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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Sunday, December 14, 2003 22:36 EST



    The steam crane made things easier, of that there was no doubt.

    When the bastard thing was working, that was. Yard Foreman Conrad Ursinus stared at the machine and tried, under his breath, threatening it. The verdammte thing was squirting steam in all directions and held a mid-rib in the air like a hooked fish where it was no good to man nor beast.

    Threatening it did no good, alas. Conrad took a deep breath and drew on an English curse word or two. Somehow they seemed—filthier? Stronger? More satisfying. Earthier somehow. He certainly felt better for wishing that the stinking thing get fucked. Sideways.

    That attended to, he cupped his hands and hollered over the screech of the safety valve. “Was fur shit ist es now? Ist broke, oder was?”

    Aloysius the crane-driver leaned out of the cab, his fat Frieslander face sweating red while he wafted steam away from himself. “Das verfuckter packing noch immer. Funf minutes while es kuhlt, dan kann ich es fixen.”

    That made Conrad chuckle. They had two new words: fucken, straight from English, and fixen, which meant to mend something, but sounded exactly like the word they used to use for fucken.

    There was probably a scholar somewhere writing about it even now.

    Conrad put his fingers in his mouth and whistled for a short break, and heard his gangers along the slip echo the call. There were benches down the side of the slipway, and he went for a sit-down while Aloysius broke out his toolbox.

    The boat they were building, having only a contract number and not yet named, was to be a river craft. She could carry light and medium guns at need—everything they built at the U.S. Navy shipyard in Magdeburg had some military capability, even ships being built for civilian customers—but what she would mostly be was a means of hauling cargo along the Rhine and Elbe and whatever canals were built.

    One of the very nice things Conrad had discovered about being in the U.S. Navy was that the shipyard had deliberately been planned by the Admiral to have more capacity than he needed for his heavy warships. Which meant, especially given how many bottlenecks there were in the production of the ironclads he’d designed, that most of the shipyard was often twiddling its thumbs. “Twiddling thumbs” and “the Devil’s work” were pretty much synonyms so far as the Admiral was concerned, so he’d eventually started cheerfully accepting the many civilian contracts which had been pressed upon him.

    Then, when those contracts proved to be significant source of income—American up-timers were given to obsessing over “moral issues” that no down-timer could make sense of—the Admiral had decided that the civilian work needed to be handled by a separate official concern than the Navy itself. This, to avoid what he called “conflict of interest,” something which so far as Conrad could determine was the American equivalent of fussing over the precise status of the body of Christ during communion. So, with the agreement of Mike Stearns, the President of the U.S., Admiral Simpson had created the “U.S. Naval Shipyard Corporation.” The USNSC was technically a private corporation and not part of the Navy—even though all the employees and all the facilities did belong to the Navy.

    Whatever. The delightful side of it was that, although the Admiral himself scrupulously refrained from buying stock in the corporation, he did allow his sailors to do so. So far as Conrad knew, the only member of the USNSC who hadn’t bought stock in it was the Admiral himself.

    The Rhine was already a major artery for goods, and the Elbe was bidding fair to join it. Having a paddlesteamer to haul boats and cargo upstream was going to make the new shipping line that had commissioned her very rich indeed. Or spectacularly poor, perhaps—but, either way, the yard would have had their money by then, Conrad’s stock options would mature and he’d be into the serious money, maybe even thinking about getting married.

    Stern-wheeled, twin-engined and with a ketch rig for fuel-saving, the ship they were currently working on was broad-beamed and shallow-drafted. Her keel was forty meters of rock-elm with an iron keelson on top, and the iron frame of her hull was taking shape from one end to the other. As the frames went on, the carpentry teams bent on the strakes and fixed her lower deck onto the cast-iron cross-beams as the shape of her advanced. At her stern, the carpentry crew making the paddle-box were lighting up for their own break, while one of their apprentices was climbing down to rake the fire over and get some coffee on. Conrad decided he’d wander over in ten minutes or so and take a yard-boss’ privilege of glomming a cup.

    “Halloooo!” Conrad looked around. Dietrich Schwannhauser, the Admiral’s mother hen and a prize pain to all sailors while the Admiral was out of town, had come through the gate and was walking along the slip to where Conrad was sitting. Well, if Mother Hen wanted to cluck a word or two while the scheissfressender crane was being fixed, now was a good time.

    “Wie goes it?” Schwannhauser was looking as cheerful as he ever got. Conrad figured he must’ve counted the frames they’d gotten in so far. He was a schwein for only being cheerful with progress and looking like someone hanged his favorite dog if the margin they kept ahead of schedule ever dropped, even if there wasn’t any Navy interest in the job at hand. Like everyone in the yards he spoke a mix of German and English—with so many dialects of German, his own different from Dieter’s and each of them different again from most of the others (and the Ostfrieslanders communicating largely in grunts and swearwords), they all had to standardize somewhere. Conrad’s up-time friend Billy Trumble claimed it was the beginning of a new language altogether. Maybe he was right.

