When Sarah Wendell had agreed to go out with David Bartley, it had seemed like a good idea at the time. She had totally forgotten that she was months away from her sixteenth birthday. The Wendell house rule was no dating till sixteen. Remembering that little detail hadn't been a problem when other boys asked her out, as several had in the last few months. David had his own version of the Delia effect. You sort of felt you were more grownup if you did what the adults wanted. Mostly David's thing worked in business matters, but this time the switch between working out how to finance the twin's scheme and his asking her out had come too quickly.

On the other hand . . .

David wasn't allowed to date till he was sixteen either, and he knew she wasn't. Knowing David, there was no way he had done it on purpose. It was kind of nice to know that she was as capable of making him forget that sort of thing as he was of making her forget them.

* * *

Similar thoughts occupied David's mind. In his anxiety over how Sarah would react, he had forgotten that it wasn't entirely up to her. Apparently she had, too. When you spent half your time running—well, helping run—what was rapidly turning into a multimillion dollar business, you tended to forget that you weren't old enough to date or set your own bedtime.

David had spent most weekends since the merger traveling to nearby towns to set up Higgins Sewing Machine Company franchises. It was amazing the number of villages that dotted this part of Germany. It had come as a surprise since the Ring of Fire that the seventeenth century was so well populated. So a great deal of his time these days was spent sitting down with merchants or master craftsmen two to three times his age, explaining to them how to deal with rent with an option to buy payment plans and other intricacies of adding a sewing machine outlet to their other businesses. Then there were the two times he had had to revoke a franchise agreement because the holder didn't realize that they meant it when they talked about a policy of honesty and fair dealing.

He wasn't exactly in charge of any of that. Truth to tell, he was sort of Karl Schmidt's tame up-timer, sort of physical proof of Karl's up-timer connection. Still, he was involved, and did have a say. He got away with it in spite of his age because he was one of the magical up-timers, and because he always had at least Johan with him and usually Adolph or Karl to provide an introduction. He had also gotten away with it because he worked really hard at forgetting that he was fifteen when he talked business.

The fact that he was wealthier than his whole family had been up-time and had what amounted to his own man-at-arms didn't help with the bedtime business either.

All of that cut no ice with Grandma. He was fifteen, he was not allowed to date, and his bedtime was ten o'clock on weekdays.

Well, he had put his foot in it. It was time to talk to Grandma.

* * *

Delia Higgins was trying to figure out how much she could rob Peter to pay Paul. That damn warehouse was threatening to become a bottomless pit. Delia was honest enough to admit that it wasn't the warehouse itself that was the problem; it was the research money that she had showered on Grantville High School. Alexandra Selluci ought to teach extortion.

No. Delia admitted to herself that she needed to learn frugality. Her agreement to build the warehouse, her remaining dolls, plus her property had provided her with a drawing account that had seemed limitless. She had wanted to use concrete in building the warehouse and as much in the way of up-time building techniques as possible. She had wanted more than that: she had wanted a work of art, the best combination of up-time and down-time construction techniques possible. So she had gone to Alex.

Alex had been trying to make bricks without straw in terms of helping to reorganize the chemistry department with half the teachers gone, more than half the students not speaking English, and budget constraints from hell. She had made it quite clear that she had no time for the next "hare-brained project of Old Lady Higgins, Grand Dame of the Sewing Circle."

Delia, her blood up, had promised to pay for the whole thing. That had shut Alex up. She realized that Delia meant it, and could actually do it. Alex had brought in Ambrose Salerno. The upshot of it all was that the Grantville High Tech Center got a brand new concrete research program, complete with structural engineering courses where the teachers were half a chapter ahead of the students, or sometimes half a chapter behind, and Delia had a great deal less money. She couldn't really regret it. The kids that had gone into concrete were phenomenal. They were about four to one down-timer to up-timer, about average for the high school. They wanted to build things. Great big things, dams, skyscrapers, and roads, and were willing to work at it.

