted to let the Germans try their hands at many different jobs.

Yossie could see the wisdom in the American plan. At the same time, he felt awkward being paired with a woman. In the world he knew, it was improper for a man to touch a woman who was not his close relative, and even taking something from her hand or handing something to her was improper.

The right way for a man to give something to a woman was to set it down somewhere within her easy reach. He expected her to do the same when passing tools to him. Again and again, Yossie was frustrated. Either there was no place to set what he was trying to give Gayle, or she would try to pass things directly to him.

Gayle seemed mildly amused by his awkwardness. Several times, she asked him what was wrong, making it clear that she knew that he was embarrassed. Unfortunately, Yossie's rudimentary English and Gayle's rudimentary German didn't allow for any useful explanation.

***

After their lunch break, Thomas Schmidt called Yossie over. "You said you'd done some smith work? Do you want to be my helper?"

"What help do you need?"

"Herr Koch wants a smithy. They have some marvelous tools here. They even have saws that can cut iron and torches that can melt it. Those will wear out, though, and they say that they can't be replaced. If I can make tools to cut iron, I can replace them."

Yossie followed Thomas past the towering iron structure that stood over the entrance to the mine. The Grantvillers called it the pit head . A low building next to it housed some kind of machine that made a constant low rumble.

The building beyond the pit head had doors along one wall that were wide enough to drive a wagon through. Thomas walked around the end of the building to a newly built shed where a mixed group men were at work.

"Here is our new forge," Thomas said, gesturing expansively. "It isn't much yet, but we will see what we can do."

The smithy was roofed with the rippled metal that was used for so many buildings at the mine. A half-built chimney stood over a hearth that filled half of the open side of the shed. On the opposite side, there was a door into the larger building.

"None of that is ready yet." Thomas said. "Come in here. This is the mine workshop. They have a bench and wonderful tools we can try using to make the tools we want."

"What are we trying to make," Yossie asked. Rows of shelves filled one side of the room, and several strange iron machines stood on the floor.

Thomas went to a bench along the back wall of the workshop. "Here is the problem," he said, picking up a brightly polished piece of silver. It was bent into a broad U shape, with a dull metal ribbon stretched across the opening and a black handle on one side. "This is one of their metal cutting saws. See how fine the teeth are? It is like a file cut into a slice the thickness of a ribbon."

Thomas began to saw a rusty iron bar, and then paused after only a few strokes. "The trouble is," he said, "these saw blades are not made to be sharpened. They have hundreds of them, but when they are gone, they will have no way to do this kind of cutting. Here, finish this for me. Be careful with this beautiful saw."

Yossie took the saw and set gingerly to work. The iron bar was as big around as his thumb and rusty, with an odd pattern of lumps along it. The saw teeth cut into the metal bar quickly once Yossie learned to bear down properly.

"What are we making?" Yossie asked, after he'd cut halfway through.

"Chisels," Thomas said. "They have some simple chisels, but to cut up the conveyor segments, we need bull-nosed cutting chisels. I think the Americans doubt I can cut wrought iron pieces that big. While we wait for the forge to be ready, we can do some work using these American tools."

After Yossie had cut a foot-long chunk from the bar, Thomas showed him how to reposition the bar in the bench vise so Yossie could start a second cut. While Yossie sawed, Thomas set to work grinding the first piece to shape.

"Stop," Thomas said, after Yossie had cut most of the way through a second piece. "Save the saw. You can break the bar now, just bend it back and forth." Then he smiled. "Did I tell you, my wife and I have moved into a house? We have said goodbye to the grounds of the Grantville fair."

"What kind of house?" Yossie asked, after he'd broken the bar. Thomas had said "we" when speaking of his flight, but he'd never said a thing about his family.

"It is not a whole house, just a room. The couple that live there had three children, but two were left behind by the Ring of Fire, so now we have the room those children lived in."

The conversation ended while Thomas went back to grinding, but continued when Yossie finished cutting off the next piece. "How well do you communicate with your new landlord?" he asked.

"Not well. They have a little phrase book, but most of the phrases are very strange." Thomas chuckled. "It's as if the book was printed for use by the ignorant sons of wealthy noblemen."

"What do you mean?"

"There are so many phrases for dealing with servants. It is all very polite and the servants are doing jobs I do not fully understand. How to tell your coach driver to stop, how to ask your servant for more food, how to tell a porter where to put your baggage. Still, the little book is useful. Here, let me show you how to use this grindstone."

Yossie was fascinated by the grindstone. A touch of a little silver toggle on the machine would start or stop it. The stone was tiny compared to every grindstone he had ever seen. When it was running, it spun incredibly fast, and when he touched his work-piece to the turning stone, the stream of sparks was as intense as a flame. He immediately began to think about how such a machine might be applied to type cutting.

Thomas set to work with the saw while he let Yossie try to duplicate the chisels he'd ground. The most time consuming part of the job involved grinding the front third of each chisel to taper down to half of its original diameter. With that done, the final job was to grind a blunt triangular tip.

"How is this?" Yossie asked, handing Thomas the result.

"Not bad for a first effort, but the tip should be off center. The short edge sits in the groove you are cutting."

It took two more tries before Thomas approved the result. "Good. After we case harden it and temper it, it should cut well. This iron the Americans call rebar seems to be very good stuff, but we will learn the truth when we put it to the fire."

Yossie understood case hardening and tempering. He'd helped harden and temper many type punches in the print shop in Hanau. Those punches had been tiny compared to the chisels he and Thomas were making, but like the chisels, they were made made to cut metal.

"Why are we making so many chisels?"

"You only need one chisel if you have a grindstone to sharpen it every time it gets dull, but when you are up in the hills trying to cut one of those conveyors, will you take this grindstone with you? A bundle of spare chisels is what you want." Thomas paused. "How are you getting on with your landlord?"

"It is easier now that two of my group have left." Yossie said.

"They found another house?"

"No, the two merchants I came with decided to buy a load of stuff these Americans don't value. Now, they're on a trip selling it so they can buy livestock to bring back."

"Where will they find any buyers? These Americans have wonders, but who today has money to buy? And where will they find livestock? The foragers have stripped the Saale valley."

"Things are better to the west," Yossie said. "They went over the hills to Hildburghausen, we met a merchant there on our trip east. If there is no stock to be had there, they may have to travel as far as Neustadt. There is a big cattle market there."

"I wish them luck in their venture," Thomas said. "This town has too many unused pastures. The open land around this mine could probably support a good herd."

"That was our thought exactly," Yossie said. "There's idle land above Deborah, too. They say it's an old mine pit that was filled in, but it has a good fence around it."

Shortly after they went back to work, they were interrupted by one of the Americans stepping into the shop.

"Tom, come," he said, and then gestured to Yossie. "You too."

"What's going on?" Thomas asked.

"Who knows?" someone said. "They didn't say."

After they'd stood in the crowd for a minute, Thomas picked up the thread of their interrupted conversation. "So how are you getting on with your landlord?"

"One of my companions knows some Latin, and so does our landlord's wife." Yossie hesitated. Paulette Adducci had explained that the reason she knew some Latin was because she was Catholic. The explanation didn't make much sense to Yossie, but he suspected that Thomas might be as bothered by the Adducci's Catholicism as by his own Judaism. "She has been trying to teach English to my sister and the other women who are with us."

Someone in the crowd interrupted them. "Someone's coming!"

There was a murmur of voices as they tried to make out who was there. Thomas complained that his eyesight wasn't what it had been, while Yossie couldn't see over the crowd. Two or three men on horseback became three and then two Scots mercenaries and an American as they got closer.

As the horsemen rode up to the crowd, Ron Koch came out of the office. "Men," he began. "You know that we have something of value. Here at the mine, we have tons of iron, and in town we have other things. You also know about the war, about the armies that are loose in the land. We need to worry about how to defend ourselves against anyone who might try to take what we have."

"The man is right," Thomas muttered. "If the Imperials find this place, they will strip it bare."

Yossie nodded, mildly annoyed that he had missed some of what Ron was saying. "… so I will let him speak." Ron finished, turning to one of the Scots.

"Who of you has before fired a gun?" the man asked.

Thomas raised his hand, as did several others. Yossie had never held a gun, but neither had most of the others.

"These Americans guns, they are strange, but they are wonderful," the Scot continued. "We have here one you can try. We can use it for practice so we waste not powder nor shot.

"This last week, we saw a few small attacks on the north and east of Grantville. They were stragglers and foragers and we beat them. So long as small bands are all we see, Grantville is safe.

"The trouble is, some of them get away. If they speak to their officers about Grantville, we may face a tercio. That would be two or three thousand men, half with guns. These Americans, they think they can win against such a force. Perhaps they can. It seems that every American man has at least one gun."

Yossie nodded. His elderly landlord Randolph Adducci had at least two guns that he was aware of.

"To be sure we win, we need to prepare. If the raiders come here to the mine, you will have to defend. If a tercio comes, every man must be ready to help. So try this toy gun. Learn how it works."

The American stopped the Scotsman and said something to him. While he waited, Yossie recalled the text he had studied the night before with Rabbi Yakov. Yossie had complained that the opening chapters of the Torah portion for the week were some of the dullest in the whole Bible. The old rabbi's response was to point out the passage giving instructions for blowing the signal trumpets.

"When an enemy comes into your land and you rise to war against him, sound a stuttering call on the trumpets," Yakov had translated. "You say that Parshas Behaaloscha begins with dull commandments to the Levites, but think. From this one dull mitzvah, we can infer that we are obliged to organize for self defense." Now, it seemed that they were doing exactly that.

