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In The Navy: Section Two

       Last updated: Tuesday, August 12, 2003 03:34 EDT



    “Okay,” he sighed finally. “You’re probably– No, scratch that, you are right. But I’ve still got to consider how many birds I can kill with each stone.” He pondered some more, rubbing the tip of an index finger in slow, thoughtful circles on the tabletop, then nodded to himself.

    “All right,” he said, focusing on Simpson once more. “I don’t know if I can make this permanent yet – we’ll have to look at the competing demands on his time – but Jere Haygood’s a re-enactor, and a good one. He was also the senior partner of the one civil engineering firm we had here in Grantville before the Ring of Fire. Which means, of course, that there are at least seven things we need him to be doing simultaneously . . . including training other engineers. At the moment, though, he’s heading one of the teams working with Gustav’s engineers on improving the Stecknitz, which means he’s already on the river. But if we go ahead with this project, you’re going to need someone like him to help you lay out your shipyard, at the very least, right?”

    “It would certainly be an enormous help,” Simpson agreed.

    “In that case, I’ll send him a radio message and tell him to meet you in Magdeburg. You can discuss the engineering aspects of this whole idea with him, and there are enough other projects going on in and around Magdeburg that Pete McDougal probably really needs access to one of our better engineers on an ongoing basis, anyway. And we can see about having him assigned as our official liaison to Gustav Adolph’s engineering corps. God knows we’re going to need someone assigned permanently to that slot in a teaching role, if nothing else, and that should also get his foot in the door with the Swedish officer corps in general.”

    Simpson pursed his lips, obviously considering the notion carefully, then nodded.

    “That sounds like an excellent idea,” he said, and his tone was approving, if not precisely warm. “And it certainly does kill multiple birds with a single rock. Of course, he’s still going to be so busy with other jobs that they’ll undoubtedly interfere badly with his ability to function purely as a military adviser. On the other hand, once we actually begin providing Gustav’s troops with better weapons, we’ll just have to find someone else to assist him. Someone you’ll be able to spare from other responsibilities then even if you can’t spare him now.

    “In the meantime, I would certainly be willing to make what I know myself available. And I wasn't always an engineer during my naval service. Unlike Mr. Underwood, my own early experience was in the combat arms."

    "That might... be very useful," Mike said slowly, with what he hoped was well hidden caution. He had a sudden vision of Simpson ingratiating himself with the most conservative and inherently dangerous elements of Gustav Adolph's army. Or, even worse, the CPE's more reluctant German princes.

    Yet even as the thought crossed his mind, he told himself that it was foolish. Conservative—maybe even reactionary—Simpson undoubtedly was, but the most reactionary twenty-first-century American imaginable was hopelessly and radically liberal compared to someone like John George of Saxony.

    Which didn't mean that Simpson wouldn't do his absolute level best to build his own little empire if he had even half a chance. In fact, it would be asinine to expect anything else out of him. Whatever Mike might think of him on a personal basis, no one was successful at the persistently high level of industrial performance Simpson had demonstrated without being extremely capable himself. And that capability, especially in a situation like the one the up-timers faced, would inevitably attract power like a magnet if Mike allowed him to exercise it.


    Ultimately, he reflected, that was what it came down to. If Mike allowed his worst political enemy to demonstrate that there was an area in which he was truly and provably competent, it could have incalculable consequences for the future. But Mike was still in the position of a man with no choice but to run even faster to prevent himself from falling.

    Besides, if I let a man like Simpson beat me just because there's one area in which he's competent, then I'll deserve whatever the hell happens to me!

    "We'll have to think about that," he continued after a moment. "About the best way to make use of your experience and knowledge, I mean. But in the meantime, what about Eddie's design?"

    "I think it has... potential," Simpson replied, accepting the return to the topic which had originally brought Mike there. "It's going to need a lot of work to make it practical, but assuming that the Allocation Committee is willing to commit the resources and we can come up with the manpower and the funding, I think we can probably build them. Of course, once we do, we'll have to come up with crews for them, as well."

    "I know." Mike gazed at the other man for a few more seconds, then inhaled unobtrusively.

