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1635 The Dreeson Incident: Chapter Twenty Four

       Last updated: Wednesday, October 22, 2008 21:44 EDT




    Francisco Nasi found Cory Joe Lang, his new assistant and bodyguard, to be a more interesting fellow than he'd expected.

    First impressions, admittedly, had not been promising. Being fair, though, that was mostly because of Cory Joe's improbably blonde hair, which he emphasized by keeping very long and usually tied back in a pony tail.

    When Francisco commented on the matter to Jackson, the American general smiled.

    "Yeah, I know. He looks like a faggot hair-dresser who uses more peroxide than Marilyn Monroe. More muscular than most, but that's about it. Don't let appearances deceive you, though. The hair color's real - you should see his half-sister Pam Hardesty, if you want an even more outlandish head of genuine blonde hair. And, like Pam, he's a lot smarter than he looks."

Jackson shook his head. "It's always amazed people, the way Velma Hardesty - who's about the most worthless tramp who ever infested Marion County - managed to produce such good kids. Even Tina, the one who got drowned at a graduation celebration party, wasn't any worse than reckless. And what teenager isn't?"

    Nasi hated to ask for translations, because doing so always made him feel mildly foolish. Unfortunately, where his boss Mike Stearns was almost preternaturally acute when it came to such things and always provided Francisco with internal cues, Frank Jackson was obtuse.

    Faggot? Peroxide? Marilyn Monroe? The term "tramp" seemed clear enough, but Francisco went ahead and asked anyway. Since he was already making a fool of himself.



    At the moment, Cory Joe was sitting in a small chair at the very back of the conference room in the palace, looked bored and half-asleep. In point of fact, Francisco had already learned, Lang had a phenomenal memory and would be able to recite back all of the important details of this meeting, if asked.

    "- about the way it looks," concluded Mike Stearns. "As you can see, Wettin's not making any attempt to sugarcoat anything."

    Ed Piazza and Melissa Mailey had come up to Magdeburg for this meeting. They'd brought Chad Jenkins with them, too, since he'd be running for Rebecca's vacated seat, as well as Constantin Ableidinger.

    Piazza had his lips pursed, contemplating Mike's summary. Ableidinger's face was expressionless. Jenkins was scowling. Melissa was shaking her head.

"Stupid," she pronounced. "Why is he doing this, do you think?"

    Ed snorted. "They want to win the election? Look, Melissa, you might think and I might think - everybody in this room might think - that the platform of Wilhelm and his Crown Loyalists is stupid, but don't kid yourself. It's also very popular, in most places in Germany."

    "With the upper crust," Frank Jackson qualified. "I doubt if people farther down the food chain are that crazy about it."

    By up-time standards, Jackson shouldn't have been attending the meeting, since it was a purely partisan political affair and he was an actively serving general in the USE army. But cultural influences worked both ways. By seventeenth century standards and customs, it would be ridiculous not to include Jackson in a strategy session like this one. Frank had been one of Mike Stearns' closest friends and advisers since before the Ring of Fire, and still was.

    Piazza shrugged. "Sure - and so what? Most provinces in Germany are still firmly under the thumbs of their upper classes."

    Mike Stearns waggled his hand. "That's putting it too strongly, Ed. Much too strongly, in most places. 'Under their thumb,' yes. 'Firmly under their thumb?' Not really. The truth is, I think the only major provinces in the USE whose established rulers have a solid hold on their populations are Brunswick and Hesse-Kassel. In the case of Brunswick, because the new oil revenues allow the duke to finance lots of popular projects. And in the case of Hesse-Kassel, because William V - not to mention his wife Amalie - is unusually smart for a provincial ruler. And unusually moderate. Odd as it may be, the Landgrave and Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel are the left wing of the Crown Loyalists."

    "Insofar as the term 'left wing' applies in the seventeenth century," Chad Jenkins said stiffly.

    Mike and Melissa grinned. Back up-time, before the Ring of Fire, you couldn't have found the terms "Chad Jenkins" and "left wing" in the same room. But whether the man was comfortable with the fact or not, in the year 1634 in central Europe, Chad Jenkins was a flaming radical. Even Grantville's most reactionary prominent individual, Tino Nobili - a man who'd been regularly described as "to the right of Genghis Khan" - was, in most ways, a "left-winger" in the here and now. At least, with regard to strictly political matters if not theological ones.

    Luckily, Jenkins had a sense of humor. After a moment, he chuckled and leaned back in his chair. "Okay, okay, old habits die hard. I guess I might as well resign myself to the fact that I'm part of this revolutionary cabal."