For the remainder of the afternoon, they took turns trying to shoot holes in a paper target. When it was his turn, Thomas insisted on learning how the toy gun worked. It didn't use powder, so there was no smoke or flame when a shot was fired. "Ah!" Thomas exclaimed, after the Scotsman had explained that the gun used air. "It is like shooting a cork out of a bellows!"

"Aye," the Scotsman said. "But the balls, they are tiny."

Yossie held back while Germans took their turns with the American gun. He understood his obligation to aid in defending the community, but he had no desire to violate the Christian law that Jews were forbidden to bear arms.

The American eventually noticed that Yossie was hanging back and pointed at him. "You, come," he said, gesturing with one hand while he held the gun in the other. "Shoot."

As Yossie nervously stepped forward to take the gun, one of the Scots looked at him sharply, and then turned to the American as if he was about to say something. Yossie was certain that the man had recognized that he was a Jew, but at the last moment, a baffled expression came over the Scotsman's face and he said nothing.

Yossie's attempts to use the gun were no more successful than those of the Germans, but having never touched a gun before, his failure didn't bother him

27th of Sivan, 5391 (June 27, 1631)

Yossie's second full week at the mine went quickly, but it was filled with anxiety. His traveling companions Yitzach ben Zvi and Moische ben Avram had left town nearly two weeks ago. Every day of the past week, he had come home hoping for their return.

Yossie's anxiety had been increased by the rumors he heard. Stories of troop movements to the north seemed to grow more urgent with each passing day. A week ago, there had been a few families a day arriving at the refugee center at the Grantville Fairground. Now, Yossie had heard that there were tens of families a day. Now, there were stories of an army approaching from the north.

Friday afternoon, the bus passed two groups of refugees in town. It was easy to see that they were new arrivals. Each group had an American guide, and they looked as disoriented as Yossie had been only a few weeks earlier.

When the bus left the center of town to follow Buffalo Creek toward Deborah, Yossie saw what he took to be another refugee group ahead. As refugees went, they looked well off. One man was on horseback and they had a two-horse wagon and some livestock. After a moment, Yossie recognized Yitzach and Moische.

"Stop the bus!" he yelled, grabbing his lunch pail. He leapt out as soon as the driver opened the door.

"Yossie!" Yitzach called, as Yossie ran back toward his friends.

"I expected you on Tuesday, what took you so long?"

"It's partly my fault," Yitzach said. "I wanted to visit Kissingen."

"We were worried. There are rumors of an army coming."

"I know," Yitzach said. "Herr Gutkind of Hildburghausen told us of force coming south in the Ilm valley. Do you think Grantville can stand against a tercio?"

"The Americans seem confident." Yossie turned to walk beside the wagon. "To be sure they will win they want everyone to learn to shoot a gun. We do some shooting practice at the mine every day."

"So now you are becoming a soldier?" Moische arched his eyebrows.

Yossie laughed. "Hardly. Most of our practice shooting is with toy guns, they call them bee-bee guns, and they shoot a ball the size of a grain of wheat. Tell me about your trip!"

"Taking glassware from Grantville was a wonderful idea," Yitzach said. "But wait until my wife can hear as well. Right now, I'd better round up our cattle."

"Only four?" Yossie asked as Yitzach rode away.

"We sold the others to Herr Mobley," Moische said. "Now that there are only two cows, Yitzach can be a lazy herdsman. Climb up, the wagon is light."

"I see four animals."

"The calves will follow their mothers," Moische said. "We had three more cows with calves, but we lost a calf on the road." He paused. "Reb Yitz is right, though. I want my wife to hear our tales. Tell me about Grantville."

"I am working at the mine, apprenticed to a Saxon smith."

"Apprenticed?" Moische said. "Since when is a Jew an apprentice, and to a Saxon, no less? And aren't you a little old for an apprenticeship?"

"He doesn't know I'm a Jew, and I don't think the miner's guild cares."

"The miners guild? Since when have guilds permitted Jews?"

"The UMWA is a very strange guild, but yes, I am a member now."

For the next few minutes, Yossie talked about his work at the mine smithy. After they had turned off the main road onto Deborah, Moische changed the subject.

"Reb Guildsman Yosef," he said, only half mockingly, "please tell me how my wife is doing."

"She is well," Yossie said. "Frau Adducci is working hard to teach the women English, and she seems eager to learn German."

"How is Herr Adducci?"

Yossie frowned. It had been obvious that Randolph Adducci and his wife were not in full agreement about taking in a refugee group. She seemed convinced that she was doing God's will, and that the three empty bedrooms that her children had once occupied were there for the needs of the homeless. Her husband, on the other hand, had acted quite unhappy about the strangers who had moved into his house.

"Randolph Adducci is still cross much of the time," Yossie said. "but things are better. I think he was unhappy before the Ring of Fire. He is old, and it seems that he is ill. He complains that his feet hurt."

"He is sick?" Moische asked.

"It was only when we started eating with the Adduccis that we found out. Frau Adducci can eat anything, but Herr Adducci must avoid all honey and sweet fruits, and he must have a set amount of bread or flour in every meal."

"You are eating with the Adduccis?"

"Yes. Frau Adducci liked the smell of Chava's cooking, and so they began to work together in the big kitchen. Chava is happy not to be confined to the small kitchen that the Adduccis call the bar."

"But how does she manage to keep things kosher?"

"She's very strict about kashrus, so she boiled all of the Adducci cooking pots and silverware, and she only uses your crockery at the table. Chava says that Frau Adducci keeps a very clean kitchen. She doesn't know that we keep kosher. I think she sees the care Chava takes as just a foreign kind of cleanliness. To her, it is just one more strange difference between the American world and our world.

"I think it was eating together that helped Herr Adducci. I don't think he'll ever learn German, but he gave me this lunch pail."

"What is it?" Moische asked.

"It is for carrying my noon meal to the mine. Herr Adducci was a miner back when the mine here in Deborah was still open."

When they reached the Adducci house, they had time for only the briefest of greetings. Their first priority was to take the horses and cattle to pasture. They'd gotten permission to use a fenced field above the upper village for their goats before they moved to Deborah. The sloping field had once been an open mine pit, or so they'd been told, but nothing visible to Yossie and his friends hinted at that history.

Moische's wife Frumah was outside looking over the wagon when they got back from the pasture. "What are the barrels?" she asked.

"Wine from Kissingen," Moische said, pointing to one barrel, "and grain," he added, pointing to the others. "We came east with a full load, but we sold the rest in town, along with three cows and two calves."

"You went all the way to Kissingen?" Frumah asked. "Was that prudent?"

"We thought so at the time," Moische said. "On the way home, we thought we might have made a mistake. The rumors of war seem to be chasing us. Where are the others?"

"In the kitchen. Shabbos is coming and you men had best get ready."

"And what of Rav Yakov?"

"He is teaching at the Grantville cheder, what they call the elementary school. He teaches German to some of the Americans. He is only supposed to work there for two hours after the noon meal every day, but they have a library. He should be here soon." Frumah paused. "Enough talk. You men put things away and get ready."

By sunset, the wagon had been unloaded and parked in the vacant half of the Adducci garage. Everyone had bathed and changed into their good clothes, and the men had convened for their prayers.

Worship was difficult in the Adducci household. They didn't want the Adduccis to know that they were Jews, so they said their prayers in the bedroom that Moische and Frumah were using.

The crucifixes in every room of the Adducci household posed a second problem. Plain Christian crosses were bad enough, but these had statues of the Christian God on them, and it was impossible to see them as anything less than a blatant violation of the commandment forbidding graven images. They covered the crucifixes when they could, but they were careful to leave them exposed whenever the Adduccis might see them.

There were ten people around the dinner table that night, Paulette and Randolph Adducci, Rabbi Yakov, Yitzach Kissinger, his wife Chava and daughter Gitele, Moische Frankfurter and his wife Frumah, and Yossie and his sister Basiya.

Eating with the Adduccis was awkward, and the fact that it was a Sabbath dinner made it doubly so. They couldn't chant Kiddush properly over the wine to start their Sabbath dinner. That would reveal who they were. At every meal, the Adduccis added to their discomfort by saying a prayer in the name of the the Christian God before they ate.

Language at the table was another problem. When Randolph Adducci had difficulty understanding what they said, he would complain that he couldn't follow their jabber.

"How was your trip?" Paulette asked.

" Wir, we go," Yitzach started. " Montag, to Schleusingen we go by Schwarza way. Zweitag to Meiningen."

"Speak English," Randolph insisted.

Paulette sighed. "Dear, if you would just try. Isaac said they went on the Schwarza road to Schleusingen a week ago Monday, and then to Meiningen on Tuesday."

"Where is this Slushing place?" Randolph asked.

"Dear," Paulette said. "it is a town west of here. Am I right, Moses?"

" Ya, und Meiningen is more west."

It took several more rounds to learn that the travelers had reached Neustadt on Wednesday. On Thursday, Yitzach had taken the wagon onward to Kissingen. Meanwhile Moische stayed in Neustadt finding a good price for the glassware they'd brought from Grantville.

"In Neustadt, I hear of Soldaten," Moische said. "So, wir, we go here on south way, Konigshofen und Hildburghausen. In Hildburghausen, I hear Soldaten make one tercio. They coming south."

"What's a terci?" Randolph asked.

"A tercio. Three Tausend Soldaten," Yakov answered. "One Tausend with guns. Two Tausend with Speissen."

