1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 09
“I don’t know. We go up another five hundred feet and it’s going to be at ninety-five percent and we’ll need to vent hydrogen to come down, even if we kill all the heat to the hot air chambers,” Petr said.
“Take us up till the hydrogen chambers are around ninety percent,” Nick said, “then set the hot air chambers at minimum heat. That should put us on a gentle glide down from around fifteen hundred feet. It ought to be light before we get back down to this height. And don’t forget the engines and the vanes. We can use power to force ourselves down if we have to.” The Test Bed had taught them all a lot about how to build airships, but this was still the first ship of this size and they were finding major differences in performance. The Czarina was much slower to respond than the Test Bed had been, and Nick hadn’t thought that was possible.
“Right, skipper. We will do that and I’ll have Valeriya call us to keep us up to date on the hydrogen chambers.”
Nick held up his hand. “Right, Pete. I’ll go to bed.”
They came out of the fog around ten the next morning and could see the southern shore of Lake Onega in the distance. They were a good three hundred fifty miles east of where they were supposed to be and well north of where they expected to be at this point in the trip. Nick had the Czarina turned just south of due east, and they sighted Nyen just before sunset.
Along with its electrical system, the Czarina had a spark gap radio, with the spark kept well away from the hydrogen. Once the fort was in sight, and while staying well out of firing range, Nick gave the pre-prepared messages to the radio operator. “Send this one first,” he said.
“Aye aye, sir.” The operator started tapping in the Morse Code taught at the Dacha.
GREETINGS FROM MIKHAIL CZAR OF RUSSIA STOP REQUEST PERMISSION TO LAND AND DELIVER MAIL FOR GRANTVILLE AND BEYOND STOP
The response was:
CZAR ON BOARD QUESTION STOP
NO STOP CZAR SENDS GREETINGS STOP A LOAD OF MAIL FOR USE AND GUSTAV OF SWEDEN STOP
There was a considerable delay before they got any response. But, eventually came:
YOU CAN LAND STOP PUT DOWN TO THE EAST OF NYEN STOP WE WILL SEND A TROOP TO MEET YOU STOP
They found a place to drop the anchor, and reeled themselves down to where they could use the winches to lower the mail bags. They lowered the ladder and Gerry Simmons climbed down.
Gerry looked around and saw a Swede with a captain’s bars on his collar sitting on a horse about thirty yards away. Apparently the captain didn’t want to put himself under the dirigible. Gerry walked across the pasture to an easy speaking distance, then pulled out his documents. “I’m Gerry Simmons, ambassador at large from the Empire of Holy Rus, appointed by Czar Mikhail day before yesterday.” He held out the papers with a flourish and a grin. “What have you folks heard?”
The captain looked at Gerry and at the dirigible, then got off his horse and walked over to meet Gerry. “Director-General Sheremetev is saying that the evil wizard, Bernie Zeppi, has cast a spell on Czar Mikhail, and you and Nurse Tami are in on the spell.” The guy said it as though he wanted to sound like he was joking, but wasn’t really sure that it wasn’t true.
“Nope. Bernie couldn’t do that. Neither could my wife. What happened was Sheremetev put Czar Mikhail up in a hunting lodge out in the back of beyond, while he took over the government. Then Bernie and Princess Natasha showed up in Bernie’s Dodge.” Gerry stopped at the man’s apparent incomprehension. “Car? APC?”
The captain nodded at APC and Gerry went on. “Anyway, it became apparent that some of the oprichniki had orders to kill Czar Mikhail if it looked like he was going to get loose. That sort of pissed Mikhail off.”
The captain snorted a laugh. “It would piss me off too. On the other hand, wasn’t it sort of to be expected?”
“Maybe. But since Sheremetev was going to kill him anyway, Czar Mikhail went ahead and called Sheremetev a traitor and started the revolution . . . or counter-revolution, or whatever it is. My wife and I, and two of our sons, were at the hunting lodge where they were keeping Czar Mikhail and his family, and we didn’t want to be there when Sheremetev showed up to find Czar Mikhail missing. So we went along too.”
“Do you want to go back to the USE?” the captain asked.
“Honestly, it’s tempting. Or it would be if my wife and boys were along on this trip, but she’s in Ufa playing doctor. Not just to the czar, but to the whole town.”
