1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 31


August, 1635

These steep and lofty cliffs

Chapter 15

The Saxon plain, between Merseburg and Lutzen

“Lutzen’s back there,” said Eric Krenz. “We’ve bypassed it already.” He turned in his saddle and pointed to the west, almost behind them.

Jeff turned to look. The road they’d been following from Merseburg had continued southward. The army had now turned east. Most of the units, including Jeff’s 12th Infantry Battalion, were now marching through fields. Fortunately, cavalry units had already gone ahead of them and partially cleared the way.

Partially cleared the way. That was a euphemistic way of saying that horsemen had already trampled flat most of the local farmers’ crops so it was a bit easier for the infantry. Jeff no longer had any trouble understanding why farmers generally detested soldiers, even their own. If this had still been Thuringian territory, the commanders would have given chits to the local authorities, which they could theoretically redeem to get repaid for at least some of the damages. In the State of Thuringia-Franconia, if not all of the USE’s provinces, they probably would have gotten something too.

But they wouldn’t here. This was Saxon territory, and Torstensson wasn’t making any pretense that he’d repay anyone for damages. Looking on the brighter side, he’d also made clear to his soldiers that he wouldn’t tolerate any atrocities either.

So be it. War was what it was. Jeff had gotten pretty inured to such things by now. He figure Sherman probably hadn’t repaid any Georgian farmers either, during his march to the sea.

When he turned around to face in the direction they were travelling, he had to squint a little. The sun had risen far enough above the horizon to be uncomfortable to look toward.

Eric had turned back too. “Gustav Adolf died very close to here, you know.”

Jeff Higgins sniffed. “Last I heard, Gustav Adolf was alive and well and leading his army toward Berlin.”

“In that other world, I meant. Your world.”

“Not my world any longer.”

Krenz looked at him sidewise for a moment. “Do you miss it?”

“I miss my family, sure. I’m the only one who came through the Ring of Fire, you know. But other than that…” He shrugged. “I can’t say I regret it. I would never have met Gretchen, for one thing. For another…”

He paused to check on his horse. The beast seemed placid enough, but you could never be sure what sort of bizarre notions might cross its little mind. Or was it “his” little mind? Jeff wasn’t sure of the protocol when it came to geldings.

Geldings weren’t really considered suitable war horses by cavalrymen and other such dashing fellows of the time. A true warrior would insist on riding a stallion into battle. But as far as Jeff was concerned, that was just more seventeenth century silliness. Stallions were temperamental and Jeff figured he’d have better things to worry about on a battlefield than a hyperactive half-ton animal.

Krenz wouldn’t make fun of him, of course, since he was riding a gelding himself.

“For another…” Eric prompted him.

“It’s a little hard to explain. Even leaving Gretchen aside, I feel… I don’t know. More alive, I guess. Like what I do here makes a real difference where in the world I left behind it probably never would have.”

Krenz chewed his lower lip for a while, thinking about it. “I suppose I understand. But I have to say the thought of being insignificant but alive and healthy seems quite a bit superior than the state of being oh-so-very-important and oh-so-very-dead. If you ask me, Achilles was an idiot.”

Jeff chuckled. “Oh, if that’s what’s bothering you! No, no, you’ve got it all backwards. You think the world I came from was safe?”

He clucked his tongue. “I guess you never heard of thermo-nuclear weapons. There were tens of thousands of those lovely things floating around. Any one of them could have turned the biggest city in the world — that world, forget this one — in a pile of slag.”

Ghastly details followed.

“– also had biological and chemical weapons. Take sarin gas, for instance –”

Eric listened intently.

“– course, there probably wasn’t any designed weapon as nasty as the Ebola virus. That came out of Central Africa, but I always figured it’d get loose some day. After that…” He made a face. “It’s a viral hemorrhagic fever. That means –”

Graphic and gruesome details followed. Jeff moved on to other ills of the twentieth century.

“– overpopulation. Oh, yeah, I figured someday even Fairmont would have skyscrapers and you’d be lucky to get five hundred square feet to –”

“– additives in everything. I mean, you had no idea what you were really eating. And it was even worse in the fast food joints where –”

He reserved particular venom for what had been his own bête noire, automated phone systems.

“– always changed their menus. Call the next day and the lying bastards would insist the menu had changed again. There were stories of people dying of thirst and ruptured bladders trying to figure how to actually talk to anybody. And the one phrase you never heard those fucking computer voices say was ‘call volumes are usually low so we’ll connect you to your party immediately.’ Oh, hell no. Call volumes were always high. It was like grading on a bell curve where everybody flunks.”

By the time he was done, Krenz was looking downright chipper.