    "If I sign off on it, the Allocation Committee will, too," he said confidently. "I don't say it will be easy, but I'll bring them around in the end. But if I do, would you be willing to take charge of it?"

    "Not without conditions," Simpson said after a moment.

    "What sort of conditions?" Mike felt himself slipping into the natural stance of a negotiator, and a small smile flickered around Simpson's mouth, as if he felt the same thing.

    "If I build them, then I command them," he said flatly. "It's not going to be easy, however much support you can give me. I'd have to build a shipyard before I could start building ships in it, and part of the job would have to include training the local work force I'd need. The same holds true for building crews to man them, as well. It's going to take time and careful organization to make any of this work, and I'm not really in the habit of involving myself in projects that fail. I refuse to oversee the expenditure of so much of our resources just to let someone else screw up and misuse the final product when I'm done."

    He showed his teeth in a brief, fierce grin.

    "So I suppose that, in the end, it comes down to how much you trust me, 'Mr. President.' Do you need my expertise badly enough to piss off 'General Jackson' and risk putting me in command of your navy?"

    Mike met that flash of a grin with an unsmiling, level look of his own, and several seconds of silence hovered in the Wendell kitchen. Then the President of the United States smiled ever so slightly himself.

    "Actually, I think 'Admiral Simpson' has a certain ring to it," he said.




    "I can't believe this," Eddie Cantrell muttered under his breath. "Simpson?" He shook his head.

    "Don't even go there, Eddie," Mike growled softly, and Eddie flushed as he realized that he hadn't spoken quite as much under his breath as he thought he had.

    "I had enough trouble with Frank and Quentin—not to mention Melissa!" Mike continued. "You wanted your damned ironclads, and you're probably going to get them, so I wouldn't go looking any gift horses in the teeth, if I were you."

    Eddie grimaced at the reference to "gift horses" and glowered for a moment at the flesh-and-blood horse whose reins he held. In his considered opinion, horses were a very poor substitute for motorcycles, and his posterior wasn't looking forward to the journey to Magdeburg.

    "Sorry," he said, after a moment. "And I meant it when I said I'd be willing to turn everything over to someone else if they knew how to get the job done. But I gotta tell you, Mike – I'm not too crazy about putting Simpson in command of anything, much less the Navy."

    "If we're going to do this at all, then he's the best man for the job," Mike said, just a bit more positively than he actually felt. "On the other hand, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I'm just as happy he'll have you along for this little trip."

    Eddie cocked his head at Mike, then nodded slowly.

    "Gotcha," he said. "I'll keep the bastard honest."

    "That wasn't exactly what I meant," Mike said somewhat repressively, already wishing he hadn't said anything about it at all. "Look, Eddie, you don't like Simpson. Well, I don't like him very much, either. But don't ever make the mistake of thinking the man is stupid or incompetent in his own area. Or that we don't need him just as badly as we need Nat Davis or Greg Ferrara. You're going along to help him find the right spot for his shipyard. You are not going along as some sort of Gestapo agent. Is that understood?"

    "Understood," Eddie replied contritely, and Mike shrugged.

    "Sorry. Didn't mean to bite your head off. But this is important, and we don't need anyone creating still more problems to overcome. At the same time, if you happen to notice anything you feel ought to be called to our attention, I expect you to do it."

    "Understood," Eddie repeated in a somewhat different tone, and Mike nodded. He started to say something else, then broke off as Simpson came trotting around the corner on his own horse.

    It irritated Mike that Simpson had already known how to ride when they arrived in Thuringia. Worse, the man rode Western-style, so Mike couldn't even put it down to an effete, socially pretentious thing like polo.

    The beautifully tailored three-piece business suits which had accompanied Simpson to Grantville for his son's wedding had long since disappeared. The older man wore boots, denims, a flannel shirt, and a light nylon windbreaker against the late-spring chill of Northern Germany, and Mike was still a little surprised by how much the change in clothing changed the man's image. The John Chandler Simpson trotting briskly along the street looked very little like the supercilious city slicker who'd come to Grantville so long ago. This man was tall and broad shouldered—as tall as his son, even if he didn't have Tom's sheer mass of muscle. Then again, no one in the seventeenth-century was as massively built as Tom was. Which meant that “not as massive” certainly wasn’t the same thing as “ninety-eight pound weakling,” and little though Mike might have cared to admit it, there'd always been far more muscle and far less fat on Simpson’s powerful frame than many another senior up-time executive might have claimed. The recently past winter had wiped away most of the fat which had been there, too.

