Jesse watched carefully as Hans completed his third landing of the flight and let the aircraft roll to a stop, as instructed. Saying nothing, Jesse motioned for Hans to taxi back to takeoff position and made a last notation on his kneeboard. Though within tolerances, the landing had been the roughest of the three and none had been close to Hans' best.
Well, you can't wait forever, Jesse mused.
"Okay, stop here and keep her running," he told Hans, when they were again pointed into the wind. He watched Hans' eyes go round as he unbuckled his harness and took off his kneeboard.
"I think I'll go talk to Kathy for a minute," Jesse said. "Why don't you take her up and do a couple of touch-and-gos, followed by a full stop?"
He opened his door and stepped out. "And—Hans!" he yelled, over the prop noise at the gaping student, "Don't screw the pooch, okay?"
Jesse secured the door, blocking the view of his startled student, and walked around the tail. He waved at the usual onlookers lounging by the edge of the field. A few of them, judging from the way their own eyes seemed to widen a bit, were suddenly realizing they were seeing something different today. The man the Germans had begun calling "Der Adler"—the Eagle—was walking swiftly away from the still-running aircraft, leaving Hans alone.
The nickname embarrassed Jesse, but he'd stopped trying to prevent people from using it. It came naturally enough to the Germans, who were still in some awe of the man who actually flew.
And now . . . for the first time, a German himself would be flying. Alone, with no eagle from the future to watch over him.
Jesse deliberately averted his eyes from the aircraft as he strode on, knowing that Hans would need the time to gather his wits. He heard the engine run up as he approached the control tower and saw that Kathy and Sharon had come out to meet him. Behind them came the other eight youngsters—six young men and two young women—who, along with Hans, constituted the first class of the fledgling air force. Jesse put his arm around Kathy's waist and turned back to watch the birth of a pilot.
"Do you really think he's ready?" Sharon asked nervously.
"Dunno," he replied, eyes glued to the aircraft. "We'll find out."
"Ouch!" he said, as Kathy's sharp elbow struck his ribs. "Don't worry, Sharon, I wouldn't let him go if I didn't think he was ready."
Jesse gave Sharon a smile, which she returned weakly.
"Watch carefully, now. I guarantee he'll want to talk about it later."
She looked into his calm, green eyes and nodded.
Jesse turned back to observe the takeoff with the realization that much more than his precious aircraft was at stake here. In some way, he understood, another brick was being laid in the forging of a nation—a true nation, not simply a crazy-quilt patchwork of tribes and customs. Once a boy—young man—born and bred in 17th-century Germany could demonstrate that he, too, could do the impossible . . .
He took a deep breath and tried to settle his own nerves. It was easy enough, really. Truth be told, Jesse wasn't overly concerned about the outcome of the flight. Hans was a good pilot and Jesse had intentionally delayed this moment to make sure he had all the skills he needed. Still, a crash would be disastrous, both for Hans and his country.
The aircraft passed them, lifted smoothly off the grass, and climbed steadily outward. Jesse looked down into his wife's knowing eyes and absently kissed her forehead, then looked up to follow the aircraft. Kathy said nothing, which he appreciated. She knew he was still deeply in his instructor mode and would stay there until Hans returned.
The three of them waited together as Hans flew the traffic pattern in the brilliant blue sky. They'd been getting a lot of good weather lately, and Jesse had taken full advantage of it. The one thing the Las Vegas Belle was not—not even close—was an all-weather aircraft. On days with bad weather or even poor visibility, Jesse didn't go up at all. He'd trust himself in bad conditions, even with such a primitive airplane—within limits, at least—but he didn't want to risk it with trainee pilots at the controls.
As the aircraft at last turned onto final, Jesse felt Kathy's arm slide around his own waist and give him a reassuring squeeze. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kathy look at Sharon and, seeing the young woman about to speak—no doubt wanting some reassurance herself—shook her head slightly. Again, he was grateful for his new wife's understanding. Jesse's concentration was entirely on Hans and the airplane.
On course, on glideslope. Jesse mentally repeated an approach controller's standard reassuring advisory, almost as a mantra. His practiced eye detected no deviation, no wild control movements. On course, on glideslope.
