The Luebeck sun was bright in a sky of washed-out September blue as Larry Wild hurried toward the shipyard. It was a trip he'd made often enough since arriving at the Swedish Army's encampment outside the city with his small party of Navy personnel, but that didn't prevent heads from turning as he jogged by. Partly, perhaps, it was because of his obvious haste, but there were other people moving through the narrow streets almost as rapidly as he was, and no one turned to gawk at them. Then again, none of them wore the unofficial "uniform" of a transplanted American: blue jeans, denim shirt, and sneakers.
Despite the urgency of the message in his shirt pocket, Larry was tempted to smile at the thought. Admiral Simpson badly wanted to put his entire Navy into proper uniform, but it was going to be quite some time before he managed it.
The problem wasn't manufacture, as such. The textile industry of 17th-century Europe was perfectly up to the task, technically speaking. But since European armies of the time rarely used standard uniforms, and even those uniforms varied wildly from unit to unit, there was no real uniform manufacturer as such in existence. Thus—given the exacting standards that Simpson insisted on—producing a significant lot of genuinely identical clothing was something that any regular manufacturer was going to charge a premium for, since making sure the dyes remained standard was not business-as-usual.
That meant increasing the naval budget, simply to provide "proper" uniforms instead of workable clothing. When Simpson had tried get Mike Stearns to agree to that, the answer had been short and none too sweet. The U.S. government's budget was stretched like a drum to begin with. Larry had heard from his "inside sources" that Simpson had had the bad luck to submit his budget request the day after Mike had, with great reluctance, struck an item from the budget which would have provided money to help Willie Ray Hudson's granges spread the techniques of modern silage to Thuringia's farmers.
"I can't fucking help feed people and this asshole wants me to pay for shiny buttons?!" had been, according to reports, Mike's explosive outburst when he read the request. The written response had not contained the profanity. It had contained the sentiment.
Simpson, stubborn as always, would eventually figure out a way to wrangle his uniforms. Of that, Larry had no doubt at all. In the meantime, the clothing which had made the trip back from the century of Larry's birth was enough to provide a uniform of a different sort, though scarcely the kind Simpson had had in mind. So Larry enjoyed his blue jeans while he still had the chance.
But the admiral had at least managed to get an official table of ranks and insignia worked out. Worrying about something like that might be typical of his taste for empire building; but Larry was by now willing to agree that whatever his other faults, John Simpson was an excellent organizer. He'd gotten his military table of organization worked out in detail and presented it to the President while Frank Jackson was still busy trying to avoid the entire question.
Simpson's suggestions had been adopted for the Navy. Personally, Larry suspected that the smoothness with which they'd gone through had resulted at least in part from Mike Stearns' decision that he could afford to indulge Simpson in that regard. No doubt he thought of it as more of the typical Simpson Mickey Mouse bullshit. Something he could accede to as a way to stroke the man's ego harmlessly.
Larry had been inclined to see it the same way, until he and Eddie Cantrell had wound up as the United States Navy's very first pair of lieutenants. Simpson had surprised him considerably when he handed over the silver bars he'd ordered from Roth, Nasi & Rueckert, Grantville's major jeweler. He'd had them made at his own expense and presented them with a degree of formality neither Larry nor Eddie had anticipated when they were officially commissioned lieutenants junior-grade.
Even now, Larry wasn't prepared to admit it to anyone else except Eddie. But the solemn little ceremony Simpson had insisted upon had left a lasting impression. Larry and Eddie had done their best to laugh it off privately afterward, and there probably had been a more than slightly ludicrous aspect to it. There they'd been, two West Virginia hillbilly youngsters—at nineteen, still technically teenagers—standing at the closest they could come to a proper position of attention while the city slicker from Pittsburgh, with his very distinguished-looking head of gray hair, pinned shiny silver bars onto the collars of their very civilian shirts. All this, to formally commission them as officers in a navy which didn't even exist yet!
And yet . . .
There were more jay-gees now, and there would soon be even more as the new ships began to come into service, which was how he and Eddie had become senior-grade lieutenants after less than six months. The way things were going, they could probably count on turning into lieutenant commanders before very long, too. All of which put them in the peculiar position of finding themselves senior officers of a rapidly expanding military organization. And all of which also put Larry and Eddie in a position which was not just peculiar, but downright bizarre.
