Chapter 6. The Mess



High Street Mansion, Seat of Government for the State of Thuringia-Franconia

President’s Office

Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia


            After Grantville’s police chief finished his report, Ed Piazza, President of the State of Thuringia-Franconia, half-turned his swivel chair and looked out of the window in his office. That was the first time he’d so much as glanced outside since he showed up for work this morning. His schedule had been jam-packed even before this latest crisis hit.

            The weather was still good, he saw. Clear, with not a cloud in the sky. Very crisp, of course, the way such days in November were, but not yet bitterly cold the way it would become in January and February.

            Well, not “crisis,” exactly, he mused. He and Mike Stearns had long known that there was no way to keep the USE’s enemies from getting their hands on American technical knowledge—nor from suborning some of the Americans themselves. Among the thirty-five hundred people who’d come from up-time through the Ring of Fire, there was bound to be the usual percentage who were excessively greedy and not burdened with much in the way of a conscience. That was even leaving aside the ones—there were a lot of those, now—who’d accepted legitimate offers to relocate elsewhere. You couldn’t keep people from emigrating, after all; not, at least, without building some sort of Godforsaken version of a Berlin Wall, which neither he nor Mike had wanted any part of.

            Some people were surprised, even astonished, at the number of Americans who were leaving Grantville these days. They’d assumed that long familiarity, habits, family ties—not to mention modern indoor plumbing—would keep almost everyone from straying. But that was unrealistic. West Virginians, especially northern West Virginians, had been accustomed to moving around a lot, since the area was economically depressed except when the mines were working full bore. Most families had at least one person, in the past, who’d moved to one of the industrial cities to make a living. Often they came back, when things at home picked up, but sometimes they didn’t.

            And those had been relocations just to get decent-paying but usually hard jobs in a steel mill or auto assembly plant. Today, anyone with any skills was being offered salaries that were the down-time equivalent of the kind of money top-drawer technical and business consultants made back up-time. Often enough, with lots of perks and benefits attached. And since the prospective employers were rich—many of them noblemen, sometimes royalty—even the problem of leaving modern plumbing behind wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t as if the upper classes of the seventeenth century were medieval barons living in stone piles, after all. They already had indoor plumbing, however rudimentary it might be by late twentieth-century American standards. And it would get better quickly, too, since the people offering the jobs had a keen desire themselves to get better facilities. Anyone in Grantville who had significant plumbing skills and experience practically had a carte blanche to go anywhere in Europe.

            To add pressure to pull, most up-timers after the Ring of Fire had lost what they’d had in the way of safety net back up-time. Which, for working class people like most of the town’s inhabitants, had never been all that munificent in the first place.

            Social Security was gone. Company pensions were gone, except for a few companies headquartered in Grantville who’d been able to maintain them. Medicare was gone. That might not directly affect young people, right away, but most people in Grantville were part of families, often extended families. They had parents and grandparents and other elderly relatives who were in a tight situation, sometimes a desperate one—and now, Baron Whoozit or Merchant Moneybags or City Patrician Whazzisname was waving a small fortune under their noses, if they’d just relocate to wherever and apply their skills.

            So, since the end of the Baltic war—the decision to move the SoTF’s capital to Bamberg had been a prod, too—a great migration was underway. “Great,” as least, in per capita terms if not absolute numbers. Some people were even starting to call it the “American Diaspora.” What had been a trickle, in the first three years after the Ring of Fire, was now a small flood. By the time it was over, Ed wouldn’t be surprised if half of Grantville’s residents wound up living somewhere else, at least for a time.

            Most of them were staying in the USE, true enough. But the number who were accepting positions in other countries was not inconsiderable, especially countries that had good relations with the USE like Bohemia, Venice, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian nations now united within the Union of Kalmar. Some had gone to France and Austria. A few, even farther afield, to eastern Europe, Russia, Spain and Portugal, southern Italy—even the New World.

            In fact, Ed was a little puzzled by the fact this batch of emigrants had chosen to break the law by stealing things that didn’t belong to them. Why? There was no legal barrier, as such, to moving to Austria, if that’s where they went. The Sanderlins and Sonny Fortney had moved to Vienna not long ago, perfectly openly and aboveboard. They’d even hauled two complete automobiles with them.

            Carol Unruh’s suspicion, which she’d voiced two days earlier, was that at least some of them were going to wind up implicated in the legal fall-out from the Bolender arrest. She’d probably turn out to be right. But, whatever the reason, the immediate effect—and the thing that made it a problem for Ed—was that it transformed what would have otherwise have been a simple emigration into “defection” and even “treason.”

            What a stupid mess.