Wings of Chance


December 1634, Magdeburg

Johann Fabricius didn’t go looking for fights, they found him—with considerable ease. Fortunately for Johann, the fights he didn’t go looking for always seemed to occur when he was in the company of Al Dinckeler, who also didn’t go looking for fights.

They didn’t go looking for fights because both of them were now lance corporals, with the attendant increase in pay, and looking for fights could result in having the single lance corporal’s stripe taken from them, and losing the attendant additional pay. Elevation to lance corporal had been a reward for qualifying for Captain Finck’s new beach reconnaissance unit. Together, Johann and Al made up forty-percent of the unit’s current strength.

On this fateful evening Johann and Al were minding their own business, walking around the seedier backstreets around the naval base at Magdeburg, checking out the girls on offer in some of the windows.

There was the sound of a scuffle and someone shouted out. “Fight! Marines, to me!”

Johann glanced over to Al. They were Marines, and Marines stuck together, even if it meant getting involved in a fight. “Should we check that they don’t need our help?”

“Yes, but we don’t get involved unless they’re losing. You know what the captain said would happen if we got into another fight.”

The captain had been vocal about his disapproval of the two of them getting into fights and had threatened all kinds of punishment above and beyond the loss of rank, pay, and privileges. He had been extremely creative. Johann nodded to indicate agreement and the pair trotted towards the sounds of fighting.

Next day

Captain Wilhelm Finck, the commanding officer of the 1st Reconnaissance Company, First Marines, was hopeful that the summons to meet the USE Marine’s commanding officer was about his request for funding to increase his establishment to the point it could justly be called a company.

“Captain Finck, reporting, sir.”

“Take a seat,” Colonel Friedrich von Brockenholz said, indicating one of the comfortable chairs. He picked up a paper scanned it, and slid it across his desk to Wilhelm. “It seems two of your men got involved in a fight last night.”

Wilhelm was immediately on the defensive. “Lance Corporals Fabricius and Dinckeler were going to the aid of a group of Marines being set upon by soldiers, sir.”

“Yes, yes.” Friedrich waved away Wilhelm’s protest. “I’m aware that there is some conflict with elements of the army, who believe they are doing all the fighting and dying, while the Marines stay safely in Magdeburg. However, this isn’t the first time there have been complaints about these two men.”

“I’ve done what I can to keep them occupied, sir, but the plan was that after they were trained up that they would go on to select and train new personnel until we were at authorized strength.”

“Well, that’s not going to happen this year and probably not next year either. I’m sorry, Wilhelm, but currently there are no plans to involve the Marines in the coming campaign season, and there is no reason to think next year will be any better. You’re lucky we can maintain funding for your command as it is, without worrying about funding an expansion, especially for a unit for which the planned role doesn’t exist.”

“But we need the beach reconnaissance capability. Bornholm told us that.”

“Which is why I’ve gone out on a limb to protect you from budget cuts,” Friedrich explained. “However, I can’t give you money that doesn’t exist. You’re going to have to be inventive, and you’re going to have to find something that will keep your pair of hot-heads out of trouble before I’m forced to do it for you.”

****

Johann sat reading, his finger tracing along below the words as he muttered them under his breath. It wasn’t that he couldn’t read—he’d had the same basic education every Lutheran boy got—but rather the material he was trying to read was causing him problems. He’d never have tried to read a book, let alone one as difficult as this, if he hadn’t inherited it from his friend Matthias Delp. Matthias had been a university student before he became all patriotic and volunteered for the Marines.

Johann paused to spit to one side. That had been Matthias’ first mistake. The first rule of survival as a soldier was “never volunteer,” but poor naïve Matthias had abandoned his education for patriotism, and it had gotten him killed in the fiasco that had been the invasion of Bornholm. Matthias hadn’t had time to read this book before his death—he hadn’t even got around to cutting a quarter of the pages—so Johann was reading it for him.

“There you are, Fabricius!”

Johann looked up to see Sergeant Christoph Fels and Corporal Nik Müller approaching. He marked his page with a ribbon and struggled to his feet.

