The story involves an intricate series of time-travel journeys. It begins with a young man speaking to the narrator, the Bartender, in 1970. The young man is called the Unmarried Mother, because he writes stories for confession magazines, many of them presumably from the point of view of an unmarried mother.
Cajoled by the Bartender, the Unmarried Mother explains why he understands the female viewpoint so well: he was born a girl, in 1945, and raised in an orphanage. While a fairly ugly teenager in 1963, he (that is, she) was seduced, impregnated, and abandoned by an older man. During the delivery of her child, doctors discovered she had an intersex condition: internally, she had both male and female sex organs. Complications during delivery forced them to give her a sex change. The baby was later kidnapped and not seen again.
The now-former girl had to adjust to being a man and surviving as such, despite being unprepared for any job. As a girl he/she had preferred etiquette lessons and handicapped by the physical aftereffects of childbirth, he used his secretarial skills to type manuscripts, and eventually began writing. Professing sympathy, the Bartender offers to top his story. He guides him into a back room, and casts a net over the two of them. This is part of a time machine. The young man is set loose in 1963 where he dates, falls for, seduces, impregnates, and leaves a young girl; at the same time the Bartender goes forward eleven months, kidnaps a baby and takes it to an orphanage in 1945. He then returns to 1963, and picks up the Unmarried Mother, who is just beginning to realize what has happened. As the Bartender tells him, "Now you know who he is and after you think it over you'll know who you are . . . and if you think hard enough, you'll figure out who the baby is . . . and who I am."
The Bartender then drops the Unmarried Mother's younger self at an outpost of the Temporal Bureau, a time-traveling secret police force that causes events in history to protect the human race. He has just recruited himself. Finally the Bartender returns to 1970, arriving a short time after he left the bar. He allows a customer to play "I'm My Own Grandpa" on the jukebox, having yelled at the customer for playing the song before he left. Closing the bar he time travels again to his home base. As he beds down for a much deserved rest, he contemplates the scar left over from the Caesarean section performed when he gave birth to his daughter, father, mother and entire history. He thinks "I know where I came from, but where did all you zombies come from?".
On September 20, 1945, the Bartender drops off baby Jane at an orphanage. She grows up there. She dreams of joining one of the "comfort organizations" dedicated to providing R&R for spacemen.
Nearly 18 years later, the man who refers to himself as "an unmarried mother" is dropped off at April 3, 1963, by the Bartender. He meets and after some weeks of dating seduces the 17-year-old Jane, who has an intersex condition. From Jane's point of view, he then disappears; actually, he has been retrieved by the Bartender, and taken to 1985.
Jane becomes pregnant. After giving birth by C-section, she is found to be a "true hermaphrodite" who has been severely damaged by the pregnancy and birth; on waking she learns that she has been subjected (without her consent) to a "sex change" which reassigns her sex to male.
On March 10, 1964, the Bartender steals the baby and takes it back in time to the orphanage. Jane, now male, becomes a stenographer, and then a writer. Whenever he is asked his occupation, he replies, somewhat truculently, "I'm an unmarried mother at four cents a word. I write confession stories." He becomes a regular at the bar where the narrator, the Bartender, works.
On November 7, 1970, the Bartender meets the Unmarried Mother, conducts him into the back office, and takes him back to 1963 to "find" the man who got him pregnant. He returns to the bar, seconds after going into the back room, and yells at the customer playing "I'm My Own Grandpa". From his own point of view he has carried out his mission of ensuring his existence.
On August 12, 1985, the Bartender brings the Unmarried Mother to the Rockies base and enlists him in the Temporal Bureau.
On January 12, 1993, the Bartender, who is also Jane/mother/father, arrives back at his base from 1970 to think about his life.
I know where I came from. but where did all you zombies come from? I felt a headache coming on, but a headache powder is one thing I do not take. I did once and you all went away. So I crawled into bed and whistled out the light. You aren't really there at all. There isn't anybody but me, Jane, here alone in the dark. I miss you dreadfully!
The fictional town of Grantville, West Virginia (modeled on the real West Virginia town of Mannington) and its power plant are displaced in space-time, through a side effect of a mysterious alien civilization.
A hemispherical section of land about three miles in radius measured from the town center is transported back in time and space from April 2000 to May 1631, from North America to central Germany. The town is thrust into the middle of the Thirty Years' War, in the German province of Thuringia in the Thuringer Wald, near the fictional German free city of Badenburg. This Assiti Shards effect occurs during a wedding reception, accounting for the presence of several people not native to the town, including a doctor and his daughter, a paramedic. Real Thuringian municipalities located close to Grantville are posited as Weimar, Jena, Saalfeld and the more remote Erfurt, Arnstadt, and Eisenach well to the south of Halle and Leipzig.
Grantville, led by Mike Stearns, president of the local chapter of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), must cope with the town's space-time dislocation, the surrounding raging war, language barriers, and numerous social and political issues, including class conflict, witchcraft, feminism, the reformation and the counter-reformation, among many other factors. One complication is a compounding of the food shortage when the town is flooded by refugees from the war. The 1631 locals experience a culture shock when exposed to the mores of contemporary American society, including modern dress, sexual egalitarianism, and boisterous American-style politics.
Grantville struggles to survive while trying to maintain technology sundered from twenty-first century resources. Throughout 1631, Grantville manages to establish itself locally by forming the nascent New United States of Europe (NUS) with several local cities even as war rages around them. But once Count Tilly falls during the Battle of Breitenfeld outside of Leipzig, King Gustavus II Adolphus rapidly moves the war theater to Franconia and Bavaria, just south of Grantville. This leads to the creation of the Confederated Principalities of Europe (CPoE) and some measure of security for Grantville's up-timer and down-timer populations.
The Assiti inadvertently cause Grantville to travel from WV in 2000 to Thuringia in 1631, in the middle of the Thirty Years' War. Nobody in 2000 or 1631 knows what caused the flash of light or the transposition.
