1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 3:
Not that everything’s gone my way, Jesse grumbled. The frigging Kellys, for instance. What do those stupid politicians think we are, anyway? Boeing vs. Lockheed?
The object of his ire came into view as he walked towards the flightline. On the opposite side of the field, a sizable building, smoke curling from one of its chimneys, stood in the midst of squalor, despite its newness. Junked cars, piles of lumber, cans of waste, and piles of trash unidentifiable at this distance stood in front of the building’s wide, closed doors. It was the Kellys’ touted “Skunkworks,” and Jesse’s irritation surged as he thought of the waste involved.
He’d been shocked when, just as the politicians seemed certain to give him all he needed to build a fighting air force, a small but vocal faction had temporarily stopped everything by demanding competition in aircraft construction. He’d even complained to Mike Stearns, demanding that he intervene in the foolishness.
Only to be turned down. Stearns, though sympathetic, had given Jesse a short, painful lesson in politics. He’d pointed out that many thought it unfair for Wood and Smith to be given so much deference and support in their aircraft building business—never mind the fact that they had built aircraft that had proven themselves in combat and hadn’t yet realized a dime in profit from the enterprise.
“And there are new angles involved too, Jesse,” Stearns had explained. “Now that the Confederated Principalities of Europe is on the junk heap, replaced by the Unites States of Europe, we don’t have the same autonomy we used to have. We’re a province in the USE now, which has a federal structure. We’re no longer the independent-in-all-but-name New United States.”
Mike rolled his eyes. “So stop it with the pig-headed ‘I don’t need no steenkeeng politics’ routine, Jesse. What do you think? You know damn well that most of the principalities that Gustav Adolf roped into the USE were frog-marched into it. From the standpoint of those disgruntled little princelings, one of the few bright spots is that they can now make a claim to getting a piece of up-time technology.”
It was Jesse’s turn to roll his eyes. “You’ve got to be kidding! What? We’re supposed to divert resources to having—who, for God’s sake?—the Hessians? the Pomeranians?—start building airplanes?”
“Oh, it’s not that bad. None of the important princes are dumb enough to think they can set up an aircraft industry right now, from scratch. But look at the issue of the Kellys from their point of view. As long as you and Hal Smith have a monopoly on aircraft construction—with your close ties to the federal authorities—they can’t see any way to get a foot in edgewise.”
Jesse made a face. “Hey, look, Mike. It’s no secret that I don’t like the Kellys, especially She-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named. But I never suggested they were traitors.”
“You couldn’t anyway, even if you did think it,” said Mike forcefully. “What ‘treason’ would be involved? Moving their aircraft works from Grantville to Magdeburg or Kassel? That’s just silly. It’d be like accusing Lockheed of ‘treason’ if they decided to move their works from Burbank, California to somewhere else in the United States. We’re a federation now, Jesse. If the Kellys wanted to, they’d have every right to pack up their operation and move to another city in the USE.”
He ran fingers through his hair. “But that’s not even the issue. So far as I know, the Kellys have no intention of leaving Grantville. The Kellys aren’t really what’s at stake, to begin with, from the standpoint of the down-time princelings. Right now, they simply want to break up what amounts to your semi-official monopoly over up-time aircraft technology. And there’s only so far I can resist that pressure, without starting to feed the sentiment—and there’s plenty of it—that we up-timers are dogs in a manger. We can afford some waste in aircraft production a lot more than we can afford that issue to start getting explosive. So live with it, Jesse.”
Jesse had kept trying, even to the point of resigning as a partner in the aircraft firm, but it hadn’t been enough. The powers-that-be, in their wisdom, had seen fit to authorize assistance to both firms in the form of “a suitable building, strategic materials, and such labor and facilities as are deemed necessary by the strategic resources board for aircraft construction.” And so, while Hal and his workers had used the assistance to move construction of the “Gustav” model into high gear, the Kelly Aircraft Company had moved into their new digs—and, so far at least, shown precious little for it.
But it was a done deal, so Jesse let it go. He turned his attention to the aircraft shelters he was passing, five now and one in building. Three had aircraft in them, the new Gustavs, low wing, powerful looking birds. Their ground crews were still working on them in the lowering sunlight, busy, purposeful. One crew was fueling their aircraft from a horse drawn fuel bowser. At the next shelter over, the crewchief of Gustav I, Sergeant Hiram Winters, noticed Jesse and raised a hand. Jesse smiled and raised his own hand in greeting and before he moved on.
Good kids, he smiled. Good aircraft. Thank you, God, for both.
He neared an airman lounging on a riding mower near the landing zone. With two hundred and thirty-five men and women now on the rolls, he no longer worried about manpower to work on the field, though the constant work required brought to memory the old British secret for a nice lawn: good seed, plenty of water, and rolled daily for three hundred years. He waved his hand down as the young man made to get off his machine.
“Good evening, Airman…” He looked for the airman’s nametag.
“Guten abend, Herr Oberst. Mein name is Fleischer. ‘Gus’ Fleischer.”
“Fleischer.” Jesse put his hands in the small of his back and stretched. “Waiting for the last aircraft?”
“Jawohl… I mean, ‘Yes sir,’” Fleischer replied.
Jesse checked his watch. “Soon, I think. How long have you been with us, Fleischer?”
“Drei, uh, three month, Herr Colonel,” Fleischer said slowly.
“And driving already, huh? Very good.”
“Yes, sir.” The young man lifted his chin. “I will be a pilot, someday.” He lifted his arm and pointed. “Look, Herr Oberst! Er kommt!”
“Yes, he does,” said Jesse, watching the Belle III slide over the field boundary and touch down. He clapped the airman on the shoulder. “Study hard, Gus, eh?”
“Ja, Colonel!” The young German nodded, started the mower, and drove off proudly to his duty.