THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION — snippet 4

 

THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION – snippet 4:

 

 

            It was true that Bohemia had great resources, many of which were absent or scanty in the rest of the Austrian realm. But what good were resources that couldn’t be obtained? By force, at any rate. If they established a stable peace with Wallenstein, Janos was fairly sure the Bohemians would be glad to provide those resources by way of trade—at a far smaller cost than the hideously expensive business of waging war.

            Alas, one of the things those American future histories had contained was a clear record that Ferdinand III—still merely the King of Hungary, in that universe, since his father had lived a bit longer—had been, along with the Cardinal-Infante, the co-commander of the Habsburg army that had inflicted a massive defeat on the Swedes at Nordlingen in 1634.

            That battle had not happened, in this universe, and never would. But the record had been enough to infuse Ferdinand with self-confidence in his abilities as a military leader which were simply premature in this universe. Janos didn’t doubt that his new monarch indeed possessed a talent for military affairs. He was talented in many things. But “talent” and “experience” were not the same thing, in war perhaps more than in any sphere of human affairs.

            “A year or two,” the emperor repeated forcefully. “Watch and see if I’m not right.”

            Janos exchanged a glance with Zwickl. Some subtlety in Georg Bartholomaeus’ expression made his attitude clear. Let it go, Janos, at least for the moment. You’re probably right, but you can’t restrain him now.

            Drugeth decided he was right. As foolish and costly as it might be, Austria’s new ruler would simply have to learn some things for himself.

            And probably more than once, too. The thought would have been a gloomy one, perhaps, had Janos not been a soldier. He’d seen very few officers—and certainly not himself—who’d learned their brutal trade without making mistakes. It was just the way things were.

            “I simply felt it necessary to advance my opinion, Your Majesty,” he said,  trying to sound obedient but not submissive. “That said, in this as in all things, you have my allegiance and support.”

            Ferdinand beamed. “Well, good. In any event, Janos, it’s not something you’re likely to be worrying about. Not directly, at least.” Here, the emperor exchanged a meaningful look with Count von Gottschee. “Since you’ve done so well in Grantville, I propose to hand the entire operation to you. Which Johann Jakob tells me is on the eve of coming to fruition.”

            Janos wondered what the emperor meant by “coming to fruition.” The work that Janos had set underway in Grantville some months earlier was intended to produce a slow and steady stream of technology transfer—including some personnel—from the USE to Austria. It was not the sort of project that ever “came to fruition,” as such.

            Ferdinand rose from his chair and waved his hand airily. “I have an audience I need to attend. The count will explain it to you. But you’d best start packing, Janos. You’ll need to head out for Grantville on the morrow.”

****

            After Johann Jakob Khiesel explained what had been happening in Grantville over the months since Janos had left for his inspection tour of the fortresses in the Balkans, Drugeth had to restrain himself from snarling again.

            “In other words, in my absence, Henry Gage and Lion Gardiner—the benighted fools—allowed themselves to become cat’s paws for a pack of American thieves.”

            Both Khiesel and his stepson looked startled. “But…” the count began.

            “Don’t you understand, Janos?” said Georg Bartholomaeus. “At one swoop, we will get a far greater transfer than anything we’d envisioned.”

            “And then what?” demanded Drugeth. He took a deep breath, reminding himself that neither the count nor his stepson had any personal acquaintance with Grantville or its up-time inhabitants. For them, as for most people in Europe, the Americans were a mysterious band of wizards. Drugeth had had the same impression himself, until the weeks he’d spent there had made the truth clear to him.

            Grantville was a town, that’s all. A town of people with knowledge and technical skills far advanced from any other in the world, true enough. But still simply a town—not of wizards, but of craftsmen. Simple folk, really, who understood in their bones something that most people who viewed them from a distance did not really understand at all. Their technical wizardry was the product of generations of skills compiled and passed on. Hard work lay at its root, not some sort of preposterous sorcery. There were no “secrets” in Grantville. No compendium of ultimate wisdom. No magic recipes, no magic spells, no magic wands—most of all, no sorcerer’s grimoire that, once seized, opened all technical secrets to the possessor.

            “What then?” he repeated. “By the very manner in which this escapade will take place—there is no way to avoid this—the Americans will surely put in place measures that make any further transfers ten times more difficult.”

            Finally, he did snarl. “Not to mention that we will have done the Americans the great favor of draining the worst sort of people from their midst, and planting them amongst us. For the love of God, these people are traitors and criminals. Who is to say they will not betray us in turn?”

            For a moment, the memory of the three up-time mechanics whom he’d met at the race track earlier that day came to him. Janos was sure they knew far more than they were admitting, about matters that would be of direct benefit to Austria’s power, not simply an emperor’s whimsy. He knew, for instance, that while the three men insisted they were quite ignorant of all “aeronautical matters” that at least one of them, Ronald Sanderlin, had served for months as a mechanic at the USE’s air force base in Wismar. He had to know how to construct at least the engine for a warplane, if not the plane itself.

            But Sanderlin would keep that knowledge to himself, until and unless he became convinced that he could pass it on to Austrians without damaging his own nation. He was neither a traitor nor a thief.

            Damnation! This was insane. They needed to make peace with the Swede and his Americans, not infuriate them. Just as they needed to forget the past and make peace with Wallenstein.  The great foe of Austria was the Ottoman Empire—and would have been, even leaving aside the new emperor’s determination to take the Balkans from them.

            The two spymasters were still staring at him, obviously not understanding his concern. Spies and spymasters had their own limitations, he realized, produced by the very nature of their work. They dealt with criminals and traitors as a matter of course—which made sense, from the standpoint of spying, but made no sense at all from the standpoint of forging a new nation.

            Janos made a note to remember that in the future. Always.

            “Never mind,” he said. “What’s done is done. I’ll be off to Grantville at first light.”

 

 

 

About Eric Flint

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