I don’t normally like writing Fan Fiction, but this idea burned through my head and eventually I wrote it. It’s based upon the 1632 universe created by Eric Flint, although it is not canon to the best of my knowledge. This story takes place between 1632 and Ring of Fire; In the Navy.
As John Chandler Simpson stepped out of the recording studio, he became aware that there was a young woman waiting for him outside, her face half-blurred between an attempt at a friendly smile and open dislike. Grantville had plenty of younger people who disliked Simpson – not that he cared – but this one was special. She was, in a very real sense, both the source of his concern about the future and the wife of a man he cordially detested.
“Mrs Stearns,” he said. The old combative urge rose within him, tempered by years of experience in the United States Navy and as a CEO; he bowed his head as politely as he could. He might have regarded her as naïve, mixed with enough intelligence to make her dangerous until she developed the experience to see the world as it was, but that was no excuse to be openly rude.
“Mr Simpson,” she agreed. Her face flickered through an entire spectrum of conflicting emotions. The election was coming up and both of them knew that it would be close, her husband the miner, the dreamer, the surprisingly capable politician, facing a man that half of Grantville regarded as a dangerous racist. Simpson was a former CEO…and there were few in the town who would have forgiven him that particular crime, no matter the circumstances. “May we have a word?”
Simpson blinked, despite himself. “I was under the impression that you didn’t like me,” he said. Her English still had that faint trace of an accent, but she spoke it almost perfectly, certainly better than her husband. “Do you wish us to talk here, or to find somewhere more peaceful to sit?”
Rebecca waved towards a picnic table with one dainty hand. Simpson nodded and stepped over to the table, pausing to admire the German craftsmanship that had designed and built the table so that it almost looked as if it was growing out of the ground. An American had given a German the idea…and the craftsman had taken it and run with it, far beyond Simpson’s own capabilities. It had been far too long since he had carved wood.
“Your reputation will suffer, being seen with me,” Simpson said, as Rebecca sat down gently on the other side of the table. “I do not believe that we have much in common.”
“Of course not,” Rebecca agreed. She tapped the table with one long finger. “Why do you refuse to debate me on air?”
Simpson had to smile. Rebecca had taken the role of television presenter and made it her own. “It is poor form to debate with the person running the show,” he said, after a moment. “You would have the home field advantage.”
“As happens in some of the places you speak?” Rebecca asked. “Do you just like people agreeing with you all the time?”
She had, Simpson admitted privately, touched a nerve. Some of the people who supported him shared his worries for the future, the future of the tiny population of Americans who had been dumped into the Thirty Years War. Some of the others were…unpleasant, even to his eyes; one thing that Simpson had never been, in all his life, was a racist. Some of his supporters could have given the Ku Klux Klan lessons.
“Hardly,” he said, to cover his irritation. “Is there a point to all of this?”
Rebecca held his eyes for a long moment. “Why do you want everyone to pass a citizenship test?” She asked. Simpson felt a flicker of pure anger; she asked him that? “Don’t you feel that that test is…designed to exclude Germans from being voters?”
Simpson took a long breath and decided to get to the heart of the matter. “How much do you love your country?”
Rebecca smiled openly, completely, for the first time. After a moment, Simpson joined her; the joke was more amusing than it seemed. There was little to love in the Germany of the Thirty Years War, with princes and princelings stamping all over the land, looting, raping and pillaging wherever they rode. Rebecca herself had been lucky to escape her fate in the other universe, the one before the Ring of Fire; it was perhaps telling that none of Grantville’s records spoke of either her or her father. She would, if she had been lucky, died quickly – had died quickly in the universe that had given John Simpson birth. Her fate, had she been unlucky, didn’t bear thinking about.
“I love this place,” she said finally. Simpson smiled; Grantville might not have been the High Society that Mary and he had belonged to, but it was something far more than anywhere else in Germany.
“So do I,” Simpson said. “I don’t want to see it destroyed.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Rebecca said. Her hair washed around her head as she spoke. “The American Dream has spread out of Grantville.”
“This isn’t a time for political speeches,” Simpson said dryly. There was no one as fanatical as a new convert…and Rebecca, Gretchen and the other Germans were new converts to the doctrine of liberty, equality and democracy. The Committees of Correspondence alone were proof of that; privately, Simpson understood and even sympathised. If – when – he won the election, he would see to it that the Committees received what help he could send, short of direct involvement. “Idealism and politics don’t mix.”
