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Part Seven

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Chapter 59

By the time they reached Grantville, Mike had reached his conclusion. He didn't much care for it, in many ways. But he knew it was—by far—the best alternative.

If nothing else, listening to Harry Lefferts' monologue during the drive from Eisenach had convinced him. Once they got word over the radio that the imperialist raid had been driven off, with light casualties, everyone in the relief column had been able to relax. Cheerfully, enthusiastically—even gaily—Harry had spent the last two hours explaining all the many ways in which the United States could be made safe from any future invasion or attack.

Barbed wire. Land mines. Fortresses along every approach bristling with Gatling guns—we can make 'em, Mike, I'm telling you!—and napalm catapults. Greg says we can make phosphorus bombs too—way better'n napalm! A much bigger army—universal draft, goddamit!—and a massive expansion of the military college which they had already decided to launch. Oh, and lots more. Observation balloons, and powered hang gliders for recon. Even poison gas, maybe.

Outside of the poison gas, Mike had no particular problem with any of Harry's specific ideas. But, taken as a whole, he understood the inexorable logic involved.

Festung Amerika! Fortress America, and everything that went with it.

When the relief column reached the center of Grantville, driving slowly through the cheering crowd, Harry stopped the APC. He turned to Mike, smiling broadly.

"So, chief—whaddaya think?"

Mike did not return the smile. "What I think, Harry, is that your proposal is just Simpson all over again. Only bigger."

Harry's smile vanished, replaced by a look of bewildered outrage. The young coal miner detested Simpson!

Mike couldn't help but chuckle. At that instant, Harry reminded him of a small boy, accused of liking girls.

"Think it through, Harry." Mike listened to the roar of the crowd, for a moment. Even through the steel plate armor, the sound penetrated easily. There was nothing about that sound that Mike disliked, in and of itself. It was just the roar of a triumphant nation, saluting its soldiers. Nothing to fear—as long as it ended soon enough.

But if it went on, and on, and on . . . 

Festung Amerika. But there was not enough room for America in a fortress. Certainly not one as small as Thuringia. Not Mike's vision of America, at least. Soon enough, Fortress America would need to expand. The militarist logic would inevitably guide that expansion. Living space, to be seized from its neighbors. Everything else would follow, like a glacier moving to the sea. Drang nach Osten. Amerika über alles!

It was obvious that Harry still didn't understand. Mike began to sigh with exasperation, but forced himself to control his impatience. Like a schoolteacher, explaining things again. And again. And again—as long as it took.

That image brought a smile to his face. Yes!

He bestowed the smile on Harry. "Didn't you wonder? Why Wallenstein sent most of his Croats against the school—instead of the town?"

Harry frowned. "I dunno. He's a murderous bastard, from what everybody says."

Mike shook his head. "No. I've been reading about him, in the history books. He wasn't—isn't, I should say—a sadist, Harry. Not at all. He doesn't eat babies for breakfast. He's just utterly cold-blooded and, without a doubt, the smartest man on the other side. Smarter than Richelieu, even."

Someone started pounding on the door of the APC. Demanding that the soldiers emerge, so that the crowd could greet them properly.

Nothing to fear. As long as it ended soon enough.

Mike started unlocking the door. "Think about it, Harry. Think long and hard. The reason Wallenstein wanted to destroy the school more than anything else is because he understands us better, I think, than we often understand ourselves. He knows what's really dangerous."

Now unlocked, the door was swung open from the outside. A sea of cheering faces appeared, and the sound of applause became almost deafening.

Before he climbed out of the APC, Mike gave Harry a glance. The young miner still didn't understand. But, apparently, Harry didn't much care. Whether he understood or not, Harry Lefferts did know who he had confidence in.

"So, chief," he shouted. "You got another plan?"

Mike grinned. "I think I do, as a matter of fact." He turned and started climbing out of the truck. Before his feet touched the ground, a multitude of hands had picked him up and were carrying him around the intersection in gleeful triumph.

Mike returned the applause with waving hands and a big grin. A man could get to enjoy this, he thought. Like a snake, digesting its prey.

He turned his head and stared to the east. The school was in that direction, not far away. He was burning with impatience to get there. To see his wife, of course. He knew that Rebecca was unharmed—she herself had been the one to make the last radio call—but he still wanted to hold her, and hold her, and hold her.

Beyond that—

I've got to talk to a captain. And hope—and pray—that he's every bit the madman that everyone says.



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