Wednesday, July 25, 1635
USE Army encampment near Halle
“More regiments are arriving. Make sure the company area is squared away. Do it right and you probably will not have to do it over,” Leutnant Rupert Spitzer repeated as he passed by.
Sergeant Andreas Strauss smiled to himself. Spitzer hadn’t changed at all since he’d been promoted from sergeant to lieutenant this past spring. He had a good point, too, so Strauss set down the firewood he was carrying and checked the row of tents. Red Platoon had everything under control. A little too under control—half of Sixth Squad was circled up while Private Johann Metzler read something to them.
“CoC pamphlet, Metzler?”
Metzler stopped and looked up. “Nein, Feldwebel. It’s Astounding Time Travel Tales. It is a new science fiction magazine.”
Strauss’s eyes widened. Not at the half-English, half-German sentence, but at the idea that his men were reading science fiction. That seemed fairly harmless—and completely out of character for his squad. Sixth Squad hadn’t gained the nickname Snow White and the Seven Dwarves for their exemplary behavior, after all.
“A few minutes, and then go help one of the units that just arrived.” Strauss delivered his firewood and went to check up on the rest of his platoon before heading back for another load.
Sergeant Barbara Danker was reading over Metzler’s shoulder. “Is there an issue two?”
“Not yet. The first one just came out in the spring.”
“I like it, but by now I know all the stories in it. It is too bad we cannot get issue two. It would give us something else to do while we are sitting around waiting to invade Saxony.”
Metzler closed the magazine and cocked his head to one side. “I wonder . . . could they send the magazines to us in the field? There are a lot of copies in the regiments.”
“Oh, I think getting enough food and ammo to us will be hard enough, ” Private Ernst Boller ventured. “They probably do not take requests.”
That got a round of laughter.
“Ja, what soldier needs reading material?” Boller continued.
“Well, General Stearns thinks we do.” As usual, Private Hans Tauler’s observation came out of nowhere. “You know he publishes a broadside. He has a printing press, just for that.”
“The army has a printing press?” Metzler’s face lit up.
“Of course. Those broadsides do not print themselves.”
“Wait, Johann,” Sergeant Danker cautioned. “I know what you are thinking.”
“What is that?” he challenged.
“You just realized that you do not have to get lots and lots of magazines shipped to wherever the army goes. You just need one. And the Prince’s printing press.”
“Ja, that is what I am thinking.”
“Johann, have you ever heard of copyright laws?”
“Do those actually work?”
Barbara Danker shook her head. “Give me that. See right here? This is the publisher—Jakob van Baen in Halberstadt. You are not supposed to print other people’s books. It is the same as stealing their things. Do you not pay attention at the CoC meetings?”
“Okay, so we pay him.”
“To print his books?”
“A licensing fee. See, I do pay attention at the CoC meetings.”
“On the Prince’s press.” Danker put her hands on her hips. “Really? It does not matter because you still cannot get issue two to wherever we will be at the time.”
A couple days later Red Platoon was one of several units assigned to help unload a train.
“I do not see a train,” Private Boller observed.
“We were told to be here at 15:45,” Sergeant Strauss told him. “Haup’n Keller talked to Sergeant Hudson, and the train is due at 16:00.”
A couple of the men nodded. Eric Glen Hudson claimed to dislike Germans, although past experience suggested that if they got the train unloaded and back on its way within whatever arcane schedule the railroad used, the sergeant would be more than happy to spend a few minutes telling them about an up-time movie.
The train rolled in a couple minutes ahead of schedule.
“Two box cars and two flatbeds,” Corporal Sauer observed.
“We are assigned to box car two,” Strauss told them. He clambered up as soon as the conductor threw the door open. “A lot of boxes. Hand them down. Pass them on. Stack them out of the way. Supply will tell us where to take them later.”
Red Platoon could be very efficient when the men wanted to be. Agneta Bacmeisterin staggered as Mohr half-tossed her a box.
“What is in these things?” she asked.
“It is written on the side,” Tauler told her as she handed it off to him.
The next one was equally heavy. She checked the side of the crate. “Paper? Why so much paper?” She got a variety of answers.
“For the Prince’s broadsides, probably.”
“And for the schools.”
Metzler stopped and just held onto his box. “Danker! They already ship us paper!”
“Ja, a box car full of the stuff,” Sauer agreed. “Keep the boxes moving, Metzler.”
He tossed Sauer his current box. “We just need them to ship us a little extra. One box. Maybe two.”
“Why?” Sauer hadn’t been part of the earlier conversation.
“He wants to pay some publisher to print copies of that science fiction magazine,” Danker explained.