    Now it was Melissa's turn to get a little stiff. "It's hardly a 'cabal,' Chad. Most of us here are, after all, elected officials."

    "So?" His grin was more in the way of a jeer. "And since when did being an of-fi-cial cut any mustard with you, Melissa? I can remember at least one speech you gave, back during the miners' strike, when you referred to the entire U.S. government as a conspiracy on the part of the rich and mighty to downtrod the masses."

    "'Downtrod' is not a verb, and I'm sure I didn't use it that way," Melissa said primly. "I know. I'm a schoolteacher. Other than that . . ." She returned the jeering grin with a cool smile. "Fine. Touché."

    "If the two of you will quit squabbling over terminology," Ed said mildly, "I'd like to return to the subject. My point was that in most provinces in the USE, most people will let the upper crust determine how they vote. And for the nobility and the town gentry, the Crown Loyalist platform pushes all the right buttons. Especially the two big ones."

    He stuck up his thumb. "First, of course, they want to re-establish a state church. On a national level, not simply a provincial level."

    "They have not much choice," said Constantin Ableidinger, "if they want an established church. Most of the CL leaders are Lutherans, and the few who aren't are Calvinists. They know perfectly well that if they let each province determine its own established church, some of them - certainly the SoTF and Magdeburg - would flat refuse. And if they forced the issue, Thuringia and Franconia would probably decide to split the difference and let Franconia choose Catholicism."

    Melissa shook her head. "It's insane! The problem isn't simply Lutheran versus Calvinist versus Catholic. Even if they get their damn established Lutheran church, then what? There are two major factions among the Lutherans, the Philippists and the Flacians. There's no way the same pig-headed idiots who insist on a state church aren't also going to insist that it has to have the right theology. And there we are, back in the soup. Philippists and Flacians squabbling all over Germany, with everybody else - Calvinists, Catholics, Anabaptists, Jews, everybody else - out in the cold."



    "The emperor and Wettin himself will lean heavily in favor of the Philippists," said Ed. "Which means the Flacians will go berserk. What a mess."

    "Not to mention the Committees of Correspondence," said Chad. "Speaking of 'going berserk.' Setting up an established church will have the same effect on them as waving a red flag in front of bull."

    Mike seemed a little exasperated. "Unfortunately, I'm afraid you're right."

    Chad looked at him quizzically. "I thought you were dead set against established churches yourself."

    "In theory, yes. In practice . . . it depends how it's done. Back in the universe we came from, several advanced industrial nations still had established churches, formally speaking. But if the English or the Danes were groaning under theological tyranny, somehow it slipped our attention."

    Melissa frowned. "Well, yeah, but . . . Mike, it took centuries for that to evolve."

    "I understand that - which is exactly why I advocate a complete separation of church and state. I'm just saying that I wouldn't lose much sleep if we wound up having to settle for a compromise. As long as non-established churches aren't persecuted, I can live with an established church." He leaned forward in his chair. "For sure and certain, better than I could live with what the Crown Loyalists propose to do with the other central political issue in the campaign. The question of citizenship."

    Ed nodded. "Yes, that's really the big one."

    "Can somebody explain this one to me?" asked Chad. "I have a grasp of the issue - sort of - but it's still fuzzy around the edges. We don't seem to have to deal with this problem much in our neck of the woods."

    Ableidinger grinned. "That's because, between you Americans and we Ram folk, the issue got pretty well settled in practice in Thuringia and Franconia."

    "It's not much of an issue in Magdeburg province either," said Gunther Achterhof. His grin was a lot thinner than Ableidinger's. "And it won't be, no matter who wins the election."

    "The essence of the matter is this, Charles," said Rebecca. "In the world you came from - I speak of your old United States of America - being a 'citizen' of the nation was quite straightforward. If you were born in America, or became a naturalized citizen, that was the end of it. You were a citizen, pure and simple."

    Chad nodded. "Pretty much. A lot of states had a provision to take away your citizenship - your right to vote, I should say - if you got convicted of a felony. But, other than that, yes."

    "Here in the Germanies, on the other hand, it is far more complicated. To begin with, there is nothing equivalent to national citizenship. Insofar as 'citizenship' in concerned, it is a local matter. A man may reside and work in a given city or province, and yet not be a citizen. In practice, that means that he doesn't not enjoy a great number of protections - residency rights, for instance - nor is he entitled to charity or other support."

