1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 9:



            One of the Marines pointed to the burning coals scattered across the yard. “We can use that coal.”


            “Do it,” Mike said. He directed some of the newly arrived troops to use their shovels to fill the firebox of the crane. Others, he directed to help the fire brigade put out the nearby fires.


            Krenz sat down in the crane, then yelled, stood up, and batted a small lump of coal from the seat. Despite the tension of the moment, a burst of laughter went up from the men who saw. Krenz grinned himself, shaking his head ruefully, before he sat back down at the controls.


            The crane lifted its bucket, which Krenz sat down next to the first barrel. By this point, there were three filled barrels, and the last one was almost full. Several men tipped one of the barrels into the bucket, which was quickly raised and poured into a different vat.


            Mike looked at the barrels and the vat. “It’s not going to be enough,” he muttered. “It’s just a finger in the dike.” He called several of the men, both naval personnel and the CoC members who were starting to arrive.


            “It’s not enough. We’ve got to keep it out of the sewers.” He looked around. “Some of you, fill in the end of the sewer. The rest of you, we need to direct what gets out into the river. Start a trench here.”


            Gunther Achterhof came running up with a number of his people. “This looks bad, Prime Minister. How can we help?”


            “Could your people relieve my troops helping the fire brigade? We’ve got to handle this leak before it gets in the sewers.”


            “Yes, of course.”


            Mike turned back, to see that the trench was beginning to take shape. But the leak was getting worse, and was clearly winning. He moved back to Krenz and the crane. “The leak is speeding up, soon it’ll be more that we can stop. How can we redirect the benzoil?”


            “It would take too long to use the crane to dig a trench,” Krenz said, “and this is the wrong scoop, anyway.”


            “Okay, then. Can you use the crane to knock the vat so that it goes into the river?”


            Mike thought, briefly and little ruefully, of what environmentalists in the world they’d left behind would say to a thousand gallons or so of toxic organic chemicals being poured into the river that ran right through a major city. But they were three and half centuries away in a different universe and didn’t have a town burning down around them.


            “I can lift the side of the vat with the scoop. The crane isn’t strong enough to pick it up, but that might be enough. Make a shitpot of a mess, though.”


            “If most of that liquid reaches the sewer, we’ll have a lot bigger mess on our hands. I’ll tell the men.”


            Mike went over to the men desperately unloading the vat. “We’re going to lift that side of the vat, and pour the liquid into the river. Get some long pieces of lumber as levers, and we’ll try to direct which way it goes. The rest of you, get the hell out of here. Move!”


            Krenz carefully brought the scoop under the side of the vat, and two sailors used pieces of wood to direct it into place. Several others braced lumber against the vat, now pouring its flammable contents at a rapid rate onto the ground. While they did that, the people digging the ditch started running from the plant.


            “Now!” Mike yelled, and the scoop lifted up. Under the combined efforts of the crane and the men, the platform started to collapse on the opposite side, and the vat slowly started to topple. A moment later, most of the contents poured out of the vat and surged towards the river. He grimaced as he saw a small stream of it heading for the base of the furnace. Some of the chemicals lapped against the side of the furnace, where the heat caused some of it to vaporize. It touched some of the burning coal near the furnace, and there was an almost-explosion as gallons of it caught fire. Some of the flames raced outward, following the path to the river and entering it. Only there did they stop. Other flames raced towards the other vats, but fortunately couldn’t quite reach them before they burned themselves out.


            It was over. Leaving behind a ruined coal gas plant and one unholy mess, true. Not to mention a number of people killed and injured. But at least an industrial accident hadn’t become transformed into a city-wide catastrophe.


            Mike sat down and caught his breath. Thorsten Engler sat down next to him, and a naval rating on the other side.


            “What a cluster-fuck,” the rating said.


            Engler rubbed his face wearily. “Poor Robert. And all of it because of a stupid grate.”


            Mike didn’t say anything. Eventually, he’d get a full report of what had caused the disaster, in considerable detail. But he already knew the gist of it.


            They were pushing too hard, because of the war. And the only way he could see to end it was to win the war as soon as possible.




            When Mike got back to the government building, he went directly to the radio room.


            “Did we hear anything—”


            Smiling, the operator held up a sheet of paper. “Yes, Prime Minister. Your wife is fine and she says—”


            “Not her,” Mike said impatiently. “I meant did we get anything from Colonel Wood?”


            The radio operator stared at him for a moment. Then, clearing his throat. “Ah, yes, sir. He’ll fly up here tomorrow. He’ll be here by noon, he says.”


            “Good.” Seeing the operator still staring at him, Mike smiled a bit crookedly. “And, now, yes. Of course I’d like to see the message from my wife.”