“They want little steel balls?”
“That’s what it says and these things . . . ” Johan said, pointing at the pamphlet.
“What on earth for?” Wilhelm asked, without really looking at the pamphlet.
“I’m not sure. Pamphlet doesn’t say. I would guess it’s some sort of strange rolling bushing.”
“I don’t know, Johan. The whole thing sounds fishy to me. Besides, what’s wrong with ordinary bushings?”
“It’s from Grantville, Wilhelm.”
“So? Granted, something weird happened over there a couple of years ago. I even grant that it was probably a miracle. But that doesn’t mean everyone in Thuringia is suddenly a saint. It doesn’t even mean that all the up-timers are saints. I’ve heard some pretty nasty stories about them. And did you hear about what they did up at that castle? Burned the Spaniards. That sounds more like devils than saints. Not that the Spaniards didn’t probably deserve it. Bunch of Papist pigs.”
“Well, no one is threatening to burn us. They are just offering to buy some steel parts from us . . . if we can make them.”
“Right. They are offering to buy them, but that broadsheet doesn’t guarantee a price. ‘Price to be determined.’ Steel balls aren’t complicated, but they aren’t easy to make. They will be expensive to produce and they want thousands of the sets. And they want steel! Why do they need steel? Good Swedish iron we can get up the Elbe at a reasonable price, but they want their silly little balls made out of this crucible steel. Do you realize how much we will spend making the steel? Besides steel being hard to work!”
“So you don’t think we can do it? The town, I mean.” The town was Zahna, which was a little nothing of a place a few miles northeast of Wittenberg.
Wilhelm sniffed. “Of course we can do it. The question is: should we do it?”
Johan just looked at him. Wilhelm had a tendency to overestimate the capability of Zahna that was almost as great as his automatic distrust of anyone who came from more than a stone’s throw away. He hadn’t been overly pleased at the miracle of the Ring of Fire happening so far away. To Wilhelm the best proof that Martin Luther had been right was that he had nailed up his points locally, not off in Rome. Johan was more worldly. He had actually been to Jena a few years back. Not to go to college, just to pick up the new pastor who had recently graduated. Of course, that was years before the Ring of Fire. The farthest that Johan had been in the last ten years was taking his wagon over to the Elbe to pick up a load of iron at Mühlanger. Where he had met Maria.
“Wilhelm, we need something. We’re losing sales to the villages.”
“We make good products.”
“Yes, I know we do, and we are well thought of . . . but they can get nails for less than half of what we can make them for. I talked to Hans Gruber the other day and he showed me the price in the catalog. It’s not that they resent us. The villagers around here mostly like us and would rather stay with us if they could. But they just can’t afford to.”
“I know it. But I don’t trust this. It’s too new, too different. What do they need it for, and why aren’t they making the little steel balls themselves?”
“Dinner is ready, you two,” Maria, Johan’s wife, shouted.
“I still don’t trust it,” Wilhelm said the next day. “And you trust it too much.” He glared at Johan. “You always have been too trusting.” He transferred his glare to Maria.
Johan repressed a sigh. Wilhelm had never really trusted Maria. He disapproved of Johan’s meeting and marrying a woman who wasn’t from Zahna. Maria had been in service to a wealthy family in Wittenberg, but she was from Riesigk, which was on the other side of the Elbe. “If I don’t go to Grantville to investigate this, then you’ll have to do it.”
Wilhelm nearly choked.
“Well,” Johan said, “you won’t believe a thing I say if I go. Besides . . . ” He smiled at his wife, heavily pregnant with their first child. ” . . . I don’t want to be away until the baby is born. So you go.”
“Argh,” Wilhelm muttered.
“It’ll do you good to try something new,” Maria said. “Maybe you’ll figure out that not everything beyond Zahna is bad.”
Wilhelm sniffed and, with a hint of humor, said, “Not necessarily bad. Just not entirely proper.”
Unlike his flighty younger brother Johan, Wilhelm didn’t travel. He didn’t approve of the world outside his home town. It brought things like the plague that had killed his parents and the war that was trying to destroy them all. He didn’t like traveling down the Elbe and he didn’t like traveling up the Saale and he didn’t like staying at inns and he didn’t like drinking different beer and he didn’t like the way some people spiced the sausage. His litany of complaints went on and on, although after a few irritated looks from fellow travelers he decided to keep them to himself. And he didn’t like having to keep his opinions of inferior beer and sausage to himself.
But because of his attitude, he was prepared to dislike Grantville most intensely.
And he did.
The asphalt stuff on the roads stank. The cars went too fast and left a stink behind them. The people dressed funny. And everyone he saw just looked too . . . happy. He couldn’t avoid seeing the grandeur of the Ring Wall and the power and utility of the up-time devices, but he didn’t have to like it. And he didn’t.
So this is the place they talk about on the radio, Wilhelm thought. The Thuringen Gardens. He stepped through the door and found that the place was almost too crowded to move through. One of the waitresses waved toward the tables and said, “Just find a place to sit. Doesn’t matter where. One of us will be over to take your order in a moment.”
Easier said than done, Wilhelm thought. The place was packed with people moving and talking and laughing. He couldn’t hear himself think, and almost turned around and left. But the Thuringen Gardens was famous. Even in Zahna they had crystal radios and listened to the VOA. They heard about the Gardens on several of the programs. They had heard concerts that were broadcast from the Gardens. Going to Grantville and not visiting the Gardens would be . . . Well, he wouldn’t dare face his sister-in-law if he were to come home and admit that he had gotten to the Gardens and then turned around and left.
So he persevered and finally found an open spot on a bench. Unfortunately, it was right next to a young woman. What made it worse was that she was a very pretty young woman and he didn’t know how to talk with pretty young women. He never had, not even when he was a younger man.
“May I sit here?” he asked hesitantly after standing there long enough to almost seem creepy.
“Sure, go ahead. I rarely bite.”
Once he was seated, the young woman continued. “I was wondering if you were going to get up the nerve to sit down or run away. Are you new to Grantville?”
“Yes, just got here today. I am staying at the big inn they built just outside the Ring Wall.”
“Right, the tourist inn, we call it. It’s cheap enough and it does have running water, but it’s not like the Higgins is going to be or even like the Willard. So what brings you to Grantville? Want to see if you’re in the encyclopedia?”
“You know, coming to find out if you are remembered by history?”
“No.” Wilhelm shook his head, still confused. “I am a blacksmith. Who would remember me?”
“Well, at least you’re not one of the egotists,” the young woman said. “My name is Barbara Fischerin, by the way. I’m an old Grantville hand, been here since early last year. I go to school nights at the high school and when I get my GED I’m going to get a job as a clerk or a bookkeeper, or even a secretary. I’m not going to be a housemaid forever. You can get ahead in Grantville.”
All of which would have, no doubt, been highly informative if Wilhelm had understood half of it. What was a GED? He stopped. A GED was something they had heard about on the radio. It was a high school equivalency certificate. That might be of value. It would probably be more education than he had, come to that. He had eight years of school, the last four part-time as part of his apprenticeship. He found himself impressed by the young woman. Perhaps she would get such a job. “That sounds quite impressive.”