Michael "Mike" Stearns is at the wedding of his sister Rita to Tom Simpson, whose snobbish parents John and Mary disapprove of the unsophisticated Grantville citizens, including Rita, and of the high school cafeteria where the reception is held. John Chandler Simpson is a CEO who is used to being obeyed; his dictatorial manner and Mary's rudeness to Rita have caused an estrangement with his son. Sharon Nichols, a black bridesmaid, is accompanied by her father, Doctor James Nichols. Mike and James have both had rough childhoods, and both been rabble rousers; they hit it off well.
There is a flash of light and all electrical appliances go off. The townsmen see smoke to the southeast and Dan Frost, the town's police chief, takes Frank Jackson, Ed Piazza, Mike and other townsfolk to investigate. He also brings Dr. Nichols and his daughter, who is a paramedic. When they arrive near the smoke, they see that the terrain is different from what should be there and a raised wall of dirt makes it impassible by car. A young girl, screaming, knocks down Dan and runs off, and two armed men appear, apparently chasing the girl. The men fire at Dan, seriously wounding him, but he manages to kill both and to deputize Mike before losing consciousness. The assailants' weapons are matchlocks.
Mike sends Ken Hobbs back to the high school with Dan. The remainder of the party retrieves their personal weapons, some even legal, and approach the smoke on foot.
Mike leads them over the wall, and they see that the Sun is in the wrong direction. When the reach the smoke, they see a group of armed men raping a woman and torturing a man whom they assume to be her husband. Mike plans a lethal attack, and they rescue the couple.
As the Nichols's are treating the two rescued victims, a coach and four outriders appear, pursued by more armed men. One of the passengers, a young Spanish woman, looks out, and Mike is smitten by her.
The passengers are Rebecca Abrabanel and her father Doctor Balthazar Abrabanel, from a prominent family of Sephardic Jews who fled Spain. Balthazar has a heart attack and Rebecca is frightened for him. Balthazar directs Rebecca to look through the window and see what is happening; she is shocked at the carnage and terrified when she mistakes Mike for an hidalgo, a Spanish aristocrat. The driver and outriders flee, abandoning their passengers. Rebecca is astonished when Mike addresses her in a form of English that she has never heard; no hidalgo would ever speak in English. Mike repeats his question and she realizes that he is asking whether she needs help. She is both frightened and fascinated by Mike, and answers that her father is ill and has probably had a heart attack. Mike calls Dr Nichols over and then asks whether Rebecca needs any other help. She says that Tilly's men are chasing the coach and that they will rob, kill and rape if not stopped. Mike is outraged. When Dr. Nichols enters to treat Balthazar, Rebecca believes him to be a Moor, and is reassured because Moors in that era are considered to be good physicians. Dr. Nichols lacks most of the medication he needs but treats Balthazar as best he can.
Mike directs the rest of his party to take cover in the farmhouse while he directs the raiders' attention away from the carriage. The violence of the firefight shocks Rebecca, but she is relieved when Mike is uninjured.
Rebecca realizes that Mike and his men are puzzled by the situation. Mike asks for permission to evacuate the wounded in her carriage. Mike tells Rebecca that she and her father are under the protection of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). After a brief conversation, Rebecca tells him that they are in Thuringia. Rebecca sees a group of women approaching and is relieved.
When Rebecca goes to the high school where they have taken the injured, she is fascinated by all the strange technology; Mike is pleased by her quick understanding. Dr. Nichols is again frustrated by the lack of medications, and many of the terms that he uses are confusing to Rebecca.
Rebecca is shocked by the skimpy attire of the high school students, but quickly realizes that despite appearances the girls are not prostitutes and that they are dressed properly by their own standards.
Mike and Rebecca talk, deepening the initial romantic interest. Dr. Nichols orders bed rest for Balthazar, and Mike says that he has already arranged for him to stay with Morris and Judith Roth.
After putting her father to bed, Rebecca talks with Morris and Judith . She is surprised to see a menorah, and asks whether Mike knows that they are Jewish. Judith explains that Mike thought they would be more comfortable staying with a Jewish couple. Rebecca bursts into tears.
The author introduces Gustav II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus), King of Sweden, Field Marshal Johann Banér, General Lennart Torstensson, commander of the Swedish artillery, Lord High Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna and several other historical personages, introduces the fictional cavalry commander Captain Alexander Mackay and presents some background on the Thirty Years' War as of 1631, including the sack of Magdeburg, which has enraged Gustav.
Mayor Henry Dreeson holds a town meeting in the high school gymnasium. Greg Ferrara, the high school's science teacher, explains that there is no known possibility of getting back to their own time. Mayor Dreeson says that he wants the town to elect an emergency committee to plan the town's future, but refuses to serve as chair, insisting that he isn't qualified. John Simpson grabs the microphone, nominates himself and argues for expelling all of the refugees coming towards the town, coming across as a racist. Mike grabs the microphone from Simpson and heatedly argues in favor of recruiting the refugees as new citizens rather than expelling them. His use of the inflammatory term “downsizing” elicits the comment "Shoot the CEO!" from Harry Lefferts. Mike explains that in addition to the moral reasons for helping the refugees, the town needs more manpower, especially for farming and defense. He summarizes his position with “I say we start the American Revolution — a hundred and fifty years ahead of schedule!" and is shocked when Melissa Mailey nominates him as chair and Frank Jackson moves that the nominations be closed.
After the pro forma election, Mike says that he will need a smaller group to deal with short term issues, and the town voted to elect anybody to the emergency committee that Mike needed in his cabinet. Mike smiles when he asks Melisa to serve, although he really does need her. He decides that he needs someone from out of town and selects Dr. Nichols. He also wants someone in the cabinet that will argue with him, and selects Quentin Underwood, the coal mine manager, eliciting catcalls. Finally he selects Rebecca, expecting her to understand the local people better than any of the up-timers.
Rachel is very reticent about participating in the cabinet meeting, but Melissa, with her radical background, takes her under her wing and insists that she not be subservient.