“The captain has decided upon your punishment, Fabricius. To keep it unofficial, you and Dinckeler will volunteer to work for Kelly Construction out at Magdeburg airfield,” Christoph graciously dropped his bombshell.

“You can’t do that,” Johann protested. “That’d be an extra judiciary punishment, and they aren’t allowed.”

“The alternative is an official punishment. Would you rather lose your stripe and the associated pay, and still have to perform manual labor?”

Johann abhorred manual labor, which was why he’d initially enlisted. However, if he was going to have to do it, he’d prefer not to lose his rank and privileges as well. “When you put it like that, Sarge, where do I sign?”

“I’m happy to hear you’re so willing to spend a week turning rocks into gravel. They need a lot of it for the new runway.”

Ouch! After the threats the captain had made he hadn’t expected to get off lightly, but breaking rocks, outside, in winter? That was just plain nasty. On the other hand, Kelly Construction was supposed to pay well. “Do we get paid by Kelly Construction?”

“There will be no double-dipping. You’ll continue to draw your Marine salary, and anything Kelly Construction would normally pay you will be donated to unit funds . . . won’t it?”

Christoph’s glare told Johann that he wouldn’t be able to profit that way. He’d sort of expected that, but he’d had to ask, just on the off-chance that the answer might be yes. Still, Kelly Construction offered all sorts of perks to their workers. Johann’s brain heated up as he considered how he could play the system to his advantage.

Magdeburg airfield

Even though they were supposed to be breaking rocks, and Hans Pfuel, the foreman, must have been specifically instructed to ensure Johann and Al didn’t slacken off, nobody begrudged the stoppages in work that occurred whenever the Daedalus Parachuting School ‘s big balloon went up. Most of the flights just took a gaggle of sightseers up to get a birds-eye view of the city and surrounding countryside, but there was always the possibility that some brave fool would jump out, trusting to a bit of silk to carry them safely to the ground.

“They’ve got a jumper,” Hans said. “That high up it has to be Herr Schockley or Frau Kubiak doing a freefall jump.”

Johann wished he had the man’s telescope so he could see everything. Instead he had to make do with his unassisted eyes. He held a hand above them to protect them from the sun, and concentrated on the basket suspended below the balloon some ten thousand feet above. A speck detached from the balloon and fell.

Johann knew what freefall was, because Hans had described several of the jumps he’d witnessed, in excessive detail—with a tendency to concentrate on just how close to the ground they liked to get before opening their parachutes. A horrifying thought struck Johann. He and Al knew a Herr Schockley. He had helped design and run the selection course and subsequent training program for the beach reconnaissance company. Their Herr Schockley was also a director of Kelly Construction, and so would be known to Hans.

Al voiced the question Johann was desperately trying to avoid. “Surely the captain’s not going to have us learning to parachute?”

****

On the other side of the airport, where Johann and Al couldn’t see him checking on their work ethic, Captain Wilhelm Finck was also looking at the man plummeting toward the ground. As the commanding officer of a reconnaissance unit, Wilhelm had a set of new-build binoculars, which he currently had focused on the skydiver. “I hope he doesn’t hurt himself.”

Beside him, another observer chuckled. “Carl? Nah, he’s done enough jumps to know how to get out of just about anything that could go wrong.”

Wilhelm turned to the woman, who he immediately identified as an up-timer. “It’s dangerous. Why would any sane person do it?”

Tracy Kubiak smiled. “It’s the closest thing to flying free like a bird there is in the world.”

“You sound as if you’ve done it yourself.”

“Yes,” Tracy agreed. “Hundreds of times.” She offered him her hand. “Tracy Kubiak. Daedalus is my baby.”

“Surely the business hasn’t been going long enough for you have done so many jumps!”

Tracy shook her head. “I started parachuting when I was in the army.”

“I assume you mean the up-time American army?”

“That’s right. I was a rigger. That means I was responsible for maintaining and packing parachutes. As a show of confidence in our ability to properly pack parachutes, we were expected to jump using parachutes randomly selected from ones we’d packed.”

“But why would the army want parachutists?”

