Our Man in Grantville


May 1634, Granville, France

Henri Beaubriand-Lévesque was lounging comfortably in his favorite chair in front of the fire, a globe of finest brandy warming in his hands. Putting his nose over the rim of the glass he inhaled gently, savoring the bouquet. Then he swirled the amber liquid in the glass and took a sip, letting the brandy pass gently over his tongue. “This is the life . . . ” Suddenly a hand grabbed the glass from his grasp. He looked up to see his wife’s Uncle George gulping down his drink. “George!” he cried, outraged at the desecration of fine brandy.

George Payn lowered the glass and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “I needed that.”

Henri felt a terrible foreboding. “You brought him back,” he said, burying his head in his hands.

George refilled the glass and slumped in the chair opposite Henri. “Take the lad to sea in the Unicorn you said. Make a man of the lad, you said. Stretch him, you said. Well I damned near did stretch the little monster, from the highest yardarm.”

“What did he do?” Henri asked tentatively.

“What did he do? What didn’t he do, you mean. I could write a book, but the worst was when he started trying to advise me—that’s right, me, a man with nigh-on forty years experience at sea—on proper naval tactics.”

Henri hadn’t actually reacted to the idea that Peter might try to give George advice, he had after all lived with the boy for three months earlier in the year, but he was curious. “Where would he have learned anything about naval tactics?”

George nodded grimly. “That’s exactly what I asked the lad, and do you know what he said? From books. Some of those books you brought back from Grantville, in Thuringia, about some up-timer named Hornblower.”

Henri choked back a laugh. He’d read those books himself and quite enjoyed them. “Was the advice any good?”

“Was the advice any good?” George glared at Henri. “Is that all you can say?”

“It’s a perfectly reasonable question, George. Was the advice Peter gave you any good?”

“That’s not the point, Henri. He shouldn’t have been trying to give me advice in front of the men. I’ve got my reputation to maintain.”

Henri poured himself a new glass of brandy and smiled back at George. He wasn’t even trying to conceal his amusement now. “So what did you do?”

“What could I do? I rephrased everything he’d suggested and put it to the men as my own suggestion.”

Henri openly laughed. “And how did Peter react to that?”

“He was none too happy, but I gave him the choice, accept it, or he was going to spend the rest of the voyage cleaning the heads.”

Henri sighed. He’d dearly have loved to have seen that encounter, and seen Peter cleaning the heads. It was, as he understood it from his limited knowledge of things nautical, a wet, dangerous, dirty and smelly job—in other words, the perfect task to assign to Peter Payn. “How did he get on with the crew?”

“The crew!” George snorted and took a large sip of brandy. “The crew loved him. Especially whenever we made landfall in a friendly port. The doxies were all over the lad like flies around shit, and the men with him got the overflow.”

“I hope you had him take precautions.”

“Of course I did. Didn’t want the little monster catching the pox when he was with me, did I? His mother would never forgive me for leading her little angel astray.” The two men exchanged speaking looks. They both knew Peter wasn’t the little angel his mother fondly believed him to be.

The door opened and Sarah Beaubriand-Lévesque entered. “Uncle George, it’s been so long since I saw you last.” She rushed up to George and hugged him. “Thank you for taking such good care of Peter. He was just saying he’d had a marvelous time.”

“It was my pleasure, Sarah,” George lied through his teeth. “Talking of Peter, what have you done with the lad?”

“Oh, he saw Henri’s new aqualator and wanted to play around with it.” She turned to her husband. “You don’t mind, do you, dear?”

“Of course I don’t mind.” Henri knew what was expected of him. Besides there wasn’t much he could damage just playing with the . . . Henri’s eyes just happened to settle on the mantle clock above the fireplace. It still worked. One could even say it worked better than it had for years, since Peter decided he wanted to discover how it worked. “Oh, my god!” Henri shot to his feet, made apologies to George and his wife and started running.

He wasn’t a moment too soon. Peter was on his knees examining the back of the aqualator when he entered the office. “Don’t even think of it,” he said as he dragged the youth away from his precious fluidics calculator.

“I just wanted to see how it works,” Peter protested.

“Well, you can’t.” Henri guided Peter back to the front of the aqualator where he forcibly seated him in front of the aqualator’s keyboard and passed him a booklet. “Here, read the manual, but don’t even think of opening up my aqualator.”