    "Gentlemen," Simpson acknowledged them in brusque, no-nonsense tones as he reined in his mount beside them.

    "Mr. Simpson," Mike replied. Eddie only nodded, but he clambered up into his own saddle. Not, Mike observed, with any particular grace. Eddie had learned to ride since the Ring of Fire, but only in the sense that he no longer fell off the horse whenever it stopped. At that, he was doing better than his friend Jeff, but it was all Mike could do to keep himself from breaking out into laughter at Eddie's expression as he contemplated the long ride to Magdeburg.

    At least the youngster would be spared the indescribable motion of a coach trip over seventeenth-century roads, and that was nothing to sneeze at. The main road to Magdeburg was slated for improvement as an urgent priority, but it was going to be a while before it could be accomplished.

    "Don't forget to check in with the radio shack when you get there," Mike admonished, and Simpson nodded. Grantville's limited number of radio hams were busy training more operators and planning the construction of simple crystal sets to eke out and support the handful of modern radios which had accompanied them back to Thuringia. It was going to be a while before there were enough of them for more than purely limited use, but installing one of them at the new imperial capital had been a high priority.

    "I guess that's about it, then," Mike continued. "We'll be waiting to hear from you."

    Simpson gave him another not-quite-curt nod, touched his heels to his horse, and started off without another word. Eddie looked at Mike one more time, then shrugged and headed off—far less gracefully—in Simpson's wake.




    By the time they reached Magdeburg, a few days later, Eddie had developed a new, even stronger, first-hand appreciation of the advantages of water transport in the seventeenth century. He would vastly have preferred to make the shorter trip overland to Halle and then travel down the river to Magdeburg, but there'd been a few unpleasant incidents along the river. Everyone agreed that they thought it was only isolated bands of brigands—probably mercenaries who were currently unemployed because Gustav Adolph had destroyed the armies to which they had once been attached—who'd turned to a little freelance river piracy to survive the winter. That was the official story, anyway. Personally, Eddie was none too certain that it wasn't a bit more organized than that. There were certainly enough German nobles who hated and feared the up-timer Americans' impact, starting with John George of Saxony, himself. It wouldn't surprise Eddie a bit to discover that one or more of them had been turning a blind eye to attacks on said Americans' barge traffic.

    The situation was improving, in large part because Gustav had begun operating patrols of Finnish and Lapp cavalry—whose fearsome reputations were well deserved—along the more dangerous sections of the river. But for the moment, President Stearns and his cabinet had preferred to send their two-man shipbuilding force to Magdeburg by a more arduous but less adventurous route.

    And "arduous" it had certainly been. Every muscle Eddie had seemed to ache with its own individual protest, but that background chorus was nothing to the throbbing ache in his thighs and buttocks. The inns at which they had spent their nights had been an experience of eye-opening unpleasantness in their own right, and he was uncomfortably certain that he had acquired all too many multi-legged insectoid boarders.

    But at least they were finally here... not that "here" was all that impressive. Magdeburg had been a largish city by here-and-now standards before Count Tilly's troops had massacred the population and burned the place to the ground in the worst single atrocity yet of the ongoing Thirty Years War. The nightmare event had rallied opposition to Tilly and the Imperialists from all over Protestant Germany and provided Gustav Adolph's army with one of the most chilling war cries of the entire war: "Magdeburg quarter"—the promise to be just as merciful to Tilly's men as they had been to the citizens of Magdeburg.

    But Magdeburg's history, as well as its central location and its access to the Elbe River, had made it the inevitable choice as the capital of Gustav's new Confederated Principalities of Europe. The heaps of charred rubble surrounding the cathedral—the only structure in the entire city which had been spared the torch—had largely disappeared now, and reconstruction was well underway. The sheer devastation of the old city had given Gustav's architects the opportunity to design a proper capital, with a coordinated street plan of long, straight avenues and spacious squares, and the skeleton of the new city to be was plainly evident. But so was the sprawl of temporary quarters, thrown up in haste and without any apparent plan or order, for the work force laboring upon the new buildings and streets. And it seemed evident to Eddie as he gazed out over the site that the area outside the old city walls, where the foundations of the new factories and warehouses were going in, had not profited from the same degree of city planning.