Mike proposes forming a constitutional subcommittee rather than tying up the entire committee. He and Melissa Mailey nominate Melissa, Ed Piazza, Willie Ray Hudson and Dr. Nichols.
Mike then quizzes Bill Porter about the power plant, and Bill indicates that they can't make parts for it and must build a simpler, smaller plant that they can maintain with the existing infrastructure. Mat Davis, the machine-shop owner, agrees that they can't make the parts for the current plant.
Willie Ray Hudson proposes converting as many vehicles as possible to burning natural gas, which is readily available in Grantville. Mike tells Quentin Underwood that they need to get the abandoned coal mine running, and puts Ken Hobbs in charge of it. Mike won't let Frank Jackson get involved with the mine because he needs him to organize and run an army.
Mike puts Willie Ray Hudson in charge of food production.
Mike orders that all gasoline be turned over to the emergency committee as a military resource.
When Rebecca asks what Mike wants her to do, he whimsically tells her to be his National Security adviser. It later turns out that the joke is on him, because her family has extensive experience with espionage and diplomatic maneuvering.
As Mike walks Rebecca home, he is surprised and please by how quickly she is grasping uptime technology. The attraction between them is increasing, and Mike says that they need more time to adjust to the situation and to their feelings for each other.
Alexander Mackay is leading a Scots cavalry troop in Thuringia. He and his second-in-command Andrew Lennox are talking about a gang of mercenaries lead by Ernst Hoffman, who are nominally protecting Badenberg but actually looting it, and certainly not endangering themselves by fighting Tilly's army. Mackay's mission is to find the Abrabanels and to escort the treasure that they are delivering to Gustavus II Adolphus.
They encounter the farmyard outside of Grantville and a grave with the warning “We don't know who these murdering raping bastards are that we put here. Don't much care either. If there are any more of you out there, be warned. This area is now under the protection of the UMWA. If you try to harm or rob anybody we will kill you. There will be no further warning. We will not negotiate. We will not arrest you. You will simply be dead. We guarantee it. Go ahead. Try us.” Mackay interprets UMWA as a polish name, one that he has never heard. They exhume the bodies, and see that they exit wounds are far larger than anything they expected.
The are taken by surprise when a party from Grantville appears, and are very careful to make no sudden movements. Worried about knowing no Polish, they are relieved when the townsmen address them in a strange form of English and claim Scott ancestry.
Andrew Lennox thinks of them as fairies; not Disney fairies, but the terrifying fairies of legend.
At a cabinet meeting, Mike is coming to grips with his feelings for Rebecca and with the dangerous conditions in which, as a 17th century Jew, she lives.
Mike asks about making napalm, and briefly explains to Rebecca what it is.
Darryl McCarthy interrupts the meeting to announce the arrival of the Scots troops and says that they are looking for Balthazar. Mike is outraged and protective until Rebecca calms him down and explains. Melissa, a history teacher, is startled when Darryl mentions the name "Gustav" without realizing what a major figure he is.
They proceed to meet the soldiers, and is struck by Andrew Lennox's resemblance to his image of Tom Sawyer. Alexander Mackay asks about the vehicle in the parking lot and, while superstitious, rejects the worry that they are witchcraft. Mike tells them to dismount and invites them in to eat. The soldiers ogle the high-school girls, but before Mike can warn them off Lennox rather brutally calls his men to order. Meanwhile, Mackay is smitten by Julie Sims, a cheerleader.
Mike briefly explains American attitudes and customs, during which he quotes "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!" Lennox asks whether they can make it stick, Mike responds “Care to try us?” and Lennox says that he would prefer a friendlier arrangement. Meanwhile, Mackay has decided that the appearance of Grantville in his time was God's will.
Rebecca bring Mackay to the Roth home to meet her father, who has recovered enough to come downstairs and sit. He has been talking to doctors James Nichols and Jeffrey Adams. Before he can explain the conversation to Rebecca, he spots Mackay and assumes the stone face of a diplomat or spymaster, but relaxes when he hears his accent. Meanwhile, Rebecca is worried that her astute father will notice the growing attraction between her and Mike.
Balthazar assures Mackay that he can speak freely in front of the Americans, and explains about the rescue. Mackay asks why, and Balthazar says that it is their way. Mike says that he doesn't understand 17th century Europe, but that the up-timers would not tolerate depredations anywhere that their power ran.
Mackay asks about American armament, and then attempts to hire the up-timers as mercenaries. Mike refuses, and also refuses to enter into an alliance. However, when Mackay informs him that he doesn't have enough strength to protect the local civilians, Mike accepts an alliance.
Back on the street, the high school cheerleaders do an impromptu chant greeting the Scots soldiers and then chant “On Wisconsin”. Mike explains to Rebecca that it is a portent of things to come: "We call it — D-Day."
At the Morris home, a military planning session is in progress. Rebecca wants to help serve refreshments, but Judith won't allow it, instead asking Julie to explain women's liberation.
Rebecca listens to her father talking to doctors Adams and Nichols, and realizes that they have asked him to join them in a medical practice. Rebecca is stunned that gentiles would invite a Jew to work with them, while Dr. Abrabenel is concerned at his lack of uptime medical knowledge. The other doctors assure him that he can learn what he is missing, and that meanwhile his knowledge of what medications are available locally will be of value. During this conversation, the up-timers are stunned by the number of languages that Dr. Abrabenel knows.
Melissa ask whether the up-timers actually thought that they were smarter than the down-timers, and berates Judith for serving.
Balthazar, Melissa and the Roths are alone. Balthazar, who has noticed the attraction between Rebecca and Mike, asks about Mike's character. Judith gives a lukewarm endorsement, which Morris denounces as grossly inadequate. Melissa indicates that Mike can be wild but that he is a prince in all that matters. Balthazar is relieved at their assessment.