Despite everything, and however much they might fight the process kicking and screaming every inch of the way, Larry Wild and Eddie Cantrell were becoming naval officers. Which meant, in practice . . . John Chandler Simpson's men. There was just no way around it, no matter how much Simpson often rubbed the youngsters the wrong way. Whatever else, Simpson was building one hell of a fine little navy. And Larry, like his friend and fellow senior-grade lieutenant Eddie Cantrell, was increasingly proud to be a part of it.
Larry trotted into the harbor area mulling in his mind a remark Eddie had made the last time he saw him. Yeah, sure, Simpson's a bastard. But dammit, Larry, he's our bastard.
Now that he'd reached the harbor, Larry headed for the bustle of activity around the looming skeleton of Gustavus Adolphus' ironclad-to-be.
The ship wasn't very large by the standards of the 21st century . . . but this was the 17th century, and the partially planked hull loomed over the waterfront like a Titan.
The basic building plan had come from a book by Howard I. Chapelle, who'd once headed the maritime history section of the Smithsonian Institute. Eddie had picked it up in a used-book shop somewhere, along with a couple of Chapelle's other books, when he'd been doing the research for one of the "Four Musketeers' " war games. Once Eddie had approached Mike Stearns with the proposal for the ironclads and casually mentioned the rest of his esoteric collection of military reference works, Mike, Frank Jackson, and John Simpson had descended upon his library in force. A lot of what it contained wouldn't be very useful until the infrastructure to build it could be constructed, but Chapelle's books had been pounced upon by the Swedish shipwrights as if Eddie had been Galahad, returning to King Arthur with Holy Grail in hand. The looming skeleton of what would become the Swedish Navy's flagship was only one result.
A fairly substantial result, Larry conceded. The flush-decked U.S. Navy sloop-of-war upon which the design was based had been one hundred and forty-eight feet long between perpendiculars, with a beam of just under thirty-nine feet. That meant her hull was about thirty feet shorter than the ironclads Simpson was building in Magdeburg, but since she was going to have a bowsprit over sixty feet long, Eddie suspected no one would notice. And whereas Simpson's ships were going to be ugly, boxy vessels, with an uncompromising brutality of line and form, Gustavus' ship retained the graceful lines crafted by her original 19th-century architect. The only real change the emperor's builders had made in the enlarged builder's draft Grantville copiers had produced from Chapelle's carefully redrawn plans had been to increase the height of the bulwarks from just under five feet to approximately seven. Once the armor plate being produced in the local rolling mill was bolted to the outside of the hull, that would provide head-high protection for her gun crews. Of course, hanging that much iron plate on the outside of the hull was going to add about two hundred tons to her weight, so even with the reduction in her broadside armament, she was going to draw close to twenty-four feet, which was a bit deep but manageable for the Baltic.
Personally, Larry suspected that the impressiveness of Gustavus' new ship was the real reason the emperor had insisted upon building her here in Luebeck. Certainly, she made a lasting impression on anyone who entered or visited the city's harbor . . . including the town's burghers and authorities.
The harbor itself swarmed with shipping of every description. According to Ms. Mailey, Luebeck had managed to sit out the Thirty Years War in the past of Larry's own world pretty much unscathed, maintaining its neutrality with shrewd diplomacy. This time around, it didn't look like it was going to be quite so lucky, because in this 17th century, Gustavus Adolphus hadn't gotten himself killed in battle—so far, at least. He was very much alive, and while he was willing to use the velvet glove instead of the iron fist when he could, he also wasn't about to put up with any evasion of his requirements.
Gustav Adolf needed a solid base for his logistics, and Luebeck was one of only a few North German ports suitable for the part. Wismar, Rostock and Stralsund were already held by the Swedes and incorporated into the CPE, and it was fairly obvious to everyone that Luebeck was going to join them in the end. The only real question was how much independence the old Hanseatic League city was going to retain, and that was what Gustavus' current diplomatic dance with the city's authorities was all about.
Unlike Hamburg, which dominated the estuary of the Elbe, Luebeck was on the Baltic side of the Jutland Peninsula. That was important, because as long as Denmark was in a position to close the Kattegat to shipping and so deny Sweden access to the North Sea, Hamburg was completely unsuitable as a supply port connecting Sweden itself to the continental portions of Gustav's CPE.