Rebecca’s mouth twisted. “Why?” She asked. “Why are you so…?”
“Evil?” Simpson asked. The word left a bitter taste in his mouth. Mike Stearns’ style of politics was not for the faint of heart. “The Left has always seen those who oppose it as evil.”
“And the Right has always seen those who oppose it as enemy-loving fools,” Rebecca countered. If nothing else, her husband and the political groups in Grantville would have given her a complete background in American politics. The miners weren’t communists – not even Simpson would have made that statement – but there was a strong line of socialism in their thinking. “You’re the one who wants to deny people the right to vote.”
Simpson understood, finally, what she was getting at. “Answer me a question,” he said. “It was rumoured that your…” - he paused; the relations between the Jewish families scattered over Europe were complicated to a degree that no sane American would understand – “father’s friend had come in hopes of marrying you, before he discovered that you were engaged to Stearns. Is there any truth in that?”
Rebecca held his eyes. “He had hopes,” she said. Her face was hard. “Perhaps…”
Simpson pushed on. “Perhaps you would have been pushed into marrying him,” he said. “I like to think that everyone in Grantville would have turned on him, had your father been enough of a bastard to agree, but that’s not the point. The point is, the core of the American dream, is that every life is worth something. No one in America can legally force a poor innocent girl to marry a stranger, no matter how handsome or rich or well-connected he is. Mrs Stearns, even the worst people in my little group, even the ones who think that Hitler was merely unlucky, would agree with that.”
Rebecca’s face heated. “You’re the one who wants to deny the franchise to everyone who cannot pass your tests,” she snapped. “If you think that every life is worth something, then why are you adamantly opposed to giving everyone the vote?”
Simpson felt something snap inside him. “Because not everyone shares my view,” he snapped back. He saw the combative urge rising up inside her and forced himself to calm. Winning was important, but not at such a high price; oddly, he found himself respecting her, even as he disagreed with her. “Not everyone, even Gretchen, thinks American.”
Rebecca lifted a single elegant eyebrow. “You know what’s going to happen on Election Day?”
“Mike is going to win,” Rebecca said. Her voice was very calm, very controlled. “Once that happens…”
“I will shake his hand, concede, and pledge to follow his leadership until the next election,” Simpson said. It would hurt to concede anything to Stearns, but the principle of democracy was too important for him not to set a good example. “If I win, he will do the same, because in the end, we share the same beliefs. The same goes for everyone else here; if one of us tried something stupid like a coup, everyone would turn on us.
“But does that go for the princes here?” He pressed. Germany was a patchwork quilt of little states, little places where one Prince’s voice held sway, places where the lives of the lowly-born were worthless. Mary Simpson could have given lessons in decency to the Princesses; hell, Melissa May could have taught them how to behave, but both women would be regarded as lowly born by the nobles. Simpson would have destroyed them all if he could have done so…and yet he knew that Stearns’ plan to change the world was too dangerous, risking the very core of Grantville itself. “What do they do when they lose an arbitration?”
Rebecca’s face looked as if she had eaten something unpleasant. The answer was all around them; the princes went to war. There were factions and feuds that went back further than Simpson cared to think about, purges and struggles that had had their origin in little trifling things, such as who had the right to hunt in a particular forest. When a prince lost in a war, or even won, it was his people who paid the price. An American-style election? The loser would immediately seek to change the decision by force of arms. Even if he lost the resulting war, the winner wouldn’t kill him; it wouldn’t do for the peasants to see the nobles dying, would it? It might give them ideas.
It went on and on, a list written in blood. A prince who changed his religion would take his little state with him; the people would suffer whatever punishment was decreed for heretics if they lost. The miners’ first introduction to their new world had been through breaking up a ‘rest and relaxation’ session; a man had been tortured and his wife had been…
Simpson shook his head. He didn’t want to think about it. That led, at once, to thoughts of it happening in Grantville; there had already been one near-disaster when the School had been attacked. Would Rebecca Stearns end her days trapped under one of the French or Spanish soldiers, her body violated before she was killed, after her husband had been tortured to death? Mike Stearns was now one of the most hated men in Europe…as far as the nobles were concerned.
He refused to say those words. She deserved better.