In the course of the conversation, Melissa mentions the plays of Shakespeare, and Balthazar informs her that they were actually written by Lord Edward, Earl of Oxford.
The author introduces Gretchen Richter, her family and the involuntary camp followers that they have taken under their wing. Everybody is terrified by Ludwig, who has forced Gretchen to be his concubine, and by Diego. Her brother Hans has joined the mercenaries in order to provide some protection to his 14 year old sister Annalise and to his grandmother; escape is not possible.
The American and Scots troops are positioned to attack Tilly's forces. While Mackay is impressed by the approaching tercios, Mike is contemptuous. Ernst Hoffman, anxious to share in the loot, has brought his men out of Badenburg. Mackay is affronted that his cavalry are to be used only to pursue fleeing mercenaries and Hoffman's troops, not in the battle itself. Frank Jackson has provided a stolen M-60 machine gun; not as accurate as rifles, but more terrifying.
Mike picks the “Four Musketeers” (Jeff Higgins. Larry Wild, Jimmy Andersen and Eddie Cantrell), teenage friends who lost their parents in the Ring of Fire, and who designed the rockets to be used in the upcoming battle, as motorcycle couriers. Mike yells "Light 'em up!", and the downtime Scots are shocked by the ensuing carnage. Meanwhile, despite the American onslaught, Tilly's men manage to repel Hoffman's troops, who flee.
Mike sends the Scots after Tilly's fleeing soldiers, while Hoffman's troops, seeing what has happened, return to loot. Mike sends the couriers to warn off Hoffmans troops, but to not engage them until reinforcements arrive.
Gretchen is worried about Hans, but also concerned about her family, including those that she has taken under her wing. She hides those girls old enough to be at risk in an abandoned latrine. She wants to flee, but is not willing to abandon her grandmother or the others. She sees the “Four Musketeers” approaching, and believes th4m to be yet more enemy soldiers.
Jeff is struck by his first glimpse of Gretchen, and is infuriated when he sees Hoffman's troops coming to claim more victims. Against orders, he moves between them and Gretchen. His companions, after reminding him of their orders, join him. They temporarily stop the marauders, but they are about to be outflanked when Mike shows up in a fleet of trucks with improvised armor. Mayhem ensues.
Gretchen comes up to Jeff and solicits his help in getting everyone out of the latrine. Jeff and his friends are appalled, and Harry Lefferts is looking for an excuse to shoot the prisoners. Like the others, Mike is outraged.
Gretchen again turns to Jeff for help, this time to find Hans.
Mike call Dr. Nichols over to look at the camp followers who had hidden in the latrine. Dr. Nichols orders them sent to the makeshift sanitary center, and Mike asks Jeff's three friends to escort them and the remaining camp followers. Mike finds Jeff's innocent attention to Gretchen refreshing after all the brutality.
Dr. Nichols points out that Rebecca is coming, and Mike is preoccupied while organizing the disposition of the prisoners. Frank tells Mike to go ahead and meet Rebecca, and explains that she is there for the same reason as the other women; because she is worried.
Rebecca embraces Mike and they kiss passionately; both are relieved that they have stopped dancing around their feelings.
Gretchen finds Diego, who despite his fatal wounds in as brutal as ever. Gretchen explains to Jeff that Diego might recover and rape her sister, and asks Jeff to look away. Instead, he moves between Diego and any possible onlookers. Gretchen slits Diego's throat.
Ludwig is already dead, and Hans, badly wounded, is under him. Gretchen examines Hans and concludes that he is beyond saving, but Jeff starts yelling for a help. When the up-timers take Hans away on a stretcher, Gretchen concludes that they must believe him to be treatable, and she is relieved.
Gretchen decides that she needs a protector for her family, and believing Jeff to be kind and strong, resolves to become his concubine. Meanwhile, although Jeff is certainly attracted to her, he does not want to take advantage of her. When she cries, he does his best to comfort her but makes no sexual advances.
Gretchen and her grandmother find it hard to believe that a building so large could be a high school; in their culture, school is only for the nobility. Further, she mistakenly believes Melissa and others to be nobility.
Using a makeshift German-English dictionary that the up-timers have printed, Gretchen says that she is hungry. Melissa leads them to the sanitary facilities. They are frightened, but Gretchen takes charge. Melissa orders the up-timers to disarm before sending the males to a separate shower facility. To calm the women's fears, Melissa takes off her own clothes.
Melissa hands out bathrobes to the camp followers; while throwaways to the up-timers, they appear luxurious to the down-timers. They set off for the cafeteria.
Melissa refuses to change out of the bathrobe until the refugees are settled. Gretchen maintains order, forcing the children to eat slowly. Melissa is uneasy about the sexual tension between Jeff and Gretchen, but fears that prohibiting affairs between up-timers and down-timers would lead to a caste system.
Melissa becomes nauseous thinking about the world she is stranded in, and rushes outside to vomit. Mike and Rebecca found her and asked if she was okay. During the conversation, Melissa realizes that she is attracted to James Nichols. Mike encourages her to act on her feelings, and Melissa says that she is glad that Mike and Rebecca are no longer concealing their feelings for each other. Melissa believes that Balthazar approves of Mike as a potential husband for Rebecca.
They see Gretchen, and Rebecca asks whether that was the woman who hid the girls. Mike refers to Gretchen as a Valkyrie, and Melissa denounces the Teutonic concept as death worshiping, saying that Gretchen is rather a chooser of the living. Melissa says that Gretchen may be a new Harriet Tubman.
Jeff borrows an English-German dictionary and with its help proposes to Gretchen. She tells him that he doesn't have to do that, but he insists that he must.
Ed Piazza tells the cabinet that they need 10,000 additional men in order to build the infrastructure needed for survival over the winter. Mike announces that they will use the prisoners as part of their workforce.
Jeff and his friends show up, uninvited, and defiantly defend Jeff's action, without actually saying what he did. Melissa starts laughing, congratulates Jeff, then has to explain to the others. Chaos ensues.