Then there was all the housing that was being put up, driving up prices, and her two builders arguing over design and materials. Between it all, she had spent all her doll money and more before the dolls were sold. She had gotten the warehouse built, and if not exactly a work of art, it was functional, and very large. Unfortunately it was only about half full at the moment. It wasn't paying enough to handle what she owed.

David's deferential interruption was something of a relief. Wise Grandmother was a role she found much more comfortable than Hard-nosed Businesswoman.

His problem was a hoot. So much so that she had difficulty keeping from laughing. She managed because it was clearly so important to David. David had forgotten again that he was just a kid. Not a hard thing to do if you weren't looking at him. He looked like your typical fifteen year old in the middle of a growth spurt: all angles and elbows, dark brown hair, short in the up-time style, pale blue eyes that usually looked a lot older than they did just now.

* * *

Judy the Elder had been secretly pleased at Sarah's announcement. She herself had been a tall gawky wall flower in high school. Not dating till sixteen had not been a problem; getting a date for the prom had. It wasn't till college that she had bloomed.

Fletcher was neither pleased nor secret in his displeasure. His displeasure had several causes that he disclosed to his wife with great zeal. An unkind observer might even have said with satisfaction.

First, he had been hoping for a few more months of relative tranquillity before the horde of horny—and now mercenary—boys started making their runs at his daughter.

"Well, David isn't after her money," Judy the Elder pointed out.

Fletcher gave his wife a look that indicated more clearly than words that his mind was not relieved. Eliminating mercenary just left . . .

Well, what it left didn't bear thinking about.

Judy the Elder decided to let her idiot husband get through his rant, so they could discuss things rationally.

Second, David knew the rules and his ignoring them was personally disappointing. Fletcher had trusted David.

Judy still trusted David, and was quite sure that he had simply forgotten. It wasn't a teenage power play to show the grownups who was boss. For one thing, David generally worked fairly hard not to show who was boss. She held her peace. It wasn't easy, but she did it.

Third, especially in this latter day Dodge City that Grantville had become, family rules were one of the very necessary safeguards, not just to keep the kids out of trouble, but to keep them alive.

This was a potential crack in the wall. Their kids already had one unfair advantage in the generation conflict. Sarah already had a net worth greater than her parents and Judy the Younger with her Barbie Consortium was gaining. Wendell really couldn't pull out the argument "As long as you live under my roof." Sarah had the wherewithal to provide her own roof, and Judy probably could in a pinch.

Another good reason not to get angry when it wasn't called for, Judy thought, but she kept her peace and let the Bull Male protective father run down. Then they could actually discuss the matter.

As Judy the Elder calmed her husband by the simple expedient of letting him run down, Sarah was going from repentant to downright pissed. It wasn't like she was some silly Juliet sneaking off to get married, or commit suicide or whatever. She'd just forgotten that she wasn't allowed to date yet. She had told her parents and apologized. She had even been initially willing to call David and cancel, though she hadn't said so. Not anymore, however. Now it was a matter of principle. She paid the housekeeper out of her salary from HSMC, not that she begrudged that. Mom and Dad both worked for the newly formed Department of Economic Resources, which was important work, but didn't pay all that well. The addition of her income from HSMC elevated the family lifestyle from existing to comfortable. She wasn't a little kid. She had a job, and did her share.

Fletcher had actually calmed down a bit when who should call but David Bartley, the cad, the rake, the libertine himself!

Luckily David wasn't calling to entice the innocent Sarah to an illicit rendezvous in the woods, nor to run off to Badenburg and get married. He was calling to apologize, and to invite the whole family to the opening of The Importance of Being Earnest. That is, to have the date without breaking the rules.

Opinions on the proposal were mixed. Judy the Elder thought it an excellent solution, one setting a marvellous precedent for future first dates (an observation that caused Judy the Younger some concern). Fletcher, of course, saw it as barracks lawyering; a crack in the wall for all the boys out there that wanted to do, well, what he had wanted to do in his youth. Sarah really would have preferred a less conciliatory approach on David's part, but she couldn't help but admire the sneakiness.

