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1636: The Kremlin Games: Chapter Twenty Nine
Last updated: Saturday, May 5, 2012 12:20 EDT
The year 1633
It worked. Andrei Korisov had tested it, even firing it several times himself. The results were good. Not perfect by any means, but the third major version of the Andrei Korisov Rifle was a workable weapon, even a good one. It seemed to Andrei that it had taken both more and less time than it had. More because of all the frustrations of the last two years and less because it was a genuine revolution in the design of fire arms.
He sent a message to Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev telling him so. Sheremetev sent back, “Send some to the Dacha. Let’s see what they say,” by which Andrei was allowed to know that he was not forgiven yet for the failures of the AK2.
Bernie knelt on the blanket laid out at the Dacha firing range and fired the new gun from the gun shop. It was the third day of testing and it had passed the bench tests pretty well. The lip had helped a lot with the out-gassing. It no longer cut you if you had your hand in the wrong place, it just hurt like the blazes.
Bernie wanted to make sure that the out-gassing had been licked enough so that it wasn’t a danger to the user. He was also making a point. Andrei wouldn’t get it, but by now Filip would. So would Natasha. Leaders lead. They don’t assign some poor peasant to take the risks.
Bernie opened the chamber lock by the lever-action and pulled the spent chamber. The lever-action allowed the back of the chamber lock to be pushed forward, forcing the lip of the chamber into the barrel. It also allowed for the quick removal and replacement of the firing chamber. Bernie knew that Andrei hated the added complexity of the lever-action. But by now the fact that Andrei didn’t like it made Bernie at least open to the idea. Andrei was probably right that simpler was better both for production and for ease of maintenance. But the lever-action of the chamber lock was simple. Four moving parts, all of them interconnected. Levers moved the back block of the chamber lock back when opened and forward when closed. The back block of the chamber lock was shaped like an upside down barn with a peaked roof, and fit into the back block in only one position. That meant that to line up the chamber only the back and front of the chamber had to be precisely finished, precisely fitted.
He was about to stick another in when he had a thought. He half cocked the lock, flipped up the frizzen, tapped the touch hole on the chamber over the pan. Sure enough, a few grains of powder fell into the pan. Bernie closed the frizzen, inserted the chamber, closed the lever action cocked and fired again.
He looked over at Nick. “How am I doing? Hitting anything?”
“You’re hitting a bit low, Bernie,” Nick told him.
“It’s the black powder drop,” Bernie complained. “After a life time of shooting smokeless, I can’t get used to it. What about adjustable sights, Andrei? I know we talked about them.”
“They are an added expense and no one will know how to use them.”
“Cheap asshole,” Bernie muttered under his breath. But in a way he knew that Andrei was right. Russia wasn’t like Germany, where you published a cheat sheet and suddenly everyone knew how it worked. Likely as not, in a Russian village, there was no one who read or wrote. And if someone did happen to be literate, having something read to you once was not the same thing as having the cheat sheet there to look at. It made it a lot harder to disseminate information in Russia than it was in Germany. And, as best as Bernie could tell, that was just how the powers that be liked it. Bernie reminded himself again that it wasn’t his job to reform Russian politics, then went back to leading by example.
“Okay, Nick. I’ve tried it now. Ten rounds as fast as I can. Time me.”
It took him two minutes to send eight rounds downrange. Call it four rounds a minute as long as he had loaded chambers and used his trick of tapping the chamber to prime the pan. Theoretically, you could do that with a muzzle-loader, though, in the real world, two or three rounds a minute was more likely. And Bernie was firing a new weapon. Given some practice, he could probably get faster. A pro with this thing might get to five or six rounds, though Bernie doubted that even the Russian Davy Crockett would manage more than that. Well, maybe if he had the chambers lined up and handy and didn’t worry about where the chambers went after he fired them.
The AK3 could be reloaded kneeling or prone, and that went for reloading the chambers too. They were only five inches long, after all. With loaded chambers, five to eight rounds a minute. With unloaded chambers, two or three, about even with a muzzle-loader. And in late January of 1633 there were a grand total three of them in existence.
Bernie stood up. “All right, Andrei. You have a working prototype. We can add a couple minor tweaks, but overall it looks like as good as we are going to get with the tech base we’ve got. How can we help you guys get it into production?”
It was educational, Natasha thought, to see the effect Andrei Korisov has. He was undoubtedly brilliant and often right, but so self-centered and irritating about it that you wanted to argue the other side just to be against him. Andrei’s negative example had helped to open Filip’s eyes to the virtues of treating peasants and servants with respect. Not as much as Bernie’s positive example perhaps, but it had its effect. Natasha knew she was affected the same way Filip was by both. Andrei would point out that Russian peasants couldn’t do this or that. Natasha would immediately want to find one that could — and she usually could. Individually. But how did you get enough of them taught?
