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Chapter One

By early morning they had passed beyond the siege lines and lay hidden in a copse of woods four miles from the Magdeburg gates.

"We will travel only at night for the first few days," Henri said, "and hide during the day. Best not to tempt fate."

That afternoon, after sleeping most of the morning, they watched the huge pillar of smoke boil up into the sky from the direction of Magdeburg. Henri, her father's friend, and an almost uncle, turned grim. "It is much worse than even I suspected it would be. They should not have set fire to the town. Magdeburg alive could sustain them. Magdeburg destroyed will force them to forage into the countryside. We will have to move as soon as we can tonight."

As Colette Dubois watched the black smoke rise into the sky she imagined she could hear the screams of the women and children on the breeze. She shuddered. Raped and murdered. Thousands of them. And now Tilly's wolves would be scouring the outlying districts for more plunder and victims.

They rode for days, constantly on guard and careful to avoid concentrations of other travelers who might attract the attention of soldiers. Finally they stopped at an abandoned house on the outskirts of a village so that Henri could get more supplies. Colette and Colas, her brother, hid in the woods near the house and waited, tying their horses far enough back so they would not whinny in greeting to any horses passing along the road.

In the late afternoon they heard hoof beats on the road. Colette quickly grabbed Colas before he could jump up and expose himself. "What are you doing?" she hissed. "Wait and see if it is Henri first."

Crouching back down, Colette and Colas watched as half a dozen soldiers kicked in the door of the house and began to ransack it.

So stupid, thought Colette. There was nothing of value left in the house. But the soldiers seemed to delight in smashing what little furniture there was. Two of the men began a more systematic search of the outside yard and were beginning to work their way steadily in Colette's direction. If they came too close … Colette shivered. She knew what her fate would be. Death, if she was lucky. And Colas wasn't strong enough to survive even a week in a soldier's camp, given his recent sickness.

It was the light that saved them.

The soldiers were twenty yards away when the sun spawned on the earth. A titanic wave of sound rolled across the house. Terrified, the soldiers quickly mounted their horses and galloped off.

Colette watched them go. She breathed a sigh of relief. Then felt Colas' tug at her sleeve.

He pointed. "Where did the hill go?"

Colette shivered again. A sign from God. But what did it mean?

It was an hour later when they once again heard hoof beats on the road. This time it was Henri. He had no supplies and he seemed to be favoring his left shoulder.

Colette saw the blood on his jacket. "You've been shot!"

Henri dabbed at the wound. "It's nothing. No bones broken, not much blood. A band of cutthroats. We'll have to ride on for supplies." Henri gestured toward the house. "What happened here?"

Colette shook her head. "I don't know. There were soldiers, half a dozen of them. They would have found us but for the light. It was like the sun was rising from the earth. The sound nearly deafened us."

They spent the night several hundred yards deeper in the woods.


"Josh! Your move, boy."

Josh sighed. Normally it took his grandfather at least 15 minutes to make a move in the middle game. He'd thought there would be plenty of time to use the phone in the kitchen for a quick call to his sister-in-law.

"What was that?" Michelle asked.

"Gramps. We're playing chess. It's Sunday after all," Josh said.

Josh's grandfather always hosted the weekly parish chess club. Josh had been involuntarily inducted when they heard about his U.S. Chess Federation master rank. This Sunday, of course, the group was limited to the real chess fanatics who were willing to incur Vince Masaniello's wrath by skipping out early on his fortieth wedding anniversary party.

Josh could feel his sister-in-law smile. "You going to let him win this time?"

"Not likely." Josh chuckled. "He knows I'm still a master. If I let him win I'd never hear the end of it. But at least I can make it seem like a struggle."

"Tell that French witch you're busy, boy. I just made the move of the century! No way you're getting out of this one!"

"Oh great," Josh said. "Now you're the French witch."

Michelle laughed. "Tell Joe he's a surly old curmudgeon."

"Michelle says you're a surly old curmudgeon, Gramps."

Joe snorted. "She's got that right."

"Hey, Lou," Josh said, "is Gramp's move that great? Maybe I should stay in the kitchen."

He heard the pause in the speed chess game and knew that Lou Giamarino was looking over the board.

"Yeah. You're in trouble all right," Lou said dryly. "Looks like he bought your sacrifice. Probably mate in five for you."

Josh laughed and listened for a minute as the three old friends began arguing over Joe's last move.

That should keep them busy, he thought. "Did you get all of the books sent, Michelle?" The company Josh worked for had received the contract from the West Virginia Department of Transportation to investigate the old Baltimore & Ohio railroad route for the "rails to trails" program. Josh had pushed hard to get the job, knowing that he could save a lot of his per diem by staying with his grandfather in Grantville.

But, as a quid pro quo, Josh's boss had demanded that he prepare a paper for a symposium, any symposium, involved with industrial archeology. Josh had discovered that the twenty-sixth International symposium of the International Committee for the History of Technology was looking for an American to present a report. Since he worked mainly in Pittsburgh, Josh decided that the early history of steel would be just about perfect.

Initially, Josh had made good progress on the paper for the symposium, gaining access to a variety of records from Pittsburgh steel companies. He had also done extensive spelunking on the internet, vacuuming all kinds of files onto his laptop's hard drive. Early on, he discovered "The Sheffield Connection" in the Pittsburgh crucible steel industry, but the only decent sources available for deep background were dusty nineteenth-century books not found in the United States. Taking advantage of his sister-in-law's upcoming trip to London and Paris, he asked her to air express some of the books he had selected.

"Yes, they've all been sent," Michelle said. "Didn't you get them yet?"

