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Part One
A mist that is like blown snow is sweeping over all


Chapter 1

Hans Richter Field
Near Grantville, in the State of Thuringia

December 1633

Colonel Jesse Wood turned off the computer in his office, removed the floppy disk and carefully slid it into its protective sleeve. It was a copy of the original disk he had already placed in an envelope and addressed to Mike Stearns, the Prime Minister of the United States of Europe. The copy itself was destined for Admiral John Simpson, Chief of Naval Operations, advisor to the head of all the USE's armed forces, and one of the chief architects of the new nation's growing industrial capability in Magdeburg.

And how he manages all three, I have no idea, Jesse thought. Lord knows I always feel about two weeks behind in my sleep. At least this report should cheer him up.

The thought wasn't as sour as it would have been some months earlier. In fact, it was rather respectful. Whatever Jesse thought of the way John Simpson had conducted himself in the two years following the Ring of Fire, the man's actions after Mike Stearns had put him in charge of the new little navy—especially during and after the Battle of Wismar—had pretty much washed all that old antagonism away. As it had, Jesse knew, for Stearns himself. Simpson might have been a disaster as a political leader, but there was no denying that as a pure and simple military commander he had a lot going for him. Even if his insistence on the punctilio of military protocol still rubbed Jesse the wrong way, now and then.

The colonel squinted out the window at the unseasonably bright, late afternoon sunlight, catching a glimpse of Master Sergeant Friedrich Krueger giving the welcoming briefing to a bunch of newly arrived recruits. The sergeant was not being gentle about it. A recruit was on the ground, rubbing his head, no doubt after having been instructed in some fine detail of service courtesy. The tall German NCO had well earned his nickname of Freddy Krueger, although Jesse doubted he understood the allusion.

He watched as the sergeant pointed to the white stripes on the sleeve of the dark brown jumpsuit that was his uniform. Perhaps he does, though, Jesse reflected. God knows they made enough of those crappy movies. One's sure to be in town somewhere.

Jesse made a mental note to ask Major Horton to have another word with the NCO about his temper. He had to admit that Krueger's techniques were highly effective, if rather crude. Still, there was no sense in beating men who had just arrived, since they probably didn't yet have enough sense to absorb the lesson. Looking at the assembled recruits, Jesse felt he knew the source of Krueger's irritation. They were a very mixed bag, as all of the latest had been. Recalling the roster on his desk, Jesse thought he could spot their origins, for the most part. Among the fifteen men, he saw several Dutch, a couple of Bavarians, other Germans of all regions and dialect, two Spanish deserters, and a Swede. One man, by his dress, appeared to be either a nobleman or the son of a rich merchant.

I wonder what he's running from? Jesse mused. Well, it doesn't matter, he's in Freddy's gentle care, now. I'll wager not one of them knows a word of English. I wonder how many of them brought families with them?

They were refugees for the most part, from all over Europe. The same sort of people who filled the ranks of most of the armies of the era. Mercenaries, at bottom, regardless of the official label of "citizen soldiers" they had in the United States of Europe.

Unfortunately from Jesse's point of view, although it saved him a lot of grief in other ways, the air force didn't get too many volunteers from the Committees of Correspondence. He'd been surprised by that, at first, since Hans Richter had been an airman and Hans was the poster boy for the CoCs. But after a little experience, the reason had become obvious enough. Lots of enthusiastic CoC members volunteered to become pilots like Hans Richter, sure enough. But in an air force that still only had a literal handful of planes, how many pilots did you need? What the air force mainly needed were people for the ground crews—and for all but a tiny number of CoC firebrands, serving behind the lines doing what they saw as mostly menial chores just didn't appeal to them. One of the many American terms that had made its way into the hybrid mostly-German dialect of the new nation emerging in central Europe was "REMFs".

Instead, they volunteered for the new regiments in the army Gustav Adolf was creating, which were sure to see action come next spring. So, for the most part, Jesse had to make do with men—and some women, here and there—who "volunteered" out of necessity rather than political fervor. Granted, that saved Jesse from having to deal with the rambunctious politics that saturated the new army regiments and had most down-time officers tearing out their hair. Most up-time officers, for that matter, who were often just as aghast as their down-time counterparts at the radical conclusions their volunteers sometimes drew about the logic of democracy as applied to military discipline.