    "Quite a mess, isn't it?" Simpson remarked.

    Eddie looked at him. The lengthy, arduous trip had forced him to alter his opinion of Simpson... some. They hadn't exactly whiled away the journey in deep, philosophical discussion. In fact, they hadn't spoken to one another any more than they had to. But despite himself, Eddie had been impressed by how little Simpson had complained. Of course, Eddie thought resentfully, Simpson's posterior probably didn't ache quite as much as his own did. At the same time, however, Simpson was at least thirty years older than he was, and even though there had to be plenty of room for aches and pains in those extra decades, Simpson showed absolutely no sign of them.

    Yet what had truly surprised Eddie was the calm, almost matter of fact way Simpson had accepted the primitive nature of both their transportation and their accommodations along the way. He'd expected the ex-CEO to demand the very best, and to throw temper tantrums if he didn't get it. But it hadn't worked out that way.

    Simpson had displayed an amazing talent for hard, shrewd bargaining over the cost of their rooms every night – almost as if the money were coming out of his own pocket, rather than out of the funds the U.S. government had provided for the trip. And it had been obvious that he wasn't prepared to be fobbed off with anything less than the best the inns had been able to provide. Yet that "best" had fallen dismally short of anything he would have tolerated for a heartbeat "back home," and he hadn't said a word. In fact, he'd accepted the limitations of their accommodations far more patiently than Eddie had, and he'd actually tipped the staffs when they left.

    Eddie wasn't quite sure what to make of that, but it had at least cracked the armor of his preconceptions where Simpson was concerned. Not that he was prepared to surrender his distrust just yet. Simpson was still the arrogant bastard who'd tried to waltz into Grantville and take over the entire town. And he was still the slimeball politician who'd thrown in with the bigoted rednecks who'd opposed extending the vote to anyone who hadn't been born up-time. Which meant, by definition, that he was The Enemy.

    None of which affected the fact that his observations summed up Eddie's own impression of Magdeburg quite handily.

    "Calling this a mess is an insult to any other mess," he said, after a moment, and Simpson surprised him yet again with a dry chuckle.

    "Oh, I've seen worse. Not very often, mind you, but I've seen worse. And given what they had to start with, I'm actually surprised they've done this well with it so quickly."

    Eddie glanced at him speculatively. He'd been more prepared for Simpson to make some cutting remark about primitive construction techniques and lousy seventeenth-century architects. Instead, the older man's tone was merely thoughtful. Indeed, it might actually have been approving, mind-boggling though that possibility seemed to Eddie.

    "Well," Simpson continued after a moment, "I suppose we should check in with the local authorities and get off a radio message that we've arrived. This way, I think, Mr. Cantrell."

    He urged his mount into motion, and Eddie found himself—once again—following the rear end of John Chandler Simpson's horse.



    The streets of Magdeburg, such as they were, were a hive of activity. In fact, they were so busy that Eddie quickly decided to swallow his pride, dismount, and lead his horse. The journey from Grantville had been long enough for even his horsemanship to improve appreciably, but he knew his limits, and the first time one of the clattering, wooden-wheeled carts came rumbling unexpectedly out of a cross street, he knew he'd reached them. He managed to survive his horse's rearing protest at the sudden, frightening intrusion, but it was a very near thing, and he scrambled out of the saddle with far more haste than grace.

    Simpson, on the other hand, simply sat there in the saddle, gazing at him with one quirked eyebrow. His horse, needless to say, scarcely even tossed its head. Eddie would have loved to put its calmness down to its innately placid disposition, but he knew it had far more to do with the hand upon the reins and the rider in the saddle.

    Simpson waited until he was certain Eddie had the reins firmly in hand, then clucked gently to his mount and led the way through the bustling confusion of workmen, carts, freight wagons, occasional squads of Swedish soldiers, and street vendors. Eddie followed, glowering at the older man's ramrod-straight spine and feeling like a total doofus.