"No, just one package with the two history books. The rest are probably lost in some DHL warehouse in New York. If they aren't here by Wednesday I'll run their tracking numbers down. The B & O survey should be wrapped up soon and then I can really get working on the paper for the symposium." Josh heard some noise from the other end of the line. Daniel's voice.

"Oops." Michelle laughed. "Someone wants to say hi."


"Daniel! How's my favorite nephew doing?"

Josh smiled when he heard Michelle say, "Speak French, Daniel."

"Josh, grandpere m'a amené voir Notre Dame."

"C'était amusant?"

"Josh, c'est une cathédrale," scolded Daniel. "Plutôt ennuyeux. Mais les gargouilles, ça, ça me plait."

Josh grinned. "Alors, peut-être la Tour Eiffel te plairait plus. Laisse-moi parler à ta maman maintenant."

"Okay, Josh. See you."

"Later, Daniel."

Michelle came back on the line.

"Got to go, Michelle," Josh said. "I'll call again when I get back to Pittsburgh. Je t'aime."

"Je t'aime au … "

The phone went dead at the same time a brilliant white light lit the sky and a distant sound of thunder seemed to echo across the hills. For a second Josh stood there, stunned. What the hell?

"What the hell was that?" his grandfather yelled from the living room.

"I don't know, Gramps. But both the power and the phone are dead."

Lou and Bart came into the kitchen, both with vaguely worried expressions on their faces. "The phones went out at the same time as the power?"

Josh nodded.

Bart shook his head. "Odd. The phone system is supposed to have its own power supply. Think I'll go take a look around town to see who's in the same boat. Want to come along, Lou?"

"I'm with ya." Lou turned towards the living room. "We're taking off, Joe. We'll call when the phones start up again."

"Party poopers," Joe grumbled.

Lou grinned. "Take care of the old man, Josh. He's getting a mite touchy in his dotage."

"You ain't no spring chicken yourself, Louis Giamarino!"

Lou laughed and waved to Josh as he and Bart went out the back door. "Later, Josh."

Joe yelled from the living room. "Damn. Josh, come finish the game and we'll wait it out, whatever it is. But open the curtains so we have some more light."

"Come on, Gramps. Let's go find out what's going on. Maybe it's something serious."

Joe snorted. "Forget it, boy. Can't be anything that bad. Besides, I still think I've got you cornered here, no matter what Lou says."

Josh sighed and glanced out the kitchen window. Odd, the sun seemed to be in a different direction than he remembered it being. Josh shrugged and walked back into the living room.


For Colette, Henri and Colas, the strangeness started again when they came across the road. Colette had been lost in thought and did not realize they were on a road until she noticed the change in the sound of the horse's hooves.


Colas and Henri reined in their horses and watched as Colette slid off her horse and squatted to stare at the black-topped road.

"What is it, Colette? What's wrong?"

"Think, Colas. Where did this road come from? Look at it!"

Colas nodded. "It is very nice. Nice and wide. And very smooth."

Colette got to her feet and looked to the south. The road disappeared around a curve half a mile away. Colette took out her dagger and dug a bit of the black stuff out of the road. She rolled some of it on her fingers. Sticky. She sniffed her sample, then tasted it with her tongue. Tar. It was tar of some kind.

Colette stared at the road. "Henri? Don't you see it?" She paced the width and looked at the edge. She rolled some of the gravel and tar in her hand again.

"It's about twenty feet wide, and perhaps a little more than a half foot thick." Her eyes closed for a moment, her mind occupied with calculations. When Colette got her answer she shook her head.

No, that's impossible. She looked at the road again, stamped on it with her foot.

Definitely real, she thought wryly. Not impossible.

By now Henri and Colas were staring at her.

Henri cocked his head in puzzlement. "See what? It is just a road. A very good road, true, but still … "

"Henri, this road uses more tar for every mile than the annual production from Finland! How rich are these people?"

Henri opened his mouth, then shut it. He understood now what Simon Dubois had meant when he said he was sometimes afraid of his daughter. She thought … differently.

Colette looked again to the south and noticed that the road did not follow the exact curve of the hill but cut through a portion of it. It was like a chess problem. Colette was fully focused, gnawing at it like a hungry dog gnaws at a soup bone.

Colette studied the road more carefully. How was it made? Too smooth for slaves or other human labor. Too perfect.

"Machines of some kind," she muttered to herself, "definitely machines. Wherever this road goes we will find machines."

Henri stared at Colette again and then shook his head. "Should we stay on the road?"

Colette nodded. "Yes. But on the side, I think. This road is used for more than just carts and wagons."

They followed the road for another mile, passing several houses before Colette's words came true. They could see a river and another road that intersected the one they were on. They were several dozen yards from the intersection when a square metal box on wheels came from the right and moved rapidly through the intersection. The horses spooked slightly at the noise of its passing.

Colas' eyes were as round as saucers. "Was that a machine?"

Colette nodded. True, she had expected something, but the reality of it was certainly different than she had imagined. Especially the speed.

"Did you notice the man inside, Henri? I think he was guiding it, like a farmer guides his wagon with reins."

Henri nodded. "What do we do now? Follow it? It's at least heading in the direction of Saalfeld."

"Yes," Colette said. "But carefully. You saw how fast that machine moved."

After another mile they found themselves looking at a large rectangular building. They watched from the edge of the woods for almost an hour. Many of the people moving in and out seemed to be young, under the age of twenty. But all appeared to be well-fed and in excellent health. Some left or arrived on two-wheeled vehicles that they steered with their hands. Others got into the metal machines which moved off with loud noises. The machines came in a variety of styles and colors but Colette noted certain commonalities. Every one had four black wheels with a metal looking center. And when they started and moved every one seemed to emit smoke to a greater or lesser degree.

