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Chapter 28

Gretchen surveyed the scene in the large new building which the Americans had constructed next to what they called the "power plant." Part of her found it hard not to laugh. The crowd of mercenary soldiers packing the room looked absolutely miserable. Some of that misery was due to their wet condition. The Americans had obviously put them through the same cleansing process which Gretchen and her family had experienced. But she suspected they had been much more abrupt about it than the duchess.

And that, of course, was the major cause of their misery. Men—soldiers especially—wearing nothing but towels wrapped around their waists do not enjoy the sight of other soldiers holding weapons. Especially not those ferocious American guns with their bizarre mechanism for rapid fire. Pump-action shotguns, they were called. A few of the mercenaries had seen the weapons in action on the battlefield, and had quickly spread the word.

So they stood there, silent and unmoving. Shivering more from fear than the wetness.

Gretchen spotted a familiar face almost at once. Her amusement vanished, replaced by pleasure.

So he survived again! "Heinrich!" she called out, and plunged into the mob. "Heinrich—look! It's me—Gretchen!"

Watching her come toward him, Heinrich's jaw dropped. Gretchen grinned. She was not surprised by the reaction. Heinrich had seen her many times. But never so clean, and never wearing such clothing. Gretchen had just obtained them that morning, when the duchess took her entire family into something called the Value Market. The blouse was a bit odd, but not completely outlandish. But the rest!

It had taken Gretchen not more than two hours to make a transition which, completely unknown to her, another world had already made in another universe. She loved her new clothing, especially the "blue jeans" and—marvel of marvels!—the sneakers.

And so, bouncing gleefully on magic feet, Gretchen approached the man who might have once become her own. Kind Heinrich, gentle Heinrich, canny and cunning Heinrich. Tough Heinrich, too. But not, alas, tough enough to dare challenge Ludwig.


Melissa gasped. "Is she crazy? We've got no way to protect her in that mob of thugs!"

Next to her, James shook his head. "Protect her? From what?" He pointed to the men beginning to cluster around Gretchen. Smiling men. Relieved men. "Look at them, Melissa. Do those look like thugs? Or—" He snorted. "Like kids running to their momma."

Melissa stared. The crowd around Gretchen was swelling rapidly. The young German woman was becoming the focal point of the entire room. Gretchen and the men around her were now engaging in a rapid verbal exchange. Melissa couldn't understand any of the words, but within seconds she grasped the essence. Much of it was questioning, of course. Frightened and confused men seeking explanations, reasons, bearings. What is happening to us? But then, more and more often, she caught the underlying banter.

"It's like you said," murmured Mike. "A natural born 'chooser of the living.' "


The first one she chose was Heinrich. Heinrich, and the twenty or so men who followed him. All of them had survived the battle. Completely uninjured, amazingly enough. Heinrich's group, like Ludwig's, had been in the front line. But they were arquebusiers, not pikemen. By good luck, they had been among the Catholic mercenaries ordered to attack Hoffman's men. They had not faced the M-60. And the ensuing enfilade rifle fire had struck the men on the opposite flank of their separate contingent.

Gretchen would have chosen Heinrich and his men first, under any circumstances. The fact that he spoke excellent English was simply an added bonus.

She introduced them to Frank Jackson personally. Then, allowed Heinrich to speak for himself. Ten minutes later, Jackson nodded and extended his hand.

The American army had just gained its first German recruits.


And so the day went. And the next, and the next. On the first day, the Americans were tense. On the second, watching the relief and joy with which the German camp followers who were now packing the area greeted the men who emerged from Gretchen's "choosing," they were beginning to relax. By the third day—

"Jesus," said Mike, wiping his face. "I don't know how much more of this I can take." He tried to block the sounds from his mind.

Grimly, the doctor surveyed the scene. Knots of women, children, old folks. Squatting on the ground outside the power plant, trying to cope with the news. These were the people who had come looking for men who were not to be found elsewhere. Hoping against hope that they might still be prisoners instead of battlefield casualties, and finding out otherwise.

"Yeah," agreed Nichols. "It's easy enough to kill a man. Something else again to listen to their families afterward."

Mike's eyes fell on a young boy, perhaps eight years old. The face was tear-streaked. Numb. Daddy has gone away forever.

Mike looked away. "How many are left?" he asked, nodding toward the new building attached to the power plant. The "processing center," as everyone was now calling it.

The third man in their party, Dan Frost, gave the answer. "Not that many. A lot fewer than I'd imagined, to tell you the truth."

"I'm not surprised, Dan," said Mike. "Not any longer. From what Rebecca and Jeff have told me, Gretchen and her people had the bad luck to fall into the hands of the worst types among the mercenaries. Most of them—"

James interrupted, pointing to a clot of people moving down the road, following a newly appointed American guide. At the center, still wearing nothing but a towel, was a man in his early thirties. "Most of them are like those." He smiled, cocking his head at Mike. "What did Melissa say you called it? 'Just men, that's all. Fucking up in a fucked-up world.' "

Mike nodded. "I'd say there won't be more than a hundred rejects left, in the end. Gretchen's being one hell of lot more charitable than I probably would have been."

"Are any of their women and children likely to complain?" asked Dan.