    Stretches of the burned city's original cobblestones were interspersed with and crossed by muddy tracks—usually more puddle than mud, actually—and Eddie was grateful that he'd worn boots instead of sneakers. Nikes weren't exactly the footwear of choice when it came to wading through ankle-deep holes full of water and gooey mud.

    Eddie hadn't seen so many people in one place, outside Grantville itself, since arriving in the seventeenth century. And the activity around him very nearly approached the frantic industry with which Grantville had expanded its housing to face the demands of the winter just past. The smell of smoke, the clatter of tools, the bellows of foremen, and the incredible smells of too many people crowded into too little space.

    The smell bothered Eddie even more because it was so different from what he’d become accustomed to. He’d discovered, to his surprise, that 17th-century German notions of public sanitation were far better than he'd expected from his limited knowledge of history. Melissa Mailey had explained to him that was because he assumed that British history was synonymous with "history." It was in fact true that, as a rule, public sanitation in seventeenth-century Britain was just as bad as Eddie assumed—Edinburgh was especially notorious all over Europe for its filth, with London not too far behind. But most German towns had a long-established system of cleaning up public refuse, including human waste, with a class of people employed exclusively for that purpose. It was a system which Americans despised, since it involved relegating the caste of waste-haulers to pariah social status, almost like the caste system in Hindu India. Still, it normally served to keep the worst aspects of public refuse to a reasonable level.

    The problem was that Magdeburg was, for all practical purposes, a brand new city. And one which, he suspected, had already been sufficiently "infected" with American social and political notions for the standard system of public sanitation to be functioning haphazardly at best. Not for the first time since the Ring of Fire, Eddie was discovering that social change, in the betwixt-and-between period, often had as many drawbacks as it did advantages.

    So, he was more than merely grateful when Simpson finally drew up outside the hastily thrown together walls of a building two blocks from Magdeburg's temporary town hall.

    Half a dozen Swedish musketeers stood guard outside the American "embassy's" entrance, accompanied by a single American in deer hunter's cammies and armed with a semi-auto Browning shotgun. The difference between the sleek, up-time weapon and the clumsy Swedish matchlocks was almost as marked as the difference between the Swedes' cold-eyed alertness and the American's obvious casualness.

    Simpson dismounted slowly and handed his reins to the groom who came trotting around a corner of the hastily assembled structure to take them. The same groom collected Eddie's horse, as well, and Eddie was delighted to let him have it. Indeed, he hoped he'd never see the sharp-spined nag again.

    But Simpson paid very little attention to the groom. He’d paused long enough to remove his saddlebags before he let the man take his horse, yet his attitude was very different from one he'd demonstrated when he and Eddie had stopped at one of the inns along the way. Then, he'd taken considerable pains to be certain that his mount would be properly cared for; this time his attention was fully focused on the sentries in front of the building.

    No, Eddie realized. Not on all the sentries—only on Matt Lowry, the American.

    Simpson's frown was not a pleasant thing to see. He looked, Eddie thought, like a man who'd gotten a sudden whiff of a three-day-dead skunk, and his own resentment rose in automatic reflex. Obviously, the rich bigshot from Pittsburgh could hardly contain his contempt for the hillbilly in front of him. Probably because Matt hadn't kowtowed properly in the face of Simpson's innate superiority!

    Eddie waited for Simpson to say something, but the older man only pressed his lips firmly together and nodded to the trooper who was obviously the senior member of the Swedish guards. Then he slung his saddlebags over his shoulder and strode into the building.




    "You're here to do what?" Pete McDougal asked.

    Before the Ring of Fire, Pete had headed up the safety committee for the same local chapter of the United Mine Workers of which Mike Stearns had been president. Now he was Mike Stearns' personal representative in Magdeburg, at least until the rebuilding capital was ready for a larger American presence. Whether he was there as an ambassador to the CPE or to serve the interests of "Captain General Gars" was an interesting point, but McDougal had the natural diplomacy required to discharge both functions at once.

    At the moment, however, that diplomacy appeared to be in abeyance.

    "I thought my written authorization was clear enough," Simpson replied coolly.

