A Matter of Security

Veterans of the Thirty Years Year from the same village move to Grantville and create Neustatter European Security Services, after which they find themselves dealing with all manner of challenges and dangers.

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It’s a matter of security.

When the Ring of Fire drags Grantville, West Virginia back to seventeenth-century Germany, down-time veteran Edgar Neustatter finds himself among the survivors of a unit devastated by the up-time Americans and their Swedish allies. After wintering in Grantville, they return home to find that while they have changed, their village has not. Having glimpsed the promise of a republic ruled by its people rather than lords and tyrants, Neustatter leads his men and their families back to Grantville to establish a new agency: Neustatter’s European Security Services. The city from the future counts cowboys and detectives among its heroes—and still needs them.

Join Neustatter, Astrid Schäubin, and NESS as they face desperate refugees, towns on the edge of revolution, and those who want to preserve the old order at all costs, while juggling basic training, modern education, and the day-to-day challenges of living in a boom town. Does NESS have the flexibility, training, and firepower to survive in the new timeline?

Chapter 1: The Battle of Alte Veste
Imperial Siege Lines outside Nürnberg
September, 1632

“Battle is coming.”

A tall, broad-shouldered man in his late twenties stood atop one of the hills west of Nürnberg, watching the day dawn.

Those hills had been logged bare for firewood by Wallenstein’s massive army and now every reasonably flat area was covered with their tents. Wallenstein’s headquarters was on the next hilltop, by the remains of the old castle. His army had laid siege to the city weeks ago. Beyond the base of the hills lay the actual siege lines themselves. Facing them were the Swedish defensive lines surrounding Nürnberg. But in the last few days, there had been movement in the Swedish lines.

A second man, about the same age but shorter and decidedly scruffier, made his way out of a nearby tent. The two of them looked out over the siege lines for a few minutes.

“I am surprised to see you up early, Lukas.” The tall man never turned his head away from the siege lines.

“I could not sleep. Nothing decent to drink,” the scruffy man said. “Heard you get up, Neustatter.”

A couple more minutes passed. The tall man kept studying the Swedish lines.

“That is a lot of movement in the Swedish lines. More than I have seen before.”

“I heard people from the future are allied to the Swedes.”

“Could be, Lukas. In fact, that much is probably true—that the Swedes have a new ally.”

“A whole heap of Croats attacked their town. Less than half of them came back. Might really be from the future.”

“So I hear.” The way he said it gave no indication whether he was expressing confirmation or doubt.

A third man joined them.

“Stefan.”

The dark-haired man was a decade older than the other two and wore a perpetual frown. “People from the future. Who ever heard of such a thing?”

“They must be,” Lukas insisted. “I heard the Croats took the town by surprise and still lost.”

“So I hear,” the tall man repeated.

“You cannot believe every rumor,” Stefan said. “Why, I heard someone claim that Gustav Adolf personally rode to the town’s defense.”

“Well, maybe that one is not true.” Lukas pointed at the Swedish lines. “He is supposed to be somewhere over there, ja?”

After a few more minutes, Neustatter returned to the tent and shook another man awake. “Ditmar, wake up. Keep your voice down. Wake Hjalmar. Dress and then the two of you cook breakfast.”

Ditmar sat up right away, coming wide awake at Neustatter’s words. “What is happening?”

“I cannot put my finger on it, but something is different in the Swedish lines. I want us to be ready.”

Ditmar shook his cousin.

Neustatter was already waking another man. “Karl, I need you up.”

The big man stuck his head out from under his blanket. “What is it?”

“Something is not right in the Swedish lines. I need you to get Otto’s matchlock working.”

Karl stared at him for a moment, then threw off the blanket. “I am coming.”

Within minutes, Stefan and his buddy Wolfram had gone in search of wood and water. The two blond-haired Schaub cousins collected half a day’s rations from the others and began preparing breakfast in an iron pot.

A short distance away, Karl disassembled a matchlock musket on a blanket. The burly, well-muscled man was the biggest in their group. He fitted something back into place on the matchlock while the other man watched. The observer was of average height, average build, average brown hair, and looked just like half a million other German men.

“You can fix it?” He kept his voice down as Neustatter had instructed.

Ja.” The big man’s voice was a quiet rumble. He pointed at a part. “This spring here—do not ever break it or even loosen it, Otto. I would need a blacksmith’s shop to fix it, and I do not have one.”

The average-looking man nodded solemnly. “Danke, Karl.”

Soon Stefan and Wolfram were back, Stefan carrying a few sticks, and Wolfram with a bucket of water. They quickly got a fire going.

Once Karl had reassembled Otto’s matchlock, he found Neustatter.

“Neustatter, the matchlocks and slow match are as ready as I can make them. They will all fire, at least several rounds.”

Danke, Karl. I think we may need at least that many.”

Karl’s eyebrows raised, but he said nothing.

By the time breakfast was ready, the sky was brightening, and men were beginning to emerge from other tents.

“Eating a last meal?”

The callous remark boomed across that section of the line, shattering the quiet. The Schaub cousins looked up from the cookfire at the grizzled veteran who had uttered it. He homed in on the younger one.

“I asked you a question, boy.”

“I plan on surviving, Sergeant Wylich.” The young man stretched out a hand—to restrain his cousin who had risen to his feet in obvious anger. He was taller than the sergeant, but the older man appeared to outweigh him by a good forty pounds.

“Do not talk back to me, boy! I will—”

“Walk away.” Neustatter strode toward the cooking fire.

Sergeant Wylich whirled on him. “Did you just tell me what to do, Neustatter?”

Nein. I told Ditmar to walk away. I would never tell you where to go . . . Sergeant.”

“You watch your tongue!”

Neustatter just stared him straight in the eyes.

“It is time I was done with you, Neustatter!” The Sergeant glanced at the young man still tending breakfast. “But maybe I will have this one whipped instead, to teach you all a lesson.”

Neustatter kept staring him down.

“Your time is coming, Neustatter, but first I am going to take your men away, one by one,” the sergeant promised. He stalked off.

“Might not work out like you plan,” Neustatter muttered once he was out of earshot. He turned. Ditmar barely had himself under control. Neustatter waved the others close.

“Sergeant Wylich is ready to move against us,” Neustatter stated. “But he agrees with me—battle is coming. He cannot afford to injure his own men. Not until afterwards.”

“Now he is out to get all of us,” Stefan said.

“We are from the village. We stick together,” Neustatter said.

The others murmured “the village” in agreement.

“Finish breakfast. Then roll your blankets. Pack everything you have. Leave nothing behind but the tents.” Neustatter frowned. “We will have to leave the pot over the fire.”

“Neustatter?” Ditmar asked. “Are we planning on deserting? Or do you think we will be pursuing the Swedes?”

