1633 David Weber and Eric Flint

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Chapter 43

"I'm sure glad you're here, Jesse—I mean, Colonel."

Eddie corrected himself quickly, but not quite quickly enough to keep him from blushing.

"That's all right, Lieutenant," Jesse assured him gravely. "But I remind you that, as I understand it, the Navy's been designated the senior service here in Wismar. That makes sense to me, too. The Air Force—such as it is, and what there is of it—is very much a clear-weather-only force just now. Your surface units are going to have a lot better round-the-clock capability than we are, so it's only sensible to put a Navy officer in overall command."

"It may seem sensible to you," Eddie said, grimacing, "but I sure as hell don't feel like an officer in overall command of anything!"

"It'll grow on you," Jesse assured him. "Besides, it comes with the territory, I'm afraid."

"Always seemed a lot easier than this in war games," Eddie muttered, but his voice was just low enough that Jesse decided he could pretend not to have heard it.

"Now that I am here, and more or less for good this time," he said instead, "what can I do for you?"

"Larry just copied a message from Magdeburg," Eddie told him. "The Danes are landing troops in Luebeck Bay."

"I see." Jesse was surprised that his own voice sounded so calm. Or perhaps he wasn't. On one level, at least, the news was almost a relief. It certainly wasn't unexpected, and at least the Danes' arrival brought an end to the drawn-out anticipation.

Unfortunately, it also meant enemy troops were coming ashore no more than thirty miles from Wismar, as well.

"Well," he went on after a moment, "what does Colonel Holtzmüller have to say about it?"

"Not a lot," Eddie admitted with a crooked smile. "According to our latest reports, General Aderkas is still at least four days out from Wismar. Larry handed Colonel Holtzmüller the same dispatch first, and he headed out to check his pickets immediately."

"And Captain Stecher?"

"I've already passed the warning on to him," Eddie said, and Jesse nodded. Jochaim Stecher was a German Lutheran fishing boat skipper. Actually, he owned no fewer than six small fishing vessels operating out of Wismar and Rostock. Eddie had entrusted one of his precious citizens-band radios to him, along with a German-born U.S. Navy sailor trained in its use. At the moment, Stecher was somewhere out on Wismar Bay, looking as innocent as possible while he kept a sharp lookout for the first sign of the Danish fleet. The chance of his seeing anything in the middle of a rainy fall night wasn't particularly great, but in this pre-radar era, invasion fleets were going to want at least minimal daylight before they tried to put any troops ashore. And as long as his boat showed no signs of trying to run past the Danes toward shore, they were likely to leave it alone . . . since there was no way for them to know it had a radio aboard.

"I guess what I really need to know," Eddie went on after a moment, "is how likely it is that you and Hans can get into the air tomorrow, Colonel."

"That's the sixty-four-dollar question," Jesse said with a humorless smile. "Right this minute, I'd say the chances were at least a little better than even. Judging from the way the rain's slacked off, it looks like the front's pretty much passed through, and while I was walking over here from the field, it looked to me like the cloud cover was breaking up. Of course, this time of the year in the Baltic, the only thing anyone can say for sure is that no one can be sure what the weather is going to do. Damn, what I wouldn't give for a decent weather service!"

"I can certainly agree with you there," Eddie said feelingly. "But to be honest, better than even is a lot better chance than I'd figured on."

He leaned forward, gazing down at the large-scale chart of Wismar and its approaches pinned down on the table between him and Jesse, studying it so intently that no one would ever have guessed he didn't actually see it at all.

"What are your intentions?" Jesse asked quietly.

"Um?" Eddie looked back up quickly and shook himself. "Well, Captain Stecher's supposed to be staying in line-of-sight from our antenna overnight, so we should be able to catch any transmission from him if he spots anything out there tonight. If he does, Larry and I may try a night attack with the low-light gear." He paused, and Jesse nodded in understanding. Given all of the deer hunters in and around Grantville, it had been inevitable that several someones would have acquired low-light vision equipment. As it happened, no less than thirteen Russian Army surplus night-vision glasses had turned up, along with four low-light telescopic rifle sights. Batteries would become a problem eventually, but not for quite some time. And in the meantime, they provided a limited, potentially invaluable night combat capability.

"And if Stecher doesn't spot anything?" Jesse asked.

