Ein feste Burg, Episode 14

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Chapter 21: From the Government

Mayor's office, Brotterode, West Thuringia County

May 1635

"Isch bin von der Regierung, und isch bin hier zu helfen." Bryant Burke didn't even try to hide his outlandish accent. He was completely unable to pronounce the German word "ich" correctly.

Born and raised in the twentieth century in America, he'd never had an interest in foreign languages. Since the Ring of Fire had transplanted him together with the whole town to the seventeenth century in Germany, he had noticed that his accent brought him a certain reputation in the villages of the Thuringian Forest underlining his "coming from the government to help" stance.

But it seemed in this village nobody was even going to listen to him. The mayor was not interested in any "help from that lousy government." In fact, "lousy" was not the term he had used when Bryant made his appearance in the "mayor's office" above the town's Gasthaus.

The fact that they called the inn "The Inn" said, in Bryant's opinion, much about their creativity and intellect. So without any further comment, he pulled out the sealed parchment which ordered "all official personnel of West Thuringia County" to support his mission.

"And that, dear Mayor, means you, too."


When founding the USE, the local princes and democratic counties and states had been more or less forced to clean up the mess that centuries of splitting properties had brought on, giving whole Ämter as pawns for loans and not being able to redeem them after the agreed period.

So the Herrschaft of Schmalkalden in Thuringia, inherited by the Hessian landgrave after the last count's death in 1584 and completely surrounded by Wettin properties, had been integrated into the new State of Thuringia-Franconia, together with several other enclaves, in exchange for properties on the other side of the Werra. Bureaucrats had drawn new country borders for a more logical organization, regardless of historical relationships, and so the small forest village of Brotterode as the only Lutheran parish in the Calvinist principality had been assigned to West Thuringia County, while the Rest of Schmalkalden went to Suhl County.


Bryant had to go from house to house to collect the information he needed. In the other villages, the mayors had always been eager to call the men of the village together in the town's largest meeting room.

He had no idea why the people of Brotterode, of all villages he had yet visited, hadn't the slightest interest in helping him. They were finally part of a Lutheran community, had the right to vote, freedom of speech, and all the other advantages of a modern society. So why did they come across so massively unfriendly?

Bryant Burke was annoyed. Again. Even after half a year in this new job.

House of the Burke family, Grantville

November 1634

Bryant Burke was annoyed. Again. In fact, he really felt pissed off. Linda Colburn, his boss a the Biogas and Methane Company, might be enthusiastic about collecting feces—human and animal alike—to provide "green energy" for Grantville. Bryant was definitely not. He sniffed at his clothes. They should be clean, but somehow he always had the feeling that he stank.

His fields of interest in middle school had been chess, mathematics, and physics in that order. When he attended high school, he added one. Computers. More than anything, he was interested in computer games of all types.

As soon as he had his driver's license, he went to work in his father's company, hauling mobile homes through West Virginia. With the money earned, he could buy his first computer, and start to program computer games himself.

In his senior year, he switched to a summer job in Morgantown. Peter Jones, one of his father's friends, had owned a small software development company there. And the middle-aged man quickly understood that this youngster had a knack for the most complex problems.

Immediately after graduation from North Marion High, Bryant started working for Peter in earnest. After two years, he became a partner, and in 1998, they had, thanks to Peter's economic skills and the skillful horde of geeks Bryant had gathered around himself, a flourishing enterprise.

That was when Bryant suddenly noticed that the fat girl from the neighborhood, with whom he had unavoidably spent years in elementary and middle school, had dropped all her fat and grown up into a charming young lady.

It took only three months for Sonia Hill and Bryant Burke to decide that they would live together. He built a house in Grantville next to his parents' house. Sonia quit her job in Fairmont, and Bryant moved all his computers into the basement and worked from there.

The birth of their long-awaited daughter Kaylee Joy in late March 2000 was, in hindsight, the absolute prime of their life. From there on their life went south. Steeply.

