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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Twenty Six

       Last updated: Monday, March 21, 2011 07:47 EDT



Dresden, capital of Saxony

    “Well, it’s done,” said Denise Beasley, looking very satisfied with herself. Amazingly so, for someone who’d actually played a very modest role in getting the airplane repaired.

    But Eddie Junker saw no advantage to himself in pointing that out. Denise was often egocentric, but she was not snotty. A cheerful and self-satisfied Denise was a very friendly and affectionate Denise, a state of affairs entirely to his liking. A Denise who felt she was being unfairly criticized, on the other hand, was a sullen and belligerent Denise — and she viewed criticism as inherently unfair, when directed at herself.

    This was not because the girl was more self-centered than any other seventeen-year-old. She wasn’t. It is simply in the nature of seventeen-year-olds to know with a certainty usually reserved for religious fanatics that nothing is ever their fault. Eddie could remember that sublime period in his own life. Quite well, in fact, since it wasn’t really all that long ago. There were times when he wondered if all of life could be described as a long, slow slide into self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy from that all-too-brief Golden Age.

    “Eddie?” Self-satisfied as she might be, Denise also shared — albeit in smaller portion than the usual — the seventeen-year-old need to be constantly reassured.

    “Yes, it’s done. All we were really waiting for was the propeller, anyway.”

    The propeller had finally arrived the day before. Smuggled in — Eddie found this quite charming — in a load of firewood. The smugglers hadn’t even had to bribe the one cavalry patrol they’d encountered. The mercenaries working for the Swedes had taken one look at the load in the cart, curled their lip, and ridden off. You might as well try to get a bribe from a mouse as get one from a woodcutter.

    Somewhat to Eddie’s surprise, and certainly to his relief, it had turned out that there was no damage to the engine. There’d been some structural damage to the wings and fuselage — fortunately, not much — and the fabric of the wings had been pretty badly torn up. But Dresden’s artisans and craftsmen had the skills and materials to repair that sort of damage. Repairing the engine would have been far more difficult, if it was possible at all. There, the problem wasn’t so much the skills needed — seventeenth century metalworkers could do truly amazing work — as it was the materials involved.

    That was the great bottleneck for aviation in the world produced by the Ring of Fire. The knowledge was there. Not enough to have created a giant airliner or a supersonic military aircraft, of course, but more than enough to have filled the skies with the equivalent of Model T automobiles. But the materials required to make suitable internal combustion engines — or the materials required to make critical auxiliary parts like reliable and flexible fuel lines — were either not available at all or could only be produced slowly and at great expense.

    In practice, that had usually meant that a heavier-than-air aircraft needed to use an existing up-time engine that had come through the Ring of Fire. True, primitive rotary engines had been developed that were good enough to get the Jupiter aloft. But there was still only one functioning Jupiter and getting more into service was proving to be difficult.

    For that reason, at least for a time, aviation in the here-and-now was shifting in the direction of lighter-than-air craft. Those had enough lift that they could be powered by steam engines, which were now within the technological capability of the more advanced nations of Europe. There were even rumors that the Turks had developed some airships.

    “So when do we take it up for the first test flight?” Denise asked brightly.

    Eddie set his jaws. Wanting to keep Denise happy had certain inherent limits. Beginning with the demands of sanity.

    “First of all, we aren’t going to be doing any test flights. If and when — emphasis on ‘if’ — I decide to take this thing up for a test, I’m doing it alone. There’s no point in killing two people when killing one is enough to prove you were a damn fool.”

    Denise pouted, but didn’t try to argue. She’d have been expecting that answer, because Eddie had made it clear enough what he thought on the subject of Denise Beasley, Intrepid Test Pilot.

    “And the first of all part probably doesn’t matter anyway,” Eddie continued, “because, second of all, there’s no way I’m trying to take off using that so-called runway out there. That’s just plain suicide.”