“That is an excellent question, Ditmar.” For a moment Neustatter looked uncertain. “I do not know. Check your weapons again.” As the group broke up, Neustatter caught Lukas by the arm. “Just in case the need arises—all your weapons.”

They mopped up the last of the broth with stale bread and packed everything they owned. Most of the regiment was still cooking breakfast when an ominous rumble began out beyond the bottom of the Burgstall—somewhere in the Swedish lines. Everyone’s heads came up at once.

“What is that?” Lukas asked.

“Nothing good,” the older Stefan predicted.

“Stefan might be right this time,” Karl rumbled.

“He might,” Neustatter agreed. “Do we have everything? Gut. We may as well fall in.”

The eight men from the village made the short walk to where their regiment assembled. From there, they could look down the hill to the siege lines. Men ran into position along the imperial lines, and blocks of men began forming up into tercios. Battalions were already in formation behind the Swedish lines, and Neustatter couldn’t see more than a token presence in the siege lines themselves.

“Looks like the Swedes are coming out,” Neustatter observed.

“Fall in! Fall in!” The shout was sudden, alarmed. It wasn’t even Sergeant Wylich, but Captain Trehar himself.

Men frantically gathered gear, swallowed what breakfast they could, and scurried around like ants in a hive. But there was order beneath the apparent chaos, and musketeers and pikemen began streaming into position. Neustatter and the other men from his village were already anchoring the front right corner, in two ranks of four, matchlocks at their sides.

Sergeant Wylich arrived and took position to Neustatter’s right and half a step back, then lowered his half-pike with an expression of sadistic glee.

“Dress ranks!” he ordered.

Neustatter, Lukas, Stefan, and Karl had to take an unnecessary step back, pushing against Wolfram, Otto, Hjalmar, and Ditmar. They in turn took a step back, producing grumbles from the third rank as the ranks of the tercio slowly rippled backward.

Captain Trehar strode up, more collected than he’d been a few minutes ago. “Is there a problem in the ranks?”

“These boys”—the sergeant pointed at Ditmar and Hjalmar—”don’t seem to be able to line up straight.”

“They need to be taught a lesson, Sergeant. See to it.”

Sergeant Wylich grinned maliciously. “You four, first rank. Neustatter, step back to second rank. There will be a flogging tonight. If any of you in the first rank survive.”

“Are you going to let them—!” Stefan’s hissed words ended in a gasp as Karl’s elbow found his ribs.

Neustatter simply stared straight ahead.

“You are going to watch,” Wylich promised over his shoulder. Anything else he might have added was but off by a shout.

“What is that?”

“Quiet in the ranks!” Sergeant Wylich bellowed.

But the front ranks had seen the morning sunlight reflecting off a . . . great metal box? It was already outside the Swedish lines.

“It is moving!”

“There is more than one!”

“Twelve in the column,” Neustatter told Sergeant Wylich a few moments later. “With men behind each one. They are all wearing mixed brown and green, and those ranks are steady.”

Sergeant Wylich looked concerned for a moment, but then sneered. “Every one of them is carrying a little matchlock! Our pikes will go right through them! No glory for you boys, though, Neustatter.”

A loud rattattattat erupted from the lead box. A brief pause, and the rattattattat sounded again. The third time, Neustatter actually saw men in one of the tercios at the bottom of the hill fall. A cloud of white smoke blossomed forth from that tercio‘s matchlocks. But the volley seemed to have no effect on the box.

“It is some sort of arquebus!”

“Quiet, Neustatter!”

Captain Trehar looked over his left shoulder. “Nonsense! No arquebus can fire that quickly! Stop spreading panic!”

At the bottom of the Burgstall, pikemen and arquebusiers scattered as the metal box with the arquebuses rolled right over the siege lines without stopping. The steady rattattattat rang out every few seconds, and as the box crossed the siege line, the trenches off to both sides exploded in flames. Neustatter heard mutters of “hellfire” as the flames continued to rage. He’d heard stories about something called Greek fire. One set of flames had fallen short and was guttering out in the dirt out beyond the imperial siege line. Someone had missed, and that meant it was man-made.

They had a bigger problem.

The men behind the first metal box fired a great echoing boom of a volley off to their left. Their target, a unit of arquebusiers, shattered. But other men in the tercio below were falling at the sound of sharp cracks. If the men in green and brown had weapons that made booming noises, the cracking noises meant other arquebusiers were inside the metal boxes. As he watched, pikemen—dozens of them—attempted to charge the box. Neustatter saw whole handfuls go down at once.

“How many arquebuses do they have?” he exclaimed.

Sergeant Wylich whirled and pointed his half-pike at Neustatter. “Silence! I will not tell you again!”

The drums rolled again with the command to march forward. The tercio began to flow downhill.

The second metal box crossed the siege line and angled away from their tercio. Neustatter started to breathe a sigh of relief, but then he saw the third metal box was turning in their direction. It turned sharply, rolling along their side of the siege line. Neustatter studied the troops in those odd green and brown uniforms following along behind it. It looked like about a company, all arquebuses, no pikes.

With a shout, they broke ranks and charged the siege line from behind, the booms of their weapons overlapping like a long roll of thunder. It went on and on, far longer than the hundred or so shots a company should be able to fire. They were firing more than one shot! Neustatter picked out one man and studied him. He saw the man fire, turn slightly, fire again.

The unit holding that part of line disintegrated in seconds. Some were killed or wounded where they stood. Others must have surrendered, as only a fraction of the men who had been there scattered. Some of those were actually fleeing toward the Swedish lines, where they would be captured soon enough.

Hauptmann, those men are not reloading between shots!” Neustatter shouted to Trehar. The captain was one rank forward and two men to the right.

“Silence!” Trehar rasped. “Wylich, if he speaks again, kill him.”

Neustatter realized the second and third metal boxes and their accompanying soldiers had widened the initial breach by a hundred paces in either direction by destroying the units stationed there. Unless their tercio and the others now flowing down the hills could plug that gap, the Swedes would funnel through. Only the metal boxes could move fast enough to carry out this maneuver and still shield the men behind them.

Neustatter heard thundering hooves, glanced right, and saw the cavalry attack sweeping down the Burgstall. That was the Fugger Regiment, and they charged for the first metal box.

Then the third metal box made another sharp turn—directly toward their tercio.

Neustatter stifled the warning he had been about to shout. Trehar and Wylich had made their decision. Instead, Neustatter’s left elbow jabbed Lukas Heidenfelder in the ribs.

Lukas looked at him. Neustatter nodded once, very deliberately.

The tercio and the metal box approached each other directly. At two hundred paces, the box swerved to its own left—the tercio‘s right—and sharp cracks rang out as the arquebusiers firing through slits in the side peppered the tercio.

The lieutenant colonel guided his horse off to the side.

“Steady, men! Break and I will have you hanged!”

“Make ready!”

