Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press
Chapter 1 The Old Soldier 8
Chapter 2 Bargainer in Chief 31
Chapter 3 Moving Up in the World 40
Chapter 4 Weddings and Plan 66
Chapter 5 A Rising Tide Sinks Some Boats 71
Chapter 6 Letters from Amsterdam 87
Chapter 7 Darlene’s Restaurant 106
Chapter 8 Changes and Reverses 118
Chapter 9 A Man in Uniform 133
Chapter 10 In the Real Army Now 147
Chapter 11 Welcome Home, Daddy 165
Chapter 12 Professional Study, Logistics 170
Chapter 13 The Exchange Corps 188
Chapter 14 Moving and Shaking 202
Chapter 15 Rate of Exchange 221
Chapter 16 Taking Care of the Up-timers 237
Chapter 1—Old Soldier
June 30, 1631
Tilly’s Tercio, Outside Badenburg
Johan Kipper was hungover again, and that was good. For Johan, going into battle with a hangover was almost as good as going into battle a little drunk. It distracted him from what he had to do. He squinted as the morning sun stabbed his brain through his eyes and then shifted his pike just a little. He was in the second rank of pikes and happy enough to be there. It was a respectable position but not as dangerous as the front rank.
Johan shuffled forward, holding up his pike. They were here to teach Badenburg not to close its gates against Tilly’s army and to deal with the strangers that, rumor had it, were wizards and witches. Johan snorted and his brain rattled in his head. He winced at the pain. Wizards? This is the seventeenth century.
The tercio was moving forward, and he was busy enough just keeping his feet moving and his head from falling off. He didn’t have time to worry about putting his pike through someone or having someone put theirs through him. So he barely noticed the difference in the sounds. The enemy, at least the group in front of him, fired one ragged volley and turned and ran. Just as well. He probably wasn’t up to much of a fight.
Then Johan was bumped. He turned and Karl, the sniveling little shit, had dropped his pike. Then he saw the blood that came from Karl’s mouth and the new hole in Karl’s side. Karl was a pup, and arrogant besides, but damn! They were in the second rank, near the middle, and Karl had still been hit in the side, hard enough to knock him into Johan.
Things went downhill from there. An army, even part of Tilly’s army, could only take so much, and this one was being cut to pieces from so far away that they couldn’t fight back. It took a while, but it started to crumble. Then it broke. All of a sudden everyone was running, and Johan was running with them. But not very far. He was too hung over and, well, just too damned old to run as far as he needed to go.
After a few minutes, and on the other side of the baggage train, he stopped. He might have kept running, but he was on the wrong side of fifty, hung over, and wearing a heavy buff coat. If the damn cavalry killed him, at least it would stop his head aching. Huffing and puffing, Johan waited for the cavalry to catch him. His hands were already up when they got there.
July 1, 1631
Darlene Myers looked again at the device sitting on her work table. I’m not a god-damned electrical engineer. I’m a tech. I don’t fucking design dials, I read dials. This isn’t fair.
Darlene tried not to cry. She had been in a state of shock right after the Ring of Fire, but that was fading now. Now every time she looked up or anything went wrong she started bawling like a two-year-old. This time it was the circuitry in the gauge, a sensor that measured the speed of the alternating current. It was used to adjust draw, to feed more or less power into holding, and to keep output in balance. It also had a small integrated circuit that they couldn’t reproduce. They needed some sort of old-fashioned timing circuit. Maybe a tuning fork. But Darlene didn’t have a clue how a tuning fork timer worked. She looked again at the tiny circuit board sitting on the scratched work table.
Darlene hadn’t even noticed that the town of Grantville had troops in the field. She was too caught up in her grief. If Julie Marie hadn’t made me work that Sunday, I would have been home with Johnny and Jack. I never would have gotten caught in the Ring of Fire.
July 3, 1631
Grantville P.O.W. Holding Area
Johan Kipper had been afraid before each and every battle he had ever fought, and there had been many. But this was different. For one thing, this was after the battle, and he wasn’t waiting to fight. He was waiting to be judged. He was to be judged by a camp follower. He didn’t know the Gretchen girl well. Hardly at all. But she was the one to judge him, and that was scary. Johan was not a very good man and he knew it. He was a mean drunk, and he knew that too.