Occasionally words were shouted loud enough for them to hear clearly. Colette realized that all of the people she saw seemed to be speaking English.

"English?" Henri said, when Colette told him. "What is a colony of Englishmen doing in the middle of Thuringia?"

Henri winced when he moved his shoulder. The bullet was still in there. Colette knew they would have to get to a surgeon soon. It needed to be removed. With all of these machines the Englishmen seemed to be master mechanics. Perhaps they had good surgeons as well.

Colette smiled. "Let's go find out. But pretend to know no English. We may find out more if they think we don't understand their language."

"That will not be difficult," grumbled Henri. "I don't know any English. And how is it that you do?"

"Papa hired an English Jesuit, Father Line, to teach me mathematics. I asked him to teach me English as well so I could talk to the merchants who sometimes come to Liege. After learning Latin, Dutch, and German, it wasn't too difficult."

Colas hesitated a moment. "Are you sure, Colette? Maybe these Englishmen are Tilly's soldiers."

"Colas, have you seen any weapons? Any weapons at all?"

Colas shook his head.

"Soldiers would have weapons. These people act as if they are safe," Colette said. "If Tilly's or Hoffman's soldiers were anywhere about, these people would be armed and barricaded or acting with fear. And if they do not know of Tilly's soldiers, then we can obtain their gratitude by warning them."

Colette got to her feet and motioned to Colas and Henri. "Let's go. Henri, keep your sword sheathed. When we get close, start waving."

As they approached the building several of the young people stopped to watch them. When Colette waved at them, they waved back. She heard bits and pieces of their conversation as she got closer.

" … Jeez he's big … Be great power forward with those shoulders … She's pretty … looks like one heck of a sword … " What was "power forward," Colette wondered.

They seemed friendly enough. Colette considered a moment. "Excusez-moi, savez-vous s'il y a un chirurgien par ici?"

An older boy turned and motioned for a younger blonde-haired boy with glasses to step forward. "Sounds like French to me. Mark, you better handle it."

"My name is Mark." The boy's French was hesitant. He pushed his glasses up his nose. "But I do not speak French well. Would you like to speak with my teacher, Madame Hawkins?"

"Yes, please," replied Colette.

Mark led them inside the building and motioned for them to wait. In less than five minutes Nicole Hawkins arrived. Colette quickly explained their story to Nicole and asked for a surgeon, pointing to the dried blood on Henri's shoulder.

"We have a makeshift hospital right here. Other refugees have been injured, some seriously. Please come with me. Dr. Nichols will take a look at that for you."

The surgeon was an older man, a Moor, who acted in a very competent manner. Once Henri had his jacket and shirt off, Nichols probed and pushed at the wound, watching Henri's face as he did so. He had Nicole translate for him and Colette tried to follow his English.

"The bullet is in there and it has to come out. You already have signs of infection and we will have to clean out the wound channel." Nichols cocked his head at Henri. "How old are you?"

"Forty-nine." Nicole Hawkins translated.

Nichols nodded. "We'll want to keep you under observation for a couple of days to make sure no infection is starting after we operate."

"His immune system isn't as good as a younger person's," Colette heard Nichols mutter. "Better safe than sorry." What was an "immune system"?

Nichols looked at Nicole. "Where are they staying?"

Nicole shrugged. "No idea. Let me ask them what they want to do."

When Nicole addressed the question to Colette, Colette thought for a moment. "Is there a Catholic Church here? Perhaps the priest has room for us."

Nicole nodded. "Excellent idea. Yes, the churches are opening their doors to refugees. And if you're Catholic, you'll be more comfortable there. I'll drive you myself."

The next few days went by like a dream. Colette went on numerous walks around Grantville. She and Colas visited Henri after his surgery. He was grumpy about staying at the hospital. Dr. Nichols told her, through Nicole Hawkins, that it was necessary to be sure the wound did not become infected, especially seeing as their supply of antibiotics was limited. What were "antibiotics"? Anti-living? It does not make sense. But Nichols had assured her that Henri would be released by Thursday evening.


It was only after the town meeting on Wednesday that the emotional impact of the event everyone was beginning to call the "Ring of Fire" began to hit home for Joshua Modi. Josh was driving Joe back to the house. Both were lost in their own thoughts.

I'll never see my family again, Josh thought. The tears started to come but he forced them back. Got to be calm, for Gramps' sake.

The discussion he'd had with Doc Adams had made it clear that there was little that could be done for Joe's diabetes. His only living relative in this universe, his only family inside the Ring of Fire, was going to die. And there was nothing—absolutely nothing—he could do about it.

As they pulled into the driveway of Joe's house on Turnbull Street, Josh cleared his throat. "Gramps? How much insulin do you have?"

"About a four month supply," Joe said calmly. "But I'm giving half of it to David Miklos, the butcher."

"What? Gramps, you can't do that, damn it!"

"I can and I will, Josh. David and I use the same type of insulin but he was just getting ready to order some more when this damn Ring of Fire hit. He has less than a three week supply. And he has a family, Josh."

Joe patted Josh's hand. "I've lived a long, happy life Josh, and I'm seventy-five years old. David is under thirty. He deserves a few extra months with his family. Now come inside. I've got some things to show you."

Josh wanted to argue with his grandfather but he knew it would be useless. And Josh understood how precious the extra time might be for David's family.


Joe led Josh through the house and down into the basement. The basement was crammed with all kinds of things: a set of barbells, a workout bench, canning jars, three or four toolboxes. Josh spotted two boxes labeled "Josh."

"Are those my old college books?"

Joe grinned. "Yup. Maybe you can find something useful in them for this predicament we find ourselves in."

