1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 88:



            "Dottoressa!" it was Carlo, one of the embassy's resident runners. "You are wanted in the secret room, please." He dashed off for whatever errand was next on his list.


            She mounted the stairs. Only the three radio guys, all USE nationals, were allowed in there. Sharon figured it was probably pretty much an open secret by now that messages came and went through the secret room, but the local staff seemed to be pretty good about at least keeping up the fiction that they didn't know what went on in there.


            The downside was that the housekeeping staff never went in, and while Odon, Matthias and Jurgen might have started out as apprentice boys from good homes around Thuringia, they had become geeks with a vengeance. The place smelt slightly of old socks and stale toasted cheese—the down-time equivalent of packet ramen—and until they came up with a new word for it, "mess" would have to do.


            Odon was sitting by the main radio set, a thing cobbled together from spare parts that Grantville had had, there not being an electronics industry yet, nor likely to be one for years to come. He had earphones on—big, bulky, down-time manufactured things with curved trumpets in place of amplifiers—and was hunched in on himself, eyes screwed shut and plainly listening hard.


            Matthias was coiling up the mess of wires and spares that had littered the place, and disassembling the assortment of bits they had been tinkering with when not occupied sending and receiving messages. Jurgen broke off from decanting the huge array of wet-cell batteries that powered the thing. "We think we had an acknowledgement, Your Excellency Mrs. Sanchez," he whispered.


            Sharon got a little thrill from hearing that. "Any message?" she asked, whispering in turn.


            "We think not." Jurgen shook his head. "This time of day? We might reach Basel, we might not. And maybe Odon was wrong about hearing a reply. And even so, we will do well just to send a code signal.”


            "Do what you can, but please try and be packed up within the hour," she said. "And don't forget to keep the classified stuff separate so we can burn it if we have to."


            "Kein problem," Jurgen said, and returned to draining the batteries.


            Back downstairs, Ruy was coming back in the front door, pulling off the battered felt hat and tatty old coat he wore for visiting low-life tavernas. She'd made him promise, when he got out of the carriage, that if he ran into Quevedo he would avoid the man. She'd been a little surprised when he'd agreed. "We have an evacuation to organize, wife," he'd growled, "and it is business before pleasure, duty before honor. But when the duty is done, I, Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz, swear that Francisco Quevedo y Villega will rue his spoiling of our wedding day. Briefly."


            "I'll hold your coat," Tom had added.


            "Get in line," her dad had growled.


            "Amazed we aren't passing out from the testosterone fumes," Melissa had said, although from her expression one might have thought she was about to grab a rapier and have after Quevedo and Borja herself.


            Now, though, Ruy was wiping sweat from his brow and tossing the disguise into a corner, to be abandoned as no longer needed. It had pretty threadbare today, anyway, as he'd not bothered to change out of his good breeches, which had been plainly visible over the battered boots he normally wore for training sessions.


            "Bad," he growled, "and worse."


            "The Spanish are already in the city?"


            "Not yet," Ruy said, "although if rumor were right they were already firing the Vatican and molesting nuns. No, the one fellow I found who was not panicking had word that the Spanish had overrun Ostia and would be ready to march in the morning. For myself, I think they will attempt a night march, and be here late tomorrow after resting in the small hours. Otherwise, they will not arrive until the day after."


            "So we can relax some, then?" Rita asked the question Sharon was already thinking.


            "Perhaps," Ruy said. "Although, Your Excellency, there are arguments on each side of the scale."


            "Why they pay me the big bucks, I reckon," Sharon said. "How far away is Ostia?"


            "Fifteen, sixteen miles," Tom said. "I was here on vacation one time, back-when."


            "A long day's march for any sizeable body of troops," Ruy said. "Let us presume that the man ordered to this folly is competent. More than likely an Italian, and it never pays to assume they do not know their trade as soldiers. He will allow two days for the movement, and if he has even the ordinary ration of cojones he will be beginning the march now with plans to march into the evening and begin early in the morning. We should not count on being able to depart safely for more than an hour past dawn on the morrow."


            "We'll have to chance it," Sharon looked around her and casting her mind back to the scene of harried bustle and near-chaos that Ruy had missed out on. "We need more time to organize, damn it. We're picking up dependents every minute, it's already more than just the USE nationals taking it on the lam. Tom, go tell the guys upstairs to hold off on packing, they'll be able to send a message tonight. Melissa, calm the housekeepers down a little. I'll get with Adolf and revise the plans. Ruy, take charge of the Marines while Captain Taggart is gone and if anyone sees my dad tell him to take a moment to be sure he's happy with his traveling medical bag. If we're cutting it a little finer, we might be seeing wounded on our way out and we should at least be able to help if we get time. And we need to send someone over to Frank's place. If he's not planning to leave, he damn well should be."


            Everyone moved at once. And, while it was good to be the boss, Sharon decided she could wish it wasn't of a grade-A mess like this.