There weren’t many people who were held in more contempt than soldiers, but camp followers were. They had been the only safe outlet for the anger he felt at the way his life had turned out. At least they had seemed to be safe. Now Johan was afraid, in a way that he had never been afraid before.
What made Johan a little different from some of his fellow soldiers was that he realized what scared him. Not that he would be treated unfairly, but that he would be treated as he deserved.
He had started out as a soldier forty years ago at the age of fifteen. Absolutely sure he would become a captain. Ten years later, after having survived smallpox, he had hoped to become a sergeant. Now, he didn’t even want to be a soldier anymore, but he didn’t know anything else. His family had been in service: servants to a wealthy merchant in Amsterdam. He had run off to be a soldier.
Johan was fifty-four years and spoke a smattering of half a dozen languages. He was five feet six inches tall, had graying brown hair and six teeth, four uppers and two lowers. He had the typical pockmarks that denoted a survivor of smallpox, a scar running down the left side of his face . . . and he was tired. Tired of fighting, tired of killing, and scared of dying.
He was surprised that he wasn’t one of the ones who got his picture on a piece of paper and told to get out of the USE. He was less surprised, almost comforted, by the lecture he got about getting drunk and hitting people. The lecture amounted to “Don’t Do It. We can always take another picture if we need to.”
When offered a place in the army, he respectfully declined. When asked what he was qualified to do, he said he had been in service once. He had to explain what he meant. “My family were servants in Amsterdam.” He was assigned to a labor gang.
July 6, 1631
Delia Higgins’ House
Johan Kipper wasn’t in manacles as they drove up. They weren’t needed. There was a heavy screen between the back seat where Johan was seated and the front where the “Police Chief” drove the device and the doors in the back section of the self-powered cart didn’t open from the inside. They pulled off the paved street through a wide gate made of the gray metal that the up-timers had in such abundance. Once through the gate, they were on a short paved road. On one side of the road was a house in the style the up-timers preferred and just beside it one of the narrow, boxy houses that they called “mobile homes.” Across the way there was a “parking lot” like the one at the school, but considerably smaller. Behind and further down the street were row on row of white painted boxes.
The car stopped in front of the more normal-looking house and Police Chief Dan Frost turned to face Johan through the screen. “We’ve talked about your drinking and you know we can make up a wanted poster easy enough. You know you’re getting an opportunity here because you speak some English. So I’m just going to repeat this last part so you don’t forget. I don’t want to hear you’ve caused Mrs. Higgins any trouble. She’s a nice and will treat you right. I expect you to show her respect. If I hear you’ve given her any problems, any problems at all, you’ll regret it.”
Then the police chief got out of the car and opened the back door so Johan could get out. It wasn’t that easy. The couches in these carts were incredibly comfortable, but they were hard to get into and out of. All the while, bouncing around in his mind, were the words “Delia Higgins is a Lady.” Delia Higgins was an up-timer noble.
Carrying his woolen cap in his hands, as was proper when brought before a Lady, he followed Police Chief Dan Frost into the living room. Lady Higgins was about five seven inches tall. She had black hair going to gray, and dark eyes. And she didn’t look happy.
The police chief introduced him, and with a hand to his cap took his leave.
“Sit down, Mr. Kipper.” She waved him to a couch upholstered in a light brown fabric. She went to a big chair, a throne really, that was upholstered in leather. “Kipper? That’s an English name, isn’t it?”
“My grandda was English, ma’am,” Johan said, taking a careful seat on the couch.
She looked around, then her mouth tightened and she turned back to him. “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipper. I’m out of practice at hiring people.” She took a deep breath. “What I need is more than just a night watchman. I need a connection to this century. We have some things to do, and to do them we need someone who speaks the language and more.” She stood abruptly, and Johan jumped up in alarm.
“Come with me. I’ll show you around the place while we talk.”
They went out the front door, which she opened before he could get to it to open it for her, and they were on the front porch. It was wooden and covered. Down the steps from it was a green lawn and flowerbeds filled with flowers to make an Amsterdam tulip collector green with envy. Not that they were tulips. There were roses, bigger roses than Johan had ever seen in his life, and more fragrant too. There were daisies and other flowers he couldn’t put a name to. Lady Higgins led him down the steps, pointing out the beds and naming the flowers.
Then they proceeded down the walk and went to the “office,” as she called it. It was the mobile home.