Neustatter grimaced at the range, but double-checked his matchlock anyway.

“Present!”

Neustatter spun to his right, bringing the heavy matchlock up to his shoulder. The soldiers who were accompanying this metal box were still too far away for a matchlock volley to be effective, so he pointed his weapon at the metal box.

“Give fire!”

The tercios’ matchlocks thundered. Neustatter heard rounds hit the metal box . . . and they did absolutely nothing to it. They weren’t going to stop it.

“Reload!”

Neustatter grabbed one of the apostles—the twelve wooden cylinders that hung from his bandolier, each with a charge of gunpowder inside. He poured a bit in the pan and closed it. As he set the buttplate on the ground and poured the rest of the gunpowder down the barrel, the fearsome rattattattat rang out over on the slopes of the Burgstall on their right. He dropped the ball down the barrel, extracted the ramrod with one fluid motion, flipped it around, and rammed the musket ball home. All the while the rattattattat on the Burgstall continued, and the men in green and brown were closing in.

“Make ready!” the lieutenant colonel screamed.

BOOMBOOMBOOM.

Neustatter saw the lieutenant colonel pitch from his horse, which immediately bolted.

Captain Trehar ordered. “If I see one man run, I will have him executed!”

Five more men fell while he was making that threat.

“Present!”

“Fi—”

“Drop!” Neustatter bellowed.

The men from the village, and many of the other arquebusiers in the front right corner of the tercio, dove to the ground. Neustatter did not. He fired—a .75 caliber musket at a range of four inches— at the back of Captain Trehar’s head.

At Neustatter’s shout, Lukas Heidenfelder threw his matchlock and jumped on Sergeant Wylich’s back, sending them both crashing to the ground.

BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM.

The volley sounded like the roll of thunder.

Here and there men fired matchlocks. But most of the front ranks went down in a hail of gunfire. Then the whole tercio buckled and came apart. Some men were killed or wounded. More fled, some of them dropping their pikes or muskets. The metal box sped off to where the Fugger Regiment was closing in on the first metal box. Sharp cracks rang out as the men inside found targets of opportunity. Some of the men in green and brown followed after the metal box.

Others approached the spot where the tercio had stood.

“Anyone alive over there, raise your hands in the air!” one of them barked.

“Do it!” Neustatter raised his own hands as he gave the order. Lying on the ground with both arms raised at the elbows, he couldn’t see much. Lukas was right in front of him, on top of Sergeant Wylich, who wasn’t moving. Neustatter turned his head to the left. He counted all seven of the other men from the village holding their hands awkwardly in the air.

“Who is in charge here?” the same soldier bellowed. He strode straight to the front right corner and located the captain’s body. “I have a hauptmann here!” he called to the others.

Neustatter watched him do a double-take.

The man gave a sharp whistle, and several other soldiers in green and brown hurried to his side.

“Musket ball to the back of the head,” he stated. “Where’s the sergeant?”

Neustatter saw Lukas’s hand point downward.

“You! Roll off him!” The soldier shouted to his comrades. “Cover me!” Then he rolled Sergeant Wylich over.

Neustatter watched carefully and was impressed. The man’s eyes widened, and he blinked, but his voice was steady. “Carotid, jugular, and the windpipe? Okay, who is in charge?”

“I am now,” Neustatter called out.

“What is your name?”

“Edgar Neustatter.”

“Why did you frag your hauptmann and sergeant?”

“They were arschlöcher who were going to whip my men.” Neustatter pointed a finger in Ditmar and Hjalmar’s general direction. “For no reason other than their own amusement. And they were getting the tercio killed. It was obvious that we could not stop your metal boxes.”

“APCs.” The correction seemed to come automatically.

“Who are you people?” Neustatter asked.

The man laughed. “Sergeant Rudi Keller, New United States Army.” He raised his voice. “Good terms! Enlist in the New United States Army! Good pay! Good food! We will not loot you or touch your people!”

“Truly?” Neustatter asked. “Are you really from the future?”

Nein. Just Grantville and its people are. I joined them a year ago, after they shattered our tercio at Badenburg,” he affirmed. “We broke the Spanish at Eisenach and the Wartburg last month.” He jerked a thumb at the last of the metal boxes as it rumbled past.

Neustatter studied the huge wheels and decided there probably were not horses on the inside. Later, he told himself. More importantly, he could see the loopholes in the sides. Nothing in Wallenstein’s army was going to stop it.

“May we go home to our village?” he asked.

The soldier laughed again. “Ja, if you want to. But we will take you to Grantville first.” He put more volume and an authoritative tone in his voice. “We are going to move you to our lines. Keep your hands in the air. Does anyone have a loaded weapon?”

Ja,” Lukas answered. “Somewhere.”

“I got it,” Ditmar said calmly. It was lying on the ground within easy reach, not pointing at Sergeant Keller exactly, but not far off, either.

Keller took a couple prudent steps to one side. Neustatter watched him reason it out.

“Very convenient weapon drop.” Keller’s comment was as dry as dust. “I assume the blond one here is your best shot?”

“Of course,” Neustatter answered.

Keller nodded slowly. “All right. Everyone, slowly stand up. If you reach for a weapon, we will shoot you dead.”

“Stand,” Neustatter ordered. The men in his corner of the tercio struggled awkwardly to their feet.

“Over here!” Keller backed away a few steps, beckoning with one hand while keeping a firm grip on his weapon with the other.

Neustatter took a couple steps, then stopped. He gestured at Sergeant Wylich’s corpse.

“Do you mind?”

“What? Do you mean to loot him?”

Neustatter kicked the corpse in the back of the head. “Nein.

No one from the tercio gave Sergeant Keller any trouble. They had all seen that this New United States Army—whatever that meant—could fire its weapons without reloading.

“Medics!” Keller ordered. “Go!”

Two-man teams raced forward. Each wore what appeared to be a heavy pack, and they carried a stretcher between them. They sorted through the fallen quickly.

“Neustatter.” Wolfram tipped his head toward where the medics were working. “They have done this before.”

The two of them watched as one stretcher-bearer felt for a man’s pulse and angled his head down near the fallen man’s face. Then he slid the man’s hat over his face and moved on to the next.

The medic slid off his pack, quickly opened it—Neustatter could not describe how he did that—and pulled out a handful of bandages.

“I need hands!” he shouted.

“You.” Keller pointed at an arquebusier. “Go help. Do what he says.” When the man hesitated, Keller roared, “Go!”

The man sped over to the medic.

“Hold this bandage here. Keep pressure on the wound.”

Wolfram looked over at Sergeant Keller. “How many wounded survive?”

“According to the up-timers, not enough. But a lot more than I expected.”

“I can help.”

“Go.”

“What are up-timers?” Hjalmar asked.

“That is what we call the people who came from the future with Grantville.”