    The airstrip in the city square had finally been finished a week earlier. Perhaps oddly, completing the thing had made it clearer than ever that the whole project was absurd. There simply wasn’t enough room for even a small plane such as his to get off the ground.

    Well…not that, exactly. He’d be able to get the plane off the ground, all right, as long as he waited until he had a sufficient headwind blowing in. Just high enough to smash it into the second floor of one of the buildings surrounding the square — all of which were at least three stories tall. Theoretically, he could thread the needle required to fly the plane down the street after it left the square, long enough to lift above the level of the roof-tops. But that was pure theory, and vacant theory at that. The plane had a wingspan that was no more than a yard smaller than the width of the street — and it wasn’t that straight a street to begin with. The slightest gust of wind, the slightest error on the pilot’s part, and he was probably just as dead as if he’d flown into a building.

    The simplest way to get around the problem would be to demolish part of the square to expand the runway. The easiest way to do that would be to widen the street by removing the buildings alongside it. But you’d need to remove a minimum of a hundred yards of existing buildings — each and every one of which was inhabited by someone and most of which doubled as places of business. Eddie was dubious, to say the least, that any such project could be carried out.

    The other possibility would be to create a ramp. That…could be done, especially if you combined the effort with the first option. That would shorten the length of demolition required, too. You could use the rubble from tearing down fifty yards or so or street-frontage buildings as the material for the ramp. With an additional fifty yards that ended in a shallow-incline ramp…

    Eddie thought he’d have a good chance of getting the plane into the air safely. Quite a good chance, actually.

    But then what? How would he land the bloody thing? Taking off on a ramp was one thing, landing safely on one was something else entirely. Eddie had chewed over the problem for hours, and seen no way to solve the problem.

    No way within their means, at least. If they could have built a steam catapult like the sort he’d seen in movies launching planes from the deck of an aircraft carrier…adapt the rear wheel of the plane to serve as a hook catching an arresting cable when he landed…

    Blithering nonsense. By the time such devices could be built and tested in Dresden, with the resources available, the siege would be over anyway.



    “Let’s face it,” said Minnie Hugelmair. “What we ought to do is turn this hangar” — she gestured at the structure that had been erected in the square to shelter the plane while the repair work on it was done — “into the world’s first aviation museum. Because that’s all this fancy airplane is anymore, a museum exhibit.”

    Eddie was pretty sure she was right. At least, until the civil war was over.

    It didn’t occur to him that the term “civil war” was a misnomer. Everywhere else in the USE, people might be starting to make wisecracks about the “phony civil war.” But not in Saxony. By now, Banér’s army had savaged much of the province except in the vicinity of Leipzig where von Arnim’s forces ruled the roost. Swedish cavalry patrols never ventured into the countryside any longer except in large numbers. Georg Kresse and his Vogtlanders had organized a large irregular army that operated on the Saxon plain as well as in the mountains. After the atrocities they’d committed, God help any Swedish mercenary who fell into their hands.



    Prague, capital of Bohemia

    “What an utterly charming idea,” said Francisco Nasi. He spoke softly, barely more than a murmur, because he was talking to himself. There was no one else in his office at the moment.

    He left the radio message he’d just gotten on the table and went to a window.

    He’d established his headquarters in the Josefov, as Prague’s Jewish district was coming to be known. That was perhaps the single most ridiculous side effect of the Ring of Fire that Francisco had yet encountered. In the history of Prague in the world the Americans had come from, the Jewish district had gotten that name in the course of the nineteenth century. The name was in honor of the Austrian emperor Joseph II, who’d emancipated the empire’s Jews in the Toleration Edict of 1781. Somehow or other — probably through Judith Roth — that anecdote of a world that didn’t exist and if it did was hundred and fifty years in the future had spread through the Jewish district. And now, more and more people were calling the district by that name.