    "Most Germans in the here and now," Mike interrupted, "are not really citizens of anything. They are 'German' in terms of language, custom, what have you. But they are not 'German' in any meaningful political sense of the term. And, if the Crown Loyalists have their way, that won't change in the future."

    "I still don't get it," said Chad. "They have the right to vote in the coming national election. So how can they not be 'citizens'?"

    Becky smiled. "Being a 'voter' and a 'citizen' are not the same thing. It's far more complicated. Let's take a lower class man - an apprentice carpenter, let's say - in . . . oh, Hamburg, for example. He can vote in the coming election for whichever candidate he wants for his House of Commons district. But that's it. He cannot vote for any of the officials of the city itself. That's because Hamburg is one of the dozen or so free imperial cities in the United States of Europe. For most purposes, it is a province of its own - of which he is not a citizen. He has no rights in Hamburg, not even residency rights. He is there on sufferance, essentially."

    Jenkins scratched his head. "It's sort of like Jim Crow, then?"

    Mike made a face. "Well . . . there are differences. But, yes, it's a lot closer than we'd like. In some ways, in fact, it's even worse. At least black people in the Jim Crow south had the theoretical right to vote, even if exercising the vote was stifled in practice. Here, though, a lot of people in Germany won't even theoretically be citizens, if the Crown Loyalists get their whole program enacted."

    "Will they be able to?" asked Chad.

    Ed shrugged. "Hell, you knows? Ask that question again after the election. It'll depend how many seats they wind up winning in the House of Commons. They'll completely dominate the Chamber of Princes, of course."

    "Ed's fudging," said Mike. "This question of citizenship is the one big issue on which all the small parties are in solid agreement with the CLs. There are other issues - an established church, for instance, since some of the small parties are heavily Calvinist-that I think we might be able to block. But unless we win an outright majority in the Commons, which none of us expects to happen, then Wettin and his CLs will get that citizenship legislation passed."

    "At which point," said Gunther Achterhof, "all hell breaks loose."

    He didn't say that threateningly, or even with a scowl. Just . . . matter-of-factly.

    Chad Jenkins looked alarmed. "Hey, Gunther, we have to obey the law here."

    Achterhof gave him a calm, level look. "'Obey the law' has very little to do with it, Mr. Jenkins. Once that legislation is enacted, then the informal freedoms and rights that many lower class persons all across the Germanies have come to expect while he" - he nodded toward Mike - "was Prime Minister, will start vanishing. Be assured that every petty nobleman and town council and guildmaster in the USE will immediately take advantage of the situation to reimpose their authority and restrict the rights of the lower classes as much as possible. And nowadays, several years after the Ring of Fire - you may be assured of this also - that will trigger off an explosion."

    For all that Achterhof's depiction had the air of a neutral observation by an unbiased observer, Francisco Nasi knew perfectly well that when the time came Gunther - certainly Gretchen Richter - and every Committee of Correspondence in the Germanies would be leading the protests.

    Protests? It might very well come down to an outright rebellion. Nasi knew that Mike Stearns didn't think there was any realistic prospect of avoiding violence. Mike's concern, at the moment, was simply to find ways to channel the upcoming explosion in the hopes that it might produce some positive results instead of simply a bloodbath.

    Easier said than done, of course. Gunther Achterhof was quite right in his analysis. Even the short time Mike Stearns had wielded power in the USE as Prime Minister had been enough to produce a revolution of rising expectations in Germany's lower classes. Many if not all of them would find a return to the old dispensation intolerable.

    And what made the whole situation so utterly perilous - looking at it now from the standpoint of the upper crust, whom Nasi thought were outright imbeciles - was. . . 

    Stearns said it bluntly.

    "You may as well swallow the whole thing, Chad, whether you like it or not. The kicker in all this is that the factor that most ruling classes in history rely on to impose their will on the population is the army. And in the United States of Europe in the year 1635, that army will be leaning heavily in favor of us - not the establishment."



    Jenkins was looking even more alarmed. "Jesus, Mike! You can't seriously be proposing a mutiny!"

    "Oh, cut it out, Chad," interrupted Frank Jackson brusquely. "We're not living any longer in a nice, polite, well-ordered and comfortable political situation where political parties make 'propositions' and everybody waits patiently to see who wins the vote." He jerked a thumb toward Mike. "It doesn't matter whether he advocates or proposes a mutiny. I guarantee you that if the Crown Loyalists order the regular army - just to give an example - to march into Magdeburg and suppress a demonstration - hell, even an outright armed rebellion - the regiments will flat refuse. And if Wettin's government tries to force the issue, the soldiers will start shooting at him instead."

