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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Fifteen

       Last updated: Friday, January 14, 2011 07:27 EST



Tetschen, near the border between Saxony and Bohemia

    The plane taxied over to the newly built hangar and came to a stop just before the open doors. Soon thereafter, a figure emerged out of the cockpit. When Jeff Higgins recognized who it was, he whistled softly.

    “To what do we owe the honor of a visit by Jesse Wood himself?” he said.

    Standing next to him, Thorsten Engler made no reply. He figured they’d find out soon enough.

    When Jesse came up, he shook both their hands. “Good afternoon, Colonel Higgins. Captain Engler.”

    “Not that it isn’t always nice to see you, Jesse, but since when does the air force send its commander to fly routine reconnaissance patrols?” Jeff asked.

    Colonel Wood gave him an exasperated look. “Don’t play stupid, Jeff. This is hardly ‘routine.’ We’re on the edge of a civil war, in case you hadn’t noticed. I wanted to see how things stood for myself. I’m flying down to Prague as soon as we’re done here to meet with Mike.”

    “Let’s get inside,” said Higgins. He gestured toward the airfield’s administration building. It was a small two story edifice that officially served as:

    The field’s weather station — with no equipment beyond a mercury thermometer and a crude barometer.

    Its control tower — with nothing to control; Wood’s plane was the first one to ever land here.

    Its radio tower — with no radio capable of reaching Dresden or Prague except under perfect conditions.

    Its only real function so far, a place to get out of the cold and warm up over a pot of tea. There was quite a comfortable lounge on the bottom floor.

    “Would you like me to have your plane rolled into the hangar, Colonel?” Thorsten gestured at a small ground crew standing in the hangar’s wide doorway.

    Jesse shook his head. “I won’t be here that long. I need to get to Prague before nightfall, while the weather holds up.”



    “…burning everything north of the river, so far as I could see,” Jesse concluded. He drained his tea cup and set it down on the side table next to his chair. Then, gave Higgins a look that somehow managed to combine respect and derision.

    “Don’t know as I’d want to be sleeping in the same bed with your wife, Jeff. You’re so much crispy bacon if she ever gets really pissed at you.”

    Jeff grinned. “Just call her Gasoline Gretchen — except she wouldn’t waste the gasoline. She knows how to use an ax. Give her husband forty whacks and then turn the bed into kindling.”

    He seemed quite unperturbed by the peril.

    Jesse studied him for a moment, and then looked toward the corner where the radio was perched on a bench. “Will it reach Dresden or Prague?”

    “Only sometimes, and unpredictably. We’re nestled in the mountains here.” Thorsten glanced at Jeff. When he saw that his commanding officer’s posture didn’t seem to indicate any reservation about the air force colonel, he added: “But we have other ways to stay in regular touch with the people in the city.”

    “Midnight derring-do, eh? Ninjas slipping through the walls in the dead of night.” Wood flicked his fingers, as if brushing something away. “None of my business.”

    Thorsten had no idea what a “ninja” was. A superb spy of some kind, he presumed.

    In point of fact, although they did maintain a small cadre of military couriers who could make the journey overland to Dresden very quickly, their normal method of staying in touch with Gretchen and her people was simply to use a courier from one of the private postal services. Such men were excellent riders and quite discreet.

    They couldn’t be bribed or tortured successfully either, since the messages were apparently innocuous. In fact, by and large they were innocuous, just the communications of a husband and his wife. If and when they needed to say something else, Jeff had sent her a one-time pad. The cipher had been designed by David Bartley. It turned out the youthful financier had been fascinated with cryptography since boyhood.

    “What do you plan to do, Jesse?” Jeff asked abruptly. “If — oh, let’s cut the bullshit — when the civil war breaks out.”

    The air force commander’s eyes moved to the window. Not looking at anything in particular, just keeping an eye on the weather.

    “To be honest, I’m not sure. Admiral Simpson thinks we should both stay neutral. Mind you, that would include refusing to obey any orders — even ones from the prime minister — that would get us involved. So I guess we could still be accused of mutiny.”

    “Neither Wettin nor Oxenstierna is that stupid,” said Jeff. “They’re acting as if they were right now, but they’re not. They know perfectly well the most they can hope for from the USE navy and air force — not to mention the USE army — is to stay neutral. They’ll be using nothing but Swedish mercenary troops and whatever they can get from the provincial armies.”

    “Have to be careful about that last, too,” said Thorsten. “Or the SoTF will throw its army into the fight, and it’s probably stronger than any of the provincial forces except possibly Hesse-Kassel’s.”

    “No, it won’t,” said Jesse. “I’ve talked to Ed Piazza about it, not more than a week ago. He’s expecting the Bavarians to attack the Oberpfalz if — when — the civil war starts. It’s got no protection left except Engels’ regiment, since Oxenstierna ordered Banér to march his troops into Saxony. If they do, he doesn’t see where he has any choice but to commit the SoTF army against them.”



    Thorsten grimaced. “I hadn’t thought of that possibility. It seems a bit risky for Maximilian, though.”