It was a compromise that everyone could live with. Which left only the question: What to wear? The five women of the Wendell household—Judy the Elder, Sarah, Judy the Younger, Mrs. Straus the maid, and Greta the maid's daughter—went into emergency dress-up mode. Fletcher retreated to the home office muttering to himself.

* * *

In the English-German blend that the play was written in, a line would be stated in one language and then paraphrased in the other, to make sure that everyone got it. Sort of like the Shakespearean trick of using three versions of a line, one to the left, one to the right, and one to the front so everyone could hear it.

The playwright team that had written this version of The Importance of Being Earnest had used that trick to play with the audience. The play worked if you spoke English, it worked if you spoke German, but it worked better if you spoke both because there were subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences in what was said in each language. The effect was a two-language pun of some sort about every third line. That wasn't the only trick up the writer's sleeves. The lines were arranged so that if you spoke only English it seemed that the guys were being reasonably sane and the girls were total ditzes. But if you spoke only German the girls seemed fairly reasonable and the guys off the wall. If you spoke both languages, it added to the feeling that they were talking past each other. At one point, one of the ladies described herself in German as preferring the quiet life in her country estate of Ept to the social whirl of the big city. The English version of the line was "I'm still socially in Ept." It was all like that, a reasonable statement in one language followed by a groaner of a translation.

"So, David," Judy the Elder asked as they all walked outside during intermission, "how is Master Schroeder treating you?" Bruno Schroeder was the master tailor in charge of the clothing for Karl Schmidt and Ramona Higgins' upcoming wedding.

"I got him to give up the diapers."

"Diapers?" Fletcher was still a little miffed about the non-date date, and quite ready to hear about David in diapers.

"Yes, sir. Those really puffy short pants they wear. They look like diapers; worse, they look like full diapers."

"So what did you have to give up to lose the diapers?" Sarah asked with a grin. She knew that Master Schroeder was trying to convert up-timers to down-time fashions, even though he claimed to be looking for a compromise.

"Embroidery. Bruno has found a way to use a Higgins sewing machine to do embroidery. Basically he draws the pattern in chalk and then sews along the lines. Apparently the king of Sweden had all this gold thread embroidered onto his wedding outfit. Karl's and mine aren't going to be gold, but they might as well be considering how much dyed thread costs. Anyway, we're both going to have our outfits embroidered up the kazoo. Mine'll be bad enough, but on Karl's you mostly won't be able to see the cloth for all the embroidery: trees, flowers, coins, even sewing machines, in every color he can get from Mr. Stone's dye shops."

Fletcher laughed. "I must be sure to bring my digital camera."

David rolled his eyes. "If you don't, someone else will, probably the newspapers. Karl is making a big deal of the wedding. It's Badenburg politics."

Badenburg had joined the new little United States, but mostly it was politics as usual in the city council. The new elections were scheduled for some months in the future. Karl Schmidt was the foundry guild master in Badenburg, but that was because he had the only foundry in town. He wasn't, or hadn't been, one of the major players. Those were mostly the large property owners. With the merger between the foundry and the HSMC, he had rapidly become the biggest employer in Badenburg. A lot more money was flowing through his hands. More people looked to him. There were also more voters, since the property owner restriction had been dispensed with. And, just to add the icing to the cake, Karl's upcoming marriage to David's mother, Ramona, would give Karl a prestigious close personal tie to the up-timers from Grantville.

"He's planning a try for either a seat on the Badenburg council, or perhaps becoming the first Senator from Badenburg. The wedding is going to be a sort of promotional show to demonstrate how important he's become. He definitely wants the press there. I think he's caught on to what expanding the franchise means better than most of the others."

"Let me guess. He wants to show off his up-timer connections?"

"Yeah. He's hoping Jeff and Gretchen will attend. Especially Gretchen. She's become something of a saint to the refugees. In regard to status, up-timers are like the jokers in a deck of cards. Whatever status you need to make the set work, up-timers are it. Of course, not everyone buys that. Claus Junker has decided that we are all peasants and Jews.