The door they entered was across from a counter. There was a woman behind the counter who was introduced as Ramona Higgins. She seemed nervous, but Johan didn’t have much time to notice. To their left was an opening and Lady Higgins led him that way. The opening was a hall and on one side there was a sink and cabinets. “This is the kitchen,” Lady Higgins said. On the other side of the hall was a white box that Lady Higgins opened and cold air came out. The box was mostly filled with the bottled drinks that the up-timers called sodas, but there was also a plate with the clear plastic they used over it and a meal under the plastic. Meat, vegetables, and what looked like some kind of mashed something.
“This is the fridge. We’ll get the sodas out of here to give you more room, but mostly you will be eating with the family.” She pointed to another box, a smaller one sitting on the cabinet. “That’s the microwave. Don’t put metal in it. In fact, don’t use it. Not till we’ve had a chance to teach you what is and isn’t safe to put in it.” She pointed again. “This is the stove, but it’s not hooked up to gas. Plates and glasses are in the cabinets.” She opened them and showed him. She got out a glass, went to the sink, and turned a handle. Water came out and flowed down the drain. She filled the glass and handed it to him. Then she gestured for him to drink.
It was water, clear and cold. Johan hoped he wouldn’t get the runs. That often happened when you drank water, rather than wine or beer. She held out her hand. He gave her the glass and she emptied it into the sink. Then placed it upside down in a rack to drain, making it clear what the rack was for. She opened the other doors and cabinets showing him what was in them. She pointed at a green painted cabinet with shiny silver trim. “That’s the dishwasher, but it’s not hooked up either. If we need to we can get a plumber out here to hook it up, but we’ll wait on that. As I mentioned, you will be eating with the family most of the time.”
Out the other end of the kitchen hall was another room. It had a small table and two chairs but was mostly filled with the paper boxes that the up-timers seemed to favor. She waved vaguely. “The dining room. We’ve been using it for storage. We’ll move this stuff out to one of the storage containers on the lot. You’re probably going to have to do that.” She led him through the dining room into another room. It too was full of boxes. “We’ll clean out the bedroom for you, Mr. Kipper. Honestly, you’ll probably end up doing that, but I’ll get David to help you. David and Donny are my grandsons. They and their mother live with me. My son, Dalton, and his family are in town but don’t live at the lot. So, tell me about yourself, Mr. Kipper.”
Johan was uncomfortable every time she called him Mister. He’d never been a Mister in his life, so he started by saying, “Just Johan is enough, or Kipper. You don’t need to call me Mister, ma’am. I was born on an estate not fifteen miles from Amsterdam and lived there until I was fifteen. Then I ran off to be a soldier and make my fortune. It didn’t turn out so well.” He went on to give her an outline of his life as a soldier and the various posts he’d held. He’d never gotten very high, but he had been an officer’s aide a few times and she seemed pleased with that. The strange thing was that she seemed honestly interested in him, in what his life had been like.
She led him back to the dining room and through another door. This one led to a confusing place. She pointed out the washing machine that was too small to bathe in. The dryer, a metal box a lot like the dishwasher. The bathroom sink, which he understood, the toilet, which he had seen in the refugee center, and the bathtub that was almost long enough to lie down in.
Delia Higgins had expected a local, not a soldier in the invading army. The interview was uncomfortable for her.
Delia was looking for more than a night watchman. She needed a link to this time and place. She needed someone who could help her find a buyer for the dolls so she could finance David and his friends’ building a sewing machine. She had promised them that, and now that the bank had refused the loan, selling her dolls was the only way she could think of to get the money. She didn’t say that, not just yet. She wasn’t sure she trusted the ugly little man.
Johan’s appearance bothered her. First, because by any modern standard, he was a remarkably ugly man. Mostly that was because of his bad teeth and the pockmarks. By the standards of his time, he was the low end of average. Second, because part of what she needed was someone who could speak to the down-timers for her. She hired him, but she wasn’t happy about it.
The agreement was maintenance and one hundred dollars a month. Really poor pay, but all Delia felt she could afford. As for the job, Johan would live in the “office,” and he would be expected to make at least four walking inspections of the lot each night. There would be occasional errands for him to run. Long hours but light work.
For Johan, the interview was much worse. She asked her questions. He answered them in his somewhat broken English. She asked more questions, seeking clarification. This woman looked at him, really looked. She didn’t examine him like he was a horse or a dog she was thinking of buying. She really saw him. She acknowledged him like he was a real person. Complex, capable of thought. As if he had value. She was, as the English might say: “Neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat.” He could not find a place in his world where she belonged. What made it worse, almost intolerably worse, was that he fully realized that it was her world that mattered now, not his. And if he couldn’t even find where she fit, how was he to find where he fit?
