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Chapter 40

When they got back to Grantville, the town was in an uproar. So was Badenburg and the entire surrounding area.


A huge army had just passed through, the day before. Gustav Adolf's Swedes, moving like the wind.


"He went right through Thuringia," Rebecca explained to Mike and Alex. She had been waiting for them outside the high school, where the emergency committee was about to go into session. "He captured Erfurt on October 2, without a fight. That city belongs to the elector of Mainz, you know."


"Not any longer, it doesn't sound like," mused Mike. He frowned worriedly. "That bothers me, being caught by surprise like that. A lot. I screwed up. We had most of the army out of town. If—"


Mackay interrupted. "And what else were you going to do, Michael? The mercenaries attacking Jena had to be dealt with. That was a given."


The Scotsman shook his head firmly. "This is what war is like, man. You think you can predict everything? Cover all the possible dangers? Ha! You'll be doing well if you're right half the time."


Alex stared to the south. His own face showed none of Mike's fretting and self-condemnation. Rather the opposite, in fact. "The king must have caught everyone by surprise," he said admiringly. "Not the custom, to maneuver that quickly. Especially after a great victory. Most armies would have spent months resting on their laurels."


Mike was still frowning. Mackay studied him for a moment, before adding softly: "You must be willing to face something squarely, Michael Stearns."


Mike's eyes came to him. Mackay continued. "You simply don't have enough men, Mike. And that will not change. Not soon enough, at least. You can certainly defeat a force much greater than yours, in any battle for which you are prepared. But—"


His hand swept in an arc. The broad gesture indicated not simply the hills in the immediate vicinity, but the entire region. Rolling, hilly, heavily wooded Thuringia. "You can not guard against everything. Especially an opponent which can move quickly. I have said this to you before, but I will repeat it. Do not think for a moment that these slow and clumsy tercios are all you will ever face. Or that all of your enemies will line up so neatly for your rifles. I wouldn't. The Finns wouldn't. The Croats wouldn't."


Mike sighed. "I know, Alex." He took a deep, slow breath. "There's too much of a tendency, for us, to think we can handle everything with our modern weapons. Or new ones we could design, if we devoted enough resources to it. But you're right. That road leads to folly."


He smiled whimsically. "Probably wouldn't work anyway. Be a good idea for us to keep Little Big Horn in mind. Not to mention Vietnam. Hardware will only get you so far."


Mackay's face was blank. The names meant nothing to him. But Rebecca nodded. She had been devouring books on American history for months.


The whimsy faded from Mike's face, along with the smile. His expression became almost bleak. "And even if it did succeed—"


"That would be even worse," stated Rebecca, completing the thought.


"Yes," said Mike firmly. "Win the battles and lose the war. This world does not need another set of conquistadores. I want to bring America into it—my America—not some English-speaking version of Prussia."


Mackay's face registered confusion. "Prussia? The Prussians aren't—"


Mike chuckled. "Not today, Alex, no. Sorriest Germans around, this day and age. But just stick around for a couple of hundred years." The bleakness in his face deepened. "If we don't succeed—you'll see all of Germany under a boot heel, soon enough."


"And worse," whispered Rebecca. Her father had never been able to finish Morris Roth's book on the Holocaust. She had.


Mike shook his head, as a horse shakes off flies. "Over my dead body," he muttered. "What we need is a political solution."


He gave Mackay a shrewd glance. "You'll be reporting to Gustav Adolf soon, I imagine."


The Scots officer nodded. "Yes. Not sure when, though. There's no point in galloping all over the countryside until the king sets up quarters somewhere. But soon, yes."


"Put in a good word for us, Alex, if you would. I'd just as soon not get the Swedes on our backs."


Mackay smiled. "I shall," he replied firmly. "The best word possible." Beneath his lips, his tongue ran over his teeth. "Got no choice," he chuckled. "You've got the only dentist I know of."


Ed Piazza emerged from the door. "The meeting's about to start," he announced.


