Catrin’s Calling


July 4, 1634, on the Saale River near Saalfeld

The Spengler paper mill was lit up like a Christmas tree, making it very easy for Catrin Schmoller to find her way as the evening twilight turned to night. Her knock on the door was greeted by the last person she wanted to see her arrive at the party on her own.

“Hello, beautiful. Better late than never. You do realize the party started at eight, not nine.” Friedrich Stisser looked beyond Catrin as if he was expecting to see someone else. “What have you done with Andreas?”

This was exactly why Catrin would have preferred someone else had answered the door. Anyone else might have inquired politely after Andreas, but not Friedrich. As a friend of Catrin’s, he didn’t seem to think he had to be polite to her. “He is at his home snuggled up to his radio transceiver, trying to make contact with a Radio League member in Amsterdam.”

“And you wanting to attend Gottfried’s thirtieth birthday celebration . . . “

“Yes!” The fact Andreas would rather miss her best friend’s husband’s birthday party than miss an evening with his radio waves had been the final nail in the coffin of a relationship that hadn’t been progressing as Catrin would have preferred. “Andreas Rottenberger is history.”

Friedrich put out a hand and condescendingly patted Catrin on the top of her head. “There, there, girl. Never mind, there are plenty more fish in the sea. You’ll soon hook another.”

She shot a hand up to stop Friedrich mussing her hair. “Your sympathy is overwhelming.” She smiled as a suitable revenge occurred. “Maybe I should reward it by telling your betrothed the truth about you.”

“Do your worst, little girl,” Friedrich said with the smuggest of smug looks on his face.

“Oh, I will. You’re forgetting that Gottfried tells Veronika everything.” She waited for Friedrich to realize the import of that statement. “You still want me to do my worst?”

No longer looking quite so smug, Friedrich tugged Catrin toward a table where drinks were laid out. “There’s no need to be nasty. Besides, you’re well rid of Andreas. Didn’t I hear that you claimed to know more about radio than he did?”

“I might have,” she admitted. “Why is it guys think they understand how something works just because they’re male? Can’t they see the advantages of learning from someone else’s mistakes?”

“So Andreas is another who doesn’t read the instruction manual?”

“Yes he is, and I’m going to make sure my next boyfriend is one of those rare males who have no trouble with reading the manual before things go wrong. I’ve had it with guys who treat instruction manuals as a port of last resort.”

“I wish you luck,” Friedrich muttered as he guided Catrin towards their hostess.

Grantville-Kamsdorf railroad, Late July, 1634

Mikkel Agmundson was bored. He’d been dragooned into accompanying his father and some of his business associates to the up-timer city of Grantville. That should have been interesting, but he’d been spending most of his time translating for the members of the party who didn’t speak the local dialect. Right now he was staring out the window of the train traveling from Grantville to Saalfeld. That was another thing that should have been interesting, but he’d made the return trip from Grantville to the steel mills of Kamsdorf the other day and quickly learned that the train was just another boring means of transport. It was faster than a horse or a carriage, but that was all it had going for it. Now traveling in a car; that had been interesting. It was a great pity that they couldn’t afford to take one back to Arendal with them.

He sort of perceived the structure—no doubt a mill of some kind—as the train took the gentle curve south, toward Saalfeld. That the mill was the only building on the river edge for the last half-mile had something to do with it attracting his roving eye, but not as much as the way the wind was playing with the skirt of the female watching men working around a pond by the mill. The closer the train got to the mill, the more Mikkel was able to absorb. It was definitely a young female, and quite a shapely one at that.

“What on earth are they doing with those timbers?” Magnus Kristjanson asked from the seat opposite.

Mikkel didn’t have to ask what timbers, because the woman was directing a couple of men hauling lengths of coppice timber from the pond. “I’ve no idea. Do you want to get off the train and ask?” Magnus shook his head, but Mikkel noted the way he continued to stare at the mill. “We can probably ask about the mill in Saalfeld,” he suggested.

Magnus didn’t answer, but Mikkel noticed that he didn’t take his eyes off the mill until they crossed the River Saale and entered Saalfeld.

Council Office, Saalfeld

The sound of unfamiliar footsteps approaching the reception counter had Catrin pausing in her work to look up. Instantly she was entranced by the vision at the counter. God, he was so cute. She hurried over to the counter. “Can I help you?” she asked, fluttering her eye-lashes at the handsome hunk.

The older man beside the hunk seemed taken aback by Catrin’s fluttering eyelashes, but the hunk seemed impervious. She sighed—situation normal. Just what was wrong with her that no normal cute guy seemed interested? Actually, she had a good idea what the problem was. One just had to look at Friedrich’s betrothed. Barbara Rohrbacher was so well-endowed that she made the term grossly inadequate as a descriptor, while Catrin was, well, very much less well-endowed.

“We were wondering if you could tell us anything about the sawmill we passed on the train from Grantville,” Mikkel asked after introducing himself and his companion.

That was the mill her best friend ran with her husband. A smile filled Catrin’s face as she thought about that happy couple. “Spengler’s isn’t a sawmill. It’s a paper mill.”

“But paper is made from rag. We saw them carrying coppice logs into the mill,” Mikkel protested.

“You can make paper from just about any plant fiber. It’s just a matter of being able to reduce it to a suitable pulp. Gottfried Spengler uses ground wood for his paper. Although he’d much rather use chemically pulped wood, but he couldn’t get enough wood to make it economic.”

The younger man translated her comment to the elder, and then there was an intense conversation between them before the hunk turned back to Catrin.

“You seem to know a lot about this paper mill.”