“That should work. If you can pay for it.” Sauer had learned to be very conscientious about paying for things.
“I am still working on that part,” Metzler admitted.
“Get people to pay you up front.”
“No. What if something happens?” someone else countered.
The Seven Dwarves came up with a number of hare-brained ideas while they passed and stacked the boxes of paper. Metzler stayed out of the conversation. He was thinking about what he needed. With this much paper, there had to be ink somewhere on this train. So there was the cost of supplies, the use of the printing press, and convincing the publisher it was a good idea.
That evening, Johann Metzler visited most of the Red Lion Regiment’s company areas. He found several science fiction fans in Bad Company. Led by Privates Martin Döbel and Balthasar Rottenberger, they enthusiastically agreed to join in on any reasonable scheme.
Thursday, July 26, 1635
On the following day, he visited a couple other regiments
“Johann Metzler, Red Lion Regiment.”
“Matthäus Köpler, Black Falcon Regiment.”
“Would you happen to read Astounding Time Travel Tales?”
Köpler’s face lit up. “I sure do. A whole bunch of us from Magdeburg do. You know it is published in Halberstadt, right?”
After a confused Lieutenant Felder turned down their requests for leave, Metzler, Döbel, Rottenberger, and Köpler regrouped at the train station.
“It is not as though we were going to miss the war!” Metzler complained. “We could have gotten to Halberstadt and back before anyone marched out.”
“Where did you buy your copy?” Köpler asked.
“Magdeburg. A bookseller west of the Big Ditch.”
“Ja, me, too. Small shop, stocked all the new kinds of magazines?”
“Do you think they print all that in Magdeburg or ship it in from Halberstadt? It is more than a day’s journey?”
“What are you Krauts doing out here?”
The four volunteers hastily assembled themselves in a line.
“Relax,” Sergeant Eric Glen Hudson told them. “It’s not like you’re busting up the place. But what are you doing?”
Hudson heard them out, smirking the whole time. “So,” he summarized, “you are trying to get science fiction delivered to the troops? Is this quality stuff?”
Metzler handed over his copy. Hudson flipped through it.
“This is . . . Well, this one isn’t bad, actually.” Eric Glen Hudson looked up. “You’re trying to get them delivered here?”
“We thought about that, Sergeant. That will work for this issue, but we do not know where we will be for the one after that. So if the publisher will sell the right to print a certain number of copies . . .”
“You’d only have to get one copy delivered. Lemme radio up the line to Magdeburg.”
“Can we do that?”
“You can’t, but I can. May as well give the radio operators something to do.”
Köpler nudged Metzler. “Radio operators,” he hissed.
“What’s that, soldier?”
“We do not need the magazine delivered, Sergeant. Es könnte gefunkt werden.”
Hudson shook his head. “Yeah, the whole thing could be gefunkt. Defunct. Radioed. Whatever. Yes, it’s possible, but it would take forever and be expensive. We don’t have enough operators as it is.”
“Then could you use it to train the new ones?” Döbel asked.
“Huh.” Hudson thought about it. “I don’t see why not. You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff they practice with. Last week a couple jokers sent a whole chapter of the book of Revelation in Morse—dressed up as an enemy contact report. I haven’t seen any messages from those two since. I think the captain still has them peeling potatoes or digging latrines.”
Hudson sent a radio message to the base in Magdeburg. Metzler, Köpler, Rottenberger, and Döbel thanked him and went on their way, figuring they had time to see if anyone in the Freiheit Regiment was reading Astounding Time Travel Tales.
They heard a sharp whistle. “Metzler!” Captain Keller hurried over. “Good thing I spotted you. I need everyone back in the company area right away. We have an assignment.”
Second Battalion of the Red Lion Regiment marched out at dawn.
Tuesday, July 31, 1635
“Company . . . halt!” Captain Keller ordered. “Listen up! I know you are all just thrilled to be back at Camp 73, but try not to cause too much trouble. Remember, what we faced was not the whole Saxon army, so do not get overconfident. And do not get too comfortable. We will be moving out again soon. Dismissed!”
Barbara Danker and the rest of Sixth Squad went straight to the field hospital. They weren’t the only squad. Sergeant Strauss tagged along, too.
“Stop! You cannot go in,” a soldier posted outside the door told them. He was wearing a blue uniform.
“Why not? Who are you?”
“Ich bin Corporal Martin Apfel, SoTF National Guard. Look, men—and women—we know you want to see your buddies, but the medics are trying to keep everything as sterile as possible. Plus there is not enough room for all of you.”
“Who are you—” Sauer began.
“The Corporal Apfel?” a voice from the back of the crowd asked. Sergeant Andreas Strauss pushed his way forward. “Only man still on his feet after the attack here?”