So, true enough, Jesse was generally spared that problem. What he faced instead were the traditional ones of maintaining efficiency and discipline in a mercenary force—a problem that officers in the new army regiments rarely had to deal with. If a recruit in one of those regiments slacked off, he'd get disciplined by his CoC mates before any officer even knew a problem existed—and the discipline could be a lot more savage than anything even a sergeant like Krueger would hand out.

Jesse rubbed his eyes, pulled his leather jacket over his own brown flying suit, and grabbed the two often-used envelopes. Sweeping up his beret with its eagle insignia off his desk, he stretched his sore back and stepped out of his office into that of his adjutant. Lieutenant Cynthia Garlow was seated behind her desk, sharpening a goose feather quill, her own computer showing a floral screen saver pattern. For reasons Jesse had never been able to grasp, she preferred using quill pens over the still-perfectly-functional modern pens that had come through the Ring of Fire in plentitude.

She didn't stand up as he entered. She couldn't, having lost the use of her legs in a riding accident on the far side of the Ring of Fire. Instead, the former CAP cadet straightened to attention in her wheelchair and looked at Jesse expectantly.

"Yes, Colonel?"

Jesse smiled. "Cynthia, how many times have I told you to save the 'attention' bit for visitors? It's just the two of us here. At ease, for Pete's sake."

Cynthia tossed her short auburn curls impatiently. "About a million times, Colonel. Almost as often as I've told you I can type faster than you, so why not just dictate to me?" She looked meaningfully at the envelopes in Jesse's hand.

Jesse laid the envelopes on her desk. "Not this time, Lieutenant. This report was a pleasure to write. I've declared the Gustav flight tests completed. Now that we've finished those, the real fun begins. With luck and good weather, we'll have half a dozen trained crews by spring. Send the original to Mike Stearns in Government House on tomorrow's courier run to Magdeburg. The copy goes to Admiral Simpson."

"Yes, sir. That's great news. Anything else?"

"Yeah, send word to Major Horton that I'd like to see him in my quarters tonight at 2030, will you? I'm going to take a turn around the base, then go home. Why don't you wrap up things here and take off?"

Cynthia gave him an impish grin. "Why, thank you sir. Friedrich promised to take me to dinner in town, if we both got off early enough."

Jesse nodded and wondered again at the dichotomy of Sergeant Krueger's renowned harshness to recruits and his obvious love for the crippled girl in the wheelchair. His gentleness and deference to her was an unceasing wonder to all who witnessed it. Cynthia was lovely and doubtless her fluency in German helped, but still . . . Jesse was glad he hadn't found the need to institute any of the fraternization rules from the other time line. Planting his beret on his head, eagle shining, he moved toward the door.

"Evening, Cynthia."

"Good evening, Colonel."

Jesse stepped outside the newly constructed headquarters cum bachelor officers' quarters. Walking down the ramp built for Cynthia's use, he glanced down the side of the building. Like all the other new buildings at the field, it was a simple wooden design, having few windows, and without central heating—the lack of which Jesse was feeling acutely, now that winter had arrived.

Due to a recent heat spell—using the term "heat" loosely—most of the snow that had covered the ground the week before had melted. Jesse walked down the damp, unpaved surface of Richter Avenue, doing his best to avoid the worst patches of mud. He then walked past the NCO quarters, the mess hall, the married enlisted buildings, and the single enlisted barracks, their new wooden walls already grayed by the elements. Opposite the buildings, children were playing in the parade ground, which was as yet unused for its named purpose.

The snap of the flag at the top of the smooth wooden pole drew his eye and he felt suddenly better, less tired.

You should see the old field now, Hans. All because of you.