    “Not if he’s been given assurances that the Swedes won’t intervene,” Jesse said, his tone harsh. “Assurances that he figures come from Oxenstierna, even if nothing’s said openly.”

    “But… That would be –”

    “Treason? What does Oxenstierna care if he loses one USE province but gets the rest of it? None of which he had before anyway, the way he sees it.”

    Engler leaned back in his chair and brought his cup to his mouth. He didn’t drink from it, though, and after a few seconds he set it back down again. He was a little shaken. Thorsten was not a cynical man by nature. Still something of a country rube, was the way he’d once put it to his betrothed, Caroline Platzer. The idea that Sweden’s own chancellor would connive with an open enemy like the duke of Bavaria against his own nation…

    Except he wouldn’t see it that way. Jesse was right. Oxenstierna would always look at the world from a Swedish vantage point — and that of Sweden’s aristocracy, to boot. From his perspective, the USE was an ignoble bastard. Not even that, a domestic animal run amok. Was it “treason” for a farmer to use hounds to bring down unruly livestock?

    “You didn’t get around to answering my question, Jesse,” said Jeff.

    Jesse smiled thinly. “Noticed that, did you? Well, a good part of the reason I’m flying to Prague is to talk to Mike about it. I want to know what he thinks.”

    “He’ll tell you the same thing Simpson did,” said Jeff.

    The air force colonel’s eyes widened. “You think so? I was kind of figuring…” He sat up very straight, suddenly. “Don’t tell me that you…”

    “Different situation, Jesse. The air force and the navy are seen by most people as up-timer services. The army isn’t. Whatever Mike winds up doing won’t automatically have repercussions on Americans. That’s not true for you and Simpson.”

    Wood frowned. “That logic seems kind of twisted to me. What the hell, Mike himself is an American.”

    Thorsten extended his hand, waggling it back and forth. “Yes and no. American by origin, certainly. But what do they call him now? ‘Prince of Germany,’ no? With everything that’s happened, he’s transcended his origin in the eyes of most people in the Germanies. Certainly most commoners. They almost forget about it — where they are reminded any time they see an airplane or an ironclad. No, I think Colonel Higgins has the right of it here.”

    Jesse went back to looking out the window. After a few seconds, he said: “And what about you, Jeff? Leaving aside whatever Mike decides to do.”

    Higgins shrugged. “I don’t expect I’ll have to worry about Mike Stearns.” He drained the last of his own cup. “My wife’s in Dresden, Jesse. The time comes I think she’s against the ropes, fuck everything else. I figure my men will come with me, too.”

    Thorsten didn’t have any doubt about that. Jesse glanced at him and must have read his posture correctly. “You’re only one regiment,” he pointed out.

    Jeff still seemed quite unperturbed. “An oversized regiment that goes by the name of the Hangman. But, yes, you’re right. We’re only one regiment.”

    He grinned, suddenly. “Look at it this way, Jesse — by the time Banér manages to get Gretchen against the ropes, what kind of shape do you think he’s going to be in?”



Prague, capital of Bohemia

    “Stay out of it, Jesse. Openly, at least. What Jeff said to you was right on the money.”

    Mike Stearns leaned over the railing of the great bridge that spanned the Vltava in the center of the city, and idly watched a barge passing below. “What the army does is one thing. The air force and navy, something else. To put it a bit crudely, the army’s German and the other two services are American.”

    “Hell, Mike, the navy’s personnel is already almost all German. Once you get past John Chandler Simpson, anyway, and a few others like Eddie Cantrell. So’s the air force, except for the pilots. And even there…” He paused for an instant, to do a quick calculation. “Give it six months and the majority of my pilots will be down-timers too.”

    “Doesn’t matter. It’s the technology involved that makes all the difference. Especially with the air force. The navy’s new generation of warships are sailing ships, where it’s the down-timers who really have most of the know-how. So I expect it won’t be long before people think of the navy the way they do the army. But whenever they see one of your planes in the sky, you might as well be skywriting: ‘look! American gadget!’”

    The air force officer thought about it for a while. Eventually, albeit reluctantly, he nodded his head. “Okay. I guess. But you said ‘openly.’ That implies something.”

    Mike grinned at him. “You can keep me informed of all important troop movements in or around Saxony, can’t you? That doesn’t involve doing anything more than flying reconnaissance, which you do anyway. Got to keep an eye on the Polish border and the Austrians” — he gestured with his chin to the south — “just down there a ways.”

    “Sure. What else?”

    “Well, it occurs to me that you overfly the fortress at Königstein every time you come down this way.”

    Jessed smiled thinly. “Well, not quite. But it’d be easy enough to vary the route. If the powers-that-be whine about it, I’ll make noises about tailwinds and tetchy weather and such forcing me a tad off course. I take it you want regular reports about the state of the garrison there?”



    Mike shook his head. “Actually, no. I want you to keep Colonel Higgins up to date. It’ll be his Hangman regiment that has to deal with Königstein.”