"Claus Junker? Do I know that name?" Judy the Younger asked. She didn't like being left out of conversations.

"On the Badenburg council," Judy the Elder clarified. "This year he's effectively the bookkeeper for Badenburg. He also owns a fair bit of the rental property in the city." She had met Junker, and neither had enjoyed the experience.

"You've heard some of the things Karl sometimes says about Jews and thinks he's being fair and even-handed?" asked David. "Listen to this guy for five minutes and you'll think Karl is a paragon of openness. Junker also disapproves of children being involved in business, and of lower class people trying to act like they matter. Jeff marrying Gretchen has proven to him that we are all peasants, because no one of rank would be allowed to make such a marriage. Of course, that doesn't mean he won't do business with up-timers, if they are properly subservient in attitude. He's backing some guy that's trying to make microwave ovens."

"Can we do microwave ovens?" Judy the Elder asked.

"Not according to Brent and Trent," said David, "or our science teacher at school. Not for five years at least, probably more. Mr. Abrabanel could have found out for him. But ask a Jew? Not Claus Junker. I could have told him, but listen to a child on a matter of business, especially a peasant child? No way. Heck, if he had been willing to talk to anyone without looking down his nose, he could have gotten the four-one-one. The thing is, he's a Von something or other on his mother's side. So he figures that he must be smarter than anyone else."

"So why care?" asked Judy the Younger. "It sounds to me like he's getting what he deserves."

"Claus Junker can fall down a well for all I care," Fletcher said, "but what happens when a major player, or even a minor major player like him, gets publicly burned in an up-timer, down-timer deal? It could shut off the supply of investment money. We need investment capital."

"Not us so much, unless you count Mom's bathroom," David said.

"Grantville in general," Fletcher clarified. "Some of the projects that really need doing will take years to prove, much less make a profit. So how is your average down-timer to know what an investment is, what's a wild gamble, and what's an out-and-out con? When the microwave project breaks, it's going to scare the crap out of the down-time investors who have been throwing money at us."

"Not that anyone threw money at HSMC," said Sarah, still annoyed about the attitude the adult business community had shown toward HSMC in the early days.

"That's already changed and you know it. And it never was true in terms of down-timers," Judy the Elder corrected. She was getting just a little tired of Sarah's harping on the matter.

"I've been approached several times in the last few months, by merchants and masters who wanted to know what I thought of an investment opportunity. Actually, that's one of the things that is bothering me about this latest project of the twins."

David was interrupted by the end of intermission. They left the school parking lot where they had been chatting and returned to the theater to see the second half of the play. The play was quite good, and one more bit of proof that Grantville was already drawing talent like a magnet. The Grantville High School Theater seated seven hundred and fifty people in tiered seating so you could usually see over the head of the person in front of you. It was acoustically designed and had a sound system and lighting. It was one of the places where the expensive-to-make electric lights were used. The combination made it probably the best theater in Europe.

It showed plays five nights and two afternoons a week, and was usually packed. The three theater and music companies that took turns using it had a deal with the school that included teaching and financial benefits for the school. The final curtain fell with foundling Ernst restored and engaged to his cousin, and his older brother Ernst engaged to his ward, and everyone prepared to live happily ever after. The curtains then opened again for the cast to take a bow and accept the applause of the audience. As the final curtain fell the audience started to file out of the theater to wait for the buses.

* * *

While they were waiting in line for their bus Mrs. Straus plucked up her nerve and asked a question that had been bothering her ever since she had gotten her job as the Wendells' housekeeper. "Why do you not own stock in the sewing machine company, Herr Wendell? Sarah is your daughter, yes? What is hers is yours, yes?"