Most of the adults present try to talk Jeff out of going through with the marriage. Mike, James and Rebecca are amused. Frank, however, is furious – at the adults. His Vietnamese wife was just as “unsuitable” as Gretchen, and he is deeply offended by the criticism of her.
Mike interrupts Frank and congratulates, Jeff calling him perhaps the smartest person in the room, with the exceptions of Melissa and Rebecca. He asks Rebecca to explain, and she tells them that they are at a crossroads; Jeff's way leads to a land much like what they left behind, the other to a feudal fascism.
Quentin Underwood is startled, and Melissa has to explain that Rebecca isn't calling for mandatory marriages between up-timers and down-timers, although she does speak approvingly of Alexander the Great.
Willie Ray Hudson asks whether Gretchen has anybody to walk her down the aisle, and offers to give her away if she wishes. Jeff asks for the dictionary, and everybody laughs. Mike want the couple to postpone their wedding for 4 days, so that it will coincide with the 4th of July.
James offers to walk Melissa home, and Melissa laughingly refers to Jeff as a “Prizefighter turned matchmaker. “ James says that it was Rebecca. When asked, James says that it has been long enough since his wife died for him to start dating again.
Mike tells Rebecca that he must speak to her father, and she says that Abrabanel has been smiling at them and acting as if he knows something that they do not. Rebecca says that she needs time to adjust, and Mike suggests a long engagement.
Gretchen wakes, afraid that she only dreamed the engagement. When she opens the doors, she sees Jeff and his friends. One of his friends runs off, and returns with several adults. Gretchen recognizes Mike and Melissa. When she sees Rebecca, she assumes her to be a court Jew, and also infers from body language that she and Mike are close. Gretchen is stunned when Melissa hugs her. Rebecca serves as translator. As the wedding day approaches, Gretchen is convinced that the up-timers are crazy, but she feels safe and protected.
The up-timers have Gretchen sort out those of the prisoners who can be trusted as soldiers or workers. Many of the prisoners react to her as a surrogate mother. A horde of camp followers is desperately looking for surviving family members.
Dan Frost asks what to do about Gretchen's suspected killing of Diego, but the consensus is that no jury would convict and that it would harm morale to try her.
Those whom Gretchen rejected were declared outlaw, to be killed on sight if seen after July 5. Their commander asks Mike how far American territory extends, but Mike just stares at him.
The 4th of July parade is a big success, albeit disorderly.
Mike had intended to give Rebecca, who has become a celebrity, his mother's engagement ring, but Morris Ross insists on giving him a much more elaborate ring for her.
A mixed group of up-timers and down-timers has started a makeshift tavern in a park, calling it the "Thuringen Gardens".
Jeff and his friends have hooked three trailers together as a housing complex, with one reserved for Jeff and Gretchen. Gretchen, on seeing it, says that he is rich.
Meanwhile, Melissa explains Jeff's psychology to Gretchen.
As expected, the wedding serves to boost morale and to draw the up-time and down-time communities closer together.
Gretchen is alone with Jeff. She thinks of sex as a chore that is necessary in order to keep the family together, and is astonished when Jeff offers to delay until she is more comfortable with him, despite his obvious arousal. She is further surprised when Jeff concentrates on her satisfaction rather than his own. The degree to which he cares for her helps her to exorcise her internal demons.
They spend the morning alone, but by Noon the children come pouring in. The youngest child calls Jeff “Papa”.
Hans Richter wakes up and believes the nurses to be angels of death. When he tells Sharon Nichols “Take me, angel, I am ready”, she misunderstands and laughs. Gretchen arrives and introduces Hans to Jeff and to Mr. Kindred, a former newspaper publisher, who is interested in Hans's printing experience. Hans is ecstatic about being a printer again.
Hans is too weak from his injuries to do the manual labor that the town needs in order to prepare for winter, and the up-timers believe that his experience with printers may have made him comfortable with machinery, and Hans falls in love with driving once they have trained him.
On September 10, Grantville is making the first TV broadcast since the Ring of Fire, and Gretchen rejects the idea that Rebecca looks nervous.
Rebecca is nervous, but delivers entertainment and news in a professional manner. She asks down-timers to volunteer to teach cooking and brewing classes for up-timers.
Mike is discussing the upcoming elections with his cabinet. Greg Ferrara mentions the anti-German rhetoric at Ken Beasley's Club 250. Rebecca smiles and explains that she has asked Willie Ray Hudson, who owns a piece of land across the highway from the Club 250, to join the Thuringen Gardens and to use the land for a new, permanent, building, in competition with Club 250. Mike says that he and Frank are going to ask the UMWA to make the new Thuringen Gardens location as its unofficial watering hole.
Meanwhile, Rebecca is completely ignoring the script for her broadcast. She closes with a prayer for Gustav II Adolf in the expected battle at Breitenfeld.
The author describes the significance of Gustav's victory in the 1631 battle at Breitenfeld.
The author describes the beginning of the 1631 Battle of Breitenfeld.
The author describes the victory in the 1631 Battle of Breitenfeld.
While Grantville is celebrating the victory at Breitenfeld, a splinter of Tilly's army is heading their way, intent on loot. The town of Jena, terrified at the news, accepts an offer from Grantville for assistance. The troops from Grantville arrive accompanied by Mackay's cavalry. The German-speaking recruits quickly explain to the townsfolk what the strange American equipment is and what it id called.
Frank Jackson complains that girls don't belong in combat, and Gayle Mason tells him that “broken-down old farts have got no business on a battlefield." His niece Julie Sims, the best shot in town, also puts him in his place. When Mike tells the women to stay out of trouble, they say that it is Gretchen who has the dangerous mission.
Jeff, who drops Gretchen off in Jena, impresses the townsmen as dangerous.
Most of the German recruits are convince that the women will panic once combat starts, and that the American troops will break rank to comfort them. Heinrich, aware of Julie's prowess, grins and say “Maybe, and maybe not.”