The aircraft slid over the field boundary and settled onto the grass without a trace of a bounce, so sweetly that Jesse had to stifle the urge to yell an exultant "Yes!" Instead, as Hans added power and took off again, Jesse slowly exhaled and smiled at Sharon.
"What'd I tell ya?" he demanded. "Piece of cake."
Hans' second circuit was almost as uneventful as the first. Though at one point he allowed the aircraft to slide below the proper glide path, he quickly corrected and made a good, if firm, landing. All the while, Jesse's eyes never left the aircraft, mentally projecting instructions to his student, willing him to succeed.
The third and final approach was as precise as the first and, true to the old saying that a good approach makes for a good landing, the touch down was again perfect. As Hans taxied toward them, Jesse could no longer restrain himself.
"Damn, that kid is good! He reminds me of—me!"
"Jesus, pilots and their egos," Kathy said, looking meaningfully at Sharon. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
Jesse snorted, "Hush, woman! Get ready to hail the conquering hero."
"I still say we should have had someone here from town," Kathy complained.
"What, and listen to Stearns or somebody give another speech?" Jesse smiled. "Not likely. Besides, this is Air Force business today." He went to grab a set of chocks.
With the aircraft chocked and shut down, the three of them waited for Hans to emerge. Behind them, the other trainee pilots lined up and came to attention. As the door opened and Hans stepped out, a cheer rose from the group of onlookers at the perimeter fence—a very loud cheer, and one which went on and on. In fact, it seemed to be picking up steam as it went. Two young men, on horseback, began galloping toward the town.
Hans looked slightly dazed, as if just now realizing what he had done. Snapping into focus, he gave Sharon a smile, but, for the moment, his primary attention was on his instructor, the man who had taught him to fly. He walked over and stood at attention in front of Jesse. He did not salute, although Jesse could see the boy's arm practically twitching in his desire to do so. But Jesse had always thought saluting—like wearing hats—was a silly damn thing to do in the vicinity of aircraft. And since he was the commanding officer in this universe's version of an air force, he'd damn well seen to it that his own relaxed attitudes set the new traditions. Salutes were dramatic, sure, but they distracted people who should be paying attention to the aircraft around them. And hats invariably just wound up getting blown off. A waste of time, at best, chasing after them.
Coming to attention, on the other hand, was a reasonable military custom. Jesse did the same himself, and looked sternly at Hans.
"Cadet Richter." The older man raised an open hand holding a set of silver insignia. He'd quietly had it made the week before—along with a number of others—by Grantville's major jewelry store, Roth, Nasi & Rueckert. "Or perhaps, I should say, 'Lieutenant' Richter, because these will be yours in a minute and the rank goes with them. On the occasion of your having successfully completed undergraduate pilot training, I am pleased to announce in my capacity as Chief of Staff that you have achieved the rating of pilot in the United States Air Force."
Jesse looked at Sharon. "Miss, would you kindly do the honors?"
Hans stood stiffly at attention as Sharon took the insignia from Jesse, carefully pinned them over Hans' left breast pocket, and gave him a quick kiss. As she stepped back, Jesse could see tears beginning to well in her smiling eyes. He looked down at the insignia on Hans' chest—shiny silver wings with the radiator shield in the center—and felt a sudden lump in his own throat.
Jesse stepped forward and solemnly offered his hand.
"Congratulations, son. Very well done. I'm proud of you."
"Thank you, sir," Hans choked out.
Jesse smiled at him, "Oh, Hans, try to remember one thing, will you?"
Hans smiled broadly in return, "Yes, sir. I promise to remember. 'Don't screw the pooch.' "
Whatever Jesse might have wanted, soon became a moot point. Within an hour, Mike Stearns was out at the airfield along with, this time, what looked to be the entire cabinet except those members of it who were out of town. All of them tried to cram their way into the lower floor of the combination control tower and Air Force headquarters. Mike and Frank Jackson were the only ones actually able to get in, because the room was already packed with those people Jesse himself considered its proper habitués—himself, Hans, the other youngsters he was training as pilots, and their various womenfolk or boyfriends.