She had, as far as he could see, the wealth and power of a prosperous townswoman, but she did not act right. She didn’t scorn. Johan was not a stupid man. He understood better than most what the arrival of a town from the future meant. He realized that the rules had changed. That these people could do things that no one else could do.
For instance, despite the fact that she seemed apologetic about it, the “maintenance” turned out to be much more than Johan expected. There was an indoor flush toilet and a shower. To Delia Higgins, “maintenance” included her paying for his health and dental care. It also included uniforms for work and at least some clothing for off work. It included eating as well as any member of her family did, and his own room, and a bathroom, because they had never removed the bathroom fittings from the “mobile home” —which acted as an office.
Johan was not an evil man, though he often thought he was. For fifty-four years, with one exception, he had kept his place, knowing full well that stepping out of it could mean his death. That is a lot of habit. The thing about chains is they’re secure. They’re safe. You get used to them. Then you get to depend on them. Johan had worn the chains of lower-class existence his whole life. He didn’t know how to walk without their weight.
July 7, 1631
Higgins’ Storage Lot
From the first, Johan noticed that Master David Bartley, Lady Higgins’ grandson, was watching him. He made his rounds of the storage lot, walking along the chainlink fence and making sure that there were no holes or places where someone might crawl under or climb over, which was helped by the barbed wire that topped the fence. Johan was impressed by barbed wire. Then Johan went down the rows of containers, checking the locks on all of them and opening the unlocked ones to make sure there was nothing hiding in them.
Through it all, David Bartley was around. Not quite following him, but always there. It wasn’t very subtle, and it was clear to Johan that David wasn’t well practiced at sneaking about.
Johan tipped his cap to the young lordling whenever it was obvious that he had seen him, but the rest of the time he pretended not to notice.
Finally the lad came up to him. “Yes, sir, Master David?”
“Well, ah, I just wanted to see how you’re getting along.”
“Well enough, sir,” Johan said. “The bed in the mobile home is wonderful soft. And breakfast was fine.”
“Good then. What do you know about manufacturing?”
Johan tried not to show how nervous he was. The question seemed a trap, and one he couldn’t help but fall into. “Almost nothing, sir. I’ve been a soldier most of my life and was in service before that.”
That took a bit of explanation. Young Master David didn’t know what “in service” meant.
They talked most of the afternoon.
They talked about battles and captains, about work and honor. Then it slipped out. “Ye don’t act right, ye up-timers,” Johan said. He wanted the words back as soon as they were out, but the young master didn’t seem upset.
He just asked, “How should we act?”
“Ye don’t act yer proper place! Sorry, Master David, for speaking out of turn.”
The young master looked at him with a considering air, then spoke with an authority that Johan couldn’t ignore. “No. You’ve said too much, or not enough, and this may be something we need to know.”
Johan fumbled with the words. “Like I said, sir. Ye don’t act yer place. One minute ye’re one thing and the next another. Ye talk like a banker, or a merchant, or a lord or craftsman, or, oh, I don’t know. Ye talk to me the same way ye’d talk to yer president.”
Master David started to say something, then stopped and said something else. “How should we act? If you were hired by a lord or a merchant, how would they act?”
Johan told him. He mentioned John George of Saxony, who called for a beer by pouring the dregs of his last beer over the servant’s head. But mostly he focused on the way the nobles and important townsmen would look past you and talk to the air as if you weren’t real, but just a thing.
“That’s—” Master David said, and stopped. He looked at Johan and Johan could see the condemnation in his eyes. For a moment he thought it was directed at him. Johan was afraid then, afraid that it was all some sort of elaborate trap and he would be put out for impertinence, have his picture on a wanted poster, and have to run for his life.
“God. They must be terrified of you,” David said, and Johan couldn’t quite take it in. It made no sense. Then the lad started laughing. Free and easy, like he’d just heard the funniest joke of all time. To Johan it seemed that he was the joke. He didn’t know what it was all about, and he was scared and angry all at once. But Johan was an old man who had lived his entire life at the bottom rung of his world. Scared was very strong and it beat angry to a bloody pulp.