Peter slumped in the chair and started flicking through the pages. Meanwhile George and Sarah arrived.

“Is everything all right, dear?”

“Yes, love, everything’s under control. I just didn’t want Peter trying to open the back of my aqualator.”

“I’m sure Peter wouldn’t hurt it, dear.”

Henri grimaced. When Sarah called him “dear” like that, well, to call it a bad sign was an understatement. It had been nearly six months since she last did it. Coincidently, six months was about how long it’d been since Peter left with George. Fortunately, this time Henri had an ace up his sleeve. “It’s more a matter of it hurting Peter, love. The aqualator is pressurized.”

“Not by much, Uncle Henri.” Peter held up the manual. “It says here it needs a working pressure of only ten pounds per square inch.” Having said his piece Peter returned to reading the manual.

Henri glared at Peter’s down-turned head. For a moment he was tempted to find something heavy and belt said head with it, but before he could move Peter looked up again.

“It says that the machine was manufactured in St. Malo. Could we go there so I can see them being made?”

“Oh, Peter. You’ve only just come back,” Sarah protested.

“But, Sis, think of it. I could see an aqualator actually being made, and you could go shopping.”

Henri ground his teeth as he watched his brother-in-law talk his wife around. Without doubt the family would be making a trip to St. Malo soon. He glanced over at George, who was clearly much amused. Well, if you can’t beat them, join them, and get a little of your own back at the same time. “I’m sure George will be only too happy to carry us to St. Malo on the Unicorn.”

“Now just a minute . . . ” George tried to protest.

“Oh, Uncle George, you’re so good.” Sarah hugged and kissed her uncle on the cheek. “I’ll round up the children and get everything packed.”

Peter cast a wary glance George and Henri’s way and promptly followed. “I’ll help.”

“How does he do it, that’s what I want to know?” George asked after the door closed behind them. “How is it he always gets exactly what he wants?”

“You’ve noticed that too, have you? Come on, this calls for more brandy.”

St. Malo

Peter Payn checked the name of the company on the aqualator manual with the name above the door. “This is the place. You will remember to ask if I can see an aqualator being made and not just the finished product won’t you, Henri?”

“I’ll remember. Now, I want you on your best behavior.”

“But I’m always on my best behavior,” Peter protested.

“Just remember that. Now, you wait here,” Henri pointed to a spot by the main door, “while I find someone to show you around.”

Peter leaned against the wall of the warehouse and pulled the monograph on symbolic logic printed by Schmuker and Schwentzel of Rudolstadt, Thuringia, that he’d managed to buy at the bookshop in St.Malo earlier. After using a knife to slit open the pages he started reading.

The monograph was just getting interesting when Henri returned with two men. He put it away in his satchel and stepped forward to meet them.

“Dr. Wetmore, this is my wife’s youngest brother Peter. Peter, this is Dr. Wetmore, the man who created the Wetmore Aqualator,” Henri said introducing the older man.

Dr. Wetmore reached out a hand to shake Peter’s hand. “Henri tells me you’re interested in seeing how my aqualator works?”

Peter nodded vigorously. “Yes, sir.”

“Well, you’re welcome to tour my manufactory. However, as I’m a little pressed for time I’ve asked my assistant, Pierre Truchon, to be your guide.”

“Call me Pierre,” Pierre said, shaking Peter’s hand.

Peter smiled back at Pierre. “Please call me Peter.”

“Peter it is. If you’ll just follow me I’ll show you how we make the aqualators.”

Peter took his leave of his brother-in-law and Dr. Wetmore and followed Pierre into the building. “How long have you worked for Dr. Wetmore?” he asked.

“Just a couple of years. He came to my father’s pottery in Rennes asking if we could make complex shapes in clay. Of course father said yes, and with a little trial and error we started making the Coanda fluidic flip-flops. Once we worked out how to make those to the standard Dr. Wetmore demanded, he asked me to set up a workshop in St. Malo to produce the aqualator components. Come on, we’ll start with how the flip-flops are made.”

An hour later Pierre was guiding Peter through a wall chart that mimicked the logic process of the aqualator when three young men joined them.

“Who’s the new boy?” Jacques Perrot asked.

“This isn’t a new boy. This is Peter Payn. I’m just showing him around,” Pierre answered.

Peter perked up suddenly. Jacques’ question had suggested something he hadn’t thought of. “Could I get a job here designing aqualators?”