"I am not a politician," growled Jesse, as soon as Mike came in. "So spare me the lecture. I told you—"
"Oh, be quiet," chuckled Mike. "I didn't come here to give you a hard time, you old grouch. I just wanted to invite you to the parade."
Mike and Frank were both grinning. "The one I just told Henry Dreeson to organize," replied Mike. "You may not be a politician, but I am." He shrugged. "Hey, sure, it's a dirty job—but somebody's got to do it."
"It's gonna be one hell of big one, too," Frank added. Jesse frowned. He was a little surprised by the very evident tone of satisfaction in Frank's voice. As a rule, the head of the U.S. Army shared Jesse's own skepticism about the often rough-and-tumble nature of politics in the new United States.
Frank shook his head. "Don't be stupid. We just got another message over the radio this morning. From Becky. She's in Amsterdam now, Jesse. The first rumors about the destruction of the Dutch fleet seem pretty well confirmed. And from what she can tell, the Dutch are starting to fall apart. Apparently—we still don't really know how they pulled it off—the Spanish have taken Haarlem. That means they've cut Holland in half, and they've got their troops behind the Dutch line of fortifications. You know what that means, in this day and age."
Jesse sucked in a breath. In the 17th century, warfare was mainly a matter of siegecraft, not field maneuvers. For decades, the Dutch had held off the Spanish with their walled towns and fortresses along the outlets of the Rhine. If the Spanish had gotten behind those lines . . .
"It's probably even worse than that," added Mike. "Becky's not sure yet, but from what reports they've been able to piece together—the news from England matches, too—it looks as if Richelieu's alliance is moving into the Baltic. With the Dutch fleet destroyed, that means the Swedes will be facing the French and the Danes and the English alone."
"What about the Spanish?" asked Hans. "Uh, sir." Despite the gravity of the moment, Jesse had to fight down a smile. The mere fact that young Hans could even ask a question in such august company was a subtle but sure sign of the effect on his self-confidence of that new insignia on his chest.
But Jesse didn't have much trouble suppressing the smile. He's going to need that self-confidence, soon enough. God damn it all to hell.
"From what we can tell, the Spanish seem to have dropped aside," Frank replied. "Makes sense, when you think about it. This alliance of Richelieu's—they're calling it 'the League of Ostend,' apparently—is a devil's alliance if you ever saw one. Each of the parties to it has their own agenda and their own axes to grind. It's bound to fall apart, eventually, but in the meantime . . ."
Mike picked up the thought. "In the meantime, like Frank says, it all makes sense. The Danes get the control of the Baltic they've always wanted, the Spanish get the Low Countries, and King Charles gets the French and Spanish money he needs to clamp down in England and keep his throne—and his head. We've gotten word from Melissa that the streets of London are being flooded with newly hired mercenary troops."
"But what do the French get out of it?" asked Kathy. "For themselves, I mean. Just looking at it, it seems like they're doing a lot of fighting—not to mention shelling out money—and not getting much in return."
Mike shrugged. "They slam a hammerblow at Gustav Adolf, if nothing else. With the Baltic under their control, Sweden is cut off from the rest of the Confederated Principalities of Europe. And, while I'm not positive, I think . . ." He hesitated, for a moment. "I don't want to get into how we know, but we have gotten some news from the French ports."
Jesse, as commander of the little air force, was privy to the U.S. government's intelligence secrets. That'll be Uriel and Balthazar Abrabanel's network of Jewish sailors. A considerable number of the "Portuguese" seamen of the time were actually marranos—"secret Jews," keeping their identity hidden from the Spanish Inquisition.
"An expedition left a few weeks ago—pretty big one; six ships and over a thousand soldiers—heading for North America."
Kathy frowned. "But . . . if the French try to conquer the English settlements—"
" 'Conquer' isn't the right word," said Mike harshly. "According to our information, they are simply going to take 'rightful possession'—of properties which King Charles of England signed over to them as part of the deal. I assume, of course, that the soldiers will be used to overrun the handful of Dutch settlements in the New World."
