Ring of FireEric Flint This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright 2004 by Eric Flint
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Dru Blair
First hardcover printing, January 2004
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ring of fire / edited by Eric Flint.
"A Baen books original"—verso t.p.
1. Fantasy fiction, American. 2. Historical fiction, American. 3.
Germany—History—1618-1648—Fiction. 4. Thirty Years' War,
1618-1648—Fiction. 5. Americans—Germany—Fiction. 6. West
Virginia—Fiction. 7. Time travel—Fiction. I. Flint, Eric.
Printed in the United States of America Also in this series:1632 by Eric Flint
1633 by Eric Flint & David Weber
1634: The Galileo Affair by Eric Flint and Andrew Dennis
(forthcoming April 2004)BAEN BOOKS by Eric FlintJoe's World series:The Philosophical Strangler
Forward the Mage (with Richard Roach)
Mother of Demons
The Shadow of the Lion (with Mercedes Lackey & Dave Freer)
This Rough Magic (with Mercedes Lackey & Dave Freer)
Rats, Bats & Vats (with Dave Freer)
Pyramid Scheme (with Dave Freer)
The Course of Empire (with K.D. Wentworth)
Crown of Slaves (with David Weber)
The Warmasters (with David Weber and David Drake)The Belisarius series, with David Drake:An Oblique Approach In the Heart of Darkness Destiny's Shield Fortune's Stroke The Tide of VictoryThe General series, with David Drake:The TyrantPrefaceEric FlintThe stories in Ring of Fire are all based in the alternate history setting I created in my novel 1632, which was further developed in the sequel I wrote with David Weber, 1633. Producing "spin-off" anthologies as part of a popular series has a long and venerable history in science fiction, of course. But, in at least two respects, this anthology is different from most such—and the two differences are related.The first difference is obvious: It is very unusual to produce a shared-universe anthology when a "series" consists, so far, of only two novels. Doing so would seem premature, since the setting really isn't all that firmed up yet.But that was exactly why I wanted to do it so early in the game—which leads me to the second difference:In most shared-universe anthologies, as a rule, the stories are tangential to the main line of the story as developed in the creating author's own novels. They might be excellent stories, in their own right, but they rarely have much if any direct impact on the logic of developments in the series itself. The reason is simple. Authors are generally reluctant to have other authors shape their own setting, and the contributing authors to an anthology respect that and design their stories to be somewhat "off to the side." The stories are in the setting, but they do not really affect the setting very much.That is not true of Ring of Fire. The stories in this anthology all feed directly into the development of the series as a whole. They are not simply part of it, they actively shape it.Indeed, several of them have already done so. Many of these stories were written before Dave Weber and I wrote 1633, and we deliberately incorporated them into the plot of that novel. For example:The characters of Tom Stone and his children, who appear in 1633 and will be major characters in the upcoming novel 1634: The Galileo Affair, are first introduced into the series by Mercedes Lackey in her story in this anthology, "To Dye For." (1634: The Galileo Affair is co-authored by me and Andrew Dennis, and will be published in April of 2004. Andrew is another of the authors in this anthology.)The interaction between the Earl of Strafford and Dr. Harvey, which occurs in 1633,presupposes a prior visit to the time-transplanted town of Grantville. The story of that visit is told here, in S.L. Viehl's "A Matter of Consultation."Dave Weber's story "In the Navy" provides the background for the creation of the new American navy, which was such a prominent part of 1633. The character of Gerd, who appears in 1633 as one of Captain Harry Lefferts' men, is first introduced into the 1632 universe in Greg Donahue's "Skeletons."* * *A number of the other stories here lay the basis for future developments in the series. That is most clearly evident with my own story, the short novel The Wallenstein Gambit. The events depicted in that story will be central to most of the future volumes in the series. The story is not "on the side." It is right smack in the middle of the series as it continues to unfold.Furthermore, the basis for The Wallenstein Gambit was, to a considerable degree, laid in this anthology by three otherstories: Dave Freer's "A Lineman For the Country," Jody Dorsett's "The Three Rs," and (most directly) by K.D. Wentworth's "Here Comes Santa Claus."Andrew Dennis' "Between the Armies" lays much of the basis for our forthcoming novel 1634: The Galileo Affair. (As does 1633, of course—the character of Sharon Nichols who figures prominently in 1633 is a major character in The Galileo Affair.)Some of the characters developed by Deann Allen and Mike Turner in their story "American Past Time" will also appear in The Galileo Affair. Virginia DeMarce's "Biting Time" lays the basis for a novel which she and I are working on, which will both continue the story she began as well as link it to the story line I develop in The Wallenstein Gambit. To one degree or another, that is true of every story in this anthology. Many of the characters you first encounter here will reappear in later volumes of the series—and sometimes as major characters in their own right.* * *I wanted to produce this kind of anthology early in the series because I wanted, as much as possible, to capture something which is usually missing in alternate history series: History is complicated. It is not the story of a few people, it is the story of an immense number of people—each of them full individuals in their own right, each of them having their own greater or lesser impact on developments.In the nature of things, fictional series—like biographies—tend to give the illusion that history marches more-or-less in lockstep with the actions of the main characters of the story. That's almost inevitable, given the very nature of narrative. But it is an illusion, and I wanted to avoid it as much as possible in the unfolding 1632 series.Yes, Mike Stearns and Rebecca Abrabanel and Jeff Higgins and Gretchen Richter and the other major characters I created in 1632 will continue to be major characters in the series. But they are not Greek gods and goddesses. They are simply people—and what happens to them will, in the end, be deeply affected by the actions of a Jewish jeweler in Prague trying desperately to prevent one of the worst pogroms in history, a small town Catholic priest undergoing a crisis of conscience, and a woman in late middle age who simply decides to found a school.And . . . enough. Welcome to the Ring of Fire.In the NavyDavid Weber"I'm telling you, Mike, we can dothis!"Mike Stearns inhaled deeply, counted to ten—no, better make it twenty—and reminded himself that the President of the United States couldn't go around throttling overenthusiastic teenagers. He told himself that rather firmly, then reopened his eyes."Eddie," he asked as patiently as possible, "do you have any idea how many people walk through this office every week—every day, for that matter—with projects that absolutely, positively just haveto be done Right This Minute?""But this is different, Mike!" The wiry, red-haired young man on the other side of Mike's desk waved his hands. "This is important!""That's exactly my point, Eddie. They're all important. But important or not, we only have so many up-timers with the sorts of skills to make them work. And this—" Mike thumped a solid, muscular palm on the lovingly executed sketch plan Eddie had laid on his desk between two tall piles of books "—would require skills I doubt any of us have to begin with. Besides, can you even imagine how someone like Quentin Underwood would react if I handed whole miles of railroad track over to you for a 'crackpot scheme' like this?""It's not a 'crackpot scheme'!" Eddie said hotly. "This is exactly how the Confederates built their original ironclads, with rolled railroad rails for armor back during the Civil War.""No, it's not," Mike replied patiently. "It's how you think they built them, and that's—""It is how they built them!" Eddie interrupted. "My research is solid, Mike!""If you'll let me finish?" Mike's voice was noticeably cooler, and Eddie blushed with the fiery color only a natural redhead could produce."Sorry," he muttered, and Mike was hard pressed not to chuckle at his expression. Eddie Cantrell, especially in the grip of one of his effervescent enthusiasms, was prone to forget that the Mike Stearns he'd known all his life had become President of the only United States that existed in this Year of Our Lord Sixteen Hundred and Thirty-Two. Which was fair enough, Mike supposed. There'd been enough times over the last year or so that he'd thought he was living in a fever dream instead of reality."As I was saying," he continued after a moment, "I don't have any doubt at all that this plan of yours," he thumped the sketch on his desk again, "represents one hell of a lot of research and hard thinking. But the truth is that you don't have any better idea than I do of what sorts of hardware it would take to build the thing. Or, for that matter, who do you think is going to do the stability calculations? Or figure out its displacement? Or design a steam plant to move a boat this size and weight? Or even have a single clue how to take