"With what?" Paulette asked?

"A Speisse. A Pfahl mit a spitze," Yakov answered, pantomiming a two handed thrust with a pike.

"Spears," Randolph said. "They'd protect the muskets while they reload. Where is this tercio thing?"

"In north, coming south," Moische answered. " Zwei Tage, a Woch e."

"Two days or a week!" Paulette said, looking worried. "Can Grantville handle that many?"

"Probably," Randolph said. "Our guns are a damn sight better than anything these krauts have, and the emergency committee is on the ball."

As the Adduccis began speaking to each other, their English was too fast for Yossie to follow.

"People are going to get hurt," Paulette said. "You heard what happened to Dan Frost and Harry Lefferts."

"Damn, I wish I could do something." Randolph said. "If my damned feet didn't hurt so."

Paulette frowned. "Calm down, Randolph."

"Calm down?" he said, turning red. "There's a God damned army coming this way!" He paused, frowning. "Paulette, you phone Tony and Bernadette after dinner, see what they know about this."

Yitzach leaned toward Yossie. "What are they saying?" he asked, in a low tone.

Yossie had no answer, and as the Adduccis' discussion continued, he understood less and less of what they said.

After he'd eaten, Yossie and Moische went out to say the grace after meals under the porch light. Bentsching privately to himself drove questions of the approaching army from his mind, but it intensified another burden. Chanting the Birkas quietly after the noon meal at the mine had not bothered him, but the Sabbath Grace was different. From the opening words of Psalm 126 to the closing prayer for peace, Yossie ached to chant the long prayer with his companions around the table.

"So," Moische said, after they had pocketed their bentschers. "We will soon see what these Americans can do. You seem less worried about our news than our hosts. Why?"

"I told you about the shooting practice at the mine. I have seen the Americans shoot. Bang, bang, bang, with no pause to reload, and every shot hits the center of the target. That was with a gun that the Americans said was a toy. How did you lose a calf?"

"We gave it to a refugee family."

"You just gave it away?"

"I was young, now I am old," Moische said, quoting part of the prayer they had just said.

Nothing more needed to be said. Yossie knew the Hebrew by heart. "… and I have never looked on one who is just and forsaken and let his children go begging for bread."

After a pause, Moische continued in a wry tone. "Besides, they might have robbed us if we hadn't given them the calf."

"Moses!" Paulette called, from inside. "Telephone."

Yossie followed his companion inside, curious. He'd seen a telephone used several times, but he'd never used one himself. Moische looked awkward as he took the strange instrument from Paulette, and for the next several minutes he listened and then spoke, telling again the stories he'd heard on the road.

After he handed the telephone back to Paulette, he looked dazed. "That was odd."

"Who did you talk to?" Frumah asked.

"That woman Bernadette, Paulette's daughter. And someone else, an American. They wanted to hear what we had heard about the soldiers."

"Did they tell you anything?"

"Yes. They already know they will face a tercio. They think it will attack Badenburg soon. That is on the road from the Ilm valley to Grantville. She said that we should not worry. They have been expecting something like this to happen, and they have been preparing for it."

7th of Tamuz, 5391 (July 7, 1631)

Most of the week following the battle at Badenburg was uneventful. Yossie's work at the mine continued uninterrupted. Yitzach and Moische did set off on another mercantile trip west. After the success of their first trip, Moische had decided to send a letter to his cousin Shlomo in Frankfort, inviting him to join them.

The news of the victory and of the huge number of prisoners was certainly interesting. Every evening, Yossie and Yakov shared what they had learned at the mine and at the elementary school, but the news had little direct effect on their lives.

Monday, a week after the battle, Yossie got on the bus expecting things to continue as they had. Thomas was happy to see him and began talking about the celebration the town had after the battle.

Thomas was still talking as they got off of the bus. "Michael Stearns, the President of the UMWA was in command at the battle of Badenburg, and he had the place of honor in the procession. What I do not understand is why the Jewess they call Becky was also there. The Americans cheered her as if she was as much of a hero as Herr Stearns."

Yossie knew of Grantville's court Jews, members of the famous Abrabanel family. He'd heard Americans speaking of Rebecca Abrabanel, and he was curious to hear what Thomas might have to say about her.

Several mine officials were waiting for them as the bus emptied, so Yossie had no chance to probe Thomas's feelings about Jews. Yossie had begun to recognize some of the officials. Quentin Underwood was there, along with Ken Hobbs, representing the Miner's Guild. Ron Koch's German was by far the best, so as usual, he was their spokesman.

"Men," he said, as the empty bus pulled away. "You know we defeated an army a week ago, and we took hundreds of prisoners. We released most of them. I talked to some of them, to see if they could work at the mine. As soon as the bus gets back, we will welcome them.

"You remember your first days here. Now, you are the ones with experience. To these new workers, you are going to be seen as Americans. Be warned, though. All of them were soldiers, and all of them suffered a terrible defeat a week ago. They are tough, but some of them are still stunned by what happened.

"Many of our new workers are Catholics, and most of you are Protestants. We want you to remember one thing. Our law, our official policy and the rules of the United Mine Workers of America all agree. We do not draw lines between men based on the color of a man's skin, based on his religion, or based on the land of his origin. In our eyes, all men are equal, Catholics, Protestants or Jews. I want you to remember this."

***

Yossie's first job every morning was to fire up the forge. The coal they were burning was difficult to light, so Yossie began by lighting a wood fire on the hearth and then he gradually built it up with coal.

Thomas had mixed feelings about the forge the Americans had built. He loved the electric blower that did away with the need for a bellows, but he disliked the coal fire and the sulfur smell it gave off. But even Thomas had to admit that once it was burning properly, the coal fire was good enough to use.

Yossie had built a perfect pile of burning coal perched over the air jet from the blower when two strangers arrived at the forge.

"Thomas Schmidt? Joseph Hanauer?" the older of the two asked, speaking with a backwoods Bavarian accent. "They said we was to work with you."

"And you are?"

"Karl, and this is Fritz."

"Are you smiths?" Thomas asked.

"Till a week ago, we were soldiers," Karl said. "I'd a pike, Fritz a musket."

Thomas glared at them. "What help can you offer here?"

"I was a farrier's apprentice before the army, I've shod plenty of horses since."

"That's something," Thomas said, grudgingly. "And what about you?" he asked turning to the other man.

"Fritz can fix anything," Karl said. "I seen him take apart a wheel lock pistol and put it right."

"Can he speak for himself?"

Fritz nodded. "I speak," he said, slowly and precisely. "And I can't fix everything. These Grantvillers have stuff I can't figure out."

"What's wrong with him?" Thomas asked.

"Bit his tongue in battle," Karl said, with a bit of a grin. "Day ago, 'twas big as a sausage."

"Let's get to work," Thomas said. "Fritz, you tend the fire, try to keep a good mound of coal burning. Add new coal as soon as we take the work off the fire to start hammering, and keep the coal mounded over the air flow so that it is burning hot and clean by the time we finish hammering. Karl, can you follow hammer signals?"

Karl looked baffled, so Thomas had to explain how he would use his small hammer to direct the forging, and then he and Yossie demonstrated. Thomas, as the master smith, held the piece they were forging on the anvil while Yossie swung the long-handled sledge hammer. Thomas used a small hammer to direct each blow of the sledge, tapping the work to show where and how to strike it.

"What are we making?" Karl asked, after he'd taken a turn at the sledge.

"Tongs," Thomas said. "They want twenty pairs for lifting iron rails." He finished mounding the coals around the iron on the hearth and then picked up a finished pair of tongs. "Joseph, help me."

Yossie took one handle while Thomas took the other and then used them to lift a yard-long chunk of rail. "The Americans say this weighs a hundred pounds. The rails they want to move are more than ten times as long."

"So much iron?" Karl asked.

"Yes, and it's not just iron, it's fine steel," Thomas said, going back to the fire and poking at the coals. "There is an iron road to the electricity mill, and they want to connect it with this mine.

"Yossie, Karl," he said, pulling the glowing iron bar from the fire. "Now we will try something. Both of you take hammers, and each of you strike in turn. The work will go much faster."

Yossie had only learned to follow Thomas's hammer signals the week before and Karl was a complete newcomer. They made many mistakes, but by noon, they'd forged another pair of tongs. When the three of them did manage to work together smoothly, it seemed that the rain of hammer blows on hot iron was almost musical.

Yossie had experienced something similar during long press runs in the print shop in Hanau. When the printer, the pressman and the ink boy got into perfect rhythm, the work became like a dance. When that happened, they seemed to get far more done without working any harder than usual.

As they ate their noon meal, Yossie noticed that Fritz was eating very slowly and with extreme care. "You must have really hurt yourself," Yossie said.

Fritz nodded. "I was in the front ranks," he said, carefully.

"Everyone round him was shot down," Karl added.

"Man beside me exploded," Fritz went on. "Bit my tongue to stop scream." He shook his head ruefully. "American guns are horrible. Don't know why I'm alive."

Thomas had been silent, but now he spoke, in a low angry voice. "Were you at Magdeburg?"

"Yes," Fritz said, looking glum.

"The American guns were worse than what you did in Magdeburg? At least the Americans had the mercy to stop shooting when you were defeated."

"I wasn't there when the city fell," Karl said. "I was out foraging."

"And did you show any mercy to the villagers whose food you took?"

A tense silence fell over the group while they finished their meals. The two Bavarians sat apart from Yossie and Thomas, and several times. it seemed that Thomas was about to say something more to them.

