1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 50
“Like I said! Hundreds of miles. Then –” Little finger, triumphantly raised above her head. “I’ve got to get on a fucking boat and sail all the way down from Hamburg to the North Sea and all the way around half of Europe — okay, fine, a third of Europe — to get to Amsterdam.”
She lowered her hand. “And all this for what? Buying or leasing a fucking blimp about which I know absolutely squat. That’s why you’re sending Heinz and Bonnie. They know what to look for and what to look out for. About all I know about stupid fucking blimps is that they’re big, they’re clumsy, and they fly. Sort of.”
Not for the first time since they’d gotten married, Tom was grateful that he’d been blessed with a phlegmatic temperament. Rita had not been so blessed. She was extremely affectionate, generally easy-going, and in most respects a delight to be around. But when she got agitated — as her brother Mike had once put it — her hills rose high and her hollers sank low. And she hollered a lot, with a liberal use of the Old Tongue.
It was no use pointing out that by now Rita actually had a lot of experience with dirigibles — more than enough to know perfectly well that they weren’t looking for “blimps.” It was true that Heinz Böcler and Bonnie Weaver knew more than she did, especially about some of the mechanical issues involved. And while none of the three had any experience with hydrogen-filled balloons, both Heinz and Bonnie had studied up on the subject while Rita had pointedly refused to do so.
All that was beside the point — and Rita knew it perfectly well. She’d spent a whole year locked up in the Tower of London because of what she herself sometimes called the Early Modern Era Realities of Fucking Life.
“Nobody is going to sell or lease a brand new hydrogen-lift airship to a pastor’s son and an up-timer with uncertain credentials,” he said. “Not unless they plunked down enough gold or silver to cover the entire cost, which we don’t have. That means we’ll have to use credit, which they don’t have and you do.”
“Are you fucking kidding? I don’t have any income worth talking about and you get paid what that cheapskate emperor scrapes up now and then.”
Actually, by seventeenth century standards the army of the USE paid its officers and enlisted men reasonable wages and paid them reasonably on time. Granted, “by seventeenth century standards” was a bit like saying that by alley cat standards the garbage can behind June’s Diner held gourmet food.
Tom shook his head. “That’s got nothing to do with anything and you know it as well as I do. What matters here is that” — he started counting off his own fingers, also starting with his thumb — “First, you’re Mike Stearns’ sister. Second, you’re Admiral Simpson’s daughter-in-law. Third –”
“Fuck all that! I don’t care!”
He left off finger-counting in order to run said fingers through his hair. “Yeah, but King Fernando will care, and Queen Maria Anna will care, and Archduchess Isabella will care, and while whatever Dutch financier you wind up having to deal with might not care he will care that the Royal Trio care. Half of being a successful businessman in the here and now is staying on good terms with Their Majesticities.”
Rita glared at him. But she didn’t say anything and she’d stopped cussing, so he figured they were making progress.
“I don’t know what to wear,” Bonnie Weaver said. Whined, rather. She had her hands planted on her hips and was studying the contents hanging in her closet. Which had seemed adequate enough, the day before, but now seemed like a pauper’s hand-me-downs.
A royal audience, for Pete’s sake. What do you wear to a royal audience? More to the point, how do you get around the fact that you obviously don’t have anything suitable for the purpose?
Johann Böcler looked up from packing his own valise, which he had spread open on the bed. As was often true of the man, he had a frown on his face. If anyone in the world had a temperament that was the exact and diametrical opposite of Alfred E. Neuman’s, it was Johann Böcler. The man could and did worry about everything.
That could have driven Bonnie nuts except that Heinz, unlike most worrywarts, never took it out on the people around him. And he didn’t worry about anything that didn’t have a clear and practical focus — as the very bed his valise was on demonstrated.
Bonnie and Heinz had started sharing that bed as soon as she accepted his betrothal. From the standpoint of seventeenth century German custom, that settled the issues of moral propriety. Whether or not Heinz’s Lutheran deity took the same relaxed and practical attitude toward the matter was unknown, and would presumably remain so until Johann Heinrich Böcler became one with eternity. But that problem was neither practical nor focused so he didn’t worry about it.
So, very pleasant and often delightful nights she’d been having, lately.
“What are you concerning yourself about?” he asked. “All you need — all we need — for the moment is clothing for travel.”
“But… When we get to Amsterdam — Brussels is what I’m actually more worried about — it’s a royal court, Heinz! — then what am I going to wear?”
He squinted at her, as if he were studying a puzzle. “Why are you worrying about that now? When we get to Amsterdam, we’ll buy whatever we need for Amsterdam. When we get to Brussels, the same.”
She transferred her exasperated hands-planted-on-hips glower onto Heinz. “And with what money, pray tell?”
He shook his head. “What does prayer have to do with it? The Lord does not provide such things. But our employers will.”
He dug into the valise and came up with a thick envelope. “In here, I have letters of recommendation from David Bartley, Michael Stearns, Jeffrey Higgins — there’s even one from President Piazza, although it’s just in the form of a telegram. But that should be good enough.”
“Letters of recommendation are one thing. Hard cash is another.”
The squint deepened. A puzzle, indeed. “No one at this level pays for anything with cash, Bonnie. If you tried, in fact, you’d be immediately suspect.”
She stared at him for a moment. Then, pursed her lips. “Do you mean to tell me that I’ve entered a world where if you have to ask what something costs you can’t afford it anyway?”
“I have no idea what that means. And it doesn’t seem to make sense in the first place. If you have to ask what something costs then you are being careless because you should have found out before you asked.” He dug into the valise again and came up with a much, much thicker envelope. “In here I have all the specifications we need to acquire a suitable airship for a suitable price. I don’t expect to ask anything except the projected date of delivery.”
He could take practicality to extremes, sometimes.
As Jozef rolled up the antenna he’d run out of their window earlier that night, Lukasz read the message.
Again. He wasn’t really “reading” it any longer, he was just gloating over it.
“To Dresden! A city I’ve always wanted to visit!”
Grand Hetman Koniecpolski must have had his radioman right by him, because he’d given them a response within half an hour.
Lukasz to stay with you. Go back to Dresden. Children will be safe there. Report again when possible.
“And sieges are so boring. You have no idea, Jozef.”
“I’ve been through a siege, thank you. In Dresden, as it happens. I wasn’t bored at all. I was terrified the whole time.”
Lukasz looked up from the radio message in his hand. His lip was already curling into a proper szlachta sneer of disdain.
“Of that Swedish oaf Báner?”
Jozef finished rolling up the antenna. He went to hide it away in his saddlebag, being careful not to wake the two children cuddled together on a cot in the corner.
“Oh, I wasn’t concerned about Báner,” he said. “I was worried about Gretchen Richter.”
“Pfah!” Lukasz’s lip curled still more. “A woman!”
Now finished with the saddlebag, Jozef came back across the room and gazed down upon his friend.
Jozef had spent a lot of time in Grantville, much of it watching the “movies” the Americans had brought across time and space. He liked most of them and adored some.
“Be afraid, Opalinski,” he said darkly. “Be very afraid.”