(ed note: This story is part of the War World series which starts off with the decline and fall of the first empire. On the planet Haven, off-world trade is all but gone, the colonists have to make do with what is locally available. In particular the miracle handwavium armor alloy "durasteel" cannot be created on planet, whatever is currently present is all there is ever going to be.
The Haven government is printing paper money like nobody's business, causing a bad case of hyperinflation. 20,000 Haven marks to buy a single loaf of bread. Silver and gold bullion is the only money that is worth anything.
One protagonist is Albert Hamilton, Baron of Greensward. He views the rise of bandit gangs and the decay of government with alarm. Not to mention the evil politicians at the capital with ambitions of becoming warlords. As it turns out his barony has a secret stash of silver and gold bullion. He has started projects to turn Whitehall manor house into a veritable medieval castle-fortress, to better defend the villagers of the barony. Because the government ain't gonna do it. He also has other plans.
Brigadier Gary Cummings of the 77th Imperial Division's Second Regiment is in charge of the only government troops on Haven. They are the only thing standing against the bandit gangs and the fall of civilization. But due to hyperinflation, he has no money to pay for troops. He has to disband several units.
So Brigadier Cummings goes to see his old friend Baron Hamilton with a proposal for their mutual benefit. Turns out the Baron has a better one.)
The Baron knew where the bitterness in Cummings’ voice came from. He’d talked himself blue in the face—even before the Marines started leaving—trying to get the Castell spaceport fortified, then watched as it was wrecked by thugs in a few days. (Brigadier Cummings)
“Manpower isn’t good. We only have two regiments, both at something like three-quarters strength. The raid cost us. Not that we didn’t eliminate about a third of the Castell’s gang members and thugs. Of course, there’s plenty more where they came from. The rest of it’s this cursed inflation. I can’t really crack down on soldiers who desert to take care of families, not when I can’t feed and clothe them properly. But, Albert, maybe you can help me do something about that. Apart from your flocks and herds, I understand you’ve got quite a cache of silver and gold bullion stashed—” (Baron Hamilton)
“Where the devil did you hear that?! It couldn’t have been the servants; after all, only Mattie and John knew about it. I can’t imagine they’d talk—no, I won’t believe it. He couldn’t have!”
“As a matter of fact, John didn’t. It was George Morris at the First Imperial Bank.”
“Brigade Security had someone planted at the bank to keep an eye on where the money was going and he did his homework. What could George say, when I laid my cards down on the table? He knew you’d be mad as all get-out, but he stands to lose a lot if the militia can’t meet its payroll.”
The Baron shook his head in weary disgust. “So, what do you have in mind?”
“First of all, I’m not here to rob you. I’m desperate, not stupid. I’d like to propose a deal that should make us both reasonably happy. Al, I know you did your ten years in the Imperial Navy and you can count fingers held up before your face. If we have to pull all the troops out of Castell City to someplace else where we can feed them, what would you give for the Central Valley’s chances by next summer?” (Central Valley is the location of Greensward Barony)
“About one Haven mark.”
“I’d count them in pfennigs
, myself. Bandits and gangs of marauders have been pillaging isolated villages and farms for several standard months. Their raids have emboldened them to the point where we’re getting reports of them sacking entire towns. The most we can hope for is to protect the Central Valley and Castell City, maybe help Graysontown and Falkenberg, Hell’s-A-Comin,’ and help some of the smaller towns train their own defensive forces.”
Cummings sat down before speaking again, straddling the chair with his chin resting on the back. “Al, I don’t want to lose your friendship and respect. I need to know if there’s some kind of way we can work out a trade or swap. The Brigade’s paychests are empty; I need hard currency to pay and supply my troops. In return, I’ll give you five armored cars, three tanks and a full company of militia assigned to protect Whitehall.”
The Baron shook his head. “Piss on the rest of Haven and I hope the pack of scavengers who call themselves the Planetary Chamber of Deputies drown in it. They bought and paid for their problems. But for an old friend, hell, I’d do anything. In fact, I bet I can make you a better deal than the one you just offered.”
The Brigadier perked up. This is going far better than I expected; for a minute there, I thought I’d insulted him.
“What is it?”
“First, tell me how many tanks you have left?”