When Yossie finished saying the grace after meals, he wanted to take a few minutes at the forge to work on a project of his own. He had a broken knife blade in his pocket, good steel, and he wanted to re-forge it into a punch. He'd helped cut type in Hanau, and in his spare time, he was slowly working on cutting his own Hebrew alphabet, a project that had begun when he'd complained about the letter shin in the Hanau type face.

When he got to the forge, he found Thomas stirring the coals with his back to the two Bavarians, pointedly ignoring them.

"So," Thomas said, turning abruptly. The look on his face was grim. "After Magdeburg, where did you go?"

"South to Halberstadt," Karl said, "We stuck it to the Jews there, then followed Father Tilly to Eisleben."

Yossie froze.

"Thale?" Thomas said. "Did you go through Thale?"

"I don't remember the names of the places we visited. Why do you care?"

"Because I come from Thale," Thomas barked. "I lived my whole life there, my smithy was there, until your accursed army drove me out."

Yossie hardly heard a word after the words "we stuck it to the Jews." Karl had said it in passing, as if it had hardly been important. Yossie knew Jews from Halberstadt. Two families had arrived in Hanau's Jewish quarter a decade earlier, bringing stories of mob violence to rival the horrors Yossie had survived as a small child in Frankfurt.

Yossie wanted to confront the Bavarian, but for a Jew to confront a Christian was to invite disaster. Just the day before, Yossie and Rabbi Yakov had spoken at length about whether it was time to tell people that they were Jews. The Americans of Grantville were proud that they didn't ask about a man's religion. Yossie and his companions hadn't set out to live like Spanish Marranos, hiding their Jewishness in fear of the Christian world. That is what they were becoming, and they didn't like it.

They were fairly certain that it was safe to tell the Adduccis that they were Jews. Shortly before the two Bavarians had arrived, Yossie had even begun to think that it might be safe to tell Thomas. Now though, the arrival of the Bavarians made it clear that there was no safety.

While Yossie's recovered his composure, Thomas was losing his.

"Why d'you care 'bout this place, this Magdala?" Karl asked.

"Because I was there!" Thomas choked out. "For a month, I thought I'd found a new home on the road between Jena and Weimar, and then your damned foragers burned me out."

"I was just a pikeman!" Karl said. "Not a general."

Thomas grabbed Karl by the throat and shoved him hard against the chimney of the forge. "It was pikemen like you that killed my daughter!"

"Stop," Yossie shouted. "Karl didn't kill your daughter."

"No," Thomas said, slowly loosening his grip. As he let go and backed away, he looked almost as beaten as Karl.

Yossie found that he was shaking. As he offered a hand to Karl, he wondered what had come over him. From childhood, he'd been taught not to interfere in disputes between Christians, and he was fairly certain that Karl would be among the last to come to the aid of a Jew.

"We didn't go east of Weimar," Fritz said, in Karl's defense. "We were in Erfurt, then south to Ilmenau and Badenburg."

Thomas' anger at the Bavarians was a shock. Yossie had known that Thomas was avoiding talking about his family, but he had always seemed to be a very calm man.

"Come on, folks. We have tongs to make," Thomas said, with a sigh. "Work is easier than yelling at each other."

Shortly after they set to work, Bob Eckerlin stopped outside the forge to watch them. He stepped inside when they put the iron back in the fire to reheat. "Thomas, Joe, I need you to make something."

" Was?" Thomas asked.

"Can you come take a look?"

Thomas looked at the iron in the fire and then at Yossie. He hesitated for a moment, and then handed him the small hammer. "Joseph, see what you can do."

As Thomas walked away with Bob, Yossie realized that he'd just been promoted. He wasn't entirely sure he was ready to direct the work of the two Bavarians, but he had to try.

He took hold of the cold end of the bar they'd only begun to forge and pulled it from the fire, setting the hot end on the anvil and tapping it with the small hammer. They'd begun work beating the handle to shape, but it was still far from the long graceful taper that was their goal.

Even with the heavy leather glove he wore on his left hand, each hammer blow sent a shock up his arm. Only when he held the work-piece at exactly the right angle against the anvil was it bearable. The iron cooled quickly. After five blows of the heavy sledge, it was already time to put the work-piece back in the fire.

"How long you been with these foreigners, these Grantvillers?" Karl asked.

"I came here," he said, and then paused while using a piece of rebar to mound the burning coals over the iron. "It was a month ago, just before Pentecost," he finally said, remembering the conversation with Pastor Green that Sabbath afternoon.

"What d'you make of these Grantvillers? Do you believe their story about the Ring of Fire?"

"I have no reason to doubt it," Yossie said. "The first rumors I heard called it the pit of Hell, but that's because I came from the south-west." He pointed out the open side of the smithy toward the dark cliff of the ring wall. "To the folks living up there, one moment there was a high hill here, and then bang, they were looking down at Grantville."

"You believe that story, that it just happened with a bang?"

"I was on a hill outside Kissingen that Sunday afternoon. That's a town three or four days west of here. I saw something." He paused. He'd never told anyone this story. "It was a flash to the east, as bright as the sun, and as brief as a lightning bolt, but perfectly round, the size of an Imperial thaler sitting on the horizon. The iron is hot, let's get to work."

Thomas came back into the smithy as they were finishing forging the taper of the handle. He watched them until they finished hammering, and then took the cold end of the bar from Yossie and inspected their work.

"Not bad," he said. "Start forging the handle on another bar while I make what they need."

"What do they need?" Yossie asked.

"This broke," Thomas said, holding out two pieces of iron. "It was a brace for part of the coal-washing machine, and it broke because there was only one where there should have been two."

As Thomas went into the shop building to look for an iron bar, Fritz picked up a piece of coal from the bin beside the hearth. "They wash this?" he asked puzzled.

"That building is all for coal washing," Yossie said, pointing to a large building that seemed to be made entirely of rippled metal. "I don't understand how coal can be washed, but they are having some trouble making those machines work."

When Thomas came out of the shop building, Yossie, Karl and Fritz were hard at work. As soon as Yossie put his work-piece in the fire, Thomas took over the anvil, and for some time after that, Yossie and Thomas alternated at the anvil while Karl swung the hammer for both of them.

When they finally took a break, Yossie spoke. "Thomas. You never told me about your daughter." The question on his mind was an innocent one, but by the end of the day, he would regret speaking.

***

Butterflies in the Kremlin, Part Five, The Dog and Pony Show

Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett

Natasha alighted from the carriage at her family's dacha outside of Moscow, along with her aunt, Sofia Petrovna. Both were wearing full regalia, "dressed to the nines," as Bernie put it. Aunt Sofia served as her chaperone, necessary in Moscovy's culture. While her brother, Vladimir Petrovich, was away in Grantville, someone had to assume responsibility for the lands. That responsibility fell on her. Young for it she might be, but she and Vlad were the last of their branch of the family. It was a wealthy branch. Thankfully, she and Vladimir had been raised by a free-thinking father who had been rather enamored of the west. She had been educated alongside Vlad. Fashionable or not, someone had to take care of things.

Aunt Sofia turned to Boris. "Well, Boris Ivanovich, what do you suppose Bernie has done this time? I thought the stinks and noises from his bathroom were quite enough. What now?"

Boris smiled. "One never knows, not with Bernie Janovich Zeppi, my lady. We shall just have to see. I am most concerned that he be well-behaved for the visit. And, Bernie being Bernie… one never knows."

"It's not Bernie we need to worry about. It's the nerds," Natasha corrected. Boris knew she was right. What he was worried about wasn't really Bernie. After a good bit of pressure and growing interest in the Dacha, the Grantville Section of the Embassy Bureau, and the new products that were coming out, Boris and Natasha had arranged a tour of the Dacha for several people who had been pushing to see and know more about it. On the one hand, Boris had no objections. On the other, some of the spectators were very opposed to the changes that were happening in their society. He feared they might use this visit as an excuse to protest more. The problem wasn't just Bernie or just the nerds or even just the information coming from Vladimir. It was a combination of all of them.

***

The czar and czarina, Patriarch Filaret, several members of the cabinet and some of their wives, arrived over the next few hours and had to be provided quarters in the Dacha for their stay. The normal inhabitants of those rooms had been moved into outbuildings, and even into a large, heavy, double-walled tent. Natasha greeted each guest as they arrived.

***

Boris listened to the lecture on soil chemistry with half an ear. It wasn't that it was unimportant. In the long run, it might turn out to be drastically important. But Boris had other things on his mind.

Boris Ivanovich Petrov was a spy. He was not the least bit ashamed of either the title or the meaning that it encompassed. He had been a field agent in Poland, England, and, most recently, Grantville. He had, on occasion, found it necessary to kill quietly from behind in defense of his czar and his mission. He took no joy in doing so, but didn't hesitate to, either. His new job as head of the Grantville Section of the Embassy Bureau was supposed to be a job in which that sort of thing was no longer necessary. That, unfortunately, hadn't proved to be the case.

Starting about three months after his return to Moscow, several of the other bureaus wanted the up-timer reassigned to them to focus on their projects. The pressure had been increasing ever since, with only limited relief when he had given Cass Lowry to the military. The roads bureau wanted Bernie to spend all his time on road-making equipment. The farming bureau wanted him making farming machinery. He was also wanted to make medicines, concrete, steel, plastics, and who knew what else.