Meanwhile, Gretchen is organizing desperate local women, some of whom have been forced into prostitution, into a Committee of Correspondence. When she finds out that they are illiterate, she announces that she is taking one of them back for school. Gretchen says that she will bring her husband to the organizational women. When the women say that their men will be afraid of him, Gretchen smiles - “Yes, they will. Sehr gut!”.
Mike tries to tell Julie that sniping is traumatic and not everyone has the temperament for it. Julie and her spotter very sarcastically explain that the targets don't look cute and harmless. "That's the whole problem with allowing men into combat," she said solemnly. "You guys are just too emotional about the whole thing."
Mike explains to Alexander Mackay that Julie has a boyfriend, Chip, but that her uncle doesn't think much of him. Frank endorses the sentiment. Frank suggests that Alex get his teeth straightened, but Alex is worried about the cost. Frank explains that the dentist is Henry G. Sims, Julie's father, and that he doesn't care for Chip either.
A local bully, Max Jungers, shows up at the shack where Gretchen is meeting the Jena women. He is looking for her, and she goes outside. When Mathilde says that there is going to be trouble, Inga says "It's too bad. I liked Gretchen." and Mathilde say that she doesn't understand.
Julie is a killing machine. The shot that she considers a miss is lethal, and the others are better. Mackay is even more enthralled than ever.
Sweet, gentle Gretchen explains to Jungers that Jeff is too sentimental, and blows his head off with a showy shot instead of the center-of-mass shot that she is supposed to use.
Mike orders a cease-fire; it is time to round up the survivors. Tilly's men are too frightened to fight the cavalry.
Mike explains to Mackay that he doesn't like Chip either.
Gretchen refuses to leave Jurgens's body, but calmly waits for the Watch.
Heinrich is unsurprised at Julie's shooting. Ferdinand , the chief skeptic, raises his helmet and leads an impromptu cheer.
When the Chief of the Watch says that there must be an investigation, Gretchen agrees that her husband will insist on it.
Chip is sulking again, and Julie is finally starting to realize how immature he is.
When Jeff returns from the battle and hears what has happened, he starts talking about tearing the town apart. Both the American and Scots contingent offer to help him, but Mike insists that they talk first. Mike asks whether Jurgens had friends and accomplices, and proceed to demolish the tavern where Jurgens hung out. The tavern had a bad reputation, and the townmen are just as happy to see it gone. Mike offers help in policing the city.
One of the townsmen asks Mike about their flag, with a single star, and Mike explains that there is one star for Grantville but that he expects to add others, probably starting with Badenburg.
Returning top Grantville, Mike is upset to hear that the Swedish army has passed through. He's also worried that if Grantville organizes to meet all contingencies then it will turn into a militaristic state, and asks Mackay to put in a good word with the king.
Rebecca volunteers to be a matchmaker for Mackay and Julie.
Mike sees a political vacuum coming that he can exploit; if he can get food to all of Thuringia and protect the population, he can forge alliances and make Grantville an economic powerhouse. Rebecca announces that part of her well connected extended family, including her cousins Samuel, Moses and Francisco, but excluding her uncle Uriel in Badenburg, has decided to move to Grantville, provided that they will have freedom of religion and the same rights as other citizens.
Mike announces that it is time to call a constitutional convention, and the cabinet heatedly discusses a proposed constitution.
Gretchen shows up to report on her work organizing committees of correspondence, which Mike believes to be of supreme importance in the long run.
John Simpson, who has been demanding a constitutional convention, is outraged when it is finally called, taking the wind out of his sails.
Moses and Samuel Abrabanel have arrived, and Balthazar has taken them to the Thuringen Gardens; they are suffering culture shock. Samuel is attracted to Julie, but Lennox warns him off. Mackay arrives, still uncomfortable from his dental work, which Julie insists on inspecting. The couple goes for a walk, and Lennox explains about her prowess with a rifle.
Mike makes a campaign speech at the Gardens, where he denounces the Simpson proposals as Jim Crow. Mayor Dreeson privately tells Quentin that the town had been dying before the Ring of Fire and that it was now vital and expanding.
Mackay, who has to report to Gustav, makes his farewells to Julie.
Julie's bragging about Mackay killing a boar incites the jealous Chip to challenge him. Mackay is expecting a formal negotiations of the terms, not an unannounced blow to the jaw, but he recovers and chases Chip with his sabre. Fred Jordan, one of Dan Frost's deputies, orders that Chip be provided with a saber. When Chip complains that he has no training, the gentlemanly Mackay offers to use pistols instead. By the time that Dan arrives and forbids the duel, Chip's reputation is in shreds. Mackay suggests moving the duel outside of city limits, but Mike arrives and prohibits it anywhere on American territory.
Simpson's attempt to portray Chip as a victim falls flat.
When Don Francisco Nasi, the Abrabanel representative from Istanbul, arrives, he is astounded that the first order of business is coffee.
Francisco tells his cousins that Grantville is a much safer refuge than any they have ever found, and that he at least intends to support the Americans and also to invest in local businesses.
Although he had been sent with instructions to seek a bride, and is attracted to Rebecca, he understands that her heart is elsewhere. A strong believer in ties of blood, he sets as his condition for support that Rebecca set a date for her marriage to Mike. Rebecca tells Francisco that had she not met Mike, she would have been honored to marry him.
Rebecca devotes her next TV show to a new chemical factory, and one of the down-timers calls in to ask about stock options. Ollie Reardon says that he wouldn't be able to hire anybody if he didn't allow them to invest.
Mike is outraged that Don Francisco is pressuring her to move faster than she is ready, but she asks Mike what he wants to do. Mike says that he wouldn't have waited a day. Rebecca agrees, but Mike decides to wait until after the elections so that that she can be elected to office in her own name. Rebecca agrees, but doesn't want to wait until the wedding.
The new constitution is approved by a landslide, and the expanded franchise in it guarantees a victory for the 4th of July Party in the upcoming elections. Rebecca wins the sole Senate seat unopposed.