    Jenkins stared at him. Francisco cleared his throat. "General Jackson's assessment is almost certainly correct, Mr. Jenkins. I know for a fact that General Torstensson is deeply concerned over the matter and has warned the emperor several times that Wettin's recklessness -"

    "The Crown Loyalists' recklessness, really," Mike interrupted. "I don't think, left to his own devices, Wilhelm would be pushing the issue this hard."

    Nasi nodded his agreement and continued. "Torstensson has warned Gustav Adolf that he can't rely on the army for suppression of internal dissent. Not the regular USE army, at least. And if the emperor or anyone else tries to use other units, either Swedish troops or mercenary forces, it's quite possible that would trigger off a rebellion on the part of the regular army."

"Jesus." Chad shook his head, as if clearing away confusion. "I didn't realize things were that tense." He gave Ed Piazza and Constantin Ableidinger a sly smile. "I guess, down there in the SoTF, I've gotten used to the way these two firebrands keep everything under control."

    "And will keep things under control," Ed said, smiling just as slyly. "Not even the most rabid Crown Loyalist proposes the imposition of any sort of national citizenship requirement. The whole matter will be left to each province to decide for itself - and for us in Thuringia-Franconia, it's a done deal. Nothing will change, so far as citizenship is concerned."

    Jenkins looked back at Nasi. "And what did Gustav Adolf say? In response to Torstensson's warning?"

    Nasi's smile was serene. "You understand, of course, that I am not officially privy to any private conversations between the emperor and the top commander of the USE's armed forces."

    "Yeah, sure. Butter doesn't melt in your mouth and all that. What'd he say?"

    "Alas, our esteemed emperor is far too pre-occupied at the moment with foreign affairs to pay sufficient attention to domestic matters. So his responses have been terse - being honest - to the point of vacuity. The gist of his attitude seems to be that it will all prove to be a moot point, since by the time the Crown Loyalists are able to enact their citizenship legislation, Gustav Adolf and Lennart Torstensson and the entire USE regular army will be somewhere in Brandenburg or Saxony - perhaps even Poland - dealing mighty blows to the unrighteous cohorts of the wicked."

    Jenkins stared at him. "That . . . seems a little foolhardy."

    Mike snorted. "A 'little'? Here's the truth, Chad. Gustav Adolf is just too absorbed - hell, call it 'obsessed' and you won't be far off - settling accounts with the French and the Danes and chomping at the bit to pile onto the Saxons and Brandenburgers next year to be thinking much at all about the domestic situation in the USE. So it apparently hasn't dawned on him yet that if any sort of major rebellions break out while the regular army in fighting in the east, then the various provincial forces in the USE will be hard-pressed to squash them."

    "Yeah," said Frank. "Squash them with what? They can't use Swedish forces without the emperor's permission - and even if he was inclined to give it, he'll have all those forces with him fighting the war anyway. So that means they have to use provincial troops and city militias. And while that might have been good enough a few years back, it ain't now. Just to name one example, nobody much doubts that if a civil war breaks out again in Hamburg that it'll be won hands-down by the city's CoC. For that matter, the same's likely to be true in five out of the USE's seven imperial cities, because the CoC is also strong in Luebeck, Frankfurt and Strassburg. The only 'moderate' imperial cities are Augsburg and Ulm."

    "There are two provinces where the same's true, also," added Mike. "The Upper Palatinate and Mecklenburg."

    "Hesse-Kassel's provincial forces are quite substantial," Nasi said. "But Hesse-Kassel won't see any major upheavals anyway - and there's very little chance that the landgrave would agree to send his troops to the aid of the establishment in any other province."

    Ed Piazza cleared his throat. "Especially after I send him a stiff note, as president of the SoTF, explaining that if Hesse-Kassel starts sending its troops into other provinces, Thuringia-Franconia will start doing the same. On the other side."

    Now, Jenkins was really looking alarmed. "For Christ's sake, Ed! The SoTF's so-called 'provincial troops' don't amount to squat. They're just small garrisons - a police force more than anything else."

    "Sure - and so what? If the situation goes to hell in a handbasket, we'll call for volunteers. We'll get 'em, don't think we won't. The CoCs are strong in Thuringia and -"

    Ableidinger chimed in. "And the Ram will call for volunteers in Franconia. They'll come, too."

    Piazza shrugged. "Push comes to shove, the State of Thuringia-Franconia has the largest population of any province in the USE and we've got a far better industrial base than any other except - in some industries - Magdeburg. And Magdeburg will be doing the same thing anyway."

