Somewhere Else Entirely -122-

Garia and Milsy venture into the outskirts of the city to check progress of various industrial projects. At experimental plants she sees how the industrial might of Palarand is being mobilized. Elsewhere, other parties are making plans...

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

122 - Industrial Matters

Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2011-2015 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.



It was some days later that Keren joined Garia and her friends in the front porch to await their transport.

"That's... an interesting look," he said, eyeing them speculatively.

Garia and Milsy grinned back at him. Both were wearing their leather 'Inventor' suits.

"If you say so, Highness," Milsy replied. "They are designed to be practical, I never considered them as a fashion garment. Do you like what you see?"

"Humph. More practical than what I must needs wear, I deem. You both look very cute together. Someone who did not know you would think you twins. Hmm." A glint came to his eye as he added, "Perhaps I should just marry you both, that might solve a lot of problems."

Both pouted, for entirely different reasons. Jenet and Bursila, both wearing their own versions of the leather garments, smiled at the repartee. The two girls were almost the same height and still shared the same hair style. Most people in the palace now knew both girls well but there were still occasional blunders which neither sought to eliminate. Like real twins, the confusion was just a bit of harmless fun.

"If you did that you might become King sooner than you wanted," Garia told him. "Your father would have a heart attack if he heard what you just suggested."

"As you say! Let us not spread rumors, then."

Tarvan added, "Highness, I must disagree with your proposal, though of course I would then have a quieter life. If I may consider it?"

This time it was Milsy who pouted.

Keren laughed. "Shall we find our carriages?"

Their maids helped Garia and Milsy with the heavy cloaks they would wear over their clothes before the positions were reversed and the maids helped into their own cloaks. The six headed for two closed carriages, necessary because the leather outfits of the girls were not cut for riding. Outside in the yard, Feteran banged his chest with a gloved fist.

"We are ready, Highness."

"Let's go, then. The sooner we arrive, the sooner we shall be warm again."

Keren and Garia sat inside the first carriage with Jenet facing them while Tarvan and Milsy took the second with Bursila. The carriages rolled out of the palace grounds and through the icy streets of the capital. They headed directly for the West Gate, taking the trade road which would eventually lead to Brikant and Brugan. Once beyond the suburbs they turned off into an area beginning to fill with new factories, warehouses and workshops.

Garia asked, "Do we have maps of this area yet, Keren?"

"Aye, Garia, but they are out of date, as all such documents must needs be. The last one I have seen shows the plots and the proposed connecting roads, though I doubt all have been completed yet. Winter is no time for digging up roads."

Garia stared out at the sea of mud. "Aye, you're right, there."

Presently the carriages and their escort arrived at a fenced yard and all dismounted. On one side were coal and wood piles beside an open shed containing a thumping steam engine, with another odd building beyond it. On the other side was a square building with large gaps in the walls showing the glow of furnaces. Waiting to greet them were Guildmaster Parrel and Guildmaster Korfen.

"Highness, Guildmistress, Guildsman, Guildswoman, welcome to our rolling mill," Parrel greeted them. "Let us get inside out of the cold and I will explain all."

Inside they were relieved of their cloaks which were hung outside a small internal office.

"There have been so many changes since we first designed this process," Parrel said, "I don't know where to begin. Let us start again as though this was a new factory, which to some extent it is. Outside, then, is a steam engine which provides power for many of our rolling operations, although not yet all of them. Over there is a coke and gas separating plant which gives us the raw materials for our furnaces and for extra heat and light inside the buildings. At this end of this building, we take ingots of steel and roll them into sheets which are long and thin. Further along you will see these strips shaped into pipes and then welded closed. Today we are making small pipes which we intend using for distributing the gas we generate. If you would follow me?"

The first stage was a furnace which heated the ingots red-hot. Garia saw that it was fueled entirely with coke and a take-off from the steam engine drive powered a ducted blower which helped heat the metal as required. They watched as two men pulled the glowing ingot out of the coals and levered it onto a roller conveyor, feeding it immediately between two rollers which squeezed and lengthened it.

Successive rollers flattened the bar while others each side ensured that the correct shape was retained. Soon, the ingot had turned from bar to narrow sheet to strip and was ready for the next heating. Using tongs, men dragged it onto another furnace bed, made long and thin to accept the strip. An adjustment of the belt linked to the overhead shaft and a fan blew air through the coke, blasting flames out of the upper surface and into a collecting hood also powered by a fan.

Soon, the strip glowed red again and was pulled out of the furnace for the final shaping. This time, the rollers had been carefully shaped to bend the strip lengthways, first into a U shape and then into an almost-complete tube. These last few operations were powered by hand, the rollers having hand-cranks with which to pull the hot metal through. With just a narrow slot along the top, the tubing now awaited the final operation.

"It occurred to one of the men," Parrel told them, "that we could simply add the final closure to this process and we could thus make the entire pipe in one operation. This is a test of that process, it is still done by hand, but we think it may be possible to automate the whole operation from one end to the other."

Garia looked around them. The walls of the shed were rudimentary, but that didn't matter even in winter. The heat given off by the furnaces and the pipes being created kept them all comfortably warm. Above them, gas lamps with simple jets made the inside anything but gloomy. On one side the manufacturing line ran off around the walls of the building, behind her on the dirt floor were sets of shaping rollers in lines which could be swopped out to make pipes of varying sizes.

In front of her were a single set of rollers, machined to accept a tube and again powered by hand-cranks. From the ceiling came down two thick copper ropes... feeding a contraption which covered the process line beyond the rollers. One of the men adjusted this, held up a hand and pulled down his goggles.