"In that case, we're going to have to go looking for them ourselves," Eddie replied. "Either that, or just sit here and wait for them, and that's not what the admiral had in mind when he sent us up here. Which is why I hope you can get into the air tomorrow."

"Understood." It was Jesse's turn to step closer to the map table and frown down at the chart. "At the very least, we can probably get up under the cloud deck and circle above the city. That would extend Stecher's range; you could send him further out and still give him a good line-of-sight to the radio in the plane. And we could get back onto the ground in a hurry if the weather went bad on us again.

"Of course," he continued, "his detection range is going to be limited. I doubt the Danes could slip an entire fleet past him, but it certainly wouldn't be impossible. Depending on how far he can actually see, we might need to send one or both of the planes out to do the scouting for you." His hand traced an arc across Wismar Bay toward the open waters of the Baltic beyond. "I'd be a lot happier about trying that if the weather really cleared instead of just improving, of course. But if we can get up at all, we should be able to see a lot further than you could from sea level. And we've got the camcorders rigged in both planes. So if we do see anything, we should be able to bring back pretty decent reconnaissance footage."

"What about the rockets?" Eddie asked in a suddenly toneless voice, and Jesse's frown deepened. He understood the need to throw every possible weapon at the Danes. And there wasn't any technical reason why they couldn't strap a couple of rockets under either wing. The problem was that Jesse didn't see much chance that weapons that short-ranged and inaccurate were likely to do much damage, whereas their weight would certainly decrease the aircraft's safety margins. Not to mention their potential to explode in a bad landing . . . or takeoff.

On the other hand, he reminded himself, the amount of actual damage they did might be pretty much immaterial compared to their morale effect.

"All right," he said reluctantly. Then he sighed. "I suppose there never really was much question," he admitted. "Not after Greg Ferrara went ahead and wired the damned hard points for them!"

Mike looked over the pile of equipment Harry Lefferts had brought to Magdeburg with him, now stacked in a well-shielded and guarded part of the naval yard. He shook his head, partly in bemusement at the weird assemblage, but mostly at the thought of Harry himself. And the barely veiled glee with which he and his handful of cohorts had so obviously put it all together.

"Two outboard motors?"

Harry grinned. "Don't be a cheapskate, Mike. We're on a mission of mercy, remember."

Mike's eyes moved over to the truly impressive stock of firearms and other weapons Harry had also brought up from Grantville. Some of those weapons . . .

"What the hell is that?" he demanded, pointing a finger.

Harry's grin seemed fixed on his face. He nodded toward the German soldier standing at his side. "Something Gerd came up with. He can't shoot a gun to save his life, except close range—where he's purely hell on—well . . ."

Harry managed to keep the grin, but let the sentence trail off. Mike didn't push the matter. He knew, from private sources, of the personal revenge which Gerd had taken on several of Tilly's mercenaries shortly after he'd arrived in Grantville. The police had chosen to look the other way, at the time. The killings had taken place outside their jurisdiction, for one thing. For another . . .

Some people just plain needed killing. Harry and Gerd saw eye to eye on that, and Mike couldn't really say he disagreed. Certainly not on this evening, waiting in Magdeburg while his wife was under Spanish siege in Amsterdam and several young men he thought the world of were about to face war's destruction in Wismar.

Harry glided on through the momentary, awkward pause. "But he's a whiz with a crossbow, and we decided we could fix us up some kind of—well, what would you call it? Think of it as a poor man's mortar, howzat. And we've got several different kinds of ammo for it too, that's the best part."

Harry spent the next minute or so cheerfully explaining the variations he'd be able to play in the future on the general air of havoc. A projected fugue of mayhem; composed by a 17th-century young German veteran of Tilly's savage armies, and orchestrated by a young hard-ass from the hills of West Virginia.

Mike made a token protest. "You're just trying to get into Amsterdam," he pointed out.

Harry shook his head firmly. "Stick to politics, Mike. You're not thinking ahead, the way us secret agent types gotta do. What happens after we deliver Anne and the stuff to Amsterdam? Huh?"

As it happened, Mike had given some thought to that, but he'd kept his speculations entirely to himself. They were too wild and woolly at the moment to advance openly.

He looked back and forth from Harry to Gerd. Captain Wild and sidekick, Sergeant Woolly.

"It's England next, for sure," pronounced Harry. Gerd nodded firmly. "Gotta be."