Mackay turned away. Although he often attended those meetings, he would not on this occasion. The Americans, he knew, were coming to a turning point. Like any family, they needed a moment of privacy.


"Good luck," he said.


 


"What was that about?" asked Rebecca, as she and Mike walked down the corridor to the committee's conference room. "Is Alex having some problems with his teeth?"


She grimaced. Rebecca's own teeth had been in splendid condition, by the standards of the day. But she had still spent a few hours in that torture chamber. Luckily, she had moved on the matter very quickly—before the anesthetic was entirely gone.


"Poor man," she sympathized.


Mike laughed. "Poor man, my ass! There's nothing at all wrong with his teeth, Becky, other than cosmetics. It's his heart that's the problem."


Startled, she glanced up at him. Mike was grinning very broadly. "Oh, yes. The Scotsman is a smitten man. I know." He reached his arm around her waist and drew her close. "I recognize the symptoms."


It didn't take Rebecca more than two seconds to understand. She tucked her own arm around Mike's waist, and matched his grin. "Poor man," she concurred. "Mind you, I am a bit surprised. I thought he would be scared off. Once he saw past those magnificent knees."


Mike shook his head. "Not Alex. A very substantial fellow, he is."


"Do you think—?"


"Who knows? Her uncle thinks well of him. And even her father, it seems. But God forbid the girl should listen to the voice of wisdom and maturity."


Rebecca snorted. "What woman in her right mind would listen to such?" She smiled slyly. "This requires feminine sagacity."


They were at the door, and relinquished the embrace. Rebecca paused before entering. "I will speak to the lady," she announced.


Mike eyed her skeptically. "And say what? Your own words of wisdom?"


"Absurd," she replied. Idly, her fingers stroked her hair. "I said nothing of 'wisdom.' Only sagacity."


She swept through the door. Over her shoulder: "You would not understand, Michael. You do not read enough poetry."


"Not any," grumbled her fiancé. Thereby, quite unknowingly, proving her point.


 


Once he entered the room, Mike pulled up a chair and sat down at the conference table. Glancing around, he saw that the entire committee was already gathered except Frank Jackson.


"Frank will be along later," he explained. "Along with Gretchen Higgins. They're seeing to the new prisoners." He turned back to Rebecca, who had taken her usual seat next to Melissa. "I'd like to start the meeting with a report on the Swedish movements."


Rebecca clasped her hands on the table, as she always did when giving a report. Then:


"Gustav Adolf left a garrison in Erfurt—after stripping the town clean of all its hard currency—and marched straight south. He passed through Arnstadt on the seventh. Yesterday. He did not stop, however. According to reports from some of the hunters, he was driving his army very hard. By now they must be south of the Thuringenwald."


Rebecca's face was creased with worry. "The Swedes have stripped the entire central province of the bulk of its stored food. They paid for it, mind you. There was no looting." She laughed harshly. "Except for the archbishop's gold in Erfurt, of course, which is what they used to buy their provisions."


Willie Ray Hudson snorted. "Great! So everybody in central Thuringia's got a pocket full of money and no food. Except us, and Badenburg. We were apparently too far east for the Swedish quartermasters to reach in the time available."


"And winter's a-coming," muttered Nat Davis.


Mike held up his hand. "Later for that. I want to get filled in on the political situation first. Who did Gustav leave in charge of Thuringia?"


"Well, most of it officially belongs to the Saxe-Weimar brothers," said Rebecca. "But Bernard, according to reports, is staying with the Swedish army." Again, that harsh laugh. "It seems he has developed a bit of a military reputation and finds that profession more interesting than taking care of the people he supposedly rules."


"What a surprise," sneered Underwood. "Goddam noblemen!"


Mike grinned at him. "Hey, Quentin—it's okay by me. The fewer noblemen hanging around here the better, as far as I'm concerned."