She shrugged, which did interesting things to her blouse. “Not for here. You should meet my cousin. He is a licensed researcher at the State Library and Research Center. Anyway, if you’re not here to find out if you’re famous, why are you here? Just to see the place?”
“No. I am coming about a business opportunity.”
Wilhelm pulled out the well-creased broadsheet. “This and several others arrived in our village a couple of months ago, brought by a merchant. Between them they listed many products that would be bought if they could be produced to the standard required. I am here to find out if it’s a real offer.”
She took the sheet and started reading. A few moments later, she pointed to a place on the sheet and said, “The offer is legitimate, I’d say. It’s Universal Machine Supply Corporation, which is owned by OPM, and they are legitimate. I even have some OPM shares. Frau Wasserman says it’s for my dowry, but I’m not sure I want to get married. Still, it’s nice that she does it.”
“Does what? I don’t understand.”
“Frau Wasserman is my employer. She provides room and board, plus a small salary and some mutual fund shares every month. OPM is one of the funds. It’s all part of the benefits package.”
By this time, Wilhelm’s head was spinning. For one thing, Barbara, while apparently hard-working and certainly quite a pretty girl, was a chatterbox. She hadn’t stopped talking since he’d sat down. For another thing, he was quite hungry and the waitress still hadn’t made it to their spot so that he could order some food.
As he was thinking this, Barbara did get quiet. So did many of the others in their part of the Gardens, for a group of people were climbing onto the stage.
A voice boomed into the room. “And now, back by popular demand, we present Miss Els Engel, appearing with the Old Folks!”
“Good evening, friends,” the warm, furry voice of Els Engel said, sounding much better than it had over the radio, richer and fuller. “Tonight we are going to do a medley of country and western music, with a bit of the big band music thrown in. Some of it will seem a little strange to many of you, but it has a beautiful soul once you get used to the new style.”
By the end of the evening Wilhelm and Barbara had agreed to meet the next day when Barbara promised to introduce him to her cousin, the researcher.
Cousin Franz the researcher spoke and read German and English, not all that unusual in war-torn Germany. He was moderately well-educated, having gotten a year at the university before the war had ruined his prospects. When he, with his family, had washed up in Grantville he had, with the family’s help, gotten together the money to take the library course. Since then he had been working as an independent researcher and gradually paying them back.
Frankly, Wilhelm didn’t find him all that impressive, though Wilhelm did manage to keep that thought to himself. After all, there wasn’t that much to this bit of research. Barbara took Wilhelm to the Library and Research Center and introduced them. Wilhelm showed him the leaflet. Franz took one look and went and fetched a couple of booklets.
“These are free.” Franz pointed to one. “This one is provided by Universal Machine Supply Corporation, which is owned by OPM.” He pointed at the other. “This is the quarterly report on OPM. Between them they should answer most of your questions. Since UMSC put out that pamphlet, we’ve had dozens of such requests. I could do the research independently, but it would be a waste of my time and your money.” He pointed again at the leaflet provided by Universal Machine Supply Corporation. “That one is actually produced by the National, ah, State Library and Research Center. It’s just that UMSC asked the questions about how ball bearings were made and even they weren’t the first. But when the staff had put together the booklet, UMSC paid to have it translated into German and have a thousand copies made up.”
“Why?” Wilhelm asked as he looked at the first booklet.
“Because they want people to start making ball bearings and figure that you’re more likely to do it if you know how it’s done.”
“And this one?”
“Oh, OPM gives those out to anyone. They’re advertising. Whether you’re thinking about buying shares or need money to start a business, this will tell you what OPM has to offer. There are dozens of others just like that from other mutual funds. Funds that invest in everything from ships to roses. There are even two from funds in France.”
In spite of the fact that Franz struck Wilhelm as a self-important jerk, the booklet on bearings was interesting. It turned out that there were several types of bearings. Wilhelm was familiar with bushings. He made them regularly for wagon wheels and a score of other uses. At the most basic level, a bushing was just two surfaces with a bit of grease between them. Not that the up-timers didn’t have a number of tricks that they applied. There were also magnetic bearings and liquid bearings and other weird stuff. All this was mentioned in a couple of pages at the start of the booklet. Then it got into rolling bearings, and ball bearings in particular.
A ball bearing is any bearing that uses balls. Most of the fairly standard bearing sets that Universal Machine Supply Corporation wanted used a set of balls rolling in two races, little circular pieces that had tracks for the balls to race around in. They also had cages to keep the balls from rubbing against each other as they rolled around. It was all designed to let something spin with as little friction as possible.
Wilhelm actually went to visit the offices of Universal Machine Supply Corporation.
“Can I help you, sir?” asked the young lady at the desk in the front room.
“I am Wilhelm Wagner. I was wondering about the ball bearings you want made?”
“Yes? What would you like to know?”
“Why do you want them?”
She reached in a desk and pulled out another booklet. Then she started showing him all the items that could be made better with ball bearings. Wheels and machine tools and engines and . . . on and on and on.
The opportunity was for real. By now Wilhelm was convinced that the only question was: could Zahna do it? Wilhelm was very much afraid that they couldn’t. The reason was that making balls for the ball bearings was machine-intensive. There was a reason that blacksmiths in the seventeenth century used bushings rather than ball bearings. Bushings were easier to make. Incredibly easier to make if made by hand. Making the balls by hand could certainly be done but it would take a long time for each bearing. In practice, Wilhelm, his brother, and all their journeymen and apprentices working full-time making balls couldn’t make enough ball bearings to feed themselves at the prices UMSC was willing to pay. But there was an answer for that and it was shown in the booklet: a set of machines that would let them make bearings by the thousands and let them make them cheaply and well. Trouble was, they couldn’t afford the machines.
He packed up his kit, said goodbye to Barbara, and headed back to Zahna.
“So, is it for real?” Johan asked him
“Yes, it’s for real. I saw drawings, and even working machines. They have human-powered two-wheel vehicles called bicycles that can be made without ball bearings, but work much better with them. And a whole host of other devices, many of which can get by with bushings, but become much more efficient with ball bearings. So there is a demand for ball bearings. It would be a product that would sell.”
“Then we are going to do it?”
“I wish we could, but I don’t see how.” Wilhelm brought out the booklets and the information he had collected and started going over it with his brother. Over the next week, he would go over the same information with every member of the town council.
“We would like to help you. Your family is one of the best in town and your shop is well run, but the expense!” The mayor shook his head, speaking for the town council. It was precisely what Wilhelm had expected to hear, since he was on the council himself. And everyone on the council realized what a town-owned company would mean for the town . . . if they could get it going.
