1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 01
1636: The Atlantic Encounter
Eric Flint & Walter H. Hunt
Bamberg, capital of the State of Thuringia-Franconia
United States of Europe
“Come in,” Ed Piazza said, in response to a knock on his office door. His secretary stuck her head into the room.
“Leopold Cavriani is here, Mr. President,” she said.
“Send him in, please.” Ed pushed aside the papers he’d been looking at, opened one of the desk’s drawers and pulled out a file folder. Then, with a peculiar expression on his face — part interest, part exasperation — he handed it to Estuban Miro.
The new chief of intelligence for the president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia half rose from his chair across the desk to accept the folder. It was rather on the thick side. “What’s this?” he asked.
“One of the more — ah, adventurous — projects left to us by our departed former prime minister.”
Miro raised an eyebrow and resumed his seat. Given that the former official in question, Mike Stearns, was not known to be risk-averse — to put it mildly — this promised to be interesting.
A man was ushered into the room. Estuban recognized him, although they’d never spoken to one another at any length. He was Leopold Cavriani, a close associate of Piazza and the person generally considered in charge of the far-flung and extended Cavriani family’s commercial enterprises.
The association in question was a rather gray and shadowy business. Piazza used Cavriani as an informal go-between and facilitator as well as a confidant.
The president waited until Cavriani had taken a seat before proceeding. “You can find all the details in the folder, Estuban. For the moment, let me summarize the matter.” He leaned back in his chair. “A little over a year ago, we were approached by a Dutchman named Jan van der Glinde.”
Miro cocked his side slightly. “We…meaning…?”
“Not me, initially. I only found out about this when Mike Stearns handed the matter over to me along with” — again, his expression indicated interest and, this time, more than a little exasperation — “about eight jillion others.”
Miro nodded his understanding. The United States of Europe had a parliamentary system; under it, the opposition party formed a shadow cabinet when it was out of power, so that it would be ready to take charge of government should political fortunes turn in its favor. In this instance, though, there was a peculiar twist. The man who would normally be the recognized head of the opposition, Mike Stearns, was now a general in Gustav Adolf’s forces fighting in Poland. Given that it was impractical for him to play any direct role in the affairs of the Fourth of July Party, leadership of the opposition had fallen partly to Stearns’ wife Rebecca and partly to Ed Piazza.
The division of labor between the two was subtle and complex — and on Piazza’s part, sometimes of questionable legality. Being the chief executive of the USE’s most populous and wealthiest state, Piazza was in position to form what amounted to a shadow government, not simply a shadow cabinet.
Ed Piazza, a high school principal in his former life, was somewhat uncomfortable in that role. Certainly much more so than Mike Stearns would have been. But he’d taken it on nonetheless, because the policies and political tactics being followed by those currently in charge of the USE, especially the Swedish chancellor Oxenstierna, were of dubious legality themselves. The new nation was coming perilously close to open civil war.
Piazza cleared his throat and continued. “Van der Glinde initially approached Francisco Nasi, who passed the matter on to Mike.” Nasi had been Stearns’ chief of intelligence. For all intents and purposes, Estuban Miro had succeeded to his position — except that he reported to Piazza instead of Stearns.
“Van der Glinde came here from New Amsterdam – what up-time, in a different world, would become New York City. He claimed to represent the colonial authorities. It’s hard to judge the truth of it, but Nasi did a little digging and discovered that this guy was also serving as an intermediary for Kiliaen van Rensselaer.”
For the first time since he’d entered, Cavriani spoke up. “Rensselaer is the greatest patroon of the Dutch colony, though he resides in Amsterdam. He’s involved in a number of New World projects. Some have worked out; some…” he made a gesture as if to say, you pay your money and you take your chances.
That was enough to jog Miro’s memory. “His wealth derives from the jewel and precious metal trade, as I recall.”
“That’s right,” said Piazza.
Estuban’s mind was moving ahead. “So he wanted assistance from the USE to fend off the French. King Charles’ cession of all English rights to the New World didn’t theoretically affect Dutch holdings, but…” He shrugged. “If Richelieu establishes French dominance in North America, the Dutch holdings will fall sooner or later.”
“Right again. Nasi said that Van der Glinde was very dramatic about it. ‘Save our neck from the French wolf,’ the Dutchman told him. Of course, there wasn’t much we could do at the time.
“But given that hostilities with France had still not officially ended, Mike decided it would be worth sending an expedition across the Atlantic to see what trouble they might be able to stir up for the French.”
“What sort of expedition?”
“Nothing overtly military. Even if it was a good idea — and I’m pretty sure that no one thought it would be — we don’t have the forces for such a purpose anyway. Mike told Francisco to see about sending a single ship.
“With radio capability, we could at least stay informed of what the French were up to over there. In the end, we put an up-timer named Gordon Chehab in charge. Francisco decided that having a small dirigible aboard would give the expedition some mobility, so he chose Chehab, who had experience piloting balloons.”
Estuban nodded. “As it happens, I know Chehab. I knew he was considering building an airship — a dirigible, not a balloon, precisely. I assumed that he planned to go into competition with my own ships.” He made a small approving noise, too soft to be a grunt. “It seems his security is good.”
Piazza now swiveled in his chair to regard Cavriani. “And that explains your presence. Since we’re now at peace with France, we can hardly send an expedition with the overt intent of causing them political trouble.”
Cavriani smiled, almost seraphically. “Yes. ‘Trade missions’ are handy things, aren’t they?”
Piazza spoke. “I asked Leopold to do us the favor instead of one of the Abrabanels because he’s a little further under the radar and he has no obvious and direct ties to the USE. Given the change in political circumstances, Chehab’s expedition will be under the auspices of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. You’ll serve as our liaison, Estuban.”
“I take it Prime Minister Wettin has no knowledge of the affair.”
Piazza smiled. “Not unless Mike told him as part of his briefing when he left office. And if I know Mike — which I do — he would have seen no reason to do so.” Piously, he added, “There’s never been anything official about the whole business, you understand.”
“Naturally not.” Estuban had no objection to official piety, when the circumstances warranted it. “A Dutch patroon, purely in his capacity as a private citizen, made inquiries through the intermediary of another private person, which in the end led to no official action. Chehab’s expedition is itself a private enterprise, under the auspices” — here he nodded at Cavriani — “of yet another private citizen. Not that the cardinal won’t see through that, of course.”
“Of course,” Piazza agreed.
“Our sole interest,” Estuban continued, “is in the possible commercial benefits which might accrue to the State of Thuringia-Franconia, as well as, of course” — his own tone got noticeably pious — “the well-being of citizens of the province, engaged in lawful business.”
The room fell silent for a moment. Then Piazza cleared his throat and said: “And don’t bother telling me the whole damn thing is probably a wild goose chase. I know that. Leopold knows that. Nasi knew it too. Hell, Mike just about said as much.”
There was another brief silence. “Then why did he authorize — no, let’s say, set the thing in motion?” Miro asked.
Piazza chuckled. “He said, ‘What the hell, now and then a wild goose gets caught, doesn’t it?’ Though it might get kinda rough on Gordon Chehab.”