Not that Luebeck was a perfect substitute for Hamburg. The Stecknitz Canal, which linked the city to the Elbe River at Lauenburg, upriver from Hamburg, had been designed only to accommodate the barges of the salt trade. Those were large enough to haul cargos that could be broken up into fairly small chunks, but not for the sort of heavy transport the CPE and the United States envisioned. That could be fixed, however, and Gustavus' engineers, assisted by American survey crews, were already busy designing the new and improved Stecknitz which would serve their needs just fine.
More immediately, however, there was the fact that any of the North German ports were close enough to Christian IV's Denmark for the Danish Navy to threaten their lines of communication with Sweden. Luebeck, in fact, was more vulnerable to Danish interference than most of them. But that was what the Swedish Navy was for. The Danes had learned the hard way that the Swedes were not to be trifled with, and the squadron of Admiral Karl Karlsson Gyllenhjelm had been stationed at Luebeck to remind Christian of that.
Luebeck itself was in two minds about Gyllenhjelm's presence. The city's burghers were far from blind to the enormous beneficial impact the sort of canal Gustavus envisioned would have on their economy. The king and his Swedish and American team of engineers were planning for a canal whose locks would admit barges as much as a hundred feet in length and thirty or forty feet across the beam—larger than many seagoing merchant ships. Coupled with the improvements on the Elbe itself which were already underway, the new and enlarged Stecknitz would turn Luebeck into the focal point for the entire Baltic's trade with Northern and Central Germany, just as Hamburg dominated the North Sea trade. Given that Luebeck was already the largest and most important of the German ports on the Baltic, its economic prospects looked bright indeed.
Unfortunately, those same burghers were only too well aware of the downside of the situation, as well. Leaving aside the loss of their cherished independence—Luebeck had been the leading city of the Hanseatic League for centuries—there was a crude and simple matter of self-preservation involved. The more important they became to Gustavus and the CPE, the more attractive their destruction would appear to Gustavus' enemies, which made his plans for the Stecknitz very much a two-edged sword. Especially since Luebeck was none too sure Gustavus was going to survive, even with his American allies and their mechanical marvels.
Despite that, it was clear to everyone that sooner or later the city would have no choice but to accept Gustavus' terms. Even to a political neophyte like Larry Wild, it was obvious that the pressure upon Luebeck's authorities was enormous. Gustavus had done everything he could to sweeten the pot, sure; but he had no qualms about turning the screws, either. Even if he was—at least in Larry's opinion—about the only 17th-century king worth a damn, the terms "17th-century monarch" and "one hell of a sweet guy" were a ridiculous match. What was called an "oxymoron," if Larry was remembering his high-school English properly.
Among other things, Gustav had insisted—politely, to be sure, but backed by the threat of Gyllenhjelm's guns—that he be allowed to build his new seagoing ironclad in Luebeck's shipyards. Just as he had insisted on the need to station a thousand or so men here—a full regiment—as a guard for the ironclad. True, he'd agreed that his men would encamp outside the city's walls. True also, Gustav had agreed to allow no more than thirty or forty of those men to enter Luebeck at a time. But their encampment was clearly visible from the city's southern bastions. And if the behavior of the troops in that encampment had been mannerly enough—downright excellent, in fact, by the standards of the day—their presence was a constant, discreet reminder that the king of Sweden's patience was not infinite.
The banners which flew over that encampment were another reminder of the facts of life. Gustav Adolf had assigned the task of guarding the ironclad to the well-known Tott's Regiment, a veteran unit which had fought at the great Swedish victory at Breitenfeld. The cavalry regiment, a very high percentage of whose troopers were Finns, had been named after their founding commander.
Åke Tott was most often described as "a fierce man." The banners he'd chosen for his regiment certainly fitted the description. Black banners, with a white skull in the middle resting on a green backdrop. In some of the banners, flames protruded from the skull's eyesockets; in others, various types of evil-looking plants or flowers sprouted from those same sockets; in one—Larry's personal favorite—the head of a serpent.
In the meantime, however, Gustav was prepared to allow Luebeck its official neutrality as an independent city in the Hanseatic League. For the moment, at least.
Despite some doubts, Larry thought the king was being smart. After all, in practical terms, Gustav already controlled their city, however careful he was to avoid any words like "occupation" or "garrison troops." The Luebeckers had no real option but to accede to his polite requests and gentle insistence upon the use of their port facilities . . . and if they happened to be making a fortune off of servicing his army's needs, well, the laborer was worthy of his hire, after all. And so a ceaseless flow of men and supplies poured into Luebeck under the protection of the Swedish ships' guns protecting Mecklenburg Bay. They came aboard the merchant vessels crowding the harbor, and from there flowed onward to Gustav's army further south.
