PrologueApril 1634, Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia, United States of Europe
"Der Kronz" was in an exuberant mood as he walked into the Voice of America offices, whistling an up-timer tune by the name of "Do the Hustle" and without a care in the world.
That lasted until he ran into his boss.
"To top everything else off," John Grover growled ten minutes later, "Art Berry's set up a deal with your Pentecostals to demonstrate how his remote relay system works by broadcasting one of their revivals live."
"My Pentecostals?" Marc Kronzburg replied, a little defensive. "When did they become my Pentecostals? I sell advertising, remember? And I'm Jewish."
Chapter OneLate September 1631, Camburg a.d. Saale, Thuringia
It was the screams that woke him. As Dieter Fischer regained consciousness, he felt again the pain of the deep gash on his forehead and the scrapes from being knocked so brutally to the ground by the mercenary with that Swedish sword.
At the sound of a building collapsing from the raging fire that engulfed it, he opened his eyes. The flames that reflected off of the blood pooled around his head stole his attention, until he again heard the screams. He knew the girl. Just this June he had performed her confirmation. She was the first Christian he'd confirmed on this, his first call, taking on his own church after his predecessor's untimely death in late May.
Now she was naked, being brutally raped by a gang of mercenaries right in front of his eyes.
His first thought was to save her, but his body had other ideas. It had decided that he had already done enough and was going to continue to lie there as if dead like the mercenaries believed him to be.
That's when she opened her eyes. In the midst of her degradation, her vivid violet eyes seemed to stare right at him. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she seemingly pled for his intervention or forgiveness for what she was enduring.
He lay still, captivated by her anguish. He couldn't help but watch until he was finally able to close his eyes amidst the sounds of even more carnage. After the Protestant victory over the Catholic mercenary armies at Breitenfeld, his parish of Camburg had been excited at the prospect of the strong Swedish Lutheran King who could protect them against the evil forces of Tilly. The council even authorized sending a portion of the militia off to reinforce the victorious Lutheran forces, leaving just enough to man their village keep in the upper castle walls. So when the approaching mercenaries under the Swedish flag were spotted coming down the old Salt Road, they were welcomed as heroes.
Once inside the walled compound, however, the leader pulled his saber and gutted the mayor. Another soldier swung his sword in an attempt to cut off the head of Reverend Dieter Fischer. Only Fischer's quick reaction had allowed the blade to cut his forehead instead of his neck.
Now, Fischer's body had had enough. It let his mind know that it was taking charge until the dangers were past. As he felt his consciousness flow away, his final thought was, "God damn the Swedes!"
October 1631, Northern Franconia
The "Snow Plow," Ake Henriksson Tott, leaned over his saddle to get a better look at the prisoners. The field marshal about whom Gustavus II Adolphus had bragged "He'll sweep his opposition aside so the rest of the army just has to follow along behind" was hopeful that this was the end to a diversion of military resources. Resources he could ill afford at this critical point.
A motley bunch they were, he thought, even under the conditions that prevailed in the Central Germanies.
"Are these the last of them, Captain Leslie?" he asked.
"Aye, sir," replied Captain David Leslie of the Scottish cavalry command in service to the Swedish king.
"When we caught up with them . . . " Leslie gestured at the captives. " . . . these ever-dependable Saxons and the rest tried to bluff their way through. Then we ordered a search and found the Swedish flag they'd stolen. As well as a few other baubles stolen as they fled the battle. That's when they decided to put up a bit of a struggle.”
The flag had been in the Swedish supply trains at Breitenfeld. The Saxon forces had paused to loot it after their rout at the hands of Tilly's Catholic army early on September seventeenth. At that point, it seemed like the Lutheran army was done for. But then Gustav Adolph had turned the battle around and destroyed the Catholic army, coming out with a decisive victory.
"Most died right there, but these—" Leslie sniffed. "These fine laddies threw down their arms and offered to come into the service of the king. Of course, I'm not seeing where they might have had other options at the time.
"My men have heard them admit to their crimes of pillaging Camburg under a false flag, and ask forgiveness. I guess the damned papist idea of confession runs deep in their souls, even if the Saxons have been Lutheran for a century. Anyway, it's them all right. The rest are dead. What shall I do with them, Field Marshall?"
Tott wiped the beads of sweat from his balding pate and shook his hand to loosen the hairs that he had lost in doing so. Never taking his eyes off the prisoners, he pulled on his goatee. "Hang them. We need to move on south as fast as we can." Tott pulled his horse around to ride back to headquarters with his guard.
Chapter TwoJune 1632, somewhere in Thuringia
Much to his amazement, Fischer was looking through the grass at something that couldn't exist.