Garia turned to Milsy to see her pulling her own goggles off the brimless cap and over her eyes. There were flip-up lenses which she lowered, hiding her eyes behind dark filters. Garia hastened to do the same. Parrel gave Keren and Tarvan welder's masks on a stick to see through, also with a thick darkened window, before he and Korfen pulled down their own goggles.

Other men positioned the still-hot pipe in the rollers and one began to turn the crank, while the man who had adjusted the contraption turned another crank. As the pipe went through the device a welding rod was fed down, sealing the narrow gap with a blinding arc. Once beyond the welding machine the pipe was hauled clear and allowed to cool.

"Impressive," Garia said. "You have come so far in such a short space of time."

Parrel glowed with the praise. "Thank you, Guildmistress. It was a succession of ideas. First, we laid this workshop out as we would a traditional smithy but realized that if we made full use of the steam and electric power we could flow the work from one process to the next. That followed Fulvin's idea, to separate each task one from another. Then we puzzled over sealing the gap and for a time we welded it closed by hand, until somebody pointed out that if the welding rod was kept still and the pipe moved, that too could be made part of the whole process."

Keren waved a hand. "The steam engine provides all your power?"

"Both directly and indirectly, Highness. The shafts you see overhead can be used to drive the rollers and fans almost anywhere by means of belts, but in the building behind the steam engine we also have a generator providing welding power with the aid of a large battery bank. We use all the coke we convert and about half of the gas is used for heating and lighting. The rest we are thinking of selling to our neighbors on this estate."

Milsy had walked over to inspect the welding machine. It consisted simply of a spool of wire which the operator fed downwards using a hand crank. As the wire melted onto the pipe, the pipe moved along at the same rate the welding wire was being used up.

"You'll be coupling these two together with a gear, I suppose?"

"That is so, Mistress Milsy, along with all the other rollers."

Garia asked, "How many of the pipes could you make in, say, a bell?"

Parrel shrugged. "We have not yet tried such a continuous operation, Guildmistress. The limiting factor is the time it takes to heat the metal for each pipe." He looked at her speculatively. "Tell me, is it possible to use the gas to heat the metal? If that is so, we could perhaps heat it as it moves, with wide-spaced rollers between the gas jets."

"I think that's how it is often done on Earth," Garia replied cautiously. "I'm not sure if the gas you have here would give you enough heat to do the job, though." She turned and looked at the workshop floor. "To set it all up to try it out will take you a fair bit of time, for something that might not work."

Korfen said, "Not so much, Guildmistress. Most of the arrangement in here is experimental. Having the power shafts overhead makes it easy for us to move machinery around as required. When we have determined an efficient sequence of operations we will lay out a proper factory for pipe-making, which would probably be constructed somewhere near Teldor."

Garia nodded. "Of course."

Most of the buildings on this newly-formed industrial park were for experimental operations. Once the techniques and methods required for any particular new idea had been proven factories would be constructed elsewhere and these buildings would move on to the next idea.

She walked over to inspect the new pipe, careful to keep her leather gauntlets on. Even though the steel was not hot enough to glow she knew that it would be a while before it was cool enough to handle. The ends of the pipe were ragged and the weld showed as an ugly lump along the top of the pipe.

"How do you clean this up?"

"Guildmistress, we use a steam-powered saw to trim the ends and then a grindstone to smooth the excess weld from the surface of the pipe."

"That's what I guessed, but there might be quicker ways..."

"Oh?"

The two Guildmasters looked at each other with anticipation. Even though the Guildmistress was young and inexperienced, she could still surprise them with new ideas and methods at any time, ideas which could make their lives easier.

"Yeah... Look, if you are running the pipe through that welding fixture, why not do the same with a grindstone? Just have it positioned above the conveyor so that it smooths off the weld as the pipe moves along."

"I see what she means," Korfen said.

"Indeed... we should have considered that idea," Parrel agreed. "I'll arrange to have a grindstone mounted above the conveyor for a trial."

"There's another thing," Garia added. "If you just clean up the ends of these pipes by sawing, they are all going to be different lengths, right?"

"As you say, Guildmistress."

"Then, how about trying another way? Master Korfen, this should be something you can organize. Feed the pipe into a hollow lathe and use that to cut the end off square."

Korfen looked thoughtful. "A hollow lathe, Guildmistress? Ah, I see what you mean. It would be automatically centered and the cutting tool would make short work of such a thin piece of metal... again, this is an example of keeping the tool stationary and moving the work." He bowed. "I thank you for this idea, Guildmistress. I must needs design a new lathe, of course, but that is all we do these days."

Garia smiled. "I haven't finished yet. Then you slide the work through and you can measure the exact place to cut the other end, so that the pipes are all exactly the same length. That will make it easier for users to specify how many they require."

Korfen nodded. "An excellent idea, Guildmistress."

Parrel said, "Again the Guildmistress suggests that we standardize the lengths of the items we produce, so that those using them may order with confidence. Aye, we will find a way to do this, I deem. Besides, Korfen, most of these pipe lengths must needs have threads cut at each end, will they not? This new lathe could perform both jobs."

"I would prefer separate lathes, Parrel, so that the work can move on and release the first lathe for the next pipe." Korfen shrugged. "Doubtless our process will change many times as we seek the best way to make items for use."

Keren asked, "Guildmasters, what do you think these pipes will be used for? You spoke of gas, have you thought of using it for water or other liquids?"

"Highness, we already use some pipes of steel for water and indeed steam, they are made by hand for the boilers of steam engines. We would not use any pipe we made in here for that purpose, however, since we cannot yet guarantee that they would survive under pressure. One day, perhaps, when our test methods have improved." He shrugged. "A problem with using such pipes for water is of course that they will rust. For water we would prefer to continue using copper, although the Guildmistress sorely strains our supply by turning much of it into electric wire."