“You’d do better asking Carl that. I just knew we had them. However, the first military use of parachutes was as a ‘rescue’ device for pilots and aircrew wanting to abandon observation balloons, and later airships and airplanes.”

Wilhelm watched Carl continue his fall until suddenly something separated from his body and caught in the air. “That is a parachute?” he asked Tracy.

“That’s right. It’s a ram-air design. That aerofoil shape means that it can glide like a plane. Come on, I’ll introduce you to Carl, and he can explain about paratroops.”

Wilhelm followed Tracy as she walked over to a roped-off area where Carl had just settled gently to the ground. As he got closer he was able to identify the man as Carl Schockley, one of the advisers responsible for helping set up the selection and training program for his beach reconnaissance company.

****

Wilhelm walked around the coffee shop attached to the Daedalus Parachuting School, looking at the photographs on the walls. Most of them were aerial shots of Magdeburg taken from the balloon, some of them were people standing by the balloon basket or in front of the large Daedalus emblem on the front of the main building, and some of them were of people parachuting. Wilhelm was able to recognize Tracy Kubiak and Carl in several of them.

When he finished looking at the photos Wilhelm approached Carl, who was sitting at a table waiting for him. “Why didn’t you suggest parachute training for the reconnaissance company?” he asked as he sat down.

“The doctrine of paratroops doesn’t fit the projected operational use of your company, Wilhelm. Paratroops are usually dropped behind enemy lines. That’s not what beach reconnaissance teams do. They operate on the front line, checking out the defenses that the main assault force has to break through. That’s why we concentrated on swimming, diving, and small boat operations.”

Wilhelm worried the information, and finally had to concede Carl’s point. The budget had been stretched thin enough just training the few men he had in the essential skills, but the idea of Fabricius and Dinckeler parachuting from the balloon was just so appealing. “There is no good reason why we might want to add parachuting to our skill set?”

Carl shook his head. “Up-time, being parachute-qualified was more of a rite of passage to get into any of the elite units than it was a practical method of deploying troops. They were used in the Second World War, but, well, the battle for Crete taught everyone that paratroops are sitting ducks until they can get to the ground. After Crete, paratroops were mostly limited to use as expendable road blocks, dropping in advance of the main force to secure bridges to deny them to the enemy, while keeping them intact until the main force arrived.”

Wilhelm made a mental note to read up about paratroops, and about their use at Crete in the Second World War, but he was almost convinced by Carl’s argument. The term “sitting duck” scared him. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but, in context with the equally scary term “expendable,” he thought it might be akin to “fish in a barrel.”

A few days later

Lady Beth Haygood was on a mission. The Fourth of July Arts Week organizing committee, of which she was the acting chairperson, had decided that a skydiving display would make an ideal spectacle to attract attention to the festival. Unfortunately, nobody on the committee knew anything about skydiving. All they knew was that last October Tracy Kubiak had attracted a sizeable crowd to witness her parachuting from one of the Kelly Construction balloons. And attracting a crowd was exactly what the committee hoped to do by adding such a display to their festival. Since her public display, Tracy had set up a business that supposedly provided training for would-be parachutists. Lady Beth’s mission was to buttonhole Tracy and find out if she could put on a display.

After a tram trip to the airport a few miles south of the old city, and a long walk around the building site that was going to be an all-weather runway (there was a sign advising everyone that, and that it was yet another Kelly Construction project) she was a bit more enthusiastic with her greeting than was seemly when she finally ran Tracy to ground in the Daedalus office. She almost leapt upon her and hugged her. ” Tracy, so good to see you.”

Tracy struggled out of Lady Beth’s hug and quickly established a safe distance between them. “How can I help you, Lady Beth?” she asked as she smoothed down her clothes.

“It’s July Arts Week. The committee thinks that a parachuting display would draw in the crowds for the opening, and we want to know if it’s possible to put on a display, and if so, can you organize it.”

“I presume you’ll want the jumpers to land in Hans Richter Square.”

Lady Beth nodded. “That’s right; the square’s where most of the festival events will occur, and we’d like to start there.”