Catrin had learned a lot about making paper in the last year, and she wasn’t afraid to demonstrate her knowledge, especially if it might impress a cute guy. “My best friend is married to Gottfried Spengler and I spend a lot of time over at the mill.”

“Do you know if Herr Spengler would be willing to show my cousin around his mill?”

“Gottfried will be only too happy to show you his mill,” Catrin assured them. She could say this with absolute confidence, having been the victim of Gottfried’s enthusiasm after a simple polite query had been interpreted as real interest. Anybody displaying a real interest in his mill was unlikely to escape without the full tour.

Mikkel passed this information to Magnus, and there was a short discussion. Finally Mikkel turned back to Catrin. “Thank you for your assistance, Fräulein.”

Catrin watched the two men leave. She even craned her neck at the counter to keep the cute hunk in view for as long as possible. It was a pity they seemed in such a hurry, as it meant she’d probably never see the hunk again. She returned to her typewriter and inserted another blank form.

Two hours later—at the end of her working day—Catrin left the office in a hurry. Her destination was Spengler’s Mill, where she was ever hopeful that the hunk had been trapped by Gottfried and needed to be rescued.

She arrived to an unnatural state of disorder. Gottfried was hurrying around like a headless chicken while her friend stood carefully to one side and watched. Catrin hurried over to Veronika and gave her a greeting hug before she too stood to one side to watch Gottfried. “What’s going on?”

“A couple of men from a place in Norway dropped by, and have persuaded Gottfried that he should return with them to investigate the possibility of setting up a paper mill in their home town. Right now he’s trying to organize everything so he can join them.”

“Why would Gottfried want to go to someplace in Norway ?”

“They have a lot of wood, and it would be economically viable for Gottfried to make sulfide-process paper.”

Catrin was momentarily stunned by the implications of what Veronika had just said. Gottfried had wanted to make fine white paper in his mill on the Saale River, but he hadn’t been able to access enough timber for it to be economically viable for him to install the waste treatment facilities the local authority said he needed if he wanted to make sulfide process paper. Instead, he’d been forced to settle for making ground-wood pulp paper, which wasn’t good for much more than newspapers. It also offended his professional sensitivities. Catrin knew Gottfried still dreamed of making good white writing paper from wood pulp, and she was sure he was quite capable of packing up and moving to anywhere he might be able to do so. “Will you be going with him?”

Veronika reached out a gentle hand around Catrin’s shoulder and hugged her. “If Gottfried decides to move, then I’ll follow him.”

It was no more than Catrin had expected, but she still felt down. Veronika was her best friend, and it seemed she was going to be leaving. “What will you do with this mill?” she asked, waving her free arm around to encompass the mill.

“We’ll have to sell. There’s no way we can afford to keep this mill and build the mill of Gottfried’s dreams.”

Again, it was pretty much what she’d expected to hear, but it did mean Veronika was likely to never come back to the area. “So you’ll be leaving?”

Veronika must have seen the hint of tears in Catrin’s eyes, for she immediately enveloped her in a hug. “When we’re established, there’ll be a job there for you.”

October, Saalfeld

Be careful what you wish for, you might get it. The phrase might have been written just for Catrin. Yes, she had a new boyfriend, and yes, unlike Andreas, he had not only read the instruction manual, he referred to it constantly. However, when she vowed that her next boyfriend would be someone who saw the instruction manual as the first port of call and not the option of last resort, she hadn’t been thinking of someone quite like Valentin Rhost.

She’d first met Valentin in a math class he’d been teaching for external students doing their GED. He’d recently bought himself an obsolete Wetmore Aqualator—the Mark I version, without the square root function—and Catrin had been one of the students who gave up their time to help him upgrade it to Mark IA standard with an after-market add-on square root block. She had been impressed that Valentin had followed the instruction manual to the letter. And of course the up-graded aqualator had worked correctly first time.

That had been six weeks ago. Since then she’d learned that Valentin was obsessive about following the instruction manual. If the manual said the water should be triple distilled, then Valentin insisted on triple distilling the water himself. Anybody like to spend hours watching water drip out of a still? Catrin certainly didn’t. Fortunately, she’d only had to endure that once, so far. What she hadn’t been able to avoid had been the weekly tear-down of the system for complete cleaning of the channels Valentin insisted on, just because the manual recommended weekly preventative maintenance.

Catrin had just waved off her friend Veronika and her new baby as they took the train out of Grantville on the first leg of her trip to join her husband in Arendal, Norway. Her best friend was gone for good, and she’d desperately hoped for a shoulder to cry on. Instead she got Valentin, just as he was about to tear-down his Wetmore for cleaning.

Valentin set down the manual on the right page and started to close off the water valves—in the specified order, of course. Catrin, who’d done a couple of tear-downs before, grabbed some tools and got on with helping.

“What are you doing?” Valentin demanded.

The hand holding the screwdriver stilled in the air. “Just loosening the . . . “

“No!” Valentin said. “That’s step six. We need to complete steps four and then step five before we do that.”

“But . . . ” Catrin wanted to protest that step six didn’t have anything to do with the other steps. As long as the water was turned off (step one) it wouldn’t spray everywhere when you opened up the block. However, Valentin was watching to make sure she didn’t get ahead of the manual. There and then Catrin realized she had to get out of the relationship. She put down the screwdriver and got to her feet.

“Where are you going?” Valentin demanded. “You have to help me tear-down and reassemble my aqualator.”

