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Andreas Strauss hurried along the road toward Erfurt. The October afternoon was cold and rainy, and he wanted to arrive before dark. It had been a fairly good year. The crop was decent, and the family business had sold all the barrels they could make. Andreas had a small purse to spend on a few extra things for the winter. Plus, he was seeking news. His cousins had joined the Committees of Correspondence and would have heard anything worth knowing.
He heard Erfurt almost as soon as he saw it. The city was in an uproar. He asked at the city gate.
"There was a battle with the Ostenders!" one of the guards told him. "A great victory, but Hans Richter was killed. His airplane crashed into one of the enemy ships," the man continued. "Some of the up-timers were there in boats. One of them was sunk, but they sank a lot of Ostender ships."
People were celebrating in the streets. Andreas made his way to the tavern his relatives favored. He pulled the door open and immediately caught sight of his cousin Dieter, holding forth at a central table. "Dieter!"
"Andreas! What brings you to Erfurt?"
"Father sent me. It's been a good year. We can afford a few luxuries. And news."
"You've heard, then? Wismar Bay."
"Ja. I heard Hans Richter was killed."
"After his up-time friends were killed on the ship Outlaw," Dieter explained. "Larry Wild and Eddie Cantrell."
"I'm sorry. Did you know them, too?"
"Nein. I met Hans only once, at a CoC meeting."
"The guard at the city gate said they sank some Ostender ships?"
"Ja. It is a great victory, Andreas!" Dieter's eyes flashed. "We can do this thing!"
"We can win these wars and end the burnings and sackings and rapings and killings. If everyone helps the Committees, we can do this!"
Andreas felt a chill across his face. Stories always described chills as running up one's back, but he always felt them across his face. Maybe they really could do this. He was heartily sick of helping his father and older brothers rebuild the cooper shop every time a raiding army passed through and fired it. Unlike Dieter's more well-off family here in Erfurt, Andreas's family were halbbauern—half-farmers—because their village wasn't large enough for full-time coopers. He'd spent far too much time helping rebuild burned buildings and replacing stolen or vandalized barrels. None of the Strauss family had died or been personally attacked, but he knew people who had.
Andreas listened carefully to Dieter and others from the Committees of Correspondence. They were enthusiastic, but much of what they wanted to do was impractical. He wasn't sure he had the patience to sort out all the impractical parts or the time to help implement the ideas that would be left afterwards. The Committees were going to do a lot of good in the long run. But Andreas was beginning to suspect that Hans Richter had given them all an opening if they could make use of it right now. It wasn't the CoCs who had defeated the League of Ostend at Wismar Bay. It was the new air force and navy. And they were probably going to need an army.
He slept on it. In the morning he bought the goods his parents wanted and headed home. Two days later he was back in Erfurt.
Andreas knew the military depot was somewhere in this area of Erfurt. He noticed two men approaching. "Guten tag. I would like to talk to an up-timer," he said. Belatedly he realized that the two were young men about his own age. They had short haircuts and were wearing clothing dyed an irregular green and brown. That probably meant they were up-timers.
One of them said something. Andreas caught only the last part. "What do you want, Kraut?"
"Ich kenne niemand, der so heisst. Ich bin Andreas Strauss."
One of the up-timers looked at the other. "You got any idea what he's saying, Eric?"
"Yeah, I do, Jim." Speaking slowly, he pointed at Strauss. "You—Andy—are a German, a Kraut. Now, why do you want to talk to an up-timer?"
Andreas shook his head. "Ich verstehe Euch nicht."
The one named Eric sighed theatrically and repeated his question in broken German.
"I heard about Wismar Bay," Andreas said. "Can we beat the Ostenders and the other armies? I am tired of the theft and vandalism every time an army marches through. If this can be done, I will fight for our army."
"I don't know if you Krauts can do it or not," Eric told him. "But you sure better try, because we aren't going to do all of it for you."
Andreas didn't understand anything the two up-timers said to each other, except that they were taking him to someone who might be able to help. They led him to an office next door to a huge store of military goods. He suddenly realized how his uncle here in Erfurt was managing to sell so many barrels.
There was a woman behind the counter. "A Kraut to see Mr. Stull," Eric told her.
"About what, Eric?"
"That's Corporal Hudson to you."
"You try being nicer, and I'll try remembering your rank," she shot back. "Herr, what would you like to see Herr Stull about?" She repeated the question in German.
The woman led him to a couple tables set up around the corner of the building. The CoC men at the tables recognized him right away.
"You are Dieter Strauss's cousin Andreas, are you not?"
"Ja. I am here to enlist."
"Good man. It is a three-year enlistment. Everyone who enlists in Erfurt is in one unit for now."
Andreas signed a couple forms and was led off to join a group of other volunteers.
Two forms might be enough for the Committees of Correspondence, but Andreas quickly discovered that it wasn't nearly enough for the army. For most of the rest of the day, soldiers thrust various papers at him, read them aloud to the group, and told them to sign. Andreas began skimming the pages himself.
"Do you understand that?" the man next to him asked.
"I can read it well enough," Andreas answered. "I am not sure what it all means. Some of these figures seem wrong, though."
One of the uniformed men was passing by. "What do you mean, the figures are wrong?" he demanded.
"The cost of the uniform doesn't add up."
"We got another one!" the soldier called out. "Come with me," he told Andreas.
Andreas's heart sank. He had obviously just gotten himself into all sorts of trouble. But instead the soldier led him over to another line. Andreas was told to copy several sentences and add a few columns of figures. Someone checked his work, then made a notation on one of the forms he was carrying around before sending him back to his original place. By the time they were given dinner, Andreas wasn't sure the army knew what it was doing.
Evidently he wasn't the only one.
"So when does the actual soldiering start?" one of the others asked. He was dressed like someone who worked outdoors, medium height, medium build, dark hair. He seemed just a bit shifty. "I would like to get a musket and start shooting things."
"Me, too," a second man put in. "That's what we're here for." He was blond and stockier than his buddy.
"Nein, we're here to fight for our families and clear the armies out of the Germanies," another man said. He was a big man. He wasn't overweight, just big. And he was dressed well for a farmer. "I'm Leopold Bohm."
"Karl Sauer," the dark-haired one said.