Neustatter looked around. He could tell see a line across the Burgstall. Above it, dead horses and cavalrymen covered the ground. Below it, there were none at all. Wallenstein’s counterattack had been shattered halfway down the hill. The first metal box was atop the Burgstall now. Down below, a solid wave of advancing Swedes extended as far as he could see in either direction. There was a green banner in the forefront. He was just as happy the Swedish Green Brigade was way over there. It was in the thick of the fight and looked to be breaking through.

The battle was far from over, but Neustatter could already see how it would end. The siege lines would crumble as the New United States soldiers and their metal boxes rolled the breach wider in both directions. The Swedes would engage every unit still on the siege line, pinning them in place. The metal boxes would spread destruction wherever they chose to go. There would be no chance for Wallenstein’s army to rally.

It was time to go back home to the village.

Chapter 2: Going Home
March, 1633

The eight men from the village gathered in an empty space in downtown Grantville, on the far corner of the intersection of Route 250 and Mead Avenue from the polizei station. The parking lot was paved but empty, gray with weathering but still in good shape without much cracking. The day was cool and blustery day, but neither snow nor rain was imminent. Dan Frost came out to see them off.

“You’re sure?” Frost asked, one more time.

Ja,” Ditmar Schaub told him. “Spring is coming, and the eight of us can travel quickly before the ground turns to mud. Neustatter sent Hjalmar and me to the school to find a route. It is about three hundred up-time miles.” He frowned. “We have read about miles, but we do not understand them. At least, I do not.”

“Nor do I,” his cousin Hjalmar agreed.

“I am not used to miles, either,” Neustatter said, “but one mile is about a thousand steps with the same foot. That I can understand. We can do this in a month. Maybe three weeks if the weather is good.

Danke dir for arranging a ride to Jena.” Neustatter shook Frost’s hand. “That saves two days right at the beginning. Und for the matchlocks.”

“We don’t really need those matchlocks. Just remember you don’t have much powder.”

“Perhaps someday we will return these and buy Colts.” Neustatter sounded a bit wistful.

“Safe travels,” Chief Frost told them.

The eight men from the village piled onto the back of one of the highway trucks, currently pressed into service with the NUS Army. One soldier wearing green, gray, and black camouflage was driving, and another was riding up front with him. Two more were in the back with the men from the village. Neustatter and the others found a place to ground their matchlocks, barrels pointing toward the back gate of the truck, and found places to sit amidst the cargo. They were finally going home.

✽✽✽

Most of the route was straightforward: follow the Saale River until it flowed into the Elbe River, then follow the Elbe almost to Hamburg. They made excellent time until a late snowstorm cost them four days north of Halle.

Once they resume their walk north, picking their way around the muddiest spots, Lukas grumbled about it. “We could have left sooner.”

Neustatter frowned. He’d explained this before. “We traded our labor for food. That village needed to be dug out, and another day of melt helps us, too.”

“But we have the coin to buy food and lodging,” Lukas protested.

“No one needs to know that,” Neustatter warned. “We want to have as much left as possible when we get home. Who knows what seed costs by now?”

Magdeburg

Late March, 1633

They reached Magdeburg toward the end of the month. It was a beehive of activity, from what was going to be a coal gas plant south of the Altstadt to the Navy Yard north of the Neustadt to all the new construction springing up to the west. The sheer number of brand-new and under-construction houses and apartment buildings suggested that Magdeburg was going to dwarf Grantville in size. It certainly didn’t have encircling mountains constraining its size.

“Halt!” A small group of men wearing up-time-style camouflage uniforms stopped them near the Navy Yard. “Identify yourselves.”

Ich heisse Edgar Neustatter.” Neustatter rattled off his men’s names.

“Why are you armed?”

“We are going home from the war,” Neustatter said. “It is three hundred miles, and this is halfway. Chief Frost thought we should be armed in case we met bandits.”

“You know Dan Frost?” That speaker was an inch taller than Neustatter, a nearly sure sign of an up-timer. Referring to Herr Chief Frost by his first name clinched it.

Ja.”

“They talk like they’ve been in Grantville,” one of the other men murmured to his fellows.

“Who are you?” Neustatter asked. By now, he was very familiar with the New United States Army. These men were subtly different in both manner and dress.

“USE Marines!”

“Marines . . . Sands of Iwo Jima?” Neustatter asked.

The Marines broke up laughing. “Ja. How do you know that?”

Stefan Kirchenbauer rolled his eyes. “John Wayne. Neustatter is a fan.”

The Marines laughed again. “If you men are looking for work along the way, be outside the Altstadt gate early in the morning. Day laborers can hire onto a building crew.” One gave them a couple names to look for and a couple more to avoid.

Neustatter thanked them. He and his men made their way across Magdeburg.

“This is the largest city I have ever seen,” Hjalmar Schaub declared. “We could hire on for a day.”

“We could,” Wolfram said, “but I would really like to get home to my wife.”

“Me, too,” Stefan agreed.

“I would like to see Annamaria as soon as possible,” Otto said.

“We should go to the hiring place in the morning,” Karl suggested. “We know what a man on a building crew gets paid in Grantville. It will likely be less here, but maybe still enough to be worth working a day or two.”

Ditmar looked down yet another street of half-finished buildings. “Not a bad suggestion.”

“If it is good money . . .” Lukas trailed off.

“I suppose,” Stefan agreed. “The more money we arrive home with, the better.”

“If it is good pay.” Wolfram was still reluctant.

“We will ask in the morning,” Neustatter said. “If the pay is good enough to stay a day, we can. If it is not, we can leave right away.”

When they found out the next day what day laborers were paid, Wolfram and Stefan changed their minds. Wages in Magdeburg weren’t as high as they were in Grantville, but they were significantly better than anywhere else along the way. The men from the village ended up working the rest of the week, earning enough to replace what they’d spent since leaving Grantville.

Tuesday, April 12, 1633

They reached Hamburg in early April. That was the end of the easy navigation. Twice they lost half a day backtracking to a more direct road, but after a few days, they were well into Holstein-Gottorp. They were moving slower, now, too. It simply took longer to avoid the muddy patches. Plus, it seemed like every village wanted to hear about Grantville and the up-timers.

“Another village,” Stefan noted. “If we stop and tell stories, we will not have enough light to go any further today.”

“That is true,” Neustatter acknowledged. “But I think we should stop. Order beers. It has been a long day. If the tavernkeeper wants to talk, let me take the lead. We may be close enough that he has heard news of the village. At least he may know who Herr Augustus is.”

“If I do not have to do the talking, that is fine with me,” Stefan agreed.

The tavern had a blue cow painted above the door. It was empty except for the tavernkeeper himself and a serving girl.

Guten Abend.” He gave a sharp nod at Neustatter’s weapon. “Why are you coming in here with guns?”