“Designing?” Jacques looked down his nose at Peter. “What makes you think you’d be able to design anything to do with aqualators? It needs knowledge of the new mathematics and a firm background in logic.”

“I am a graduate of Leiden,” Peter announced with all the dignity he could muster.

“Leiden, you say?” Jacques asked. “You don’t look old enough to be a graduate of Leiden University, so it must be a Leiden Gymnasium.”

“I am too a graduate of Leiden,” Peter protested. “I passed the exams for a Baccalaureus Artium before my sixteenth birthday.”

One of Jacques’ companions sniggered. Jacques seemed to take offence at that and turned on Peter again. “An academic education is all well and good, but what practical experience do you have with the new mathematics?”

“I’ve helped my uncle’s master gunner build up a range table.”

“And what is a ‘range table’?” Jacques asked.

“It’s a table that tells the master gunner how much elevation his cannons need to hit a target a given distance away.” Peter spent the next few minutes trying to explain all about using plane trigonometry, plane tables, and a combination of log tables and a slide rule to estimate the range.

“You mean nothing is automated? Everything has to be done by hand using tables or three-figure slide rules? That is so, so . . . yesterday.”

“Yesterday?” Peter turned to the speaker. “Yesterday? What does yesterday have to do with anything?”

“Ignore Louis. His girlfriend likes up-time music.”

“And what is wrong with up-time music?” Louis Crevet demanded.

“You have to ask?” The speaker turned to Peter. “Hello, I’m François Rozier, the music lover is Louis Crevet, and . . . “

“I am Jacques Perrot, and what Louis was trying so unsuccessfully to say is that the method you have described is so archaic as to not be believed. It is better to remove the fallibility of humans from the equation and rely solely on the precision available when the entire process is mechanized. Why, I could easily design a simple fixed algorithm computer that uses the setting of the plane tables to automatically elevate the guns so as to achieve the desired range.”

“But you can’t do that,” Peter protested.

Jacques stared down his long beaked nose at Peter. “Can’t? Who are you to say what I can or can’t do?”

“But you can’t connect anything to the cannon. They have to be able to recoil back when they fire,” Peter said.

Jacques froze, and chewed his lips. “That might present a slight problem.”

“There’s nothing to it. All you have to do is use an electric interface . . . ” Louis stopped talking and looked around. The room, that moments before was full of noise, was suddenly so quiet you could hear the different notes generated by water passing through the aqualator being given its final tests before it was packaged for delivery to its new owner.

Peter’s curiosity grew as Louis dropped to the ground and curled up in a ball. What on earth?

“Get him,” Jacques called, and the air was full of damp and soaking-wet rags flying through the air, all aimed at one person, Louis.

“Children, children, what’s happening here?” Dr. Charles Wetmore demanded as, closely followed by Peter’s brother-in-law, he rushed up to see what was going on.

Jacques, François, and Pierre all pointed accusing fingers towards Louis. “He used the ‘e’ word, Doctor,” Pierre reported.

“Oh dear. He did?” Dr. Wetmore folded his arms and looked over his spectacles at the now soaking wet Louis. “Did you?” he asked.

Louis nodded. “But it was the best solution to the problem.”

“Dear boy, I’m sure you think it is the best solution, but you’ll be wrong. There is always a fluidics solution which is better. As punishment I expect you to find it.” Dr. Wetmore turned to Peter. “Sorry about that. Hope you didn’t get soaked as well.”

“No, I was well out of the way, Doctor.” Peter paused. “Dr. Wetmore, could you find a place in your manufactory for me? Jacques here said he could easily design something he called a ‘fixed algorithm computer’ to do ballistics calculations. I’d dearly love to be able to do something like that.”

“What Jacques is talking about isn’t a computer as you might be thinking of it. We can’t make a computer like the up-timers’ computers . . . “

“Yet,” Jacques said.

“Well, yes, not yet. In time I’m sure we’ll succeed. But we still have to sort out the data entry problem. Why, we haven’t even managed to sort out how to design an aqualator to do nested engineering arithmetic calculations.”

“I could help there. I’ve read all of the Crucibellus Manuscripts, and I understand what they say,” Peter pleaded.

Dr. Wetmore looked over at Peter’s brother-in-law, who just shrugged his shoulders. Then Dr. Wetmore looked to his workers. “Well, what do you say?”

