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Part One

June 1635

The fever of the world

Chapter 1

Magdeburg, central Germany
Capital of the United States of Europe

After they’d completed the grand tour—Michael’s phrase; and a disturbingly appropriate one—of their new home, and had returned to the entrance foyer, Rebecca looked around. Her gaze was simultaneously uncertain, dubious, apprehensive, wary, skittish...

She tried to avoid the term “covetous.” Not...​entirely successfully. Compared to the modest working-class house owned by the Stearns family in Grantville, much less the cramped apartments Rebecca and Michael had been occupying since they moved to Magdeburg, this house was both immense and luxurious. In truth, it was more in the way of a mansion than a house, if not a manor as such. The building was immediately adjacent to its neighbors and had almost no yard; what the up-timers called a townhouse. But by the inner city standards of Magdeburg it was as close to a mansion as you could get, short of an outright palace. 

The very foyer she was standing in exemplified her mixed feelings. The “foyer” in Mike’s house in Grantville had been a simple entry vestibule, just large enough to provide the house with a heat trap in winter and space to hang some coats. The foyer in this house bore a closer resemblance to the hall of an auditorium. You could hold a fairly large party in this space. 

Andrew Short came into the foyer from a side door that led to the rooms in the back of the house. “Splendid field of fire,” he announced, giving the area a sweeping gaze that had none of Rebecca’s doubts and anxieties. He was actually rubbing his hands! 

“There’s no way in except through that door”—he jabbed a forefinger at the main entrance—“and the service entrance in the rear. And anyone who tries to come through here, we’ll slaughter the bastards. Assuming they get in at all.”

Rebecca studied the entrance in question. For all its ornate decorations, the “door” looked like it belonged in a castle. It was a double door, huge, made of solid oak further braced with iron, and seemed to have enough in the way of locks and latches to sink a rowboat—not to mention the heavy crossbar resting nearby that could be added in a pinch. The “service entrance” in the back was similar in design and construction, if smaller and completely utilitarian. 

There were no other entrances on the ground floor of the mansion. Rebecca had been struck by that: not so much as a single window. Not even a barred one, or an old-style arrow slit. Anyone attempting to assault the house would either have to smash down the heavy doors, blow a hole in the thick stonework of the walls, or scale the second floor using ladders. And those windows were barred. True, the bars were tastefully designed. They were also thick and too closely spaced for a human body to pass through.

For all practical purposes, their new home was an urban fortress. That was hardly surprising, since it had been planned and built with that purpose in mind. Michael Stearns had known for more than a year that he’d eventually be leaving Magdeburg for long stretches of time, and he was bound and determined to keep his wife and children as well protected as possible in his absence. By now, more than four years after the Ring of Fire, he had lots of enemies. Many of them were bitter and some of them were prone to violence.

Rebecca had plenty of enemies herself, for that matter. If she wasn’t as prominent as her husband in the political affairs of the new United States of Europe, she wasn’t that far behind him, either—and had the added distinction of being a Jewess.

Andrew spoke again, now jabbing his finger at the ceiling. “And look there! Murder holes! Ha! They’ll be surprised to run into that, should the bastards made the attempt.”

He didn’t specify the names or even the nature of “the bastards.” For someone like Andrew Short, it hardly mattered. He and his small clan had transferred their allegiance from the king of England to the person many people called the prince of Germany. Princes had enemies, it was a given; and such enemies were bastards. Also a given. 

Rebecca stared up at the ceiling. Murder holes. She knew what they were, abstractly, but such devices were something she associated with medieval castles. Here, in a modern town house built as much as possible along up-time lines...

Finally, she spotted them. They were cleverly disguised as further decorations in a heavily decorated ceiling. Wood inlays, to a casual observer. But she had no doubt the wood inlays were slats that could be easily slid aside, exposing any attackers below to fire from above. 

She shook her head and looked away. The headshake was simply rueful, not a gesture of denial or criticism. She knew all too well the risks she and her husband—and their children—were taking and had been taking for years. If any reminder were needed, the mayor of Grantville and one of the town’s ministers had been assassinated just three months earlier. By fanatic reactionary anti-Semites, it was presumed—exactly the sort of people who hated Rebecca with a passion and had been writing and spreading vicious propaganda about her for at least two years now. 