It was a process which was neither spectacular nor draped in martial glory. It came without trumpets or battle flags, but Larry had come to understand that without it, there would be no trumpets, no glorious victories. Without the vital logistical link Luebeck represented—along with Wismar and Rostock—Gustavus' army would wither and starve. Or, what would in some ways be worse, find itself forced to start plundering the very population it was supposed to protect.
All of which, put together, was what made the folded message slip in Larry's pocket so terrifying.
An officer of Tott's Regiment looked up as Larry headed purposefully for the building ways. The officer and a dozen of the regiment's troopers sat their mounts between the half-completed warship's hull and the rest of the harbor.
Larry's gaze was drawn to their weapons. The new rifle shops in Magdeburg, set up by partnerships between Grantville's machine shops and some German gunmakers, had reached a production rate of just over a hundred and fifty weapons a week. They'd already supplied Gustavus with more than five thousand of the new rifles, and Tott's Regiment had been one of the first to profit from them.
Tott himself was no longer in command. But the regiment remained one of Gustav Adolf's favorites under its new commander, Colonel Karberg. So, all of the troopers carried brand new flintlock rifles in saddle scabbards. They continued to carry two or three huge, cumbersome wheel-lock pistols apiece, as well, but Larry suspected that would be changing soon. The Swedes were still feeling their way into the new realities of 17th-century warfare, American-style. Once they'd adapted fully to it, he thought, cavalry pistol charges were definitely going to become a thing of the past.
It wasn't a completely satisfied thought. Not because Larry disapproved of the changes to come, but because they were coming so much more slowly than he would have preferred.
The troopers' rifles were a case in point. They were much shorter and handier than any of the Swedes' previous shoulder arms, and with their new, American-designed hollow-based bullets, steel ramrods, and conical touch holes, they were vastly more lethal. Their effective range, despite their shorter barrels, was several times that of any standard infantry weapon. Or, rather, any other army's standard infantry weapons, because the rifles being produced for Gustavus' infantry were even longer-ranged than the cavalry version. They were also equipped with the first socket-mounted bayonets in European history, which was going to come as a nasty surprise to someone, one fine day.
But they were still flintlocks, and that offended Larry's sensibilities. It might be possible to fire them three or even four times as rapidly as some clumsy matchlock, but they still couldn't be fired as rapidly as a decent breech-loading design. And like any flintlock, they were much more vulnerable to misfires than a percussion cap design.
Larry and Eddie had been strong supporters of the group which had argued in favor of producing a breechloading, cartridge-firing weapon, instead. Failing that, they'd at least wanted a proper caplock design, and they'd been initially supported by Gustavus Adolphus. But they—and the king—had been overruled by no less than the President himself.
Larry had been at the meeting where that decision had been made, serving as a very nervous staff officer accompanying Admiral Simpson. Mike Stearns, General Jackson and several American and German arms manufacturers and technical advisers had come to Magdeburg specifically for the purpose, to confer with Gustav Adolf and his own advisers and military staff.
"Yes, we've been able to create a small cartridge industry," Mike had acknowledged at the meeting, "but it's barely enough to keep our existing up-time weapons supplied. And not all of them, for that matter. We're not even trying to maintain ammunition except for the most common calibers. There is no way at all we could supply more than a trickle to a new line of cartridge-using breechloaders, even if you could make those in large numbers. Which I doubt we could, at least for the next couple of years or so."
Gustav had glanced around the room, seeing the agreement so obviously manifest on the faces of the Americans (and now, a few Germans) who were the experts on the subject.
"Very well. I will accept that. But why are you also opposed to the introduction of caplock muskets? Those would be simple muzzleloaders."
Mike turned toward Greg Ferrara. The former high school science teacher—now quickly emerging as one of the new United States' premier inventors/industrialists—cleared his throat.
"We're not opposed to them, Captain General Gars. We think a caplock industry can and should be started. But . . . ah . . ." Ferrara coughed. " 'Your Majesty,' I meant to say. Sorry, I forgot where we were."
Gustav grinned. A little laugh went around the room—a bit of an embarrassed one, on the part of the Americans; simply amused, on the part of the Germans and Gustav's Swedish officers.