Garia said, "Rust? Well, there is something we have called stainless steel."

"Stainless steel, Guildmistress? I believe I heard you mention it once but other than that, I remember not what you described."

"Oh, it's called stainless steel but it's really a kind of rustless alloy of steel. If I remember right you have to put a lot of chromium in it, at least a tenth, and it can be difficult to make because of that. You know about chromium?"

"Aye, Guildmistress." Parrel frowned. "I know of ores of Chromite, Guildmistress, from which the metal may be obtained, though we do not have ready access to any quantity of such ores. Is this something else that will soon be in short supply?"

"I wouldn't be too bothered, Master Parrel. As I recall stainless steel is difficult to make and work and I don't think you'll be producing anything but samples anytime soon. Ordinary steel pipes will have a long enough life for normal use. Just keep using copper for pipes that hold drinking water and you'll do fine." She thought. "If you want to use something else for water, then I'd suggest cast iron. That won't rust the same way as wrought iron or steel does."

Korfen was skeptical. "You can cast iron pipes, Guildmistress?"

Garia nodded. "Yes, Master Korfen. It's what we used for water mains, gas mains, sewers and drainpipes for years until more modern materials came along."

"More modern materials, Guildmistress?"

"Ah, yes. We call them plastics and they are made from things like oils and even the gases of the air, believe it or not. The chemistry of Anmar has to improve a lot before you can start using those materials. Forget plastics for now, cast iron is your best bet." She considered. "There are other kinds of steel you could use, ones that might be easier to produce. I'll have to think about it."

Tarvan was curious. "Guildmistress, what sizes of pipe do your people make on Earth?"

"Why, anything from about the size of my little finger to something so big I could walk inside it. Perhaps even larger. We use pipes for construction purposes, thinking about it, as well as for carrying gases and liquids."

Korfen was surprised. "A pipe so big? Is it really possible to cast rollers so big on Earth, Guildmistress?"

"It might be possible, Master Korfen, but I don't think they do it that way when the diameter gets that large. They would weigh a ridiculous amount and be difficult to move around. There other ways of bending sheet steel, aren't there?"

"Well -"

"Korfen," Parrel said. "We use rollers in a different way whenever we shape armor, do we not? Perhaps that is what Mistress Garia means?"

"Oh, yes, of course! Guildmistress, Master Parrel has learned to broaden his ideas when faced by your thoughts, I regret I am not so experienced. Forgive me."

"Nothing to forgive, Master Korfen. When you're used to doing something a certain way, it can be hard to think of other ways."

"As you say, Guildmistress. If you could tell us what such large pipes may be used for."

"Gas and water, mostly. When you have cities with five million people or more in them you need a lot of gas and water. There's also crude oil, which comes out of the ground, but you can forget about that for a few years."

"Crude oil?" Both men were puzzled. Korfen let the subject slide with, "As you say, Guildmistress," knowing an explanation would come at a future date.

"Guildmistress," Parrel asked, "you mentioned using pipes for construction. If you would explain?"

"Sure," Garia replied, "but we might do that better in your office. If we get out of the way, these fine men can carry on making pipes. Did I see a blackboard in the office?"

"You did, Guildmistress. If you would all follow me."

In the office Garia turned to her audience.

"I can think of three ways to use pipes directly for construction," she began. "First and most obvious is scaffolding. You can make stronger and more regular scaffolding out of steel pipe than you could with, say, the wood I've seen used around Palarand. You can even make frames which can then slot together to make the erection of the scaffolding easier and safer.

"Okay. The next way is to actually use the pipe as a construction material in place of struts and girders. A pipe is a naturally strong structure. You have both read my paper on trusses?" The two men nodded. "Then you can see that it would easily be possible to use sections of pipe for any part of a truss. You can either saw the lengths of pipe at an angle and weld them in place, or you can saw them short and cut slots in the end like this -" she drew on the board, "- weld a tab in the slot and then bolt the pieces together. If you use pipes this way the end result could be lighter than using wood or plain girders." She thought. "What about square pipes? Do you make those?"

"Square pipes, Guildmistress?" Korfen asked. "Is that even possible?"

"The Guildmistress would not have mentioned them if they had not been, Korfen." Parrel looked intrigued. "There would be no advantage in using square pipes for liquids or gases, since the joints would be difficult to design, so I deem such pipes would only be used for construction purposes."

"Almost," Garia qualified with a smile. "Square pipes are often used as downpipes for guttering, to suit the style of the building. You're right, they wouldn't be a lot of use under pressure."

Korfen objected, "But how can one make such a pipe? To make the folds... you must needs have a roller inside, which is impossible!"

Parrel smiled. "Not so, Korfen! I deem you roll the top two folds first, then roll the bottom two afterwards. Again, we have a similar problem with certain armor parts. We have ways of doing this, I will advise you."

"So, then," Garia resumed, "for a truss you could make the top and bottom of square tubing and the cross members out of square or round, however you like. Put two trusses side by side, with cross-members to support a surface, and you have built a footbridge. Larger trusses and you could run a road or a railroad over it."

"Can trusses really be that strong, Guildmistress?"

"Oh, yes. We even use them to cover very large areas with roofing. We could cover, for example, the whole Shevesty Field with a roof, without any supports except around the outside edge."

The guildsmen looked at each other with amazement.

"Parrel, we must needs have a talk," Korfen said. "If we can make a roof so large it will make a big difference in the way we design factories and workshops."

Parrel nodded "I agree -"

The door to the office opened and a guildsman entered.

"Masters," be began. "I am sorry to interrupt your meeting but we have a serious problem."