It took a little while for David Bartley to get himself under control. Long enough so that anger had been completely put down and Johan was just scared.
Then the lad stopped laughing and said, “I’m sorry, Johan, but your face. Looking at me like I was crazy.”
That was even harder to take. A young lord like Master Bartley didn’t apologize to the likes of Johan Kipper. Wouldn’t apologize to someone like Johan if they had a knife at his throat and a blunderbuss in his belly. But David Bartley apologized and did it easy, like Johan was owed an apology, and it was the most natural thing in the world for him to give it.
Then he said something even crazier. “I am not afraid of you.” Master David said it clearly, honestly, and without the least trace of fear. “I don’t have to trap you into doing something that would be an excuse to punish you. I don’t need to make you weak to feel strong, or safe. That’s why we act the way we do, Johan! The way that seems so wrong to you. Because we are not afraid. Not the way these German lords are, and because we are not afraid of you, you don’t have to be afraid of us.
“Here is how you should act around us. Do your job as well as you can. State your views freely. If you think I am doing something wrong, say so. I may or may not follow your advice, but I won’t punish you for giving it. I promise you that. Can you do that, Johan? If you can, you will have a place here. For as long as we can make one for you.”
Johan wanted to cry. David Bartley bought himself a man with those words. The lad might not know it yet, but Johan did. Johan might be an old dog of a soldier, but he was David Bartley’s old dog, now and forever. For Johan wanted to know how to be unafraid like young Master David. So very unafraid that he could be kind. Or if he couldn’t learn it, at least to be around it.
After Master David left, Johan thought about the afternoon. “I am not afraid of you,” the young master had said, and Johan had to believe. And the lords are. As he thought about it, Johan believed that too.
July 7, 1631
Delia Higgins’ Sewing Room
Johan Kipper looked at the Singer sewing machine in total confusion. It wasn’t that Johan was stupid, or even ignorant. It was simply that his world wasn’t filled with devices of this complexity. There were a few, but not many, and Johan had never seen one. At least not one that didn’t fill a building. What made the sewing machine worse than the telephones or the lights was that it looked like he should be able to understand it. It wasn’t all that different than a watermill, after all. Smaller, but there was a crank that turned and made other stuff happen.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to remain in his state of confusion.
Instead, Brent Partow, one of young Master David’s friends, saw his look and—as boys were wont to do—began to explain. Which would have been a great deal more helpful if the lad had spoken a comprehensible tongue. His English had the weirdest accent that Johan had ever heard, just like the rest of the up-timers, and it just got worse as the lad got into the details of the inner workings of the sewing machine. It wasn’t the twang that bothered Johan. He had heard variations like that often enough. It was the technical words.
“It would seem a very complex piece of equipment,” Johan offered. “It would probably take a long time to make. Perhaps something simpler?”
“We could, I guess. But it would be more likely to be copied,” young Master David said. But Johan was an old soldier and an old bargainer, and he heard the lack of full confidence in David’s voice. “Besides,” David continued in a firmer voice, “the sewing machine is what we agreed on.”
So it wasn’t the best choice, just the one they could agree on. That was more than interesting. “Well, it looks very complicated to me.”
“Looks are deceiving,” Brent said. “It’s not lots of different parts, so much as lots of the same few parts.”
His twin brother, Trent, snorted at that. Frau Higgins said, “Never mind. What we are going to need you to do is help us talk to the local merchants and craftsmen so that we can have the parts made without telling them how to make the whole thing.”
Higgins’ Storage Lot
July 8, 1631
Johan walked his rounds along the small steel buildings that Lady Delia had called repurposed shipping containers and thought about the up-timers and the children and their project. He liked them, liked them a lot. They were kind to an old soldier who didn’t deserve it, and they made him feel at home.
Johan had grown almost to manhood in Amsterdam, watching the best merchants and craftsmen on Earth go about their business. He knew that while the up-timers had great wealth, that wealth would be used up sooner or later unless they used it to build more. He understood that. He looked over at the chain link fence and shook his head. Like building a castle wall out of gold: you have to worry as much about someone stealing the fence as you do about them getting what’s inside of it.
David and Donny’s room, Higgins House
July 10, 1631
David sat at the desk and Johan on the bottom bunk. “No, the sewing machines are vitally important. And not just to us, to all of Grantville. We need to start producing goods, not just selling the stuff we brought with us.”
Johan nodded. That seemed pretty obvious now that young Master David had pointed it out.
