1633 David Weber and Eric Flint



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Chapter 4


The noise, as always, was appalling.

John Chandler Simpson had grown accustomed to it, although he doubted he was ever going to truly get used to it. Of course, there was a lot he wasn't going to get used to about the Year of Our Lord 1633.

He snorted sourly at the thought as he waded through another of the extensive mud puddles which made trips to the dockyard such an . . . adventure. There'd been a time when he would have walked around the obstacle, but that had been when he'd still had 21st-century shoes to worry about. And when he'd had the energy to waste on such concerns.

He snorted again, even more sourly. He supposed he ought to feel a certain satisfaction at the way that asshole Stearns had finally been forced to admit that he knew what he was talking about where something was concerned. And truth to tell, he did. But any satisfaction was alloyed by the fact that he'd had to worry about what Stearns thought in the first place. Taking orders from an Appalachian hillbilly "President" who'd never even graduated from college was hard for a man of Simpson's accomplishments to stomach.

Not that Stearns was a complete idiot, he admitted grudgingly. At least he'd had the good sense to recognize that Simpson was right about the need to "downsize" Gustavus Adolphus' motley mercenary army. Oh, how the President had choked on that verb! It had almost been worth being forced to convince him of anything in the first place. And even though he'd accepted Simpson's argument, he hadn't wanted to accept the corollary—that if Gustavus Adolphus was going to downsize, it was up to the Americans to make up the difference in his combat power . . . even if that meant diverting resources from some of the President and his gang's pet industrialization projects.

Still, Simpson conceded, much as it irritated him to admit it, Stearns had been right about the need to increase their labor force if they were going to make it through that first winter. Which didn't mean he'd found the best way to do it, though, now did it?

Things had worked out better—so far, at least—than Simpson had feared they would when he realized where Stearns was headed with his new Constitution. There was no guarantee it would stay that way, of course. Under other circumstances, Simpson would probably have been amused watching Stearns trying to control the semi-anarchy he'd forged by bestowing the franchise over all of the local Germans and their immigrant cousins and in-laws as soon as they moved into the United States' territory. The locals simply didn't have the traditions and habits of thought to make the system work properly as it had back home. They thought they did, but the best of them were even more addicted to sprawling, pressure cooker bursts of unbridled enthusiasm than Stearns and his union blockheads. And the lunatic fringe among them—typified by Melissa Mailey's supporters and Gretchen Higgins' Committees of Correspondence—were even worse. There was no telling what kind of disaster they might still provoke. All of which could have been avoided if the hillbillies had just had the sense to limit the franchise to people who had demonstrated that they could handle it.

The familiar train of thought had carried him to the dockyard gate, and he looked up from picking his way through the mud as the double-barrel-shotgun-armed sentry came to attention and saluted. Like the vast majority of the United States Army's personnel, the sentry was a 17th-century German. Which was all to the good, Simpson reflected, as he returned his salute. The casual attitude the original Grantville population—beginning with "General" Jackson himself—brought to all things military was one of the many things Simpson detested about them. None of them seemed to appreciate the critical importance of things like military discipline, or the way in which the outward forms of military courtesy helped build it. The local recruits hadn't had much use for the niceties of formal military protocol, either, but at least any man who had survived in the howling chaos of a 17th-century battlefield understood the absolute necessity for iron discipline. Off the field, they might be rapists, murderers, and thieves; on the field was something else again entirely, and it was interesting how eagerly the 17th-century officers and noncoms had accepted the point Simpson's up-time compatriots seemed unable to grasp, however hard he hammered away at it. The habit of discipline had to be acquired and nurtured off the field as much as on it if you wanted to create a truly professional, reliable military force. That, at least, was one point upon which he and Gustavus Adolphus saw completely eye to eye.

He returned the sentry's salute and continued onward into the dockyard, then paused.

Behind him lay the city of Magdeburg, rising from the rubble of its destruction in a shroud of dust, smoke, smells, shouts, and general bedlam. Some of that construction was traditional Fachwerk or brick construction on plots for which heirs had been located; intermixed with balloon frames and curtain walls on lots that had escheated into city ownership. Before him lay the River Elbe and another realm of swarming activity. It was just as frenetic and even noisier than the chaotic reconstruction efforts at his back, but he surveyed it with a sense of proprietary pride whose strength surprised even him just a bit. Crude and improvised as it was compared to the industrial enterprises he had overseen back home, it belonged to him. And given what he had to work with, what it was accomplishing was at least as impressive as the construction of one of the Navy's Nimitz-class carriers would have been in his old world.