Jesse hadn't meant to capitalize on Hans' death, of course. But, once the initial shock had worn off and he'd been able to analyze the battle of Wismar, he had become angry. His anger wasn't directed at the Grantville leadership—he understood military necessity—but at the enemies who threatened to destroy all he knew and loved. The depth of his anger had surprised him. He had always been slow to anger and his ire had nearly always passed swiftly. Certainly, he'd never felt any particular hatred towards the enemies of the U.S. in the old time line. In reflection, he realized his anger was more than half fear—fear that, should these enemies win, there would be no starting over, since there was nowhere to run in this world. So, he had concentrated on the anger, had shaped it into a weapon. And in doing so, he had changed himself. Before Wismar, he had been a pilot playing the role of commander. Afterward, though he would never voice it, he became a commander, with a commander's view of things.

Within days, he had returned to Grantville, directing two pilots, Lieutenants Woodsill and Weissenbach, to take the Las Vegas Belle II and rejoin the ground contingent at Richter Field in Wismar. Woody and Ernst had been thrilled to be left with the only functioning aircraft—and within range of the enemy, at that. Jesse felt he had taken the edge off a good deal of that enthusiasm, and he was sure the two young pilots would follow his cautious operational instructions. They were to provide aerial reconnaissance for Gustavus Adolphus in Luebeck, and that was all. Even so, he had taken care to not stifle their spirit. A pilot's élan is as important as fuel.

Only in the past month, with the completion of two more Belles and Gustav production now running smoothly, had he relaxed his restrictions on the Wismar detachment. He'd allowed them to try their hand at rocket attacks on the enemy encampment, a duty the two young pilots had accepted with the eagerness of unleashed tigers.

Jesse had channeled his own efforts into convincing Grantville to give him the resources to accelerate aircraft production, to give him the tools to punish their enemies. While he talked practicalities with President Stearns, Admiral Simpson, and Hal Smith, to all others he spoke in terms of duty, sacrifice, and honor. As much as he hated public speaking, he gave speeches to citizen groups and retold the Battle of Wismar and Captain Richter's heroism countless times.

The story was certainly gripping. The account of a valiant few fighting against long odds with makeshift weapons—buying time, as Jesse put it, so their people could prepare for the inevitable onslaught—caught the imagination of the public. In Magdeburg even more than in Grantville. Before long, most who deemed themselves politicians in the newly formed United States of Europe had jumped on board.


Not that everything's gone my way, Jesse grumbled. The frigging Kellys, for instance. What do those stupid politicians think we are, anyway? Boeing vs. Lockheed?

The object of his ire came into view as he walked towards the flightline. On the opposite side of the field, a sizable building, smoke curling from one of its chimneys, stood in the midst of squalor, despite its newness. Junked cars, stacks of lumber, cans of waste, and piles of trash unidentifiable at this distance stood in front of the building's wide, closed doors. It was the Kellys' touted "Skunkworks," and Jesse's irritation surged as he thought of the waste involved.

He'd been shocked when, just as the politicians seemed certain to give him all he needed to build a fighting air force, a small but vocal faction had temporarily stopped everything by demanding competition in aircraft construction. He'd even complained to Mike Stearns, demanding that he intervene in the foolishness.

Only to be turned down. Stearns, though sympathetic, had given Jesse a short, painful lesson in politics. He'd pointed out that many thought it unfair for Wood and Smith to be given so much deference and support in their aircraft building business—never mind the fact that they had built aircraft that had proven themselves in combat and hadn't yet realized a dime in profit from the enterprise.

"And there are new angles involved too, Jesse," Stearns had explained. "Now that the Confederated Principalities of Europe is on the junk heap, replaced by the United States of Europe, we don't have the same autonomy we used to have. We're a province in the USE now, which has a federal structure. We're no longer the independent-in-all-but-name New United States."


Mike rolled his eyes. "So stop it with the pigheaded 'I don't need no steenkeeng politics' routine, Jesse. What do you think? You know damn well that most of the principalities that Gustav Adolf roped into the USE were frog-marched into it. From the standpoint of those disgruntled little princelings, one of the few bright spots is that they can now make a claim to getting a piece of up-time technology."