Almost everyone wanted a factory for Zahna, but even with the resources of the entire town, they couldn’t support a ball bearing factory. There were just too many production machines involved. Producing the balls would take three machines: the heading machine, basically a stamp press that stamped a roughly ball-shaped piece on the end of a wire, then those almost-balls would go through rill plates, which were a lot like a grinding wheel for flour. The hard steel rill plates had grooves cut in them so when the balls were rolled around under pressure they got really round and compressed. And then the balls were sent to a furnace for tempering, and finally were subjected to more rolling around in a ball mill.
That was all just for making the balls. If everyone—or even almost everyone—in town invested in the project, Zahna could do it, if there was a matching loan from OPM or one of the other mutual funds.
But that wasn’t all that was needed for a ball bearing factory. It took a different stamp press to make the cages and other grinding machines to make the races, which had inner and outer surfaces, each of which needed their own grinding and shaping machines. Those machines wouldn’t come cheap. As well, the machines would need something to power them.
It was just too much for one town, even with the matching loans.
“The trip wasn’t a total waste,” Wilhelm said. “I bought some tools. A metal-working lathe that can be run with pedals. And a few other pieces that ought to let us work more efficiently.”
Johan looked over Wilhelm’s purchases, and they spent a few days getting back to work using the new tools. The tools were helpful and increased the shop’s production. Johan and Wilhelm also started making a few of the up-time tools. Over that winter things went fairly well with the new machines.
When not involved in caring for her newborn, Maria noticed that Wilhelm seemed less satisfied with the town than before his visit to Grantville. It was like pulling teeth, but she finally got him to admit that he had met a girl in Grantville.
“What’s her name?” Maria asked.
“Barbara.” Wilhelm sighed. “Very nice girl, Barbara. But she’s too young for me, I fear.”
“Only twenty-five. She wouldn’t be interested in me. I’m fifteen years older, and a settled sort, and far away from Grantville.”
“Grantville is very exciting, you know,” Wilhelm said. “It smells funny from the asphalt and the gasoline, but it’s still very exciting.”
“And you don’t think Barbara might like a quieter, possibly more secure, life?”
“Oh, she’s very modern. Going to school, getting her GED.”
Honestly, Maria was in agreement that her husband’s older brother was an old curmudgeon. But he had been one when he was twenty, according to Johan. Even so, Wilhelm was a decent man, if grumpy and not at all to her tastes. He needed a wife. Even if he didn’t think so.
“You might write her,” Maria suggested. “Perhaps she needs a friend.”
Over the winter things in the shop went well. The new tools and the new designs that Wilhelm had brought back made the shop both more efficient and more profitable.
By spring the writing was on the wall . . . but it was still faint and in very fine print.
Factory-made items were starting to become available. Not enough of them, and they were expensive because of their scarcity and the transport costs. But Wilhelm had been to Grantville and when he put what he had seen in Grantville together with what he was seeing now in the Wish Book and other advertisements that came to Zahna, he was becoming concerned.
“It’s how fast they can make them, Johan. Barbara took me to see a factory just outside the Ring of Fire. They had these big stamp presses and they were stamping out parts in seconds. Parts that would take us hours to make.”
“But it’s just one factory!”
“For now. But they’re making more. If we don’t . . . ” Wilhelm stopped, looking for a word. “Modernize. Copy the way the up-timers do things. If we don’t do this, we are going to be left behind. And by the time we are forced to modernize, we won’t have the resources to do it.”
“It’s not that I disagree, Wilhelm, and it’s not that the council disagrees,” Johan said. “Peter Krup is terrified of the shoes in the Wish Book.” Peter Krup was the town’s largest shoemaker. “And he’s not the only one. But we just can’t do ball bearings. For that matter, I’m not sure what we can do.”
“We could make the balls if everyone got behind it!”
“Probably. But what good will that do if there isn’t anyone making the races and cages?”
“I don’t know.” Wilhelm sighed. “Would you pass the beets, Maria?”
“What about arranging with another town to make the races and a third to make the cages? We can’t be the only ones who see the problem.”
“Why don’t I write home about it?” Maria said. “My brother wrote me recently and he shares your concerns about finding ourselves left behind with all the new technology out of Grantville. Perhaps Riesigk could get involved with the ball bearings . . . ”
“It’s too far away,” Wilhelm said. “We’d have to ship the balls across the river, then put them on mules or something to get them to Riesigk. Then we’d have to ship them back across the river to wherever they do final assembly. No, it’s better if we go to the local towns and villages and find our partners closer to hand. It will save incredibly on transport costs.”
Maria was sure that he was overstating things, but she had no answer ready. So she just nodded and waited for the men to go back to work. Then she sat down and wrote her brother a letter.
“Do you two really think that this is a good idea?” The mayor of Zahna was a relative and a friend of Wilhelm’s and, though not as distrusting of strangers as Wilhelm, he found the whole Ring of Fire situation intensely disturbing. He was a devout Lutheran and the idea of God sending a bunch of people from the future didn’t fit with his notions of how the world was supposed to work or the things that God did.
“It’s a better idea than letting the new world pass us by and leave us poor and unable to support ourselves.”
The mayor nodded sadly. He didn’t like it, but perhaps his favorite of all the Bible verses had to do with moving your mule out of the ditch on the Sabbath. You did what you had to do to get by in this world, and God understood that.
He sent letters to the surrounding towns and villages. Mostly wrote them himself and had them hand-carried.
“What is wrong with those people?” Wilhelm complained. “You can’t outlaw the Ring of Fire or the things it brings. You might as well outlaw clouds and the rains they bring. The rain is still going to come.”
“It’s not my fault,” the mayor said. “I wrote them and they don’t agree. They insist that they can prevent people in their towns from buying from the Wish Books. Mayor Kastner said that loyal citizens wouldn’t betray their town by buying from the up-timers.”
Wilhelm went home in a poor mood.
“Don’t gloat, dear,” Johan told his wife, without meaning a word of it. “It’s unbecoming.”
“Yes, dear,” Maria said, with a bowed head and a grin that utterly ruined the effect.
“Oh, shut up,” Wilhelm groused. When he had told them about the other towns’ reactions, Maria had pulled out a letter from her brother, Carsten. Riesigk was showing great interest in the project.
“All right. When can we get away to go visit Riesigk?”
“Carsten!” Maria waved.
Carsten Bauer looked up. He was in the field, following a pair of oxen. It was what he was normally doing this time of year and he enjoyed it. It gave him time to think. “Maria? Is that you?”
“It’s me, Carsten, and you know Johan and Wilhelm. This is little Johan, who you haven’t met yet.”
“Go on up to the house and say hello to Anna. I’ll finish this row and come join you.”
“So you want to make ball bearings?” Konrad asked. Konrad was Maria’s cousin and the mayor of Riesigk. Which didn’t amount to all that much, he would freely admit, because there were only fourteen full farmers in the village and six half-farmers. Mayor of less than two hundred people didn’t make you the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
“Yes.” Wilhelm Wagner looked like he was eating especially sour sauerkraut.