Tracy nibbled on her bottom lip. “I can see a problem already. From ten thousand feet, Hans Richter Square is a small target, and if you miss, you’re in for a heap of hurt landing in a built-up area. Anybody trying to land in the square is going to have to steer a track. The only people I know with the ability to do that are me, Ted, and Carl Schockley.”

It was Lady Beth’s turn to nibble her lip as she looked for options. “We’ve got over six months. Is that long enough to train a group to a suitable standard?”

“Sure, that’s more than sufficient time to train a team for a simple display. But who do we get, and more importantly, who pays?”

“The committee might be willing to pay for the training. How much would it cost?”

Tracy pulled a printed price sheet from a drawer and slid it across her desk. “You’re talking about something like twenty jumps, of which a dozen would be practicing the routine. Most of them could be done from the balloon, but you’ll want to do at least a couple of jumps from a plane before the day. How many jumpers would you want? You need four to eight for a good display.”

The prices didn’t look too bad, until you started multiplying the number of jumpers in the team by the number of jumps Tracy thought necessary. Lady Beth looked up at Tracy. “Any chance of a discount?”

“A small one,” Tracy conceded. “But you’d probably want to see if you can find someone to help pay. Back up-time a lot of the display teams were military.”

Lady Beth saw a glimmer of hope for her display. “Do you think the military might be interested?”

“I’ve only worked with the air force, and they’ve only been interested in developing escape parachutes. Really, your best bet might be to talk to Carl. He’s got contacts in the army.”

“Thanks, I’ll do that.”

A few days later

“Hey, Wilhelm, you still interested in parachute training?”

Wilhelm looked up from the papers he was working on to see Carl Schockley standing at the door. “Hello, Carl. Yes, I’m still interested, but we still don’t have the funds.”

“Then this is your lucky day. The July Arts Festival people want to open with a parachute display, and if you can guarantee anybody they pay to train will be available for the display, they’ll cover the cost of training.”

“What is involved in a parachute display?”

Wilhelm listened as Carl described a typical parachute display and almost immediately he could see a problem. “It’s all very well to train for display purposes, but I doubt Colonel von Brockenholz will approve training with no military value.”

Carl smiled and rubbed his hands together. “That’s the thing. If the Arts people pay for training to display standards, your men will only need a bit of ground study and a couple of jumps with combat loads to be combat freefall qualified.”

“And what value would there be in being combat freefall qualified?”

“Until there are better transport aircraft, it’ll be almost completely valueless. But it would be military training, and it would keep your men out of trouble for a while.”

That last clinched it for Wilhelm. “So that’s another couple of jumps for four men,” Wilhelm muttered. That was affordable.

“Actually, the Arts committee would prefer more jumpers. We can hire a Jupiter for a training flight and on the day, and that can carry up to eight jumpers and a jump master—that’s someone who is responsible for supervising the jump from aboard the aircraft.”

“I only have four men,” Wilhelm said.

“And you make five. If Tracy acts as jump master, then her husband Ted and I bring the number up to seven jumpers. Surely you can dig up one more warm body?”

Wilhelm started to shake his head, but then he remembered the man he’d planned on keeping as the company medic. “I might be able to find one more man. Do you remember Private Böhm?”

“The medic who passed the selection course? I thought he was recalled by the USE Military Medical Department.”

“He was, but only so he could attend an advanced medic’s course. He won’t complete that until February, but he’s on the company roster. He’s only supposed to be the stay-at-home company medic, but could he be the eighth man?”

“Sure. By the time he turns up, the rest of the guys will be able to help him. You could even have him learn to do combat jumps. Then everyone in the company would be jump-qualified.”

****

The basic parachute program Tracy Kubiak and Carl Schockley designed was based around the idea that they were going to put on a display. Any nod to military purposes was kept to a minimum—as there was no expectation that they were going to do a combat jump inside the next three years.

They started with ground school, and after learning how to land and the rudiments of steering their chute, plus the obligatory lessons on what to do if your main chute failed to deploy, they went up for their first static-line jump. That was from a mere eight hundred feet.

After successfully completing that jump they then went straight up to six thousand feet for the next four jumps, two of which—in that nod to military purpose—they got to do with a full combat load.