“Ten. My mechanics think they can cannibalize the rest and come up with two more working tanks. The armored cars are in pretty good shape, though. They make smaller targets, can go faster and use less fuel.”
“That means you’ve got durasteel to burn, I suppose.” (durasteel is that miracle armor alloy which Haven cannot manufacture)
“You could say that,” Cummings said, who felt like a traveler who’s already waded halfway across a swamp and knows he won’t get any muckier if he goes the rest of the way.
“The machine shops and software survived the raid, or so I’ve heard.”
“You heard correctly,” Cummings replied. “We can make almost anything you want. So—what is it you need?”
The Baron told him.
For a moment Cummings wondered if the metaphorical swamp had just turned into quicksand. Then he laughed. “My first thought was, you’d slipped a cog. But now I’m not so sure; you may be crazy like a fox. Okay, I’ll deal. Let’s talk prices and delivery dates.”
They haggled for twenty minutes or so before coming to an agreement that they could both shake hands on. To commemorate the deal, the Baron poured two large tumblers of Covenant single-malt Scotch.
“My lord, we have a visitor. Captain Mazurin of the Colonial Militia.” (Baron Hamilton)
“Send him in.”
The Captain entered, wearing a travel-stained cloak and field-gray uniform. He bowed to the Baron, then took the offered chair. The butler bowed and left the chamber.
“We have your first shipment, sir,” the Captain announced.
“Very good, Captain. Shall I give you the first chest (of gold bullion)
now or later?”
“After we’ve unloaded the truck will be fine.”
“Excellent. If you and your men would like to spend the night, I’ll have the stewards prepare some rooms.”
The Captain nodded. “That would be most appreciated, Your Lordship. We could use the rest; it took us over a standard week to make the journey.”
The Baron frowned. At worst, the journey from Fort Fornova, which was just outside Castell City, shouldn’t have taken any longer than four Earth standard days by motor vehicle. “What took so long?”
The Captain sighed wearily. “The roads aren’t safe anymore—”
“Not even for armed men?!” John interrupted.
The Captain shook his head. “No. In many places the roads have fallen into ruin, or there are barricades to stop travelers. We had to fight off a bandit attack today.”
The Captain grew more animated, now that he realized an attractive woman about his own age was interested. He told of an early morning ambush that had ended badly for the outlaws when they discovered that this isolated military convoy had an escort of three platoons made up of the Haven Volunteers.
“Hunting rifles and pistols aren’t much good when they’re up against assault rifles and rocket launchers. I might even have felt sorry for the—for the bandits, if we hadn’t discovered forty-odd women in the camp. Turns out they’d been kidnapping the wives and daughters of the small farmers they’d killed. Excuse me, ma’am,” he finished, nodding to Matilda.
“You can speak plainly, Captain,” she replied. “I’ve heard worse; it’s these times.”
“What did you do with these women?” the Baron asked.
“Some of them were determined to return to whatever was left of their homes, but we brought most of them with us. Couldn’t leave them unprotected—”
“I understand,” the Baron interrupted. From the exasperated look on his face, the Baron could see that the Captain was at his wit’s end over the women. It was certainly a dilemma that would have taxed even an older and more experienced commander.
The Baron smiled. “We’ll be happy to take in any of them who would like to stay here at Whitehall. If not, we can arrange transportation to any surviving relatives. Since we have an abundance of single men on the barony, I suspect the ones who stay will find themselves welcome.”
John followed the Captain and his grandfather out to the courtyard—what his grandfather liked to call the bailey. He wanted to know what the militia was delivering to Whitehall; the Baron had been very hush-hush over the matter. He certainly wasn’t going to waste his breath asking before his grandfather was ready to answer.
It wasn’t until the militiamen started wrestling heavy crates out of the back of another truck that his question was answered. Captain Mazarin cut one of the crates open and pulled out a Medieval-style armored helmet. John recognized the helm; it was a sallet, a late-Medieval style of helmet introduced when gunpowder was changing the face of battle back on Earth.
When Mazarin finished unloading the crate, a dozen gleaming helmets stood in a row on the stone pavement. Now John had another question: Has my grandfather lost his blanking mind?
Other than a costume ball, what other possible use was there for these out-of-date helmets? He could easily think of a hundred different things that would be more valuable in exchange for their precious grain stocks.