There had been time for some of the effects to be felt since Bernie had arrived in Muscovy. Some road crews had the equipment he introduced and had been building and repairing roads much faster. A new quick-loading rifle was in limited production. Bernie insisted on calling it the AK3. This time Boris somewhat approved of the joke. Andrei Korisovich was head of the team that was developing the new rifle, but that wasn't the only reason he approved. Boris had seen up-timer movies that mentioned the AK47.

Both the Swedish and Polish sections of the Embassy Bureau wanted Bernie transferred to them, and the Grantville Section shut down. The Swedish Section claimed jurisdiction because Bernie had become a subject, sort of, of the king of Sweden since he had left Grantville. The Polish Section claimed jurisdiction because Bernie was teaching what he knew about firearms.

The knives were out, all over Moscow. Some of them were political and some made of steel. The political ones were by far the more dangerous.

"By introducing nitrates into the soil." For a moment Boris was distracted from his thoughts. Nitrates and the nitric acid that could be produced from them, played an important role in the production of smokeless gun powder. No, the lecturer was talking about using clover and beans to enrich the soil on the Yaroslavich family estates this coming spring.

Somehow, and Boris wasn't entirely sure how, he had gotten involved with the financial workings of the Yaroslavich family. It had seemed so innocent at the time. Vladimir Petrovich had merely offered letters of introduction to his sister, as well as several letters for her. In the letters to her, he had suggested that the Yaroslavich family should pay the czar a phenomenal amount for the Bernie/Grantville franchise and offered his dacha as a good place to put Bernie. By long-standing tradition, great houses and merchants of the empire paid the czar for the right to run commercial enterprises, like the import or export of goods, mining, or whatever.

So the Yaroslavich family owned the Bernie/Grantville franchise. Bernie was a big part of the Grantville, or American, Section's turf. The American Section, along with the Yaroslavich family, controlled access to Bernie and, through Bernie, controlled access to the experts who had been brought to the Dacha to work with him. The Yaroslavich clan had the patent on everything that came out of the Dacha.

It didn't seem like a large sum now, aside from the direct income to the Yaroslavich clan, which wasn't all that great. Yet.

But the favors flowed like rivers. And favors were the currency of political power in Muscovy. If the mining bureau wanted a road to a new mine, it would not have to come just to the roads bureau, not now. Now it would have to come to the Grantville Section and the Yaroslavich clan. Boris had collected more favors since being made head of the Grantville Section than in all the rest of his career. On the downside, when people came to him for favors he couldn't grant, he made enemies.

With Bernie placed in their dacha, it became clear that the Yaroslavich family were backing the Grantville Section. So far, no one had had enough influence to change that. Which also meant that the Yaroslavich family was passing out favors. Natasha was picking up more and more IOU's from the high nobility. They weren't being stingy in a monetary sense, but there was a degree of political selectivity in their choices.

But this was Moscow. Alliances could change at a moments notice. Or not. Now the patriarch was nervous, Boris heard. There were rumors that the Yaroslavich clan would try for the throne. Boris was confident that they had no such goal, but power carries its own implications.

A more realistic concern was that they would gain influence with the czar. Mikhail was loved, but not that well respected. Not considered… particularly strong. Of course, his hands were tied. The Assembly of the Land had seen to that when he was elected. Those limitations might well explain why he was so popular. When the government got blamed for something it was usually his advisors, not the czar, who got the blame. It was known that Mikhail had cried when told he had been elected czar. As well, it was known that he had refused the crown. He had continued to refuse until told that if he didn't accept, the blood of the next "time of troubles" would be on his hands.

Natasha knew the czarina, Evdokia. Before Bernie, that acquaintance would have given her family protection, but not much influence. Now that acquaintance was a way for up-time ideas to reach the czar without going through his father, who was also the patriarch of the Orthodox Church. And the ideas had gotten to Mikhail, some of them, anyway. Hence this little event.

***

Ivan Ivanovich had read the reports. That was one of the reasons that he had pushed for this general demonstration of the products of the Dacha. One of the reasons. The other being his increasing concern about the influence of the Grantville Section. Increasingly, he had been forced, almost against his will, to realize the importance that the Ring of Fire was going to have on the rest of the world, including Russia.

He watched Pter Nickovich pace about in a dither, getting in the way of the workmen handling the ropes. And found himself tempted to do the same thing. He knew what was about to happen he'd read about it in the reports. Then as the ropes were let out, it began to rise. Two poles, about five feet apart with ropes going from them to a basket below and balloons above. He had thought that he knew what was going to happen, but he hadn't realized what it would feel like. Twenty feet into the air, then twenty five, thirty, supported by nothing but air. It's only connection to the earth the ropes that held it down. And in the basket that hung below the dirigible testbed, Nikita Slavenitsky smiled and waved to the crowd of dignitaries.

Ivan Ivanovich waved back, it was absolutely the least he could do. What he wanted to do was jump up and down and shout. A Russian was flying in the air, held aloft by the knowledge and craftsmanship of his fellow Russians. He had read that the up-timers had already flown. But knowing about it from a report was one thing, seeing it was something altogether different. The up-timers with their machines doing it was one thing. Russians making a flying device out of wood, rope and cow guts-that was something altogether different. Even in his excitement about the flight, Ivan realized that it meant that one of his goals in forcing this demonstration had backfired. If anything it would increase the influence wielded by the Grantville Section. He looked over at the czar's pet up-timer, in time to see as Bernie, looking bored, snorted a laugh.

***

Bernie could understand why Pter Nickovich was so nervous. Today the czar, the czarina and some members of the cabinet had come to see his baby fly. Bernie looked over at the big shots. They were gawking. Totally gone. You'd think the aliens were landing or something. Then he thought about it. Granted, it wasn't that much of a dirigible. It had no power and there wasn't much you could do with it, not yet. But, Nikita was the first Russian to fly in this time line.

Shit, this was history. For here and now, this was like the first rocket ship to the moon or something. Bernie found himself giggling a bit. Nikita Ivanovich Slavenitsky was a nice guy and usually had a joke to tell or a dirty story. But he wasn't the sort of guy you would think of as Neil Armstrong or whoever. But Nicky was going down in history.

One of the big shots was looking a bit offended. "You find this funny?"

Bernie had forgotten the guy's name. He was the head of the Embassy Bureau, Bernie knew that much. "It's not that, sir. I just never thought that a guy I had a beer with every now and then would make history."

"History?" The guy paused. Looked up and nodded. "The first Russian to fly."

"Yes, sir," Bernie said. "Nikita Ivanovich Slavenitsky and Pter Nickovich have done Russia proud today. Real proud."

The big shot looked at Bernie a bit sharply for a moment, then he smiled. "You will excuse me, Bernie Janovich. I must speak to the czar."

***

Ivan Ivanovich headed back to the czar in a rather bemused state of mind. He wasn't sure what to make of the up-timer. He hadn't tried to take credit for the flight, even though Ivan knew that Bernie's explanations had been a large part of making it possible. Nor had he been demeaning of the Russian efforts. Ivan didn't know what to make of the man, and that bothered him. He glanced up at the flying carriage. He wanted control of such devices if he could manage it. He thought they would be important.

***

"We can fly," Evdokia, Czarina of All Russia-and sometimes a real pain in the butt-insisted. Mikhail looked at his wife and sighed. He knew he was going to lose the argument. They were in the best room in the Dacha and it had been an interesting day.

"I know how you feel," he tried, though in truth he didn't. He knew his Doshinka had dreams of flight but he never had. Mikhail's dreams tended to be dark things, best forgotten. "But we have real problems that we must deal with."

Evdokia, thankfully, didn't ignore the problems, though Mikhail was fairly sure she wanted to. "I know, Mikhail. But I think that Pter Nickovich made some excellent points about the usefulness of such a flying ship. More importantly, though, is the useful thing he didn't mention."

"What useful thing is that?"

"Pride. Pride in being Russian. Pride in being a part of something great. Who is, ah, was… will be that up-time general that Mikhail Borisovich Shein is always quoting about eggs?

Mikhail shook his head, not able to remember the name. He thought the general was French but that was all he remembered.

"Well, that's not the only quote. The general Nappy something also said that the moral is to the physical as three to one." She grinned. "I think to the fiscal, it's even more. Let us fill the hearts of the people of Russia with pride in who they are. Not with fear of the bureaucrats."

Mikhail looked at his wife for long time, just taking in the bubbling excitement. She fairly glowed with it. Could Pter Nickovich's big balloon really produce such a reaction? And if it produced that sort of reaction in the Russian heart, what effect would it have on the Polish heart and the Cossack heart? "Very well. I will support the project. I can make no promises, mind."

Evdokia just grinned. Somehow, as pleasant as that smile was, it made Mikhail a bit nervous.

***

The dog and pony show had been going on for three days. Bernie had been moved into his garage, because of all the important people who had shown up. He didn't mind it, especially. The garage was where he was trying to fix the car, without a lot of success. The VIP visit, Boris said, was going quite well. But it was still a total pain in the butt.

Bernie had spent most of the last three days explaining that it was really Vanya, Misha, Filip, Grigorii and the others who had actually worked out all the improvements. He had just helped a bit. Really, the whole thing was kind of embarrassing. The only good thing about the whole dratted business was the thankful looks he got from the brain cases. They had apparently not expected to be given credit. Finally, he had had to sneak away. When Grigorii Mikhailovich started explaining orbital mechanics and Newton's laws of motion, Bernie's brain started to fry. He just didn't want to hear it again, not right now.

He was having a beer in the kitchen when the door opened unexpectedly. At first Bernie was afraid that one of the brain cases had come looking for him again. But, no… it wasn't a brain case. Jeez. This was the boss, the big boss.