One week later they were no longer in shiny West Virginia but in—ugh!—the Dark Ages in a foreign land called Thuringia. Suddenly his life was in the crapper. What could a computer programmer do for a living in the seventeenth century?

Nobody during the Thirty Years' War needed the modern kind of software he specialized in. Helping others with macro programming in Word or Excel was something he detested wholeheartedly.

Taking jobs further away from his core competence had been even less satisfying, but a real necessity while Sonia stayed at home caring for the now two children . . . Darn missing contraception. And then Kaylee Joy had died from rubella—for Heaven's sake, one of the most harmless child diseases back up-time—in 1634 and Sonia had immediately decided to become a pediatric nurse to be better able to help the next time. And the next time would certainly come.

Bryant had earned a living for his family by working for the Stinkers since the company had been founded in 1631. With each and every working day, he hated the job more and more. For the last two years he had tried to find a better one. But without college or professional training—no chance. He wasn't the kind of guy to spontaneously jump into the dark muddy water of founding an enterprise of his own without any startup capital.

But when he opened the front door of his home this evening—only one beer in the American Ash this time—he heard a strange male voice in his living room.

Entering, he saw one of these Turkish Jews who lived in Grantville and managed the money flows.

Hey, will they introduce online banking now? But that thought was too good to be true.

"Hi, everybody."

"Hi, Bryant," Sonia said. Then she pointed to the Turk. "Ruben Nasi here has a business proposal for both of us. Perhaps that will bring you out of your depression."

"Good evening, Mr. Burke." The portly man rose and extended a hand.

"Good evening, Mr. Nasi." Bryant took the hand. No, this wasn't one of the bank guys. "To what do we owe the honor?"

"Mostly to the fact that your wife has successfully finished her nurse training."

Bryant frowned. Shit! I really hoped he was here for me.

"And," Nasi continued, "because some people have told me that you have the natural talent to explain complex things in readily understandable terms.

"My employer, the Hereditary Governor of West Thuringia County, is looking for several specific talents, and finding two of them in one family hits, as you Americans say it, two birds with one stone."

"He wants me," Sonia said, "as a nanny for his children, and to set up a kindergarten for the town. And he wants you to organize his county."

"What?" Bryant looked puzzled from his wife to the Turk and back.

"Preparing a census," Nasi said. "Providing a database application with search function and briefing the interviewers."

And he doesn't even stumble over all these modern words.

Das Gasthaus, Brotterode

May 1635

"Yes-sh, I'm from the gov-vernment. And yes-sh I'm here to help me—you. Believe it or not." Bryant's voice was a little too loud and a little uncertain. "Rosh-shi, bring me another beer. And for all my friendsh-sh here around. At least that’s something the government can do for y'all."

He slapped the shoulder of the sturdy man next to him. All men in the inn seemed to be sturdy. Lumberjacks. Charcoal makers. Blacksmiths. Everything in this village in the boondocks of the county seemed to turn around the forest. Perhaps they even ate the wood. He hadn't seen any fields when he arrived here.

"Sh-sho you tell me: How can I help you?"

A voice from farther away shouted: "We need more beer!"

Everybody laughed. But then another man shouted: "Michael is right. Every time the weather is bad, we don't have enough beer."

What? Bryant tried to get his wits together. He turned around and faced that man. "And what's the reason for this?"

"The road. It's the road." Several men now chimed in. Then all talked across each other.

Bryant knocked on the table. "Please, meine Herren, please.

"Choose one of you to tell me the story."

A burly man stood up. "I'm Sebastian Ackermann. I'm the brewer master. We can't grow any barley here. The weather is too bad. So I must buy barley and hops. We've got only one road. It leads to Kleinschmalkalden. But they haven't much crop themselves. And so everything is too expensive.

EFB14nslbrg"When the weather is good, we can use the path north over the Inselsberg to Tabarz, but that takes too much time, and there are no merchants using the path. We need a real road to Tabarz. But we're no road builders. We don't have the tools or one of these newfangled machines."