“I’m not working with a child,” Jacques said.

“I’ll be happy to work with Peter,” François said.

“Very well.” Dr. Wetmore turned to Peter. “It looks like you’ve got yourself a job. Pierre and François will look after you.”

A month later, Granville, France

Henri was lounging comfortably in his favorite chair in front of the fire, a globe of finest brandy warming in his hands. Sitting in the chair opposite, his wife Sarah was knitting a “jersey” for Phillippe, their youngest child.

“I do wish Peter would write,” Sarah said.

“He’s a young man. Young men always forget to write.”

“But I sent him a letter asking how he was getting on.”

Henri lazed back and let the memory of his discussion with Dr. Wetmore surface. “I’m sure that Dr Wetmore has found him a task well with in his capabilities.”

“You’re sure?” Sarah looked hopeful.

“Oh, yes, definitely. Dr Wetmore explained he had a proper training system worked out for new employees.”

Dr Wetmore’s manufactory, St Malo

Peter desperately held back the contents of his stomach as he pried open the layers of the Wetmore aqualator he was servicing. “Yuk!”

“A bit of slime too much for you?” Jacques asked.

“How did the owner let it get to this state?” Peter asked as he ran a finger over the green slime that was lining the channels in the ceramic flip-flops.

“He failed to follow instructions,” François said. “He used filtered spring water rather than distilled water, and he didn’t flush the system regularly with Wetmore’s Flushing Solution.”

Peter gently sniffed the flushing solution in the bottle beside him. “Smells like chlorine to me.”

Jacques stood up straight and glared at Peter. “That’s a good guess. Where have you smelt chlorine before?”

Peter returned the glare with a smile. “My brother-in-law makes it.”

“Why would your brother-in-law make chlorine?” Jacques demanded.

“He’s into wool, and chlorine can be used to bleach it white, rather than have to spread the fabric out in the sun for weeks on end.”

“You can’t bleach wool with chlorine. Chlorine would dissolve it,” Jacques said.

Peter glared at Jacques. He knew his brother-in-law was into wool, he’d barely escaped the nasty ram Henri brought back from Grantville when he wandered into its field. And he knew Henri was making chlorine for use as a bleach. “So maybe he makes it for bleaching some other fabric. All I know is he’s into wool and he makes bleach.” He didn’t say “so there,” but it was implied in the way he glared at Jacques.

They got back to the task of cleaning the filthy Wetmore, and were just reassembling it when Dr Wetmore entered the room. “Peter, how good’s your German?”

Peter paused in the act of reattaching a water tube. “Quite good. I can read the German language journals and monographs coming out of the USE.”

“Good, good. And coming from Jersey, your written and spoken English should be very good.”

Peter took German and English together to arrive at an exciting prospect — Grantville. “I can even read the up-timer English, although I sometimes need a dictionary to understand some of the words.”

“I do hope there is nothing to hold you in St Malo,” Dr Wetmore said, “as I have to make an urgent trip to Grantville. It’s most fortunate that France is no longer at war with the USE.”

“Why do you have to make an urgent trip to Grantville, Dr Wetmore?” François asked.

Dr Wetmore shoved his hands into the pockets of his white Lab-coat. “I have received information that a group in Grantville is working on a programmable aqualator.”

That explained the urgency. Anybody anywhere else developing a working programmable aqualator wouldn’t present too great a problem for Wetmore Aquatic Computers, but Grantville was Grantville. There was a mystique associated with the place that would ensure the market would ignore any competitor. Even the information that someone in Grantville was working on such an aqualator could cause potential customers to hold off purchasing someone else’s working programmable aqualator.

Grantville, July

Peter played with the four-function aqualator in the Grantville technical school for a while before pushing back his chair and turning to face Herr Felix Trelli of the I.C. White Technical School in Grantville. He would have liked to be able to say it wasn’t as good as a Wetmore, but that would be a lie. It was better. Both designs used spinning wheels to produce a sixteen-digit digital readout, but the Computer Club version also had the ability to print out the contents of the display. The real kicker was that the Grantville machine could do square roots with the press of a single key. Peter wouldn’t have thought that was important, but Herr Trelli had provided him with a report written by a student indicating that certain industries would pay extra for that capability.

“It’s very pretty, but Dr Wetmore is really interested in following up a rumor that someone is working on a programmable aqualator.”