Barbara had no idea what Strauss was talking about, but Corporal Apfel’s eyes widened.
“How do you know all that?”
“Hauptmann Keller and Leutnant Felder pulled me into the planning for this operation,” Sergeant Strauss explained. “I read about what you did. What if just Sergeant Danker goes in to see Metzler? She’s his squad leader. She can tell the rest of us how he’s doing.”
Apfel considered that for a moment and nodded. “Just the sergeant.”
Barbara Danker opened the door and stepped into a large entryway. There were double doors straight ahead and on the left, but only a single door to the right. A medic greeted her with, “Mask. Gloves,” and held them out. Only then did he gesture toward the doors straight ahead.
She stepped through and found herself in a big room that probably stretched the length of the building. There were a couple hundred beds, but only the first few were occupied.
The man in the third cot on the right looked up in surprise. She laughed. He was reading his magazine again.
“How are you doing, Metzler?”
He grimaced. “Broken ribs. They hurt but I will heal. But getting better is boring.”
Barbara came out a few minutes later with a bunch of messages.
“And Moser says you all owe him from that poker game,” she told Echo Company’s Ninth Squad. Then she turned back to the Seven Dwarves. “Metzler’s got some broken ribs, but he will be okay. Mostly he is bored. We do not want Metzler bored. He needs a new magazine.”
Between them the Seven Dwarves dredged up the name Döbel in Bad Company.
“Exzellent! You are the Seven Dwarves. Go get a message to Döbel without getting all of us in trouble.”
Saxon Army Headquarters near Leipzig
Hauptmann Phillip Deuerlin held the earpiece in place with his left hand while he scribbled down letters with his right. Paperweights held the page in place.
“I have something,” he said aloud.
“Another train schedule?” one of the other officers asked.
“We know where the trains go,” another one stated. “We do not need radio to tell us that.”
“Quiet so I can hear,” Deuerlin barked. We had someone steal a radio last year and that railroad operator we bribed showed us how it works. Of course we get the train schedule. That is what he listened to. He kept writing.
A major leaned over his shoulder and snatched the page. Deuerlin started, and the earpiece fell out. He scrambled to put it back in and reached for another piece of paper.
The major read the page aloud.
DABN DABN DE DADF DADF 1635 JUL 31
ATTN E HUDSON FIND DOBEL B CO OUR RGT X PLS CONTACT VON BAEN ABOUT LICENSING SECOND ISSUE OF MAGAZINE FOR TROOPS X SEND COSTS
SNOW WHITE AND SEVEN DWARVES
“Be quiet!” Deuerlin shouted.
“This is worthless information, you insubordinate—”
“Is it?” Deuerlin cut him off. “The USE troops at Wengelsdorf are low on ammunition and you think it is unimportant?”
“I will have you charged with insubordination!”
When the matter came to Colonel Bose’s attention, he sent an aide to settle it.
“How do you know it is from Wengelsdorf?” he asked.
“The heading,” Captain Deuerlin answered. “This DABN is the train station at Halle. It gives orders to other train stations all the time. But DADF is different. The only time I hear that station is when they send a request for a train to stop there. Their signal is weaker than DABJ Weissenfels but stronger than DABI at Naumburg Station. So it is probably that camp in between them.”
“That makes sense,” the aide allowed. “What about this licensing ammunition?”
“I do not understand how they supply their troops at all, but I think it is clear they are asking for more ammunition. They do use letters for their companies. Whoever is at the camp left their second company at Halle.”
“Hauptmann, keep listening. Unit locations are invaluable. The rest of you, get out of here.”
Saxon Army Headquarters near Leipzig
Friday, August 3, 1635
“Ja, Herr Major, but it is all railroad orders and coded messages,” Deuerlin reported. “Moving local trains out of the way for the passenger train to Magdeburg. I can tell you where the passenger trains are going to be within five minutes, all day long. Is there any chance we could get permission to capture one?”
“Ha! Nein! Not after what happened last Saturday.”
An hour later, after the colonel had left, the radio started chattering. Deuerlin seized a pen and began copying. Reception was poor.
DABN DABN DE DEXP DEXP 1635 AUG 3
ATTN E HUDSON RELAY TO SEVEN DWARVES X YOU ALL WAHNSINNIG X MANY FANS HERE AND VAN BAEN BIG SUPPORTER OF MILITARY X SIGNED CONTRACT WITH VAN BAEN X AUTHORIZED ONE HUNDRED COPIES X SEND PAYMENT AFTER SALE X CAN AUTHORIZE MORE IF NEEDED X INSTRUCTORS IRRITATED WITH NEW RADIO CLASS SO WILL TRANSMIT 1900G TOMORROW DOWN 8 FROM NET FREQ
Captain Deuerlin understood enough of the message to alert Colonel Bose.