“Ufa? Where is that?”
“Way the hell off east of here. Nick — that’s Colonel Slavenitsky, the captain of the Czarina Evdokia —” Garry hooked a thumb at the dirigible hanging over them. ” — says it’s sixteen hundred and fifty miles in a straight line, but we caught a crosswind last night, so we traveled closer to seventeen hundred.”
“When did you leave Ufa?”
“Yesterday morning. It took us a little more than a day and a half. On the other hand, we’re getting pretty low on fuel. You guys have any firewood or coal?”
They delivered the mail and bought some fire wood. The garrison didn’t have any coal. Gerry climbed back up the ladder and they headed back.
On the road out of Bor
“Well, General, what happens next?” Ivan Maslov asked. They were still in sight of Nizhny Novgorod and had picked up some streltzi to swell their ranks. They also had quite a few techs from the dirigible works at Bor.
“We go to Ufa. I told you that.”
“Not what I mean,” Ivan said. Then, quietly, “Tim, we’re going to be fighting a war. We have the AKs and so do the boyars back in Moscow. The army we are facing will have a better rate of Fire than the USE troops. Even the AK3 will give them that. Maybe not as good as the French cardinal rifles, but better than the German SRGs. When you add in the new clips of the point sevens, we’ll be as fast or faster than the cardinals. Also, these are almost universally rifled guns. They have accurate range out to three or four hundred yards.” Ivan pointed at the AK4 Long, strapped diagonally across his back. It was a fifty caliber heavy chamber with a long barrel. “With a mount and scope, I can hit a man at six hundred yards most of the time.”
“Most people won’t be able to . . .”
“I know. But most people will be able to hit a man-size target at three hundred yards. Two hundred, even with the carbines. That’s four times the range and you know the lectures we got on the American Civil War and World War I. It’s going to be a slaughter.”
“I know. But unless you have a tank in your rucksack, I’m not at all sure what to do about it.”
“Dig the Maginot Line across Russia,” Ivan said, but there wasn’t much conviction in his voice.
“And who would man it?” Tim said. “There aren’t enough people, much less soldiers, in Russia to man a line even as long as the Maginot was, much less the sort of line we would need for Russia. A trench from the Arctic to the Black Sea. If we did nothing else, it would take years. And if I could get a thousand bulldozers and build the darn thing, who would man it?”
“I know. But we have to think of something. You and me, we have to figure out the doctrine for the new war. Not the older and wiser heads. You and . . .”
“Wait a minute. General Izmailov is good and so . . .”
“What really happened at Rzhev, Tim?”
Tim stopped. It was a deep, dark secret. Or it had been. But maybe now was the time to tell it. “I usurped General Izmailov’s authority to move the volley guns. There was no advanced planning or approval from the general, just me acting on my own.”
“Well, why not just say so?” Ivan asked.
“Because it wasn’t long after that asshole Ivan Khilkov led our cavalry into a prepared pike formation and got them slaughtered. He’d been able to do it because he had a greater mestnichestvo. And I do too. If it had come out that I acted without orders, it would have been used as an excuse for any noble asshole to ignore the orders of his superior officer any time he wanted to.”
“With all respect, Tim, you guys never needed an excuse.” Ivan stopped. “Oh, I get it. Khilkov used his mestnichestvo to make General Izmailov let him loose, then screwed up by the numbers. The general didn’t want your actions to provide a counterexample.”
“Yes. He and Czar Mikhail, General Shein . . . they all wanted it kept very quiet. My uncle knows, but he agrees with the czar, at least on this.”
“It also goes to why Czar Mikhail made you the general.”
“No. It was just that he didn’t have anyone else handy,” Tim said. “Don’t make too much of it. He had to leave, we had to fight a rearguard action to get him loose, and no one he had handy at the time had much in the way of real world experience. It’s not like General Shein was available.”
“All I have to say, Tim, is maybe he was lucky Shein was up in Tobolsk,” Ivan said. “But it still means we have to figure out how to fight a modern war.”
“Not necessarily. It’s six hundred miles to Ufa. We’ll probably be safely dead before anyone asks us what to do.”
“General,” a voice from back in the line yelled. “There’s a steamboat coming up the river. What should we do?”
Ivan started laughing.