Then the fun really started. They’d proved they could land safely, and could steer the ram-air parachutes they were using. Now they got to do freefall. For their first jump, each student was accompanied by both Carl and Ted Kubiak. They were there to help the novices adopt the proper flared-out freefall position. The first jump, with just a parachute, had the students questioning the need for the supervision, but the next jump, with a combat load . . . well, their presence was very reassuring.

The final jump was a full combat load freefall jump without anybody to hold their hands.

****

Johann had manipulated the draw for jumper order so that he would be the last to jump. That had seemed like a good idea at the time—before the very first jump—but he’d since learned to regret being so clever. At least the guys ahead had someone pushing from behind to ensure they jumped. Being last man out was different. There was nobody, other than Frau Kubiak, the jumpmaster, pushing you, and worst still, you had so much longer to think about what you were doing as the next jumper wasn’t allowed out until the previous one had reached the ground. That had been bad enough at six thousand feet. At ten thousand feet, the time between Captain Finck jumping first and Johann getting to the exit was over ten minutes.

Al Dinckeler went just before Johann. Then Johann waddled up to the exit. He glanced down—something he still hadn’t managed to stop himself doing—and watched Al plummet toward the ground before, after about thirty seconds, his parachute billowed out from his back, and Johann was able to follow the rectangular shape of the canopy as it gently glided to the ground.

Go!”

The instruction was shouted, and accompanied by a slap against the shoulder. Johann hesitated for a moment, not sure that he really wanted to do this, before pushing off. He started the jump chronometer on his left wrist as he left the balloon.

Without Herr Schockley and Herr Kubiak helping, it took valuable seconds for him to stabilize his flight, or if he thought about it—and he was thinking about it—stabilize his fall. It was his pack, which was attached to his harness by a strap with a quick-release and with the shoulder straps looped around his legs, that caused the problem. He just wasn’t used to how the slipstream moved it about, and it took a while to adjust for it.

All the time he’d been falling, Johann should have been counting off the seconds. However, for various reasons, he’d sort of lost count. Fortunately, he had a backup system in the form of the simple down-time-produced wrist-chronometer with a rotating bezel strapped to his wrist. The parachute school had removed all but the second hand, and when that hand passed the “12” position on the rotated bezel, which had been set on the desired freefall time, that was when you deployed your parachute. It wasn’t ideal, which is why jumpers were expected to count as well.

Johann focused on the chronometer and restarted his counting—ten seconds to go. As his count reached ten-one-thousand he reached for the ripcord and pulled on it. He braced for the opening shock . . . but it didn’t happen.

His parachute had deployed, and he was now falling feet first, but his parachute wasn’t doing its job properly. He looked up to see a malformed bow-tie instead of a nice rectangular canopy above him. Ground school had covered this; he had a “line-over.” He immediately used what he’d been taught in ground school to attempt to clear it and reinflate his main, but his attempts weren’t successful.

Time was passing, and the ground was rapidly getting closer. Johann gave up on clearing the line-over and executed a cutaway. He was happy to see the three-ring release work perfectly; Frau Kubiak would be pleased he hadn’t had to use his hook-knife to physically cut the main away. With his main flapping clear, he could finally deploy his reserve. Even his sudden heartfelt prayers hadn’t interfered with his actions.

There was an enormous crack, and a vicious jerk of the harness as the emergency chute opened. Shaken, but sort of safe at last, Johann pulled the pin that allowed his pack to be lowered on its thirty feet of rope. That moved the center of gravity of the parachute lower, and stopped him swinging so much.

It was when his pack hit the ground thirty feet before him that Johann realized he should have cut away the pack long ago. The reserve cute was smaller than the main, so the rate of descent was faster, which meant he was going to hit the ground a lot harder than he ever had before. He clamped his ankles together, bent his knees, and flared as hard as he could.

Johann’s legs buckled beneath him on landing. Before he could go into a paratrooper’s roll, his butt hit the heels of his boots, and his body was jarred by the impact. And his misery wasn’t over yet. A gust of wind caught the chute and dragged him along the ground. Not too far, because the rest of the jumpers had rushed to his aid, but far enough to jerk the leg still attached to the rope attached to his pack.