Larry himself had joined in that laugh, once he understood the meaning of Ferrara's quick little apology. When Gustav Adolf visited the United States, under the terms of agreement by which the U.S. had affiliated to the Confederated Principalities of Europe, he did so in his persona as "Captain General Gars"—thus maintaining the formality that the U.S. itself was a republic, not a constitutional monarchy. In certain respects, there was a parallel between Gustav Adolf's position in the U.S. and the position of the House of Orange in the United Provinces. Officially, the United Provinces was a republic. In practice, the "unofficial royalty" of the House of Orange carried a great deal of real authority.
In the CPE proper, however—certainly those areas like Magdeburg, which were under direct imperial rule—these convoluted formalities did not apply. In his own imperial capital, Gustav II Adolf was "Your Majesty" and no fancy-dancing around it. King of Sweden, emperor of the CPE, not to mention a host of other titles.
Fortunately, the King-and-Emperor-Etc was usually good-tempered about the whole business. Today, as well. After the laugh faded away, Gustav inclined his head, politely urging Ferrara to continue.
"It's like this, Your Majesty. Eventually, sure, we'll want to switch everything over to caplock muskets. But we think it would be a bad mistake to try to jump too quickly. The problem is with the caps. There are just too many 'ifs' and unknown quantities involved."
Ferrara ran fingers through his hair. "Despite what seems to be my growing reputation, I am in fact just a high-school science teacher, with a particular background in chemistry. And as good as the libraries and other data sources we have in Grantville are, given the circumstances, they are very far removed from the resources of a university research library."
For an instant, a look of longing crossed his face. "If the Ring of Fire had just stretched a little—brought all of Morgantown along with it, along with West Virginia University . . . not to mention Fairmont and all the industry in that town . . ."
Frank Jackson barked a laugh. "Hell, Greg, if we'd had Fairmont and WVU with us—"
He, too, broke off, coughing. Larry had to suppress a grin. He could complete the thought in his own mind:
We'd sure as hell not be doing this silly dance with kings and emperors and dukes and earls. You betchum. Gimme Fairmont's National Guard Armory and 30,000 professors and students at a modern state university and all those machine shops and factories—not to mention prob'bly half the membership of UMWA District 31—
West Virginia über alles, that's what . . .
Ferrara hurried past the awkward moment: "The point is, Your Majesty, we're groping a lot of the time. I don't know exactly how to make percussion caps. I've got a pretty damn good idea, mind you, especially after kicking it around with some of the gun collectors in Grantville. So, with a little experimenting, I'm quite sure we'll be able to start making them. But not enough of them—not soon enough—for what you need."
He grimaced. "The one thing that's clearest of all to me is that we do not want to be messing around with fulminate of mercury. I repeat: not. Well . . . not in any kind of hurried-up rush production program, anyway. The problem—again—is that our needs are outrunning our resources. Of which the most important, ultimately, is skilled human labor." He gave the emperor a look of appeal, with a trace of exhaustion under it. "Your Majesty, I don't have enough chemists. Not more than a handful. What I've got are half-trained kids that I'm trying to train at the same time as—"
Gustav Adolf interrupted him. "I understand. You are afraid that—this is dangerous material I take it?—disasters will result if the thing is rushed."
Ferrara nodded wearily. "I'm scared as it is, Your Majesty. There are so many ways we've been cutting corners. With chemistry, some kinds of it, you can only do that for so long. Sooner or later . . ." He shuddered a little. "Some of this stuff will kill a man in a heartbeat. And some of it can do the same to a whole town, if something goes wrong badly enough."
He straightened and shook his head, as if to clear it. "Give me some time—time to train people properly, take it slowly—I'll give you percussion caps. Other stuff, too. Guncotton, for instance, which—if you make it properly, making sure you rinse—" Again, he shook his head. The emperor didn't need or want a detailed technical lecture. "Besides, I need time anyway, even leaving aside the shortage of skilled labor. Most of this stuff depends on something else being ready also—which it usually isn't. Guncotton, for instance. Making guncotton is no big deal, in itself, but it does presuppose a supply—a plentiful supply—of nitric acid. And, as you know from yesterday's discussion of our overall progress in building a chemical and antibiotic industry, nitric acid is probably the biggest—"
"Yes, yes," said Gustav, waving his hand. "You explained. 'Bottleneck,' was the term you used. The problem is an insufficient supply of what you call 'stainless' steel."
