1636 The Viennese Waltz – Snippet 30

Chapter 11: Dealing with the New Emperor

September and October, 1634

Race Track at Simmering, Austria

“Did you point a gun at Baron Julian von Meklau?” Emperor Ferdinand III asked Ron Sanderlin as he entered the garage. It had taken a while for word to reach the emperor and Ron wondered if the youngsters had talked or just someone that had seen the confrontation.

“Uncle Bob did, Your Majesty. But only because it looked like the boy was going to try and take a horsewhip to me.” Ron looked at the retinue that followed the emperor around everywhere. “Mostly it was to warn the kids off so things didn’t get out of hand.” Ron considered, then added, “Actually, I’m a little surprised that there hasn’t been more trouble. We’ve had a lot of gawkers, but no one trying to take anything. And aside from von Meklau and his friends, no one trying to throw their weight around.”

“Now that I think about it, Herr Sanderlin, I’m a little surprised myself.” Ferdinand motioned and Ron followed him out of the garage to the muddy field. The gaggle of hangers-on surrounding them both. Ferdinand III continued, “This is to be the road for the 240Z?”

“The track, yes,” Ron told him and went on to explain what he, Bob, and Sonny had worked out. There were several side trips into up-time terminology, what an automobile race track was and how it differed from a horseracing track.

About halfway through the explanation, Ferdinand interrupted. “Take me for a ride.”

“Your Majesty . . .” Ron started to object, then seeing the excited expression on the emperors face, gave in. It was his car, after all. They got Ferdinand in the passenger seat with the seat belt fastened. Then Ron put the key in the ignition and Ferdinand stopped him.

“What’s that?”

“The key.”

“Like a key to a lock?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. You can’t start the car without it.” Ron chose not to get into the whole issue of hot wiring.

“That’s clever. But what if the key is lost?”

“We have three sets, Your Majesty. I had one and Gayleen had one before the Ring of Fire and we had a metal smith make up another one when we sold you the car.” More time spent while Ron showed the emperor the key and that it was a perfectly ordinary piece of metal, nothing particularly high tech.

Finally Ron got to start the car, describing what he was doing as he did it. He pulled the car out of the converted barn and drove it around the muddy field. It had rained last night, sleeted actually, and then thawed this morning, soaking the ground. Ron was careful and the field was still covered in grass, so they managed a loop, with only a little sliding. It was a slow loop. Ron didn’t think they had topped fifteen miles an hour.

“I want to drive!” the emperor said. Ron tried, without much hope, to talk him out of it, then traded seats.

By this time, Sonny and Bob were watching, as well as a couple of crowds of down-timers. There were the villagers and the courtiers — not mixing — and the workers that Ron and Sonny had hired — not really mixing with either group, but closer to the villagers.

Ferdinand III did fairly well. He had the standard gas-brakes-gas issues of new drivers, but not bad. And he had good control for the first loop. He started speeding up on the second loop. When he hit the back end of the second loop, he pushed it and they were doing thirty-five into the next turn. Two previous trips over the same ground had ripped up the grass that was holding the mud together. When they started to turn, the rear wheels decided that Newton’s first law of motion should guide their actions, since friction was on a vacation. The emperor slammed down on both the gas and the brake pedal, and the 240Z did a 540 degree turn. They stopped, facing the way they’d come, rear wheels buried in mud up to their axles and the front wheels not much better off. The combination of brakes and gas had killed the engine and — Ron sincerely hoped — flooded it.

Ferdinand III sat still for several seconds, white knuckled hands gripping the plastic steering wheel hard enough that Ron was afraid he might break it. Then he took several deep breaths and smiled. “My, that was exciting.”

Ron took a couple of deep breaths of his own. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

Ferdinand III reached for the keys again.

“You may have flooded the engine, Your Majesty.”

“Flooded it?”

Ron explained. The emperor listened. Then, with his foot carefully off the gas pedal and the car in park, turned the key. It started right up. The emperor grinned and Ron suppressed a groan.

The emperor put it in drive, and hit the gas. The wheels spun and mud flew.

All this had taken a few minutes and about the time the emperor hit the gas, there were half a dozen people of high estate in range of the flying mud. They retreated faster than they’d come, but the car didn’t move more than an inch. And as soon as Ferdinand let of the gas, the car settled back into the mud.

“We’re stuck, Your Majesty. You might as well turn it off and save the gas. We’ll have to pull it out.”

Ferdinand looked rebellious, but after a moment he turned off the car and unbuckled his seatbelt. He opened the driver side door, and swung his legs out of the car. The imperial boots sank half way up the calves, in peasant mud. It was a good thing he had hands to help him or the emperor of Austria-Hungary would have landed face first in the mud.

Ron was expecting royal distaste, at least. He didn’t get it. Ferdinand had ridden horses all his life, and even if there was usually a groom to handle the beast when he was done, Ferdinand was familiar with the effects of hooves on muddy ground and was unsurprised to find out that spinning wheels had a similar effect.