    Conrad hawked and spat, his throat good and gummed with coal smoke. “Crane is upgefuckt again. We should save more time to fix him than trying to horse the rib in by hand.” And wasn’t that a prize schweinerrei for a job?

    “Ah.” Schwannhauser nodded and pulled out his pipe. “This is going to be someone else’s problem soon, Ensign Ursinus. The Admiral has another job for you if you will.”


    “Ja. Naval attaché.” Schwannhauser held up his clipboard and read carefully from the radio office flimsy.

    Conrad frowned. “That is a French word, ja?”

    “Another English word too, it seems. I asked. However fussy the Americans might be when it comes to most forms of robbery and swindling, they are veritable Barbary pirates when it comes to plundering other languages. It means someone with a job helping an ambassador. There is an ambassador to go and you are to go with him to tell the Fremde how to make boats. And whatever else he wants.”

    Schwannhauser handed over the written order. “You go to Venice, Lieutenant Ursinus. The rank is a temporary commission, do not let it swell your head.”

    Conrad felt his face break out in a big smile. “Fuckin’ A,” he said.

    Truly, the English language had some very useful words in it—and Conrad was bound and determined to see that whatever new language might be emerging contained each and every one of them. He rather approved of linguistic piracy himself.



    “Lieutenant Trumble, sir, reporting as ordered.”

    Lennox was still getting used to the idea of soldiers reporting to him with a salute and the position of attention. His own military experience was as a sergeant in a borderer cavalry company, were things were, if not exactly free-and-easy, at least relatively informal. Watching young Billy come to attention was an odd feeling, even after all these months.

    “At ease, Lieutenant.” That was another thing. When did young officers start looking like children? This one was most famous around town for playing that foolish game, and who would credit that? Mister Mackay, now, he was perhaps on the young side to be a captain, but had the cardinal virtue of being able to listen to his sergeants.

    That was never going to be a problem for Captain Lennox, USMC, who carried his own Inner Sergeant wherever he went. Young Master Trumble here looked too young to be any kind of officer except an ensign, although the papers that said he was twenty were reliable. Twenty! And that was too old for a proper ensign. Again, the Americans had different ideas, and as they were paying the bills for the Marine Corps Cavalry, they got to write the rules.

    Several people had thought the idea of Marine Cavalry was hilarious, and Lennox could see their point. Transporting horses by sea was a chancy business at the best of times, and expecting them to be in condition to fight after any more than the shortest sea passage was ludicrous. King Charles had a Marine Regiment of Foot to send aboard his ships, and that made a certain amount of sense.

    The United States had some traditions, though, and one of them was that the troops attached to the President, and the troops who guarded embassies, were Marines. The trouble was that the job of guarding ambassadors in this day and age wasn’t an infantry job. Dragoon cavalry were needed, if only so as to be able to keep up with the Ambassador’s coach, and also to rank properly in precedence with the ambassador himself. Infantry were socially a long way below cavalrymen. Even such salt-of-the-earth sorts as himself.

    So the United States Marine Corps had a couple of companies of cavalry, over-officered so they could be sent in penny packets to embassies everywhere under an officer of appropriate rank. The lessons of the earlier diplomatic missions had been well learnt.

    Not that they’d get Captain Lennox and his horse aboard a ship without dire need. He’d puked every mile across the North Sea to Flanders, and only the prospect of never sailing from Scotland again would get him back to sea.

    Lieutenant Trumble was looking at him expectantly. As well he might. Two weeks an officer, and knew nothing yet. May as well start to teach him a thing or two.

    “Richt, laddie. D’ye speak Italian?”

    “Sir, no sir,” said Trumble.

    Lennox grinned. “Weel, that’s right enough. They’ll not be seducing you to Romish ways, then, and ye can’t be charming the lassies if ye haven’t the language.”

    “Am I being posted to Italy, sir?”

    “The Venetian embassy, laddie. Where I’ll be tae keep an eye on ye, and ye’re to report to Lieutenant Taggart. For instruction in ye’re officerly duties and sich, d’ye see?”

    “Sir, yes sir.”

    “Dismissed, lad, dismissed.”

    “Thank you, sir.” Trumble saluted again, and left.

    Taggart would see to the preparations; they had already picked a solid crew of lads for the embassy guard. It only remained to see if he could spend all those months alongside that sot of a papist Heinzerling without breaking his head for him again.

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