Korfen looked around and received nods and gestures from the others. He turned back to the man. "Speak."

"The pipes which supply the gas from the coke ovens to the lamps, Guildmaster," he explained. "The lamps have not been burning as we expected and we have discovered a thick tar inside the pipes. We must needs close down the gas system, dismantle the pipework and clean it all out. This will make it difficult to resume production of pipes for some days."

Korfen turned to Garia.

"I'm thinking there are byproducts of the coke-making that should be taken out of the gas before it's used," she said slowly. "The stuff is known as, well, coal tar. If you add a distillation step between the oven and the gas storage, that should help get most of it out of the gas."

Parrel nodded. "The gas would be hot in any event, a proper cooling and separating arrangement may be easily designed. What of this tar? Is it like that we obtain for use in waterproofing boats and similar purposes?"

"I guess you could use it that way," Garia said slowly, "but I think it would be a waste. If you distil it carefully, you can break it down into several different products, some of which can be used as medicines, soaps, detergents and antiseptics." She shrugged. "We stopped doing all that many years ago so I'm just remembering - badly - what I heard on a history program. Sorry, what I'm saying is that I was told about such things a while ago."

"As you say, Guildmistress. Break it into different products? How might we do that, Guildmistress? Do you remember?"

"That much I do, I think. Let me see."

Garia drew on the board a crude fractionating column, explaining how she thought it worked.

"Ah! That makes sense," Parrel said, studying the diagram. He turned to Korfen. "More pipework, I deem."

"Aye, Parrel." Korfen turned to the man. "Since we are not yet able to deal effectively with the residue as we have just discussed, then we must needs shut down the process line to permit cleaning of the pipework. I deem this would be a suitable time to inspect the rest of our equipment for other failings."

The man bowed assent and retreated.

Parrel turned. "Highness, Guildmistress, Guildsmen, it would seem that our business here is ended, and not as we would have desired. Should we then travel to our next workshop, where Korfen can show you the weapons he has made? It is but a short distance."

Since the other workshop was a very short distance away, the party simply walked, the carriages and escort following behind them. Along the way Parrel had a question for Garia.

"Guildmistress, you spoke of three ways of using pipes for construction yet spoke of only two before we were interrupted."

"Right, the third way would be to make big pipes and use them as piles. Depending on the structure you wanted to build and what kind of ground it was, you could make them from a foot across to maybe a stride across. Then you'd just stand them on end and hammer them into the ground with a steam hammer."

Parrel nodded. "That could be a useful technique here in the Valley, Guildmistress. Because most of the soil is bottomless river deposits, constructing sturdy buildings of any size is ever a problem. That is one reason why the palace has but two floors, one on the other."

"What of the stone walls and towers, Parrel?" Keren objected.

"Highness, since those structures were originally erected by the Chivans, they use methods our masons either do not understand or do not desire to use themselves. I understand that below the High Tower, for example, the foundations descend many strides and all of it stone laboriously brought from elsewhere. Under the walls there may be immense quantities of concrete." He shook his head. "You must understand, I know only of such matters as they affect my own craft, Highness. For more detail you must needs enquire of a mason."

"Of course, Parrel. I am merely seeking to understand my own home, that is all."

Garia said, "Of course, steel piles are one thing but proper use of concrete can be just as good and cheaper. For a concrete pile just use a big auger to drill a deep hole in the ground, then put in steel rebar and fill up the hole with concrete. That way the steel is protected from groundwater and shouldn't rust so quickly."

"More interesting ideas, Guildmistress. We thank you for them."

Their destination was another workshop accompanied by a puffing steam engine. Inside this one was a row of lathes of various designs and sizes. Korfen led them to a large enclosed workshop within the larger building. This one had bright oil lighting to permit the men inside to work more accurately. Korfen walked over to one of the men, held a conversation, and returned holding a complete rifle.

"This is one of our latest attempts, Guildmistress. If you would examine it?"

Garia took the offered weapon and nearly dropped it. God, this thing is really heavy. I know next to zilch about guns either. Still -

It had been made out of a single rod of cast steel and the barrel was about a stride long. At the breech end another steel casting contained the trigger mechanism and the hinge connecting it to the barrel. This second casting had a rudimentary stock bolted to the back. There was also an odd mechanism on top of it, obscuring the tube eyesight fixed to the top of the barrel.

On the right hand side, as she had expected, was a flintlock mechanism very similar to that on the old pistol. This was hardly surprising as they had probably copied the design. With difficulty she held it up and started to sight through the tube before her natural gun safety caution made her lower the barrel.

"This thing is safe to hold?"

"Aye, Guildmistress. We would permit no powder in this building. All our experiments are done elsewhere, where any accident would harm the least number of men."

She gave the gun back to Korfen.

"Some of it looks familiar, some of it doesn't."

"As you say, Guildmistress. We used what you called the shotgun design for this example, as you see. It is released by moving this lever over the barrel from left to right."

Korfen demonstrated, allowing the back of the barrel to hinge up and show that it was empty. Garia noticed that the lever now obstructed the flint hammer but this was reasonable when the gun was open. Peering along the bore showed her that it was rifled.

"Steban! Have you a test cartridge for the Guildmistress?"

One of the other men handed over a cartridge, his expression almost of awe in facing the fabled Guildmistress. She took it with a nod of thanks. It consisted of a short cylinder of waxed paper with a shaped lead bullet poking out of one end. The other end was waxed paper and it was flat.

"I'm assuming this is safe, then?"

"Aye, Guildmistress. For these experiments we make the cartridges exactly the same as those intended for field use but filled with fine sand of the same consistency as the explosive powder."

"Ah, I see. So, what do I do? Just put it in the barrel?"