Rebecca cleared her throat. "Wilhelm, on the other hand—he is the oldest—stayed behind. He has set up his headquarters in Weimar. But the word is that he will not be staying long. He is supposed to recruit eleven thousand men. Field Marshall Banér is to raise an equivalent number in Erfurt. Added to the forces Banér already has, the Swedes think that should be enough to go after Pappenheim while the king himself continues south after Tilly. Pappenheim is apparently running an independent operation now."


Mike did not press Rebecca for an explanation as to the sources of her information. He didn't need to. Her father and uncle were both experienced spies, and by now they had created a network throughout central Germany. The network was broader than that, actually. Working through the Jews scattered all over Europe, the two brothers had informants penetrating large parts of the entire Holy Roman Empire.


He tapped his fingers on the table. "It sounds as if Wilhelm will be leaving soon also."


Rebecca nodded. Mike's finger tapping turned into a decisive little rap. "So. The long and the short of it is this."


His eyes slowly scanned the room, while he held up his fingers one at a time.


"One. The war has now moved south of Thuringia, over to the other side of the Thuringenwald. Two. Official 'order' has been restored in Thuringia—and is about to be removed again. Three. Most noblemen in the area—the ones active in political life, anyway—are either gone or going. The Catholic ones will have fled and the Protestants are seeking fame and glory with the Swedes. Four. The economic situation in the province is going to be desperate in a few weeks. Five. On the other hand, the area is flush with hard currency."


He turned to Rebecca. "That about sums it up, I think." Again, she nodded.


Now, Mike slapped the table top with his palm. The hard, cracking sound matched his voice.


"Wonderful! Couldn't have asked for anything better!"


Everyone was staring at him. Mike laughed gaily. "And will you look at you?" he demanded. "Problems, problems—that's all you see."


He clenched his fist and held it half-raised. "Now's the time," he stated firmly. "While the cat's away, the mice will play. The war's come and gone until next spring, at the earliest. Probably next summer. The only thing that's going to matter between now and then—six to eight months—is who can keep this province's people alive. Alive—and by God well!"


Quentin Underwood was the first to see Mike's point. That was not surprising. As often as he and Underwood clashed in the committee meetings, Mike had found that his former mine manager usually had a better grasp of economic realities than anyone. Moreover, unlike most of the Americans, Quentin's hardheadedness did not lead him to flights of fancy concerning American military supremacy. As a young man serving aboard an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, he had gotten a good lesson in the limits of hardware. The technological disparity between the aircraft which flew off that carrier and the men they bombed in the forests below had not been substantially different from that between Grantville's Americans and seventeenth-century Germans. Once before, in another universe, Quentin Underwood had seen machinery defeated by men. He intended to be on the other side of that equation, in this new world.


"You're right!" he exclaimed excitedly. "And the timing couldn't be better, from our point of view. We're set."


Underwood began counting on his own fingers. "First, we're out of the woods on the power plant. The coal's been coming in for the last week."


Bill Porter nodded. "Enough of it for the time being, anyway. Once that steam locomotive gets finished, we'll be flush. We should be free and clear until next summer, when critical parts might start going. And by then the new power plant should be ready to go on line."


Underwood continued. "Second, we've got more food coming in than we'll need ourselves." He chuckled dryly. "It's kind of amazing how many little farms there were tucked away all through these hills and woods. Every one of which is now eager to sell their produce, since we've brought some security and stability back into southeast Thuringia."


Willie Ray snorted. "What's so surprising about that? Think farmers are stupid?"


Quentin ignored the quip. "Three, the machine shops are roaring full blast. Three shifts, round the clock—seven days a week."


Nat David grinned. "Had to start hiring lots of German help. Take me awhile, training them to be modern machinists. But I'm only hiring men with metal-working experience and there's a lot of them in this area. Biggest problem I've got is a shortage of metal."