The grin was still there, but it was a lean and savage thing now. "Keep our people locked up, will they? Including my good buddy Darryl? Fat chance."

"We'll start in Scotland first," added Gerd. "We're not rash, you know. Just bold. So it'd be nice to have Julie and her rifle along. For that matter, Alex Mackay is a nasty character in a pinch." He swelled out his chest. "Can't shoot a gun either, of course. Men of our times! Brave, fearless. Muzzle-in-the-belly types, stare the Devil in the eye."

Mike didn't know whether to laugh or roll his eyes. He wound up doing both.

"Just make sure you wait for orders," he growled. He gave Harry the sternest look he was capable of. "You're a soldier now, you know. Full-grown, too. So I want none of your wild and woolly kid-stuff stunts."

Both Harry and Gerd looked aggrieved. "Well—hell, yes!" protested Harry. "Who ever heard of James Bond types not following orders?"

Remembering several movies he'd seen, Mike was not entirely reassured. But . . .

They were the best he had. Nor was he sorry of it. Mike was quite certain that if anyone could bring life into Amsterdam and death into London, it would be Harry Lefferts and his hand-picked wrecking crew. Especially with Darryl and Tom Simpson and the Mackays waiting at the other end in Britain.

"Oh, well," he muttered. "I guess the tourist trade was pretty well shot anyway."

Later that evening, after sundown, Harry and Gerd invited Mike to join them for a drink at the tavern near the naval yard which had become the unofficial watering hole of the U.S. Navy and the CoC militants who were their fierce partisans. Mike hesitated, for a moment. Then, deciding that there was really nothing further he could do until news came the following day of the impending battle at Wismar, he gave his assent.

On the way to the tavern, however, he was suddenly struck by a thought. Brought on, as it happened, by the sight of the building they were passing by.

"Hold on a minute. Let me see if the admiral's still in. He might care to join us."

Gerd, full of the simple and straightforward attitude of the Army toward the Navy in general, and its pissant admiral in particular, glowered fiercely. Harry, on the other hand, curled his lip at the sergeant and nodded.

"Crude bastard," he commented. "Can't be helped, Mike, he's a Kraut. Uneducated. Me, on the other hand—" He patted his chest proudly. "I've read some books. So I know my history!"

Mike's expression must have been skeptical. Harry pouted.

"Hey, s'true! Well . . . okay, not much. But I know all the good quotes."

"Like what?"

"Franklin Roosevelt's famous speech after Pearl Harbor, how's that? 'We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.' "

Mike winced. "Harry, I'm pretty sure that was said by Ben Franklin during the American Revolution."

"Really? Hm." Harry shrugged. "What the hell. Close enough. I got the continent right."

Simpson hesitated also. But, like Mike, only for a moment.

"Sure, why not? I'm not really doing anything here anyway, not any longer, except spinning my wheels and waiting to hear the news tomorrow. A drink might do me good."

When they arrived at the tavern and commandeered a table, Harry ordered beer for himself and Gerd. So did Mike. But the barmaid didn't have time to even turn away before the admiral countermanded the order.

"Not tonight, Gisela," he said firmly, pointing to Harry and Gerd. "Not for these two gentlemen. Please bring some of my special stock, if you'd be so kind. For me as well."

She scurried off instantly. Clearly, Simpson came here often enough to have established his authority. Of course, given John Chandler Simpson, "often enough" might only have required two visits.

Harry and Gerd were trying—not very hard—to hide their glares at Simpson. The admiral glanced at them and snorted.

"Please! You are about to embark on a desperate and daring mission into enemy territory. A beer just won't do."

The barmaid was back quickly, bearing a large mug of beer for Mike, three smaller mugs, and an unlabeled bottle of some truly suspicious-looking beverage.

And, indeed, Harry and Gerd both looked at the thing with dark suspicion.

"Don't ask," commanded the admiral. "You probably don't want to know. I'm afraid it was the best I could have them do, given the circumstances. But I think you'll find it tasteful. It's a bit strong, of course."

Whether by design or not, the last comment was enough to make sure that Harry and Gerd would accept the challenge. As soon as Simpson filled the mugs, they reached out for them. The admiral's scowl stopped them short.

"Please, gentlemen! These things must be done properly." Simpson took their mugs and handed them over, giving them a little jiggle as he did so.

"Shaken, not stirred. I insist."

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