1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 42

Chapter 20

Osijek, the Balkans

“And you’re quite certain?” Janos Drugeth asked.

“Oh, yes,” replied Doctor Grassi. “There’s simply no way to hide that massive a mobilization. And once something like that gets started, as you know, it’s almost impossible to stop it.”

Drugeth nodded. There was a dynamic power to these things that made them effectively inevitable once a certain point was passed. Could even Zeus have stopped the fleets of Greece once they’d crossed half the Aegean on their way to Troy? And compared to the Ottoman emperor Murad, Agamemnon had been a paragon of prudence and deliberation.

“How soon, then?”

The Ragusan physician shrugged. “Hard to say. You understand that my information is of necessity somewhat outdated — and mostly gathered from a distance?”

Janos smiled. “I don’t expect you to give me up-to-the-minute reports on a Turkish army marching into Mesopotamia, Doctor. Still, your guesses are likely to be reasonably accurate.”

Grassi took a moment to look around the tavern. It was quite full, and noisy enough to make it impossible to be overheard unless you shouted. The clientele was as polyglot as any in the Balkans, and the Ottomans made no attempt here to enforce the Muslim laws against alcohol consumption.

“Have you read the Kinross book?” he asked.

“Yes. Three times, in fact.”

Grassi took a sip of his coffee. Regardless of the situation here, he saw no reason to relax his customary vigilance. He’d gotten by among the Turks for years now, and had even gotten himself appointed as the household physician to several prominent Turkish families. He enjoyed wine and got an occasional bottle from his patron Schmid. But he was careful to drink it only in private.

“Then you know how it transpired in that other universe.”

“Murad launched his campaign in the early summer of the year 1638 — a little less than three years from now, if the calendars of the two worlds can be matched against each other. He left from Scutari, on the Anatolian coast of the Bosphorus. Baghdad fell in December, after a siege of forty days.”

“Yes. From everything I can determine, Murad seems intent to repeat the victory three years earlier — and even more rapidly.”

“Can he do it?”

“Quite possibly, I think. I have not been able yet to get definite information, but I am now inclined to believe that the Turks have either obtained up-time military technology or developed it on their own.”

“Such as?”

“Rifled muskets, for one. I’m almost certain about that. In addition…” The doctor from Dubrovnik hesitated a moment. “They may have developed their own air force,” he said, very quietly.

Drugeth was normally imperturbable. But on hearing that, his eyebrows shot up. “An air force? Doctor, I think that is highly unlikely. I have a far amount of experience with these matters myself, and it’s not so easy as all that to duplicate the American engines.”

Grassi shook his head. “You’re thinking of the American airplanes. What the Turks would have developed would be… what do they call it? Lighter-than-air, I think.”

“Balloons? Those might be possible, but what… Ah.” Idly, Janos drained his wine glass, staring through the open door of the tavern at the busy street beyond.

“Ah,” he repeated. “There is also such a thing as a blimp. Or a dirigible. I’m not quite clear on the difference. Either way, they are essentially elongated balloons that are capable of being steered. Very slow, however.”

Grassi shrugged. “Such a machine would not need to be quick — if its target was a city. Baghdad will surely be much slower. And if my admittedly scanty information is correct, these machines can lift quite heavy weights.”

“I believe that’s true,” said Janos. “Bombs, you’re thinking?”

“That — and the spiritual factor. The Safavids are inclined to mysticism, you know. I do not believe they have paid much attention to the reports coming out of Europe, or given any credence to the ones they have heard. Even though they’re farther away, I think the Mughals are more aware of the impact the Americans have had than the Persians are.”

“I don’t quite understand your point.”‘

The Ragusan smiled. “That’s because you have become more accustomed than you realize to this new world created by the Ring of Fire. I mean no offense, Graf. But try to imagine how you would have reacted five years ago — had you seen mysterious flying machines wreaking havoc in Vienna?”

Janos set down his wine and leaned back in his chair. “Now I see your point. Yes… The Persians might well panic.”

“They don’t even need to panic. Confusion alone will probably be enough to let Murad take Baghdad this year.”

There was silence, for a minute or so. Then Janos rose to his feet. “I must be off now, Doctor. My thanks for your assistance.”

For all the graciousness of his demeanor, it was all Janos could do not to curse aloud.

The Turks attacking Persia. That meant the Austrian emperor would conclude he had no restrictions on his ability to intervene in the war to the north. Which Janos still thought was foolish, whether or not the Ottomans posed an immediate threat.

Besides, who could say what Murad might do the next year — if he was triumphant in this one?