"Ah, no. Sarah is my daughter, but that doesn't mean that I own what she owns. Her mother and I do have certain veto power till she's eighteen, but her property—especially what we call real property; stocks, bonds, land, that sort of thing—is hers. And, come to think of it, that's probably a good thing. Not everyone in the government has been quite as careful as I'd like about potential conflicts of interest, and in the job that Judy and I have, it's especially important. We're out there trying to sell the improvements Grantville has to offer to the towns and villages around the Ring of Fire. Things like grain silos, plows and so on. If we owned an interest in the companies that made them, especially if we owned an interest in one of the companies and not in another, it would be a real conflict of interest."

"So what's your problem with Brent and Trent and their washing machines?" Judy the Elder wanted to know. "Do you think you'll have difficulty raising the money, David?"

"I can raise the money, all right. In fact, I'll probably have trouble avoiding it once news gets out. The investors are going to expect results though. They'll want a repeat of the sewing machines, with a quick and high payoff. It's not that I doubt the twins, but we have a reputation now. I think I've felt it more because I've spent so much time out there, where Grantville is still sort of a magical mystery. They look at HSMC—and, believe it or not, Mom's bathroom—and they want in. They don't care how much it costs. They want in. It's like owning a share in a Grantville business is a guarantee of a secure future."

"Ah," Judy the Elder nodded, "the light dawns. What happens when it blows up in Junker's face?"

"Right," David agreed. "The thing is, aside from his unwillingness to do business directly with Jews, Junker is considered one of the sharper men of business in Badenburg."

"They're still going to want in," said Sarah. "Never doubt it."

"You're probably right."

"The bus is here. Where do you want to eat?"

"I don't feel like the Gardens. How about pizza?"

* * *

Ramona Higgins was at that moment in her bathroom in Karl Schmidt's house. She was demonstrating to her betrothed husband one use of the massage table she had insisted on. Karl had stopped complaining about the cost some time before. At this point he was no longer complaining about much of anything. He was barely capable of moving. Now she looked around the room that had been added to Karl's three-story townhouse. It was eight feet wide and fifteen feet long. It had a hot tub in the end near the main house, a shower in the middle, and the massage table on the other end. The water tank was on the roof of the bathroom, against the wall of the main house. From there the water flowed down and then back up a little way to connect to the water heater attached to the new stove. The hot tub and the showers had faucets for hot and cold water. Of course, the stove was needed to heat the water, but the whole household could have a hot shower every night if no one hogged the hot water. The bathroom was really just one of the changes made with the "bathroom dividend," as David called it. There were the porta-potties, too. They had to be emptied by hand. But for that there was the dumbwaiter, so you didn't have to carry the loaded pots up and down stairs. It was all like that. The bathroom was the best they could do within the budget that Karl complained about so much. In Ramona's opinion it had all turned out to be pretty good. The house was crowded, and everything was used for several things, but there was a feel to it like things were going well. The neighbors were envious, and thought they were very modern. As much fuss as Karl made over the bills, he was sure quick to show off the results.

* * *

Adolph Schmidt didn't know whether to be pleased or really annoyed. His papa had been right. The latest offer for HSMC stock was for fifty-seven American dollars a share, except no one was selling. That was the least of it. They were making sewing machines faster than he had thought possible, and selling them faster than they could make them, at a higher profit than he had imagined.

His father's engagement to Ramona Higgins had made the family up-timer friends, people that they could sit down with over dinner or a beer and ask questions of. Through those friends and the knowledge they brought, the Schmidts had a small electroplating operation up and running. Jorgen was also producing fairly decent crucible steel. Steel was still an art, but it was an art backed by scientific knowledge, and the pours that didn't work could usually be redone.

The Schmidts had been hiring almost since the day of the merger, and, for the first couple of months, spending a lot more than they took in. Then things had taken off. They had made and sold sewing machines at a heroic rate. Rather than being supported by the foundry and smithy, the sewing machine plant was now supporting both and the research operations as well.

Papa's senior journeyman, Jorgen, had been told to research the making of crucible steel. Further, the journeyman had been told that the steel was his masterwork. Making the crucibles had turned out to be the hardest part. Now that Jorgen had found the clay and could make the pots, he could make what the up-timers called high carbon steel. Recently he had started experimenting with other additives for greater strength.

