1624: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 21:



Chapter 7





            Two hours later that same morning, Jesse Wood and Mike Stearns were at eight thousand feet, flying toward Wismar. The air was cold and clear, albeit choppy and turbulent. Jesse noted the course as best he could on the bouncing compass, confirmed it with familiar ground references, and put in a large chunk of drift correction. The wintry earth below appeared lifeless, blotched with large white patches of snow-covered fields and some dark woods here and there. The aircraft bucked, pitched, and shuddered in the uneven bottom edge of the low winter jet stream. Jesse looked at an obviously uncomfortable Mike Stearns in the right seat and chuckled.


            Stearns shot him a look. “Something funny?”


            Jesse realized that Stearns had misunderstood his attitude and held up a placating palm.


            “No, well, yeah, a little. Do you remember last summer when that group wanted us to concentrate on ultralights? ‘They’re cheaper, they burn less fuel, they’re easier to fly.’ All that horsepucky? Well, every time I get up here where it’s a little bumpy or cloudy, I remember how Hal Smith stood up in front of the resource board and said, ‘I build aircraft, not toys.’ He reminded me of that German engineer in that old movie, Flight of the Phoenix.” Jesse grinned.


            Stearns mustered a small smile of his own. “I remember. You don’t look much like Jimmy Stewart, though.”


            Wood was about to reply when a stiff gust swatted the aircraft, forcing him to take a moment, wrestling the aircraft roughly back on course.


            “Well, anyway, don’t worry about this bird. She flies just fine.” He passed Stearns a thermos full of tea. “Here, warm up a bit. But take it easy, we’ve got maybe three hours to go with this headwind. We’re lucky Hal figured out a way to get a little heat in this version of the Belle. It’s probably twenty below out there.”


            Stearns took the thermos and nodded his thanks. Jesse let him alone and concentrated on flying. The cold and the constant juddering of the aircraft discouraged talk as they flew over the seventeenth century landscape.




            When they finally reached Wismar, Jesse flew low over the town, which looked almost deserted on this cold December day, save for the curls of smoke from nearly every chimney. The few townsfolk in the streets looked up at the sound of the aircraft and watched it for a bit, but there was none of the gawking little crowds there would have been just a few weeks earlier. Jesse reflected again on how quickly the people of this time became used to the wondrous American machines. He turned towards the airfield as Stearns took in the sights.


            Jesse flew over Richter Field, checking the wind and surveying the light snow covering on the grass. He noted many improvements made since his last visit, over a month ago. No need for a tower, as yet, but already there was a shed big enough for two aircraft and the shack that had been the sole building in October had been replaced by a big, solid-looking structure with new plank walls. He reckoned that another low building, surrounded by a berm near the field, must be the armory cum fuel storage. The new construction showed the importance placed on this small spot of turf near the frigid Baltic.


            As he took in the scene, it was as if Stearns read his mind.


            “Shame it takes a war to get things done quickly, eh, Jesse?”


            Jesse glanced over at his passenger and nodded. Looking down again, he noticed two figures, hands jammed in coat pockets, standing next to the wind sock, faces turned upward. He hooked a thumb towards his window.


            “It’s also those boys down there. Nothing very important gets done without the ‘Sons of Martha.’”


            After he spoke, Jesse realized that Mike might not understand the reference. The man had had something of a haphazard education, with just three years of college. But you never knew. He also read extensively and had a wife who was a genuine intellectual.


            So, Jesse wasn’t really surprised by Mike’s nodding reply. “Yeah. Kipling knew a thing or two, didn’t he?”


            “Yes, he did. Or will. Or something.”


            Jesse checked the windsock again and turned downwind for landing.


            “Might as well get this beast on the ground.”




            Later that afternoon, two aircraft moved through the North German sky at five thousand feet, headed toward Luebeck. “Snarled through the sky,” Jesse often thought of it. There was that one advantage to propeller aircraft compared to the jets that he’d mostly flown up-time. Damnation, they sounded like warplanes.


            Jesse flew as wingman, in a rather loose formation off Lieutenant Woodsill’s left wing. He’d decided to let Woody lead, since he knew the way. In any case, he realized that Woody and his copilot, Ernst Weissenbach had not had any recent formation practice.


            Best keep ‘em where I can see ‘em, Jesse thought.


            Otherwise, he had absolutely no complaints about the two young officers. Having left them in charge of the airfield at Wismar and with the original Belle, once a third had been built, the two young pilots had performed superbly. They’d made good use of the shipments of fuel and rockets sent to them overland. According to accounts from Luebeck, their observation and harassment of the Danish army besieging the city had been instrumental in holding off several assaults.


            As a result, Colonel Wood had listened carefully to Woodsill as the lieutenant had described what they could expect around Luebeck. Though the Danes had crossed the river and nearly cut off the city, they had not yet gotten any artillery across, apparently content, for the time being, to keep all of their field pieces on the west side of the river. That would probably change, especially if the rivers froze solid, but it meant that, for now, the area near the city’s eastern walls was reasonably unmolested. Unless very unlucky, they could probably land fairly close and reach safety under the city guns before the Danish pickets could even give warning.




            “Aside from scattered pickets and some small cavalry units, the Dennies aren’t very much of a bother there, sir,” Woody had said. “Naturally, we’ve been concentrating our attacks on the enemy’s main encampment on the other bank.”


            “Dennies?” Jesse had interrupted.


            Woody hesitated. “Uh, yes sir, that’s what folks have taken to calling them. Anyway, we’ve mixed up the timing and direction of our attacks, trying to keep the Danes off balance. It’s been working pretty well, but if you see a block of soldiers standing motionless while everyone else is running, break off your attack run. They know by now that our rockets aren’t all that accurate and any group standing still is probably under the command of a steady officer. It’s pretty clear they’re hoping for a lucky shot from massed fire to bring us down, the way they got Hans. We try to discourage that little trick by carrying a couple of black powder grenades. Ernst here, has gotten damn—uh, quite good at chucking grenades. They’re actually more accurate than the rockets, though they don’t have as much punch, of course.”