"Howdy, Your… ah… Majesty." Bernie snaked out an arm and grabbed a chair. "Have a seat."

The big guards who followed the czar around were looking daggers-or maybe swords-at Bernie. Apparently they thought he was supposed to be doing something differently, but Bernie was tired and couldn't figure what. "Say, Your Majesty, why is the muscle looking pissed at me?"

Bernie knew that the czar knew some English but it didn't appear to be modern English. "Muscle? Pissed?"

"Ah, guards looking angry. I figure that I've done something I'm not supposed to do. That, or I ain't done something I am supposed to do. But I don't know what."

The czar nodded. "Probably you didn't bow. Bernie, is it?"

"Yes, sir. Bernard, really, but that makes me sound like some kind of old coot. I like Bernie better."

"Do you?" The czar laughed. "I'll call you Bernie, then."

"I'd appreciate it more than I can say. Thank you, Your Majesty." Grinning, Bernie stood up and swept the czar the most impressive bow he could manage. After watching movies all his life, it wasn't all that bad. Not really right, but impressive, in its own way. For some reason the guards were looking daggers at him again, but the czar cracked up. That laugh made Bernie feel better. Looking at the guy, Czar Mikhail, Bernie figured he didn't get to laugh all that much.

Bernie sat down again and repeated his offer of a chair. "I'm playing hooky. I'm supposed to be in one of the lectures explaining that I didn't do anything. You want a beer?" Sure, he was an older guy, and the czar, and all that crap… but he was a guy. Bernie figured he could use a beer now and then, just like anyone else.

***

Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov was more than a little bemused by the up-timer. He had been impressed, seriously impressed, by the demonstrations. There was a telegraph that allowed messages to be sent from one part of the estate to another. The plumbing system… ah, the plumbing system. He wanted that in his palace. Also the telegraph, all through the Kremlin. That would be good.

The military applications of the telegraph were obvious-if it could be made to work over any real distance. And they talked of radios that might be made that would not need the wires. He had been briefed on most of it, but hearing was not the same as seeing.

Mikhail had also noticed that Bernie was constantly giving credit to the local experts for doing the work and solving the problems. He had wondered how much of that was truth and how much politics. "I noticed you explaining again and again that you didn't do anything. Is it true?"

"Mostly, yeah." Bernie shook his head. "When I got here… well, I was never the smartest kid in class but I figured with a four-hundred-year head start, I ought to be able to teach you guys something. Mostly, though, I'm sort of a glorified dictionary. I explain words that have changed meanings and words that English didn't have, doesn't have, now, that it had up-time. And everyone here is smarter than I am."

"Surely not everyone?" Mikhail pointed at Anna. He assumed the maid would be illiterate. And she was a woman, after all.

"Yep, her, too." Bernie grinned. "She's picked up English fast, really fast. And she can do Arabic numerals and paper spread sheet bookkeeping. All that, while my Russian is still the pits even after I've been here so long. And she's better at the bookkeeping than I am. What's worse, I taught it to her."

"Yes." Czar Mikhail's eyes were hooded and dark. "There has been a great deal of talk lately about your accounting and taxes. An income tax. The patriarch is quite enamored of it."

Bernie shifted in his seat. It was pretty uncomfortable, all of a sudden. "I sort of opened a can of worms with that one. No one really wants to explain anything to me, just have me explain things to them, so I don't know how it works here. Anyway, the most important thing about taxes back up-time was that they were mostly fair. Mostly everybody paid them. There were people who had good lawyers and sometimes folks cheated. Still, it sort of spread the burden around, so no one group had to do it all."

Mikhail nodded. "We are considering that. It does seem that it will increase revenues, at any rate. The, ah, what was it called… the Fica, that one. That one we're having a little trouble with."

Bernie grinned and took another sip of beer. "Yeah, I heard. I had to explain what 'retire' meant. And no one understood that one. What do people do here, just work until they die? No chance to just kick back and relax, just live. I had a lot of trouble getting that clear. And when I told them about the Social Security numbers and how everybody had one, well, the brain cases just went nuts."

They sat and chatted for a long while. It was interesting to listen to someone who was mostly unguarded and not weighing every word to make his case. Mikhail finally, once the servants unfroze, got his beer and the discussion ranged all over.

Mikhail enjoyed especially the discussion of what it was like to live up-time. Cars, first dates and bananas in winter were only a part of it. Mikhail was the wealthiest and, in theory, most powerful man in Russia and had never had a banana in any season, much less a banana split.

Mikhail brought the discussion around to representative government. He wanted to get a feel for how it worked from someone who had experienced it to compare with the theory. Bernie seemed to assume that Mikhail would disapprove of it. It was the most guarded Bernie had been all evening. Mikhail liked the concept, but wasn't sure how well it would work on the ground in Russia. From his reading, it had almost seemed that every citizen of the nation must be a scholar of the law. All in all, Mikhail found Bernie's ignorance of how the details worked according to the books reassuring. It didn't take him long to figure out that Bernie actually knew less about the mechanics of how the constitutional laws of the United States of America worked up-time than he himself did.

It was clear to Mikhail that Bernie didn't have the slightest clue about how Russia worked. Russia did have a history of electing officials and representatives. But the constitution-that was a bit different. It was not like England's Great Charter or Poland's. Nor like the agreement that the Assembly of the Land had insisted he sign when they forced the throne on him. The constitution… those were a list of restrictions on the crown. They restricted the czar's power, but the constitution seemed to do more than that. It provided a concrete structure that was designed from the beginning, rather than growing just any which way.

"I don't know, Bernie." Mikhail stared into the mug he held. "I was elected to be the czar, but that was a special case. They picked me because I was only sixteen years old and they felt sure they could control me. Even so, they limited my power. Which wasn't something that bothered me, then or now. Mostly, my father runs things. He is the one who really should have been czar. But the reason that the election happened at all was that there was no one left in the direct royal line. And because they needed someone after the time of troubles. Anything was better than continuing to fight over everything. Even then, it was the Assembly of the Land and the cabinet who voted. The people of Muscovy aren't used to voting on everything."

"Yes, I get it. That's sort of the point of representatives," Bernie said. "The people elect them and they are the ones who vote on the laws and stuff. Were the people who voted elected?"

Mikhail shrugged. "Some, not all. The Assembly of the Land has men who represent the crafts or a place or who are high in the church. Some representatives of the merchants and tax collectors participate."

***

"That sorta sucks." Bernie had not cared in the least about the people of Muscovy when he agreed to come. It had just been a job; keep your head down do what the man tells you and get your pay. It had been good pay, so who cared. Gradually, without his really noticing it, that had changed. Bernie knew he was living in a very privileged situation. He had no desire to endanger that privilege by upsetting people-especially the frigging czar. The comment had just sort of slipped out. At the same time, he felt sort of obligated to help these guys get it right. He started to apologize. "Sorry about the profanity, Your Majesty."

He should have stopped there; he knew it. And he intended to, but some how it all just came poring out. "What does someone who has a lot of power and money care about the little guys? It's not a representative government unless, well, all the people get represented. Everyone, not just churchy guys, not even just guys, and not just people with money, should have a vote. If you just listen to the guys with the money and power, they're going to tell you what they want, not what people need. You ought to get rid of them and get yourself some regular folks to advise you."

Mikhail was looking at him like he was crazy. Then slowly his expression changed. Now he was looking at Bernie like Miss Mailey used to look when Bernie said something stupid in class. "Have you considered the possibility that I might not have a choice? When I was selected as Czar of Muscovy, I was required to sign an document. It had four major provisions. First, I promised to uphold and protect the Orthodox Church of Russia. Second, I promised to give up any possibility of revenging myself or my family for wrongs done to us."

The czar paused for a moment and a pained look crossed his face. "And there were wrongs done to us, Bernie, severe wrongs. Third, I promised to make no new laws or alter old ones, and to take no important measure which might contradict the existing laws, or suspend the legal proceedings of the court of justice. Finally, I promised to begin no wars and to make no peace by my own will."

Mikhail Romanov shook his head a bit and took a sip of beer. "I cannot dismiss those 'churchy guys,' as you call them, Bernie. Not my father, or any of the others. Nor the boyars or dvoryanstvo, ah… councilors and bureaucrats. I cannot restore the elected officials from the provinces. It is not within my power."

Bernie paused for a moment or two, trying to take it all in. Mikhail wasn't the all powerful figure he had thought. Then something occurred to him, the constitutional convention that Mike Stearns had set up and all the campaigning. "I'm in over my head, Your Majesty. I don't think anyone from up-time ever considered that you might not be all-powerful. I don't know what you can do about it. All I know is that representative government should represent everyone and that the representatives will only really represent the people who can fire their asses."

Bernie signaled the cook to pour a couple more beers. "We didn't actually vote on everything, you know. We elected the people who would run the government and then every few years we voted again. If we liked the way they had been running things, we reelected them; if we didn't, we elected someone else. Truth to tell, I usually didn't bother voting. After the Ring of Fire, though, we had a big meeting and set up the Emergency Committee to draft us a constitution. Maybe you could do something like that."

Mikhail sighed. "Not easily, Bernie. From what I understand, your Mike Stearns was setting up a government from scratch. There was no government in place because it had been left in the future."

"Yeah, mostly. There was the mayor and stuff, but he sorta stepped back from it right at the start."

"Somehow, I don't think the boyars and men of the cabinet are going to politely step aside." Mikhail grinned, but his eyes were kinda sad. Somehow Bernie figured that if he could, Czar Mikhail Fedorivich Romanov would step aside faster than Henry Dreeson had.