“I don’t have to help you do anything, Valentin. You have your instruction manual. Use that.” With those scathing last words Catrin walked out the door. There was a cacophony of noise that sounded suspiciously like someone had upset the table on which Valentin had arranged the dismantled components of his aqualator. She couldn’t resist a quick glance over her shoulder to see what kind of carnage Valentin had wreaked. She wasn’t disappointed. She couldn’t have done half as well if she’d tried. There was a renewed bounce to her step as she hurried down the stairs and out into the bright sunlight.

Catrin hurried down the road until she came to the first intersection, and there she stopped. Where to go now? Normally, after dumping a boyfriend, she’d run to Veronika, but Veronika left to join her husband in Norway. For all his lack of sympathy, even Friedrich would have served as a port in a storm, but he was no doubt busy moving himself and his betrothed into the master’s lodgings at Spengler’s mill—although they’d probably have to change the name as Gottfried had sold it to his old workforce.

Veronika was gone, Friedrich was going to be married soon, and she wasn’t meeting any suitable young men. It was time to ask her supervisor at work for help.

Next day

She managed to corral Stephan Wachter in his office before he left at the end of the next day. “Stephan, you’re invited to the Chamber of Commerce parties, aren’t you?”

Stephan paused in the collating of the papers on his desk and looked up slowly. “Yeeessss,” he agreed cautiously.

“Can I go as your partner next time?” Catrin hastened on. “I’m not meeting any interesting guys, and I was thinking that a Chamber of Commerce event might help me meet someone interesting.”

“I’m sorry, Catrin, but there is no way I can take you to one of those events. They are by invitation only.”

“But surely I could go as your guest?” Stephan slowly shook his head. “But Gottfried could have taken Veronika to one.”

“Only after they were officially betrothed.”

That didn’t sound right. “But Nikolaus said Gottfried could have invited Veronika to a Chamber of Commerce party when they were first walking out together.”

“Nikolaus knows very well that invitations to Chamber of Commerce events are by invitation only, and that means named on the invitation. You don’t think the members of the Chamber of Commerce want to encourage just any female to socialize with the up and coming young men?”

That meant Nikolaus had lied. Big surprise, not. “So what am I going to do? I’m not meeting anybody interesting.”

“Then, I’m afraid you’re going to have to broaden your horizons and move out of Saalfeld.”

“I can’t afford to live in Grantville or Magdeburg, not on the salary they pay typists.”

“Then don’t look for work in those cities. There are plenty of places out there. Don’t limit yourself to the usual suspects.” Stephan reached out and tugged Catrin by the hand. “Let’s have a look at what is available in the newspaper.”

November, Schönebeck (10 miles south of Magdeburg)

Catrin stood at the door to Köppe’s Boatyard, the advertisement held tightly in her hand. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Stephan had been a little too convincing, and had even loaned her the money for the train fare, but now she was standing by the office door she wasn’t so sure. It was one thing to look for work around guys, but some of the guys who worked here had walked past her and she hadn’t been impressed. Also, it didn’t look as if there were any females working here. Not that that could be right. There had to at least be the wife and maybe daughters of the owner around, it was just that she couldn’t see any just now.

“Who are you, and what do you want?” a voice demanded from behind Catrin.

She spun around, and tried to smile at the man she now faced. He was old enough to be the master, and he was well enough dressed to be the master—if one took into account he was in working clothes without any of the wood shavings that had littered the clothes of the other men—so she took a chance. “Master Köppe?”

The man shook his head. “Claus Delp, senior journeyman at Köppe’s. Master Köppe is in Travemünde just now.”

“Oh!” Catrin was at a loss how to continue. She opened the advertisement and reread it.

“You’ve come about the ‘Girl Friday’ position? Sorry, but it’s already been filled.”

She sighed. This was the forth job in as many weeks she’d been told was already filled when she turned up. “Thank you,” she said as she turned to leave.

“That monstrosity you insisted on buying is broken again,” a young woman screamed out at Claus as she stomped towards him. “It’s now insisting the square root of two is three, which I’m sure can’t be right.”

The words halted Catrin’s retreat. Simple curiosity had her moving closer to listen in.

“It’ll cost a hundred dollars for the call out just to get a technician from Magdeburg, and who knows how much at the hourly rate to fix whatever you’ve done wrong this time,” Claus muttered.

“I’ve done wrong?” the woman roared. “Your machine doesn’t work, and it’s not my fault. You can take your job and stuff it. I don’t have to put up with this kind of treatment. My father is on the council you know.”

Catrin stood silently while the woman stalked off. Claus, she noticed, watched her stalk off as well. She had to admit the woman moved in a way to attract the male eye, maybe she needed lessons on how to sway her hips like that. Catrin knew she wasn’t going to get a job based on her womanly wiles, but maybe those hours helping Valentin with his aqualator hadn’t been totally wasted. “Do you have a Wetmore Aqualator?”

Claus swung round. “What makes you ask?”

“The fact that you can get a technician to fix something capable of calculating a square root from Magdeburg rather than Grantville. If you like, I could have a look at it. I know a thing or two about Wetmores. Is it a Mark I with the after-market square root package, or a Mark II, where it came as a standard feature?”

“A Mark II, and if you know enough to ask that question you know more than most people I’ve met. Do you think you can fix it? I’ll pay you a hundred dollars if you can.”

“I can’t say until I look at it, but I’ve had a fair bit of experience with Wetmores, and there’s not a lot that can go wrong that I can’t fix—if I have the tools and parts.”

Claus held out a hand and gently guided Catrin towards the room where the Wetmore was installed.

The first thing Catrin checked was the water level in the reservoir. Rubbing her thumb and fingers together told her a lot more than she really wanted to know about the probable cause of the failure. “When did you last replace the water?”

“Replace it? We don’t. We just keep it topped up.”