command of it when it was built?" He shook his head. "Even if we had the resources to devote to something like this, we don't have anyone here in Grantville who has any idea how to build it. And I've got too many other projects that people do have a clue about to justify diverting our limited—very limited, Eddie—resources to building some kind of Civil War navy."Eddie looked away, staring out the office window for several seconds. Then he looked back at Mike, and his expression was more serious than any Mike recalled ever having seen from him before."All right," the young man said. "I understand what you're saying. And I guess I do get carried away sometimes. But there was a reason they built these things back home, Mike, and Gustav Adolf is going to need them a hell of a lot worse than Sherman or Grant ever did."Mike started a quick reply, then stopped. Just as Eddie had trouble remembering Mike as anything more impressive than the leader of the United Mine Workers local, Mike had trouble thinking of Eddie as anything but one of the local kids. Not quite as geekish as his friend Jeff had been before the Ring of Fire deposited their hometown in seventeenth-century Germany, but still something of an oddball in rural West Virginia. A computer nerd and a wargamer who was passionately devoted to both pastimes.Yeah, Mike thought. A geek. But a wargaming geek. He may be short on experience in the real world, but he's spent one hell of a lot more time than I have studying wars and armies and . . . navies."All right, Eddie," he sighed. "I'm sure I'm going to regret this, but why is 'Captain General Gars' going to need ironclads so badly?""Because he doesn't have railroads," Eddie replied. "That's why rivers and canals are so important to his logistics, Mike. You know that."Mike nodded slowly. Eddie was certainly right about that, although the youngster hadn't been present for the meetings at which he and Gustavus Adolphus had discussed that very point."Without railroads," Eddie continued, "the only way to move really large quantities of supplies is by water. That's why successful seventeenth-century military campaigns usually stuck so close to the lines of navigable rivers. I know we're talking about building steamboats and steam-powered tugs for that very reason, and that should help a lot. But the bad guys are just as well aware of how important rivers are as Gustav Adolf is. When they figure out how much more efficiently he's going to be able to use them with our help, they're going to start trying really hard to stop him. And the best way for them to do that is to attack his shipping on the water, or else build forts or redoubts armed with artillery to try and close off the critical rivers." The teenager shrugged. "Either way, seems to me that something like an ironclad would be the best way to . . . convince them to stay as far away from the river bank as they can get."The kid had a point, Mike realized. In fact, he might have an even better one than he realized. The major cities of most of Gustavus Adolphus' so-called "vassals" and "allies" also happened to lie on navigable rivers, and altogether too many of those vassals were among the slimiest, most treacherous batch of so-called noblemen in history. Which meant that in a pinch, an armored vessel, heavily armed and immune to said cities' defensive artillery might prove a powerful incentive when it came to honoring their obligations to the Confederated Principalities of Europe and their Emperor.None of which changed a single thing where the incredible difficulties of Eddie's proposal were concerned.Eddie started to say something else, then closed his mouth with an almost audible click as he realized Mike was gazing frowningly down at the sketch.The vessel it depicted would never be called graceful. It was an uncompromising, slab-sided, boxy thing which sat low in the water, and its gun ports and a thick, squat funnel were its only visible external features."You're right about how important river traffic is going to be," Mike admitted as he ran one blunt fingertip across the drawing. "But this thing would be an incredible resource hog.""I know that," Eddie acknowledged. "That's why I'm only suggesting building three of them. God knows we could use as many as we could get, but I knew going in that there was no way you were going to give up enough rails to armor more than that.""No way in the world," Mike agreed with a grin which held very little humor. "Quentin would scream bloody murder if I gave you enough rails for one of these things, much less three! And he wouldn't be alone, either. It's going to take years and years for us to develop an iron industry that can produce steel that good. But that part I could handle . . . if I thought we'd be able to build the