“We are on our way home from the war.” Neustatter leaned his matchlock against the wall in corner of the room and motioned for the others to do likewise. “Are we near Herr Augustus’s village? Have you any news from there?”

“Augustus . . . Augustus . . . I have heard the name. Somewhere north, maybe east of here. I know little enough about the adel. What news have you heard?”

“Gustav II Adolf and his new allies defeated Wallenstein outside Nürnberg last September.”

“We heard that, but with so many fanciful rumors we did not know how much we could believe.”

Neustatter sat down at the corner table. “This may take a while. How about those beers?”

Once the tavernkeeper and the serving girl had set nine beers on the table, he sat down himself. Leaning forward, he asked, “What really happened? Everything we have heard says that Wallenstein outnumbered Gustav Adolf.”

“Three to one,” Neustatter said. “Maybe closer to four to one. We heard the number one hundred thousand troops.”

“How does anyone lose with that many men?”

“Grantville.”

A few men had drifted in, their day’s work done.

“I think everyone should hear this,” the innkeeper said. “Klaus, Martin, find the amtmann and the pastor and whomever else wants to hear.” He turned back to Neustatter. “Now you were saying that Gustav Adolf leads this new Confederated Principalities of Europe? What lands does it include?”

“Thuringia, Franconia, the Oberpfalz, Hesse, Magdeburg, Saxony, and Brandenburg,” Neustatter answered. “Maybe more.”

“I do not know where some of those are.”

Lukas laughed. “Neither do we—and we marched through some of them.”

“The people in Grantville have lots of maps,” Ditmar put in. “The Confederated Principalities of Europe is the center of what was the Holy Roman Empire.”

“I cannot imagine the emperor will stand for that.”

Neustatter shrugged. “Tilly is dead. Wallenstein is defeated. We heard he was wounded. Who else is the emperor going to send?”

“How will that affect us here?” the tavernkeeper asked.

Neustatter shrugged. “Gustav Adolf and Michael Stearns are hardly in the habit of telling me their plans.”

The tavernkeeper gave a great, booming laugh. “Well, we will just have to wait and see.”

He looked around the tavern. Several more men had entered. The tavernkeeper turned back to Neustatter. “If you sit two men at each table and tell your story, I will give you a good deal on dinner and clean cots.”

Neustatter glanced at the others. Stefan rolled his eyes.

Und another beer in the bargain,” Lukas suggested.

“Done!”

Danke,” Neustatter said. “Ditmar and Lukas. Stefan and Wolfram. Hjalmar and Karl. Otto and I.”

Within a few minutes, the tables were filling up, and Neustatter repeated almost everything he’d told the innkeeper. Lukas had considerably more than one more beer. But eventually the villagers went home. In the morning, the eight of them were back on the road. They continued walking from village to village.

Finally, on the evening of April 1 (locally; according to the Gregorian calendar the up-timers used, it was April 12), Neustatter gathered the other men in the sleeping room of their latest inn. It really wasn’t much more than an eating room and a sleeping room added on to one of the houses. The houses in this village were clustered around where two roads met. They were tall and narrow, made of timber and brick. Some had thatched roofs, but the inn had shingles.

“Why are we in here, Neustatter?” Lukas sounded cross. “The beer is out there in the common room.”

Neustatter’s eyes swept the sleeping room. A dozen narrow sleeping pallets jutted out from opposite walls. Its sole virtue was relative cleanliness. While a brick fireplace dominated the far wall, the room was far from warm.

“We are the only ones in here. From what the innkeeper says, it sounds like we are a day and a half, maybe two days, from the village.”

Lukas shook his head. “I recognize that third village he named. There is a shorter way home from there.”

Neustatter looked at him. “Are you sure?”

Ja. It will be a long march. Maybe twenty of those miles things, maybe a couple more. Und it is not a good road. But if we do not stop, we can be home tomorrow night.”

Neustatter looked around. All of them were nodding.

“All right. We will set out as early as possible.”

Lukas sighed. “We are not going back to the common room, are we?”

Wednesday, April 13, 1633

Hjalmar and Ditmar woke the others at dawn. The men had been keeping a night watch on the march. They’d had no incidents along the way, but they were not going to abandon discipline just because they were not in an army anymore. The room was chilly, and the men lost no time pulling on their clothes. They each had a set of clothes, meant for winter work, from their time in Grantville. All of them reached for those and their buff coats.

Lukas’s information was good. The road and the weather were not. It was muddy in places, and the day was just warm enough that the mud hadn’t frozen. Not even their buff coats fully blocked the stiff wind, and the sky was overcast. But by mid-afternoon, Lukas got them to a village that Stefan, Karl, and Neustatter all remembered well. People from this village and their own occasionally intermarried, and they’d all been to at least one wedding here.

Once they left that village, the eight of them walked along in a loose group. The road here was not much more than a dirt track.

“I have been thinking,” Neustatter announced.

“Äh-oh. That means he has an idea,” Lukas said.

“Oh, we know,” Karl Becker replied. “What is it, Neustatter?”

“I think we ought to arrive home in formation.”

“One of the fancy up-time ones?” Ditmar asked.

Nein. No one in the village would recognize it. Column of twos.”

Up ahead, Wolfram spoke over his shoulder. “Just as long as you understand I am breaking formation as soon as I see my wife.”

Neustatter laughed. “I expect no less.”

Hjalmar caught up to Neustatter. “That will leave you, Karl, and Lukas. Ditmar and I will go find Astrid. Otto will find Annamaria.”

“I ought to find Master Wilhelm,” Karl spoke up. “I am supposed to be his apprentice.”

“You might be on your own, Neustatter,” Lukas told him.

Neustatter shook his head. “I need to tell the families of the others. And find out who else survived.”

“We will all do that,” Ditmar stated.

Late in the afternoon, Hjalmar declared, “I know this road! Ditmar, do you remember this dip in the road?”

Ditmar laughed. “This is where you fell off the wagon.”

“Only because you ran it off the road!”

Neustatter smirked. “Not far now.”

The sun was setting when they reached their village’s boundary stone.

“Fall in!” Neustatter ordered. “Port arms!”

The men formed into four ranks of two, holding their matchlocks diagonally in front of them, right hand on the small of the stock and left hand partway up the barrel.

The road passed through what they remembered as the forest. Birch, beech, and ash trees stretched from north of the village around to the southwest. Branches extended overhead, blending into the darkening sky. The forest wasn’t very wide. They passed through in no more than two hundred paces.

“This is not really a forest,” Ditmar said. “I thought it was, before we went off to war. But after seeing the Thüringerwald . . . This is just enough of a belt of trees to provide wood and shelter the village from the wind.”

“That it is,” Neustatter agreed. “And I see a lamp in the village.”

The village had been of significant size, about sixty houses, until sickness swept through ten years ago. About one in ten villagers had died.