Catrin winced. Not that she was surprised. It took a while for water to get that slimy feel to it. “You’re supposed to replace the water on a regular basis, because over time algae can start to grow. When did you last flush the system with chlorine solution?”

“Chlorine solution? Nobody told us anything about flushing the system with chlorine solution.”

“Let me guess, you’ve never done a complete tear-down to clean the channels either?”

“Tear-down? You need a technician for that, and getting a technician to come out from Magdeburg is expensive.”

“You can do it yourself if you follow the manual . . . “

“Manual?”

Catrin sighed. “The booklet that came with the Wetmore,” she suggested without too much hope.

“Oh, that! I’ve never bothered with that. The technician who installed the Wetmore showed me all I needed to know to operate it.”

“Obviously he didn’t, otherwise you wouldn’t have problems like the square root of two being three. Do you have the manual and the rest of the things that came in the original packaging?”

Claus looked guilty. “Well, I think I know where everything is. Why? Is it important?”

There were a lot of useful tools in the Wetmore tool kit, and it appeared some of them might have been borrowed for other jobs. Right now she was almost missing Valentin. He’d never have split up his Wetmore tool kit. “If you want me to get your Wetmore working again, I’m going to need the complete tool kit, and I’ll need some triple distilled water to refill it after I do a complete tear-down.”

“Oh! How long is all this going to take? Because I really need to get those calculations done.”

“Six hours if you hang around to help, three if you let me just get on and do it. That’s if I have all the necessary equipment.”

“Okay, you get started and I’ll see what I can round up.”

“Don’t forget my hundred dollars,” Catrin called to Claus’ departing back.

****

Just under three hours later a very dirty Catrin demonstrated to Claus how well a properly maintained Wetmore Mark II could function. “There we are. Now . . . my money?” She held out her hand expectantly.

“You were asking about the Girl Friday position . . . “

Catrin rubbed her thumb and fingers together suggestively. “The money.”

“That’s more than we keep in petty cash.”

“I can wait.” And she could. Those hundred dollars would allow her to pay back Stephan the money he’d lent her.

“One of your tasks as Girl Friday will be to properly maintain the Wetmore, and we aren’t paying you a hundred dollars each time you do a tear-down,” Claus said as he led Catrin to the main office, where he opened a safe and removed some money.

“If it’s properly maintained, it shouldn’t need to be done more than every other month. So, does this mean you’re offering me the job?”

Claus counted out ten ten -dollar bills into Catrin’s waiting hand. “It seems a vacancy has occurred, and you do seem to know your way around the Wetmore. What are your typing and shorthand like?”

****

Catrin settled in easily at Köppe’s, which became Delp’s a short time later when Master Köppe left and Claus Delp took over. She wasn’t even upset that she failed to latch onto Claus before he was nabbed by a local girl—mostly because not even his own mother would have called him cute. The poor girl who betrothed herself, with not inconsiderable help and prodding from her father and uncles, to Claus had her sympathy. Or she would have had Catrin’s sympathy if she hadn’t been yet another overly well-endowed female winning the prize. A girl could get a complex if she wasn’t careful.

A Girl Friday had no specific tasks to do. She was at the beck and call of everybody, but that had some advantages. There was no way she would have learned how to strip down a hot-bulb engine or learned to drive a motorboat while working for the Saalfeld Council. She turned the Higgins boat she’d been “testing” and headed for home. She’d been out for over an hour and chances were that someone had found a job that only she could be spared to do.

Claus was waiting for her when she bumped up against the wharf. She shut down the engine before jumping onto the wharf to tie up. Normally, even Master Claus Delp would have tied up for her so she could do the proper shutdown of the hot-bulb engine, but Claus had recently managed to break his right leg and do something nasty to his right wrist. The leg was in one of the new plaster casts, while the wrist was just heavily strapped. It meant he wasn’t agile enough to jump around tying up boats, and didn’t he let everyone know how frustrating he found the limitations.

“Catrin, I need to get to Magdeburg, urgently.”

Catrin sort of ignored her boss as she completed the shutdown operations. Claus often had to make trips to Magdeburg, mostly for business. He had taken Catrin along a couple of times to take notes at various meetings, so it wasn’t unusual for him to tell her he had to make such a trip. Then something exciting occurred to Catrin. Claus had a vehicle called a hovercraft. He’d bought it from an up-timer who’d used it to carry passengers and freight on the Saale before the railroad put him out of business. Not that Herr O’Connor would recognize the beast these days. Claus might not be one for instruction manuals, but he was one for proper research. He’d paid for Catrin to visit Grantville to locate and collate as much information as she could on hovercraft, and then he’d gone to town improving Herr O’Connor’s creation. These days it was certainly a sight to behold. It had an up-time engine to inflate the skirt and one of the new radial engines to provide propulsion. It looked fast just standing still, and it was fast, capable of up to sixty miles per hour.

“You can’t pilot the hovercraft with that leg and wrist,” Catrin said, with just a hint of wishful thinking in her voice.

“I know, which means you’ll have to take the controls.”

That was exactly what Catrin had hoped Claus was going to say, not that he looked that happy to be saying it. She took Claus’ attitude as a clue on how to go on. “Do I have time to practice?”

“That’s what we’re going to do right now.”

March 1635

It had been three weeks since Catrin’s first terrifying, but fun, attempts to control the hovercraft. She’d quickly learned that changes in direction needed to be planned well in advance. Learning to change direction had, according to Claus, added significantly to the gray hairs on his head. Catrin had found piloting the hovercraft exhilarating, and she wasn’t looking forward to the day when the doctor cut off Claus’ cast and he took back the task of piloting for himself.