Mike and James sneered simultaneously. "Not hardly!" snorted Mike. He nodded toward the small crowd of miserable people squatting outside the processing center. "Those people are weeping for the dead, Dan. The ones who"—angrily—" 'belonged' to the scum still inside have already left. Practically dancing, once they got the news."

Nichols ran his fingers through his hair. "I saw one woman come up to Gretchen and ask her something. The whereabouts of her so-called 'man,' I'm pretty sure. The name Diego was mentioned. When she heard what Gretchen had to say, she just collapsed. Crying like a baby. She kept repeating two words, over and over."

His face was grim. "I don't know much German, but I know that much. Thank God, thank God."

There was silence for a moment. Then the police chief cleared his throat.

"All right, guys. We've got to come to a decision here. I saw the body myself, before we buried it. Doc Adams was right. The man probably would have died anyway, but the fatal wounds weren't caused by gunfire. He was knifed. As neat a butchering job as you could ask for, too."

Mike glanced at him. "You know what my opinion is, Dan. Are you comfortable with it?"

Frost scowled. "Hell no! Comfortable? I'm a law-enforcement officer, for Christ's sake. I've got evidence suggesting first-degree murder and several witnesses placing two known people at the scene of the crime. And you wanna know if I'm comfortable?"

Mike said nothing. James, after looking away for a moment, asked: "Have you spoken with Jeff about it?"

The police chief was still scowling. "No," he said forcefully. "And I've got no intention of speaking to him, either. Not unless we decide to press charges."

Mike said nothing. James looked away again. Then, turning back: "Melissa told me that Gretchen had her younger sister all wrapped up in cloths. Keeping her figure hidden."

Dan spit on the ground. "Dammit, James, that's not the point! I don't have any doubt at all about what happened. Or why." He rubbed the back of his neck. "It's just the principle of the thing, that's all."

A little humor crept into his voice. "Truth is, any jury in this town would return a 'justifiable homicide' verdict in a heartbeat. Especially after I described the so-called victim. I swear, the guy looked so much like a devil I almost shot him two or three times myself, just to be sure he was dead."

Dan sighed. "But who needs a trial, when you get right down to it? Be great, wouldn't it? Do I arrest them right after the wedding tomorrow, or do I wait a day so the kids can get laid?"

Mike said nothing. James looked away. Silence.

The police chief's decision was inevitable. "The hell with it. If the principle bothers me too much, I can always remind myself that it happened out of my jurisdiction."

Mike nodded.

"Okay," said James. "There'll be rumors, of course. Adams is a very good doctor, but he's on the talkative side. By now, must be at least a half dozen people besides us who know the story."

Mike and Dan grinned simultaneously.

"Hell, yes, there'll be stories!" chortled the police chief. His eyes surveyed the surrounding hills admiringly. "We're mountain people, Doc. Always had stories. The more grisly the better. Ain't a man or woman around here who can't trot out their brag about some desperado in the family tree."

"My great-grandfather was a bank robber," bragged Mike. "They say he killed two guards in one holdup."

Dan sneered. "Oh, bullshit! The way I heard it he was just a petty horsethief." He drove over Mike's splutter of protest. "Now, if you want a genu-ine criminal, you gotta go to my great-great-aunt Bonnie's first husband, Leroy. Cut four men, they say, in a knife fight on a riverboat. That was just the gambling side of it. He's also supposed—"

"Pikers," sneered Nichols. "Hillbilly sissies. You want some real stories?" He rubbed his hands. "Welcome to the ghetto! Let's start with my second cousin, Anthony. A beast in human flesh, everybody says so. Started off at the age of thirteen—" He drove relentlessly over Appalachian outrage. "Then, no sooner did he get out of prison—"


By the evening of the third day, Gretchen's task was done. The town of Grantville found itself, almost overnight, doubled in population. Some of the soldiers, like Heinrich and his men, enrolled in the American army. But most of them seized the opportunity to take up new trades—or, often enough, return to long-familiar ones: farmer, miner, carpenter, craftsman.

Over the next few weeks, the crowds packed into the refugee centers would start thinning. One by one, hesitantly, tentatively, American families would start taking in German boarders. The process was initiated by men at work, usually. Discovering that the man next to them, for all that he spoke an unfamiliar tongue and was possessed of odd notions and whims, swung a pretty good hammer or dug more than his share of coal. Or, simply, was polite and had a nice smile.


The rest? The ones to whom Gretchen would not give the nod?

They expected to be executed, of course. Their actual fate was far more bizarre—and, truth be told, much more unsettling.

None of those men had ever seen a photograph before. Seeing one—seeing their own faces on it—was bad enough. The writing on the posters was worse. Many of those men could read. Most of them, actually, since Gretchen had a low opinion of officers. The ones who couldn't got a translation from their literate fellows.

The posters were identical, except for the photograph and the name.

this man is declared outlaw
if he is found anywhere in american territory
after july 5, 1631
kill him
no questions will be asked


Heinrich acted as interpreter.

"You've got two days," he growled. "Better move fast. You're on foot with nothing but the clothes on your backs."

The former commander of the tercio cleared his throat. "This is unclear," he whined. "Just how far does this—this 'American territory' extend?"

Heinrich turned to Mike for the answer. Mike said nothing. He just gave the commanding officer a stare.


A few months later, the officer found himself another employer. The Tsar. Russia, he thought, would be far enough.


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