1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 2:
Jesse rubbed his eyes, pulled his leather jacket over his own brown flying suit, and grabbed the two often-used envelopes. Sweeping up his beret with its eagle insignia off his desk, he stretched his sore back and stepped out of his office into that of his adjutant. Lieutenant Cynthia Miller was seated behind her desk, sharpening a goose feather quill, her own computer showing a floral screen saver pattern.
She didn’t stand up as he entered. She couldn’t, having lost the use of her legs in a riding accident on the far side of the Ring of Fire. Instead, the former CAP cadet straightened to attention in her wheel chair and looked at Jesse expectantly.
Jesse smiled. “Cynthia, how many times have I told you to save the ‘attention’ bit for visitors? It’s just the two of us here. At ease, for Pete’s sake.”
Cynthia tossed her short auburn curls impatiently. “About a million times, Colonel. Almost as often as I’ve told you I can type faster than you, so why not just dictate to me?” She looked meaningfully at the envelopes in Jesse’s hand.
Jesse tossed the envelopes on her desk. “Not this time, Lieutenant. This report was a pleasure to write. I’ve declared IOC for the Gustav flight. Send the original to Mike Stearns in Government House on tomorrow’s courier run to Magdeburg. The copy goes to Admiral Simpson.”
“Yes, sir. That’s great news. Anything else?”
“Yeah, send word to Major Horton that I’d like to see him in my quarters tonight at 2030, will you? I’m going to take a turn around the base, then go home. Why don’t you wrap up things here and take off?”
Cynthia gave him an impish grin. “Why, thank you sir. Friedrich promised to take me to dinner in town, if we both got off early enough.”
Jesse nodded and wondered again at the dichotomy of Sergeant Krueger’s renowned harshness to recruits and his obvious love for the crippled girl in the wheel chair. His gentleness and deference to her was an unceasing wonder to all who witnessed it. Cynthia was lovely and doubtless her fluency in German helped, but still…. Jesse was glad he hadn’t found the need to institute any of the fraternization rules from the other time line. Planting his beret on his head, eagle shining, he moved toward the door.
“Good evening, Colonel.”
Jesse stepped outside the newly constructed headquarters cum bachelor officers’ quarters. Walking down the ramp built for Cynthia’s use, he glanced down the side of the building. Like all the other new buildings at the field, it was a simple wooden design, having few windows, and without central heating—the lack of which Jesse was feeling acutely, now that winter had arrived.
Due to a recent heat spell—using the term “heat” loosely—most of the snow that had covered the ground the week before had now melted. Jesse walked down the damp, unpaved surface of Richter Avenue, doing his best to avoid the worst patches of mud. He then walked past the NCO quarters, the messhall, the married enlisted buildings, and the single enlisted barracks, their new wooden walls already grayed by the elements. Opposite the buildings, children were playing in the parade ground, which was as yet unused for its named purpose.
The snap of the flag at the top of the smooth wooden pole drew his eye and he felt suddenly better, less tired.
You should see the old field now, Hans. All because of you.
Jesse hadn’t meant to capitalize on Han’s death, of course. But, once the initial shock had worn off and he’d been able to analyzed the battle of Wismar, he had become angry. His anger wasn’t directed at the Grantville leadership—he understood military necessity—but at the enemies who threatened to destroy all he knew and loved. The depth of his anger had surprised him. He had always been slow to anger and his ire had nearly always passed swiftly. Certainly, he’d never felt any particular hatred towards the enemies of the U.S. in the old time line. In reflection, he realized his anger was more than half fear—fear that, should these enemies win, there would be no starting over, that there was nowhere to run in this world. So, he had concentrated on the anger, had shaped it into a weapon. And in doing so, he had changed himself. Before Wismar, he had been a pilot playing the role of commander. Afterward, though he would never voice it, he became a commander, with a commander’s view of things.
Within days, he had returned to Grantville, directing two pilots, Lieutenants Woodsill and Weissenbach, to take the Las Vegas Belle II and rejoin the ground contingent at Richter Field in Wismar. Woody and Ernst had been thrilled to be left with the only functioning aircraft—and within range of the enemy, at that. Jesse felt he had taken the edge off a good deal of that enthusiasm, and he was sure the two young pilots would follow his cautious operational instructions. They were to provide aerial reconnaissance for Gustavus Adolphus in Luebeck, and that was all. Even so, he had taken care to not stifle their spirit. A pilot’s élan is as important as fuel.
Jesse had channeled his own efforts into convincing Grantville to give him the resources to accelerate aircraft production, to give him the tools to punish their enemies. While he talked practicalities with President Stearns, Admiral Simpson, and Hal Smith, to all others he spoke in terms of duty, sacrifice, and honor. As much as he hated public speaking, he gave speeches to citizen groups and retold the Battle of Wismar and Captain Richter’s heroism countless times.
The story was certainly gripping. The account of a valiant few fighting against long odds with makeshift weapons—buying time, as Jesse put it, so their people could prepare for the inevitable onslaught—caught the imagination of the public. In Magdeburg even more than in Grantville. Before long, most who deemed themselves politicians in the newly formed United States of Europe had jumped on board.