“And the towns with actual charters don’t want anything to do with it because they are too busy outlawing everything up-timer?” Konrad caught himself. He was enjoying this altogether too much. The town citizens of the Germanies looked down on the villagers of Germany with great disdain and they always had. Wilhelm was from a town, even though it wasn’t much bigger than a village might be. It wasn’t even an imperial city. Zahna got its charter from the Wittenberg government. Konrad had always resented that looking-down and the abuse that went with it. The towns controlled the trade. They said who could buy and who could sell and when within their borders. Now, with the up-timers who didn’t care about such things, villages like Riesigk could get the things they needed from catalogs without having to buy from the towns. The towns hated that.
“They are being very short-sighted,” Wilhelm complained.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Konrad told him, and meant it. From all he had heard about the Wagner brothers, they were pretty decent types for townies. But they were still townies. “What do you want from us?”
“We can make the balls, we think, if we can buy the ball mill from the up-timers or even some of the parts of it. We think we can make the heading machine ourselves. It’s a new kind of forge, but we are fairly sure we can put together something that will work. The annealing, well, that’s just a firing and tempering. We’ve been doing that all our lives. And we can use what I learned in Grantville to make the crucible steel out of the iron we buy.”
“But we can’t do it all,” Johan interrupted his brother’s bragging. “The ball bearings aren’t just the balls. They also need something called races and cages.” He pulled out a set of ball bearings that he had made by hand, first from the pamphlet that they had gotten, then from the added information that Wilhelm had brought back. He disassembled the parts so that how it worked could be seen. “Look here. The little curved channels that the balls are in keep everything lined up and the cages keep the balls from rubbing against each other.”
“They still rub against the cages, don’t they?” Konrad asked.
“Yes, but not very much, and not very hard. With a bit of grease, this thing will spin for a long time. We tried it on a wagon wheel and spun it by hand and it kept spinning for almost a full minute.”
“That’s impressive, I’ll grant. And we are looking for anything we can find to bring in American dollars. But . . . ”
The conversation went on for some time. And later some of the village children were sent to Gohrau and Rehsen, villages within a mile of Riesigk and each other, to fetch the village mayors. After they arrived, there was more talking and more showing of the ball bearings that Johan had made.
Johan and Wilhelm explained that while they could make ball bearings, they couldn’t do it at a reasonable price. Not without lots of equipment. And their smithy, even the whole town of Zahna, couldn’t afford all the equipment they would need.
“So what are you after? Investors?” Tobias Schubert, the mayor of Gohrau, asked. “We don’t have all that much money, and we are more concerned with finding work than finding places to put money we don’t have anyway.”
“We will need to employ a lot of people to make the ball bearings in the numbers that are going to be needed,” Wilhelm said.
“So you want us to invest our money then move to Zahna?”
“No!” Wilhelm said.
“We want to go into partnership with your villages to produce ball bearings,” Johan jumped in before his big brother stuck his foot in his mouth. “We will make the balls in Zahna, and the races and cages will be made here. Then they will all be assembled in Zahna.”
“So you want us to make the races and ship them to Zahna for assembly. Why not ship the balls here for assembly? The assembly doesn’t look too hard.” Tobias picked up the example ball bearing set that Johan had brought, took it apart and put it back together. “It doesn’t seem to need a blacksmith to do it. Probably children could do it. It would keep them out of trouble, avoid idle hands and all that.”
“After school,” said Maria’s mother with some heat. “Not instead of school.”
Maria smiled. Her mama was very intent that all the children should learn as much as they could. She had wanted Carsten to go to the Latin school, but Carsten always had trouble reading and didn’t receive a scholarship.
Wilhelm opened his mouth and Maria knew exactly what he was going to say. He was going to complain about moving the assembly jobs to the villages. Those jobs could be done by Zahna children as well as village children. She kicked him under the table, and when he looked at her she looked back just as hard as she could, willing him to keep his big mouth shut.
Eventually—actually very quickly, it just seemed to take forever—they came to a basic agreement not just to manufacture ball bearings, but to try to manufacture ball bearings as a group. That the town of Zahna and the villages of Riesigk, Gohrau and Rehsen would form a company between them to manufacture ball bearings, or failing that to manufacture between them some other mutually agreed-on product. That last was because they, especially the villages, weren’t entirely sure that they would be able to make ball bearings.
“We need to go to Grantville,” Maria told them. She, Johan, Wilhelm and the baby were having a picnic by the stream that ran next to Riesigk. “And we need to take Cousin Konrad with us.” Cousin Konrad, at forty-five, was the most respected man in Riesigk, and mostly if he said it would be, it was. This worked because he never commanded anything that everyone wasn’t basically agreed on already. “Tobias Schubert from Gohrau should go too.”
“And why are we going to Grantville anyway?” Johan complained. “Why not Magdeburg ? It’s the new capital and it’s closer, after all.”
“Because if we are going to consult with anyone that even approaches an expert it’s going to have to be done in Grantville anyway. And besides, the Grantville National Bank and the Grantville Branch of the Abrabanel banks are in Grantville. So Grantville will be the best place to get financing if we need it,” Wilhelm said
“And it’s where most of the machines and parts will have to be ordered from. Konrad and Tobias are involved, so they must come along,” Maria added.
“They live on the wrong side of the river,” Wilhelm muttered, with a hidden grin. “But why do you think you should go?”
“To apologize for Zahna after you have offended everyone.”
Poor Johan just put his head between his hands and moaned. Not that he was all that bothered. Johan was an easy-going sort. If either his wife or his brother had ever had occasion to watch Bonanza and once saw Hoss Cartwright, they would recognize him on the instant as another Johan. Big, strong, incredibly gentle, and the only thing that angered him was seeing someone weak abused by someone strong.
“What about the baby?”
“The baby goes, too. I may have him looked at by the doctors there.”
“Why?” Johan’s head came up in sudden concern.
“He’s fine, darling. But the up-timers have something . . . I heard it on the radio . . . inoculations. To keep children from getting sick. I want to look into that. Also I want to meet this foreigner that Wilhelm’s so interested in. Barbara, isn’t it?”
It was Wilhelm’s turn to put his head between his hands and moan.
Johan laughed and Maria grinned.
Konrad Bauer was looking at the Ring Wall and he crossed himself. Konrad was neither Catholic nor particularly observant as a Lutheran, but he—for that moment—reverted to the habits of his youth. “I didn’t believe it,” he said quietly. “Not really. I thought I did. I had accepted that the Ring of Fire was real, and even that it was an act of God that had brought the people from the future to our time. But that was . . . different. A thing of the mind, not of the gut. Looking now . . . ” He shook his head. “How can we hope to deal with such people?”
“We probably won’t,” Wilhelm said, not unkindly. He had experienced the same thing the first time he had visited Grantville, though he hadn’t crossed himself. “There were only three thousand of them and some have died since the Ring of Fire. By now there are more normal people in Grantville than there are up-timers. What we will probably end up doing is dealing with down-timers who deal with up-timers. And from what I learned the first time, they aren’t all that different from us, even the up-timers. Barbara says that there is something about them, a nobility she calls it, but not like our nobles . . . mostly.” On his first trip to Grantville, Wilhelm had met just three up-timers and hadn’t spoken to any of them for more than a couple of minutes. They were mostly incredibly busy. Barbara knew several and called some friends. And many of her friends were servants in up-timer houses.