"Just so, Guildmistress. There is a step in the barrel which will stop the cartridge at the right place."

Garia slid the cartridge in, puzzled. However did they expect to fire it, with no cap and no way for the powder to be ignited?

She handed the rifle back to Korfen, who closed the breech up and moved the lever until it was vertical.

"Guildmistress," he explained, "We found it difficult to get a seal around the joint of barrel and breech. Too much of the explosion leaked out and would have threatened the man who held the weapon. This lever moves a screw thread which pulls the barrel and breech tightly together. This seems to help but we know we will need better surfaces in the final product."

"But with the lever like that, you can't sight the gun."

"Ah, but that is intended, Guildmistress. In this position, the gun is loaded and sealed against the weather. The gunner may carry the weapon as his duties require and it is ready for him to use as necessary, without the possibility of accident or damage. When he is ready to aim, the lever must be moved further round like this."

Korfen moved the lever further to the left with difficulty. Garia saw that the thin line between barrel and breech was now even thinner.

"Guildmistress, the shaped casting which the lever moves has a projection on it which, when it is moved past the vertical, causes a slit to be cut in the side of the cartridge. Pressure on the back of the cartridge then forces some of the powder into the pan. The gun is now ready to be fired."

Clever! It was both a safety lever and a means of priming the gun when required. Having the lever obstruct the sighting tube meant that it could not be fired accidentally but showed that it was loaded.

Garia took the rifle again and looked through the sighting tube. Finding an imaginary target, she removed her face from the barrel and pulled the trigger. It was stiff, but that was to be expected in something so new. The hammer cocked itself and then snapped forward, just as she had watched the old pistol do. The frizzen flipped up and a shower of sparks fell on the sand in the pan.

"That's impressive work, Master Korfen. Have you tested it with live ammunition?"

Korfen blinked at the unusual combination of words but understood her meaning.

"Aye, Guildmistress. We are astonished at the accuracy of a weapon such as this. As yet our trials are of limited distance, since we may only use a sighting tube and not a telescope as you suggested. I regret Master Hurdin is too busy to provide us with suitable samples we may use for testing."

"A sighting tube is probably good enough for the kind of use I expect you'll get out of these," she said. "I'll have a word with Hurdin but by the time we can get some kind of telescope worked out and mastered the whole war might be over. What kind of distance have you tested this over?"

"Some six hundred strides, Guildmistress. To go further is not possible on the property we use for such tests, it would endanger those who live surrounding the property."

Garia thought. "Okay, looks like I'll have to tell you what a proper rifle range looks like, then. It won't be like an archery field at all."

A bank of sand will be the main thing. A trench in front where the targets can be hauled up and down... Ear defenders! Mustn't forget those.

"Hm. Yes," she added, "I think we'll need a talk about rifle ranges and similar testing places. Can you make a date to meet at the palace? Merry?"

Then Garia remembered why Merizel hadn't joined them. She smiled apologetically.

"I'm sorry, I forgot, my secretary is otherwise engaged. If you could contact the palace some time soon."

Korfen bowed. "As you desire, Guildmistress."

Garia handed the rifle to Keren, who frowned at the weight.

"Ah, Highness, do not expect that to be the final design, that is merely one of the samples that we used to work out the locking and trigger mechanism. Once we are satisfied, we will remove excess metal from all the parts you see."

"Indeed. This is about the same weight as our larger crossbows, is it not? Yet it is much longer... not so easy to adjust the aim." Keren turned to Parrel. "On those captured Yodan guns, they had what Garia calls bipods to support the barrel when the gunner is lying down. Do you propose to fit such to these weapons?"

"Uh... Highness, we had not considered that. Guildmistress? Your opinion?"

"Well, I can see why you didn't add a bipod in, because it is that much extra weight at the end of the barrel and the thing is heavy enough already. But a weapon like this is only ever going to be fired from a lying down position, since you'll have to take care lining up your target." She nodded. "Yes, once you have gotten rid of the excess material, then I think you should fit a bipod."

Parrel nodded agreement. "Aye, Guildmistress, I agree. Fortunately such a device will be easy to fit, as you say, once the barrel is reduced in size."

Keren moved the lever to the right and broke the gun.

"Are these cartridges easy to remove once they have been used?"

"Highness," Korfen replied, "we had some problems at first since the wax melts and binds the cartridge to the barrel. We now use a slightly different construction method and all is well."

"As you say. When might we see a finished rifle, do you think?"

"Seven to ten days, Highness, before we would be confident enough to present one to you. For each one we make, the process of careful testing at every stage takes longer than the manufacture."

"As well it might, since the life of the holder is at stake. Very well, we shall return when you inform us that weapons that we may use for training are ready."

"Thank you, Highness." Korfen turned, picking up a small object from another bench.

"Guildmistress, we also offer this design for your inspection."

He handed Garia a small handgun which had been modeled on the same mechanical design as the rifle. It was small and flat and looked more like an automatic than a pistol. The flintlock mechanism had been partly buried in the metal of the rear part and the butt was shaped more like that of the revolver than of the older flintlock pistol.

Korfen worked the lever and broke open the gun.

"As you can see, this small pistol - if there may be another name? - is but a smaller version of the rifle and thus uses smaller ammunition. It is loaded and fired in exactly the same way. Would something like this be of use to Palarand?"

Garia's eyes widened. "If that works, Master Korfen, then yes it will. You couldn't fight a battle with it, but for personal protection... Has it been tested?"

Korfen nodded. "Aye, Guildmistress. This particular example has been fired seven times in tests."

Feteran was immediately interested. "Milady, I agree, a weapon like this would be immediately useful to us. It could be carried in a pouch -"

"Holster, that's what we call them."