Today was yet another trip for Claus to visit his timber supplier. He was using plywood made in Magdeburg from timber imported from Norway, and he was hoping to get some of the cut veneers before they were turned into plywood so he could experiment with molding the plywood into various shapes.

Catrin steered the hovercraft to its landing bay near the naval base in Magdeburg and cut the power. Immediately the craft sank to the ground. She climbed out and helped Claus out. While he sat on the side of the vehicle she unloaded his crutches and briefcase before pulling the canvas cover over the passenger compartment to protect it from the elements. With the cover secure she helped Claus to his feet, and carrying the briefcase herself gestured for Claus to precede her. “Lead on, Master.”

Claus humphed. “Master you call me, but you don’t treat me like your master.”

“I piloted you safely to Magdeburg. Without getting you wet. What more can you ask for?”

“A little subservience wouldn’t go amiss. You’re giving Margaretha ideas.”

Catrin smiled smugly. She was enjoying giving Margaretha ideas. They all originated from her time at school in Grantville and played heavily on the idea that women were just as important and valuable as men.

****

They hadn’t been in the meeting with the supplier for long when there was a knock at the door.

“Yes?” Master Hogeweg asked of the apprentice at the door.

“There is a naval officer who wishes to speak with Master Delp, Master Hogeweg.”

“A naval officer?” Claus struggled to turn in his chair. “I wonder what the navy wants?”

“Show him in, Franz.”

An officer entered and removed his cap. “Lieutenant Kelleher at your service, Master Delp. The navy would like to hire you and your hovercraft for an urgent trip to Grantville. We’ll provide you with fuel for the return trip, but we need to get six men and their equipment to Grantville as soon as possible.”

“Sure, no problem. When would you like to hire it?” Claus asked.

“Right now, if that’s possible,” Lieutenant Kelleher said.

Claus pointed to his leg in its plaster cast. “I can’t pilot it right now, but if you don’t mind trusting to a female pilot, Catrin here is, I’m sure, very willing to pilot the hovercraft for you. I just wish it was me making the trip.”

Catrin nodded her head vigorously. She definitely wanted to pilot the hovercraft, and if the trip was urgent, maybe she could really open her up. There were usually other people on the river, and they had to keep the speed down so as not to create too great a wash, or create too much noise from the main engine. “Will the navy will take care of any complaints from other river users?”

“Anything short of actual physical damage,” Lieutenant Kelleher said. “You’ll have to pay for anything you break.”

“I’ll just go and check the fuel and everything,” Catrin told the room. “Master Delp, you’ll contact Grantville to make sure everything is ready for the return trip?” There was no need to tell everyone that the arrangements would include arranging for paying cargo and passengers for the return trip.

April, Arendal, Norway

Agmund Torgeirson laid down the newspaper and stared into the distance. A hovercraft. Someone in the USE had a boat, or something like a boat, that could also travel on land, or at least on relatively flat land. That sounded like just the vehicle his son needed up at Kirkenes. The expedition for the iron and nickel ore was having a few difficulties getting around. The water was deep enough for the boats, but they had to portage them across the land that separated the patches of water. A vehicle that could easily move over both would save valuable time. There was also someone who might know something about the hovercraft here in Arendal. A visit to Master Spengler at his new paper mill seemed indicated.

Delp’s Boatyard, Schönebeck

“Catrin, get in here,” Claus bellowed.

“You called, Master?” Catrin said as she came through the door.

“Yes, and can the sarcasm. How would you like to pilot the hovercraft full time?”

Catrin’s eyes lit up—that high speed trip down to Grantville had been as thrilling as she’d hoped it would be—only for the light to fade almost immediately. “But there is no need for a full-time pilot.”

“There’s no need for a full-time pilot here, but I’ve received a letter.” He held up the offending document that had somehow arrived on Claus’ desk without passing through Catrin’s in-tray. “An Agmund Torgeirson, from Arendal, Norway, is interested in buying or renting my hovercraft for use in the Kirkenes area. The money he’s offering is enough for me to be willing to sell it—it’s not as if I can’t build a better one. However, the sale depends on them having someone to pilot the hovercraft, and who is capable of maintaining it.” Claus paused. “How good are you at maintaining the radial engine?”

Catrin was suddenly excited again. “About as good as anyone in the shop.” It wasn’t even a lie. None of the workforce at the boatyard was formally qualified to work on the radial engine. “I’ll just need a load of spares to take with me, though. Where is Kirkenes anyway?”

Claus moved with the lightness of foot of someone recently liberated from a plaster cast to the map of Europe hanging on the wall, and after searching for a couple of minutes pointed to a spot in the far north of Norway. “Right there. The resource markings suggest the area is rich in iron and nickel.”

Catrin looked at the map. Kirkenes was a long way from Schönebeck, and it was well north of the Arctic Circle, which meant it was probably going to be cold. “How long is the contract for?”

“As long as they need you I expect. They’ll pay well, and I’m sure there will be other benefits. But you won’t be the only girl. Apparently there is at least one up-time girl running a survey team up there.”

Catrin wasn’t sure that was a good thing. Up-time girls were even more attractive to down-time men than well-endowed down-time girls.

“I’ll be sorry to lose you, of course.”

Catrin snorted at the outright lie. It wasn’t that they didn’t work well together, but she was still doing her best to lead Margaretha astray, and she was a salary that Claus could dispense with as she’d also taught Margaretha how to look after the Wetmore and how to use the typewriter. “When do I start?”

“Immediately. Herr Torgeirson has retained a Magdeburg lawyer to handle everything.”