“I want to meet an up-timer. I want to introduce little Johan to an up-timer doctor,” Maria said quite firmly, and Wilhelm winced. He was fairly sure that wasn’t going to happen.
They continued walking. Wilhelm, Johan, Maria and the baby, Konrad, his wife Anna, Tobias Schubert and his wife, another Anna. All of them had lists of things that they were to acquire or find out. And Wilhelm wanted to see Barbara again.
He had a phone number but in his first visit to the Ring of Fire he had had no occasion to use a phone. Besides, the phone number wasn’t for her; it was for the apartments that she lived in. The apartments were new-built since the Ring of Fire and outside the Ring Wall, where the rents were cheaper. Still, when he and the others had arranged rooms he asked if he could use the phone. There was a phone. One phone. It was at the manager’s desk in the lobby of the hotel. and it cost a quarter of up-timer money to use it. He had a quarter. They only took up-time money at the hotel and that had required them to go to the bank and get their money changed. While they were there they had simply changed all their money into dollars.
He gave the man an American dollar and got back three quarters, then dialed the number on the slip of paper Barbara had given him.
” Valley Road Apartments.”
“I would like to speak to Barbara Fischerin, please.”
“Apartment two seventeen.”
“Shoot, that’s half way around the complex. Look, mister, it’d take her five minutes to get here even if she’s home. Why don’t you just give me a message and I’ll send little Gerty over with it? Then she can call you.”
“But I am at the manager’s phone at the Friendly Dragon Hotel.”
“Right. I got you; you don’t want to play phone tag. So just leave her a message where you want to meet and hope she can make it.” There was a short pause. “That’s the best I can do for you, chum.”
After thinking about it for a moment, Wilhelm left a message asking Barbara to meet him at the Gardens that evening about eight.
Barbara wasn’t at the Gardens, but when they got back there was a message from her saying she had had to work late and hadn’t gotten his message till she had gotten home. And could they meet the next night at Frau Jones’ Golden Pagoda Restaurant?
He sent back word that he and his family would try to make it. So he had a date, but meanwhile they had work to do tomorrow.
“Do you think we can get loans to cover the cost of the machines?” Johan asked Friedrich Eichmann, the manager of Universal Machine Supply Corporation.
“It depends on your credit, I expect,” Friedrich said. “I doubt you’ll get anything from the Bank of Grantville. You’re not even in the state, but the Abrabanels are all over, so you might get something from them. Then there are the investment banks. They don’t take deposits, but are run by businesses like OPM. In fact, OPM might give you matching funds. Here, let me call over there and set up an appointment for you.”
He made a call and asked them for information about their villages and towns. Friedrich Eichmann talked to the other person for a couple of minutes then put his hand over the mouthpiece and said, “Folks, there is a lot of information that they have to gather before they will either offer a loan or make an investment in your business. The part about customers is pretty much covered, but that’s only part of it. So if you can go in there tomorrow and fill out some forms, they will make an appointment with you and work out the details.”
“Wilhelm! It’s so good to see you!” Barbara smiled widely at Wilhelm and his family. “Who are all these?”
“Barbara Fischerin, please meet my brother Johan and his wife Maria. And this is Maria’s cousin, Konrad and his wife Anna. Also Tobias Schubert and his wife Anna.”
“It’s nice to meet you all. Are you still working on the ball bearing thing, or are you here for something else?”
“The ball bearings,” Wilhelm said. “But tell me, please, what is a pagoda?”
Barbara pointed at the sign above the restaurant. “See that tower-type building? That’s a pagoda.”
“I wonder what they’re for,” Maria interjected. “It’s pretty, though. But tell us about the food, please?”
“Come on in. You’ll like it, I promise,” Barbara said. She opened the door and ushered the party in, then entered herself. “Juanita, we’re here,” she called.
A large, dark-haired woman looked up from the cash box and then smiled. “Hola, Barbara. These are your friends?”
Barbara made introductions all around. “This is Juanita. She came here back in the beginning, then married her English husband. And then she opened this restaurant, because she read a Chinese cook book and got interested. She has been figuring out how to make Chinese food in Germany.”
“The up-timers say that there should be more meat, but the up-timers always think there should be more meat. I think mine is more like real Chinese food than an up-time American Chinese restaurant would have,” Frau Jones said, with considerable fierceness, in heavily Spanish-accented German.
The dinner, as it turned out, was quite delicious. Stir-fried chicken, with cabbage and onions, seasoned with a dark, salty sauce, and something called egg rolls, which were thin sheets of some kind of dough stuffed with more cabbage and fried. Then rice, something none of them had eaten quite this way, cooked, then fried with some of the salty sauce, bits of onion and carrot, sweet peas, and a beaten egg.
Wilhelm finally pushed his plate away, groaning and patting his stomach. “Oh, Barbara. What have you done to me? I’m ruined for Maria’s cooking.”
Maria kicked him under the table. “Then you cook from now on,” she said, grinning. “And learn to make this, while you’re at it.”
“Juanita sells the sauce that she uses and there are other places where you can get it. But there are some special techniques used to make it, and it’s pretty expensive once you get any distance from Grantville. For that matter, you can buy a wok here in Grantville and Juanita says they work better than frying pans for cooking over a fire.”
Barbara gestured over behind the counter where some young women, apparently related to the older Juanita, were working with strange, round-bottomed pots over a fire pit, and a blond man was slicing raw chicken very, very quickly. “Juanita says it take less fuel than the kind of slow cooking that is more common here does.”
“But the cooking also warms the house,” Maria said. “Especially now that Johan has made me an iron cookstove.”
Over the course of the evening the topics of conversation varied from cooking to iron work to ball bearings to politics and back again. But there was a thread that seemed to weave its way thorough the whole varied fabric of the conversation, and that was the up-timers, their knowledge and its effect on the world.
Barbara was an enthusiastic, but not blind, supporter of the up-time changes. Wilhelm was more open to change around Barbara than Maria had ever seen him and she exchanged looks with both her husband and cousin Konrad over the ease with which stuffy old Wilhelm accepted new ideas when they were presented by Barbara.
“We must get together and talk while the men are at the investment bank tomorrow,” the Anna who was married to Konrad said.
“I’ll see if I can get off for a few hours tomorrow afternoon,” Barbara said. “But I must be at my night class at six tomorrow evening. I’m nearly done with my GED, so I’m not taking any chances on messing that up. It’s the only way I’ll ever get a job that doesn’t stick me behind a mop.”
That brought the discussion to typewriters and adding machines. In general, a good time was had by all. Although little Johan did get a bit cranky as the evening wore on.
The menfolk spent most of the next morning in Badenburg filling out forms with the help of a young woman. Once she had all their information, she set up an appointment for them eight days later.