"Ah, as you say, Milady. Then this could offer a means of defense where a crossbow would not be practical."

Garia said, "I agree, but you wouldn't be able to replace your sword or knife with it. Once fired, it is just dead weight, like the rifle will be. You'd have no chance of reloading that in a fight."

"Indeed, Milady. But a compact weapon that can kill at a distance..."

Garia looked at Korfen. "I'd like to commission you to make a small number of these for personal protection purposes, Guildmaster. We do have similar weapons on Earth, but as I explained before, we have gone beyond flintlocks. Still, I imagine that Captain Merek will want some of these, for use around the palace."

Korfen bowed and said, "Done, Guildmistress. I will commission a small run of these new pistols. If you and His Highness would like to inspect our workshop and the machinery inside?"

The machine shop was like many that Garia had seen before. Some of the lathes were so old they had wooden frames but around half had new, cast frames. The smell out here was different, though, to Garia's previous experience, and she soon figured out why.

"Master Korfen, you need to cool your work pieces, or the tool tips will wear out quickly."

"Aye, Guildmistress, that is what happens. Is this not normal? We cannot think of a way to prevent this happening."

"I can only tell you what we do on Earth and that is fairly crude. We simply cool the whole lot, piece and tool, with a liquid which gets pumped over everything. That also has a side effect of helping to remove the excess metal."

"Pump liquid all over it? That sounds a strange idea, Guildmistress. Does not the whole area become covered with this liquid?"

"Not really. It's only a thin stream over the point where the cutting happens. You have a tray underneath to catch the liquid, it gets strained and then a small pump brings it up a pipe and over the working area again. The pump is connected to the spindle so that when the lathe stops so does the pump."

Parrel looked at Korfen. "It seems we must redesign our lathes, Korfen. The usefulness is plain for all to see. Guildmistress, this liquid you mention."

"I'm not really sure, Master Parrel. I've seen it clear and I've seen it white. I think it could be water, it could be a thin oil or it could be something else or a mixture of all three. All you need is something that will cool metal quickly and that can be seen easily enough in light like this to mop up spills."

"Very well, we shall make trials and find out if there is a suitable liquid we may use."

Korfen gestured. "Now, if you would come this way, Highness, Guildmistress, I believe that a rifle barrel is being bored over here..."

~o~O~o~

When Serdel turned up at the Inn to join the others for lunch there was alarm because he had two strangers with him. Although most of them had other acquaintances, they discouraged them from being around the locations where the conspirators normally met. The talk died. Once the serving girl had provided the newcomers with ale and food Serdel got down to business.

"You'll need to know these two," he began around a mouthful of food. "This person, who I'll call Mondo, is in fact the person I report to. He doesn't know any of your names and until today I doubt any of you will have seen him before. This other man I'll call Jeen. Now remember we was talking about other groups in the palace? Jeen is from one of those, and it is his information that brings him here today."

The others said nothing, their eyes flicking between the two newcomers. Finally there were reluctant nods.

"Jeen has heard something that may be of use to us," Serdel continued. "It seems a big reception is to be given by the City Assembly for the Prince and his bride-to-be."

There was a general grunt of disapproval and one spoke. "How does this interest us, boss? It's not as if we're likely to be invited, is it?"

"As you say. However, the war against the upstart Yodans means that many have gone to be levies, and that leaves the Assembly short of kitchen and serving staff. There are sufficient for normal needs but not for a big occasion like this. They desire temporary staff and that is where we can find an opportunity."

One gave a sour laugh. "Temporary staff? Everybody wants temporary staff! Why, I myself have been offered five jobs in the last two days, three of which pay considerably better than the coin I'm collecting now."

"Aye," agreed another. "Considering what I have heard and seen around the streets recently I'm beginning to wonder if the Palarandis haven't got it right. Our employers can offer nothing like this."

Mondo looked impatiently at the group around the table. "That is why this person is so dangerous and must be stopped," he told them. His voice was quiet and they had to lean forward to hear him over the hum of the bar. "If the original attempt to seize... this person... had succeeded, then our country would have been as prosperous, as wealthy, as successful as this one, but organized much better and with the benefits handed out as they should be." His lip curled. "This place is a mess. There is no organization here, every man does whatever he deems fit. When we rule here, we shall put that right."

Some muttered, "Aye," but one said, "It isn't just the men neither. I hear they even have women in the Palace Guard now."

Mondo sneered. "Let them! Each woman they take will be one less man to face us. No woman can hope to have the strength of a man, that is not what they are made for. They should be at home, breeding more warriors, as the women in our lands do."

The others were silent and Mondo took that as agreement. Some of those listening had heard detailed accounts of the Battle of the Highway but didn't think this would be a good time to speak out.

Serdel said, "The deal is we get contracted as a single party with those in Jeen's group, so I need to know today who's in and who isn't. If we go in as servants to the City Assembly we'll all have to get cleaned up. Some of you have other duties, that I know, I won't think you traitors if you refuse."

Some of the men smiled thinly at that, since they were all traitors anyway. All, however, raised their hands.

Mondo looked around at them, counting heads. "Done."

"What day is this happening, boss?"

"Twenty-first Femurin, so I'm told." A number of the men looked cross-eyed working the date out, so he added, "Today is Sixth Femurin, so that would be fifteen days we have to get ourselves ready." One still looked stumped so he added, "Three hands of days, right?"

Another asked, "What do we have to do, boss?"

Mondo replied. "Clean up as your boss said. That means a proper bath using soap and hot water. I'll provide coin for the public baths if I must. On the day you'll be clean-shaven so as not to be recognized. I suggest you get used to regular shaving again as some of you look as if you only do it once a week. Nearer the date, get your hair cut properly as well. I'll have clean clothes of a kind suitable for house servants provided so you don't look as if you live in a ditch. If you look like you do now you'd never be allowed in the same room as the Prince."