damned things in the end.""Look," Eddie said, "I admit that a lot of that plan is based on the best guesstimates I could come up with from my reference books. At the same time, some of those books are pretty darned good, Mike. I spent a lot of time researching this period when Jeff and Larry decided we just had to do a Civil War ironclads game." He chuckled. "I always was the navy specialist when it came to game design."But that's not important. What matters is that it's a starting point. If you can find someone else, someone better qualified to take my notes and my reference books and turn them into something we canbuild, I'll be delighted to turn them over. You're right. I don't have the least idea how to figure displacements or allow for stability requirements, and I know the designers screwed up the displacement calculations big time for a lot of the real ironclads built during the Civil War. There was one class of monitor that would've sunk outright if they'd ever tried to mount their turrets! So maybe my enthusiasm did run away with me. But it's more important that this gets done and that it work than that it gets done my way."Mike tipped back in his chair and considered the face across his desk. It was the same face it had always been, and yet, it wasn't. It hadn't changed as much as Jeff Higgins' face had, perhaps, but like every face in Grantville, it had thinned down over the course of the last winter and its sometimes short and always monotonous rations. Eddie had always been wiry; now he'd lost every ounce of excess weight, yet his frame was well muscled from hard physical labor. More to the point, perhaps, that face was no longer as young, as . . . innocent as it had been, and Mike felt a pang of deep, intense pain for the loss of Eddie's last years of childhood. But a lot of people had lost a lot of things, he reminded himself, and it looked as if Eddie was doing a better job of growing into the reality he faced than Mike had realized when he came bursting into the office. His pride in the concept he'd come up with was obvious, yet it was equally obvious that his offer to turn it over to someone else who might be better qualified to make it work was genuine. Unfortunately, there was no one in Grantville who was better qualified. The skills a project like this would call for weren't the sort that were in much demand in a West Virginia coal mining town. To make it work, they would have needed someone with some real expertise in mechanical engineering and heavy fabrication, not to mention running complicated industrial projects. Better yet, someone with some genuine experience with boats and ships. Best of all, someone with some idea about how a real navy worked.Someone like—Mike's thoughts broke off in a sudden mental hiccup, and he sat abruptly upright."What?" Eddie asked, and Mike shook his head the way he'd shaken off the effect of a particularly good left jab during his days in the ring."I'm still not convinced that any of this is doable," he said slowly, contemplating Eddie through half-slitted eyes. "But if—if, I say—it is, then it's possible that there's someone right here in town who'd be perfect—" He broke off and grimaced. "Let me rephrase that. It's possible that there's someone right here in town who could actually make it work.""There is?" Eddie looked puzzled. "Who?""The only person who has any experience at all with this kind of building project," Mike replied, and grinned sourly as Eddie's eyes widened in dawning disbelief."That's right," the President of the United States said in a tone which matched his grin's sourness perfectly. "I think we need to consult with my sister's esteemed father-in-law."* * * "Let me get this straight." John Chandler Simpson sat on the other side of a slightly battered-looking table in an Appalachian kitchen and regarded Mike through narrow eyes. "You'reoffering me a job.""I guess you could put it that way," Mike replied in a voice he tried to keep entirely free of any emotion. His years of experience as a union negotiator helped, but it was still difficult. He'd seldom felt as much antipathy for another human being as Simpson evoked, apparently effortlessly, from him.He sat back in his own chair, letting his eyes rest on the framed prints which brightened Jessica Wendell's friendly kitchen. He could think of very few settings which would have seemed less appropriate for a meeting with the one-time president and CEO of the Simpson Industrial Group, but at least Jessica's willingness to surrender her kitchen as an impromptu conference room had let him keep this meeting out of the public eye.Not that the present confidentiality would help much when Mike's cabinet found out what they were discussing. He shuddered at the thought of how Melissa Mailey, for