    The situation would simply be amusing, except that Francisco — and Morris Roth, he knew — were worried that Wallenstein might find out about it. The man sometimes had a volatile ego, and he might take offense that the Jews weren’t naming the district after him. It was Wallenstein, after all, not some phantasmagorical Emperor Joseph, who had emancipated Bohemia’s Jews in this universe.

    Nasi had situated his headquarters in the Jewish district for several reasons. Those ranged from simple prudence — Wallenstein’s edicts notwithstanding, no sensible Jew was yet prepared to assume that pogroms were entirely a thing of the past — to his decision that he needed to find a wife, a project that wouldn’t be helped in the least if he distanced himself from the community in which he hoped to find the blessed woman. That said, he was very wealthy, so he’d obtained a building close to the river that gave him a good view of the Hradcany and the hills behind the Mala Strana. He found looking out over that very pleasant scenery helped concentrate his thoughts.

    He wondered, for a moment, by what circuitous route that message had come to him. Through Rebecca Abrabanel, of course — the message itself had come directly from her. But how and from whom had she gotten it?

    Given the content of the message itself, it had to have come from Luebeck. He couldn’t think of any other plausible explanation.

    He’d read the message enough times to have it memorized by now, and went over it again in his mind.

    May soon need aircraft available for important passengers within two weeks. Military aircraft not suitable. No other civilian aircraft available in time. What are possibilities at your disposal?

    He couldn’t keep from grinning. “What an utterly charming idea!”

    It would cost him a small fortune, though. Not even Richter would agree to demolishing entire city streets without recompensing those dislocated. There wouldn’t be any immediate return, either, most likely. It would just have to be written off as a loss.

    On the other hand…

    Ultimately, when all was said and done, he was in the business of exchanging and facilitating favors. The actual collection of information — espionage, as such — was simply the first step in the process. Most spies and spymasters never went beyond that step, of course. That was not the least of the reasons that most spies died young and poor and most spymasters lived in garrets. The real profit was all in what you did with the information.

    He was sure he knew what lay behind that message. So, what was it worth to have a very large favor owed to him by two people who might someday be the two most powerful people in the world? The two most influential people, at any rate, power being an increasingly elastic phenomenon.

    Quite a lot, he decided. Easily worth a small fortune.

    He went back to the desk and rang the little bell that sat there. A moment later, his secretary appeared.

    Nasi was already writing the message. “I need to have this sent immediately by radio. Well, by nightfall, at any rate. It’s going to Dresden so we may need to wait for the evening window.”

    He had his own radio in his headquarters. Quite a good one, too. But radio transmission and reception was what it was, and Dresden was on the other side of the Erzgebirge.



    As it turned out, conditions were suitable for immediate transmission. So, to his surprise, Jozef Wojtowicz found himself summoned back to the Residenzschloss by late afternoon, no more than a few hours after he’d left it.

    When he got back to Richter’s headquarters, he found her there in the company of a stocky young German. He recognized the man immediately, although they’d never actually met. He was Eddie Junker, the pilot.

    “New plans,” said Richter. “Let me show you.”

    Again, he came to stand next to her. This time, though, she had a map of the city proper in front of her. Her finger was placed on the big square and then traced a route down the large street leading south.

    “We need this entire street widened. For at least fifty yards, maybe a hundred. Remove enough of the buildings to make the street” — she cocked an inquisitive gaze on Junker.

    “I want at least sixty feet. That’d give me twice the wingspan of the plane. Anything less gets too risky.”

    She nodded. “That means widening it about thirty feet. If we’re lucky, we can do that by just removing the first row of buildings on one side of the street. But if we need to, we’ll level them on both sides.”

    Removing the first row of buildings –

    Level them on both sides, maybe –

    “I’m assigning you and all your Poles to the project,” Richter went on. “I’ll give you as many more people as I can free up. This project takes priority over everything else except defending the walls against a direct assault.”

    Back to hauling rocks. Did God have a grudge against Poles in general? Jozef wondered. Or was the Almighty specifically enraged at him for some reason?

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