Ed Piazza picked up the thread. "Not much longer, Nat. Uriel Abrabanel just told me there's at least four suppliers ready and willing to start shipping in raw material—as soon as we can come up with the hard currency." He laughed dryly. "Credit's not real big in Germany, this time of the millennium."


"We'll fix that," growled Underwood. He glanced at Mike questioningly.


Mike smiled and turned a lazy eye on Rebecca. She straightened a little in her chair and said softly:


"To sum up, the economic situation looks very promising. With electrical power guaranteed and the town's production facilities in full operation, our only problem is the shortage of hard currency and the primitive state of banking and credit in Europe at this time. As to that—"


She sat up very straight. "My family has been discussing the matter—my very extended family—and has come to a decision. My uncle Uriel will stay in Badenburg, since he is well situated there. But several of my relatives will be arriving here soon, including three of my distant cousins. Their names are Samuel, Moses and Francisco. Samuel's father is a prominent banker in Italy. Moses' father is a financial adviser to Emperor Ferdinand in Vienna. And Francisco's grandfather is Don Joseph Nasi, who was formerly—"


Mike laughed. "The Ottoman Empire's effective foreign minister! And the nephew of Doña Gracia Mendes, who transferred her business—Europe's largest banking and gem-trade concern—from Portugal to Turkey after the expulsion of the marranos. Did quite well, I understand."


Everyone except Rebecca was goggling at Mike. He shrugged. "I listen to my National Security Adviser, folks. That's why I spend so much time with her."


Rebecca clasped her hands demurely. "He is a good student, too." She smiled. "Very attentive."


A little chuckle went up. Rebecca's smile became wintry. "When the Spanish expelled the Jews, most of them went to Istanbul. The Ottomans welcomed them, you see, especially since many of the Jews who came were experts in science and technology. Gun manufacturing, among other things. Sultan Bayazid is reported to have said: 'You call Ferdinand a wise king, he who impoverishes his country and enriches our own?' "


"There's a lesson here," murmured Piazza.


Rebecca turned her eyes toward him. "There is, you understand, a condition."


Piazza snorted. "I should hope so! Citizenship, rights, liberties, the works."


"More," said Rebecca firmly. "We Jews must be allowed to break out of the economic ghetto in which Europe has forced us. Moneylenders can get rich, but they live on the sufferance of princes."


"Not a problem," growled Underwood. "Matter of fact, if any of your relatives has got some capital to put up—for which they'll get stock and a working partnership if they want it, me and Ollie Reardon and Greg Ferrara have been thinking about—"


Bill Porter looked alarmed. "Quentin, we need the coal—"


"Relax!" snapped Underwood. "I wouldn't be doing much of it myself. I've got relatives too, you know. My son-in-law's—"


Ferrara chimed in. "I wouldn't be doing much either, except giving some technical advice. But we really do need to start building a chemical plant. Sulfuric acid is about as basic for modern industry as steel"—for a moment, his face looked aggrieved—"even though most people don't realize it, and—"


Mike rapped the table with his knuckles, in first-class schoolmaster form. Melissa grinned. "Later!" he said. "Enough!"


The hubbub settled. "Christ, let you eager beavers get started on all your pet business schemes and we'll never get anywhere!" His smile took the sting out of the words. In truth, Mike favored most of those schemes. But he was also a firm believer in the old saw: First things first.


"The first thing—in fact, the key thing," he said forcefully, "is to resolve the political issue. I think it's time to call the constitutional convention—and then have another election. This 'temporary emergency committee' has gone as far as it can."


Silence fell on the room. Nat Davis puffed out his cheeks. "Are we ready for that?" he asked uncertainly. "I haven't really given it much thought, to be honest."


Melissa snorted. But the sarcastic remark about to issue from her lips was cut short by James Nichols.


"We're ready, Nat." James glanced at Melissa, Ed and Willie Ray. "Actually, the subcommittee finished drafting our proposal last week. Everything got put on hold because of the crisis in Jena. But—yeah, we're ready."