Some of the men looked unhappy to be cleaned up while others looked pleased to be able to dress cleanly once more.

Mondo continued, "Two days before, we'll gather in a safe property in the city where we can talk and make sure all the clothes fit. Then we'll talk about the plan and what each of you can do. We'll stay there until the day of the reception." His expression hardened. "No mistakes this time, right? Just do your part and we should not fail."

~o~O~o~

"Terinar! I hope you're not bored yet!"

The young man grinned at her. "There is no chance of that while you're around, Garia! I have been learning the intricacies of running a noble House along with Merizel and Gullbrand." He looked abashed. "There have been, I admit, certain distractions this morning. However do you manage with the Prince so close by?"

Garia smiled. "In our case we have never known anything different, so it doesn't affect us the same way. Except for the one time when Keren went upriver we have been together almost continuously. We know what each other is doing and we each know the other has responsibilities." Her smile faded. "It can still be difficult, sometimes. I guess that's what being in love is all about."

"As you say! Garia, I had no idea you did so much! I am amazed you have not yet collapsed under the strain."

"Yes, well, there have been times when I've just felt plain worn out. I daren't overstretch myself any more since the Queen will step in and stop me doing anything at all. Besides, we'll all be busy come Spring Dawning."

"Aye. You have turned the festival into a three day event which requires much planning."

"Did you forget all the Kings and Dukes who are coming to stay? My wedding is the pretext but I'm sure they will spend a lot of time talking about... you know."

"Aye," Terinar agreed again. "Part of me wishes I was upriver myself, with our brave men, and part wishes to remain beside Merry... It is ever part of a young man's lot."

"Hey! Don't forget the young woman's lot, will you? It's not fun stopping here when the one you love is risking himself in a faraway field."

Terinar was contrite. "Aye, Garia, I do not forget, but sometimes it is easy to think of oneself and overlook what others must needs bear. Mothers, sisters, lovers, all must wait and few may play any part in the battle."

"Yes. I never realized until I came here just how hard it was from the other viewpoint. There has to be a better way, but I don't know of one." Garia looked around. "Where is Merizel, anyway?"

Terinar waggled a hand. "She went back to her chambers. A woman's thing, she said. I doubt not she will come before our food is served."

Merizel did arrive, breathless, just before the diners were seated for lunch.

"I'm so sorry, everyone! Nothing important. Garia, I know so much more now that Gullbrand, Kendar and I have talked, and Terry has joined in since he arrived." She blushed as they walked to their chairs. "If you have no objection, House Blackstone could employ Terry for a while, there is much to be managed until after your wedding."

"Indeed there is," Terinar agreed. "You have two new properties which are only partially furnished, one of which you must needs move into before Spring Dawning. I have explained to Gullbrand the nature and quality of furniture which the mansion of a noble House requires. Though I am yet unfamiliar with those who make such furniture in the city, I believe I may assist him in finding or commissioning suitable items. I have managed such tasks for my father."

Terinar pulled out Merizel's chair for her before sitting beside her. Since Terinar currently had "Honored Guest" status he had the chair to Robanar's right with Merizel on his right. For today's lunch Garia sat facing Terinar with Keren on her right, facing his father. Terys put a question to Terinar.

"You seek to find furniture in the city for Garia? Terinar, you do not yet know our local artisans, how may you succeed?"

Terinar grinned at Terys. "Ma'am, I have a secret weapon or three, I believe I know certain people within the Guilds who have connections."

"Of course, dear, I keep forgetting. I am not used to so intimate a connection between palace and guild, but I deem it can only be of benefit to both parties. You know what you are about?"

"Aye, Ma'am. This afternoon, Gullbrand and I shall venture forth, armed with a list and a knowledgeable guide, to seek tables and chairs suitable for Garia's mansions."

Robanar asked Garia across this conversation, "What of your morning, Garia? Was everything as you expected?"

"Well, Sire... yes and no." Robanar grunted amusement. "It is a strange mixture, but then I guess that is only human nature. Some of the ideas I gave them they have taken and run with, so much so that I was surprised by the new ideas they came up with themselves. On the other hand, there are one or two things they seemed completely blind to until I pointed them out."

"Development on the weapons?" No details spoken but the meaning was clear.

"Aye, Sire. Maybe a week to ten days and I'll need to have a word with Captain Merek."

Robanar nodded. "I doubt not you will keep me informed." He changed subject. "Did I hear you offer Terinar a place in House Blackstone?"

"Not me, Sire. That was Merry suggesting she could do with some help, at least until after we all get married."

Terinar explained, "Sire, though I have learned much from my father administering Dekarran, it is after all just a big castle. The demands of a noble house, particularly one such as Garia heads, are very different. Unless of course you command me to war, I would broaden my knowledge of such matters."

Robanar nodded again. "Agreed. If needs must I would commit you to the war just as I have committed our levies, there is no other way. For now, though, I deem you too young and inexperienced for such adventures. Garia, you may take Terinar with our blessing, on this proviso. I desire that he learns, in our training halls, all the arts of war that you and Master Haflin may teach him, no less than my own son has learned."

"As you command, Sire." Garia thought. "That makes sense to me. He can join the training routine Keren and I do every morning and in the afternoon he can help Merry do the management stuff while I go and amaze guildsmen or whatever else needs doing."

"As you say. So, what of your afternoon?"

"Well, Sire, Terry is going out with Gullbrand to hunt furniture, as he said. Keren and I have to go see Milsy about some new electrical ideas we have been experimenting with. Unless you have something else for either of us?"