Josh snorted. Predicament. Typical for Gramps to understate the situation. Grantville was in the middle of one of the worst wars in human history, surrounded by potential enemies, and for his grandfather it was a "predicament."

Joe stopped to heave an old trunk out of his way. Then he inserted a key into a lock on a brown metal container about eight feet long and three feet wide. When Joe threw back the lid Josh could do nothing but goggle.

"What the heck is that?"

Joe chuckled and took the large semi-automatic rifle out of the container. To Josh it seemed to ooze lethality.

"I forgot you aren't a gun nut. This is an Italian version of the Garand I used to carry in World War Two. It's called a BM-59. When I saw one in Shotgun News I just had to get one for nostalgia's sake. Bought about a thousand rounds of ammo, too. But you'll probably want to give that to the army."

Joe pulled back a blanket on the left side of the container and handed Josh a comic book in a protective plastic slip cover.

Josh looked at his grandfather and smiled. "And how long have you been keeping this a secret? I never knew you collected comic books."

"About forty years," Joe said. "And don't tell anyone or you'll find out what this old man can still do with that BM-59. I get enough ribbing as it is." Joe rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. "I have no idea if these will be worth anything here, but you never can tell.

"The most important part of your inheritance, Josh, will be this house and the rentals down on Clarksburg Street. Property has always been a good investment. With that, and with the money in the Grantville Bank, you should be fine."

Then it hit Josh. His inheritance. "Gramps, what are you saying?"

Joe smiled. "What I'm saying, Josh, is that all of what I own, all that I have, I am giving to you. You have to make a new life for yourself, boy. And this is a damn hostile world for poor people. Just promise me you won't squander it on damn foolishness."

Josh nodded. Tears came to his eyes. This time he did nothing to stop them. "I don't want to inherit anything, Gramps," he said softly. "I want you."

Joe's voice was rough as he patted Josh's shoulder. "I know you do, boy. I know you do. But at least this way I can go to the Lord with the knowledge that you can make a fresh start for yourself. Now promise me you won't screw things up by blowing your inheritance on fast cars and loose women."

Despite himself, Josh chuckled. "I promise, Gramps. I promise."

"I've had my will made up for a long time and you were getting most of it anyway. But I'll need to see an attorney in the next week to revise it. No need to have your mom and dad in the will since they don't even exist in this universe, or whatever the hell it is." Joe hugged his grandson gently. "Let's go upstairs. Got a lot to talk to you about. You don't know much about the people in Grantville, since it's been ten years since you lived here. Like any town, there are some good people and some bad people. The more you know, the better off you'll be."

Josh and his grandfather went upstairs and talked for hours before Joe got tired and fell asleep in his easy chair. Josh carefully covered him with a blanket and went to his own bedroom. But he couldn't sleep. Over and over in his mind the facts churned through his head. His family was gone forever. Joe was going to die. Grantville was in the middle of a ferocious war. And he had no job. What the hell was he going to do with his life?

Somehow he eventually fell asleep. But the last thought he remembered was still … what the hell was he going to do with his life?


Josh was up before Joe. He moved quietly around the kitchen. When the phone rang he jumped to grab it before it could ring twice. "Hello?"

"Hi, Josh. Father Mazzare here. Is Joe awake yet?"

"No, he's still … wait a sec … "

Joe yawned and walked into the kitchen, still in the clothes he'd slept in.

"Gramps, it's for you. Father Mazzare."

Joe nodded and took the phone. "What can I do for you, Father?"

Josh listened to the conversation. He could tell it was about housing. The meeting the previous night had made it clear that there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of refugees out in the woods around Grantville. Housing them was going to be a real problem.

"Nope. Sorry, Father. Those houses on Clarksburg are packed with Vince Masaniello's relatives and guests from his fortieth wedding anniversary party," Joe said. "At least until they can make other arrangements. But I've got a spare bedroom in the studio over the garage and you're only a couple of blocks away."

Joe listened again and then nodded. "Talk to Josh, he speaks French really well."

Josh took the phone from Joe. "What's up, Father?"

Father Mazzare sighed. "As you know from last night's meeting, we've got one heck of a refugee problem. In fact, the rooms on the second story of the parish hall are already packed with people. Most of them seem to be German, but one group of three seems to speak French better than they speak German. Can you come over and talk to them, get their story? From what I can gather the older man is a close relative or friend of the family, while the woman and boy are brother and sister. The man, Henri Bex, had a bullet in his left shoulder that Dr. Nichols took out day before yesterday. The wound was festering a bit, so they have him under observation over at that makeshift hospital they put together at the high school."

"Sure, Father. When do you want me to come over?"

"How about right after lunch?"

"Sounds good, I'll be there." Josh hung up the phone. "What do you think, Gramps?"

Joe motioned for Josh to have a seat at the kitchen table while he got out milk and Cheerios for both of them. He tossed two bananas to Josh. Josh peeled and sliced them both into the bowls he'd already set up in anticipation of their usual morning breakfast ritual.

"Did I ever tell you the story about how your great-great-grandfather, John Modi, first came to Grantville?" Joe asked.

Josh shook his head. "Don't think so. You told me lots of stories about his tinker and peddler business, though."

Joe nodded. "Well, my grandfather came from a town in Lebanon called Beit Meri. Somehow, he'd heard about the opportunities here in Grantville at the turn of the century and came to make his fortune. He didn't know anybody in town, of course. But, through the kindness of people at the railroad station, he found a family to put him up for a week or two while he figured out what he was going to do and learned enough English to get by."

Joe took a bite of Cheerios and bananas, then wiped his mouth. "I think its payback time, don't you?"

