1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 18 

Chapter 10

Thuringia, United States of Europe

Major Larry Quinn of the State of Thuringia-Franconia’s National Guard led the way down the last switchback of the game trail, which spilled out into a grassy sward. That bright green carpet of spring growth sloped gently down to where the river wound its way between the ridge they had been on and the rocky outcropping that formed the opposite bank.

Quinn looked behind, saw the other two people in the group navigating the declination. One, a young man, did so easily. The other, a middle-aged woman, was proceeding more cautiously.

Larry smiled. Ms. Aossi had never been particularly fleet of foot, even when she had been his home room and science teacher in eighth grade. And she was more careful now. Which, Larry conceded, only made good sense: a broken leg in the 17th century was nothing to take lightly, not even with Grantville’s medical services available.

The young man with her looked back to check her progress, put out a helping hand. She accepted it with a brief, sunny smile. He returned a smaller one, complete with a nod that threatened to become a bow.

Larry’s own smile was inward only. The understated politesse he had just witnessed was typical of twenty-year-old Karl Willibald Klemm. Larry had spotted the tell-tale signs of intentionally suppressed “good breeding” the moment the young fellow arrived in his office, having been referred there by Colonel Donovan of the Hibernian Mercenary Battalion.

Although admitting that he was originally from Ingolstadt, Klemm had not divulged the other details of his background so willingly. And Larry understood why as soon as the young Bavarian’s story started leaking out. At fourteen years of age, Klemm had been recruited to play for the opposing — and losing — team in the Thirty Years War. As a Catholic, Klemm explained that he’d been impressed into Tilly’s forces in 1632, but not as a mercenary. He had been made a staff adjutant for a recently-promoted general of artillery. That general had not survived the battle against Gustav Adolf at Breitenfeld. At which point Klemm decided that his next destination would be any place that was as far away from the war as he could get to on foot.

Larry Quinn had been unable to repress a smile at the young man’s careful retelling of the events surrounding his induction. Young Klemm had been “impressed” by Tilly’s own sergeants at the age of fourteen, and then just happened to be assigned to a general of the artillery. Larry had wryly observed that this was not typical of the largely random acts of impressment whereby youths had been made to serve under the colors of both sides, usually as unglorified cannon-fodder.

Klemm had the admirable habit of staring his questioner straight in the eye when addressing a ticklish topic. No, Klemm admitted, he had not been randomly recruited. He had been plucked out of school by members of Tilly’s own general staff.

And at what school had that occurred?

Again, Klemm had not batted an eye, but his jaw line became more pronounced when he revealed that he had been in classes at the University of Ingolstadt.

The rest of Larry’s questions met with similarly direct, if terse answers. Yes, Klemm had been in his second year of studies at the tender age of fourteen. Yes, he had been in mathematics, but also the sciences and humanities. Yes, he supposed the work did come easily to him, since he was usually done before the most advanced students in each of his classes. Except in the humanities. But he somberly observed that this “failing” was because he often lacked the adult sensibilities to adequately unpack the layered meanings in most art. He had still been “just a boy” at school. Then, he had gone to war.

Tilly’s “recruiters” had apparently been well-briefed by young Karl Klemm’s predominantly Jesuit tutors. The youth not only had an extraordinarily sharp and flexible mind, but possessed what later researchers would call an “eidetic” memory. Larry doubted the existence of such savant-like powers, but was suitably impressed when Klemm scanned a paragraph, then a list of numbers, then a set of completely disparate facts, and was able to recall them perfectly afterwards.

Given the data-intensive nature of the artillery branch, it had been perhaps inevitable that Klemm had been assigned there. It had been the intent of his recruiters for him to function as a human calculator during sieges and other extended shelling scenarios. There, the ruthless laws of physics dictated results more profoundly than upon the fluid battlefields where human unpredictability, and even caprice, played a greater role in determining outcomes.

But that rear-echelon role hadn’t kept Karl Klemm from seeing the full scope of horrors on display in the Thirty Years War. Nor had it insulated him from the vicious attitudes of an increasing number of the Catholic troops. Not only were Tilly’s men weary with war, they had been forced to forage from (then pillage, and ultimately sack) towns, both enemy and allied, for supplies. Predictably, with its ranks swollen by amoral and brutish mercenaries whom Klemm could hardly distinguish from highwaymen, the rank-and-file of Tilly’s army was not receptive to a clever young fellow who was clearly the darling of the army’s highest, aristocratic officers. The resentment and hate that the soldiers could not express toward those officers themselves was redirected toward this younger, more vulnerable object of their approbation. And so young Karl Klemm had learned to keep his head down and his gifts hidden.

