1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 16

Chapter 15

Andrei Korisov sawed away at the barrel of the rifled musket. He had taken it out of the musket and was sawing off the breech end. He had, he thought, the beginnings of an idea. He had spent the last three months going over the history of firearms with Bernie, a subject that the up-timer knew rather less about than he thought he did. Andrei was convinced of that. Andrei didn’t know what parts were missing, and that was perhaps the most frustrating aspect of it all. But a week ago, they had gotten to talking about movies and Bernie had remembered that the ball and cap pistols of the old west had been muzzle-loaders.

That, of course, wasn’t what Bernie had said, but after discussing it with him for two hours, that was what Andrei was convinced the up-timer was describing. Powder, then shot shoved down a short barrel. There were six of the short barrels in a cylinder which was why the pistols were called six-shooters, but the six barrels weren’t full length. There was an earlier version that was called a pepper-pot, according to Bernie, in which the barrels were full length but the six shooters had short barrels that rotated into position behind a longer barrel. And that was what had led Andrei to his gun shop in the middle of the night, filled with uncertain inspiration.

How much force did you lose

, Andrei wondered as he sawed, out of that gap between the short barrel and the long? It couldn’t be so much that the bullet stopped in the barrel. It couldn’t even be so much as to rob the bullet of its knock-down power. Not when sent through a short pistol barrel. But how much would you lose when it was fired though a long musket barrel? Would the length of the barrel make any difference? Was that why they only used the technique on pistols?

Having cut the rear five inches of the barrel off, Andrei carefully smoothed away burs with a fine file, then reinstalled the barrel in the stock. Placing the back of the barrel in a vise, he proceeded to load it with powder and shot. He pressed a lead ball and wading into the chamber he had created, then reinserted it into the rifle, being careful to make sure that it lined up properly, and then tied it into place. This was simply a test, after all.

On due consideration, Andrei looked at the rifle sitting in the sandbag, then decided that he was too important to risk.

“Ivan, come over here,” Andrei shouted. He always shouted, since the peasant workers wouldn’t actually do anything if he didn’t.

This one, whose name might or might not have been Ivan, came over, looking warily at the rifle.

“I want you to lean down and pull that trigger,” Andrei said.

Ivan looked a bit nervous, so Andrei glared at him harder. “Lean down and pull that trigger.”

The peasant finally complied. The musket was braced in sandbags for stability and it was at an awkward height. The peasant put his left hand on the sandbag to brace himself, leaned down and pulled the trigger with his right hand. This put his head just above the gap and his left wrist just beside it.

Yaaaaah!” Ivan jerked back, grabbed his left wrist and put his right arm over his face, still screaming.

“What’s the matter with you?” Andrei shouted. “Get out of here!”

The gun shot didn’t attract much attention. But Ivan’s continued screaming did.

Filip Pavlovich Tupikov came running from the blacksmith’s shop, where the Fresno Scraper was being finished. “What happened?” he asked.

“It worked,” Andrei said, and then pointed downrange. “See the target?”

There was a little black hole in the paper target, a little below the bull’s-eye.

“What was that man screaming about?” The injured man was being helped away by several other workers.

“He put his hand in the wrong place, the idiot,” Andrei said with a dismissive wave. He didn’t notice Filip’s change of expression as he looked at the rifle. The firing chamber, the back of the barrel that he had cut off, had shoved back into the stock and cracked it. Also the same escaping gas that had injured the peasant had cut into the stock of the gun. “Look what happened to the rifle. The stock is damaged. I’ll have to work on that. Can’t have the stock being damaged by only one firing. Perhaps a shield of some sort.”

Andrei ignored Filip as he left, immersed in reworking his rifle design. A few more shots and the gun would come apart, but that was beside the point. His solution had sent the bullet downrange without too much loss of force. Some, yes. There was more drop at twenty yards, but only a little more. Still what about a shorter barrel? Would there be more drop or less?

