1624: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 18:



            “Luck, bullshit,” said Krenz. He used the English term. No American loan words except purely technical ones were adopted wholesale the way their delightful profanity was. “You were a good foreman, Thorsten. That’s why they promoted you in the first place. They’re shitheads, but they’re not stupid.”


            Achterhof drained his stein and called for another one. “Eric’s right, Thorsten,” he said, after she left. “I asked around. All the men thought well of you. Being a foreman is a skill too, you know.”


            “Sure is,” agreed Krenz. “I know. I’ve had plenty of bad ones. Either they didn’t know the work or they were afraid to make a decision—usually both—or they knew what they were doing but were rude and unpleasant bastards to work for. It’s not that common to find a foreman who doesn’t have either vice.”


            Engler made a face. “I didn’t really know what I was doing.”


            A sudden flashing image of Stiteler came, and he paused while he desperately tried to fend it off. It was the same image as most of them. There’d been a moment there, after Robert had been slammed into a stanchion, when his body seemed to be glued in place by the force of the blow. His face had been untouched, but the back of his head had been completely crushed. Eyes still open but empty, the man already dead, with blood and bits of his skull and pieces of his brain starting to ooze down the metal column.


            Thorsten closed his eyes and shook his head. That seemed to help, sometimes.


            When he opened his eyes, he saw Achterhof gazing at him. Sympathetically—and knowingly.


            “Go talk to the up-time women, Thorsten,” the CoC organizer said softly. “If you can’t pay right away, they’ll make arrangements.”


            Engler took a slow, deep breath. “All right, I will. Where is their business?”


             “It’s actually a government enterprise. Part of what they call the ‘Department of Social Services.’” The waitress arrived with Achterhof’s beer, and he paused long enough to pay her. Then, with the stein, gestured in the direction of Government House. “They’re in the corner next to the river, on the third floor. Just ask for the social workers.”


            Thorsten nodded, drained what was left of his own stein, and then contemplated the empty vessel. More to the point, contemplated whether he could afford to order another. The very fact that he even had to think about whether he could do so drove home to him just how quickly his financial situation would become desperate.


            Well… “desperate,” in a sense. Finding a job that would pay enough to keep him fed and sheltered and even reasonably clothed wasn’t the issue. Magdeburg was what the Americans called a “boom town.” If he started looking early the next morning, Thorsten could have a new job by the end of the day. Maybe even by noon. But it would be unskilled labor, almost for sure.


            The problem wasn’t even the work itself, as hard as it would most likely be. Thorsten was not lazy and, though he was no taller than the average man, was stocky and very strong for his size. In particular, like most people raised to farm work, he had a lot of endurance.


            It was the boredom that would slowly—no, not so slowly, not any more—drive him half-mad. Now that Thorsten had had the experience of a job that was interesting and challenging, the idea of going back to spending all day wielding a pick or a shovel was far more distasteful than it would have been a few months earlier. He’d been spoiled, really.


            “I’ll have to make arrangements,” he said, almost sighing the words. “Even though I hate being in debt.”


            He noticed, suddenly, that Achterhof’s earlier sympathetic expression had been replaced by something else. There was now a look on his face that wasn’t exactly what you could call “predatory.” But it reminded him of the way hunting dogs fixed their gaze on something that might be prey.


            “Join the army,” Gunther said. He nodded toward Krenz. “Like he’s going to.”


            Surprised, Engler looked at Eric. Krenz shrugged, smiling perhaps a bit ruefully. “Hey, look, Thorsten. They didn’t fire me, true enough. But there’s not going to be any work for me there until they rebuild the whole factory. Which will take months—and Underwood and Hartmann are not the old-style type of masters who’ll pay a man when he’s not actually working.”


            The young repairman looked a bit uncomfortable, for a moment. “Besides. I’d been thinking about it anyway. It’s also a matter of patriotic duty.”


            Patriotic. That was another up-time loan word in Amdeutsch. The notions involved in the term weren’t completely foreign, not by any means. Any German who had citizenship rights in a town—which many didn’t, of course—understood perfectly well that the rights also carried obligations. Including the obligation to serve in the militia when and if the town was threatened. But the Americans gave a sweeping connotation to the notion that was quite different from the traditional one. Almost mystical, in a way. As if such a nebulous thing as a “nation” was as real as an actual town or village, and could make the same claims on its citizens.


            Now suspicious, Thorsten looked back and forth between Eric and Gunther. “You set this up,” he accused. “The two of you.”