Eight or nine houses lined each side of the road from just past the forest to the center of the village. About a dozen houses surrounded the central pasture there, with another eight or nine along each side of the road beyond. Another road led north to the schloss, with a handful of houses along it.

“People will be going to bed,” Stefan pointed out. “We should make some noise.”

Neustatter immediately started calling cadence, something they had never used in Wallenstein’s army but learned from the NUS soldiers easily enough.

“Hallo the village!”

✽✽✽

Astrid Schäubin was twenty-one years old, in service to Herr Augustus and Frau Sophia—helping the cook, helping the laundress, occasionally stitching, and assisting with whatever Frau Sophia needed. But mostly the tall, blonde young woman cleaned. Anke the cook, Helga the laundress, Gessel the other maid, and Astrid had just finished cleaning up after the evening meal.

“That is everything, girls,” Anke told them. “Herr Augustus and Frau Sophia have retired for the evening. Melchior and Magdalena will see to anything else they need.”

The girls filed out the door. Astrid made sure to bring up the rear and gently pulled the door closed until she heard the faint click of the latch. The night was brisk, but at least it was no longer the bone-chilling cold of winter.

The main road emerged from the forest to the west of their village and continued on more or less east. Houses lined both sides of the road except a stretch right in the middle where the village pasture on the north side came all the way up to the road itself.

The road to Herr Augustus’s schloss arced away to the north in an approximate semi-circle before rejoining the main road on the other side of the village. The schloss was not centered due north of the center of the village but on a small rise to the northwest. A few houses lined each side of the schloss road near the main road, but none stood near the schloss itself.

The four young women lived in the second house on western end of the schloss road, on the inside of the arc it made. Some houses stood empty after the sickness that passed through the village nine years ago. Others had lost their menfolk six years ago when Herr Augustus took the militia off to war. In some cases, widows had remarried, and they and their children had left the village. In a couple instances, new husbands had moved in.

The house where the four women lived had stood empty then, but Herr Augustus and Frau Sophia and Pastor Claussen had agreed that the orphans needed somewhere to live. While they worked at the schloss, there was not room for them there. The house was a bit rundown. They kept it neat and clean but major repairs tended to linger until warmer weather

They had just gotten inside when they heard shouting.

“What is that?” Gessel demanded crossly. She was normally very good-humored, but it had been a long, trying day. Frau Sophia had been more demanding than usual lately, and all four of them were exhausted and on edge.

“It sounds like the village boys shouting,” Anke said.

Nein,” Helga disagreed. “Those are men’s voices. Singing, almost.”

The four went back outside to see who was making all that noise. Others were coming out of their houses: the whole Badenhoop family—mother, father, and (currently) six children, the Ramckes (who had evidently told their children to remain inside), and Katrine Helmichsen next door.

“There!” Astrid pointed at figures emerging from the forest. They were not hard to spot. She did not know the song they were singing. All she could understand was something about leaving a girl behind.

“They have guns!” Gessel shrieked. She ran back inside.

Astrid was ready to run herself—but not inside where she would trap herself. But before she could move, one of the men shouted an order.

Ka-deeeeeer . . . halt! Kader, fallen aus!

The men immediately stopped at the first command and hurried off in individual directions at the second. Astrid heard them calling out names as they broke away from the group.

“Anna! Anna!”

“Ursula!”

“Annamaria!”

Then she heard her own name. “Astrid! Astrid Schäubin!”

She knew that voice! “Hjalmar?” She started forward, but Helga grabbed her arm.

“Those are soldiers! They will—”

“Over here!” Astrid shouted back.

“Astrid!” A face she thought she’d never see again appeared out of the darkness.

“Hjalmar! You’re alive!” Astrid exclaimed.

Her brother ran up and swept her into a huge hug. Their cousin Ditmar was right behind him.

“Mmmpppfff. You are crushing me.”

“Sorry,” Hjalmar said. “Some days I did not think I would ever see you again.” He stepped back. “You look well.”

“I am. Where have you been?” She looked at them both. They were still thin and blond but much taller than she remembered. They were bigger and tougher, too. Six years older, of course. And they looked grimmer, not the carefree teens she remembered.

“It is a long story. But we are finally back from the war.”

“We—we thought you were dead with the others.” Astrid tried not to cry and continued to clutch Hjalmar’s arm.

“Neustatter formed a rear guard and tried to hold off the Imperials,” Ditmar told her. “Fifteen of us were captured. Eight of us survived the war.”

“Ditmar! Almost thirty men did not come back to the village!”

“Thirty?” Hjalmar demanded. He and Ditmar exchanged glances. “We can account for eighteen . . .”

Astrid jumped when someone started wailing. Then she spotted figures outside one of the houses along the main road.

“That is the Tersmedens!”

“Jan died the second year,” her brother told her quietly. “Sickness.”

“Neustatter is telling the families,” Ditmar said. “I should help.”

“I should, too,” Hjalmar said. “Astrid?”

“I will go with you.” She wasn’t about to let go of him.

Astrid had been fifteen years old when the men went off to war. Herr Augustus called for a levy, and seventy men went off to war with Mansfeld’s army. That was a quarter of the entire village. Late that spring, only forty came home.

Edgar Neustatter was attempting to comfort the Tersmedens. Astrid remembered him. He was several years older than she. He had been a leader among the younger men, the one who would organize them to get work done in the fields. Even some of the older men listened when he spoke.

He went on, three houses away on the south side of the main road. He and Ditmar and Hjalmar told the Sipkes that Young Hans had died in the battle at Dessau Bridge. They had assumed that, but now they knew.

Next, the Helmichsens, further on, across from the pasture. Their son Friedrich had died in the battle, too. Old Joachim Helmichsen came outside and nodded solemnly at Neustatter’s words. Astrid was close enough to hear what he said.

“Some of the men who came back right away told us they saw him fall.”

“He was a brave man,” Neustatter told him.

“What happened to you men?” Old Joachim asked.

“We were captured and taken into Wallenstein’s army,” Neustatter answered. “In September, there was a battle outside Nürnberg. Wallenstein lost. We got captured again and were able to come home.”

Old Joachim’s eyes lit up. “Wallenstein lost? We heard rumors. Who finally beat him?”

“Gustav Adolf of Sweden and his up-time allies.” Seeing Old Joachim’s confusion, Neustatter clarified. “The town from the future.”

“Surely that is only a story!” the white-haired man exclaimed.

“No, it is real. We just came from there.”

Astrid was shocked. “Hjalmar!”

“We will tell everyone about it,” Neustatter promised. “But we must tell the men’s families first.”

“Of course,” Old Joachim agreed. “I will gather the village.”

