1624: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 19:



            Achterhof snorted. “Don’t be stupid. Of course we did. The minute Eric told me you were moping around—that was halfway through the morning—I told him to get you down here this afternoon and I’d recruit you into the army. Both of you. That’ll solve all your practical problems at one stroke—and you can stop feeling like a worthless parasite feeding on your nation like a louse.”


            “I wasn’t feeling like a worthless parasite,” Thorsten said stiffly.


            Gunther’s eyes widened, almost histrionically. “You weren’t? A man as smart as you?”


            Thorsten was starting to get a little angry, but Eric’s sudden burst of laughter punctured that. His friend had a cheerful outlook on life that was often surprisingly contagious.


            “He’s only smart about things that he’s actually thinking about, Gunther,” Krenz said, “and he concentrates his attention to the point of being oblivious about everything else. That can make him as stupid as a mule about something he hasn’t really thought about.”


            He took a swallow of beer, then raised the half-empty mug in a saluting gesture. As if he were making an unspoken toast. “Like the war.”


            A bit defensively, now, Thorsten said: “Keeping the factory going was part of that.”


            Achterhof nodded. “Yes, it was. That’s why nobody from the CoC came by to urge you—pester you, if you prefer—to volunteer. But the factory blew up, and even after they get it rebuilt there’s no job for you there. And while I’ll admit that if you squint real hard, you can claim that digging a sewer ditch is also a contribution to the war effort, it’s pushing it. Not to mention being a complete waste of your skills.”


            Engler made a derisive sound, just blowing air through his lips. “Ha! As opposed to carrying a musket? At least digging a ditch, I don’t have to work shoulder to shoulder with some smelly Saxon like Krenz here.”


            Eric grinned, and so did Gunther. But that expression on Achterhof’s face was predatory now. He might as well have been a fox in human clothing, sitting at a table and drinking beer.


            “Who said anything about carrying a musket?” He issued his own derisive puff of air. “And you can forget that ‘shoulder-to-shoulder nonsense.”


            Eric leaned forward. “They’re forming up new units, Thorsten,” he said eagerly. “’Heavy weapons squads,’ they’re called. Gunther told me he could get us into one of them.”


            Thorsten eyed Achterhof skeptically. Granted, the man was one of the top organizers for the CoC in Magdeburg, and granted also the CoCs had a lot of influence in the new regiments. But one of the things that made those regiments “new” in the first place—even the most ignorant farmboy knew this much—was that recruitment wasn’t based on the same who-you-know methods that were standard for most mercenary regiments. Instead, it was done—depending on who you talked to—in a manner that could be described as “fair” or “nonsensical” or “as stupid as you can imagine.”


            Red tape, after all, was another up-time loan word in Amdeutsch. At least the old-style mercenary recruiters could generally be depended upon to deliver on whatever promises they made. No such thing could be said about recruitment into the new regiments. Thorsten personally knew a man—he’d been working at the plant when Engler first hired on—who’d signed up for the army thinking he’d become a cavalryman because the recruiter had told him his horsemanship skills were useful and would be prized. Instead, he’d wound up in the Marines—spending all day on his feet standing at attention while guarding the Navy Yard, bored half to death. Not even the fancy uniform had consoled him.


            And why? Apparently because some careless clerk had jotted down something wrong in his papers. But try getting it changed, after the fact! In the real world, often enough, we play no favorites was a gleaming phrase whose immediate and tarnished successor was and we don’t pay any attention to what we’re doing, either, followed by the downright sullen no, that’s too much of a bother to fix now that it’s done.


            “It’s true,” Eric insisted.


            Thorsten was still squinting at Achterhof. Gunther smiled, took another drink from his beer, and then shrugged.


            “No, I can’t guarantee anything. But I know General Jackson and he’s an easy man to talk to. More to the point, the Swede Torstensson put Jackson in charge of the new units. And why did he do so? Because the reason they’re called ‘heavy weapon’ squads is because they’ll be using gadgets that only the Americans really understand that well yet. And the Americans—you know this to be true, Thorsten, from your own experience—prize nothing so much as a down-timer who seems to have an aptitude for mechanical things.”


            He pointed at Eric with his beer stein. “That’s him. And they also prize down-timers who seem to know how to manage men with mechanical skills. Which is you.”


            Another flashing image of Stiteler came. And went, thank God, faster than most.


            “Oh, yes,” Thorsten said gloomily. “I can just imagine how enthusiastic your Jackson fellow will be, when you tell him—make sure to smile as wide as you can, Gunther—that—o happy occasion!—the foreman who managed to oversee several men getting killed and the whole coal gas plant getting destroyed is now available to be a sergeant—that’s the rank they use, am I correct?—in his new units.”


            Eric grimaced. But Gunther’s smile actually widened.


            “It’ll be the easiest thing in the world, Thorsten,” he said. “After I tell the General that Quentin Underwood owned the factory—which he knows already—and that he blamed you because he didn’t take the time and spend the money to have you trained properly. Jackson will have you sworn in ten minutes later.”


            Engler squinted at him. “Why?”


            “Ha! You don’t know anything about Frank Jackson, do you? Well, he wasn’t a general up-time, I can tell you that. He—and the Prince himself, you know—were both coal miners. Leaders of their union. And Quentin Underwood was the mine manager. And if you think you have a low opinion of Underwood, ask Jackson about him someday. Make sure you stand back a few paces, though. Your skin will likely blister if you don’t.”