***

Mikhail and his father were already consulting with the "brain cases," as Bernie called them. Mikhail wanted a way out of the trap the up-time history had put him in. Since the history of that other future had leaked, people with power were not happy. He and his father, as czar and patriarch, had been carefully dancing in the mine field of Russian politics, focusing on the danger of a return to the time of troubles to keep the various factions in check. Even so, power was shifting between the factions. The one led by Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev, for instance. Sheremetev felt that the information from the up-timers and the actions of Peter the Great really sort of ruined the Romanov credentials as arch-conservatives.

"Interesting, perhaps." Fedor Ivanovich set his glass on the table. They had been discussing the history of the United States of America and its constitution. "Interesting, but not that impressive. It was their day in the sun, that's all. The Mongols had theirs and this United States had theirs. They were only two hundred years old. Barely a youth, as nations go."

Mikhail looked across the table at him. There were only three men at dinner tonight. Filaret, Mikhail and Fedor. Mikhail wanted Fedor's support. "I am more concerned with something else. The general agreement-and I read this over and over again-was that Russia continued to lag behind much of the rest of the world. We can change that, and I believe we should. Right now, we should start. Because right now, everyone is four hundred years behind Grantville. We have Bernie here and Vladimir in Grantville. We can modernize."

Fedor nodded, but Mikhail didn't think he was listening. Not properly at any rate. "The army, most assuredly. Right away. That I agree with. But this other? This constitution? Why? A firm hand on the reins. That is all that is needed, Mikhail. A firm hand on the reins of Rus."

Mikhail shook his head. No, Fedor wasn't listening.

***

Fedor Sheremetev left the dinner and considered most of the way home. He understood what Mikhail and Filaret were contemplating. Oh, yes. He knew that Mikhail was afraid of power. Let every peasant vote. Introduce a constitutional monarchy, maybe even that perverted idea, a democracy. He snorted. Hardly.

Fedor had a lot more sympathy for Joseph Stalin than he had for Nicholas Romanov. Stalin, if he had nothing else, had had a firm hand. And a firm hand was what Russia needed. Always had and always would.

Fedor looked down at the hands that gripped the reins of the horse. Mikhail didn't ride, did he? No. Always the carriage. Always the passenger. Never in control. That described Mikhail Romanov as well as any other phrase.

***

"I don't care if he wants to fuck the czarina," Mikhail Borisovich Shein said. "We have our own up-timer now, and he's one who can fight."

His aide took it in stride. General Shein was a volatile man by nature. The calculation hidden by the volatility was harder to see; most people never did. "What should we do with him, sir?"

"Stick him in the gun shop." The Russian army had a dacha of its own that was not publicized. The general snorted. "And keep him away from anyone important. Question him extensively, but not harshly. If that doesn't work, we can use stronger measures. From what I understand, the main reason we got him is that he managed to piss off or piss away the opportunities in Grantville. No one will miss him much."

The aide made a note and went on to the next item on the agenda. "The musketeers are arguing with the outlander solders about their walking walls again." The aide was a bureaucratic noble and therefore an officer in the Russian army. He didn't think all that well of the foreign mercenary companies. Or the city musketeers, the Streltzi -who, when not called to active service made up the merchant class in Muscovy.

The general gave him the look. Mikhail Borisovich Shein had commanded a force made up mostly of musketeers at Smolensk during the last war with Poland. They had held out for twenty months against a force ten times their size. Whatever the traditional animosity between the two classes, General Shein didn't share it. At the same time, he was fully conversant with the Russian army's need to modernize. Slowly, he began to smile. "But what is modernize in a world where we have people from the future? Find me two men, Georgi Ivanov. Rough men. One outlander officer and a musketeer. Put them in a room with the up-timer and let them argue about it."

***

Cass Lowry found Russia to be cold, and-after his education at the hands of Natasha's guards-more than a bit frightening. That impression was in no way diminished when he met Ivan Mikhailovich Vinnikov and Samuel Farthingham.

The issue was whether the Russian moving forts were useful. Cass wasn't entirely sure what a moving fort was, so the first thing Ivan and Samuel had to do was arrange a demonstration.

***

"Have you seen the latest?" Pavel Egorovich Shirshov asked, handing a pamphlet to Ivan Mikhailovich Vinnikov.

The guard captain looked at the pamphlet and began to read silently.

"Out loud if you don't mind," Pavel Egorovich said testily. Though a skilled craftsman, he didn't read.

Ivan Mikhailovich cast him an apologetic look and began to read out loud. "If we are to have a constitution it must ensure the rights of all Russian citizens…" He continued reading. It was an argument that without a section limiting government, the constitution would be just another way to tie the people down. The writer actually seemed to wonder if a constitution was a good idea at all. Then he went on to-purportedly-quote a conversation between members of the boyar class. A cousin and a younger son of one of the great families. They were reported to have said that the great families thought that a constitution would be a great thing if they got to write it. The conversation was supposed to have been overheard in a brothel.

"Any idea who wrote this?" Ivan asked, a bit nervously. This was the sort of thing that could get people in serious trouble.

Pavel shook his head. "A boy in Muscovy was selling them on the street. Couldn't have been more than ten or so." That was happening more and more frequently. Scandals mixed with political opinion.

"I talked to one of them a bit a few days ago." Pavel commuted back and forth between the Army's dacha and the Kremlin every few days. "He sells his papers to make a bit of money. He buys them from a man he thinks is a Bureau man, but it could be a merchant. There is apparently more than one man, and they don't all meet in the same place."

***

"It says here that this Patriarch Nikon caused it." Colonel Pavel Kovezin stared at the broadsheet with distaste clearly showing on his face.

Machek Speshnev, who had brought this news to the colonel, nodded. A lieutenant in this regiment of Streltzi, the musketeers, Machek was a pious man. This information had struck a chord with him, as well as with many other members of the Palace Guard Regiments.

"I'm surprised this information became public, but it has. The question is, is there anything we can do about it?" Machek's family would most definitely wind up as oppressed "Old Believers," he was sure. "I don't think I'd care to be sent up north, chasing, beating and killing priests."

The very idea was repugnant.

A lot of information that was coming from the up-timer histories was repugnant. Inconceivable, a lot of it.

Colonel Kovezin stopped staring at the broadsheet. "How many people have seen this?"

"A lot of them," Machek admitted. "The things have been being passed around all over the city. Along with the ones about killing rats, boiling water, not drinking so much…"

"This city is being buried in paper," Colonel Kovezin said. Then he grinned. "We live in interesting times. Never mind this. I'm sure the patriarch is well aware of it and will make a pronouncement. Try to keep the men calm. Today is a big day for us and I want everyone's attention kept on his duty."

Machek grinned back. "Today is the day?"

"Yes. Today we receive our new rifles."

***

Sofia's eyes sparkled like cold black diamonds. "Nevertheless, it cannot be you that goes. You are needed here. Bernie needs you. Boris and Daromila need you. You may not abandon that trust."

Natasha stopped her pacing. She'd been trying too hard to justify being the person who went. She knew it. "But I so want to see it, Aunt Sofia. So very much." She threw herself onto a bench. "Vladimir is there. I miss him. And I want to see it."

"Even so." Sofia's eyes softened. "I know, dear." She patted Natasha's hand. "I know." She grinned. "So do I want to go." Then she straightened her shoulders. "But we must carry on here. Czar Mikhail has said that he will consider this marriage, but there must be a senior female of the family to examine Brandy. And I know just who to send." She cackled in laughter. "Oh, my. It will do them so much good."

***

"I didn't really believe it. Not until I saw that." Vlad watched the Las Vegas Belle until it was out of sight. Even after several months, he still wasn't entirely sure he believed it. And slowly he began to smile. "I believe that turnabout is fair play, Brandy. Perhaps I should write Bernie that I insist that he build me an airplane. And a factory for cars. And an oil refinery."

"Soda pop." Brandy looked in the direction where the plane had disappeared. "Real, old-fashioned Coca-Cola. I miss those. New movies, instead of re-watching all the old ones. Xerox machines for quick copies. Um, we can probably think up a bunch of stuff to demand, really. They won't be very realistic, I imagine, but it might be kind of fun to make a demand instead of trying to satisfy them. Besides, they might just do it."

They walked slowly to Brandy's house thinking up ever more outrageous things to demand of Bernie and the "brain cases" in Muscovy and laughing at their demands. No one could be sad on a day like today.

They turned up the walk to Brandy's house and she hesitated a bit. Vlad knew that it was because her mother had died there.

He'd been surprised, three days after Donna died, by the attendance at her funeral. It seemed like a large number of people showed up. Most unusual was the cluster of young girls around Brandy. One of them was one of the most beautiful girls he had ever seen. Her hair was a deep auburn and her skin was clear with just a few freckles.

Brandy had, in compliance with Donna's wishes, arranged a simple graveside service. It was very brief. Afterwards, people visited with one another and everyone spoke to Brandy and Vernon for a moment or two. Brandy introduced Vlad to the cluster of young girls. They were. .. quite exceptional, he thought.

Much to Vlad's surprise, Vernon was one of the first to leave. "He's just not good at emotions." Brandy had noticed Vlad watching Vernon. "He never has been. He's closed up, like in a shell or something. It drove Mom crazy. That, I think, is why they got divorced. Mom was too emotional for him, I guess."

Vlad looked down at her. "I promise you. I promise you that I will never be so, so…"

"Calm and dispassionate?" Her tears started flowing again. "Good. I don't think I'd like it any better than Mom did."

