The Forever Engine – Snippet 30

“This changes things, I suppose,” Gordon said, “although I am not sure exactly how. Can we still count on your cooperation, Inspector Wolfenbach?”

The corpulent policeman bobbed his head, making his jowls quiver.

“Berlin says help, so ja, I assign three of my policemen to help. But after the attack yesterday I receive new instructions — from the Prinz-regent himself. Now we are joined by Leutnant von Schtecker and twenty volunteers from the Bayerisch Garde Schützenkorps, all gut soldaten, excellent shots, and all with some English.”

The Bavarian army officer clicked his heels and did a little bow in Gabrielle’s direction.

“We travel in civilian clothes, of course,” the young lieutenant explained. “We say it is a hunting trip to Macedonia. Our rifles will be in the baggage until we need them.”

“This attack stirred things up?” I asked.

“They ruin Oktoberfest,” the lieutenant answered, the outrage plain in his voice. “Since the first festival was held we have only interrupted it twice, both times for war. Now a third time? Very well, war it shall be.”

Something to remember if I ever wanted to conquer the world: don’t get between the Bavarians and a good party.

Gordon unrolled Intrepid‘s chart of Serbia and pointed to the mountains along its southwest frontier with Turkish Bosnia and Montenegro.

“We are happy to have you, Leftenant. The plan was to have Inspector Wolfenbach direct the Hochflieger Ost to make an unscheduled landing somewhere south of Belgrade and drop us off. Now the attack here has caused the zeppelin line to postpone the departure of the Hochflieger from Berlin for several days. Perhaps that is to our advantage.”

“With Thomson in his hands, how can a delay be good?” Harding asked.

“If Tesla knows all the rest, he may know of the arrangements with the zeppelin line as well,” Gordon said. “If he already expects the attack to come from the Hochflieger, its delay gives us the ability to attack by a different route, by surprise. We’ll have to move quickly, though. The potential for surprise will last only until the next actual passage of the Hochflieger.

“Inspector Wolfenbach, if you would post armed guards on the hotel where we were staying, it will help convince any prying eyes that Mr. Fargo and I are still there, waiting for the arrival of the Hochflieger.”

Ja, sehr gut,” Wolfenbach answered.

“Captain Harding, I’d like Intrepid to take the entire party to the Austrian military base at Ujvidék, south of Budapest on the Serbian frontier. From there we will take off after dusk and make a high-speed run to the southwest, follow the Turkish side of the frontier all the way down to” — he leaned over the map to read the name — “ViÅ¡egràd. That’s approximately one hundred miles, so we should be able to make it there in four hours from Ujvidék. Does that sound correct?”

Harding leaned over and studied the map, did a quick measurement using map calipers.

“Now that we’ve got the portside drive shaft straightened and two airscrews mounted, we can make twenty knots again. If we stay well above the mountains, yes, we can make it in four hours. Landing would be tricky except we should be able to descend into the valley of the Drina River here. Let me think. We can make Ujvidék from here in a little under a day. If we leave this afternoon and run through the night, we arrive tomorrow afternoon. That means making the approach run tomorrow night. It’s a new moon, so the only light we’ll have coming down will be starlight. If this overcast continues we’ll have to use floodlights for landing, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Yes, four hours there and perhaps half an hour to find your village and land you.”

“Good. You drop us off along with Leftenant von Schtecker’s men and as many Marines as you can spare. You make full speed back to Ujvidék. I’d like you back on your tie-down pad by dawn,” Gordon finished.

Harding straightened up and nodded again.

“Yes, with no one the wiser as to where we’ve been. Confusion to the enemy. Good show. And you?”

“The armed party will remain hidden,” Gordon said, “and we’ll need supplies and field gear — tents, rations for a week, that sort of thing. Leftenant von Schtecker, can you arrange for that?”

Jawohl, Herr Hauptmann,” the Bavarian officer answered.

“Good. While you establish our camp in the hills, Fargo and I will contact the Turkish authorities. Mr. Fargo will serve as my translator.”

“You speak Turkish?” Harding asked.

“Turkmen,” I answered. “Close enough.”

It wasn’t all that close in my own time because in the early twentieth century the Turks had reformed their language, gotten rid of all the Farsi and Arabic borrow words which Turkmen still had. The two languages were actually closer in this world, at least in theory. I figured I could get by.

“After we determine what assistance the Turks will render,” Gordon continued, “we will conduct a reconnaissance of the border, determine the best route of advance, and make our way east to Kokin Brod. Given the information Captain Harding has supplied, and the instructions Dr. Thomson was given, I expect at least a battalion of Turkish infantry, and likely a full brigade. Of course, we can’t count on Turks for anything lively, but our Marines and Leftenant von Schtecker’s men should serve for that.

“From what Mademoiselle Courbiere tells us, there are no regular Serbian troops at Kokin Brod — if the Serbs can be said to have regulars at all. Tesla’s followers are fanatics, their courage fortified by narcotics, but it is the sort of courage best applied to raids and surprise descents. I find it highly unlikely they will stand for more than a volley or two against well-armed infantry.

“Are there any questions?”

I waited, looked around the table, hoping someone would speak up. Gordon might listen to Harding or either of the Bavarians, but he still wasn’t likely to pay any attention to what I had to say. Unfortunately, the three other military types stood there nodding like bobble-heads.

“Just a thought,” I said. “Why don’t we try sneaking in, keeping the element of surprise?”

“Sneak in with five hundred or a thousand men?” Lieutenant von Schtecker asked. “How?”

“No. I’m thinking a small group to go in, probably the Marines and your riflemen, Herr Leutnant. The Turks would follow up and cover the withdrawal. I guess what I’m saying is, why shoot our way in and out, when maybe we can sneak in?”

Von Schtecker looked like he was thinking it over, when Gordon stepped in.

“Mr. Fargo is a professor of history in America. He has an academic’s approach to problems — too complicated by half. Simple is better; hit them hard and fast.”

“Hard I understand,” I said. “It’s the fast I’m foggy about. How are you –”

“That’s enough, Fargo. We’ll work out the details when we can see the lay of the land. But in outline I think we are in agreement, yes?”

All the bobble-heads nodded. It wouldn’t do for a serving officer to take sides with some icky academic guy.

“Actually, this use of stealth, it seems sensible,” Gabrielle said.

“While I appreciate the intelligence you have shared with us, Mademoiselle, I insist that you allow the military men to deal with military matters,” Gordon answered. “Now, one more thing. It will be a difficult trek, across very mountainous terrain. I hope you will not take offense, Inspector, but I believe Bavaria’s contribution to the expedition will be more than satisfied by the information you can give us and Leftenant von Schtecker’s riflemen. I see no need for you to personally accompany us.”

Natürlich,” Wolfenbach answered. “You are not Hannibal, after all.”

Wolfenbach wasn’t quite as big as an elephant, but close enough. They all laughed except for Gabrielle, who seemed confused by the reference.