    “It’s easy enough for me justify landing here, Mike, or at C(eské Bude(jovice when you get the airfield down there finished. But –”

    “That’ll be in four days, my engineers tell me. Most of my division’s already there.”

    “But landing in Tetschen’s something else. Once or twice, sure. But I don’t see how I can legitimately explain regular landings. And they’re bound to find out.”

    “Higgins has a radio. It won’t reach here or Dresden reliably, but it’ll reach a plane flying right overhead, won’t it?”

    Jesse pursed his lips. “Yeah, it will. Have to make sure nobody’s listening in, but… that’s easy enough.”

    He glanced up at the imposing sight of Prague Castle, atop the Hradc(any. The huge palace and the great hill it sat upon dominated the whole city. “What about Wallenstein?”

    “What about him?” Mike followed Jesse’s gaze, then pointed toward a palace at the foot of the hill. “He lives in his own palace down here, by the way, not up in the Hradc(any. I don’t think he’s been up there in months, since his health…”

    He let that sentence die a natural death. “Wallenstein’s not very concerned about the inner workings of the USE, Jesse. Just as long as we back him against the Austrians and don’t get in his way if he nibbles at Ruthenia.”

    “If you take the Third Division out of Bohemia, he might squawk.”

    “If I have to take the Third Division out of Bohemia, squawks coming from Prague will be the least of my concerns.”

    Jesse chuckled. “Well, that’s true.”

    Mike shrugged. “He’s not really that worried about the Austrians anyway, I don’t think. They’ve been awfully quiet these past few months, and they certainly won’t launch any attack on Bohemia in the middle of winter.”



Vienna, capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

    Janos Drugeth finished reading the report. For the third time, actually. It hadn’t taken but a few minutes, because the report was only two pages long.

    “This wasn’t sent by Schmid,” he said, waggling the sheets. “It’s much too sketchy. It’s got very little detail and no analysis at all.”

    The Austrian emperor frowned down on the papers in Drugeth’s hand. “You think the report is a fake? A Turkish scheme of some kind?”

    “No. What would be the point? I think it was sent by one of Schmid’s underlings. Which would lead me to believe that he’s gone into hiding. Or he’s dead or in a Turkish prison somewhere.”

    He rose from his chair in Ferdinand’s private audience chamber and began pacing about. He didn’t even think of asking permission to do so. Janos and his monarch had been close friends since boyhood.

    The emperor just watched him, for a minute or so. Then he said: “Come on, speak up! It won’t irritate me any less if you wait another hour. Or another day.”

    Drugeth smiled. “So hard to keep anything from you. But I do hope you aren’t being encouraged to do something rash, Ferdinand.” He was one of the handful of men who could address Austria’s ruler in that manner. Only when they were alone, of course.

    The emperor threw up his hands. “Ah! I knew you would say that!” The hands came down and gripped the armrests. Quite fiercely. Ferdinand spent the next minute just glaring. Ten seconds, at Janos; the rest of the time, at one of the portraits on the wall. That of his great-grandmother, Anne of Bohemia — who was quite blameless in the matter. She’d been dead for almost ninety years.

    “Ah!” he exclaimed again. “I knew you’d say that!”

    “This changes nothing, Ferdinand, that I can see. If anything, it makes the possibility of a threat from the Ottoman Empire even greater. The Persians were the main thing holding them in check. Now that they’ve retaken Baghdad, Murad may well make peace with the Safavids.”

    “Who says they’ll agree?”

    Janos shrugged. “They did in that other universe, didn’t they? When Murad took Baghdad in 1638 instead of three years earlier, as he did in this one.”

    He looked back down at the sheets. “And why did he move so quickly, one has to wonder?”

    The emperor grunted. “He reads the history books too. Saw that he’d managed it in another time and place and figured, why wait?”

    “Possibly, yes. But here’s what else is possible, if Murad ponders the larger lessons of those history books. In the end, the Ottomans were not brought down by the Persians. They were brought down by Christian powers.”

    “Not by us!” Ferdinand said, making a face. “We were allied with them in that miserable war.”

    “That doesn’t really matter. The Austria of that other world is not the Austria of this one. The changes have already begun. Murad would understand that, I think. And would sense that, in whatever form, it will always be Europe that truly threatens his empire. In the long run, if not now. But he’s a young man and expects to rule for a long time, I imagine.”

    Ferdinand took a deep breath and held it for some time. Then, let it out in a rush.

    Again, he threw up his hands. “Fine! Fine! I accept your advice. Reluctantly. Grudgingly. I’m so aggravated, in fact, I’m not inviting you to dinner with the royal family tonight. Nor breakfast tomorrow. Lunch… possibly.”

    Drugeth nodded, looking very solemn. “Punishment, indeed.”

    The emperor made a snorting noise. “But don’t plan for a long lunch! Since you’ve made such an issue of this, I want you back down in the Balkans, seeing what you can find out. Right away.”

    Janos decided not to tell Ferdinand he’d been about to make the same proposal. The emperor’s peevish mood would just get worse.

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