1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 49

Wismar, Germany, on the Baltic coast

The up-time radio operator frowned. “Say what?”

“Grain futures,” Jozef Wojtowicz repeated.

The tow-headed young fellow’s jaws moved, much like a cow chewing a cud. It was difficult to imagine that his people had once, in another world, put a man upon the moon. This particular American seemed about as bright as a sheep dog.

Eventually, Sergeant Trevor Morton confessed. “I don’t exactly know what that is.”

With a genial expression on his face, Jozef leaned forward across the table.

“It’s not complicated. As you know” — which he certainly didn’t — “Poland is the world’s greatest exporter of wheat.”

That might even be true. Close enough for these purposes.

“The grain is shipped through the Baltic. But the process is slow. Grain is bulky.” Best to use short sentences. One syllable words as much as possible. “By the time it reaches the market, prices have often changed. Those who speculate” — no way to avoid that term — “in grain can lose a lot of money.”

He paused, enabling the sergeant to absorb this mountain of knowledge.

“Yeah, okay, I get it,” said that worthy eventually. His jaws were still moving back and forth. Jozef wondered what he could possibly be chewing? It couldn’t be the bizarre material the up-timers called “chewing gum.” That had vanished years ago. Jozef had never actually laid eyes on the stuff.

Perhaps Sergeant Morton, having gotten into the habit of chewing gum, had simply continued the process when the gum disappeared. Who could say?

“Well, then,” Jozef continued. “Nothing has more effect on the travel time of Polish wheat down the rivers and across the sea than the weather.”

That was probably true also, although Jozef was grossly overstating its importance to grain speculators. The real effect of the weather on grain prices was seasonal, not daily or weekly. But that wouldn’t do for his purposes here.

“Yeah, okay, I can see that.”

Jozef smiled. Mission accomplished?

Alas, no.

“But what’s that got to do with me?” asked the American sergeant.

It was all Wojtowicz could do not to throw up his hands. Instead, in as gentle a tone of voice as he could manage, he continued the lesson in remedial bribery.

“The weather in northern Europe generally goes from west to east. As you know. Especially over the open waters of the Baltic. Where you are located, here in Wismar.”

The reason the sergeant was located here was because of the USE air force base in Wismar. But the base was no longer used much for active air operations. It had become a sleepy garrison post. Hence the presence of sleep-walking soldiers like Morton. In earlier times, Jozef wouldn’t have had to do all this, since the weather forecasts were broadcast openly. Lately, though, once it became clear that Gustav Adolf was going to invade Poland, the USE had decided that a knowledge of the upcoming weather might be a military asset, so they now kept the information as private as such information could be kept — which was not at all, as Jozef was now demonstrating. But then, no knowledgeable man expects a government to be any smarter than a cow.

Jozef had paused for a bit, allowing the man across the tavern table to digest that stew of complex data. Now, finally, the sergeant seemed to have done so.

“Yeah, okay, I get that.”

“So. You give me a copy of the weather forecast every evening. We can meet in this tavern or anywhere else you’d prefer.”

“Here’s fine,” said Morton. “I come here every day after work anyway. But what good’s the forecast going to do you when you need it in Poland?”

A flicker of intelligence. Amazing. Best to stamp it out quickly, lest it spread.

“I’ll have couriers ready, on the fastest horses.”

Anyone with a knowledge of geography would have understood immediately that that was absurd. No string of horses could possibly get a weather forecast from Wismar to Poland before the weather itself arrived and made the whole exercise pointless. What Jozef was actually going to do was transmit the information on his own radio. The messages could be easily coded, since they’d be short. Even if a USE radio man should happen to stumble upon the frequency, they wouldn’t know what was being transmitted.

But Jozef was certain that Morton wouldn’t realize he was being duped. The man obviously had no idea where Poland was in the first place. Nor the name of its capital, the language its people spoke, or… anything. Jozef had once met a man more ignorant of the world than this sergeant. But he had the excuse of being an illiterate Lapp reindeer herder.

Finally, Morton’s brain got around to the core of the matter. “How much you say you’ll pay me?”

Warsaw, Poland

The Grand Hetman of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth peered down at the object in the hand of his nephew’s agent.

“Amazing,” he said. “I thought they needed huge towers to work.”

The agent shook his head. “That was a lie that the Americans spread at first. They call it ‘disinformation.’ It’s true that radios work better with big towers, especially transmissions, but they’re not necessary.” He hefted the receiver. “I can only use this effectively in the morning and evenings. What they call the windows. But I’ll be able to get the boss’s transmissions.”

Stanislaw Koniecpolski nodded, and dismissed the agent with a motion of his hand. He then turned to face young Opalinski, who was seated in a chair in the small salon located in the Royal Castle. Lukasz still had a haunted look on his face.

“It is no crime to be defeated, young man,” the Grand Hetman said gently. “Especially not when you return with such useful information.”

Opalinski made a face. “It may not be so useful as all that.”

Koniecpolski shrugged. “Anything will help. Gustav Adolf will bring some fifty thousand men into Poland. I will have perhaps forty thousand with which to oppose him, ten thousand of whom are Brandenburgers.” He scowled. “I’m not counting Holk’s men, assuming the king ignores my advice and hires the swine. Making things still worse, half of the Swede’s infantry will be armed with rifled muskets, where I have but a thousand of the French breechloaders.”

Opalinski perked up a bit. “You got them, then?”

The grand hetman nodded. “Yes, and I think I’ll have at least two thousand SRGs by the time we confront him. They’ve made enough of those by now to create a sizeable black market and for once” — the scowl came back — “the Sejm isn’t being miserly.”

He took a seat near Opalinski. “Finally, Gustav Adolf will have his airplanes and his APCs. The first, from what I can determine from the reports I’ve gotten, have a somewhat limited capability as weapons. On the other hand, they provide superb reconnaissance.”

“In good weather,” said Lukasz.

“As you say. In good weather. Much like the APCs, which you describe as being invincible war machines against men –”

Lukasz completed the thought. “But by no means invincible against terrain and weather. I warn you, though, I got that mostly from listening to Lubomir Adamczyk and some of the other hussars who survived the battle.” His face tightened. “I did not see very much myself, after…”

“After you led an almost successful charge with only two hundred hussars against the same flying artillery that crushed the French cavalry at Ahrensbok. Stop flagellating yourself, young man. We’re Catholics, not heathens.” A smile removed the sting from the last words and turned them into a jest.

The grand hetman signaled a servant standing by a far wall. “Some wine,” he said, when the man came over.

As the servant went about his task, Koniecpolski turned back to Lukasz. “Regardless of who made the observations, I think they’re accurate. The only way I can at least partially nullify the Swede’s many advantages is to refuse to meet him on terrain and under weather conditions that favor him. I will have to maneuver as long as necessary” — his expression became bleak — “and allow as much ravaging by the enemy as I must, in order to fight a battle under those conditions which favor me. Or, at least, counter some of the enemy’s strengths.”

The servant returned, with a bottle and two goblets. After he poured the wine and retreated, Koniecpolski raised his goblet.

“Once again, my precious nephew has done right by us. A toast! Here’s to drenching rain and blinding fog and the Swedish bastard’s downfall.”