Andrei started working on how he would mount the firing chamber on a gimbal of some sort so that it could be flipped up for reloading, and flipped back down for firing. And some sort of shield so that the escaping gas from the firing wouldn’t damage the stock.


Filip Pavlovich entered the Dacha’s new “clinic,” more out of curiosity than anything else. Andrei Korisov was irritating, but the making of guns was really his responsibility and none of Filip’s business. But he was curious, so he intended to ask the injured peasant what had happened.

“Hold him down! And get me some swabs and alcohol!” Vitaly Alexseev said. Vitaly was the Dacha’s new barber-surgeon.

From what Filip understood, Vitaly had been a fairly prosperous surgeon in Moscow when Princess Natalia hired him to learn about up-time surgery. Filip watched Vitaly work with a mixture of condescension and interest, which slowly gave way to a sort of grudging respect. Vitaly might not be of the nobility, but he was very good at what he did and had picked up on Bernie’s explanations, crude as they were, of sterile technique. He had swabbed down the wound with alcohol, in spite of the increased screaming of the peasant. His thread had been soaked in alcohol, so would not introduce corruption into the wounds. All in all, Vitaly seemed a very competent man.

About halfway through the procedure, the peasant fainted, which made everything much easier. Luckily, whatever had wounded the man had missed his eye, so it was only the fairly shallow cuts along his wrist and forehead that had to be dealt with.

“There,” Vitaly said, finally finished with his bandaging. “When he wakes up, I’ll speak with Anatoly Federov and we’ll decide what type of pain-killers to use. I’m not sure that the aspirin will be enough for these injuries. They’re superficial, but they’re going to be very painful.

“What did you do to him?” Vitaly asked Filip.

“Me? Nothing. It happened on the firing range. I wasn’t even there.” Then Filip had a thought and asked a question. “What can you tell me? From the wounds, I mean.”

Vitaly paused, clearly thinking about what he had looked at. “It’s strange. It was not like a cut. And there was a tattooing of powder residue around the wounds. It was not quite like anything I’ve ever seen before. A tearing of the skin and the flesh beneath it. As though it were chewed up by a thousand tiny mouths. The good news is, it wasn’t deep. He should be fine assuming the alcohol works and he doesn’t get infected.”

Filip shuddered.

“I wish you people would have a little more care,” Vitaly said, “with the people who work for you.”


Lazar Smirnov played with wires and batteries in an aromatic room in the Gorchakov dacha. The aromas weren’t, perhaps, those that most people might find attractive. But Lazar found them pleasant for what they represented. He had a copper sulfate battery. In fact, he had several and he had copper wire, fine and coated in lacquer, which he had coiled around a wooden dowel and coated in more lacquer, and when he hooked the coil up to the batteries, he got magnetism. An invisible force moving things and under his control. It was magic in every sense that mattered to Lazar. Better, it required no pact with a devil or demon, simply knowledge and understanding.

Lazar was one of the privileged elite of Russia. A member of a cadet branch of a great house, a fifth cousin to the czar, he was important enough to have all the privileges of rank but far enough away from the halls of power not to have to do anything. It made for a fairly pleasant, if somewhat boring, existence. He had been asked by his family head to come to the Dacha and see what was going on. “You like to read, cousin. Go have a look around, stay a few months, see what it’s all about,” he had been told. So he had come and now suspected that he would never leave, given the choice. He liked experiments. He liked learning how things worked and he liked doing magic, even if others called it science.

Lazar looked around his lab and smiled. Here was a piece of iron ore, pounded just enough to turn it into a rod but leave it full of impurities. As Lazar understood the books, it would make a heating element, getting hot as the electricity tried to flow through it and was resisted by the impurities on the metal. Over there was a crystal radio set that he had made carefully to the specifications in the pamphlet from Grantville. It had nothing to listen to, but Lazar had it nonetheless. Next to it, a key to a telegraph. When he pressed it, it let current flow through the electromagnet and the compass moved as he clicked out Morse code.