May, Arendal

Unlike Hamburg, which was a shallow harbor subjected to a tidal range of over ten feet, Arendal was a natural deepwater harbor with a tidal range of under eighteen inches. That meant ships in Hamburg couldn’t tie up at wharves, and instead had to ride at anchor while cargo and passengers were moved by lighter, while ships at Arendal could float up alongside a dock and transfer passengers and cargo directly.

By the time Catrin walked off the ship, her cabin luggage trailing behind on the shoulder of a willing sailor, a group of men and wagons had turned up. She was hopeful that these were representatives of her employer, Herr Torgeirson, and headed towards them.

The ship’s captain was talking to one of the men, and when he pointed towards Catrin, she knew this had to be Herr Torgeirson. However, the look of abject horror on the man’s face when he saw her wasn’t reassuring. She felt in the shoulder bag she had slung across her chest for the German-Norwegian phrase book she’d picked up in Magdeburg and flicked through the pages.

“Hello, are you Herr Torgeirson? I’m Catrin Schmoller, the hovercraft pilot.” At least that was what she hoped she said, but the man’s violent cringing suggested her pronunciation left a lot to be desired.

“But you are a woman!”

“Give the man a cigar,” she muttered to herself. It was a phrase she’d picked up from her fellow students back in Grantville, and it suited her feelings to a tee. That was another expression she’d picked up in Grantville, even if she wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. She thought it might have its origins in the figure hugging T-shirts some of the girls wore. “Yes, I’m a woman.” She stared at the man, daring him to say anything.

“But we require someone to pilot the hovercraft.”

Catrin didn’t bother to say anything; she just thumped her chest to indicate she was the pilot.

“And we need someone capable of maintaining the vehicle.”

Again Catrin thumped her chest.

“Really?” There was a lot of disbelief in that word. “You expect me to believe you not only pilot the hovercraft, but you can also fix it if it breaks down?”

Catrin advanced on the man until she compromised his personal space. “Not if it breaks down, when it breaks down. And yes, I can fix it.”

“A woman lacks the strength to . . . ” Agmund started to say.

“When something goes wrong it will not be fixed by the application of brute force and ignorance,” Catrin almost shouted at Agmund. “It will be fixed by someone who knows what they are doing applying that knowledge.”

Agmund raised his brows. “Brute force and ignorance?”

Catrin managed not to blush. “It has been my experience that too many males live by the mantra if at first you don’t succeed, use a bigger hammer. Women know better.”

The two of them eyeballed each other in silence. About this time it started to dawn on Catrin that they’d been happily exchanging views in German. Obviously there was no need for her phrase book, which she shoved back into her bag, but more importantly, a native of Arendal who spoke German might be her employer, and she hadn’t been very polite. Never one to hold a grudge, Catrin decided to pretend nothing had been said and that they’d just met. She held out her hand. “Catrin Schmoller. I’m the pilot of the hovercraft. You might have heard about the high speed dash I made in it from Magdeburg to Grantville back in March.”

Agmund stared at her hand for a few seconds before he smiled. “Agmund Torgeirson. I am the new owner of the hovercraft, and your employer. When can you give me a demonstration?”

Catrin hadn’t exactly been expecting that question. Perhaps stupidly, she’d sort of thought she’d arrive in Arendal, transfer to another ship, and head straight for Kirkenes. However, if the man wanted a demonstration of the hovercraft’s capabilities, she was only too happy to accommodate him. She looked around to check out the terrain. There wasn’t a lot of flat land about, but there was a slipway just down from the docks that she thought, at first glance, had a slope the hovercraft could cope with.

“Is there somewhere all the pieces can be moved to so I can assemble it? Somewhere with relatively flat land between it and that slipway.”

Agmund checked the land in the direction Catrin was indicating. “Yes, I have a warehouse.”

“Right, well, you get everything into your warehouse, and I’ll put everything together, and if you’re a good boy, I’ll take you out on the harbor. Meanwhile, I don’t suppose I can have a hot bath, and something to eat?”

****

Agmund watched the German girl walk off into the distance as she was guided towards the inn where a room had been booked. She had been a surprise. It wasn’t just that she was a woman, but such a woman. She reminded him of a much younger Inger Mogensdotter, the family matriarch. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing, but it did suggest young Catrin might be worth cultivating.

Next day

Agmund wasn’t the only person standing around watching Catrin directing the assembly of the hovercraft. Inger Mogensdotter had also turned up to inspect the family’s latest purchase.

“She has a way of getting things done that I like,” Inger informed Agmund.

“You mean she stands back and lets the men do the hard work.”

“Yes. Why get your hands dirty when there are big strong males available? However, she is doing a good job of directing the men.”

Agmund had to concede that Inger had it right. First thing that morning the work crew had tried to ignore Catrin’s instructions, but she’d soon put an end to that. There had been harsh words exchanged—one hesitated to suggest that an educated young woman had used obscenities that had even hardened merchant sailors blushing—before Catrin managed to establish her authority, but since that first skirmish the men had diligently followed her instructions, and the preparation of the hovercraft was progressing rapidly.

Suddenly, or at least it seemed sudden to Agmund, the job was finished. Catrin had her crew push the hovercraft on its wheels out of the warehouse, onto the dock overlooking the slipway.

Agmund walked around the hovercraft. It wasn’t quite what he’d expected. The rear section boasted a large radial engine power propeller that provided propulsion, with steering being provided by moving a rudder across the air being thrust rearward. Then there was the cargo hold. It was a shallow compartment currently fitted out with three bench seats. At the front was a single seat behind a steering wheel. That was the pilot’s station. He’d expected all of that based on the diagram in the newspaper. He just hadn’t been prepared for the sheer size of the vehicle. But that wasn’t the only surprise. “Why does it have wheels? I thought it was supposed to float on a cushion of air.”