Ted Kubiak took charge of the reserve chute, bundling it up while Tracy checked out Johann. “How do you feel?” she asked as she checked his limbs.

Johann didn’t know where to start. He hurt. He hurt from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. His jaw hurt, and he was sure he must have chipped a couple of teeth. He’d bitten his tongue, and he’d landed heavily on his butt. He licked the blood that was dribbling from his mouth. “What went wrong?”

“Well, son,” Ted Kubiak said, “you flew a little too close to the sun, and your wings failed. Fortunately, you had a spare set, and they got you back down to earth safely.”

****

Johann played the invalid to the limit as he waited for Al to pass around the mugs of coffee. He added milk, and then looked around the table hoping that someone had sugar—the Daedalus Parachute School ‘s coffee shop provided free milk, but if you wanted sugar with your coffee you had to bring your own. He turned his best begging puppy-dog look onto Tracy when she pulled out her little plastic container of sugar.

“Oh, all right,” she said as she pushed it over to him. “Anybody else want sugar?”

It was a silly question, and soon each of the down-timers—except for Captain Finck, who could easily afford his own sugar—added a couple of spoonfuls of Tracy’s sugar to their coffee.

When everyone had their coffee Tracy rapped on the table to get their attention. “Back up-time, it was usual for military personnel who complete a parachute course to be given ‘Jump Wings’ as a tangible symbol of their achievement. So, it gives me great pleasure to present the very first Daedalus Parachute School Jump Wings to members of the 1st Reconnaissance Company, First Marines.” Tracy passed a small piece of embroidered fabric to each of the Marines.

Johann examined the embroidered patch he had been given. It was an embroidered copy of the Daedalus Parachute School emblem—a stylized falcon’s outspread wings in the moment between locating some prey and starting the attack, with the bird’s body replaced by a regular round parachute—except that where the school’s emblem had all-white wings, his wings were blue with white tips. “Why are they blue?”

“Because I didn’t have enough suitable white to do all of them in all-white,” Tracy answered.

That sounded reasonable to Johann. He turned to Captain Finck. “Permission to sew my jump wings onto my battledress, sir.”

“Personally, I don’t have a problem with that, Fabricius, but I’ll have to clear it with the colonel.”

“He lets the sniper/scout teams wear a qualification badge,” Johann said. That was a sore point. He’d tried to volunteer for the sniper/scouts, but Sergeant Fels had refused to put him up for the course, and without the support of your sergeant, there was no way you could get onto that course.

“I’ll have to clear it with the colonel,” Captain Finck reiterated.

Wednesday, March 7, 1635

Captain Wilhelm Finck was in his office with Sergeant Christoph Fels and the company medic. Lance Corporal Stephan Böhm had just rejoined the 1st Reconnaissance Company after several months of advanced medical training, and they’d just been talking about how much Böhm was going to enjoy parachuting when the loud thumping of leather boots on wood floors rang down the corridor. They all looked towards the noise. Sergeant Fels had taken two steps towards the door into the corridor when, after a rudimentary knock, the door was thrust open.

“Where’s the fire, sailor?” Sergeant Fels demanded of the man at the door.

The sailor, struggling for breath, stood to attention and saluted Captain Finck. ” Colonel von Brockenholz requests your immediate presence in his office, sir.”

Wilhelm started to obey the request immediately. He stood, grabbing his cap. “Any idea what the colonel wants to see me about?”

Puff! “There’s been a request by the civil authorities in Grantville for the loan of the Navy’s jump-qualified Marines, sir.”

Wilhelm gestured for Sergeant Fels to tag along as he followed the sailor. Böhm, who hadn’t been told any different, followed as well.

Colonel von Brockenholz was in conversation with a naval officer when the party arrived. The sailor knocked and the colonel looked up.

“Come on in, Wilhelm, Sergeant Fels.” Colonel von Brockenholz stopped when he came to Stephan Böhm. “You must be the medical specialist the Medical Department has assigned to the 1st Reconnaissance Company. But you’re not wearing jump wings. Does that mean you aren’t parachute-qualified?”