True, the savage response of the Committees of Correspondence to those murders had resulted in the effective destruction of organized anti-Semitism in the Germanies. For a time, at least. But that made it perhaps even more likely that a fanatic or small group of fanatics might seek vengeance by assassinating the most famous Jew in the United States of Europe. Who was now Rebecca herself, without any doubt, much to her surprise. 

Her dark thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of her daughter Sepharad, who barreled into the foyer from another of the side doors. “Barreled,” at least, insofar as the term could be applied to a toddler still some months shy of her third birthday.

Sepharad also had dark deeds on her mind. “Mommy! Mommy! Barry’s messing in the cupboards like he shouldn’t!”

Rebecca made a face. Not at the reported crime itself—two-and-a-half-year-old boys were given to rummaging in nooks and crannies; girls too, at that age—but at the name.

Barry. Rebecca detested that nickname and refused to use it herself.

The child’s real name was Baruch. Baruch de Spinoza, originally. He’d been orphaned in the siege of Amsterdam and then adopted by Rebecca and Michael.

Yes, that Spinoza. The Spinoza. Still some years short of his future as a great philosopher, of course. But Rebecca had high hopes. Surely his current investigations were a harbinger of things to come.

Alas, hers was an uphill struggle against doughty antagonists. On this subject, even her husband and daughter were ranked among Rebecca’s enemies. 

Barry, when it should be Baruch. And Rebecca knew full well that Michael was conspiring with Jeff Higgins to have the innocent boy fitted with a Harley-Davidson jacket and a Cat cap as soon as possible. They’d take him fishing, too, and teach him to ride a motorcycle. They’d already sworn they would. 

Before Rebecca could intervene, though, Jenny Hayes appeared in the foyer, holding the selfsame philosopher/young miscreant in her arms. Judging from the smile on the teenager’s face, whatever Baruch might have encountered in his adventures had been harmless enough.

“You shouldn’t be spreading alarms, Sepharad,” Hayes chided the girl. “Baruch couldn’t have come to no grief. T’aren’t nothing in those cupboards yet anyway, since we’ve just started unpacking.”

Rebecca returned the smile. She considered the addition of the very large Short-Hayes family to their household a great and unmitigated good. 

This, for several reasons. Some of them were obvious. The men were former Yeoman Warders in the Tower of London and would provide the household with the finest security force you could ask for. The women were generally pleasant and invariably hard-working, and would be a great help in managing such a huge establishment. The children were numerous, ranged widely in age, and would make good companions and playmates for her own children.

Best of all, though, was that the family’s unquestioned matriarch was Patricia Hayes, and Patricia was of the old school. Whatever the mistress of the house wanted, she got—and Patricia had figured out very quickly that Rebecca’s attitude when it came to nicknames was quite unlike her husband’s. 

And who cared what the husband thought? Michael Stearns was now a general in the army, about to go gallivanting off to some foreign war. The mistress of the house mattered. He didn’t.

So, it would be “Baruch,” not “Barry.” “Sepharad,” not the grotesque “Sephie” favored by most up-timers including—

Michael came into the foyer, followed by Anthony Leebrick and Patrick Welch. He looked down at his daughter and smiled.

“And what are you carrying on about, Sephie?”

Her husband. 

Later that morning, Michael made his farewells. By then, their younger daughter Kathleen was energetically crawling about the foyer and doing her own investigations. So, she participated in the leave-taking ceremonies along with her mother and siblings. Whether or not the nine-month-old infant understood the nature of the occasion was perhaps doubtful. Although, the way she clutched her father’s shoulders when he picked her up for a good-bye kiss would seem to indicate some apprehension on her part at his coming absence. 

But maybe she just found the epaulets fascinating. They were the one feature of the uniform of an officer in the USE army that was unabashedly flamboyant. These were not the subdued shoulder straps of the up-time American military, but the sort of golden-tasseled insignia that were used by Napoleonic-era armies. On the otherwise rather subdued field-gray uniform, they quite stood out.

Eventually, Kathleen released her grip and Michael handed her back to her current nursemaid, Mary Hayes. He then gave Rebecca a final kiss—nothing perfunctory, either, she made sure of that—and off he went, with his two new staff officers trailing in his wake.