“She does. The wheels are for when you want to move her without running the engines. But don’t worry, they’re removable.”

Agmund followed her around as she supervised the removal and storage of the wheels. “I can see how they would help moving the vehicle around on firm ground, but what happens if the engines fail on water?”

“Like if they were to fail while we’re out on the harbor?” Catrin grinned. “Don’t worry. Remember, Master Delp is a boat builder, she’ll float.”

That did reassure Agmund. “Can you take us out on the harbor now?”

“I just have to start the lift engine.”

Agmund watched Catrin fiddle with the engine and wind a cord around a capstan. She braced herself and pulled. There was a spluttering from the engine bay, but nothing more. She fiddled with the engine again and rewound the cord. This time when she pulled on the cord there was a muted roar. Catrin made a few more adjustments before she lowered the cover and walked back to him.

“If you’d like to pick out some passengers, I’m ready to put her through her paces.”

Agmund cast a look over the men and women who’d turned up to see the hovercraft. It wouldn’t hurt to invite some of them along as well. “How many passengers can you carry?”

“I’ve carried six Marines and their equipment, so she can easily manage eight.”

Agmund turned to where Inger was standing, and raised his brows. She nodded and joined him beside the hovercraft. He picked out six of the men watching, including two of the sailors who’d helped assemble it. They were directed to seats by Catrin, who put Agmund and Inger on the bench just behind the pilot seat.

Before she took her seat, Catrin offered Inger a headscarf, which given Catrin had a soft leather helmet in her other hand, Agmund wasn’t surprised Inger accepted. There was a short delay while Catrin secured her helmet and lowered the glass eye-covers before starting the big radial.

When Catrin started the small lift engine Agmund had wondered about the newspaper’s claims of people complaining about the noise on that historic run from Magdeburg to Grantville. However, the moment the radial started, he understood why the people along the route might have complained. However, he forgot all about the noise the moment the hovercraft rose on its cushion of air and started to move. It glided down the slipway onto the harbor.

Agmund wasn’t the only person aboard to look over the side to check that they really were floating above the water. This was all very good of course, but it wasn’t what he’d expected from a demonstration. He was all ready to tap Catrin on the shoulder and demand she put on a bit of speed when that was exactly what she did.

Nobody was thrown back in their seats, but there was a definite sit back in the seat level of acceleration. The radial howled, and the hovercraft picked up speed. The wind whipping past his face was so fast Agmund’s eyes watered, and his long hair was blown all over, but he didn’t care. This was something special. He was almost sorry the hovercraft was destined for his son up in Kirkenes.

After too short a time Catrin headed back for the dock. “Did everyone have a good ride?” Catrin asked the moment the radial was silenced.

Agmund translated, and smiled at Catrin. “They say why did it have to end so soon.”

“I could have gone on for hours, but joyriding isn’t why you bought the hovercraft. Unless of course, you’d like to go out again?”

Agmund gestured to the people who’d been watching. “Maybe we could let some of the others have a ride.”

“You’re the boss. I’m just the pilot.”

Agmund snorted. This young woman could never be just anything.

****

Catrin piloted the hovercraft back up the slipway after the last joyride right into a mass of people who’d turned out to see what was making so much noise. She cut the engines as soon as she was on the dock, and the hovercraft slowly settled to the ground. She wanted to refit the wheels and get the hovercraft into the warehouse for an after trip inspection, but Agmund insisted on dragging her out to meet the good people of Arendal.

Her eyes lit up when they settled on a family of three she recognized. She’d been hoping to catch up with her friend Veronika, who’d left for Arendal several months ago, and here she was, with baby Heinrich in her arms and husband Gottfried at her side.

“Do you know my friends?” she asked Agmund as she dragged him towards them.

“Herr Spengler and his family? Yes, I know them well.”

“I prefer to refer to them as Veronika and her family,” Catrin joked. “How are they doing? In her letters Veronika said the new mill was doing well.”

“They are doing very well,” Agmund said out of the side of his mouth as they got closer. “Herr Spengler is very interested in electricity, and he’s been a driving force in the tapping of the local waters for generation capacity.”

Catrin stopped, dragging Agmund, whose hand she was still holding, to a halt. “What does he need electricity for?”

“To make bleach. His process needs a lot of bleach to make the white paper the English desire, and it is cheaper to make it here than to import it, so he has invested in plant to make it.”

Well, that did sound like Gottfried, Catrin thought to herself. “So, Gottfried is finally making the white paper he has always dreamed of making.”

“He sent off the first shipment just the other day,” Agmund said as he tugged Catrin’s hand to get her moving again.

“He’s only just sent the first shipment?” By this time they’d arrived at where Gottfried and Veronika were standing. “Gottfried, Agmund here says you’ve only just sent a shipment of paper to England. But you’ve been here months.”

“And it’s nice to see you after so long apart too, Catrin,” Gottfried said.

Catrin poked her tongue out at Gottfried, kissed Heinrich on the cheek, and hugged Veronika. “How have you all been? I’ve missed you so much.”

“We’ve been doing well,” Veronika said. “The natives are friendly, and we’ve only sent off the one shipment to England because it took so long to build the three-ton digester Gottfried insisted on having. But we have sent off a few shipments of ground-wood paper to Hamburg.”

Catrin had helped Veronika research paper making when she set out to catch Gottfried, so she knew something about the mechanics of paper making. “Three tons at a time? That’s enough for two hundred and forty reams a day. Is there a market for that much paper? I thought England only imported about a hundred and thirty thousand reams of white paper a year.”