***

The sound of the doorbell jerked Brandy to alertness. She smoothed down her dress and checked her reflection in the mirror before opening the door. Here goes, she thought.

Vladimir stood on the porch, smiling at her. Her breath caught a bit. They'd been dating a long time, but this was the first time they'd been alone together. Really alone. No servants. No Mom. Brandy still felt Donna's loss keenly. But a person had to move on. This dinner was an effort to do that.

"Come in, please." Brandy smiled as Vlad brought his left hand from behind his back with a flourish. His eyes twinkled a bit. "The little books, they say a man should bring a gift to dinner. So, I brought you this."

This was not flowers or candy, or even a bottle of wine. Vlad had brought a bag of coffee beans. Brandy grinned. "Good. We'll have some later." She stood aside and waved Vlad inside. "Dinner will be ready in just a moment. I hope you like it."

Vlad divested himself of his heavy fur coat and looked around the room. "You have changed a few things, Branya. Not much, just a little. The home seems somehow more your own, now."

"Just a little." Brandy felt sad for a moment. "I loved my mother, but I never cared for that 'country' look she liked so much. So I sort of streamlined the room a bit." A dinging sound came from the kitchen. "One thing about a house this size, you can hear the timer. Come on in. The table is ready and it sounds like dinner is, too."

Brandy ushered Vlad into the small dining area where she had used Donna's best china and crystal to set the table. "Have a seat. I'll be right back."

***

Brandy came back with a large platter of something. Noodles, Vlad thought. He'd become fond of noodles. But what was covering them? It smelled wonderful, whatever it was.

Brandy set the platter on the table. "I've got no idea if this is really a Russian dish. But Cora said it was, so I tried it. I hope it's good. I'm not really much of a cook. Mom tried, but I wasn't very interested, to tell the truth."

The smell had Vlad salivating. "I don't care if it's Russian, Branya. It smells wonderful. Just wonderful."

Brandy smiled widely and served Vlad a portion of the dish, whatever it was. She poured wine for them both and indicated the salad and bread on the table. "Thank heaven for greenhouses. We always had lettuce back then. I'd miss it, if we didn't have it here, even if it isn't the iceberg I'm used to." Apparently noticing Vlad's hesitation, she urged, "Go ahead. Dig in."

Vlad did. The scent was marvelous and the taste even more so. It only needed one thing. "Is there, perhaps, some smetana?"

Brandy gave him a look and he grinned guiltily. Brandy had commented before about his liking for smetana. He put it in nearly everything he ate, including stew. "It has quite a bit in it already." She passed him the dish full of sour cream. "But I knew you'd want more. Is it all right? Does it taste good?"

Vlad nodded, busying himself with the dish. "Marvelous." He added sour cream to his plate. "Marvelous. I'm afraid I'm ruined for Russian cooking, at least the cooking back in Muscovy. Ruined. I may never wish to go back, just for the flavor of the food alone. What is this called?"

"Beef Stroganoff."

Vlad ate until Brandy was pretty sure he was about to explode.

"Marvelous," he said. Several times. Well, it was, but that was only part of the reason he kept saying it. Vladimir was terrified.

***

After dinner, over coffee in the living room, Brandy began to feel a little awkward. What did you say now? How did you handle this kind of privacy when you didn't have any intention of needing, well, this kind of privacy? Not yet, at any rate.

Vlad solved the problem by beginning to speak. "Natasha tells me that the situation in Muscovy is quite tense. Czar Mikhail has vaguely suggested a constitution to replace the agreement he made on assuming the throne. Such a document would be binding not only on him, but on all future czars. Most importantly though, it would also be binding on the Duma and Bureaus and replace the Zemskiy Sobor with an elected legislature or perhaps turn the Assembly of the Land into such a congress."

"Yes. Natasha mentioned it. I understand that the income tax and the business tax are meeting quite a bit of resistance."

"That's a diplomatic way of putting it." Vladimir laughed. "I worked it out. It would cost my family several million of your dollars every year. While my family is quite well off, we're not the richest nobles in Muscovy, not by any means. If that tax is done just a little bit wrong, it could ruin half the nobles in Muscovy. I sent my sister a description of your system of tax deductions for things like capital investment along with Cass and Bernie's 'Precious.' Frankly, I don't think it will happen unless Czar Mikhail can come up with something to sweeten the pot."

"So, what can he give them?"

"For right now, I'm not sure." Vlad leaned back on the couch. "But in a few years, relief from having to have serfs might do it."

"Don't count on it, Vlad." Brandy shook her head. "The serfs could end up as factory workers and have even less freedom than they have now. 'I owe my soul to the company store.' If it could happen in America, where we-at least in theory-all had the same rights, think how much easier it could happen in Muscovy where serfs are already restricted in when they can quit."

Vladimir sighed. "I know. Adam Smith and all your economists tell us that free labor is more productive than slaves or serfs. That slavery and serfdom is bad for the economy of the nation. But what they usually neglect to mention is that it's still very profitable for the people who own the slaves." He looked down at his coffee cup.

"Brandy, I've lived here for a long time and have accepted many of your principles, but that doesn't mean my countrymen have. I agree that serfdom must be eliminated but I don't see any way to do it."

***

When Brandy got up to light the gas lights against the darkening of the room, Vlad moved just a tad closer to her end of the sofa. Whenever she leaned forward to pour more coffee, or stood to busy herself with something, he moved just a little bit closer. Eventually, Vlad was right where he wanted to be. Close, nearly touching.

Brandy looked a little nervous when she discovered just how close he was. Deciding not to give her, or himself, a chance to bolt, Vladimir took one of her hands in his own. "Branya, I have something I want to speak of, something that is not about Bernie or even about Muscovy."

Brandy's breath caught just a bit before she nodded at him. "You can speak to me about anything, Vladimir. What is it?"

He had been quite confident of her response when he had written the letters asking permission from Czar Mikhail and informing Natasha of his intent. Somehow, that confidence had disappeared when he had been informed that Mikhail had agreed to the marriage-at least conditionally. The condition being that she make a valid conversion. And Natasha had informed him that several ladies of the family would be coming to Grantville to look Brandy over. At that point he had seen the looming disaster of his aunts arriving to inspect her before he even asked for her hand.

But Vladimir was still hesitating and Brandy was looking at him expectantly. "I am not one of your up-time men, Branya. And I may not have the correct words. But I have grown very… fond of you. Very fond. And I, I…" Vlad paused a moment. "I wish you to be my wife, Branya. I wish it very much."

Brandy's eyes glittered in the candlelight. "Wife? You want to get married?"

"I do," Vlad said. He watched her face closely. What would she answer?

"Yes."

***

Half an hour later, after some very pleasant kissing and some not so pleasant explanation. Brandy wasn't quite so sure.

"We don't do that," Vladimir said, sounding a bit desperate. "Abandon thy family, abjure thy name." He shook his head. "It sounds glorious, but Romeo and Juliet ended up dead. When my sister married an English count-with my father's permission but without his converting-it almost ruined the family. Were I to marry without the czar's consent, our family's property could be seized and my sister could end her life in a convent. Forced to take holy orders. Not because Mikhail would want to do it, but because the cabinet would insist."

Brandy knew that was all too likely an outcome. But Vladimir was continuing. "If I asked the czar first and you said no, I would look foolish. But if I asked you first and the czar said no, I didn't know what I would do. I didn't wish to make a promise to you until I was sure I could keep it."

***

"All right!" Judy was grinning from ear to ear. "All right, Brandy. So, when's the wedding? What are you going to wear?"

"I don't know to the first question." Brandy took a sip of root beer. "And I don't know to the second one, for that matter."

All the members of the Barbie Consortium who were attending the monthly lunch looked confused. "It's more complicated than I knew." Brandy sighed. "It turns out that Vlad is sort of a prince or something like that. He can't just get married, not to a foreigner, not to anybody, really. He has to get permission."

Vicky Emerson looked outraged. "What, from his father? He's a grown man. Why ask for permission?"

Brandy shook her head. "His parents are dead. Both of them. Two sisters, Natasha in Muscovy and Adelia in England. No, it's not his parents, it's the czar. He had to get permission from the czar. He apparently asked him before he asked me," Brandy added, with some resentment. Vladimir had explained that he had to do it that way but it still pissed her off. "And then there's the religion thing, too."

"Religion thing?" Hayley Fortney paused in the act of sipping tea. "There's a religion thing, too?"

Brandy nodded again, and sort of sighed. "Yeah. It's all going to take a while, it looks like. I'd just as soon go down to City Hall and have a civil ceremony, get all the hoopla over with. But Vlad's church will not recognize a civil ceremony, he says. It's against canonical law. And, it turns out that if he gets married in any church except a Russian Orthodox church, he could be charged with treason. So we figure we better wait."

"That's kind of hard, isn't it?" Judy looked around at the girls. "Your Vlad is a nice looking guy. A nice guy in general, for that matter. I bet you hate waiting."

"Well, one thing about it." Brandy shrugged. "At least we ought to be really sure about it when it does happen. Vlad says he probably ought to have a priest come here, anyway. Natasha is sending a bunch of people from his lands and they're all going to go to school here. And to the oil field. So they need a priest. They wouldn't be comfortable going to St. Mary's. We're probably looking at six or eight months to wait."

"That's just about enough time," Judy muttered.

"Enough time?"

"Yeah," Judy grinned. "Just about enough time to plan a really big, really nice wedding."

***