“That’ll be the Computer Club. They’re the group that was responsible for this aqualator. Would you like me to introduce you to the club members?”

“Please. Are they really working on a programmable aqualator?”

“Two of them, actually,” Felix said.

“Two? Surely one would be sufficient.”

“The design team originally only intended to replicate the functions of a HP 15C, but Diana O'Connor, the head of the Department of Business Skills, asked if they could do a 12C as well. Daniel and Christoph think they could put both sets of functions onto a single programmable aqualator, but Karl thinks that they should look at two different aqualators, as the two markets are significantly different.”

“Pardon?” It was the best response Peter could manage. He had no idea what a HP 15C or even a 12C was, and as for the names Herr Trelli was dropping, they meant nothing to him.

“According to Karl, a business aqualator replicating the functions of the 12C would find a ready market in the business community, while the engineers and scientists would be interested in the scientific functions of the 15C. However, neither group would be particularly interested in paying extra for functions they never used.”

That much Peter could understand. It was why the Wetmore didn’t have a square root function. In the opinion of Dr Wetmore, nobody buying a Wetmore would want to calculate square roots. “What sort of progress are they making?”

“Well, the computer club really isn’t something I’m involved with, but stories circulating in the staff room suggest they’ve got a basic aqualator working with RPN.”

“Excuse my ignorance, Herr Trelli, but what is RPN?”

“Reverse Polish Notation, but don’t ask me for any more details. My only exposure to it is using an HP calculator.”

“I’ve heard of Polish Notation,” Peter admitted. He’d been reading about it in a monograph while he first waited to be introduced to Dr Wetmore several months ago.

“There’s such a thing?”

Peter nodded. “Of course. Otherwise, surely, they wouldn’t need to call anything reverse Polish Notation.”

“Well, I never,” Felix muttered. “You learn something new every day.” He shook his head in wonder. “Anyway, when would you like to meet the computer club? I think they’ve got a club night scheduled for tomorrow after school.”

“That would be ideal. Err . . . what is the common language of the club, please? Because Dr Wetmore’s German is very poor.”

“Well, that might present a few problems, because I doubt anybody in the club speaks French.”

“Dr Wetmore is English,” Peter said hopefully.

“Oh, English. Then that shouldn’t be too much trouble. Most of them have a good grasp of English, while Daniel and Karl are almost fluent.”

****

The members of the computer club came as a shock to Peter. Not only were all but one of them younger than he was, but two of them were girls. Not that he had anything against girls, especially when they were as attractive as Veronika Kresser and Christina Kleiner were, but aqualators were men’s work. The cognitive effort to understand how they work should be beyond them, and yet here they both were, offering intelligent comments and insight into the workings of the “Coanda effect.”

“You really should make your aqualators available with a square root key,” Karl Schilling was telling Dr. Charles Wetmore.

“It’s a very simple add-on to the existing four-function aqualator,” Stephan Treiber added.

“We’ll happily sell you a license to use our logic design,” Karl said.

“But what do I do about the aqualators I’ve already sold? My customers aren’t going to be happy to know their recently purchased aqualator is already obsolete,” Charles said.

“Not obsolete,” Daniel Pastorius, the youngest of the group, corrected, “just superseded. However, you could offer up-grade packs to people who have the basic four-function aqualator.”

“Why provide an up-grade pack?” Peter asked. “Why not let them buy a new aqualator if they want the square root function?”

Karl and the other club members visibly winced. “Because you want to keep your customers happy. If they know you’ll provide up-grades to the existing system if at all possible, then they’ll be more confident buying from you.”

“But they’ve already bought from us,” Peter protested.

“They’ve already bought a basic aqualator, but what happens when you produce a scientific or business aqualator? Aren’t you going to hope they’ll want to buy that?” Karl asked.

“We’re thinking they will, and that’s why we want our scientific and business aqualators to be card-programmable,” Daniel said. “If they aren’t, most users will never use the aqualator’s ability to run programs, and of course, they’ll protest about paying for a capability they don’t use.”

“Why not just build a non-programmable scientific or business aqualator?” Peter asked.

“If you’d ever done a linear regression by hand you wouldn’t ask a silly question like that,” Daniel said.

“Or done a spreadsheet by hand,” Karl said.

Peter, confused once again, turned to Daniel first. “What is a linear regression?”