“Stand back!” Mazarin shouted, as he drew his sidearm and fired point-blank at the nearest helmet. Sprooonnngg! The sallet jumped and tottered. John was unable to see where the ricocheting bullet went. He was too busy staring at the helmet, unmarked except for a tiny nick and a smear of lead. “That’s our best durasteel alloy, Baron,” Mazarin said proudly. “It will stop anything short of a spent-uranium slug. Of course, a man can still be knocked down or even break something, if he’s hit in a limb. If he’s hit in the head, he’ll still have to worry about a concussion, whiplash or great murdering headaches. But any brains he has will remain in his head where God put them, instead of scattered all over the landscape!”
The Baron grinned like a proud father.
Someone else opened another crate and started laying out breastplates. A third crate held steel shoulder pieces—vam-something or other, he couldn’t remember just what they were called (upper cannon of vambrace). He did remember that one wore some kind of padded garment under his armor, an “arming doublet,” he recalled.
“We had to build them a bit heavier than they did in the Middle Ages,” Mazarin said, “but the armor is ten times as strong. You’re not going to be turning cartwheels in these, but a fit man should still be able to run. We built them in six different sizes, so they’ll fit any average or large man less than thirty kilos overweight.”
The Baron smiled. “These will do; by damn, more
Mazarin picked up a durasteel gauntlet, put it on and wiggled his fingers. “We’re also working on closer tolerance with computerized machine tools. We can do things the old Milanese and Nuremburg smiths never dreamed of. Here try this, John.” He handed John Hamilton a gauntlet and a pen. Once John got used to the weight, he found that he could actually write with his armored glove on. He scribbled “Long Live the Empire” on a piece of paper, then removed the gauntlet and handed it to his grandfather.
The Baron cradled it in his arms as if it were a newborn puppy. “Tell Brigadier Cummings he has my undying thanks. He’s done far better with these than what I had expected. Anything I can do to repay him?”
“You’ve already more than repaid us, sir. The specie (gold bullion)
and food you supplied will keep the Volunteers paid and fed; if we can do that we can do a lot of other things. Now that we’re independent, free of the Chamber of Deputies and Castell, we’ve evacuated Fort El Alamein, so we can concentrate our forces at Forts Fornova and Kursk. All our efforts to date would have been wasted, though, if we hadn’t been able to meet our payroll and keep rations coming in.”
The Baron looked at the grim stone walls around them as if they showed him some other time or place. “I wish I could do more, Captain. Your militia may be the last hope for civilization on Haven. This stuff”—pointing to the armor—“is my insurance. Or the insurance for my grandchildren and their grandchildren and all the grandchildren to come, for God knows how long. If I’m wrong, they’ll pack it away and laugh at me as I used to laugh at the stories of Old Edwin the Hoarder when I was young. But, if I’m right, this may be all that lets my grandchildren have
The Baron shook his head as if to clear it of cobwebs. “How many did you bring?”
Mazarin clearly wasn’t the kind of officer to leave details to his NCOs. He started reciting figures without referring to his belt computer. “A hundred and fifty durasteel sets of armor and five hundred cold-rolled steel sets. The cold-rolled steel won’t stop more than pistol slugs and shell or grenade fragments, but I suspect there’ll be enough of those flying around to make them useful.
The next shipments would include another hundred durasteel sets of armor and a thousand steel sets, as well as fifty durasteel back-and-breast combinations
. The final shipment would include fifty more complete durasteel sets of armor, five hundred durasteel helms and eight hundred more back-and-breasts, three hundred of them durasteel.
“Now, sir,” Mazarin said. “May I ask a question?”
The Baron nodded. “Why so many sets of armor?” He lowered his voice. “As I understand it, you have less than a hundred men of fighting age at Whitehall.” The Baron gave him a knowing smile. “We’ll have a lot more shortly, Captain. Once they’re all trained, I intend to build a real curtain wall, with towers, around Whitehall. Trust me, I don’t believe we’ll have any shortage of new recruits, either. Those steel suits are for my neighbors, or at least those neighbors who think they’re worth an alliance with House Hamilton. If we all stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, we should be able to keep this end of the Central Valley peaceful.”