Josh smiled. "No problem as far as I'm concerned. I'm in total agreement with what Mike Stearns said last night. We are way too small to fight off the entire population of seventeenth-century Europe. So you want to put up this French family?"

Joe nodded. "You speak excellent French. I think that would make them feel more comfortable. They may stay or they may not, but if they're good people and hard workers, well, those are the kind of folks we'll need to help us. We can house them for awhile."

"Okay. So put the woman and boy in the studio? And what about the man? I can sleep on the couch, it's pretty comfy." The couch in Joe's living room was actually a sleeper that folded out into a family size bed.

"Yeah, let's put the sister and brother in the studio. The uncle, or whatever he is, can have your bedroom until he's healed up."

Around ten o'clock that morning a second call came.

"Hey, Sparks. Nat Davis here."

Josh smiled. "Been a long time since anyone called me that."

When Josh had been kicked out of his home in Pittsburgh after a ferocious argument with his father ("chess won't make you a living, son!") Joe had offered him a place to stay and had gotten him a job at Nat Davis' machine shop. He'd gotten his nickname when he was using a cutting torch and failed to notice where the slag from his cut was going. It had set Lou Giamarino's pants on fire. From that day forward Josh's nickname at the machine shop was "Sparks."

"Joe talked to me last night. Got a job for you, if you're interested."

Josh sat up in his chair. "What kind of job?"

Nat explained some of the details of the previous night's Executive Committee meeting, especially the need for steam engines to provide power for the electrical system.

"Last night Joe told me that you were working on a paper for a symposium about pre-Bessemer steel. The machine shops are going to need some direction so we don't squander our material. We also need to get a better handle on what kinds of resources might be locally available. Think you can come up with something to help us?"

Josh thought a moment. "Sure, Nat. How much time do I have?"

"I don't know," Nat said. "How about a week? Is that enough time?"

"No problem. I'll check with Lou and other people. Maybe Bart Kubiak. I've got a couple of books that came in just before the Ring of Fire. So figure a meeting next Thursday? And who's my audience?"

"Sounds good, Sparks. Your audience will be mainly the machinists and the owners of the machine shops, but Greg Ferrara and Bill Porter will probably be there, too. Listen, I'm on a coffee break and the meeting is starting up again. Call me if you need any help."

Over the next hours Josh worked through what he had, and needed. He called Lou and others to arrange a Saturday morning meeting. At noon Josh walked the two blocks to St. Vincent De Paul's and met Father Mazzare outside the parish hall.

When they walked into the parish hall a woman with honey-colored hair was sitting with a boy of about ten. The boy had jet black hair similar to Josh's, but his facial features resembled the woman's and they were clearly related.

The woman looked up from the book she was reading and their eyes met.

She's very attractive. Josh was surprised by the thought.

The woman rose as they came near and extended her hand. "Hello. My name is Colette Dubois."

Josh shook hands with her. "A pleasure to meet you, mademoiselle. My name is Josh Modi. Or is it Madame?"

"No, monsieur. It is mademoiselle." Colette turned to the boy. "And this is my brother, Colas. He is twelve."

Josh extended his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Colas."

"Thank you, monsieur." Colas smiled shyly. "Colette has said that we will be staying at your house?"

"Actually, my grandfather's house. But yes, you will be staying in a one bedroom studio with your sister and your uncle … Henri, is it?" Josh looked at Colette. "He will be staying in my bedroom while I sleep on the couch. Father Mazzare said that he would be out of the hospital this afternoon some time?"

Colette shook her head. "Yes, but understand that Henri is not really a blood relative. He was my father's best friend and married my father's sister, but she died many years ago. We have always considered him to be an uncle."

At that moment a woman Josh recognized as one of the Parish council members appeared at the door of the hall and motioned at Father Mazzare. "Phone call, Father. I think it's important."

"You okay here, Josh?" Father Mazzare looked a bit harried.

"No problem, Father. We'll be fine." Josh turned to Colette as Father Mazzare strode away. "Do you have all of your belongings?"

Both Colette and Colas were dressed in typical twentieth-century clothing except for their boots; blue jeans and long-sleeved shirts.

"Yes. Father Mazzare was kind enough to provide us with clothing while ours were washed and the vermin removed." Colette smiled. "Very nice. I think I am in love with … what do you call them … washers and dryers?"

Josh laughed. "Yes, washers and dryers. Have you seen a dishwasher yet?"

Colette nodded. "Oh, yes. Those are wonderful, too. But the shower was even better. It is the first time I have felt clean in many months."

Colette and Colas had picked up the paper bags with their possessions.

"Ready?" Josh asked. "Let's go, then. My grandfather is expecting us."

As they left the parish hall Josh turned to the young boy. "So what do you think of Grantville, Colas?"

Colas laughed. "Colette calls it 'fairy-tale land.' And it is truly wondrous! Are you really from the future?"

Josh nodded. "Yes, about three hundred fifty years beyond the 1630's. The future is quite different from what you are used to. I spent a semester at the University of Paris studying European business history, so I know a bit about the seventeenth century."

"You've been to Paris?" Colas seemed impressed.

"Oh, yes. But it is much bigger than the Paris in this century. Much bigger. Perhaps three to five million people."

Colas had his mouth open. "Three to five million? That's impossible!"

Josh smiled. "You might think so, but that's nothing compared to Tokyo. I think there were fifteen million in Tokyo."

Colas shook his head. "You are joking, yes?"

"Nope. It's the truth. I'll show you an atlas when we get to my grandfather's house. You'll see."

"But how is that possible? Wouldn't the people get sick? What do they do with their … ummm … urine and manure?"

Josh noticed a small smile creep onto Colette's lips, while she listened to their conversation. He winked at her. To his surprise, she winked back. As they approached the door to Joe's house, Colette put her arm through his. "Thank you," she murmured softly, moving closer to him. "Colas has been very bored with talking only to me these past few days."