King Gustavus II Adolphus and Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna are arguing over what to do about the situation in Thuringia; Axel is concerned about the privileges of the absent Bernhard and Wilhelm IV, dukes of Saxe-Weimar, while Gustav, whose family has had power struggles with the nobility in Sweden, is more concerned with the welfare of the people, who would have starved without assistance from Grantville. General Lennart Torstensson has contempt for all of the German nobility, but General Johann Banér defends Wilhelm, and Gustav agrees.
Gustav proposes dealing with Tilly before taking on the massive army that Albrecht von Wallenstein is assembling. Torstensson feels that his artillery is wearing out, but Gustav assures him that there is a new source.
Gustav talks to Sir James Spens about whether Grantville is involved in witchcraft. Gustav concludes that Satan is not that strong. Gustav orders Spens to tell Mackay that they will need the guns from Grantville sooner than they had expected, to have Mackay bring the guns in person and to bring one of the uptimers with him.
Mackay ignorantly criticizes the work that Ollie Reardon's machine shop is doing on the new gun barrels, and Reardon explains what he is doing and why. Reardon congratulates him and Julie on their engagement. They discuss the diplomatic maneuvering to bring in new provinces. Julie and Mackay argue about whether Julie should accompany him to Gustav as a representative of Grantville; Mike and Rebecca have a similar argument. Rebecca sugests adding Tom, Rita and Julie to the party, and Mike agrees, although he is worried that the downtimers would take umbrage at Julie's prowess with a rifle.
Gustav decides that Julie and Rita are obviously not witches, and finds Tom to be physically imposing. He also recognizes Rebecca as politically powerful, and debates freedom of religion with her.
Gustav comes to the conclusion that the Ring of Fire was a divine miracle.
Gustav discusses the situation in Thuringia with Wilhelm and the American contingent. Wilhelm says that he does not want to create problems for Gustav, but asks the Americans for two things. One is that they continue to ensure that the population has food and shelter. The other is that they do nothing to force him to take action.
Torstensson is impressed with the new cannons. Rebecca explains that while Grantville doesn't have the infrastructure to make u-time armaments, it can produce weapons much better than what the down-timers currently have. Rebecca states that becoming the Swedish supply center and depot will make an enemy of the Habsburgs, but she is not as worried by that as Mackay thinks she should be. Rebecca also says that her family can provide assistance, and it turns out that Rebecca knows James Spens, who has had dealings with her family. When Rebecca explains who her father is, Gustav understands why she is so astute. When she explains that essentially the entire family is supporting the Americans, he feels a great burden lifted.
Torstensson is impressed by the new guns.
Julie irritates Gustav by asking him via Mackay why he doesn't wear glasses, then explains sports glasses to him. While glaring at her, he stares at her up-time rifle and she asks whether he would like to take a look. He in turn irritates her by calling the cross hairs a defect, and she explains their purpose. He interprets her description of the range as bragging, and asks Mackay to make good the boast. Mackay explains that it is Julie who is the sharpshooter, and Gustav further irritates her by staring at her sceptically. Mackay takes liberties in translation "Tell that fathead to pick his target," and Gustav's aide Anders Jönsson starts pointing out officers as Gustav's skepticism slowly crumbles. Gustav asks Mackay to explain to Julie that she is not allowed to challenge a ruling monarch to a duel. "Witchcraft — nonsense! What woman needs to be a witch, when she can shoot like that?"
Torstensson's men are having trouble with the elevating screws, but once they get used to them and to the more powerful cannons, their fire is devastating to the enemy artillery positions.
Torstensson is attracted to Rita, but one look at Tom and he doesn't care to anger her imposing husband Tom.
The engineering trying to bridge a river come under sniper fire, and Julie offers to take them out. Julie drafts Alex as her spotter, and Gustav is impressed both by her prowess and by how casual Alex is. After a successful Swedish crossing, Tilly orders a desperate assault rather than retreat; the survivors retreat after Tilly falls to cannon fire.
Cardinal Richelieu has been supporting Sweden as a means of weakening the Habsburgs, but believes that the arrival of Grantville has thwarted his ambitions for a preeminent France. He agrees to a plot that includes bribing Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar to withdraw his troops and allow a force from the Spanish Netherlands to march on Thuringia as a feint for an attack by Wallenstein aimed at killing or driving out the Abrabanel family.
Wallenstein is outraged that his Croat troops are expected to distinguish Jews from gentiles when they are on a killing spree. He orders an attack on Suhl as a diversion, expecting it to fail.
General Gallas is contemptuous of the Americans for not occupying the Wartburg, but Wallenstein suspects that there is a good reason; since it is the Spanish troops who will be hurt by any surprise, rather than his own, he is not really concerned.
Wallenstein orders that the main body of Croat cavalry attack the high school.
Gustav is perturbed by reports of Bernard's troop movements. He guesses that Bernard has been paid to let the troops through, that Richelieu is behind it and that Richelieu doesn't care whether the Spanish troops are destroyed. He decides to send a small expedition to Grantville and to command it in person as Captain Gars, much to the dismay of his advisers. He includes Finns and Lapps, noted for their ferocity, in the cavalry troop.
Tom and Heindrich are discussing the advancing enemy near Suhl. Tom doesn't understand their tactics, which appear suicidal; they are. Some of Captain Gars's expedition have observed the battle, and report back to him, speaking approvingly of the American tactics. Meanwhile the Lapp scouts have seen signs of several thousand soldiers, whom they believe to be Croats, heading towards Grantville. Captain Gars orders his forces to follow.
Mike orders that his forces outside of Eisenach take out the artillery first, in order to protect the town; Lennox is not happy about not waiting and taking out the entire army. When the Spanish flee, Mike herds them towards the Wartburg.
Larry Wild, Jimmy Andersen and Eddie Cantrell want to bombard the castle immediately, but the whole point of allowing them to take the castle was to force a surrender with minimal casualties rather than simply killing all of them. Mike is worried that their blood thirst is a prelude to militarism and elitism.