Chapter 3: Security Consultants
Wednesday, May 11, 1633

For the next two days, the men worked as day laborers, one here or there, occasionally two together. Most of them were assigned to spring maintenance jobs, providing a strong back and arms to lift as spring repairs and maintenance was conducted on all manner of equipment. The decided less-glamorous job was moving rocks out of fields and helping repair fences.

Ursula, Anna, and Astrid cooked the meals and cleaned the room and the restrooms in the refugee housing. They ventured out in Spring Branch and found a market where they bought food for the day. It was open-air, in a cleared area in the middle of Spring Branch, where a row of townhouses built sometime in the last two years blocked the direction of the prevailing wind. They haggled over bread, meat, and root vegetables. Astrid felt it was similar to working for Frau Sophia in the schloss in some ways—but this was for themselves.

Johann came home from school each day and told the adults about his new friends. He liked Grantville school much better than the village school. He was in what the Americans called first grade. The plan was for him to catch up on certain things over the summer and then start second grade in the fall.

On Wednesday afternoon, there was a knock on the door. Astrid rose from her seat at the table in the center of the room and opened the door. A man in one of the mottled green-brown-black uniforms stepped inside. He carried an envelope.

“I am looking for Edgar Neustatter. Chief Frost said I could find him here.”

“The men took day jobs today,” she told him, “but I can give him a message when they return.”

The soldier looked doubtful. “I am supposed to give this to him. It is the contract for the escort to Erfurt tomorrow.”

“I will give it to him.”

“What are you, his secretary?”

Astrid wondered what that meant. But she repeated, “I will give it to him when he returns from work.”

“How do I know you will?”

“Neustatter leads eight men from our village, including my brother and my cousin.” She pointed out the door at the pot over the fire. “We are already preparing dinner for them.”

He frowned. “All right. Make sure you give it to Herr Neustatter. They’d better be there bright and early in the morning. The truck leaves at eight o’clock sharp.”

Astrid did not let the envelope out of her sight. When the men returned, she handed it to Neustatter.

“A soldier brought this, for Herr Neustatter.”

Neustatter grinned. “Thank you, Fräulein Schäubin.”

She rolled her eyes at his form of address. “Neustatter, what is a secretary?”

“Hm. I do not know.”

Thursday, May 12, 1633

The men left after breakfast. They were the escort for a shipment of goods to Erfurt. Presumably the shipment was military supplies, but nobody said what was in the crates. It would be carried in two pickup trucks, and Neustatter planned to put one man at each corner in the back of the trucks. They intended to reach Erfurt in a single day! And then come back tomorrow.

By mid-afternoon, the women had cleaned everything that could be cleaned. Astrid had nothing to do, so she set out to her class early, intending to ask at the school and find out what a secretary was. Besides, every time she walked through Grantville slowly enough to look around, she noticed some new marvel.

She decided to start at the administrative center. The walls were painted a gleaming white, brown carpet covered the floor, and a wooden counter stood halfway across the room. The arrangement left a lot of open room on the visitors’ side of the counter. Astrid could see why; she waited patiently while several people asked the two women behind the counter various questions. Then one of the women looked at her.

“May I help you, Miss?”

“I hope so. I need to learn what a secretary is.”

The woman laughed. She indicated herself and the other woman behind the counter. “You are in luck. We are secretaries,” she told Astrid in German.

Astrid smiled. “Oh, gut. What do you do?”

“First, who sent you here with that question?”

Astrid related the circumstances.

“We manage all the details. Make sure Herr Saluzzo’s meetings get scheduled, the announcements get made, all the paperwork gets to and from each teacher . . . It sounds like the men in your group might need someone to keep track of their work. When on what day they need to be somewhere, how many, anything they need to bring. Someone has to handle the money.”

Danke.”

“How long have you been in Grantville?”

“The men were here during the winter. They came home and got us. We just arrived last Friday.” Astrid wasn’t about to explain that they had fled from Herr Augustus.

“Where are you staying?”

“In the refugee housing in Spring Branch. By the power plant.”

The woman behind the counter—the secretary—nodded. “Has someone from the Ecumenical Relief Committee talked to you?”

Astrid was cautious. “I do not know what that means. But I think those are the people who gave us a room and told us the rules for the refugee housing.”

“Oh, good. They have an office there at the housing, you know. If you need anything or just need to find something in Grantville, just ask.”

Astrid’s face lit up. “Danke. Ursula does not like the market where we bought food.”

“Where was that?”

Astrid described the small outdoor market in Spring Branch.

“You should go to one of the grocery stores in Grantville,” the secretary told her.

“What is that?”

The woman explained briefly.

Danke! Oh, I must go to class.”

“What is your name?”

“Astrid Schäubin.”

“I am Rosina Herbig.” She indicated the other woman at the counter. “That’s Jenny Lynch.”

Friday, May 13, 1633

In the morning, the women and Johann ate breakfast. Once Ursula had put him aboard one of the buses, she returned to their quarters.

“We need to buy food,” she announced.

“I spoke to a secretary at the high school,” Astrid said. “She said that the people who gave us these quarters would be willing to show us where to buy food in Grantville—at indoor shops. We do not need to buy in the outdoor market here in Spring Branch.”

Ursula looked skeptical.

“All we have to do is go ask Gisele or one of the other nice women to show us a few places in Grantville.”

“Why not?” Anna stood up from the table. “I would like to see some more of Grantville.”

Ursula muttered something about no good coming of this, but joined Astrid and Anna in bundling up the group’s valuables in their packs and then walking over to the office.

That building was wooden with the same rough look as the refugee housing. Astrid swung the door open, and the three of them stepped into a reception area. A middle-aged woman was seated at a desk. Beyond her, several older women were seated around a table in an open area in the back.

Guten Morgen. What can I help you with?”

“Is this the . . .” Astrid trailed off, not remembering the words.

“The Grantville Ecumenical Relief Committee? Ja.”

Astrid smiled her thanks. “One of the secretaries at the high school told me that you could show newcomers where things are in Grantville.”

“Of course. What do you need?”

“We would like to find a place to buy food in Grantville.”

The woman suddenly looked concerned. “Are you out of food?”

Ja. We would like to buy more. The secretary said there are . . . not markets, but stores that sell food in Grantville.”

“Do you mean a tavern or an inn where you would pay for a meal?”

Nein. What she described sounded like a market, but inside a building.”

“Oh! A grocery store?”

Ja, I think that is what she said.”

“If you don’t mind the walk, I can take you to one.” The woman smiled. “Ich heisse ist Mathilde.”

Astrid, Ursula, and Anna introduced themselves. Mathilde waved to those at the table, and one of the younger women took her place at the desk.

The four of them began walking toward Grantville. Mathilde chatted away, telling them about who was who and what was where in Grantville. Astrid hoped she could remember at least some of it.

“This is Garrett’s Super Market,” Mathilde finally said. “There’s Stevenson’s and Johnson’s, too. I just picked the closest one. You can check out the other two on your next trips.”