“Of which over half is for use of the press,” Gottfried said. “You’re right, England isn’t ready for so much extra writing paper, but not all of the pulp is being used to make paper.”

Catrin stared hard at Gottfried. This was the man who’d sold up a very successful mill producing newsprint so he could make white writing paper, and now he was happily saying not all of his pulp was going to make paper. “Who are you, and what have you done with the real Gottfried Spengler?”

“This is the real Gottfried, Catrin,” Veronika said, “and I was just as shocked when he first agreed to it, but we were made an offer we couldn’t refuse to provide pure cellulose to a plastics factory in Hamburg.”

“It means we have the cash flow to build the new mill how I want it built,” Gottfried said.

“Oh!” Cash flow. That Catrin could understand. “But you are producing the white sulfide-process paper you dreamed of producing?”

“Yes, I am making the paper I dreamed of making. The move to Arendal was worth it.”

Catrin was happy to hear that. She would have been really upset if Veronika had been torn from her if they weren’t producing the paper the move had been all about.

“Ah, Gottfried, Veronika, so you know our latest recruit,” Inger said as she approached. “Such a delightful girl. She’s just what Agmund’s son Mikkel needs, isn’t she, Agmund?” She turned to Catrin. “You don’t have a young man waiting for you back in the USE do you? Mikkel’s in charge of the expedition at Kirkenes. You’ll like him. He’s a handsome devil.”

Catrin glanced towards Veronika, who had a look on her face she thought had to mirror hers. It was a bad sign when family promoted one of their members as a desirable party. It usually meant they were incapable of attracting a mate themselves. Handsome probably meant he still had most of his teeth and wasn’t too badly covered in smallpox scars.

“Catrin goes through young men like they’re going out of fashion,” Gottfried warned. “She dumped one guy because he wanted to play with his radio.”

“I dumped Andreas because he’d rather play with his transceiver rather than attend your thirtieth birthday party with me.”

“You know someone who has a transceiver?” Agmund asked.

“Andreas has a GARC CW-80. I even learned Morse code so I could understand what was being said.” Catrin puffed out her chest a little. “I tested out at forty words a minute.”

“Just a minute,” Gottfried said, “I was there when you got your results, and I distinctly remember you saying you tested out at twenty-five words a minute.”

“That’s because Andreas had just proudly announced he’d tested out at thirty words. I could hardly tell everyone I was so much better than he was, could I?”

“I understand completely,” Inger said. “The male ego can be so fragile. But are you saying you know how to operate a radio?”

“Yes,” Catrin said. “Not that it’s difficult. Anybody who can follow the instruction book can operate one.”

“It probably helps if you can actually read the instruction book,” Inger muttered as she glared at Agmund.

He held his hands up defensively. “It’s not my fault the manuals aren’t written in Norwegian.” He turned to Catrin. “Looking after the radio and training others in its use will be another of your duties.”

Catrin thought about how much fun it would be teaching males how to use the radio, and sighed. “Gee, thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” Agmund said.

June 1635

Catrin had been enthusiastic when she’d been told she was to be fitted out with a complete set of furs, but then she’d seen the fur in question. Reindeer lacked a certain glamor. Actually, it lacked any glamor. However, she’d learned to love the warmth of her new furs on the trip north, and it wasn’t even winter.

She stood on deck as the ship approached Kirkenes. It wasn’t a very big settlement, but then, she hadn’t expected it to be. There were half a dozen buildings, all made to a new design first introduced as worker accommodation for the construction gangs working on the hydro-electric facility being built at Glomfjord.

For various reasons—mostly to do with efficiency and economy—they’d elected not to build from locally foraged materials, and had instead decided to ship prefabricated structures from Arendal. An up-time engineer had shown Magnus Kristjanson how he could turn the plywood he was making into Engineered-Timber I-Beams, and these were clad with Norwegian cedar planks nailed vertically to batons that were in turn nailed to the engineered-timber frames. Catrin had walked through one such cabin, with its wall cavities packed full of insulation, when the ship stopped off in Glomfjord, and she had found the structure to be both brighter and warmer than a conventional log cabin that had been built at Glomfjord only a couple of years previously.

Because of the depth of the water close to land the ship was able to float up against a short timber wharf built out from the land. That meant that once again Catrin didn’t have to climb down into a lighter to be delivered to land. Instead she could walk. She wrapped her new fur coat tightly around her and walked down the gangway onto the Kirkenes dock.

The hovercraft was going to be one of the last items unloaded, so Catrin made her way toward the people who’d gathered to welcome the ship. As she got closer her eyes lit up. It couldn’t be, but surely that was the hunk from Saalfeld standing there. She’d all but forgotten about him, or at least forgotten him as much as a girl could forget such a dreamy guy. Hello, Handsome. She had been heading toward one of the older men, but she immediately changed course. If nothing else, she knew the hunk spoke German.

“Hello, remember me? I’m Catrin Schmoller. We met when you visited the Saalfeld City Council office back last year. Agmund Torgeirson sent me. I’m the hovercraft pilot, and I’m supposed to help out with the radio.”

“Hovercraft?” he asked. “What is Papa up to this time?”

Papa? The hunk was the handsome young man Inger Mogensdotter and Agmund Torgeirson had been trying to offload? Things were certainly looking up for Catrin. She passed over the letter Agmund had given her to deliver to his son. “I’m sure this will explain everything.”

Their eyes met, and this time Catrin knew the hunk was really seeing her. She didn’t flutter her eyelashes like she had last time they met. Instead she just offered him a bright smile, and was silently filled with joy when he responded with a bright smile of his own before turning to his father’s letter.

****

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