The thing rapidly moved past him as he lay in tall grass beside the road. It somewhat resembled paintings of siege machines, boxy but made of metal, and it moved faster than any horse Fischer had ever seen. Then there was the noise that it made, a low roaring noise like a blast furnace in hell, with a smell unlike any he could remember.
After raising his head to make sure no others were in sight, Fischer got up and walked into the middle of the road. What kind of tracks were these? He kneeled down in the late spring snow encrusting the roadway and placed his finger into one of the tracks on the road. It was freshly embossed into the mud with a curious pattern. The track was deep, up to his first knuckle. After a moment, he brought the finger up to touch his forehead.
The scar seems to have healed. And the Other self has gone away. I wonder how long it's been this time? Fischer felt the long strands of black hair flowing down over his collar and concluded that it must have been only a few months. Less than a year at the most since...
There was the occasional memory of snaring a rabbit, or catching fish with his bare hands in the middle of an ice-cold stream. Things that his body had needed his consciousness to take care of. Little survival skills his father had taught him as a boy as they fled Upper Austria and Tilly's armies in the 1620s.
He could remember that part of his life. He could remember how many cities had refused his family entrance due to their citizenship laws. He could remember his father finally finding shelter for his family in Wittenberg and his attending the university there, his ordination, but since then . . .
Curious. I wonder where the thing came from? Looking around again, he rose and decided to follow the embossed tracks back to their point of origin.
Grantville, New United States
Fischer was still amazed at this city from the future. He'd been warmly received and directed to the refugee center located by the power plant. He'd been staying there since his arrival a few weeks earlier.
He'd gladly pitched in with the required labor gang work that was requested of him in exchange for his room and board. This week was digging new footings for some kind of stone tower the up-timers were building just outside the edge of the Ring of Fire cut. It was hard work, but very satisfying. Someone had even registered him to vote in future elections for the newly created New United States. Clearly, this future had much to offer.
Even if there were no Lutheran churches.
On this night, like many others since he'd gotten here, he was walking around town seeing the incredible things that man had—or would have—accomplished in another three hundred years. That's when he heard the music.
It was coming from the direction of the fairground on the other side of Buffalo Creek. Fischer followed the sound as it strengthened, up the hill to the fairground. He had worked on fixing the fences there just last week.
Now, in what had been referred to as the picnic area, there was a large white tent. It was brightly lit from inside and the music was coming from there. He decided that he would go in to listen.
When he walked through the open flap, a woman, an up-timer woman, came over to him and shook his hand with both of hers. "Welcome, Brother! You're just in time for the sermon. Let me help you find a seat.
"It'll have to be up front," she continued, grinning as she took hold of his upper arm to guide him to the front. "You have to come early to get a back seat! If you don't speak English, don't worry. Reverend Chalker was a chaplain's assistant stationed in Stuttgart, and speaks German well."
After some jostling to move the people on the second row down a bit, she placed him on the aisle with a wonderful view of the choir that was singing some song in English with a rhythm and harmony unlike anything he had ever heard. They had several musical instruments accompanying them, also unfamiliar to Fischer, along with violins. But they played the violins unlike anything he could remember either.
Finally, the choir finished as the audience—Fischer couldn't quite think of it yet as a congregation—applauded. Some held their right arms up in the air above their heads, and several people around him yelled out, "Praise Jez-sus!"
A man dressed in a grey suit and using a cane walked up on the podium and took his place behind the pulpit. He was old even by up-timer standards His hair was full, wavy and snow white. It seemed to capture the lights aimed at the stage with almost a halo effect. He leaned his cane beside the pulpit and shuffled some papers on its top. He took a sip from the mug at the edge of the podium and leaned forward.
"My name is John Chalker and . . . " He paused for a moment, then yelled, "I am a sinner!"
The old man's voice was obviously just a shadow of what it had once been years before. Even though it wavered from his tired old throat, the force behind it was still there.
As a child, Fischer learned from his father that he must learn to fit in if his family would ever be able to find a new town that would allow them to stay. He'd not only learned the catechisms of the locally mandated religion, he'd also learned to pick up the different ways people pronounced their words from one town to another.
Later, as a student at the university, he'd learned to amuse his classmates with imitations of a number of his professors. The professor from the North Sea area spoke in a very guttural Plattsdeutsch dialect. The imitation that Fischer performed always made his proper-sounding Saxon classmates laugh.
This old man in front of him, preaching of love and acceptance and second chances had such a different way of molding his words that Fischer could not help but try to form some of those words with his own lips. It was very similar to how they spoke in Saxony, but just a little off.
The person to his left bumped into him. Fischer looked around and noticed a large number of the others in the tent swaying to the old preacher's pacing, holding their right hand up to the sky as if reaching out to be picked up off the bench.
After a time Chalker, who had been leaning heavily on the pulpit, reached for his cane and began to walk toward the front of the podium, all the while continuing his sermon, "You can only die once if you are born twice."