1624: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 17:



Chapter 6



            After the waitress brought them steins of beer, Eric Krenz started drinking right away. But Thorsten Engler just stared at his stein for half a minute before, almost desultorily, beginning to sip from it. After setting down the stein, his eyes wandered about the tavern for another half minute. Seeing, but not really thinking about what he saw. No matter what he looked at, the image that kept flashing back into his mind was that of Robert Stiteler having the life swatted out of him as if he’d been nothing but an insect. He’d had a nightmare about it the night before, too.


            Eric’s voice startled him. “If you can’t get it out of your head, you should go see those American women. The ones I told you about. The ‘social workers,’ they call them.”


            Engler stared at him, for a moment, trying to bring his mind to bear on what his friend was saying.


            “What are ‘social workers?’” he asked.


            Eric shrugged and drained some more of his beer. “I’m not sure, really. I think—”


            A voice coming over Thorsten’s shoulder interrupted him. “They’re a variety of what the up-timers call ‘psychologists.’ Except real psychologists—so I’m told, anyway, I don’t think the Americans actually have any here—only handle customers one at a time and they charge a small fortune for it. These ‘social workers’ are apparently the type that get assigned to the unwashed masses.”


            Grinning in his vulpine sort of way, Gunther Achterhof pulled out a chair and sat down at the table. “Like you and me,” he finished.


            He leaned back in his chair, turned half around, and waggled a hand at a nearby waitress. When she came over, he ordered a beer for himself. Then he turned back to look at Thorsten. “And I agree with Eric. Especially if you find you’re having regular nightmares about it.”


            Thorsten winced a little.


            “Thought so,” Gunther said, nodding. “They have a name for it, even. They call it PTSD. The letters stand for ‘post-traumatic shock disorder.’”


            He used the actual English terms rather than trying to translate. Engler and Krenz had been in Magdeburg long enough to have a good grasp of the peculiar new German dialect that was emerging in the city—as it was in Grantville and many other towns in the USE. People were starting to call the dialect “Amdeutsch.” It was a blend of Hochdeutsch and Plattdeutsch, essentially, but with a large number of American loan words and a more stripped down grammar than that of most German dialects. The new dialect had adopted the simplified English system of verb conjugations, for instance. Newcomers to Amdeutsch found it a bit peculiar to say ich denk instead of ich denke, but they soon got used to it.


            Although Engler and Krenz didn’t have any difficulty with the fact that the terms were English, they still didn’t really understand what they meant. So Achterhof spent a minute or so clarifying the matter.


            As best he could, anyway.


            “Stupid, you ask me,” was Krenz’s conclusion. “So bad things that happen to you are upsetting. What else is new? For this we need fancy up-time words?”


            Achterhof shook his head. “For you, Eric, it’s maybe that simple. Crude and coarse blockhead that you are. But for sensitive and poetic types like me and Thorsten, things are different. It’s more complicated than you think.”


            Krenz snorted in his beer. “You! ‘Poetic’!”


            But Engler found himself wondering. “These ‘social workers.’ Have you been to see them?”


            Achterhof nodded. “The Prince himself suggested I go to them, when I told him once about the nightmares. So I did. They were quite helpful. I still have the nightmares, but not as bad and not as often. And there are… other things, that are not so bad.”


            He didn’t seem inclined to elaborate, and Achterhof was not a man whom one would lightly press on such a matter. Engler knew enough of his personal history to know that he’d had plenty of things to have nightmares about. Quite a bit more than Thorsten himself, for certain. A terrible accident was one thing. What Achterhof had lived through…


            A little shudder went through Thorsten’s shoulders.


            “How much do they charge?” he asked. “I can’t afford much, now. I got fired this morning. Because of the accident.”


            “Assholes,” said Krenz. “It wasn’t Thorsten’s fault.”


            Gunther shrugged. “No, it wasn’t. But the coal gas plant was owned by Underwood and Hartmann. The biggest American prick in partnership with the biggest German prick. What do you expect? ‘Shit rolls downhill,’ as the up-timers say—and any company owned by Underwood and Hartmann might as well have that for its official motto.”


            He took a long pull on his beer. “They probably would have fired you too, Eric—every man working the shift—except the rest of you were in the union.” He tipped the stein in Thorsten’s direction. “Engler wasn’t, since he was officially part of management.”


            Eric shook his head. “I still say that’s silly. In the guilds—”


            “Fuck the guilds,” said Gunther harshly. “Yes, I know. In the guilds, a foreman like Engler would have been a member. Which is one of the many things wrong with the guilds. It’s the guildmasters and top journeymen who run them, and fuck everybody else. The American union system is better for the common man. Much better—even if, now and then, somebody shitty happens like this. Just the way it is.”


            Engler agreed with Achterhof, actually. Krenz came from a family of long-established gunsmiths. Even though he’d joined the Committee of Correspondence soon after he arrived in Magdeburg, in some ways he still had the attitudes of a town guildsman. Thorsten’s family, on the other hand, had been farmers from a small village. Prosperous enough ones, until the war ruined them and forced the survivors into the towns—where they got no help or friendship from the haughty guilds.


            “Yeah, fuck the guilds,” he murmured. “I understand the situation, Gunther, but it still leaves me in a bad place. I’ve got enough money saved to get me through for maybe a month. After that…”


            He shrugged. “There’s always plenty of work here. But it won’t pay very well. Unlike Eric, I don’t really have any skills. I was lucky to get that foreman job.”