“Why so long?” Tobias asked.
“We have to look for restrictions on land use and things like that,” the young woman said. “There may be some sort of contract or promise or law that says you can’t produce products for sale without giving the lease holder a share of the products, without you ever having heard of it. Or there might some special fee or restriction that would have to be lifted. By now we have a pretty good data base, so we at least know who to ask. Believe me, eight days is moving like lightning and cutting corners like mad, compared to what it would have been before the Ring of Fire.”
Eight days might have been a very short time in terms of how long such a search would have taken before the Ring of Fire, but it was a long time in terms of staying in Grantville. There wasn’t much choice, though. It was wait to talk to OPM or go home empty-handed.
The medical clinic was crowded and there were signs everywhere. Within a few minutes of arriving, Maria wished that she had left the baby at home for her first look at the place. There were lots of babies crying and little Johan lost no time in joining the chorus. Looking around and trying to comfort Johan who, not knowing why all those other people were crying but assumed it must be something really bad and was in no mood to be comforted, Maria saw a big sign.
She approached the banner and below it found a collection of mothers with crying babies and a table full of broadsheets and pre-folded pamphlets. There was one pamphlet with a baby on the front. She grabbed that one and another couple of pamphlets then retreated. Next time Johan was going to the clinic, gathering the information and making arrangements. Neither she nor little Johan was coming back here till it was time for his shot.
Back at their rooms, she read the pamphlets and was disappointed. First, they mostly didn’t have vaccinations yet and even if they had had them little Johan was too young to be vaccinated. There was also a note on all the pamphlets she had gathered suggesting that young children not be brought to the clinic unless they were actually sick, because taking them there was exposing them to the diseases of all the sick children. This was something that Maria really wished she had known before she had taken little Johan there in the first place.
“I went the clinic this morning. It was a crazy house,” Maria said.
Barbara nodded in understanding. There were public health clinics and they were usually mad houses. Millions of Germans by now knew that the up-timers had miracle cures and there was a constant flow of the sick looking to be healed in Grantville. Some who could afford it and many more who couldn’t. People weren’t so much turned away as turned aside to the information that was available or to free clinics where the students from Jena turned into doctors that, if not up-timer, were certainly a heck of a lot better than down-time. Still, everyone wanted to see a real up-time doctor. And Barbara couldn’t blame them. She wished she had the money to see one of the up-time doctors or even Dr. Abrabanel. Not that she was sick, but she had read that annual checkups were important for good health and she was about twenty-five years behind.
“They are working on the vaccinations,” Barbara said. “But it takes time. They say that they’re starting from nothing—although that’s not quite true. Still, they don’t have the equipment, the labs, all the things they’re used to.”
Maria nodded, then asked, “So, you like Wilhelm?”
“He seems very nice,” Barbara admitted. “You should have seen how shocked he looked that first time I saw him at the Gardens! I swear, I think he was frightened of all the people!”
“He is just a bit . . . well, shy, I think,” Maria said. “He hides it under the grumping, you know. But he’s a good man. Hard working, always busy. A good provider.”
Barbara had a feeling that she was being sounded out for the position of sister-in-law and decided to put a stop to it. “He’s very nice, as I said. But I have no intention of marrying soon, and you should know that. I like Grantville. It’s exciting and busy and there’s always something new to learn and do.”
“But Zahna will grow,” Maria pointed out. “And we’re not far from Wittenberg, which is larger.”
“It’s still not Grantville.”
“It’ll be years and years before anywhere is like Grantville.”
Maria smiled. “And you could be a part of that growth, spreading your new education across Germany. You could probably be the teacher for the children of Zahna, with your GED. Better yet, the ball bearing factory, it will happen. And we’ll need someone with up-time skills.”
“I can’t cook. And I don’t want to. And I don’t want to spend my life doing laundry, either. Frau Wasserman has an automatic washer.”
“And you aren’t talking about marrying a farmer,” Maria said with some asperity. “You would be marrying into a smithy with two master smiths and a dozen journeymen smiths. A smithy that makes iron wares for the surrounding villages. It’s a business and we all work in the business as much as in the house. I have two town girls to help out in the house and we may be getting another because Margreta Kappelin’s little girl Anna is in need of a place. I did my time in service in Wittenberg, and I know what it’s like. My mother was a farmer’s wife and it was a change when I married Johan,” Maria said. “Wilhelm and Johan were quite well off, you know, even before the Ring of Fire.”
Barbara hadn’t considered that. Her own mother had been a farm wife. That was all the life Barbara had known until the Ring of Fire and the war had intruded. When she thought about it, though, she recalled that the town women often worked in their husband’s shops and almost all of them had maids. The wife of a blacksmith had more options than the wife of a farmer.
“He loves you, you know,” Maria said. “And as hard as he can be to live with—which I won’t hide from you, because he’s always been grouchy—he’s a good man. He’ll make a wonderful father and your children will be able to attend university. The boys and the girls.”
And that was the trouble. Barbara was very much afraid that she loved Wilhelm. She didn’t understand why. It was just something about the grouchy man that let her see his good heart. And that heart called to her, in spite of all her plans and dreams.
Barbara, mostly in self-defense, changed the subject to the clinic and getting information about early childhood diseases and how to prevent and treat them. “There are several pretty good books on early childhood care. We can go see my cousin, Franz.”
Maria and the Annas agreed, in part out of curiosity about Barbara’s cousin. Was he, they wondered, the officious stuffed shirt that Wilhelm had described.
Maria noticed that Franz winced when he saw his cousin being followed into the library and research center. But he was helpful enough. There were several books on child care and childhood diseases and the treatments that might be used for them in the seventeenth century. Books written, or at least translated, since the Ring of Fire. And Franz directed them to only those that had been read and approved by Dr. Abrabanel. “He’s part of the up-time doctors’ practice and he speaks German and up-timer English better than most down-timers. If he has read the book and approved its content, it’s probably pretty solid.”
A little later Maria got him aside. “I saw you wincing when your cousin bought us in. Are we causing you problems?”
“It’s not that,” Franz assured her a little to quickly. “Well, it’s not exactly that. I love my cousin and my aunt and uncle. They took me in when the world landed on my family and they scraped up the money for my library science course once we got here. But I do have work to do. Not that I get to spend that much time in the stacks. Mostly, being a researcher isn’t what I thought it would be. I spend more of my time as a bookstore clerk, selling answers others have already found, than I do finding answers.”
“Like just now when you went to a shelf and pulled out four books.”
“Yes, very much like that,” Franz agreed a bit sheepishly. “‘How can I keep my children safe and healthy’ is one of the first questions asked after the Ring of Fire. And I know for a fact that there hasn’t been a single day since I got here that Early Childhood Care, translated by Doctor Kaufman of the University of Jena Medical School and reviewed and approved by Dr. Abrabanel, hasn’t sold at least one copy and most days it’s more like ten or twenty.”
“And Home Remedies Approved by the Up-Time Doctors?”