“It’s a means of estimating a best fit trend line that can be drawn through a number of data points plotted on a graph.”

Not wanting to display his ignorance of data-points, graphs, and trend-lines, Peter turned to Karl. “And a spreadsheet is?”

“It’s a predictive accounting thing. Really, you don’t want to know.”

“On a computer, it’s a form with a number of boxes. When you change the value in one box, the values in all the other boxes automatically change,” Daniel explained. “You can do a lot of ‘what happens if I do X’ very quickly.”

That didn’t help Peter, but he was willing to believe Karl that he really didn’t want to know about spreadsheets, or for that matter, linear regression—which sounded like a completely useless thing to do anyway. He turned to Dr Wetmore, who’d been an interested but silent spectator, and repeated much of the discussion in English, with some corrections and comments from Karl and Daniel.

When Peter finally fell silent Dr Wetmore slowly passed his gaze over the members of the computer club and their aqualator before turning back to Karl. “Would I be able to see what you have done so far with your programmable aqualators?”

“It’s mostly just logic diagrams,” Daniel warned the doctor.

“I can understand logic diagrams,” Dr Wetmore said.

****

“That was most enlightening,” Dr Charles Wetmore said to Peter when they finally left the high school.

Peter didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded. It seemed it was an adequate response when Dr Wetmore continued talking.

“We’ll have to look at adding a square root function . . . “

“And offering an upgrade package?” Peter asked.

Charles sighed. “Yes, I’m forced to agree with Mr. Schilling that doing so would be a good idea.” He looked expectantly at Peter. “Someone will have to stay here in Grantville to keep an eye on the Computer Club members.”

“Me, Doctor? You want me to stay in Grantville to keep an eye on Karl Schilling and company?” Peter could hardly believe his luck. He was going to be paid to stay in Grantville, and to keep an eye on Veronika Kresser and Christina Kleiner. Could life possibly get better?

“Yes, but you can also make yourself useful performing up-grades on demand and acting as the local agent for Wetmore Aquatic Computing.”

August 1634, Granville, France

Henri Beaubriand-Lévesque tossed the letter from Dr Wetmore onto the table and retired to the sideboard to pour himself a rather large snifter of brandy. “He’s done it again.”

“Done what?” George Payn said as he reached across the table for the letter.

“Landed on his feet; emerged smelling of roses; made ‘our man in Grantville’ by Dr Wetmore,” Henri said.

George paused with the letter in his hands and looked at Henri and the snifter of brandy in his hand. His eyes locked onto the snifter of brandy while he fingered the letter he still hadn’t looked at. “I don’t suppose I could have one of those, too.”

With a brandy to hand, George read the letter. He was wincing when he put it down. “At least no one can blame us if he gets into trouble with the doxies in Grantville.”

“Just because we had nothing to do with Peter going to Grantville doesn’t mean we can’t be held responsible,” Henri said. He took a large sip of brandy to temper that blow.

George also took a large sip of brandy. They exchanged looks, and sighed. They took another sip of brandy. In silence they emptied their snifters.

“There’s no chance he’ll get his comeuppance in Grantville, is there?” George asked hopelessly.

Henri shook his head. “He’s young, healthy, got all his teeth, and some might consider him to be handsome. If you add university-educated and not short of money, then I don’t see much hope for that.”

They exchanged silent looks. George got to his feet and brought the bottle of brandy back to the desk they’d been sitting at. Without being asked he poured a goodly measure into both snifters.

Meanwhile, in Grantville, USE

Peter Payn saw Veronika Kresser on the path ahead and increased his pace until he caught up with her. “The programmable aqualator is going well.”

As an opening sally it fell flat. Veronika turned her nose up at him. “It is, and no I won’t go out with you.”

This was a disappointment. He’d already struck out with Christina Kleiner, who was apparently more interested in one of the computer club members. “So who are you going out with?” he asked.

“Michael Pastorius.”

Peter wasn’t paying full attention, and barely heard the surname. “Pastorius? Don’t tell me you’re going out with that overgrown puppy.”

Veronika giggled. “Not Daniel. His elder brother, Michael.”

“And what does Michael Pastorius have going for him?”

Veronika folded her arms under her breasts, tilted her head as she looked through Peter, and licked her lips rather too deliberately for Peter’s comfort. “He’s good-looking, smart, hard-working, and he’s not up himself like someone I could mention.”