    Jenkins was looking a little haggard, now. "Jesus H. Christ."

    "Let's hope it doesn't come to that," said Mike. "But we've wandered into speculation here, people. I think we need to get back to the nuts and bolts of the coming campaign. That's starting immediately, where this other - if it happens at all - is months down the road."



    After the meeting was over and everyone had left the conference room except Stearns, Nasi and Lang, Mike turned to Francisco.

    "The one thing we really don't want is any kind of premature confrontation with the Crown Loyalists. I don't know whether it'll come to a civil war of sorts next summer or fall, but what I know for sure is that if it does I want all our ducks lined up in a row, not scattered all over East Jesus because they got disorganized during some second-rate squabble in the spring."

    Nasi nodded. "Yes, I understand."

    "So. Are there any flash points you can see? If there are, I'd like to make sure they're squelched ahead of time."

    "Outside of the usual problems . . ." Francisco turned to look at Lang. "There is the matter of whatever those Huguenot fanatics may be up to. The ones around Michel Ducos - his followers, I should say. We don't know the current whereabouts of Ducos. Cory Joe?"

    Lang's sleepy look didn't quite vanish. But he certainly didn't look as alert as his ensuing words indicated him to be. "The don asked me to pull all that information together, Mike. So far, though, it's pretty ragged. Bits and pieces from Nathan Prickett in Frankfurt, which is where they've had a cell for a few months. And a few odds and ends from elsewhere."

    "What does it all add up to?"

    "Hard to say," replied Nasi. "The problem is that whatever the Huguenots are involved with here in the USE does not directly involve us. Or, it might be better to say, we are simply a means to an end. Their real target is Cardinal Richelieu."

    "And why is that a problem - for us?"

    "Because it makes it hard to predict exactly what they might do here. Since their aim is on Richelieu, they might do something that makes sense in a French political context but makes no sense at all from our standpoint."

    "I'm not quite following you."

    Cory Joe spoke up. "Here's an example, Mike. From the latest items we've gotten, it seems as if the Huguenots in Frankfurt may be getting involved with some of our own anti-Semitic groups. Yet there doesn't seem to be any logical reason for that. As fanatical as they may be, Ducos' Huguenots are not anti-Semitic themselves. Actually, that's part of the fanaticism, in a way, since they're extreme Calvinist predestinationists, if that's a real word."

    Mike chuckled. "I don't think so, but I get the point. If there are Jews in the world it's because God wants them here and who the hell are you to question His judgment?"

    Nasi shook his head. "Of course, one might wonder why the same principle doesn't apply to their political concerns. If Cardinal Richelieu is running France it's because God wants him to and who are you to question His judgment?"

    "And it's still more complicated," Cory Joe added, "because it seems that we might be dealing with two different Huguenot outfits, not just Ducos and his people."

    Mike cocked an eye. "And the other being . . ."

    "Duke Henri de Rohan," said Nasi. "Probably France's most prominent Huguenot political figure. Now residing in Besançon, it seems. And the duke's younger brother Benjamin, the duke of Soubise."

    "And to make things still more complicated," said Cory Joe, "we're beginning to suspect that some of the agents on the ground are working for both parties. If so, obviously, one of those parties is getting suckered by a double-agent. But we have no idea which one is which or who's suckering who."

    Mike shook his head much the way Chad Jenkins had earlier, as if clearing away confusion. "Boy, I'm glad it's the two of you trying to keep track of this spaghetti instead of me." He scratched his chin for a minute. "All right, I think I get at least as much of the picture as there is to get right now. If so, it sounds as if things have developed enough that maybe Cory Joe should start going down to Grantville on a regular basis. Francisco, you don't really need his services as a bodyguard so long as you're residing in Magdeburg."

    "No, I don't. As for the other" - here he smiled, very coolly - "I believe that expression you're over fond of applies here."

    Mike chuckled. "'Don't teach your grandmother how to suck eggs.'"

    "Yes, that one. We've already set up the premises, with Frank Jackson's co-operation. Cory Joe's heading down to Grantville the day after tomorrow."

    For the first time, Cory Joe seemed to come wide awake. "You got any messages you want me to pass on to anybody, Mike? Like, y'know, to your favorite cousin my mother."

    Mike made a face. Cory Joe laughed. "Just as well, since I woulda refused anyway. I haven't seen the worthless bitch in months and I'd just as soon keep the streak going." His hard face softened a little. "It'll be nice to see my sisters again, though."

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