“Mike and I…share the same way of looking at the world,” he said softly. “The newcomers do not. I could give you plenty of examples of a society destroyed or damaged by the sudden influx of immigrants, many of whom have different ideas about how the world works. What about Gretchen? She has publicly threatened to hang one of my people…”
Rebecca’s eyes narrowed. “Are you really proud of Karl K. Kinston?”
Simpson ignored the jibe. Kinston might have been a living advertisement for birth control, but that was beside the point. Someone who considered women, dogs, blacks and Jews as being on the same level – firmly below him – was more of a liability than anything else. He thought his initials were funny, Simpson had found; the man’s support was hardly worth the price.
“And is alarming the continent with her talk of revolution, hanging all the princes, and generally rendering the world fair,” he said. “The members of the Committees of Correspondence can be even more vitriolic; one of them even wanted me dead. Whatever happens between me and Mike, I would never order his death and he wouldn’t do the same to me.”
He waved a hand. “This place is the core of America now, all that is left of the world that gave us birth,” he said. “Democracy means, overall, that the will of the majority will prevail, even over the law. What happens, in the future, if your immigrants do something devastating because they don’t really understand what they’re playing with?”
Rebecca leaned forwards. “Like what?” She asked. “Surrender to the French?”
“Like deciding to rewrite the rules because they are losing,” Simpson said. “That’s the temptation for reformers everywhere. There are plenty of places in America that were run by big Bosses who stayed in power because they knew how to run the system. Along comes a reformer…and the poor fool starts breaking things because he doesn’t have the patience to work within the system. It’s easy to start rewriting the rules, only then you discover that people no longer have any respect for them.
“Or…how many people in Germany take Woman’s Liberation seriously? I hardly need tell you that the churches are dead set against it…and most men don’t consider their wives as anything other than housewives, if that. Grantville gives the vote to women, but what happens if enough Germans want to take the vote away from women? Disenfranchise them? And if the constitution clearly states that that cannot be done, then what stops them from demanding an amendment to the constitution?”
He leaned forward. “The problem with revolutions is that they go around,” he said. “You might succeed in overthrowing the nobles, only to discover that the revolution becomes a tyranny, with yourself or Gretchen in the chair. It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re doing the right thing, particularly if everyone keeps telling you what they want you to hear, or what they want you to know.”
Rebecca flushed slightly. “Don’t you have any faith that Mike’s plans will work?”
“I can see his sucker punch,” Simpson said. It was something clever, he had to admit, but it depended too much on factors that would be permanently outside the bastard’s control. “What happens if we get everyone in Europe so mad at us that they put everything they have into destroying us? We’re not gods; our technology doesn’t make us immortal, or indestructible, does it?
“And there Stearns is, trying to get us involved with the entire continent and risking a social disaster,” he concluded. He wondered if she would understand, or if she would blame it on racism, or anti-Semitism, or some other excuse not to think about the world. “Is it really worth the price?
“Yes,” Rebecca said. Her face blazed with passion. He could see, just for a moment, the beauty and intelligence that had captivated Mike Stearns…and almost all of the population of Grantville. Rebecca was no lying politician, out to convince people to vote for her; she believed, truly, in what she was saying. “Out there, there are thousands suffering because of the war…and it will only get worse. Is it not worth the risk?”
Simpson allowed himself, just for a moment, to wonder. He had risked his life for the American Dream – absently, he wondered how Frank Jackson, his fellow Vietnam Vet, felt about Stearns’ plans – and thousands of others had died for it. Had he been alone, without Mary, without Tom, he might have allowed himself to dream once more. This world…was nothing like the world they had sprung from; Mary was in serious danger here, not least because of who she was married to. The world of 1632 was no country for older women.
“No,” he said finally. He wanted to explain and knew that he didn’t have the words. No one had words to explain how he felt. Stearns’ mad plans would destroy them all. He would do whatever it took to make everyone aware of the dangers. “There are some risks that can never be borne.”
Lost in his own thoughts, he was barely aware of her departure. Perhaps she was disappointed, perhaps she had had some romantic idea that she would be able to talk him round to her side, to her husband’s side. She was very smart, very clever, but in the end, she was naive. The cruel world would have killed her in the other timeline, the half-dreamy world that Simpson missed dreadfully; she had been protected for too long. Her husband might even be right, in the long term, but in the short term…it would be disastrous. The Germans and the world of 1632 were not ready for democracy. Not yet; it would destroy them.
He was right, he was sure that he was right.