Robanar waved a hand. "Presently I do not, Garia. You may proceed."

~o~O~o~

In a vast, multidimensional space, three Beings met.

Co-ordinator: Regional Director! Your interest is unexpected.

Direct: It was inevitable. The change in the aggregate forecast from my region of the galaxy is so striking the entire Grand Council has instructed me to investigate. Anthropologist, you are responsible for these findings. Explain.

Anthro: Director, the forecasts you have seen result from the transfer of a single human Solid from a source world to the world they identify as Anmar. There were... irregularities with the transfer mechanism... do you have knowledge of the species concerned?

Direct [testily]: I do. Get on with it.

Anthro: The transfer succeeded but the target Solid was created in the alternate mode, which was unexpected. Because of this, her actions on Anmar differed greatly from those we had anticipated if she had appeared in the original mode. When the monitors for Anmar ran the usual future forecasts, allowing for the general galactic results, it was apparent that our chances of success had improved significantly because of this change.

Direct: Extraordinary! But why, then have you conducted further forecasts on the origin world? Why, in fact, are you involved at all?

Anthro: Because of a second singular circumstance, Director. It seems that, as well as the mode switch, the created Solid has begun to emerge. Although she understands little she can converse with us and is aware of certain aspects of the larger universe. Were she present here now she would recognize all of us except yourself, Director. That is why I became involved. As someone familiar with her species, my additional task is to guide her as she emerges.

Direct: But the origin world? Since she has departed from it, there can be no further connection, surely?

Anthro: On a previous appearance in this space, she made a comment I considered worth exploring. Normally, we conceal ourselves from Solids, but since she is emerging we consider her an exception. It occurred to me we might be able to make use of that fact.

Co-ord: If Anthropologist's plan succeeds, we calculate the possibility of success to rise from around 0.63 to more than 0.89. We cannot afford to ignore such a large change in fortune. [Emotionally] For the first time, Director, I have seen the possibility of survival.

Direct: If this plan succeeds, it would change everything. Do you consider her to be a Key?

Co-ord: She is not a Key, Director. However, there is one with her who is a Key, although he does not know it. Projections of her future show clean alternative lines of action while the Key subject shows only an indeterminate fan, as would be expected.

Direct: Explain to me this plan, then. If it has any chance of success, then I am bound to put it before the entire Council.

Anthro: The time is very short, Director. Any delay would add significant variability to the future lines. This is what I propose.

The Anthropologist explained the plan, with full reasoning and alternate actions to be used at every point.

Direct: Are you serious? We would have to take direct action, something we rarely do!

Co-ord: Director, the change in the probability calculations is so great that I believe we have no choice except to try the plan. The intervention is small and should not be noticed. As Anthropologist has stated, if the plan fails we are no worse off than before. If, however, we succeed, then the galaxy will probably be saved.

Direct: I agree. Consider this a provisional direction to implement. What must you do next?

Anthro: Once we are certain of our findings I must explain the plan to the subject. That will introduce another variability which must again be analyzed. Then the plan can be activated.

Direct: I will take your proposal to the Grand Council immediately. We cannot afford to waste a chance like this.

~o~O~o~

Garia rammed herself against Keren's chest. It didn't help much.

I'm making a mess of this gown. Jenet's going to frown over all these creases. For once, I just don't care. I just wish he could rip it off me and then -

"Frustrated?"

"Oh, yes! However did you guess?"

"Because I deem I am in much the same condition. You were once male, do you not remember what happens? Can you not feel that which I desire to press into you?"

Garia realized what Keren was talking about and blushed even more.

It's crazy but I can't wait for that to happen. Boy meets girl, it's only natural, isn't it? Except I have history... Wait, why can't I..?

"Don't be silly, Keren! With all these winter undergarments there's no chance I can feel anything like that! Your secret is safe with me..." she smirked, "...until you have to walk away, of course."

"Aye, that is ever a problem. Is that why the men of Earth wear trousers, perhaps?"

"Yes and no." Keren prodded her in the ribs. "Loose trousers are good but a lot of designs are tight, so that your lump will show up when you're out looking at the ladies."

"Are Earth men so crude, then?"

"It depends. A lot of the young men could definitely be described as over-sexed, yes, but then the girls are not much better. You remember what I told you about how they dressed?"

"I do not, Garia. Mayhap that was one of the occasions you spoke with the Queen and the visiting noblewomen."

"Oh, right. Well, you do remember what I said about dancing, don't you?"

Keren was silent a while, then said, "Perhaps I do not wish to visit Earth. I deem we can do better than that."

Garia snorted. "Human nature, Keren! You'll have a tough job defeating that! Many have tried but no-one has managed it yet."

There was a knock on the door of the schoolroom and five courting couples, widely separated, made themselves more decorous.

"Enter."

A footman came in and bowed low.

"Highness, I would not interrupt unless the news was important. If you and Lady Garia would join the King in his parlor."

"At once." Keren dismissed the man with, "Thank you."

He turned to the other couples.

"Do not disturb yourselves, my father asked only for us. If there is anything we can tell you, then we will return here. Garia?"

"Aye, Keren. Jenet, I'll take Lanilla down with me, you can stay here."

In the parlor were Keren's parents, his father holding a signal form.

"Ah, there you are. I have just had word through the semaphore, doubtless a full account follows by letter. It seems that Boldan's Rock has been taken by Eriana's forces. The fortress itself fell in the way you predicted, Garia, but there was a fierce fight for the wharf below the fortress."

Robanar's eyes gleamed. "We have bottled them up, my dears. If we can but transport our troops there, we will be in striking distance of their own lands." His expression was serious but determined. "Then shall they learn what it means to have foreign boots despoiling their soil."



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