“Ouch!”

“You did ask,” Veronika said before walking off.

Peter glared at her back, which was very attractive. Up himself indeed. Who did she think she was? He hurried to catch up with her. “I’m a graduate of Leiden you know.”

“And I’m nearly a graduate of Calvert High School.”

“Are you trying to suggest that a high school diploma from the high school in Grantville is on par with a BA from Leiden, one of the best universities in the world?”

Veronika smiled. “Not on par. Better.”

“How can you say that?” Peter demanded.

“Well, let’s start with something simple. How well do you understand physics, algebra, calculus, chemistry, biology, or botany?”

“Well enough,” Peter said, heavily on the defensive.

“Yeah, right!” Veronika snorted. “Leiden is so far behind Calvert High that it’s silly to think that a Leiden BA is as good as a Calvert High School diploma. Just see if you can get a job with your precious degree.”

“I already have a job,” Peter said, “and it is due to my degree that I got it.”

“Only because your employer didn’t have any high school graduates to choose from. Go on, visit an employment consultant and see what they have to say about your precious degree.”

Their eyes met. Veronika’s had an unmistakable amused look in them. “I’ll do that. Just you wait and see. My degree is worth more than your high school diploma,” Peter said.

****

The employment consultant was a female, an older female, and a down-timer at that. Peter sat and glared at her, getting more outraged by the minute. “I should earn a high school diploma from Calvert High School?” he demanded. “I have a degree from the University of Leiden, one of the top universities in the world.”

Magdalena Schöler nodded. “Yes, but unfortunately, you graduated in early 1632, before they started teaching the new material. Businesses in Grantville are looking for people familiar with the new mathematics and sciences, or the new business practices, and they can best get these from graduates from the Vo Tech or Calvert High School.”

“So I’ve wasted several years of my life at Leiden, and now I have to spend four years studying to get a high school diploma.” Peter wasn’t happy. Bang had gone his intent to show Veronika Kresser that his Leiden degree was more valuable than her high school diploma.

“Your education to date isn’t wasted, and you probably won’t have to study for four years. You might be able to test out on a lot of the GED program.”

“And what is a GED program?” Peter asked

“It’s a high school diploma equivalency qualification for people who want a high school diploma without spending years at school. It’s ideal for people who are working, but need to improve their qualifications, as a lot of it can be done part-time and after work.”

Peter thanked the woman and walked out. Back on the street he looked around. In the distance he could see the cliffs of the Ring Wall. The coming of Grantville had changed more than just the physical landscape.

September 1634, Granville, France

Henri Beaubriand-Lévesque and George Payn were sitting quietly in Henri’s study quietly studying the color and aroma of yet another very fine brandy. Purely in the interests of proper scientific investigation, they continued their study of said beverage by sipping it.

“A very fine drop, George,” Henri said as he lowered the brandy glass to admire the color once more.

George lowered his glass as well and also stared at the golden liquid in his glass. “I’m very proud of it. I stole it myself you know.”

Henri grinned at the old pirate, or privateer as his wife continued to insist he be called. “But can you get more?”

George shrugged. “Life is full of little ups and downs, and the vagaries of chance. I have enough of this fine brandy to last for several months. Maybe I’ll run into someone carrying more before it runs out.”

“And if you don’t?”

George sighed. “Then I’ll be forced to drink that cheap poison you keep in your cellar.”

Henri ignored the insult. There was nothing in his cellar that could possibly be considered cheap, let alone poison. He turned instead to the real reason he’d asked George to call. “Do you plan to visit your friendly local Portuguese merchant anytime soon?”

“Portuguese merchant?” George stared at Henri, confusion obvious in the twisted contortions of his face. Suddenly his face cleared. “You need more rubber? Already?

“Yes, I need more rubber, and it has been almost nine months since I bought the last lot from you.”

“What have you been doing with it all?’ George demanded. “There were hundreds of pounds of it.”

“There is my research, and of course there are Beaubriand-Lévesque Rubber Preventatives.”

“Ah, doing well are they?”

Henri smiled at the polite disinterest George was faking. The old pirate had been a very willing product tester. “Yes, and Magdeburg Rubber Products have recently signed a licensing agreement to use my process.”

“And of course they’ll be needing rubber. Don’t you have any problems selling to the Germans?”

“Not as long as they’re willing to pay my prices. Their money is as good as anybody else’s.”