example, would react when she discovered that her President had been negotiating anything at all with their archenemy."I must confess," Simpson said after a moment in a poisonously dry tone, "that I find a certain degree of irony in this.""I doubt you find it any more ironic than I do," Mike told him levelly."Maybe not, but after the way you turned me into some sort of Antichrist in the elections, I have to admire the sheer gall it must have taken for you to suggest anything of the sort.""Gall doesn't come into it," Mike shot back, then shrugged his broad, powerful shoulders. "Look, Simpson, I don't like you very much. And God knows you've made it plain enough that you like me even less. But the simple fact is that there's no one else in Grantville who'd even know where to begin with a project like this one.""Well, that's certainly a refreshing admission." Simpson's lips twitched in what, in another man, might have been called a ghost of a smile, but there was very little humor in his eyes. "I suppose I should be flattered that you're willing to grant my expertise in any field."Mike felt his temper try to flare. He was, by nature, a passionate man, and learning the self-discipline required to control those passions—and his temper—had not come easily to him. But it was a lesson he'd mastered long ago, and although Simpson made it more difficult than most, he wasn't about to forget it now."We can sit here pissing in each other's soup all afternoon, if you like," he said instead, throwing the crudity deliberately into the midst of the conversation. "Or we can deal with the reason I came over. Which would you prefer?"Something flickered in Simpson's eyes. For a moment, Mike thought it was the other man's temper. Then he realized it had been something else. A moment of . . . recognition, perhaps. Or possibly simply an awareness that Mike had no intention of rising to his jibes and giving him the satisfaction of losing his temper."Tell me exactly what you have in mind," the ex-CEO said after only the briefest pause."It's simple enough." Mike leaned forward in his chair, planting his forearms on the table. "Eddie Cantrell came to see me with the initial proposal. He brought along a stack of reference books, and it turns out that he's got an entire stash of other books we never guessed he had. I should've made a point of going over there and going through the Four Musketeers' library myself. Everybody in town's known for years that the four of them were absolutely buggy where military history and war games were concerned."He shook his head, eyes momentarily unfocused as he considered the treasure trove he and Frank Jackson had discovered in Eddie and Larry Wild's bookshelves."Anyway," he continued briskly, "Eddie has decided that we need a U.S. Navy, and he set out single-handedly to do something about it. Which is how he came up with this."Mike took a sheet of paper from his shirt pocket, unfolded it, and slid it across the table. Simpson's eyes flicked to it in a casual, almost dismissive glance. Then they snapped back, and he smoothed the sketch's creases as he frowned down at it."Cantrell did this?""Yeah. He took a course in drafting over at the high school a couple of years ago. Not," Mike added dryly, "that it really prepared him for a career as a maritime engineer.""I'd say that's a bit of an understatement." Simpson's attention was on the figures listed in the data block in the upper left corner of Eddie's sketch, and he seemed momentarily to have forgotten his obvious dislike for the man across the table from him. He studied the numbers for several seconds, then snorted in something very like amusement."This displacement estimate of his has got to be way low," he said. "And even if it weren't, there's no way he's going to get by with a six-foot draft!" He shook his head. "I'd have to do some volume calculations to be certain, but even at his estimated tonnage, this thing is going to draw ten or twelve feet, minimum, and that's too deep for riverine conditions."Mike chuckled, and Simpson looked quickly up from the sketch."I said something funny?" he inquired in a voice which had suddenly remembered its frost."No, not really. But you did just demonstrate exactly why I'm sitting here this morning. Do you really think that anyone else in Grantville—or anywhere else in seventeenth-century Europe, for that matter!—could rattle off what you just did?""I suppose not," Simpson said after a moment. "Of course, you realize that it's been the better part of twenty years since I did any hands-on hardware work at all.""Maybe so, but at least you did some once upon a time. And didn't your company have a piece of the Navy's shipbuilding program?""Not really. Oh, our electronics division was one of the second-tier contractors on the