1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 42
Tetschen, near the border between Saxony and Bohemia
The plane taxied over to the newly built hangar and came to a stop just before the open doors. Soon thereafter, a figure emerged out of the cockpit. When Jeff Higgins recognized who it was, he whistled softly.
“To what do we owe the honor of a visit by Jesse Wood himself?” he said.
Standing next to him, Thorsten Engler made no reply. He figured they’d find out soon enough.
When Jesse came up, he shook both their hands. “Good afternoon, Colonel Higgins. Captain Engler.”
“Not that it isn’t always nice to see you, Jesse, but since when does the air force send its commander to fly routine reconnaissance patrols?” Jeff asked.
Colonel Wood gave him an exasperated look. “Don’t play stupid, Jeff. This is hardly ‘routine.’ We’re on the edge of a civil war, in case you hadn’t noticed. I wanted to see how things stood for myself. I’m flying down to Prague as soon as we’re done here to meet with Mike.”
“Let’s get inside,” said Higgins. He gestured toward the airfield’s administration building. It was a small two story edifice that officially served as:
The field’s weather station — with no equipment beyond a mercury thermometer and a crude barometer.
Its control tower — with nothing to control; Wood’s plane was the first one to ever land here.
Its radio tower — with no radio capable of reaching Dresden or Prague except under perfect conditions.
Its only real function so far, a place to get out of the cold and warm up over a pot of tea. There was quite a comfortable lounge on the bottom floor.
“Would you like me to have your plane rolled into the hangar, Colonel?” Thorsten gestured at a small ground crew standing in the hangar’s wide doorway.
Jesse shook his head. “I won’t be here that long. I need to get to Prague before nightfall, while the weather holds up.”
“…burning everything north of the river, so far as I could see,” Jesse concluded. He drained his tea cup and set it down on the side table next to his chair. Then, gave Higgins a look that somehow managed to combine respect and derision.
“Don’t know as I’d want to be sleeping in the same bed with your wife, Jeff. You’re so much crispy bacon if she ever gets really pissed at you.”
Jeff grinned. “Just call her Gasoline Gretchen — except she wouldn’t waste the gasoline. She knows how to use an ax. Give her husband forty whacks and then turn the bed into kindling.”
He seemed quite unperturbed by the peril.
Jesse studied him for a moment, and then looked toward the corner where the radio was perched on a bench. “Will it reach Dresden or Prague?”
“Only sometimes, and unpredictably. We’re nestled in the mountains here.” Thorsten glanced at Jeff. When he saw that his commanding officer’s posture didn’t seem to indicate any reservation about the air force colonel, he added: “But we have other ways to stay in regular touch with the people in the city.”
“Midnight derring-do, eh? Ninjas slipping through the walls in the dead of night.” Wood flicked his fingers, as if brushing something away. “None of my business.”
Thorsten had no idea what a “ninja” was. A superb spy of some kind, he presumed.
In point of fact, although they did maintain a small cadre of military couriers who could make the journey overland to Dresden very quickly, their normal method of staying in touch with Gretchen and her people was simply to use a courier from one of the private postal services. Such men were excellent riders and quite discreet.
They couldn’t be bribed or tortured successfully either, since the messages were apparently innocuous. In fact, by and large they were innocuous, just the communications of a husband and his wife. If and when they needed to say something else, Jeff had sent her a one-time pad. The cipher had been designed by David Bartley. It turned out the youthful financier had been fascinated with cryptography since boyhood.
“What do you plan to do, Jesse?” Jeff asked abruptly. “If — oh, let’s cut the bullshit — when the civil war breaks out.”
The air force commander’s eyes moved to the window. Not looking at anything in particular, just keeping an eye on the weather.
“To be honest, I’m not sure. Admiral Simpson thinks we should both stay neutral. Mind you, that would include refusing to obey any orders — even ones from the prime minister — that would get us involved. So I guess we could still be accused of mutiny.”
“Neither Wettin nor Oxenstierna is that stupid,” said Jeff. “They’re acting as if they were right now, but they’re not. They know perfectly well the most they can hope for from the USE navy and air force — not to mention the USE army — is to stay neutral. They’ll be using nothing but Swedish mercenary troops and whatever they can get from the provincial armies.”
“Have to be careful about that last, too,” said Thorsten. “Or the SoTF will throw its army into the fight, and it’s probably stronger than any of the provincial forces except possibly Hesse-Kassel’s.”
“No, it won’t,” said Jesse. “I’ve talked to Ed Piazza about it, not more than a week ago. He’s expecting the Bavarians to attack the Oberpfalz if — when — the civil war starts. It’s got no protection left except Engels’ regiment, since Oxenstierna ordered Banér to march his troops into Saxony. If they do, he doesn’t see where he has any choice but to commit the SoTF army against them.”