“At least as good, and better than most. Very well, I’ll see if my contact can put me in touch with someone.”

That was George-speak for I’ll see if my contact knows of a ship sailing with the required cargo. “It’d be a lot easier if you just found someone willing to sell it to you, you know,” Henri said.

“Buy it!” George bellowed in outrage. “Buy it, when I can steal it? Where’s the fun in that?”

Henri was about to answer when his wife pushed her head around the door. “George, I thought I recognized the bellow. When did you arrive?” she asked.

George held up his brandy glass so she could see how much was left.

“Is that the first one?” She asked.

Both George and Henri nodded vigorously. They didn’t do it because Sarah might object to their drinking, it was fear of her thinking that George had been in the house for longer than a few minutes without anybody telling her that he was there. “You were reading the mail when George arrived. I’m sure I left instructions for you to be told,” Henri said.

Sarah grinned. “I’m sure you did. And I’m sure those instructions involved me not being told George was here until you’d both finished your first brandy.”

Henri shrugged. She was his wife, and she knew him well. “Would I do a thing like that?”

“Yes you would,” Sarah said, but without any fire. “I got a letter from Peter today.” She held up the missive. Looked at it, and frowned.

“Not bad news I hope?” George asked. “Nothing bad has happened to the lad?”

“What? Oh, no. Not really.” Sarah said.

Henri had barely been able to hold back a fit of giggles at George’s fake sympathy. It reminded him of the time Sarah’s mother’s dog—a spiteful little monster—had escaped the house through a door a servant had, entirely accidentally, left ajar. The dog had run onto the road barking for all it was worth at the traffic on the road. Needless to say, it had not ended well for the little monster. She’d been stepped on by a horse, and then run over by a wheel of the wagon the horse was pulling. George had immediately led the guilty servant out back and given the man what he deserved. Or at least he’d tried to give the man what he deserved. George had later told him the servant had declined the shilling George had offered for helping rid the household of the monster, settling for a mere six-pence instead. Princess had apparently not been very popular with the staff either.

“What’s happened to the lad?” Henri asked.

“Nothing has actually happened, but it seems he had a bit of a crush on one of the girls at the high school, but she wasn’t impressed by his university education, claiming the Grantville high school diploma she was working toward is better.” Sarah almost smiled for a moment. “My little brother is growing up. He’s starting to notice girls.”

Henri kept his face as blank as he could. He glanced over at George, who’d related stories of Peter’s exploits with dockside prostitutes when he sailed with him aboard the Unicorn. He looked like he was choking. “And is a Grantville high school diploma better than a degree from Leiden?”

Sarah nodded sourly. “Apparently it is, in Grantville at least. Peter’s been told that if he wants to get a good job in Grantville he needs a high school diploma, or at least he has to earn a General Equivalency Diploma.”

“But he already has a job, with Dr. Wetmore, doesn’t he?” Henri asked.

“Yes, but Peter thinks Dr. Wetmore has been impressed by the work of the members of the Grantville Computer Club, and unless he can up-skill, he might be out of a job.” Sarah sighed. “And I was so pleased for Peter when Dr Wetmore declared him to be ‘Our man in Grantville.’ ”

“Oh dear, what a shame. Still, it might never happen, love,” Henri said as he wrapped a comforting arm around his wife.

Sarah stretched up and kissed him. “You’re right. I’m worrying about it unnecessarily. Peter’s a bright boy, and I’m sure Dr. Wetmore values him as he should.” She waved to George. “You’re staying for dinner?”

“Of course he’s staying for dinner,” Henri said. “It’s a free meal.”

“Oh, you . . . ” Sarah shook a reproving finger in Henri’s. “Bye for now,” she called to George before leaving.

The door was hardly closed behind the departing Sarah before George turned on Henri. ” ‘Oh dear, what a shame.’ Is that the best you could come up with? This is Peter, your brother-in-law and my nephew we’re talking about, not some poor unfortunate individual. It sounds like someone has finally given the little twat his comeuppance, and all you can say is ‘oh dear, what a shame’?”

“Yes, and I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s a real shame neither of us were there to witness it.”

George laughed. “True, true. It is a great shame neither of us could be there to see Peter’s comeuppance.”

Henri raised his glass. “A toast to our man in Grantville. May he continue to suffer rebuffs.”

****

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