“If we can produce a sewing machine at a reasonable price, we can sell hundreds of them, or thousands.”
Again, Johan nodded, but he wasn’t entirely convinced this time. Still, it wasn’t his place to be contradicting young Master David.
The young master continued to talk, and Johan continued to listen. He got the story of how they had decided on the sewing machine and how it wasn’t nearly as complicated as it seemed. There were only a few parts that were beyond the abilities of the local smiths. How the lack of a bank loan had probably killed their plan to make sewing machines. “And I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
Johan didn’t either.
Delia Higgins’ Sewing Room
July 12, 1631
Lady Delia waved Johan to the small couch, but Johan hesitated before he obeyed her. He knew she wasn’t trying to trick him into showing a lack of respect for her station, but old habits died hard.
“I have a problem, Johan, and I think you might be able to help me with it. You’ve seen my doll collection.” She waved at a shelf that went all the way around the sewing room, up near the ceiling. That shelf was packed with dolls, some in their boxes, but most in round plastic containers that David said were old three-liter soda bottles with their tops cut off and taped together. There had to be over a hundred dolls in this room alone, and Lady Delia had them in the living room and her bedroom as well. More of them in the living room. One wall of the living room was floor-to-ceiling shelves full of dolls.
“I think they are valuable in the here and now,” Lady Delia continued, “and I want to sell them. But not at the Valuemart. I want to find a merchant who will buy them for resale in Hamburg, London or Vienna. Someplace like that.” She looked at the dolls sadly, then her mouth tightened into firmness and she gave a sharp little nod.
Johan remembered his talks with David and the Partow twins about the sewing machine project and he guessed he knew what Lady Delia needed the money for. Well, Johan knew how to find merchants and how to deal with them. He had, on several occasions, been dog robber for this or that officer. He could bargain fairly well, especially when he was doing it for someone else.
Connie Myers’ Home
July 12, 1631
Connie Myers sat beside her daughter and said, “Honey, you’ve got to stop doing this. Maybe go talk to somebody.”
Darlene sniffed and wiped away the tears. “I’ll be okay, Mom. I’ve got to get to work.” Darlene jumped up from the couch and rushed out the front door to catch the bus out to the power plant.
Connie went back to the kitchen and made herself another cup of mint tea. Not that mint tea was a favorite; it was just what she could get right now.
“You know, Dink, we’re lucky in a way,” she said.
Her husband gave her a look.
“Well, we are,” Connie insisted. “At least both our kids are with us. But poor Darlene has lost Jack and Johnny. She’s devastated.”
July 13, 1631
Johan was talking with some of the other survivors from the ill-fated attempt to take Badenburg. Unlike Johan, most of them had joined the American army. They had spent the last fifteen minutes telling him how good life was in the American army with its shotguns.
Johan was having none of it. He leaned his chair against the wall, crossed his arms, and said, “Not me, boys, I’m too old for the army life. Besides, I have it better than you lot. Mrs. Higgins made me two new sets of clothes and bought me underwear with elastic.” If he was in a place even a little less public he would have taken down his pants and shown them. He almost did anyway. He was proud of his new clothing. Instead, he focused on the clothing he could decently display. “And see my new shoes. I have another pair at home, and three pair of pants and four shirts. I’ve money for a pint when I want one, good food, and Mrs. Higgins has engaged to get me new teeth, at her expense, mind.” Which she had.
July 14, 1631
“Darlene,” said Bill Porter, Darlene’s boss at the power plant, “This is Hans and this is Karl.” He pointed at each young man as he spoke. “They will be working for you. Teach them how to read the dials so that you will have time to try and figure out how to build us some new dials.”
Darlene looked up at the down-timers and didn’t like them at all. Logically, she knew that the Ring of Fire wasn’t their fault, but logic wasn’t driving her emotional response. It was unfair that she should lose Jack and Johnny just so these down-time fucks could get an early introduction to twentieth-century tech. She looked at Bill, giving the down-timers barely a glance. “I have a lot to do, Bill. Maybe Leona?”
“Everyone has a lot to do, Darlene. Leona has her own set of down-timer assistants to train.”
And that was that.
Darlene trained them and couldn’t maintain her resentment, because they were as eager as puppies, and sharp. She learned that they were, or had been, students getting ready to study at the university at Jena on scholarship, but were fascinated by electricity. They were both, Darlene was sure, much smarter than she was. But she knew about gauges and what they did, even some of the theory. And she could read a technical manual written in English and grasp clearly what the technical terms meant, which they couldn’t. Not yet.