Some part of Rebecca wondered if she would ever see her husband again, but she squelched that quickly enough.

He’s a general, she told herself firmly. Ignoring, just as firmly, her knowledge that in the seventeenth century army generals often led from the front and were quite apt to be killed in battle. 

Rebecca spent some time thereafter restlessly moving about the house, doing her own investigations. She spent a fair amount of that time in the several toilets and bathrooms scattered through the huge dwelling, testing their various devices and taking what comfort she could from them.

Which was considerable, actually. Newly designed and built, the house had modern plumbing. Rebecca had grown up with seventeenth-century sanitation facilities, and was certainly capable of managing with such. She’d been doing so again for the past two years, after all. But her stay in Grantville had spoiled her in that regard. 

Fortunately, it had done the same thing for every down-timer who passed through the up-time American town. By now, there was a flourishing new industry in central Europe and the Low Countries producing the wherewithal for modern plumbing. The same industries were beginning to appear in France, Italy and Poland, if not yet in Spain and England.

The adoption of those new techniques was especially rapid in the Germanies and Bohemia. That was partly because the industries involved were further developed there. But another important factor was the stance of the Committees of Correspondence, who were more prominent in those areas than they were elsewhere in Europe. The CoCs were firmly convinced—adamant, it would be better to say—that proper sanitation ran a very close second to godliness, and they matched deed to word. The rapidly spreading network of credit unions that was fostered by the CoCs in lower class communities always extended low-interest loans for any sanitation project. And in cities like Magdeburg where they were powerful, the CoCs maintained patrols that were quite prepared to use forceful means to put a stop to unsanitary practices.

There were still towns in the Germanies where people emptied their chamber pots in street gutters as a matter of course. Magdeburg was not one of them. Doing so would certainly result in a public harangue; persisting in the practice would just as certainly lead to a beating. 

There were people who denounced the CoCs for that practice, but Rebecca was not one of them. Such people were usually either down-time reactionaries or up-time liberals. The reactionaries were against anything connected to the Ring of Fire. Their objection was not to beatings—they were generally all in favor of that practice, applied to lower class folk—but to the cause involved and the persons engaged in it. 

As for the up-time liberals, Rebecca understood their qualms. But they’d never lived through a major episode of disease, except the few who’d been in the western Germanies during the ongoing plague epidemic this year or had lived through the diphtheria scare in the Oberpfalz the year before. Any epidemic, even when it was more “benign” than smallpox or typhus, was bad enough. It was quite noticeable that those up-timers who’d survived the experience were not given to wincing at the CoC methods of sanitation enforcement. Better some bruised feelings and even bruised flesh to bodies being carted off by the hundreds, or sometimes thousands.

She then spent some time watching the small horde of children playing with electricity. Within limits, of course. She let them switch the lights on and off in the various rooms, as long as they were reasonably gentle in the process and didn’t overdo it. Like most technology patterned on up-time design and theory but constructed using down-time methods and materials, the switches were sturdy things. Still, they could be broken if they were over-stressed, and—again, like almost everything of that nature—they were rather costly. The light bulbs were even more expensive.

She kept them away from the computer. In fact, she kept the door to that room locked. But she allowed them to plug in and operate Michael’s battered old up-time toaster in the kitchen. Every child present—there were no fewer than nine participating in the project—got to make and eat his or her own slices of toast.

The toast was on the crumbly side. Down-time bread was much tastier than the up-time varieties which were by now long gone, to no one’s regret other than some up-timers themselves. But it didn’t slice as cleanly or evenly, probably because it lacked what up-timers called “additives” and down-timers called low-grade poisons.

But the children didn’t care. They’d never had toast before, leaving aside some baked flatbreads. They were quite taken by the stuff.

Their interest faded soon enough, though. There were greater thrills in store. It wasn’t long before the children were racing down to the basement to start up the mansion’s sure and certain center of attraction. For them, anyway.

The toy electric train set. Michael had brought it home just two days ago and finished setting it up last night. 

It was one of the very first models produced by the recently launched Fassbinder-Lionel company, from the firm’s factory right here in Magdeburg. Completely down-time in construction, albeit obviously based on up-time models. The toy train sets were still fiendishly expensive. As yet, the market was purely a luxury one whose clientele consisted of noblemen and wealthy merchants, manufacturers and bankers. 

