1624: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 15:
“Will this be enough space?” Torstensson asked.
Jesse studied the map, for about a minute. His main concern was to get a sense of how accurate the whole map was, from the standpoint of maintaining consistent measurements of distance. As a rule, especially when working on the scale of a city, seventeenth century cartographers tended to be reasonably accurate even if they were still rarely able to use the sort of precision surveying equipment that Grantville had brought—in no great supply, alas—through the Ring of Fire.
Finally satisfied, he sat back down. By now Jesse had overflown Luebeck at least half a dozen times and the map pretty much corresponded to his own memory. As it happened, he’d noticed that field himself, on one of those flights, and had even taken the time to overfly it again as a way of getting a rough estimate of whether it would work as a landing field. He’d thought at the time that it would, although it would be a bit tight.
“That’ll do,” he said. “But they’ll need to check it carefully to make sure there aren’t any obstructions. All it takes is one good-sized rock to break the landing gear.
Torstensson nodded. “Not a problem. I doubt if there’ll be much in the way of obstructions anyway. The city’s residents—even some of the king’s soldiers—use that area to pasture goats, since it’s shielded from enemy artillery. And it’s much too far from the bay for the enemy’s naval forces to pose a threat.” He grinned, rather wolfishly. “Needless to say, the Danes and the French don’t even try to enter the river any longer. Not after His Majesty let them know that he still had his American scuba wizards residing in Luebeck.”
Mike smiled, and Frank Jackson laughed outright. But Jesse noticed that Simpson didn’t share in the amusement.
Neither did he, although he smiled politely. The problem was that he and Simpson led the two branches of the USE’s military that dealt more closely with German artisans and craftsmen than the army did—or politicians like Mike Stearns. By now, Jesse had come to have a much deeper respect for the abilities of seventeenth century skilled workers that he’d had in the first period after the Ring of Fire.
True enough, by the manufacturing standards of the world they’d left behind, the skilled craftsmen of the time worked very slowly. More precisely, could only produce a small quantity of something in the same time that, back in the twentieth century, any factory could have churned out large numbers. But it was amazing what they could produce, even if only in small quantities. All they really needed to know was that something was possible, and be given a rough idea of the general principles of how it worked.
Personally, he thought Gustav Adolf had been foolish to let the enemy know how his forces had destroyed the ships that the Danes and French had sent up the river to threaten Luebeck early in the siege. It hadn’t taken more than six weeks thereafter for two of the spare scuba rigs in Grantville that Sam and Al Morton had left behind to vanish.
Where, and by whose hands? No one knew. But Jesse was glumly certain that enemy agents had been responsible. Probably French agents, but… it could have been almost any one. Perhaps simply one of the many independent espionage outfits that worked on a freelance basis for anyone willing to pay their price. Like mercenaries in general, they seemed to be crawling all over Europe—and nowhere in greater concentration than in Grantville. For good or ill—and Jesse could feel either way about it, depending on his mood of the moment—Grantville’s ingrained traditions and customs didn’t allow the CoCs there the same latitude when it came to “pro-active security” that they had in Magdeburg.
Jesse would be very surprised if there weren’t already French or Danish top secret projects working around the clock to duplicate American capabilities with underwater demolitions. Or both, and he wouldn’t rule out the Spaniards either, especially the ones in the Low Countries, which had probably the highest concentration of skilled craftsmen anywhere in the world outside of Grantville itself. For sure and certain—Mike’s head of espionage Francisco Nasi had been able to determine this much—there were at least two enemy efforts underway to build submarines.
Primitive ones, surely, just as whatever they came up with in the way of diving equipment would be primitive. Not to mention dangerous as all hell for the men operating them, with sky-high fatality rates. But there was no more of a shortage of bravery in Europe than there was a shortage of ingenuity. Soon enough, some of that stuff would be put into action—and not all of it would fail.
But there was no point in fretting over that now. Especially since whatever energy and time Jesse had to spare for fretting, he’d spend fretting on the subject that would impact him immediately and directly. Nasi had also been able to determine that there were at least twenty-eight separate projects underway somewhere in Europe to build aircraft. Most of them in enemy territories, but not all. Many of them hare-brained, but not all.
And if all of them were risky, so what? In the world they’d left behind, the early pioneers of flying had been willing to accept ghastly casualties. Why would anyone in their right mind think that seventeenth century aviation pioneers would be any less bold? These were the same people who didn’t think twice about undertaking voyages around the globe on ships that were practically rowboats, by late twentieth century standards. Something like thirty percent—nobody knew the exact figure, of course—of the commercial seamen in the seventeenth century wound up dying at one point or another, just in the course of doing what was considered a routine job. Probably an equal percentage wound up maimed or crippled or at least seriously injured in the course of their working lives. So far as Jesse was concerned, anybody who thought down-timers would shy away from still higher casualty rates for the sake of mastering aviation or underwater demolitions was just a plain and simple idiot.
Unfortunately, whatever his many virtues, Gustav Adolf shared in full what was perhaps the most common vice of seventeenth century monarchs and princes. He liked to boast. So, boast he had, to his enemies, and damn the price his people would wind up paying for it downstream.
But Jesse tore his mind away from those gloomy thoughts. Mike was coming back to the subject.
“So it’s doable, then?” he asked.
Jesse shrugged. “The weather’s fine. We could leave this afternoon, if you’re ready to go. Well… at least once we hear back from Luebeck that that field is clear. But the radio connection is good enough now that we shouldn’t have to wait for the evening window to get word back.” [NOTE: CHECK THAT WITH RICK.]
Mike shook his head. “There’s not that much of a rush. And I need to spend this afternoon”—he made a little sweeping gesture with his head toward the other officers in the room—“dealing with some other matters. Let’s figure on tomorrow morning, how’s that?”
Jessed nodded. “Fine. Do you need me to stay for that discussion?”
Mike looked at Jackson and then Simpson. “Gentlemen?”
Jackson grinned again. “Not unless Colonel Wood’s changed his mind about fitting machine guns onto his planes.”
Jesse grimaced. There were times he felt like a man under siege himself, the way enthusiasts—down-timers worse than up-timers—would deluge him with eager questions on the subject of when the USE’s warplanes would be able to start riddling the enemy with machine gun fire. “When,” measured in terms of this week or next week. Alas, among the many American terms that had made its way into the down-time German lexicon, some damn fool had included the verb “to strafe.”
“No,” Jesse growled. “I haven’t. We’re still at least two generations of aircraft away from mounting machine guns. Any that are worth mounting, anyway—which those antique Requa contraptions you’re talking about aren’t.”
“Okay, then,” said Stearns. “In that case, there’s no reason you need to stick around for the wrangle. Unless you want to, of course.”
Jesse shook his head. “No, I’ve got plenty of other things to attend to. And participating in another argument over machine guns ranks somewhere below getting a colonoscopy, in my book.”
Torstensson perked right up. “What is a colonoscopy?” he asked. “And how soon could we have one deployed against the Ostenders?”