“What if nobody’s talking?” Fynn was bright-eyed and eager.
“That is worth noting as well.” Lorenz hid a smile. Was I ever that young and enthusiastic? I’m not sure I remember any more what eighteen felt like.
“Generally speaking, the trucks drive straight through and deliver anything in Katz. Stuff for the other cities is dropped at a transfer dock.” As they entered the Portal area, he waved at a line of buildings. “Those. Then stuff being shipped out, if it’s a full load, most trucks we go get it. Here. Otherwise it’ll go to the outbound docks, over there, and matched up with other small shipment to the same destination. And this is the exchange, where the drivers can contract for a cargo. And get a meal.”
They walked into a chaotic scene, a knot of drivers yelling at each other.
“They didn’t die, they were stolen!”
“Oh, bull, two of the portalmakers were old, it’s just a coincidence, no need to blow it all out of proportion!”
“No, it’s the young ones. Missing. Not in their coffins!”
“Don’t give me that shit. If you disconnect a portalmaker, there’s a good chance you’ll never be able to hook him up again, that why they move the whole coffins.”
“Yeah, well all I know is they had a ten mile out blockade around Portal Two, two days ago and if it wasn’t looking for a stolen portalmaker, what was it?”
Fynn’s mouth was half open, “What World are they talking about, Vater?”
The boy kept his voice down, but one of the group turned around with a scowl but was derailed by the innocent eagerness of the teenager.
“Stuttgart. Tier Two Bloody Stuttgart.”
Fynn’s jaw dropped the rest of the way. “Who would attack a Tier Two World? Are they insane?”
Lorenz laughed suddenly. “Siberia Max, I’ll bet. They may be small, but they’re a Sanctioned Research World. I’ll bet they pulled out a weapon the Stuttgartian Army wasn’t prepared to deal with.”
One of the drivers snorted. “And sent the mooovie star Igor in to kidnap the portalmakers. Yeah. Right.”
That idea dealt with, they went back to circle around the same speculations. Lorenz wandered on, listening, Fynn gawping, reading the board with cargos available for what destinations, and a schedule for the expected outbound portals to Bavaria, and then on to the four destinations possible from there. Stuttgart was flashing red and “Major delays, critical traffic only.”
A man walked rapidly down the line, eyes up on the electronic board. “Nothing to Rosenheim? Right, I’ll just head out empty for home and hunker down.”
Lorenz eyed him. “Because two Stuttgart Portals are down?”
“Ha! Three, now. I was the last truck through Portal One from Blitzen, when they shifted it to Siberia Max, with a line of tanks driving up. I was just going through the gates when the first tank shredded. I headed straight for Portal Three and lucked out getting to Bavaria on their new schedule.”
“Shredded?” Fynn gulped. “You mean it got ripped apart because it stopped or hit the side?”
“Yeah, and when it’s a tank on an unscheduled Portal, you’ve got to figure enemy action.” The man headed back out the doors.
Lorenz whistled. “So Stuttgart is down to a single working portal?”
Fynn shook his head. “If the other two Portalmakers were stolen, can’t they move this portalmaker to one of their facilities?”
“If he survived. A hard shock from a collapsing portal can kill the portalmaker. Quite apart from the shrapnel and shockwave. Bei Gott . . . A Tier Two has never fallen. Never.”
Fynn nodded jerkily. “Even when the Enemy hit Tier Two Stalin, they didn’t take down all the portals, didn’t kill the portalmakers.”
“Yeah, they concentrated on blowing up government buildings. Delivered their message and left.”
“What happens to us? If we lose our Tier Two, but still have Bavaria?”
“In that case, Bavaria can try to touch Home first and become the new Tier Two.” Lorenz shook his head. “I hope one of Stuttgart’s five Tier Three Worlds has the connections to take over. I’d hate to be four tiers up from a conquered Stuttgart.”
He headed out the door, tapping at his phone.
“You have reached the office of the Governor. If you know the extension number please . . .”
He tapped in the governor’s emergency number.
“What!” A sharp, upset bark.
“Sir, this is Lorenz Rembold. I just talked to an eye-witness to a Portal shred on Stuttgart. Has Vogel reported about the rumors of their other Portal shutdowns?”
Growl. “He’s here now.”
“Rumor among the Portal drivers is that the young portalmakers were kidnapped. I think it more likely their old ones died, but . . . If Stuttgart is really down to one working portal, they’re going to grab portal Makers from their tier Threes.”
A long silence. “Bavaria only has two.”
“I have people trying to find out if the other Tier Threes have multiple portals of their own. They’ve all got Tier Fours, so they have at least one each. If they only have one each, Stuttgart won’t take theirs. One of Bavaria’s and ours would be their least destructive move. You need to order all away-teams home, as soon as possible.”
“I . . . yes.” He sounded stunned. “I’ll do that first, and then talk to the Council . . . Call me if you find out anything else.”
“Yes, sir.” Lorenz clicked off. “He needs to toughen up, start thinking, and get prepared pretty damned quick.”
“How do you prepare for a war in real life? I know you like the games but . . . stockpile weapons and ammunition, non-perishable food . . . transportation, vehicles and fuel . . . And you’re grinning.”
“No, you’re doing good, keep going.”
Fynn sighed. “I have no idea of what we import, versus what we manufacture, by way of weaponry and ammo. That Mauser you gave me . . .”
“We manufacture the ammunition, but not the guns.” Lorenz grinned. “And you can research the rest, you have a whole week before your new classes start.”
“Umm, right . . . and no doubt I first have to figure out what I’m preparing for . . . or how likely several possibilities are. . . .” Fynn stopped muttering aloud.
Lorenz sobered. Old memories surfacing . . . So very much like his father. “Think and plan. While you have time. Later you may not have the time, and will have to just react, improvise. But you’ll be reacting and improvising from experience not ignorance, even if the experience is just thought exercises and preparing for things that didn’t happen.”
Stuttgart took one of Bavaria’s Portalmakers, and one from a different Vassal World.
Their own elderly portalmaker was only working a few hours a day.