Julie, pregnant, is worried that Alex will be angry, because having sex was her idea and she had assured him that her diaphragm would be effective.
Rebecca, also pregnant, speculates that Julie will preemptively dump on Alex, taking offense regardless of what he says or does.
Jeff is ill with influenza. Despite his concern with infecting her, Gretchen insists on making love. She also tells him that she is pregnant.
Captain Gars orders his party to make camp and to get up extremely early the next day.
At midnight, loudspeaker placed around the Wartburg blare out music chosen to be disturbing to the 17th century ear. When ineffective Spanish infantry went up to the ramparts, Mike ordered them taken out. Just before dawn, Mike orders a rocket barrage intended to panic rather than damage. At dawn, a catapult barrage drops leaflets demanding surrender, while the loudspeakers reiterate the surrender terms. Mike believes that it will only take a few loads of incendiaries to drive the point home.
Back in Grantville, Rebecca is walking to the high school for a meeting with Melissa. Gretchen is giving Jeff Gretchen prior to leaving for a days work teaching female recruits to shoot. Captain Gars's expedition is not happy about their early start, but they obey orders.
Jeff, tired of being bedridden, and no longer infectious, decides to ride his motorbike to school.
The Croat cavalry spot Gretchen, alone, and mark her as their first victim.
Ferrara orders the catapults to launch napalm. Armed Spanish troops attempt to leave the castle, and the machine gun cuts them down. The Spanish surrender.
Rebecca sees 4 Croat raiders and fires her shotgun, missing the first rider but killing his horse; the rider falls and knocks her down. A second rider pulls her to her feet, ignoring the shotgun, which still has another round. That leaves two more rider, and no time to reload.
Jeff arrives, startling the Croats long enough to be fatal.
Rebecca repeatedly tells Jeff "Stop the buses."; he believes that she wants to ride to the school infirmary. When Jeff flags down the first bus to arrive and puts her on it, she tells him "No, no, Stop the buses.", and he assumes that she is too shocked to recognized that he has stopped the bus.
When Jeff finally listens to her, she explains that she wanted to send the children back to town, where they would be safe. They start planning the defense of the school.
Captain Gars is urging his troops to go faster.
James offends Julie by asking whether she can handle a .30-06.
Jeff and others improvise barricades at the doors, but there is a walkway that cannot be blocked.
Rebecca is on the telephone informing Dan of their weapons, which are far too few. Rebecca insists that Dan smash the Croat forces attacking the town before mounting a rescue mission.
Dan plans an ambush and volunteers to lure the Croats into it.
Mike is appalled when he realizes that he has been suckered. Mackay tells Mike that Grantville is too small to fend off all possible attacks. Mike orders the disarmed Spanish troops to be freed and sent West, with a warning that they will be killed if they turn back. He orders the bulk of his forces back to Grantville, but knows that arriving in 3-4 hours may be too late.
The Croats attacking town are outraged to find empty houses. The Croats attacking the school are frustrated by the barricades.
After taking out half a dozen Croat officers in quick succession, Julie taunts James “Can you handle a .30-06 semiautomatic, Ju-lie?” James gives her the second rifle and offers to reload for her.
Captain Gars arrives, and leads a charge.
Dan, having lured the Croats, starts killing their horses while hidden townsmen fire from cover.
Gretchen replaces the driver of her bus with Hans and orders him to let Dan board before chasing the fleeing Croat survivors.
The attacking Croats think of Julie as a demon.
The bus overtakes the fleeing Croats, and decimates them with rifle and shotgun fire. Dan orders the bus to continue on to the school.
The Croats have gotten into the building by the time Captain Gars arrives to attack them at their rear.
Julie is about to fire on Captain Gars when she realizes who he is and takes out the Croats charging him.
Anders tries to interpose himself between Captain Gars and the Croats, but it is futile; the king is in no mood for prudence. Gustav sees Julie firing and grins.. The ferocity of his fighting makes him a legend in later years.
The bus arrives, and Hans drives straight at the fleeing Croats. The recruits in the bus then run into the school.
The Croats inside the school are breaking down the door to the gymnasium where some of the students are.
Captain Gars leads hi men into the cafeteria and attacks the Croats there.
Julie goes downstairs with her last load of ammunition.
His ammunition exhausted, Jeff is wounded. He is attacked by a Croat and expects to die in seconds, when Captain Gars arrives and cuts the Croat down. Julie rushes at him and hugs him, then chastises him for his recklessness.
Dan Frost amuses Rebecca by asking whether he knows Captain Gars. She tells him "Captain Gars. Gustavus Adolphus Rex Sueciae."
Mike has decided that Alex is right; Grantville is too small to survive independently without turning into a fascistic state. He intends to cut a deal with Gustav.
Mike and Gustav are deadlocked over the question of an established church. Gretchen proposes a compromise in which Gustav will wear two hats; as king he will rule those provinces owing direct allegaince to Sweden and as Captain General Gars he will rule the remaining provinces. Rebecca does a superb job as a mediator.
Melissa is worried that Mike will give away too much, but Quentin insists that Mike has always driven a hard bargain.
Mike and Gustav have arrived at an agreement. They think that both will catch flack for it, but Mike is confident that he can weather the controversy. Mike thanks him for saving the children.
Alex arrives, and Julie whines that he will kill her for being pregnant. Gustav says that he will deal with Alex. Alex is relieved that Julie is safe, and only too willing to go along with the kings demand that they be married. Gustav makes Julie a baroness.
As expected, Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna is unhappy with the settlement, but Gustav is convinced thaqt God sent Grantville back in time to prevent the tragedies of the old time line.
At the Battle of the Alte Veste, Julie wounds Wallenstein at 1,000 yards and kills one of his generals.
Gustav orders Mike home to care for Rebecca, who is in labor. Mike insists that they name the girl Sepharad.