Delia Higgins’ Sewing Room
July 14, 1631
“Come in, Johan. Have a seat.”
Johan came in and sat carefully on the little couch in Lady Delia’s sewing room. She had her sewing chair turned away from the Singer. It was almost a hundred years old, but Johan knew that it was still up-time tech, which gave it a newness that contrasted with its age.
“We have a bunch of orders for storage space,” Delia continued. “I’ve been being a greedy old fart, and it’s time to stop.” She shook her head. “I was just so scared right after the Ring of Fire. Our whole world gone. So I hid everything away and hoped no one would notice all I had and come take it.”
That didn’t seem greedy to Johan, just prudent.
“I could have left something in the storage containers that Grantville desperately needed, something that might have made the difference between life and death for all of us. Well, it stops now. We are going to open up all the containers where the renter was left up-time, and if there’s something the emergency committee needs, we’re going to give it to them. The rest, we’ll sell at the Valuemart. That will free up the containers for renting, now that we have so many new people in town.”
Higgins’ Storage Lot
July 15, 1631
Johan slipped the bolt cutter over the lock and squeezed. The hard steel of the lock came loose. He pulled the lock out of the door and, with young Master David looking on, pulled open the door. In the storage container was a couch with cracked naugahyde upholstery. A backyard grill with butane tanks that Johan hoped were empty. This was the seventh storage container they’d opened so far and contained the third couch and the second backyard grill. There was also a chest of drawers with a cracked mirror.
“Why do people keep junk?” Master David muttered.
Johan looked at him, wondering if he was crazy. Well, not exactly. Master David often said similar things, and by now Johan was used to it. It wasn’t craziness, not exactly. It was just that the up-timers were so rich. They threw everything away as a matter of course. The worst damaged thing in this container, probably the plastic bag full of broken toys, was worth a small fortune.
Young Master David must have seen his look because he held up his hands. “I know, Johan. ‘I’m not asking about the here and now. But the people who put this stuff in the storage shed were doing it in the twentieth century, when this was junk. Those toys were made in China, and even new they were worth less than a month’s rent of this container.”
Johan considered what the young master was saying and understood it, mostly. The price of something depended a lot on when and where you were.
“Okay,” David said. “Let’s get it inventoried and off to the Valuemart.”
July 16, 1631
Johan ushered Federico Vespucci into the house. They’d met at the Valuemart while Johan was overseeing the delivery of yet another set of box springs for resale. He explained in Italian, “There are lots of things in the storage containers. More of the beds. Toys. Even some of the dolls like those.” Johan pointed at the wall of dolls, and saw Vespucci’s eyes go wide. Johan might as well have been pointing to shelves filled with gold and jewels.
“Not these, of course,” Johan specified. “These are the private collection of Lady Delia Higgins and so not for sale.” Johan sighed with all the pride and regret he could put into it, and Federico Vespucci looked at him, eyes narrowing.
“It’s quite true,” Johan insisted, and then made the introductions. He introduced Lady Delia, Mistress Ramona, and Masters David and Donny, giving them each their equivalent Italian title, with only a bit of rank inflation.
Johan translated as Mr. Vespucci explained that he was getting ready to return to Venice. He had arrived weeks after the Ring of Fire. Johan could tell that the merchant was desperate to be the first merchant to sell products from Grantville in Venice, no matter how he might try to hide it. Also that he wanted to buy quickly and be on his way.
Best of all, Vespucci did not speak English. The up-timers were wizards at any number of things, but bargaining, in Johan’s view, was not among them.
Well, not his up-timers anyway. Johan was starting to take a somewhat proprietary view of Lady Delia, Mistress Ramona, and young Masters David and Donny. They knew a tremendous amount to be sure, but they weren’t really, well, worldly. Which, he thought, made quite a bit of sense, since they weren’t from his world, having come from a magical future.
Thus, they lacked the simple understanding that all merchants are thieves. It was purely certain that any merchant who had an opportunity to talk directly to them would rob them blind, talking them into selling their valuables for a pittance.