“I’ve not started parachute training yet, sir,” Böhm said.

“That’s a pity.”

“Pity? Why, sir?” Wilhelm asked.

“Because the President of the State of Thuringia- Franconia has made an urgent request for the loan of some the Navy’s jump-trained Marines.” Von Brockenholz held up a hand to stop Wilhelm’s instinctive “why.”

“A plane carrying the state’s vice president-elect has gone down on a flight from Fulda to Grantville, and they can’t get rescue teams to them for at least forty-eight hours, and the weather is already deteriorating. It is President Piazza’s hope that our jump trained Marines can parachute into the crash zone and provide immediate assistance to the survivors. So, can your men do it?”

Wilhelm didn’t hesitate, even though he was pretty sure that the Thüringerwald wasn’t going to be ideal parachuting country. “We can do it, sir. But we’ll have to make do with Fabricius’ basic EMT training.”

Sergeant Fels piped up. “Permission to speak, sir.”

“Granted,” von Brockenholz said.

“Frau Kubiak has talked of making a larger parachute that allows a skilled parachutist to carry a passenger. If she has one available, then we can still take Lance Corporal Böhm.”

Wilhelm nodded. Not that he was aware of such a thing, but if Tracy Kubiak said it was possible, then he believed her. “In that case, sir, we can provide the required immediate assistance. There’s just one thing. How do we get there?”

Von Brockenholz pointed to the naval officer he’d been talking to. “There was a Jupiter in Grantville for maintenance, and they hope to have that ready by early this afternoon. As for getting to Grantville, Lieutenant Kelleher here says that Master Delp’s hovercraft is parked on the ramp, and he’s sure Master Delp will loan it to us for an urgent mission.”

“I’ve just been waiting to confirm we’ll need it before arranging to borrow it,” Lieutenant Kelleher said. “If you’ll have your men report to the ramp with all their equipment as soon as possible, I’ll meet you there,”

When Lieutenant Kelleher disappeared Von Brockenholz turned his attention back to Wilhelm. “Plan on being in the woods for at least two days, Wilhelm.”

“Yes, sir.” Wilhelm saluted and herded his men out of the office. He didn’t say anything until they made it back to his office. “Yes!” he cried. “Vindication.”

“And an operational jump on someone else’s budget,” Sergeant Christoph Fels said.

“That too,” Wilhelm agreed. “Let them try and disband the unit now.”

“There has been talk of disbanding us, sir?” Stephan Böhm asked.

“Yes. It’s all about value for money, and because there are no plans to use the Marines in the next campaign season, we aren’t seen as being worth maintaining. If it wasn’t for the contract the Arts Festival committee have with the Marines to provide qualified parachutists for their opening we might already have been disbanded.”

“But that’s such a waste of the unit’s capabilities,” Stephan protested. “We need the beach reconnaissance capability to avoid a repeat of Bornholm.”

Wilhelm forgave Stephan’s outburst. Not just because he agreed with what he was saying, but also because Stephan had been at Bornholm with the rest of them and knew what he was talking about. “Our capabilities won’t be needed this year, or at least they weren’t going to be needed.” He turned to Christoph, who would lead the rescue team while Wilhelm liaised with the people in Grantville. “You better make sure this operation is successful. Failure could be the last nail in the company’s coffin.”

“Sir, do we know who else was on the aircraft?” Stephan asked tentatively. “It’s just that I was in Grantville for my latest training, and well, the vice president-elect of SoTF is Frau Helene Gundelfinger, and she is very well-connected.”

Wilhelm whistled. Saying that Frau Helene Gundelfinger was well-connected didn’t do justice to her connections. The ensuing publicity surrounding a successful rescue, especially if success depended on the previously unheralded parachuting capability, would make it virtually impossible to disband the unit, at least for another year. And not so incidentally, Frau Gundelfinger was on very good terms with Duchess Elisabeth Sofie, the patron of the secondary school for girls that was named after her—the same school where Wilhelm’s wife hoped to send their daughters. Talk about killing two birds with one stone. If his men could rescue Frau Gundelfinger, then both his company and a peaceful home-life were assured for another couple of years.

****

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