God, she smells good, thought Josh. Down, boy. Down!

"Welcome, strangers!" Joe threw the front door open. "Welcome to our humble home!"

When Henri Bex showed up that evening, Josh smiled to himself. Okay, this guy is huge. And he's got a sword. Do not piss off the chaperone.


The next morning Josh woke up on the couch and for one disorienting moment didn't know where he was.

"Check, you scoundrel," he heard a woman say.

"Ha! Ha! That won't save you."

Josh got out of the sleeper couch and put on his sweat pants before padding barefoot into the kitchen. Colette and Joe were playing chess.

Joe looked up at him. "Good morning, boy. Sleep well?"

Colette was brushing her hair, her attention focused intently on the chessboard. She glanced up at him and smiled. "Good morning, Josh."

"I thought you didn't know English," he said accusingly.

Colette sighed. "I'm sorry, I was … " She switched to French. "Dissembling? I wanted to learn more about Grantville and thought it would be better to pretend not to know English." Colette switched back to English and patted Joe's hand. "But your grandfather is too nice a man to keep secrets from. He lets me win at chess."

Joe flashed a smile at her. "Ha! Not likely, young lady. Not likely! You're a great player! I won the first game but she's beaten me three games in a row, Josh. Great moves. Great! Maybe better than yours!"

"Sounds like a challenge is in store," Josh murmured.

Colette's smile was now more of a grin. "Ah, but Joe has warned me about you, Josh. He's told me all of your secrets!"

"Well, then. I'll just have to pull a few rabbits out of the old chess hat."

Joe stood up. "Good, good. You two play. I'm getting hungry. Anyone else?"

Both Colette and Josh nodded vigorously. Colette began to reset the chess board. Colas and Henri appeared in the entrance to the kitchen. "We're hungry."

"Colas and Henri are hungry, too, Gramps. Make plenty."

"Flapjacks okay with you? Or should we make waffles? I have some strawberries in the freezer."

Colette looked pleased. "Waffeln?"

Josh laughed. "Oh yeah, Gramps. Definitely waffles."

An hour later, with a dozen waffles demolished, Josh knew three things. Colette was indeed an excellent chess player. She absolutely loved waffles. And if he wasn't careful he was going to fall in love with a woman he had just barely met.


On Saturday Colette and Henri participated in the lunch time discussion about iron, steel, mining, metal working and the conduct of business in the seventeenth century. Many of their insights were invaluable and Josh took copious notes. As the discussion wound down, Amy Kubiak, Bart's daughter, stopped by.

Bart was justifiably proud of his daughter. Energetic, vivacious and intelligent, Amy Kubiak had been one of the brighter stars in the academic firmament of Grantville High School the year before. With her high SAT scores and strong grades in math and science, she'd gotten a four year full-tuition scholarship to West Virginia University in Morgantown.

"Hi, Dad! Hi, guys!" Amy gave Bart a quick hug. "Are you about done? Mom's got some errands for you." The Kubiaks lived just four blocks from Joe's house.

"Josh, anything else?" Bart asked.

Josh waved his hand. "Nah, I think that's enough for now. But I'd like to look at that book on the history of metal casting you mentioned. I'll stop by on Monday."

Josh saw Colette motion her head at Amy. "Amy, I'd like you to meet Colette Dubois and Henri Bex. They're from Liege. You can try out your French on them." Amy had taken four years of French at Grantville High School with Nicole Hawkins.

"Cool!" Amy said. She switched to French. "I'm Amy Kubiak. Pleased to meet you." She shook hands with Colette and Henri. "So you're from Liege? How does it compare to Grantville?"

Colette smiled. "About four times the population, at least. But the people live much closer together and the streets are narrower."

Josh suddenly snapped his fingers. "Amy, do you have any spare dresses? Colette doesn't have any nice clothes for church tomorrow. You two seem about the same height and build."

Amy stood back from Colette and eyed her critically, motioning for her to turn around. "Sure. I think I've got just the thing. Maybe two. Want to come over and try them on, Colette?"

"That would be wonderful." Colette paused a moment. "Are you sure you can spare them?"

"Oh, yes." Amy grinned. "I'm not into dresses these days and I've got a nice pants suit for church. Come on, let's go try them out."


Over the next four hours Amy and Colette talked about many subjects. Men. Family. Grantville. Books. Clothes. Men. Sex. It took them two hours to get to the sex. By then, with that innate social sense that women tend to take for granted and that men find mysterious, they knew they could trust each other with their secrets. In Amy's words, "They were buds." Simpatico.

Except for Marie de Gournay, a Frenchwoman who had written "The Equality of Men and Women" in 1624 and with whom Colette had corresponded with for years, she had never had a female friend she could confide secrets to. But Marie was considerably older and letters were an inadequate communications medium anyway.

"I had two love affairs this past year at college." Amy had her legs curled underneath her as she sat on her bed. "Dad would have a fit if he knew. I swear he glared at every single boyfriend I ever brought home from high school." Amy sighed. "The first one was to just get over my virginity, but the second … Hank was a great lover. I miss him. A lot."

Colette nodded. "I missed Etienne for years. His touch was so … so … "

"Electric?" Amy laughed.

Colette nodded again. Both women sighed.

"So?" Amy patted Colette's leg. "What about you and Josh? Do you find him attractive?"

Colette blushed. "Yes. But he is still mourning the loss of his family, I think." Colette absently twisted a strand of her hair. "I can empathize. I mourned Jacques and Etienne for a long time."

"But his family isn't really dead," argued Amy. "Just … left behind. Do you think he's attracted to you?"