While it might not have been true of all up-timers, Johan was right about his up-timers. They rented their storage containers for a set monthly fee. Bought their groceries at the store where you either bought or didn’t, but didn’t haggle over the price. They hadn’t even haggled much when buying their car. All in all, they had virtually no experience in the art of the haggle, and haggling is not one of those things you can learn from a book.
“The dolls are unique, with their posable limbs and inset hair, and are made of plastic, which cannot be duplicated, even in far–off China. Even to approximate them would be the work of a skilled artist working for months using ivory or the finest porcelain. See the lovely pink color? But, unfortunately, they are not for sale,” Johan told Vespucci. “Now, about the furniture in the storage containers.”
Federico was no fool. He knew full well that the storage containers with their furniture, even the fancy comfortable mattresses, were little more than a come-on, a way to get him here to see the dolls. He knew that the scoundrel who had attached himself to these up-timers was a cad and a thief. That he was going to be robbed blind. Federico knew all that, and it didn’t matter a bit.
Federico fought the good fight. He was a merchant after all, and a good one.
How did Johan know that plastic was so hard to make?
They brought out the encyclopedia and read him the passages about the industrial processes involved in making plastic. Which didn’t matter, since the dolls were not for sale.
He would need proof that they were authentic up-time dolls.
They could provide certificates of authentication, proof that they not only came from Grantville, but from the personal collection of Delia Ruggles Higgins. Of course, the dolls weren’t for sale.
All in all, with Johan’s deliberate mistranslations and Delia’s enthusiastic discussion of her dolls; it had the making of a remarkably shrewd sales technique.
All of which wouldn’t have worked at all, except Federico knew perfectly well what would happen when he reached Venice with the dolls. There would be a bidding war, and the dolls would be shipped to royal courts, wealthy merchants, and everything in between, from one end of the world to the other. All at exorbitant prices. Some, a very few, would actually end up as the prized toy of a very wealthy child. Most would end up in various collectors’ collections of rare and valuable knickknacks.
It wasn’t quite enough. Federico left that night with no commitments made.
July 16-18, 1631
That might have been the end of it. Not hardly. Johan would have found something. If nothing else, they would have offered a few more dolls. That was what Federico was expecting. Or failing that, Federico would have gone back and made the deal anyway. In spite of the urgent letters he had for delivery in Venice, he was not leaving Grantville without those dolls. But a deal under the current conditions would have meant bad blood. Real resentment, the kind of anger that means the person you’re dealing with never wants to deal with you again, and warns their friends away. Says words like “thief” and “miser,” not with a half-joking, half-respectful tone, but with real intent.
In any event, it wasn’t necessary. Two weeks earlier, David had given Johan an old Playboy. It had happened at the end of a discussion of the fairer sex, in which young lad and old man had agreed that girls were complex and confusing, but sure nice to look at. He figured that the old guy would use it for the same thing he did. To read the articles, of course.
This was still the age when the quality of art was determined primarily by how closely it reflected reality. The photographs in a Playboy magazine looked quite real indeed, just somewhat, ah, more, than nature usually provides. This gave the pictures a certain amount of added artistic value. Johan noted this, and on the morning of the sixteenth, showed the Playboy to Master Vespucci, with the explanation that there were some forms of art that proper Christian ladies didn’t appreciate. It was a deal closer. It saved everyone’s pride. Several additional images were agreed on, and things were settled. Master Vespucci would get his dolls and get to keep his pride. Lady Higgins would be spoken of with respect, and even her scoundrel of a servant, as someone who knew how things worked.
The final deal was made. A consignment of selected dolls, all sizes and types, each with a signed and sealed certificate of authenticity, and undisclosed sundries, were exchanged for a rather large sum of money. In fact, most of the money that Master Vespucci had available to him in Thuringia. The things he’d been planning to buy in Badenburg would just have to find another buyer. The sundries were David’s Playboys, all twenty-four of them. And fifty really raunchy color photos downloaded from the internet up-time, that he had used the last of his color ink to print.
July 20, 1631
“All right, Herr Kipper,” Doctor Sims said. “Let’s have a look. Open wide.”
Johan opened his mouth and closed his eyes against the strange round light that surrounded the magnifying glass the doctor was using. The doctor used paddles to move Johan’s tongue out of the way and to push against his teeth, then had him sit up. The walls were white and there were big pictures of teeth and gums on the wall.
You can get the rest at Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Publishing
Bartley’s Man is a work of fiction.
2016 Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press
Copyright © 2016 by Paula Goodlett and Gorg Huff
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