Ferrara nodded. "Exactly. So what we'd be faced with is the same thing we're faced with time after time with so many of the chemical products we need: what amounts to a mom-and-pop bucket-and-bathtub production line. To sum it up: yes, we could make caplock muskets and percussion caps; no, we couldn't make enough of them, quickly enough, to provide the armed forces of the King of Sweden and Emperor of the CPE what it really needs right now. Uh. In my opinion, that is. Uh, Your Majesty."
Gustav smiled thinly. Then, after stroking his mustachios, looked at Axel Oxenstierna. "Mine also, I think, now that you have explained. Chancellor?"
"As you well know, I am generally more conservative than you in all things. So I am hardly going to disagree here." Oxenstierna frowned. "This much I know for sure: it has happened to me, on campaign—you also, Gustav—where I have found myself required to use captured enemy gunpowder because our own supply train collapsed or was inadequate. With flintlocks, we can do that. With this new caplock design . . ."
The king's face took on a frown of its own. "We might find ourselves in a battle, and out of percussion caps. Surrounded by plenty of gunpowder we can't use—but could have used if we'd stayed with a more primitive design. Which is still, let us not forget, much better than anything our enemies have at the moment."
"Maybe Clarke had it right. 'Superiority,' " Larry muttered under his breath.
Or so he'd thought. A moment later, the king's head swiveled and Larry found himself under Gustav Adolf's blue-eyed gaze.
"Yes, Lieutenant? You have something to add?"
Larry was paralyzed. He'd had absolutely no intention of speaking at all at this conference. In point of fact, the admiral had ordered him to keep his mouth shut, unless he was asked a direct question.
Which, of course, the king had now done. But only because Larry had interrupted the meeting. He found himself wishing desperately for a hole to crawl into.
Simpson cleared his throat. "What my aide is referring to, Your Majesty, is a story written by a well-known author of our time. 'Up-time,' as people seem to be putting it now. A science fiction author—think of it as a type of fantasist—named Arthur C. Clarke. In this story, 'Superiority,' Clarke imagines a situation where one side loses a war because of its obsession with the most technically advanced weapons. None of which work the way they are supposed to, or can be made in the quantity predicted. So the enemy overruns them, using cruder and simpler weapons—but ones which work, and of which they have a plentiful supply."
"Ah! An excellent cautionary tale, I think." The king nodded approvingly. "Is there a copy of this story available? I think it would be a good idea to have it printed up and distributed to our officers."
Casually, Simpson swiveled his head to look at Larry, who was standing behind him. "I'm afraid my own copy was left behind in Pittsburgh, Your Majesty. Lieutenant?"
Larry managed to jolt himself out of his state of shock. "Uh, yessir. I've got a copy in one of my anthologies. Uh . . . it's back at my house—I mean—the Dreesons—uh . . . it's in Grantville. Uh, sir. Uh, Your Majesty."
"Not a problem, then. See to it, Lieutenant. I agree with His Majesty. It's a good suggestion. Have a local printer run off . . . oh, make it two hundred copies to begin with. We'll pay for it out of the Navy's budget."
He swiveled back, and the meeting continued. But Larry never did remember much of the rest of it. His shock had simply deepened at the realization that not only had the admiral slid him out of a jam but he was himself . . .
John Chandler Simpson? A freakin' science fiction fan?
After the meeting, on the way back to the shipyards, Larry had simultaneously tried to thank and apologize to the admiral. Simpson had cut him short.
"Two things I want you to learn from this, Lieutenant." The admiral came to a stop and glared down at him. Simpson was a big man, even if not the semi-giant that his son Tom was. "First. When I tell you to keep your mouth shut at a meeting, I mean shut. Is that understood?"
"Good. Second thing."
A wintry smile came to Simpson's face. "I imagine by now both you and Lieutenant Cantrell call me 'the bastard' more often than not. In private, that is. If I ever catch you doing it in public, I'll have your ass. But you might as well understand the other half of it. The Navy takes care of its own, son. Always. So if I'm a bastard, at least you can count on me to be your bastard."