Colette blushed again. "I … I think so. I sometimes catch him watching me when he doesn't think I notice."

"Well then … "

Colette shook her head. "It is too soon. And he should make the first move."

Amy raised her hands in exasperation. "If women waited for the men to make the first move all the time the race would be extinct." She pulled at her chin. "Hmmm, we need an expert in Basic Man Trapping 101 … " Her face brightened. "I know!" She picked up the phone.

Two hours later, just as Josh was starting to get worried, Amy and Colette walked through the front door.

"Well, Josh, what do you think?" Amy said.

At first Josh didn't recognize Colette. She was no longer just attractive. She was beautiful. It was not just the dress, or the different hair style, or the subtle use of make-up. It was also the smile and the way her eyes seemed to glow in the late afternoon light.

"Josh? Hello? Earth to Josh!"

"What? What did you say?" Josh felt a bit dazed.

Amy smiled. "I said, "Doesn't she look gorgeous?" I want to hear you say that in French."

"You do look very beautiful," Josh muttered in French.

Colette dimpled and curtsied. "Thank you, monsieur."

"Well, I've got to get home. See you two at church tomorrow." Before Amy left she leaned over and whispered in Colette's ear. "What did I tell you? Pole-axed like a steer. See you tomorrow."

Amy skipped down the stairs and began to stroll home. As she went she occasionally snapped an imaginary whip, all the while whistling the theme to Rawhide. Rope him in girl, rope him in!


"Our communion meditation will be number four thirty-eight. We Will Rise Again. Number four thirty-eight."

As the church began to fill with music, Colette allowed herself to think about what she had seen during the Mass. It had been profoundly different from any other Mass she had ever attended. From the lack of Latin, to the priest facing the congregation, to the sharing of the sign of peace, it had been strange, but in many ways, exhilarating. Especially when she saw that women were allowed on the altar as readers and Eucharistic ministers.

The people around her seemed to have a deep faith in God and a sense of community that even rivaled what she had seen in the béguinage de Hermee. All week she had prayed to God before going to sleep. Prayed for the soul of her father. Prayed for Henri while he was in the hospital. Even prayed for Joe when she discovered that he was suffering from a fatal disease. But most of all she had prayed for guidance. What should she do with her life?

She could see that many of the congregation were singing. But at least a dozen were weeping. Then, it was as if the hand of God touched her soul.

This was no "fairy-tale land" as she had first thought. This was a tiny piece of a world ripped out by the roots and plunged into the depths of a man-made hell of war, disease, and unspeakable cruelty.

The people of Grantville were no weaklings. But neither were they giants. They could not stand alone, not just a few thousand of them. Not against the millions who would willingly devour them alive just for the fact that they were different. They would need help.

Again it felt as if God touched her. She shivered. She would not be here if not for the Ring of Fire. She knew, with certainty now, that she would have been raped and murdered, along with her brother. So, just as the coming of Grantville had helped her survive, so now would she help Grantville survive.

She would help them.

With every ounce of her strength and her mind, she would help them.

Thank you, God. Thank you.

The refrain began again. And Colette Dubois began to weep.

"We will run and not grow weary, for our God will be our strength, and we will fly like the eagle, we will rise again."


Later that afternoon the parish chess club of St. Vincent de Paul inducted its first female chess player ever. There was no ceremony. But no one was going to deny Joe Modi.

"Look," Joe said, "She's a great chess player, she's living in my house, and I like her. She's got spunk." He looked at the seven men in his living room. "Any objections?"

Nothing but smiles and shrugs. "Great! Let's play chess!"

"Who gets to play Colette?" Lou Giamarino glared at Joe. "You can't hog her all to yourself, Joe."

Jerry Calafano raised his hand. "Me!"

"Like hell! I get her first," Bart Kubiak said.

Vince Masaniello spoke up. "Wait a minute! Age before beauty!"

"You calling me a pretty boy, Vince?" Bart asked in mock anger.

Colette laughed gaily. "Please, gentlemen, please. I'll play all of you. But how to choose … "

"Where we came from, Colette, we often did things in alphabetical order," Josh pointed out.

Colette smiled at him and nodded. "In that case, let's go in alphabetical order, by first name. But since I've already played Josh and Joe, they're out."

Bart Kubiak waved her over. "B as in Bart, young lady. I'm first."

But parish chess club meetings were not just about chess. They were also social gatherings and it was expected that multiple topics would be discussed throughout the afternoon. What everyone did not expect, however, was the direction it would take when it was Jerry Calafano's turn to play Colette. No one noticed when it started, but after awhile it became apparent that Jerry and Colette were no longer really speaking English, nor were they playing chess.

They were speaking mathematics.

It became most obvious when they got paper from Joe's computer room and sprawled on the floor, drawing diagrams, writing equations, and jabbing excitedly at each other's work.

When Jerry finally left, promising to bring some of his math texts and other books the next day, Colette was more aglow than Josh had ever seen her.

"Josh, do you realize what this means?" She was positively effervescent.

Josh smiled and shook his head. "No. What?"

"I will be the first person in Europe to understand the calculus! From what Jerry said, it was not really formalized for another fifty or sixty years. And the merging of algebra and geometry using coordinate geometry. Descartes has not even published yet! And non-Euclidean geometries! Oh, this is going to be so much fun!"

Josh laughed. "Just so long as you don't try to explain it to me too much. I had a tough time just getting through a couple of semesters of business calculus for dummies."

Josh had a thought. "Wait, I've got something for you." He went into the kitchen and got his briefcase. He'd stuck it under the kitchen table. He opened it and took out his Ti-30 solar calculator.