    "Well, I guess it is," McDougal admitted. He looked at Simpson with obvious dislike, but his tone was reasonably courteous. "It just sort of took me by surprise. Nobody warned me you were coming."

    "Somehow, I'm not surprised," Simpson said dryly. "Should I assume that that also means that Mr. Haygood has not yet arrived, either?”

    “No, you shouldn’t. As a matter-of-fact, Jere got here yesterday evening, but there was obviously some kind of screwup. He got the message to head on over, but no one told him exactly why he was supposed to do it.” McDougal shrugged. “One of the problems with radio messages when you don’t get to talk directly to the person who sent them to you.”

    “That sort of confusion is something we’d better get over,” Simpson observed. “But at least he’s here. And I trust that you'll be able to render us the assistance President Stearns assured me we'd receive despite the confusion?"

    "I'll try," McDougal said. "But if Mike had warned me you were coming, I would've told him we're way too shorthanded already. I don't know who I've got available to assign as a local guide. Jere doesn’t know Magdeburg any better than you do."

    "What about Matt Lowry?" Eddie asked. He knew he should have kept his mouth shut, but the look Simpson had given Lowry had really rubbed him the wrong way. The notion of getting Matt assigned as Simpson's guide as a way to rub the old-so-superior bastard's nose in his dependence upon the hillbillies who surrounded him appealed strongly to the teenager.

    "Can't spare him," McDougal replied promptly. "Frank—I mean, General Jackson," he corrected himself, glancing at Simpson from the corner of his eye "—made it standing orders that we have to have at least one up-timer on guard here all the time. And Matt’s picked up more Swedish than almost anyone else I've got."

    "That's a wise precaution on General Jackson's part," Simpson said, and Eddie saw the surprise on McDougal's face. But then Simpson continued in a coldly dispassionate voice. "I can understand why his ability to pick up the local language would make this Mr. Lowry particularly valuable. It's a pity, however, that the language appears to be the only thing he's picked up from the Swedes."

    "Meaning what?" McDougal demanded, his expression tightening with anger as Simpson's tone registered.

    "Meaning that the Swedish troopers outside your front door are at least five times as alert as he is," Simpson said flatly. "It's pathetic. He's got twice the firepower of everyone else out there, and if it weren't for the Swedes looking out for him, anyone who wanted to would walk right past him. Or worse."

    "Now just a minute!" McDougal said hotly. "Matt's been assigned here for over three months, and nobody's ever come close to getting past him! And unlike certain people," he very carefully did not glare pointedly at Simpson, "he was with the Army at the Alte Veste and the Wartburg. Did damned well there, too."

    "He probably did," Simpson conceded, apparently completely oblivious to McDougal's dig at his own absence from both those battles. "And I don't believe I expressed any doubts about his courage or his willingness to fight. But there's a difference between guts and willingness and discipline, and discipline is what keeps a man on something as boring as sentry duty alert, effective... and alive. The Swedes have it; he doesn't."

    He held McDougal' eyes levelly, and to Eddie's astonishment, it was Pete who looked away.

    "Well, anyway, I can't spare him," McDougal muttered. Then he shook himself. "I'll have to see if I can find you a local. How good is your German?"

    "Passable," Simpson replied, "but Mr. Cantrell's is better than mine." The calmly delivered compliment—if that was what it was—took Eddie by surprise, but McDougal only nodded.

    "In that case, I think I can probably find someone. It may take a while, though. Do you have someplace to stay while you're here?"


    "I imagine I can find you a room, then. We're still working on the living quarters of our 'embassy' here. I'm sure we'll get the whole thing finished up... eventually. But in the meantime, there's a sort of a boarding house for up-timers and some of the more senior Swedish and Scottish officers. It's more like a barracks, really, but it's only a couple of blocks east of here. We can put you up there."

    "That will be fine, given the state of the local construction efforts," Simpson told him. "I suppose Mr. Cantrell and I should head on over and get ourselves settled in while you find us our guide. Will you go ahead and radio Grantville to confirm our arrival?"

    "I'll take care of it," McDougal said.

    "Thank you. In that case, I'll be looking forward to meeting Mr. Haygood and our guide." He nodded to McDougal, then glanced at Eddie.

    "Come along, Mr. Cantrell," he said.

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