1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 26

Julie was well aware of the Ottoman approach, and it guided her in her assessment of the gun turret she’d be fighting from when the aerial war resumed. No one expected that to happen for a few more months, however. Not with winter coming. So there was still time to make whatever modifications were felt to be necessary and she wasn’t about to get sloppy.

“I can’t say I’m real happy with these welds, Dell,” she said, running her finger down the seam between two steel panels. “I mean… tack welds?”

The man who’d crowded into the turret with her shook his head. He had an aggrieved expression on his face. “Julie, give me a break. Those are just temporary. Don’t worry, we’ll have ’em replaced with full welds within a couple of days. We weren’t expecting you here this soon.”

“I told you I was coming out this week.”

The aggrieved expression on Dell Beckworth’s face got replaced by one of exasperation. “Julie, when most people say ‘this week’ they don’t mean Monday morning.”

“Alex’s birthday is Thursday,” Julie said defensively. “I wanted to be sure I could get back in time.”

“How’s he doing these days?”

“You want the official opinion or the wife’s opinion?”

“Let me have both.”

Julie went back to studying the seams. “The official opinion is that he’s the best thing in the cavalry department since hay was invented. Ever since he got promoted to colonel it seems he can do no wrong. There’s already noises being made about promoting him to brigadier. If they actually do it, he’ll have to start sleeping outside ’cause his head barely fits through the door as it is.”

Beckworth chuckled. “Sounds like I got the wife’s opinion already.”

“Oh, hell, no. The wife’s opinion is that if he keeps thinking his expertise on galloping around on a horse and waving a saber makes him an expert on every subject under the sun–including gunhandling, if you can believe it–then he won’t have any trouble at all fitting his head through the door because he won’t have one left.”

She turned away from the seam she’d been inspecting and gave the five gun ports an intense scrutiny. “Bit wide, aren’t they?”

“Not given your normal firing position, which”–he slapped a flat, wide rail that ran around the center of the chamber–“will be using this as your gun rest. “That way you don’t have to expose yourself so much and the enemy will have a hard time spotting which gun port you’re using. But the gunport can’t be too narrow or you won’t have a wide enough angle of fire.”

Julie thought about it for a moment, and nodded. “Okay. That makes sense. I’ll always be staying two to three feet back from the ports.”

“Well, unless you have to start using the Lahtida. Which you won’t be able to do until the spring, because I won’t have it finished for a few months.” He cleared his throat. “Uh… it’ll have to be permanently fixed into that forward firing slot, since you won’t be able to move it.”

“Why not?”

“Well… it weighs about one hundred and twenty-five pounds.”

“Jesus H. Christ, Dell! That’s almost as much as I weigh.”

“Relax, willya? It’ll rest on a solid tripod and have a muzzle brake and a padded recoil pad. Think of more like a cannon than a rifle.”

“You’re not really planning to call it the ‘Lahtida,’ are you?”

He grinned. “Sure. We gun nuts have a reputation to maintain.”

“For what? Having the world’s stupidest sense of humor? Who the hell calls a 20 millimeter rifle a ‘Lahtida’?”

Beckworth’s grin didn’t so much as flicker. “A gun nut screwy enough to design a seventeenth century airship gun based on a World War II Finnish anti-tank gun. That’d be the Lahti L-39.”

“Is it a requirement to be an official gun nut that you have to win some sort of obscurity contest? ‘Hey, guys, betcha I know about a gun none of you dilettantes has ever even heard of’.”

Beckworth was still grinning. “Yup. We hold the contest every year in Ruso, North Dakota.”


“Smallest town in the state. At last count, the total population was four. One of those towns nobody’s ever heard of.”

“How do you know about it, then?”

“One of those four people happens to be my cousin.”

Julie tried her best to frown disapprovingly at Beckworth’s low sense of humor, but gave it up after a few seconds. Actually, she thought the joke was sort of funny.

Sort of. “If you’re done with the stand-up routine, are you going to show me a heavy rifle I can use?”

“Follow me. I’ve made an anti-tank rifle modeled on a Polish design. It’s a lot lighter than the Lahtida. It’s only weighs a little over twenty pounds and fires an 8 millimeter round.”

Beckworth climbed out of the gondola onto the deck below. The hangar holding the Magdeburg was still under construction but the basic framework was in place. The huge wooden structure floated on the lake, supported by pontoons. That way it could be turned to face into or away from the wind whenever the airship was entering or leaving.

Once Julie had joined him on the hangar deck, Beckworth headed for the entrance where the boat that had brought them to the hangar was tied up. “The gun’s in my shop on shore,” he explained.

“So what silly name did you give this one?”

“I just call it the ‘Karabine.’ On account of I can’t begin to pronounce the full name the Poles gave it. Talk about a language with screwy spelling! They could give the Welsh a run for their money.”


It was quite a name, all right. Dell had copied it from one of his books across the diagram he’d used to design the weapon.

Karabin przeciwpancerny wzór 35. Julie wasn’t even going to try to figure out how to pronounce it. “Karabine” it was, “Karabine” it would be.

It was quite a gun, too, truth be told. A pure bitch to lug around or even shift a little to aim properly if you had to lift the tripod holding up the barrel. On the other hand, that same weight made the recoil something an average-sized woman could withstand.

The Karabine was more accurate than she’d expected, although it didn’t measure up in that respect with the rifle she normally used, which was a Remington 700.

“Okay, I forgive you,” she said, after she was done test firing it.

Linz, provisional capital of Austria-Hungary

Julie returned in time to celebrate her husband’s birthday. The festivities went well, but they would have gone better if, after one too many alepots, Alex hadn’t ventured to explain to Julie the inadequacies of a measly 8 mm rifle against an armored Ottoman airship.

“You should have insisted on at least ten millimeters,” he pronounced.