Frank Jackson's face was twisted into a grimace. "Yeah, a bit of twist. 'Plymouth Rock' is about to become a French colony—whether the Puritans like it or not. So's Jamestown."
Jesse closed his eyes, and brought up the image of a world map into his mind. "Jesus Christ," he muttered, "do you really think Richelieu is looking that far ahead?"
"Yes, I do." Mike's voice was even harsher, now. "I think we've been underestimating Richelieu all along. He's not like the rest of them, Jesse. Charles—even Wentworth—Olivares in Spain, King Christian of Denmark—God knows that narrow-minded bigot Emperor Ferdinand of Austria and the greedy pig Maximilian of Bavaria—they're all just looking at what's in front of their noses. Say what else you will about him, Richelieu is a statesman. He's considering the long-term interests of France. As smart as he is, with the history books he's gotten his hands on, I think he's seen the overall pattern for the next several centuries: whoever controls North America is going to have the edge. So I think he's carrying through a radical realignment of French foreign policy. I think he's decided that squabbling over little pieces of territory in Europe is short-sighted and stupid. Why drain France for twenty-five years in a war with Spain, just to wind up with a handful of extra towns? When he can let the Spanish and the Danes and the English—and whoever else he can rope in—hammer away at the CPE while he swipes an entire continent? Dirt cheap, at the price."
Suddenly, Hans shot to his feet and stood at attention. "I am at your command, sir!" Immediately, the other trainee pilots followed his lead.
Mike smiled at them. "Good enough. The first thing you're going to do—right now—is be the stars in a parade."
Jesse was back to scowling. Mike transferred the smile to him. "A grouch, like I said. Don't be shortsighted yourself, Jesse. Me, I think Richelieu just goofed. And I intend to prove it by swiping a bit from French history."
"What are you talking about?" gruffed Jesse. "What I know about French history . . ."
Frank snorted. "You have heard about something called 'the French revolution,' I hope."
"Well. Sure. What's that—"
"What blew it wide open was when the surrounding powers of Europe invaded France. Pissed the average Frenchman off right proper, that did. And so before you knew it the volunteer columns of the revolutionary army were forming up, and . . . the world was never the same afterward. War stopped being something princes and mercenaries fought on top of the bodies of helpless civilians. The civilians became citizens, you see. With their own kind of army."
Frank was grinning again. "Hell, Jesse, I even learned the tune. Allons enfants de la patrie, le jour de gloire—"
Everybody in the room winced. Jesse shot to his feet. "Enough! Enough! Even a damn parade beats listening to you trying to sing!"
By the time the parade was over, late in the afternoon, Jesse was willing to concede that Mike had been right. Truth to tell, he was beginning to suspect that Mike Stearns had the makings of a great politician—or, at least, a great politician for the times. Even, maybe—though the word made Jesse uncomfortable—a "statesman."
Mike too, he knew, was thinking in the long run. A war, in itself, is just a war. History recorded thousands of them, all but a relative handful forgotten by anyone except scholars. Every now and then, though, a war became something else.
The crucible of a nation. The forge on which a new society was hammered.
Listening to the chants and slogans which thundered throughout the streets of Grantville that day, Jesse realized he was hearing the hammer blows of that forging. The town was packed, with people pouring in by the minute from the surrounding countryside. He'd seen at least four places where the Committees of Correspondence had set up impromptu enlistment booths, recruiting people into volunteer regiments. Every one of the booths had a long line of young men standing patiently before it. Almost all of them, young Germans—and almost all of those, German commoners. The sons of farmers and artisans—paupers, too—now signing up to engage in an enterprise which, for their society, had always been the business of kings and nobles and mercenaries.
Lambs, deciding they were lions. Choosing to be lions.
Not simply civilians. Not even simply civilians who were allowed to vote.
There had been many slogans chanted that day. But, always, one slogan rose over the rest whenever Jesse and his little crew of fledgling pilots rode by the crowd in the pickups which had been commandeered for the purpose.
Der Adler! Und seine Falken! The Eagle, and his Hawks.
"Oh, Jesse," Kathy whispered into his ear at one point, hugging him tightly. "I'm so proud of you. They think they can do anything, now. That's because you showed them they could even fly."