“That one sells even more,” Franz agreed. “Don’t get me wrong. Those are good books. We have had people come in and thank us for saving their child’s life based on those books. That happens a lot too. I know it’s valuable but what I trained for is research. I want to dig out the secrets of space flight. They had actual space ships up time, you know.”
Maria patted him on the shoulder and said, “Well, let me add my thanks to the others anyway. And reassure you once again that what you’re doing is important, even if it’s just selling books.”
Wilhelm and Johan weren’t especially good at just killing time, so they took as many tours of Grantville as they could. Which turned out to be quite a few. There was the tour of the machine shops that was especially of interest to them. There was the Ring Wall Mine, where they mined merged stone, with seventeenth-century German stone on one side and twentieth-century American stone on the other.
“These stones are bonded at an atomic level,” the tour guide said. “The up-timer scientists call it a strong-force bond. What we do is cut the stone out of the mine, then slice it very carefully, using a water-jet cutter, and shape it into various items of use. We offer, in the gift shop, rings of merged stone. And for the very wealthy, merged stone goblets.”
“That’s it, Wilhelm,” said Johan. “You buy Barbara a merged stone ring.”
“They are nice!” Wilhelm agreed “But what about the earrings?” he asked pointing to the teardrop shaped earrings. They were granite on one side and limestone on the other, with the invisible line separating them running from bottom to top. The granite side was gray and black and the limestone side was white with just the lightest golden tint after being cut from the earth. They had been polished to a glass smoothness, lacquered, and polished again. They shone, and the perfectly straight—as well as the eye could see—line down the center of the teardrop spoke eloquently of the hand of God.
“You buy the ring, you idiot, because you give girls an engagement ring with a stone in it. At least, that’s how they did it up-time and Barbara is as much an up-timer as a down-timer girl can be.”
“I will take care of my own—”
“No, you won’t, brother. Not without a push. I have known you your whole life. Well, my whole life, you old fart. You have no guts at all when it comes to women. A coward is what you are. You love the girl, but are afraid to say it out loud lest you be embarrassed.” Johan sighed. “I have good news for you. She loves you too, though I can’t imagine why. Maria is sure of it. So get off the fence and ask her. Besides, where else will we find a business manager with a real GED?”
“Uh . . . ”
“Uh . . . ”
“Wilhelm, what are you trying to say?” Barbara asked. Then she smiled.
Her smile just undid all of Wilhelm’s rehearsing.
“Uh . . . Barbara . . . uh . . . ”
“Yes. I will.”
“Wilhelm, this is my father, Hans Fischer. My mother, Anna Brauerin. My brother, Hans. My sister, Anna. My youngest brother, Johan.”
Wilhelm’s eyes widened.
“Yes.” Barbara giggled. “There are several of us.”
There were several of them in a one-bedroom apartment, quite a small one by Grantville standards, as Wilhelm had learned.
Hans Fischer gave Wilhelm a look and the two of them went for a walk to discuss matters.
“My daughter is a good girl and I trust her judgment, but I am a bit surprised.”
“For myself, I am shocked,” Wilhelm admitted and Hans Fischer laughed.
“We have been living near the Ring of Fire for over a year and my nephew has done well in the library. But, truthfully, we aren’t well-qualified for most of the jobs here. Barbara and her mother both work as housekeeping help and I am a night watchman. We have all learned English and the children go to school. We have managed to save some, not a lot by Grantville standards, but almost enough for a start somewhere else.”
Wilhelm nodded. While this was more detail, it was in line with what Barbara had told him. They were a family struggling to get back on their feet after the war had knocked them out of their place. Grantville had given them that opportunity, but they were still fairly near the bottom rung of Grantville society. But every one of the children had a year of Grantville schooling. And poor in Grantville was middle class in Zahna, at least in terms of personal finances. Hans wasn’t selling his daughter for a place for the family; he was instead offering to invest in the town of Zahna in exchange for that place.
“I understand, sir. You were a farmer?”
“Yes, before they burned our village. Then, a little of everything before we found Grantville.”
“Well, with what you have you should be able to join a farming village and farm if that’s what you want.”
“I’m a bit old for that and the boys aren’t interested in farming. More importantly, there are going to be a lot more farmers than there will be farm work in the years to come. It’s going to be a hard thing for villages all over Germany. All over the world. I don’t want to bring my family back into a trade that . . . well, I can’t quite say it’s dying. There will always be farmers, but . . . shrinking. Yes, a shrinking trade. We are looking for trades for the boys. Business opportunities, like this ball bearing factory you’re setting up.”
The upshot of their conversation was that Wilhelm would take Hans the younger as an apprentice, followed by Johan in a few years. As well, Hans the elder would, once they got the ball factory running, be given a job there.
They had dinner at a local restaurant, a working peoples’ eatery that had lots of food for not a lot of money. And conversation during the meal was mostly about the opportunity that the ball bearing factory was going to offer, and the various guesses about what OPM would want.
The time for their appointment with the OPM investment bank finally arrived and Wilhelm, Konrad and Tobias were in the offices of OPM in Badenburg. “It’s an interesting proposition and the Lehens aren’t too restrictive. You’ll have to get clearance from some of the lien holders, but the important ones have representatives here. I think we can do it . . . if you are willing to compromise a bit.”
“What sort of compromise?” Wilhelm asked.
“Ownership,” said Herr Nussbaum, an account manager.
“Ownership?” Konrad asked, with a touch of a smile. All through this Wilhelm had been pushing for a kind of company that the up-timers called a limited partnership. First with Wilhelm and Johan as the partners. Then with Wilhelm, Johan and the village of Zahna as the partners, and then with Wilhelm, Johan, Zahna and the three different villages as the partners. Wilhelm had kicked and screamed at every slight diminishing of his and Johan’s control. Konrad thought that he was going to enjoy what the account manager next said.
“Yes! For something this complex, a business that will span a town and three villages with investment, or at least sureties from literally hundreds of people, a partnership simply won’t cover it. I know that it can be like giving up your baby to lose control over such a business, but other people have to have their say and have a right to their profits from the risks they are assuming.”
Konrad was surprised—and almost disappointed—that Wilhelm wasn’t objecting and he wondered again what had gone on at the family dinner night before last with Barbara Fischerin’s family. but it must have been some dinner.
Herr Nussbaum continued. “You will need to put it into a stock company under the up-timer corporate law that is now the law of N US. Ahh, the SoT. I know that you’re not located in the New US, but the contracts can specify that the these laws are the controlling laws. And you can register the papers of incorporation while you’re here.”
“Will Magdeburg Province treat that as legal?”
“Yes, probably. Of course, everything is up in the air with how new the central provinces are as a government.” He shrugged. “We muddle through. It’s pretty certain that they will at least acknowledge that a New US corporation can own property in Magdeburg Province. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Magdeburg Province copies its corporate law from the New US the way the New US copied it from West Virginia. So, legally, you should be pretty safe with a corporation formed here in Grantville.