Jorgen's masterwork was judged by Master Marcantonio, the up-time master metal worker. Master Marcantonio had made most of the machines for the sewing machine factory and had a seat on the board of HSMC. When he was judged to have completed a successful pour of high carbon steel, Jorgen was declared a master steelmaker. Papa had set up a new company, forty percent owned by HSMC and thirty percent owned by Jorgen. The remaining thirty percent of the stock was held by the company to raise money and provide stock options for its employees. All of which meant that Jorgen could now get married.

Adolph hadn't been so lucky. He had been assigned electroplating, and he had succeeded sooner than Jorgen had with the crucible steel operation. Adolph's operation was turning out gold electroplated iron and now, steel flatware at relatively low cost. They always carefully explained that the items were only gold plated, but at the prices they charged, the customers didn't seem to care much. The gold electroplating kept the iron from rusting, and the product looked like solid gold. However, clever chemistry didn't make Adolph a master smith who was able to marry where and when he wanted.

* * *

Most of the major cliques in school were represented at the pizza parlor that night. There were several new groups since the Ring of Fire. In addition to the traditional jocks, nerds, and toughs, there was now JROTC or cadets, artists, and entrepreneurs. Like at any high school, there were those who fit into more than one group, with a different rank depending on the category and several subcategories.

David and Sarah were right at the top of the entrepreneurs, but from there they diverged. Sarah was also near the top of the brains, a subcategory of the nerds. David was somewhere near the bottom of the JROTC. Most of the boys, and more than a few of the girls, were ranked somewhere in the JROTC. There was also, as there usually is, a set of the elite: the most popular and successful from the other groups. Who was in that last grouping depended on who you asked.

There was cross-pollination between the groups, and different groups had different degrees of influence. JROTC was the largest and single most important group. Brains, though not universally popular, had gained some prestige since the Ring of Fire. Entrepreneurs were fairly high up, and for obvious reasons they rose to near the top as the students approached graduation. This had the effect of moving David up in the JROTC group and Sarah up in the brain group. It also placed them both just on the edge of the elites. So David and Sarah were greeted by many of their fellow students when they arrived. The fact that they were there with Sarah's family put a bit of a damper on things, but Fletcher and Judy weren't the only adult customers.

Judy the Younger was definitely in the elite at the middle school, and had friends in high school. It was through her that the nature of the evening was revealed. The technique of taking out the whole family was considered, and viewpoints were mixed. There was the added expense, of greater concern to most than to David Bartley. Between the tickets and the dinner, the evening had cost over two hundred dollars. There was also the inhibiting presence of the parents, right there for the whole evening.

On the whole, it was a fun evening, the conversation was lively, and David and Sarah had about as much time on their own as they knew what to do with, though not so much as they wanted.

* * *

Guffy Pomeroy was not looking his best when Officer Gottlieb found him. Electrocution, followed by a couple of days to ripen before anyone notices, is not conducive to a tidy appearance or pleasant aroma. There was a variety of electrical gear scattered around the body. Apparently he had been a bit careless in hooking something up, and ended up as the line of least resistance through the circuit. Or at least that's how Officer Gottlieb understood it. She was an old Grantville hand, and had been a cop for almost eight months. She had seen a lot of dead bodies in her life, mostly before becoming a cop. This, however, was her first electrocution. It wasn't pleasant, but not nearly the worst she had seen. Not being all that conversant with uncontrolled electricity, she carefully did not touch anything. She called in and waited outside for backup.

Guffy had been a well-known character in Grantville even before the Ring of Fire. He was a get-rich-quick schemer, not exactly a conman, but not exactly honest either. Guffy had a knack for getting people to back his schemes, usually to their detriment. He'd done two years for passing bad checks up-time. Down-time he had claimed he was going to be the re-inventor of the microwave oven and the microwave forge and so on. The rumor had it that his backer was a bigwig from Badenburg. Guffy had been a hard guy to dislike and was easy to trust, till you knew better.

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