The only reason Rebecca’s husband had been able to afford it was because he’d gotten it for free. The company could just as easily have been named Fassbinder-Stearns, given that Michael was one of the company’s two partners, along with Heinrich Fassbinder. He’d insisted on the name Lionel instead of his own, though. For the sake of tradition, he claimed. Rebecca suspected it was more because Michael saw no reason to stir up charges of conflict of interest any more than was necessary.

In truth, there wasn’t any in this instance. An army general—even a prime minister, as he’d once been—would have precious little occasion to favor the fortunes of a toy train company. But there were other areas in which Michael’s financial dealings were grayer in nature.

This very mansion, for one. They’d only been able to buy the house because of a loan extended to them by some wealthy members of the far-flung Abrabanel family to which Rebecca herself belonged. True, the loan was secured—but the collateral was the royalties that were expected to come in two or three years from the sales of Rebecca’s book on current political developments.

Which she hadn’t started writing yet. And whose royalties would depend on enforcement of the copyright legislation passed by the USE’s parliament so recently the ink was barely dry on the bill sent up to the new prime minister for his signature. 

Wilhelm Wettin had signed it readily enough. Whatever other disputes his Crown Loyalists had with Michael and Rebecca’s party, they’d agreed that establishing up-time style copyright was a good idea. Still, no one really knew yet how well or easily the new laws could be enforced. There might be wholesale piracy, in which case those royalties would be mostly a chimera.

Not that the Abrabanels who’d extended the loan would care that much. The reason they’d made the loan was political, not economic. Whether or not they ever saw the money paid back, they had a keen interest in seeing to it that the leaders of the July Fourth party stayed alive and well. Their own prosperity, even possibly their very survival, might depend on it. 

To be sure, no one thought the new prime minister was himself an anti-Semite, much less a rabid one. Wettin was an eminently civilized man. But it remained to be seen how well he controlled the political forces he’d help to set in motion. The Abrabanels, like many people, thought his control was shaky—and there were people and groups under the umbrella called “the Crown Loyalist Party” who were quite certainly anti-Semites. 

Rebecca hadn’t hesitated at accepting the loan. She understood the political logic quite well. But she also knew—so did Michael—that there would inevitably be charges of conflict of interest. Especially if it became known that the man who’d arranged the loan was none other than Francisco Nasi, himself a member of the Abrabanel clan and Michael’s former head of security and espionage.

Fortunately, Francisco was superbly adept at keeping his doings out of the limelight. And, who was to say? If the copyright laws held up, there might in fact be a large income derived from her book. There would be keen interest in it, certainly. Even if the market was restricted to CoC members and sympathizers, that would be a lot of books sold.

Rebecca let the children play with the train set for a full hour. Her magnanimity had a cold purpose to it. The toy train sets, Michael had told her, were much like the train sets his father and grandfather had played with. That was to say, not very concerned with the fussbudget latter-day up-time obsession with child safety. 

“There’s no way in hell to play with these trains,” he’d said, “without getting an electric shock from time to time. No real harm done—and it teaches kids to respect electricity.”

So it proved. Only two of the children got shocked, as it turned out—one of them being her own daughter Sepharad, who promptly wailed as loudly as you could ask for. But within an hour, all of the children were being much more careful than they’d been with the toaster or the light switches.

The mission was accomplished. And now she had no further reason to procrastinate. It was time to start writing the book.

       

Fortunately, she wouldn’t have to put up with the troubles and travails of quill pens and ink bottles. Rebecca loved her computer.

The title came easily and readily:

An Examination of the Current Political Situation in the Germanies and Europe

She stared at the title. She had no trouble imagining the caustic remarks her husband would have made, had he seen it.

“Why don’t you just put a damn footnote in the title while you’re at it?” he’d jeer. “Just to make sure and certain everyone understands this is an eye-glazing tract of no conceivable interest to anyone except scholars like you.”

After a while, she sighed and suppressed her natural instincts. In this, as in many if not all things, Michael Stearns was correct. So, she deleted the title and, after a few more seconds of consideration, came up with another and more suitable one. 

The Road Forward: A Call to Action 


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