"Okay," Bryant said and tried to fend off the clouds around his brain. This might be a chance. "Rosi, please make me a coffee from my stash." Then he reached into his rucksack and seized his laptop. Fortunately the battery was still working. Drafting one of the natives to pedal duty wouldn't be a very good idea at the moment. He opened it, and switched it on.

The people around him were staring at the screen in front of him, which changed from black to light blue, showing clouds and a colored flag. Then they jumped back when suddenly "the Windows Sound" announced the system's availability.

Accustomed to this behavior, he always wondered how they would have reacted to the fanfares of the NT 5.0 Beta he had tried out in 1999. Anyway! He started to search through the data he and his assistants had gathered during the last months.

Jagdschloss of the Duke of Saxe-Eisenach, Marksuhl

Late November 1634

Sonia Burke looked around. The salon in the Jagdschloss looked old-fashioned, with small windows, chairs and tables made from dark wood, and walls draped with cloth. In contrast, electric lights brightened up the dark corners, trying to supplement the little light coming in from a grey and foggy morning outside.

"It's clean here," she said to Bryant.

"It smells clean," he answered. "It smells like . . ." He sniffed.

"Honey?" a voice asked from behind their backs.

Bryant and Sonia turned around. An elderly man approached from a side door.

"I must work on my manners," he said smiling. "I'm not accustomed to doors that open so silently."

Bryant and Sonia rose. That had to be their employer-to-be, Johann Ernst. He spoke rather good English.

"Excellency," Bryant bowed. He wasn't a raging redneck, so he had no problem following the down-time rules of politeness when meeting a member of the high nobility.

Sonia tried a curtsy and stumbled.

"For Heaven's sake," Johann Ernst exclaimed. "Don't break your neck, Ms. Burke." He quickly approached Sonia and extended both hands. "The parquet is freshly polished."

Sonia seized the hands with a sigh and straightened.

"Thank you, Excellency," she said. "That's not easy."

"Yes, indeed," the governor answered grinning. "Our girls learn curtsies very early. It's second nature to them. And you don't need to do it again in my house. We are accustomed to people who are less formal."

He shook hands with Sonia and Bryant, and they all sat again.

"Please tell me," the governor started the talk. "Why do you want to leave Grantville?"

Sonia looked pointedly to Bryant. The governor followed her gaze.

Bryant blushed. "Okay, it's more or less my fault. See, I've got a very esoteric job . . ." He stopped, searching for words.

"Programming computers," Johann Ernst said. "I've heard that."

"Yes. . . . No. . . . Not really. Not the computers you can see in Grantville. Up-time, we had other computers. As powerful as ten thousand of those in Grantville. Calculating the weather forecast or simulating explosions." He looked quizzically at Johann Ernst. Did that hit home?

Johann Ernst smiled and painted quotes into the air. " 'Highly parallel,' they told me. But I didn't really understand that."

"It's like the difference between a man with a gun trying to shoot an enemy and the combined attack of ten thousand guns trying to kill ten thousand enemies with a single volley."

Johann Ernst beamed. "Oh, they must avoid shooting the same enemy a hundred times and leaving ninety-nine unharmed. That I can understand."

"Yes, exactly. How would you formulate the order to each of the shooters, if their enemies were constantly changing places? That's the kind of problems I was solving up-time."

"And Grantville doesn't give you the same challenge?"

Bryant snorted. "Not in the least. My neighbors call me whenever their computers go down. Mostly because some piece of electronic equipment finally went kaput. And we no longer have a spare part that fits."

Johann Ernst frowned. "Will all computers 'go kaput'?"

Bryant shrugged. "The government tries to get a hold on as many computers as possible. Preserving them, even the broken ones, for the time when replacement parts can be made. Capacitors and resistors will come soon, transistors perhaps in one decade.

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