Hudson nodded. Piazza reached into his briefcase and began hauling out stapled sheets of paper. He gave Mike a questioning glance.


"Pass 'em around, Ed. It's time."


 


The ruckus started long before anyone got through the material. Mike was not surprised—talk about mixed blessings!—to see that Underwood led the charge.


"I don't like this crap!" snapped Quentin. "Not one damned bit! Why'd you waste your time on this silly shit about at-large elections? Why the hell aren't we—"


As always, Melissa charged into the fray as eagerly as Underwood, and just as bluntly. "Screw you, too! At-large elections are way better than geographic representation—in the lower house, at least."


Mike intervened before the usual Melissa–Quentin fracas could reach thermonuclear proportions. "Cut it out! Both of you!"


Sullen silence fell over the two disputants. Mike suppressed a sigh. Each in their own way, Quentin and Melissa were invaluable, but there were times . . . 


He decided to start with Melissa, since even though he basically agreed with her it would help to keep the issue focused. Concrete, not abstract.


"Whether or not at-large as opposed to residential representation is better or worse in the general scheme of things is neither here nor there. This isn't a constitution for thirteen colonies scattered across half a continent. It's a constitution for one geographically small colony, about as concentrated and packed with people as Holland. Or Calcutta. And we're not in the same situation as the Founding Fathers were in 1789. We're still back in 1776. Our revolution's just starting."


So much for generalities. Now he shifted his attention to the real problem, which was Underwood. "Quentin, you're letting sentiment get in the way of practicality. I had pretty much the same reaction, when I first heard about this idea. But the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. We're in a completely fluid situation here. People move constantly from one place to the next. You know that as well as I do. How can you register somebody to vote in a refugee center? When—hopefully—they'll be living somewhere else in a few weeks. The big advantage to at-large elections—"


No good. Nat Davis and Greg Ferrara were barging in now, hollering on the side of what Mike called "sentiment." Mike's attempt to remain Washingtonian lasted about three minutes. Thereafter he was bellowing with the rest of them.


 


All except Rebecca, of course. She adopted what might be called a Shakespearean stance. Or Oxfordian. Such, at least, seemed the best interpretation of her occasional muttered remarks:


Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow . . . last syllable of recorded time . . . sound and fury, signifying nothing . . . 


"Are you all finished?" she demanded, perhaps half an hour later. The surliness in her tone—which, from Rebecca, was unheard of—brought everyone up short.


"Children!" she snapped. "Squabbling over your toys!"


She glared around the room. "What difference does it make? You have your Bill of Rights—no quarrel there. You have your citizenship requirements—no quarrel there either. You have your elections and all the other trappings of democracy—any arguments over that petty matter?"


Silence. "So what is it then?" In a little singsong: "'I think we should register people at-large. I think we should register them by residence.'" She took a deep breath. Then:


"Who gives a shit?"


Dead silence. Rebecca never used that kind of—


"Ha! As I said—children."


At that moment, the door opened and Frank Jackson entered the room. Behind him came Gretchen.


Rebecca pointed dramatically at the new arrivals.


"Ask them!" she commanded. "Go ahead!"


 


After the issue was explained, Frank spoke first. "Don't much care," he said, shrugging. "Six of one, half dozen of the other. So I figure since Mike'll be running the show—he's got my vote anyway—let him have what he wants."


Gretchen was terser still. "Vat he says," she stated, pointing at Frank.


Gretchen and Frank's remarks, combined with Rebecca's profanity, had produced a sharp break in the room's tension. The members of the committee stared at each other, for a moment. Then, collectively, they heaved a sigh and relaxed.


Mike cleared his throat. "Look, I'm not trying to make pronouncements about abstract political principles. I'm just trying to give us a political system that does the best job for our current needs. We can always hold another constitutional convention later, when circumstances change. Remember what I said. We're at the equivalent of 1776, not 1789. The Constitution which our old United States adopted came out of years of experience and discussion. After the revolution, not at the start of it. So let's give ourselves the same breathing room. For now, I want to keep our eyes focused on the struggle ahead of us. Today. Right now."


