But when she got to the Beasleys’ place, one of those big double-sized trailers called “mobile homes” in blithe disregard for the cinder blocks it was actually sitting on instead of wheels, she discovered her mission was unnecessary. Denise’s mother Christin had thrown a fit, sure enough. But Buster had taken it all in stride.

            There were some advantages, it seemed, to having a father with an ex-biker’s views on parenting.

            “What the hell, Noelle, it’s like I told my wife.” He placed a large, affectionate hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “It’s not like she got pregnant or strung out on dope or started working for a pimp or even got in trouble with the cops. For that matter, her new tattoo she got yesterday’s sorta reasonable.”

            Noelle eyed the tattoo on Denise’s shoulder, easily visible because she was just wearing a tank top inside the warm trailer. That was the tattoo she’d gotten at the age of fourteen. A death’s head with the logo Watch it, buddy. Completely tasteless, in Noelle’s opinion, although she’d allow it might cause high school boys to think twice.

            Buster had thought that tattoo was reasonable, too, she remembered—and without the “sorta” qualifier. She didn’t want to think—

            “I love it!” exclaimed Denise. “Here, I’ll show you.”

            With no further ado, she yanked up the tank top, exposing her slim midriff.

            “Oh, dear God,” was all Noelle could think to say.

            It was a lot better from an artistic standpoint, certainly. The tattoo artist had quite a bit of skill.


            The central image, right on the girl’s belly, was that of a sexpot wearing a flying jacket—not that any flying jacket would expose that much bosom—pants that looked painted on, and spike-heeled boots. She was sitting with her legs crossed—lounging, rather—and holding a bomb in one hand, with a sputtering fuse.

            Smiling seductively, of course.

            That was bad enough. The logo was worse.

            Above the image: You can land here

            Below it: If you don’t crash

            Denise frowned. “You don’t like it?”


            Huffily, the girl dropped the hem of the tank top. “Just ‘cause you can’t keep from beating around the bush. How’s Eddie doing?”

            “Fine,” said Noelle. Warily: “Why do you ask?”

            “He’s cute.” She jerked a thumb at Buster. “My dad even says he’s okay. I thought I might drop by on him later.”

            “You stay away from Eddie!”

            “I bet he’ll like the tattoo.”


            Noelle hurried away to warn Eddie of an impending visitation by a one-girl Mongol horde.

            Alas, Eddie seemed unconcerned. “What’s the problem? I like Denise. A lot, in fact.”

            “She’s wild. And she’s much too young for you.”

            “Don’t be silly, Noelle. Denise is a bit wild, I suppose—although nothing like my cousin Kaethe—but she’s not actually foolish. And I’m certainly not.”

            That last was true enough. Noelle started to feel relieved until she saw that Eddie’s gaze seemed more than a little unfocussed. As if he were contemplating in his mind’s eye a certain tattoo that she had, perhaps unfortunately, described in great detail.


            However the visit turned out—and Noelle wasn’t really worried, since Eddie was to deliberation what a cow was to munching grass—he seemed his usual self when she visited him the next morning. He had a large map of the SoTF and the surrounding territories spread out across his table, and was studying it intently.

            “What are you doing?” she asked.

            “Just indulging in my curiosity. I’m as tenacious as you are, you know. I just don’t have your compulsion to act on it at all costs.” He lifted his eyes from the map. “Any more news from Bohemia?”

            Noelle flopped onto the nearby armchair. “Nothing. Well, not ‘nothing.’ Wallenstein is certainly taking seriously the incursion of an Austrian expedition into his territory, even a small one. He and Pappenheim have the Black Cuirassiers scouring the whole area. But… nothing. Not a sign of them. We just got another lack-of-progress report on the radio an hour ago.”

            Eddie nodded. “I’m not surprised. I’ve been thinking about it, and considering the terrain. It finally dawned on me that Drugeth probably didn’t stay in Bohemia for very long.”

            Noelle sat up straight. “What?”

            “Come here. I can show you better on the map.” Noelle was there in a heartbeat. Eddie’s finger started tracing a route through the Fichtelgebirge. “He can cut back across here, near this little town called Kötzting. From there, he can just follow the Regen down to Regensburg, and from there it’s an easy barge-ride into Austria.”

            “But… We have a garrison at Regensburg. A great damn big one, too, and real soldiers.”

            “Indeed so. Because they have been assigned, no matter the cost, to keep the enemy from crossing the Danube by seizing the bridge there. Regensburg anchors our left flank against Bavaria. Not likely, therefore—is it?—that they’ll be much concerned with anything else. And there are no troops to the north until you reach Amberg. A lot of military traffic between Amberg and Regensburg, of course, but they’d be going along”—he pointed to a river just west of the Regen—“the Naab. Not the Regen.”

            Noelle stared at the map, while Eddie continued. “See what I mean? He doesn’t have to worry about anything except the short time he’d be passing through Regensburg itself.”

            “But… Damnation, the garrison at Regensburg was warned to look for them.”

            “Noelle, be serious. Yes. The garrison at Regensburg—along with a dozen others—received an alert over the radio to keep an eye out for the possibility that a party of up-time defectors might be passing through. Maybe. At a time unknown. In wagons. Possibly with pack horses.”

            He tapped the spot indicating Regensburg. “First, they would have paid no attention to it. Even if they did, they’d be looking for ‘up-timers’ on wagons or horses. Given Janos Drugeth, what do you think the likelihood is that, by now, he hasn’t obtained river transport and doesn’t have the defectors outfitted as a party of down-time merchants?”

            His eyes narrowed, as if he were gauging something. “If I’m right, he’s already on the Regen. Should be passing through Regensburg today or tomorrow.”

            Given Janos Drugeth…

            “That son-of-a-bitch!” Noelle yelped. Out the door she went.


            After Eddie closed the door and sat back down at the table, he shook his head.

            “Denise was right. She’s got it bad.”