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Chapter 32

Hans watched the angels of death for several minutes before he spoke. He was puzzled by the difference between them. It was not the fact that one was male and one female. It was simply that Hans had always thought of angels as being . . . ageless. So why should one of them resemble a young woman, and the other a gray-haired man?

Their hair seemed strange, too.

But he was not frightened. He knew they were angels of death because of their black color, but he could detect no evil in their faces. Only a sort of calm concern. They seemed to be watching over several souls.

Not Hell, then.

Hans' eyes ranged through the room. That, too, was odd. He would have thought a divine antechamber would have been better constructed. Or not constructed at all. Simply—spoken into existence. But he could see the nail heads holding the wooden framework together. Very sloppy workmanship, actually.

His eyes studied the filmy substance separating him from the dimly sensed soul of another. The other soul, like his own, seemed to be lying on some sort of cot. Hans admired the filmy substance. Very ethereal, he thought. But he was a bit nonplussed by the cot. It did not seem at all heavenly.

He was not dead yet, then. His soul was simply suspended somewhere, waiting to be reaped.

The filmy substance was suddenly brushed aside. One of the angels of death entered into his space. The young female one.

Hans studied her face. Her features were not what he would have expected on an angel. Very large, broad. But he decided she was quite beautiful. He liked the way her tightly coiled black hair framed her forehead. And her dark eyes seemed very warm.

He cleared his throat. "I am ready," he whispered.

The angel leaned closer, turning her head slightly to present an ear. "What did you say?" she asked.

Hans was puzzled. Why would an angel speak English? But he accepted the divine will, and repeated himself in English.

"Take me, angel," he repeated. "I am ready."

The words seemed to register. The angel's eyes widened. Her lips curved into a smile, the smile became a laugh. Hans got his next surprise.

" 'Take me!' " she mimicked. Another laugh. "I've heard of one-track minds before, but this—(strange idiom; something about a cake being taken)."

But English it surely was. Hans was quite familiar with the tongue. The only member of Ludwig's band that he had genuinely liked was a young Irishman. The Irishman was also dead, now. Hans had seen his brains explode.

The angel was still laughing. "You may be ready, honey," she exclaimed, "but I'm not!" Another laugh, quite gay. "Aren't you the randy one!"

She patted his cheek. "Welcome back, Hans Richter. I'll get your sisters."


They arrived within an hour, and Hans discovered that he was still alive. Alive—and healing well. But he had spent many weeks on the edge of death. It was now the month of August.

Other changes had taken place, he discovered, and still others were in the offing. By the end of the day, he met Gretchen's new husband. And his new employer.

"You don't have to be a soldier anymore, Hans," explained Gretchen. She gestured to a man standing behind her. He was a large man, rather young, with a friendly smile.

"This is Mr. Kindred. He is—was—the publisher of Grantville's newspaper."

"What is a newspaper?" asked Hans.

Gretchen frowned. "It's like a broadsheet, except it comes out once a week and tells people what's happening in the world."

Hans started to ask another question but Gretchen overrode him. "Later, brother. For now, Mr. Kindred could use your help. He is trying to build a print shop, so that he can resume his publication. But—" She hesitated. "His old methods won't work, so he needs to build one the way father did. He would like your help. Three other former printers have already joined him. If it goes well, you can become a partner if you want to."

Hans stared at the publisher. "I could be a printer again?" he asked, very softly. "Not a mercenary?"

Gretchen nodded. "They will ask you to join what they call the militia, and do some training every week. But unless you want to be a professional soldier"—she laughed, then, seeing the expression on her younger brother's face—"you don't have to."

"Be a printer again," Hans whispered.


The next day, the doctor he had thought was an angel of death released him from the hospital. Helped by his sisters and his new brother-in-law, Hans entered a new world.

It was all very strange, but Hans did not care. Not even when he was conscripted into the labor battalions the day after he moved into his new home. The battalions were being mobilized every day to bring in food from the surrounding countryside. Winter was coming, and the teeming town of Grantville was working feverishly to prepare for it. Hans understood the urgency. He understood winter all too well.

And then, acceptance turned into sheer joy. Because he was still weak, the Americans decided he was unfit for hard labor. They were on the verge of sending him home when one of them, hearing that Hans had been a printer, asked if he was comfortable around machinery. The next thing Hans knew he was being trained to operate the most wonderful machine he had ever seen. A "pickup," it was called. Hans fell in love with it immediately. Over the next few weeks, he learned to drive most of the American motor vehicles. And fell in love with all of them. He was almost sorry when he had to start his new job in the print shop.

But the print shop was urgent, now. The American leaders were determined, it seemed, to begin publishing newspapers and broadsides. And books, soon enough.

They called it "propaganda." After Hans read the first pamphlet which came off the press, he fell in love with propaganda also. He liked the Bill of Rights, even if he thought it was probably insane.

A mad, crazed new world. Hans loved all of it, especially after his wonderful new brother-in-law showed him how to operate the machine called a "computer."


The best of all, however, came on September 10. That evening, the strange machine in the trailer which his brother-in-law called a "television" came to life. For the first time, apparently, since the divine event which the Americans called the Ring of Fire.

Hans was gathered around the odd glass with the entire family. The room was packed with bodies. His brother-in-law, smiling, reached down and pushed a button. The glass—the "screen," it was called—suddenly came alive.

"Oh, look!" exclaimed Annalise. "It's Becky."

Gretchen pursed her lips, studying the image of the young woman on the screen. True, it looked like Becky. She was standing behind a table, whispering something to her betrothed. Yes, that was Mike, sure enough. But—

Gretchen was not certain. "She seems awfully nervous," she mused.

"That's nonsense," retorted her sister firmly. "Becky is never nervous."


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