Larry jerked his mind out of reminiscence. He'd just noticed that four of those new rifles were being slid free of their saddle scabbards as he jogged toward the Tott's Regiment troopers. Their officer started to say something to them, but before he could, someone else spoke up sharply. The troopers looked over their shoulders at the huge blond shape of Anders Jönsson and put their rifles back with the sort of hasty "I-wasn't-doing-anything" air of small children caught out by an irate tutor. Jönsson glowered at them for a moment; then said something else, gesturing at Larry's 21st-century clothing, and shook his head.
Under other circumstances, Larry would have chuckled at the troopers' hang dog attitudes. Unlike the cavalrymen, Jönsson was not armed with a flintlock rifle. In fact, he didn't carry a rifle at all, and he'd already discarded all of his wheel locks, as well. Instead, he wore a shoulder holster which contained a single HK .40-caliber USP automatic. It was one of the half-dozen or so most expensive handguns to have made the trip back from the 21st-century, but no one in Grantville begrudged it or the four high-capacity magazines which had accompanied it when Mike Stearns presented the black, polymer-framed pistol to Jönsson. Given that assassination was an acknowledged if officially frowned-upon way of dealing with problems in this day and age, anything which made it more difficult for someone to get past Gustavus Adolphus' personal bodyguard struck most Americans as a very good idea indeed.
Larry reached the side of the building slip just in time to hear the tag end of Jönsson's caustic homily. It was in Swedish, which was still a foreign language—in every sense—for Larry, but he didn't need to be able to understand the words to grasp the meaning. He tried hard not to grin at the discomfited troopers. Actually, when he thought about it, he was in favor of paranoia on their part where the safety of their monarch was concerned. As long as that paranoia wasn't expressed by pointing rifles at his own personal body, at least.
"Can I help you, Lieutenant?" Jönsson inquired, switching to heavily accented but clearly understandable English and nodding courteously as Larry trotted up to him. The bodyguard carried no official rank, but Larry had privately decided that his effective rank had to be somewhere around that of a colonel, so he paused to come to attention and salute in the fashion Simpson insisted upon. It still felt more than a little unnatural, but it no longer felt silly; and Gustavus' bodyguard returned the formal military courtesy with unsmiling dignity.
"I have an urgent message for the king," Larry told him, puffing slightly for breath after his hurried trip.
Jönsson regarded him for a moment, then nodded. He said something to the Tott officer in Swedish, then gestured politely for Larry to accompany him and led the way up a ladder to the deck of the incomplete warship. A couple of workmen glowered at them for getting in the way as they stepped onto the partially planked deck, but Jönsson ignored them as he and Larry crossed to the powerfully built figure of the king of Sweden.
At the moment, that regal monarch was covered in sawdust from head to toe while he stood glaring down at the building draft spread out over a pair of sawhorses and waved his arms energetically. The man facing him across the sawhorses was much smaller and even more heavily coated in sawdust, and he did not appear to be greatly daunted by his king's vigor. He stood with his arms folded, frowning ferociously, then shook his head firmly. He stepped forward, tapping an index finger on the building plans, and spoke emphatically. Gustavus frowned back, even more ferociously, and tapped his own finger on the plans, but the other man was singularly unimpressed and only shook his head again. Gustavus glared at him, then threw both hands in the air, and turned to stomp away from him.
Jönsson made a beeline toward the king, and Larry followed in his wake. Gustavus looked up, still frowning, as Jönsson spoke to him in Swedish. Then the king's expression altered. The frown remained, but the emphasis was completely different.
"You have a message, Lieutenant?" he said. His accent was much heavier than Jönsson's. In fact, it was more than a bit difficult for Larry to follow at times, but he knew Gustavus read English as readily as he did several other languages.
"I do, sir," he replied, and unbuttoned his shirt pocket to extract the single sheet of paper upon which Adam Jeffreys—now officially Petty Officer 1/c Jeffreys—had copied the transmission from Grantville.
The king took it with a courteous nod, unfolded it, and began to read. The blue eyes moved rapidly across the neatly lettered text, then froze. They moved back to the beginning and then down the lines once again, reading slowly and carefully, and his lips compressed. That was absolutely all the change in expression he allowed himself, but it was enough for Larry to sense Jönsson's entire body tightening in reaction.
Gustavus reached the end of the brief message, then refolded it with slow, meticulous care before he turned back to Larry.
"Thank you for delivering this so promptly," he said. "Now, you will take me to your . . . 'radio room,' it is, yes?"
"Of course, sir," Larry replied.
"Good. I need to ask your President a number of questions."