"Here. A gift from me to you. It's solar powered so you can use it anywhere there is enough ambient light. Should last for at least another ten years if you don't drop it too much."

Josh leaned over Colette's shoulder and placed the calculator in her hands. He started explaining the basic keys and functions. After a few minutes she looked up at him. Her green eyes sparkled. She caressed his arm.

"Thank you, Josh," she said softly. "This is a wonderful gift. I will treasure it forever."

Inside Josh smiled. Who would have thought that the way to a woman's heart would be through a calculator?


"My shoulder is healing well, Colette." Henri and Colette were sitting in Joe's small backyard. The fence around the yard was six feet high, just tall enough to prevent passersby from observing them as they sat at the wooden table with its large blue umbrella. "We can leave tomorrow if you wish."

Colette was playing with her hair, a far-off look on her face. "I am not going, Henri," she said calmly. "And neither is Colas. You may do what you wish. We will stay in Grantville."

"But your father would have wanted … "

Colette stopped him with a gesture. "My father is dead, Henri. There is nothing else for me. If I could get to Amsterdam … " Colette shook her head. "No, not even Amsterdam attracts me now. The Ring of Fire was a sign from God, Henri. If it had not happened when it did, Colas and I would be dead. I am certain of it."

She gestured around her. "This will be my home for now. The people in Grantville will need our help, Henri. They are master mechanics but they are very few in number."

Henri looked at her skeptically. "You expect this Joshua Modi to marry you? Like you expected Etienne to marry you?"

Colette stopped playing with her hair and glared at him. Then her glance softened. "I loved Etienne, Henri. As much as you loved either of your wives. He would have married me if he had not died at Dessau. I am sure of it. But I have mourned him long enough. And Josh Modi is not an unattractive man. His family has been left in another universe, except for Joe. He will be totally alone when Joe dies."

"Eh?" Henri grunted. "What do you mean?"

"Joe told me the first morning we were here. He has a disease that requires medicine they cannot manufacture anymore. He will live no longer than three months." Colette reached out and touched Henri's hand. "Henri, I need your help."

Henri sighed. "What do you want of me, Colette?"

Colette gave him three packages of letters. "I have written several letters. This first package is to be delivered to my aunt, Annette, at the béguinage de Hermee in Liege. She is executing my father's will and she must know where I am so she can forward the monies from the selling of his businesses. I have decided to sign over the house on the Rue Chodelistree to the béguinage de Hermee. That is the second document I have in there. Once you reach a secure Thurn and Taxis post house, I want you to send the second package of letters to Marie de Gournay in Paris. The third package of letters is to be delivered to my uncle, Louis de Geer, in Amsterdam. He has a keen eye and an even keener nose for business. What I have told him about Grantville in these letters should catch his interest. Grantville will have a need for wealthy patrons I think."

Colette looked at him. "Will you do this for me, Henri? The letters to Annette and Louis de Geer must be hand-delivered. I dare not take the chance that they might be misplaced or lost."

Henri nodded. Simon Dubois, Colette's father, had died in Henri's arms in February of 1631, a victim of the political infighting in Liege. Henri had promised to look after Simon's family. Henri had taken Colette and Colas back to his home in Magdeburg when men associated with the political machinations began hunting them.

"I will, Colette. I promised your father I would take care of you. But do not expect to see me for several months. I will send word by post when I have accomplished what you ask. Do you want me to wait for return messages from your aunt and uncle?"

Colette shook her head again. "No. I trust my aunt and I know that what I have written to my Uncle Louis will be sufficient for him to come here as soon as he can. He may be in Sweden at the moment, though. I expect him in Amsterdam within the next few months." She smiled at Henri. "You would not mind waiting a few weeks in Amsterdam?"

Henri laughed. "No, not at all."

Colette reached across the table, serious now. She clasped Henri's arm. "This is very important to me, Henri. But so are you. Ride safely and may God be with you."

Henri sighed. Oh, to be twenty years younger. You would have a fight on your hands for this young woman then, Joshua Modi. Indeed you would.


In the second week after the Ring of Fire Josh met with the machine shop owners and their employees. Colette and Amy Kubiak sat in the back of the audience to provide moral support. The most critical points in Josh's lecture concerned the importance of good cast iron with a high silicon content for steam engine cylinders and the need to make their own cast steel, since that process in Europe hadn't been introduced until the mid-eighteenth century. When alloy steels were brought up, Josh laughed.

"That will take some time. Tungsten we can get from the tailings of tin mines, according to the encyclopedias. Chromite would be damn useful, but the deposits are spread all over the place, from Kemi in Finland, to Turkey, to Baltimore. If we could get to Maryland, the deposits there would be pretty easy to get. Vince Masaniello even has a brochure of a nature preserve where they used to mine it. Just a few problems, of course. Like getting to the sea and then crossing three thousand miles of ocean."

Josh nodded towards Greg Ferrara. "Here's Greg to help refresh you on metal chemistry."

Josh moved to the back of the room. Amy moved over so he could sit next to Colette. "How'd I do?" he whispered.

"Excellent," she whispered back. "Having Vince and Monty speak was a good idea. They seem to be respected masters of their guild."

After the meeting, Bart and Josh walked back to town. Amy and Colette walked ten feet in front, occasionally laughing and looking back at them.

"Thick as thieves those two," Bart said musingly. "Thick as thieves. I think you're in trouble, Josh. They're scheming about something."

Josh sighed. "I know it. I just don't know how much resistance to put up." Bart chuckled. "Knowing my daughter and judging from what I've seen of Colette, I don't think they're going to settle for anything less than unconditional surrender."

The two women turned to look back at him again.

Who knows, thought Josh. Unconditional surrender can't be too bad, can it?

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