He had approached the Hibernian Mercenary Battalion without referring to his background with the enemy’s army or his unusual skills. Rather, he had heard they were looking for persons who might be handy at refurbishing broken up-time firearms. He had applied to become a mere technician. But one of the battalion’s two proprietors, Liam Donovan, had the shrewd eye of a professional recruiter and saw much more than that in young Klemm. And so had sent him on to Larry’s office.

That had been when Karl was thin, jobless, and shivering in a coat much too old to ward off the frigid fangs of the middle weeks of February. Now, three months later, in a riverside meadow, releasing Lolly Aossi’s hand as if handing off a partner in a gavotte, he seemed a different person.

“Karl,” Larry called.

“Yes, Major Quinn?”

“Has Ms. Aossi finished boring you today?”

Lolly rounded on Quinn, who was smiling mischief at her. “So I was a boring teacher, Larry?”

“Not usually, Miz Aossi, but let’s face it: a fifty-minute lesson on earth science is now a reasonable replacement for the sleeping aids we left back up-time.”

“Hmpf. Do you agree with Major Quinn, Karl?”

Klemm knelt to study the soil. “I cannot speak for anyone else, but I find geology rather fascinating.”

That’s Karl, ever the diplomat. Larry looked back at Lolly. “So why did you want to come down here from the hills?”

Lolly walked over to where Karl was strolling, now running his hands along the sheer skirts of the ridge as he studied the strata of its rocky ribs. “So that Karl could look at what surveyors and drillers would designate extremely soft ‘unconsolidated formations.’ “

“And what are those?”

Lolly turned to look at Klemm with one slightly raised eyebrow. Karl, seeing that as his cue, supplied the answer promptly. “An unconsolidated rock formation takes the form of loose particles, such as sand or clay.”

“You mean, it’s not really rock.”

“No, Larry,” scolded Lolly. “That’s not what it means at all. Sand, for instance, starts out as solid rock.”

“Like gravel.”

Ms. Aossi nodded. “Exactly.”

“So how is coming here better than going to a sand pit?”

“Because, Larry, a sand pit such as you mean is not a natural occurrence. And that’s what Karl needs to see, to experience: the formations that arise naturally around such earths, and vice versa.”

Karl brushed off his hands, put them on his narrow hips, looked at the rock thoughtfully, then at the ground. “And unless I am much mistaken, Ms. Aossi wishes me to become especially familiar with the compositions particular to alluvial or coastal deposits. The other two times we have gone on a field survey, we visited similar environments.”

Lolly stared at Klemm. She said, “Very good, Karl,” and clearly meant it, but there was also a surprised, even worried tone in her voice.

Quinn kept himself from smiling. The problem with training clever people for even highly compartmentalized confidential missions was that their quick wits could often defeat the information firewalls erected by the planners. From a few key pieces, they could begin to discern the shape, or at least the key objectives, of the operation.

Karl Klemm demonstrated that propensity in his next leading comment. “In fact, I find it puzzling that we are spending so much time in areas with these formations.”

Lolly, who was inspecting some small outcroppings of marl which disturbed the smooth expanse beneath their feet, distractedly asked, “Why, Karl? They are good challenges for you: not always the easiest areas to read, geologically. They can be quite tricky unless you know what to look for.”

“So you have taught me. And very well, Ms. Aossi. But that still begs the question of why we are studying them at all.”

Lolly stopped, a bit perplexed. Quinn now had to hide a small smile. He was no geologist, but he had learned to read people pretty well, and he could see where Karl Klemm was headed. Lolly didn’t, apparently. “We study them because they are some of the formations you might encounter when you travel with Major Quinn to the New World.”

“Yes, I might. But it seems odd to focus so heavily on these formations, since I will not be expected to survey them closely, let alone exclusively.” Karl poked at an up thrust tooth of marlstone. “Or will I?”

Lolly shot a surprised and alarmed glance at Quinn, a glance which said: Oh. My. God. Could he have guessed where exactly you’re taking him? And why? And if that cat is out of the bag, does he have to be sequestered until you leave?

Quinn simply shrugged.

Lolly Aossi crossed her arms tightly. “Well, Karl, you never know where people might want to dig. Or for what.”

“That is true, although one immediately thinks of the New World’s coastal oil deposits. However, it does not stand to reason that the USE would be interested in those, or any, oil deposits known to reside in unconsolidated rock formations.”

“And why is that?”

“Because we cannot tap such deposits, not with our current drilling technology. A cable rig will not work. The constant pounding collapses the walls of the hole. To drill in soils such as these, which in the New World predominate around the Gulf coast oil deposits, you would need a rotary drill. A technology which we do not yet possess.” He looked up from the marlstone. “I am correct n my conclusions, yes?” He did not blink.

Quinn watched and heard Lolly swallow. Looking like an adolescent who’d been caught telling a lie to her parents, she spread her hands in gesture that marked her next utterance as both an explanation and appeal. “Well, Karl, now about that rotary drill –“