It was Jesse's turn to roll his eyes. "You've got to be kidding! What? We're supposed to divert resources to having—who, for God's sake?—the Hessians? the Pomeranians?—start building airplanes?"

"Oh, it's not that bad. None of the important princes are dumb enough to think they can set up an aircraft industry right now, from scratch. But look at the issue of the Kellys from their point of view. As long as you and Hal Smith have a monopoly on aircraft construction—with your close ties to the federal authorities—they can't see any way to get a foot in edgewise."

Jesse made a face. "Hey, look, Mike. It's no secret that I don't like the Kellys, especially She-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named. But I never suggested they were traitors."

"You couldn't anyway, even if you did think it," said Mike forcefully. "What 'treason' would be involved? Moving their aircraft works from Grantville to Magdeburg or Kassel? That's just silly. It'd be like accusing Lockheed of 'treason' if they decided to move their works from Burbank, California, to somewhere else in the United States. We're a federation now, Jesse. If the Kellys wanted to, they'd have every right to pack up their operation and move to another city in the USE."

He ran fingers through his hair. "But that's not even the issue. So far as I know, the Kellys have no intention of leaving Grantville. The Kellys aren't really what's at stake, to begin with, from the standpoint of the down-time princelings. Right now, they simply want to break up what amounts to your semi-official monopoly over up-time aircraft technology. And there's only so far I can resist that pressure, without starting to feed the sentiment—and there's plenty of it—that we up-timers are dogs in a manger. We can afford some waste in aircraft production a lot more than we can afford that issue to start getting explosive. So live with it, Jesse."


Jesse had kept trying, even to the point of resigning as a partner in the aircraft firm, but it hadn't been enough. The powers-that-be, in their wisdom, had seen fit to authorize assistance to both firms in the form of "a suitable building, strategic materials, and such labor and facilities as are deemed necessary by the strategic resources board for aircraft construction." And so, while Hal and his workers had used the assistance to move construction of the "Gustav" model into high gear, the Kelly Aircraft Company had moved into their new digs—and, so far at least, had shown precious little for it.

But it was a done deal, so Jesse let it go. He turned his attention to the aircraft shelters he was passing, five completed now and one in progress. Three had aircraft in them, a Belle and two of the new Gustavs, low wing, powerful looking birds. Their ground crews were still working on them in the lowering sunlight, busy, purposeful. The Belle ground crew was fueling their aircraft from a horse drawn fuel bowser. At the next shelter over, the crewchief of Gustav I, Sergeant Hiram Winters, noticed Jesse and raised a hand. Jesse smiled and raised his own hand in greeting before he moved on.

Good kids, he smiled. Good aircraft. Thank you, God, for both.

He neared an airman lounging on a small tractor near the landing zone. With two hundred and thirty-five men and women now on the rolls, he no longer worried about manpower to work on the field, though the constant effort required brought to memory the old British secret for a nice lawn: good seed, plenty of water, and rolled daily for three hundred years. To that end, the tractor had a roller in tow. Filling in and smoothing out the ruts made in the runway's landing zone was a routine end-of-flying-day chore. He waved his hand down as the young man made to get off his machine.

"Good evening, Airman . . ." He looked for the airman's nametag.

"Guten abend, Herr Oberst. Mein name ist Fleischer. 'Gus' Fleischer."

"Fleischer." Jesse put his hands in the small of his back and stretched. "Waiting for the last aircraft?"

"Jawohl . . .  I mean, 'Yes sir,' " Fleischer replied.

Jesse checked his watch. "Soon, I think. How long have you been with us, Fleischer?"

"Drei, uh, three month, Herr Colonel," Fleischer said slowly.

"And driving already, huh? Very good."

"Yes, sir." The young man lifted his chin. "I will be a pilot, someday." He lifted his arm and pointed. "Look, Herr Oberst! Er kommt!"

"Yes, he does," said Jesse, watching the Belle III slide over the field boundary and touch down. He clapped the airman on the shoulder. "Study hard, Gus, eh?"

"Ja, Colonel!" The young German nodded, started the tractor, and drove off proudly to his duty.


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