And that was the issue Andrei Korisov brought up in regard to getting the AK3 into full-scale production. There were armories in Russia. Some of them were quite good, so far as quality was concerned. But even Andrei’s Gun Shop was incredibly slow by German standards, much less up-time standards. And it wasn’t just guns. It was everything. Oh, Russians knew how to do things — but that was half the problem. Russians knew how to make a gun. You made it the way your grandfather did. They knew how to make a plow and how to use that plow to plow a field . . . which was precisely the way their grandfather did it, and at the same phase of the moon.
Not that there weren’t creative people and original thinkers in Russia. It was just that they all seemed to live at the Dacha. Well, perhaps a few at the Gun Shop.
The specific issue now was getting the gunsmiths in Russia to make the new guns, much less use the new techniques. There was nothing about the chamber-loading flint-lock rifle that they couldn’t make, but Andrei was insisting that they were too stupid to learn. And Filip was insisting that if Andrei could learn, a donkey could learn. Bernie was insisting that there was no reason for the gunsmiths of Russia to object to the AK3 and plenty of reason for them to embrace it.
But Bernie didn’t understand. Andrei was unpopular and well-known enough that the mere fact that he had invented the rifle — and named it after himself — was plenty of reason for most Russian smiths to hate it, sight unseen. Add to that the general illiteracy, and what Bernie called “the not invented here syndrome,” and they were facing an uphill battle.
Meanwhile Natasha was getting a headache.
“What was it like to live in the future?” Anya asked.
“Easier, freer, but less important.” Bernie shrugged. “I never thought much about the future when I was living in it. What I did didn’t matter much to anyone, not even me. I was in no hurry to grow up. There was no real need. I had a pretty good job. Enough money for most of what I wanted. Never found the right girl, but had a lot of fun looking.” Bernie grinned at Anya. He wasn’t her right guy and she wasn’t his right girl, but they had fun anyway.
“Right after the Ring of Fire, and especially right after the Battle of the Crapper, I was just caught up in what I had lost. I couldn’t get over the way my mother died and I kept seeing those guys falling down like tenpins at the Crapper. It didn’t help that like a damn fool I made the mistake of going out there after the battle and looking at the corpses. There was one kid — I’m sure I was the one who shot him, because he was wearing this odd-looking hat –”
He broke off for a moment, then shook his head. “So I didn’t give much thought to what it meant for anyone else.” Bernie looked into Anya’s pale blue eyes made darker by the candlelight. She was trying, but she didn’t get it. He hadn’t expected her to. It made little enough sense from the inside; it had to seem totally nuts from the outside.
“Like everyone else, I was in shock at first. But I just couldn’t come out of it. People started doing things, things that mattered. President Stearns, Jeff Higgins . . . everyone was making it work and I couldn’t get past the Crapper and Mom’s death. I was sitting around doing what I was told. The same old Bernie. No direction, no drive.
“I couldn’t think of anything useful to do. Truthfully, I wasn’t even trying. Then Vladimir offered me this job. I had no idea if I could do it, but I couldn’t take much more of Grantville. It wasn’t home anymore, but it was too much like home.
“I think the trip out here was the first time I had been sober for three days running since the Crapper. Now, I’m too busy to worry about it that much.” Bernie grinned again. “Too much to do. The Nerd Patrol is always hitting me with new questions and I spend so much time reading and helping out that there isn’t that much time to mope anymore. That’s the secret to a happy life, kid. Have something to do. It’s even better if it’s something that matters. But have something, whether it matters to anyone else or not.”
Lazar Smirnov worried out the words in the pamphlets. Flipping back and forth between them, trying to divine meaning from two directions. Along with the copies of English books and parts of books that Vladimir sent them were the occasional German translation. Lazar had a bit of German, almost twice as much German, in fact, as he had English. He didn’t have all that much of either. He spoke Russian, read Latin and Greek, but that was about it. His reading of Russian was problematic and his writing was quite idiosyncratic. So trying to read the pamphlets on electronics and radio was an uphill task at the best of times. But he had been doing it for over a year now and he was gaining, he hoped, an understanding of how it all worked. He had a spark gap transmitter and it now seemed to work. That is, the crystal set clicked when it should if it was close enough. What was the difference between a Leiden jar and a capacitor? He was beginning to think there wasn’t one. He went back to the little pamphlet on the capacitor and noticed the word mica, looked up mica and noticed that the best was muscovite mica.
At which point Lazar wrote to Vladimir about the potential for profit if they could determine what muscovite mica was.
Having written his letter and had his man put it in the pouch to be sent to Grantville, Lazar went back to trying to improve the tuning of his tuned-circuit spark gap transmitter. That evening he went on to trying to figure out how to make an alternator so that he could produce inductance and an inductance furnace for the melting of metal.
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