Astrid noticed that Ursula looked skeptical. She stifled a smile. Ursula was quite confident that her very definite standards were correct. Astrid suspected she meant to see how the up-time grocery store measured up before buying anything.

Mathilde held the door open for them. Ursula stepped inside first and stopped just inside the door.

“What is it?” Anna asked.

After a moment, Ursula moved aside, and Astrid could see what had made her stop dead. The store was full of food. Rows and rows of shelves filled the building, taller than any of them were. There was food on all of them.

Between them and the shelves was a row of strange devices. They looked like counters, but as Astrid watched, a woman placed food on the counter, and it moved. The food slid down the counter of its own accord.

“What is that?” Ursula demanded.

“It is a conveyor belt,” Mathilde explained. “The cashier controls it.”

“Oh.”

The clerk behind the counter placed the food in bags that the woman had brought with her. The woman paid and went out the door.

The cashier looked their way and motioned them away from the door. A man hurried in behind them and went straight for the third row of shelves. No one was waiting at the counter, so the clerk approached them.

“You look new here.”

They nodded. “They arrived a few days ago,” Mathilde said.

“Welcome to Grantville. I’m Marilyn Hooper.”

Ursula, Astrid, and Anna introduced themselves.

“I know it’s not much to look at,” Marilyn apologized. “Before the Ring of Fire happened, nearly everything was in packages of plastic or cardboard or metal cans. Nice neat rows. Lots of choices.” Her smile looked a little dreamy. “Back up-time, our country did grocery stores really, really well. We’ve had to make adjustments.”

“I have never seen so much food in one place!” Anna exclaimed.

Marilyn smiled. “We try. Mathilde knows where everything is, almost as well as we do. If you can’t find something, just ask.”

Mathilde walked over to a long row of thin metal rods and pulled a section away from the rest. Astrid realized it was a cart with four small wheels. The front two rotated to face any direction. The rest of it was just the thin metal rods, bent and somehow fastened into the shape of a cart, with a handle and some other complication on one end. Mathilde pushed it with ease.

“Let’s start down there.” She pointed to one end of the store. “Do you have a list?”

“What?”

“A shopping list. We write down what we need, usually in the same order that the store is laid out. Some people plan what they will make for each meal and buy those ingredients. Others just know what they want to have on hand and make meals out of those.”

Seeing that neither Ursula nor Anna were answering, Astrid said, “We thought we would simply eat what was available. We did not expect all these choices. We come from a small village, and we grew or raised almost everything we ate.”

Marilyn nodded. “Like I said, up-time there were a lot more choices. But Grantville’s doing okay.” She shuddered just a bit. “Better than our first winter here.”

“Was there not enough food?” Ursula managed to ask.

“Just barely enough. But the same things day after day after day.”

The three women from the village exchanged glances. Ursula asked the question. “Do you not eat the same foods each day? Prepared differently, of course.”

“Like fish on Friday and taco Tuesday?” Marilyn smiled. “In my family it was meatloaf on Mondays. Matt likes to have burgers at least once a week, but I try to switch the rest up.”

It sounded to Astrid like Grantville clerks were eating like Herr Augustus and Frau Sophia did.

Mathilde thanked Marilyn and led them off to one side of the store. “Vegetables are over here. There are not a lot right now but later in the summer and autumn, this whole area will be full. One reason that people try to move out of the refugee housing as soon as they can is so they can plant their own gardens.”

All three women nodded. That simply made sense. Why buy something you could grow?

Ursula stuck to vegetables they knew. There were a couple others that none of them had seen before.

“What are those?” Anna asked.

“Oh. Carrots.”

Anna blinked. “Carrots are not orange.”

Ja, up-time.”

Anna and Astrid exchanged glances. Cars and conveyor belts were one thing. But orange carrots?

“Are their other foods different colors, too?” Anna asked carefully.

Mathilde thought about that. “Some of their cabbages are strange. Still green, but bred . . . strangely.”

She turned the cart into the next row, and Astrid saw it was full of bread. And rolls. And so on.

“You may hear an up-time expression,” Mathilde told them. ” ‘The greatest thing since sliced bread.’ Up-time, the bread they bought was already sliced.”

That seemed strange to Astrid. Why would anyone take the time to do that?

Each shelf had a label: white bread, rye bread, pumpernickel.

Rugbrød!” Astrid exclaimed.

Ursula, Anna, and Mathilde looked at her.

“My mother used to make this.” Astrid said the words quietly. Her parents and Ditmar’s had died of sickness three years before the men had gone off to war.

“I remember this,” Ursula said. “Your mother was a good baker.”

Ursula added a loaf of rugbrød to the cart. Astrid smiled. That was probably the highest compliment someone could get from Ursula.

Mathilde was smiling, too. “Here you are, new to Grantville, and you already know something I do not. What is this bread?”

“It is Danish bread,” Astrid explained. “It is sourdough made with rye. Sometimes with some wheat.”

Ursula added some more familiar rye bread to the cart as well.

The next row held other baked goods: rolls, something that Astrid had never heard of called strudel that sounded German, various kuchens and torten, and dampfnudeln.

“I could make these,” Ursula said, “if we had a place to do it.”

“There is a community oven at the housing,” Mathilde told them.

“Oh! That changes everything,” Ursula declared. She quickly returned the rye bread to its place on the shelf and began looking for individual ingredients.

Astrid started running through the list of ingredients they’d used when Frau Sophia wanted fresh bread. She quickly decided that Mathilde’s idea of a list for shopping was a good one. They were soon able to find everything and moved on to the meat counter.

It was more than just one counter. One row of shelves along the wall was enclosed behind glass doors.

“These are refrigerated,” Mathilde explained. “So the meat will not spoil.”

Ursula had definite ideas about what kinds of meat she wanted. Astrid let her pick. Whatever Ursula made would be good, and Astrid had a lot less experience cooking meat.

Once they had everything, Astrid wheeled the cart to Marilyn’s moving counter. The food cost most of the money they had.

Marilyn handed Ursula some change. “Have a safe Friday the thirteenth.”

Astrid looked at her curiously. “What is that? A holiday?”

Marilyn laughed. “No. Some up-timers are superstitious and think that when Friday falls on the thirteenth of the month, that day brings bad luck.”

That did not make any sense to Astrid. But she knew that different villages had their own customs. Why not Grantville, too? She had no desire to insult them by mistake, so she said nothing about that. She did have to ask about the other thing, though . . .

“What is an up-timer?”

“Anybody who came through the Ring of Fire from the year 2000,” Marilyn answered. “All of you who were already living here are down-timers.”

Ja, we are down-timers,” Mathilde confirmed.

On the walk back to the refugee housing with full backpacks, Astrid found herself walking beside Anna. “I did not realize we were calling ourselves that,” she said.

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