Saturday, August 4, 1635
The next evening, Deuerlin was standing by at the radio shortly before seven o’clock in the evening with a number of officers watching over his shoulder. He tuned the radio to the new frequency. A few minutes later, he heard beeps through the static and started writing.
When the transmission faded out, he risked a few words. “This is not local.” Scribble, scribble. “It is not coming through Halle or Merseburg.” Scribble, scribble. “Very poor reception. I am missing pieces of it.”
One of the staff officers reading over his shoulder muttered, “You are getting enough.”
. . . EXPECT THE TIME TRAVELERS BACK AT 1500 LOCAL. COMMANDER ? TAKE THE ENTERPRISE AND THE CONSTELLATION TO PICK THEM UP ? TELL THEM TO MAKE SURE THEIR LASERS ARE FULLY CHARGED ? JUST IN CASE. . . .
. . . ? THERE THEY ARE ??? LOOK ? THE ENEMY IS RIGHT BEHIND THEM ? THE COMMANDER BARKED AN ORDER ? ? FIRE ? ? A BRIGHT BLUE BEAM SCORCHED THE SAND AT THE RETURN SITE . . .
“This is quite melodramatic,” one of the staff officers remarked.
“We have all read accounts of battles that are just as bad,” another reminded him.
“I apologize,” Captain Deuerlin said. “They are transmitting characters I do not recognize.”
“Keep listening. We can figure it out later.”
. . . THE SKYSHIPS SWUNG AROUND IN A WIDE ARC ? RETURNING TO BASE WITH THE TIME TRAVELERS SAFELY ABOARD ? . . .
“I do not know why, but the transmission is gone. I cannot hear anything now.” Deuerlin turned and faced the others. “I am sorry I could not get more.”
“Never mind that, Hauptmann. Start thinking about how to make a skyship explode.”
Monday, August 6, 1635
“Attention in the tents!”
Sergeant Strauss jumped to his feet and saw Hauptmann Keller approaching.
“Fall in!” the captain ordered.
Fuchs Company sped into formation.
“All present or accounted for!” Sergeant Thaler reported.
“Some of you are in a reasonable amount of trouble. I have it on good authority that the Prince wants to know who the hell was using his printing press. Now, I know the general’s printing press is in the camp outside Halle and you are here. But he also specifically asked about a Sergeant Snow White.”
Strauss cringed. Whatever this was had to be caused by the Seven Dwarves.
“But,” Keller continued, “I am told he was laughing about it afterwards. So you have been assigned to lead a patrol. We are crossing the river. Red Platoon, you have point. Then Fuchs Company, then the rest of Second Battalion. The militia will get us across by boat at dawn. We are to march northeast and link up with the rest of the army. Radio room is off limits to everyone, and no one is allowed outside of camp except Red Platoon. I want you out in a field practicing. And I am supposed to tell you, ‘They are printed.’ Dismissed!”
“Woo-hoo! Fire team vees and overwatch!”
Strauss just put his hand over his eyes.
“Do you have any idea what that was all about?” Leutnant Spitzer asked.
Strauss looked sideways at him. “Do we really want to know?”
That afternoon as Red Platoon was drawing cartridges and rations, Johann Metzler stumbled into line.
“Metzler, what are you doing?” Sergeant Strauss asked.
“Drawing ammo and rations, Sergeant!”
“I mean, why are you not in the hospital?”
“I checked out, Sergeant. I heard the rest of the army has radio-transmitted advance copies of Astounding Time Travel Tales.”
Strauss shook his head in exasperation. “Can you even march?”
“Ell-tee said I could ride shotgun on a supply wagon. Besides, somebody has to write this campaign down as it happens.”
Metzler is a good man to have around in a fight, Strauss reflected. “Okay, do not fall off the wagon, and you can come along and get your radio advance whatever.”
“Radio advance reader copy, Sergeant. They call it an r-ARC.”
Monday, August 20
“He wants to enlist.”
Hans Friedrich von Hessler wondered why the brigade commander was sending him a specific Saxon prisoner. “But, Herr Brigadier, why are you sending him to me?”
“Something your Seven Dwarves were up to.”
“Jawohl, Herr Brigadier!” He returned to the tent that housed his command group of a lieutenant, a radio team, and the captain of camp followers—and a Saxon hauptmann who stiffened to attention.
“Hauptmann . . .?”
“Phillip Deuerlin. I was captured at Zwenkau, Herr Major. I would like to enlist in your skyship corps.”