Mike nodded toward Gretchen. At Frank's quiet insistence, the young German woman had taken a seat at the table. "The reason I asked Gretchen to sit in—which I plan on making a permanent thing, by the way—is because later on in the meeting I want you all to hear her report. As far as I'm concerned, the work that Gretchen's started is going to be a lot more important, in the long run, than any victories we win on a battlefield. Or whether we register people to vote at-large or by residence."


He almost laughed, seeing the simultaneous looks of discomfort which came over the faces of Melissa and Quentin. Each in their different ways, both people were a bit aghast at the way Mike and Rebecca were shaping Melissa's original proposal. Melissa was upset because practice was proving to be a lot messier than theory. And, she already understood, was going to be a lot bloodier. Her semiromantic idealism about the "underground" was now in the firm grip of a woman who had no romanticism about it at all. Just a determination to win, driven by an iron will.


Quentin, of course, had never been fond of the theory in the first place. He found himself in the peculiar position of helping to lead a revolution—a task for which, temperamentally, he had no sympathy at all. By nature and habit, Quentin Underwood was a man of the establishment.


Mike turned his eyes upon him. Quentin and Melissa formed the poles of the committee. Both of them were often unhappy with the way Mike drove things forward. But Melissa's support, at least for the moment, was a given. If nothing else, she had no alternative. Quentin, on the other hand—


Underwood heaved a sigh. "Oh, hell. All right, Mike. I'll go along with at-large elections, much as it rubs me the wrong way."


The victory was only half won. Mike gave Underwood his own sharp eye. "Not good enough, Quentin. Not good enough by half. 'Going along' is one thing. Standing up and being counted is another. We've already decided to call for new elections for delegates to a constitutional convention, since that voice-vote 'election' a few days after the Ring of Fire was too casual and too far back. You're bound to be elected one of those delegates, Quentin. But how are you going to run?" Mike pointed to the proposed constitution in front of him. "Based on that platform? Or someone else's?"


He didn't bother to specify the "someone else." There was no need.


Underwood returned Mike's stare with his own. Everyone else in the room found themselves holding their breath. They had reached a decisive moment, they suddenly realized, without anyone other than Mike—and maybe Rebecca—seeing it coming. For months, the group of people in that room had worked together as a team. But—


In the universe they had left behind, Quentin Underwood—capable, narrow-minded, intelligent, stubborn, energetic, hard-driving manager that he was—would have been a natural ally of John Simpson. Establishment. Tory through and through. Would he break ranks now?


 


"Cut it out, Mike," growled Underwood. "Do I look like an idiot? If Simpson was running this show, we'd have been dead by now."


Suddenly, he grinned. That cheerful expression was not seen often on Quentin's face.


"So. You thought up a name yet?"


Mike's face was blank. Quentin's grin widened. "For our political party, dope. Gotta have one, if you want to be president of a revolution-in-progress. None of that above-the-fray Washington business for you, young man!"


Blank.


"What a genius," chuckled Underwood. "Leave it to a UMWA mi-li-tant." The chuckle grew into a soft laugh. "This calls for managerial skills. I think we oughta call ourselves the Fourth of July Party."


"Fourth of July Movement," came Melissa's immediate riposte.


And that, of course, startled another wrangle. But Rebecca wasn't reduced to quoting verses. The argument was sharp, short—and ended in an overwhelming victory. Everyone else against Melissa.


Fourth of July Party it was. The announcement was made the following morning, along with the declaration that the constitutional convention was to go into session.


* * *


Simpson protested immediately, even though he had been calling for the convention for weeks. "To bridle the Stearns military dictatorship," as he had often put it.


No matter. The iron heel of democracy was on Grantville's neck. The victim of that tyranny reacted as could be expected.


Politicking! Whoopee!


 


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