1624: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 14:



Chapter 5



            “This better be goddam necessary, is all I gotta say,” Jesse Wood groused, as he stomped into Mike Stearns’ office, still shedding a little show from his jacket. Catching sight of the three other occupants of the room—he hadn’t been expecting them—he made an attempt to retrieve the military formalities he’d so flamboyantly discarded on the way in.


            A stiff little nod, to the Swedish officer sitting in a chair near the Prime Minister’s desk. “Morning, General Torstensson.” Another one, to the man sitting next to him. “Morning, Admiral.” And a third to the man sitting on the other side of the room. “General Jackson.”


            Mike Stearns looked up from the pile of papers on his desk and grinned. So did Frank Jackson. Torstensson smiled. A bit thinly, but it was still a genuine smile. Admiral Simpson, on the other hand, was all but scowling. From his viewpoint, the top command of the USE’s other armed forces had a terribly slack attitude when it came to military protocol.


            “Well, I think it is, Jesse,” Mike said, waving at an empty chair next to Jackson. “Have a seat. Want some tea?” Stearns rose and reached for the pot on the small table next to his desk.


            “Thanks, I will. It’s damned cold outside in mid-December, especially at eight thousand feet. It’s a good thing the weather cleared or I couldn’t have come at all.” The flyer removed his old nomex and leather gloves, unwrapped the scarf at his neck, and unzipped his leather flying jacket.


            “To be more precise,” said Torstensson, “the Prime Minister believes the matter is necessary. I’ve got my doubts, myself.” Although Torstensson’s English was still heavily-accented, by now he’d not only become fluent in the language—he’d been almost fluent, anyway, when the Americans had first met him as the commander of Gustav Adolf’s artillery—but was even becoming adept at American idiom. “I believe it’s fair to say that Admiral Simpson thinks he’s completely off his rocker.”


            Simpson scowled again. “I certainly wouldn’t put it that way, to the Prime Minister. But, yes, I think his proposal is unwise.”


            Stearns handed Wood a steaming mug. “Sorry about hauling you up here on such short notice. You want something to eat?”


            After taking a seat, Jesse shook his head. “It’ll wait. Besides, that behemoth out there you call a secretary doesn’t look like he’s the type to cook. Where’d you get him, anyway?”


            Stearns put down the teapot and leaned back into his seat. “David? Well, believe it or not, he’s a professor at the University of Jena. Or was, until he volunteered for government service. He taught rhetoric and languages. Speaks about six, near as I can tell. A very handy man.”


            “I don’t doubt it,” Jesse said. “Rhetoric, eh? He didn’t get those scars declining verbs, though, did he?”


            Torstensson chuckled. “He wasn’t always a scholar, and today he’s also one of Achterhof’s people. I don’t object, mind you, even if Axel would be aghast to learn that most of the USE Prime Minister’s personal staff was made up of hardcore CoC members.” That was a reference to Axel Oxensterna, the Chancellor of Sweden, who was still fully committed to the general principles of aristocratic rule. “But—”


            The Swedish general who was the top commander of the USE’s army shrugged heavily. “Since one of our Prime Minister’s many foolish whims is a distaste for having a proper military escort, I figure it’s just as well to have him surrounded by people like Achterhof and Zimmerman. Any Habsburg assassin trying to get past Achterhof will need mastiffs—and to get past Zimmerman, they’ll need climbing gear.”


            Jesse hadn’t noticed Gunther Achterhof, on his way into Government House. But as one of the central organizers of the CoC for all of Magdeburg, Achterhof often had other things besides Mike Stearns’ security to keep him busy. It didn’t matter. Jesse hadn’t spotted Achterhof himself, but he had spotted at least three other CoC members keeping an eye on the building.


            He was inclined to share Torstensson’s view on the matter. The special CoC unit that Achterhof had assigned to guard Stearns—as well as Admiral and Mrs. Simpson, and Frank and Diane Jackson—might lack the formal training of the up-time Secret Service, when it came to guarding dignitaries and heads of state. Not to mention lacking fancy communication gear. But Jesse thought they probably made up for it by their instant readiness to engage in what up-time spin doctors and public relations flacks might have labeled “pro-active security.”


            The CoC didn’t exactly have an iron grip on Magdeburg. Not when Torstensson had over fifteen thousand men in army camps just outside the city, and the CoC was maintaining good relations with him. But there wasn’t much that happened in the city that they didn’t find out about very quickly. Jesse had heard the rumor—never officially confirmed—that a presumed enemy assassination team had found themselves at the bottom of the Elbe less than two days after they got into the city. With weights around their ankles to keep them there, assuming the slit throats weren’t enough.


            “Presumed,” because Achterhof’s men had never seen any need for something as fussy and officious as pressing formal charges and holding an actual trial.


            By now, Jesse was intrigued. For all the jests about Mike Stearns’ recklessness, it was actually rather unusual for both Torstensson and Simpson to be this strongly opposed to something he wanted to do. Which meant this was going to be a real doozy.


            “So what’s on your mind, Mr. President?”


            “It’s ‘Prime Minister,’” Simpson corrected him stiffly.


            “Yeah, sorry. I forget. Whatever. What do you want, boss?”


            Mike looked him right in the eye. “I want you to fly me into Luebeck, if it’s at all possible.”


            Jesse thought about it. Not for long, however, because he’d already given the matter quite a bit of thought. Not from the standpoint of being able to fly Stearns into Luebeck, admittedly. Jesse’s concern had been whether he could fly Gustav Adolf out, in case the Ostender siege of the city looked to be succeeding. But the technical problems involved were much the same, either way.


            “Yeah, I can—provided Gustav Adolf is willing to co-operate. There’s no way to land inside Luebeck itself, you understand? But if the emperor can keep a big enough field clear of enemy troops just outside the walls, we can manage it.”


            “That much is not a problem,” said Torstensson. “Here, I will show you.”


            He pulled out a map from a satchel by the legs of his chair and spread it over Mike’s desk, after Mike had cleared some room. Torstensson pointed to an area just outside the walls of the city and across the moat that guarded Luebeck on the east. There were field fortifications shown there, that provided something of a sheltered area because of a large bastion shown on the southern side of the field. It would be an earthen bastion, nothing fancier, but it would be enough to protect the field from the Danish troops who’d crossed the Trave south of the city.