“The important thing is that a corporation allows the ownership to be shared out in an equitable manner. Not just to the people who have the idea or who start the ball rolling, but also the people who invest their money, property or time.”
“Fair enough. And I even agree with you that a corporation would be a better way to go, but that is an internal matter surely,” Tobias said.
“Well, that brings up the other thing,” Herr Nussbaum said. “You folks don’t actually own that much. You have your Lehens and your rights under them, but you don’t own the land you will be putting the factory on. That means you’re seriously lacking in collateral . . . sureties against which to loan you money.”
That was bad news. Shockingly bad news. They simply didn’t have the money to start the business without loans.
“Don’t panic, folks. The business itself will be collateral. But for that to happen, it must be a stock corporation. And for OPM to make you the loan, we are going to have to insist on some say in who gets how much stock.”
It seemed at first like a horrible intrusion into the internal working of their lives and it almost killed the deal, but as Herr Nussbaum explained, it became more clear. They—OPM and UMSC—wanted the ball bearing factory to succeed. If the factory didn’t succeed, OPM didn’t get its money back and UMSC didn’t get its ball bearings. But, for this sort of complex venture to succeed, it needed the support of everyone involved. At the very least, the factory had a much better chance of success with that support. The factory had to get the cooperation of the Lehen holders, of the villagers, of everyone . . . and the best way to do that was to give everyone a piece of the pie, win or lose. So after the corporation was formed and the initial ownership established, OPM was willing to make the corporation loans which would be secured by stock, but only if the initial distribution of stock was done in a way that OPM felt would work. OPM could get the Lehen holders to offer the factory permanent tenure in exchange for stock. Everyone would be gambling on the factory being able to make a go of it and turn a profit to pay dividends.
“If you and your family hadn’t warned me what to expect, I would have walked out half way through the meeting,” Wilhelm admitted.
“Was it really all that bad?” Barbara asked him.
“No,” Johan answered. “They do expect us to put the shop in Zahna into the company, but at the same time we will get more of the stock.”
“We won’t have control,” Wilhelm said, then blushed.
“Not by yourselves, no. But we are talking about a lot of work for our people and a lot of that work is going to be paid for in stock,” Konrad said. “Even with Fresno scrapers and all the other new tools, building a mile of canal is no easy task.”
Maria knew that Konrad was talking about the little stream that ran between Riesigk, Gohrau and Rehsen. That little stream wound its way to the Elbe six and a half miles down stream from Riesigk. The problem was that for most of that distance the stream was not navigable even by a shallow draft boat. The village had been talking about installing a canal to the Elbe since Maria was a little girl. “So the canal is finally going to be built?”
“It looks like it,” Konrad said.
“I wish you could just put the factory next to the Elbe,” Wilhelm complained.
“I don’t,” Maria said. “The village has needed that canal for years and so have Gohrau and Rehsen.” And that had been half the problem. All three villages would benefit from the canal and lock, but since it would be located downstream from Riesigk, the villages of Gohrau and Rehsen thought it was a great idea and something Riesigk should do and pay for. Riesigk, however, felt that since all three villages would benefit, all three should share in the cost. So, although it had been planned for the last half of a century or more, it still wasn’t done.
“So it’s going to be built by the company and owned by the company. Excuse me. The corporation,” Johan said. “That reminds me, when it was a company it was the Wagner Ball Bearing Company. What is it going to be now?”
“It should be something modern sounding,” said Barbara. “Like Tri-City Ball Bearing.”
“Except there are three villages and a town involved.” Maria grinned at her.
“Something with the initials?” Johan said. “Like OPM? That would be the ZRRGBBC.” He paused for a moment, and then tried to pronounce it. It may seem to the average up-timer that down-timer words are all consonants, but this defeated even Johan. “Zrrrugbubuc . . . no, that can’t work.”
“The Elbe Kugellager Korporation ?” Wilhelm asked, which was German for Elbe Ball Bearing Corporation.
“But there are liable to be other people on the Elbe making ball bearings. In fact, from what we heard, there are already other companies, though I don’t know if any of them are on the Elbe.”
“Some probably are,” Konrad said. “But it doesn’t matter. It’s the Elbe Kugellager Korporation unless someone else already has the name, and anyone else can figure out their own name.”
“I like it,” Barbara said. “EKK. Nice and snappy, an up-timer would say.”
“I’m so proud of you,” Wilhelm said. “A GED!”
Barbara happily displayed her certificate. “I’m going to have it framed,” she said, beaming. “And now that that is done, I want to see Zahna. Let’s go tell Papa.”
The betrothal contracts had been signed just a few days before Barbara received her GED certificate, so Hans Fischer didn’t have any major objections to Barbara traveling to Zahna with the party that included Wilhelm, Johan, Maria, Anna, Anna, Tobias and Konrad. “It’s good you’ll have people to travel with,” he said. “I won’t worry so much. It’s a long way to Zahna.”
“Be sure to take a good look around,” Mama said. “And remember, your brothers and sister will someday need people to marry, so look really well.”
“I will, Mama,” Barbara agreed. “I’ll look for some blind girls for Hans and Johan.” Then she grinned when her mother tried to swat her.
“I have been researching the engineering you are doing,” Franz said to Wilhelm. “You will need to include the pachinko symbols to make the ball bearings work.” It was Chinese food again, in celebration of their leaving tomorrow. Barbara would be going with them to look over the places and see what was needed.
“The pachinko symbols. I found them in an obscure engineering periodical. They are like the smoke in electronic devices, necessary for their function but not talked about,” Franz explained with great seriousness. “After I found the article, I managed to get in to see Herr Doktor Hal Schmit, the aeronautical engineer who designed the Las Vegas Belle. I showed him the article and he confirmed everything in it. He even gave me a pachinko ball.” With that Franz pulled from his pocket a small steel ball much like a ball bearing, except this one had strange runes engraved on its surface. “It is the runes that actually make the device work. It was discovered in far off Nippon and has been a secret of the engineering guild from the middle of the nineteenth century. The up-timers disapprove of any sort of magic and if the average up-timer knew that they were using arcane runes to make their devices work it would upset them. Anyway, the races and the cages and the balls are all important, but to actually stop the demon Murphy from destroying the device, you need the magical runes of the pachinko balls. But you don’t need many. You just need at least one pachinko ball per machine.”
Wilhelm was looking at Barbara’s cousin in shock and Johan was just as confused. Had Franz gone insane? Was there really some secret magic of engineers that the young researcher had discovered? He didn’t know.
“Don’t worry about not having known about it. It is very obscure knowledge.” And Franz’s expression was so pompous and sincere that Wilhelm was on the verge of believing him.
Then the young man started to laugh. And Wilhelm and Johan realized that Barbara’s cousin had been playing a joke on them. “I really did find it in an obscure engineering periodical. In the jokes pages.” He dropped the pachinko ball in Wilhelm’s hand. “It’s really the magic smoke that’s important. If the smoke gets out, the machines stop working.”