An earsplitting racket, coal smoke, and clouds of sawdust spewed from the steam-powered sawmill Nat Davis had designed and built. The vertical saw slabbed off planks with mechanical precision, and the sawmill crew heaved each plank up into the bed of a waiting wagon as it fell away from the blade. The sawmill was a recent arrival, because they had decided not to waste scarce resources on intermediate construction of a water- or windmill that would just end up being dismantled again. Only two weeks ago, the men stacking those planks had been working hip deep in cascading sawdust in an old-fashioned saw pit, laboriously producing each board by raw muscle power.

Beyond the sawmill, another crew labored at the rolling mill powered by the same steam engine. The mill wasn't much to look at compared to the massive fabricating units of a 21st-century steel plant, but it was enough to do what was needed. Simpson watched approvingly as the crew withdrew another salvaged railroad rail from the open furnace and fed it into the rollers. The steel, still smoking and red hot from its stay in the furnace, emerged from the jaws of the mill crushed down into a plank approximately one inch thick and a little over twelve inches wide. As it slid down another set of inclined rollers, clouds of steam began rising from the quenching sprays. More workmen were carrying cooled steel planks to yet another open-fronted shed, where one of the precious gasoline-powered portable generators drove a drill press. The soft whine of the drill bit making bolt holes in the steel was lost in the general racket.

Simpson stood for a moment, watching, then nodded in satisfaction and continued toward his dockside office. It was nestled between two of the slipways, in the very shadow of the gaunt, slab-sided structures looming above it. They were ugly, unfinished, and raw, and even when they were completed, no one would ever call them graceful. But that was fine with John Simpson. Because once they were finished, they were going to be something far more important than graceful.

Another sentry guarded the office door and came to attention at his approach. Simpson returned his salute and stepped through the door, closing it behind him. The noise level dropped immediately, and his senior clerk started to come to his feet, but Simpson waved him back into his chair.

"Morning, Dietrich," he said.

"Good morning, Herr Admiral," the clerk replied.

"Anything important come up overnight?" Simpson asked.

"No, sir. But Herr Davis and Lieutenant Cantrell are here."

The clerk's tone held an edge of sympathy and Simpson grimaced. It wasn't something he would have let most of his subordinates see, whatever he might personally think of a visitation from that particular pair. Demonstrating any reservations he might nurse about them openly could only undermine the chain of command he'd taken such pains to create in the first place.

But Dietrich Schwanhausser was a special case. He might be yet another German, but he was worth his weight in gold when it came to administration. He'd also taken to the precious computer sitting on his desk like one of those crazed 21st-century teenagers . . . and without the attitude. That combination, especially with his added ability to intelligently anticipate what Simpson might need next, had made him an asset well worth cultivating and nurturing. Simpson had recognized that immediately, but he was a bit surprised by the comfort level of the relationship they had evolved.

"Thanks for the warning," he said wryly, and Schwanhausser's lips twitched on the edge of a smile. Simpson nodded to him and continued on into the inner office.

It was noisier than the outer office, because unlike Schwanhausser's space, it actually had a window, looking out over the river. The glass in that window wasn't very good, even by 17th-century standards, but it still admitted natural daylight as well as allowing him a view of his domain. And the subtle emphasis of the status it lent the man whose wall it graced was another point in its favor.

Two people were waiting when he stepped through the door. Nat Davis was a man in his forties, with blunt, competent workman's hands, a steadily growing bald spot fringed in what had once been dark brown hair, and glasses. Prior to the Ring of Fire, he'd been a tobacco chewer, although he'd gone cold turkey—involuntarily—since Grantville's arrival in Thuringia. That habit, coupled with a strong West Virginia accent and his tendency to speak slowly, choosing his words with care, had caused Simpson to underestimate his intelligence at first. The Easterner had learned better since, and he greeted the machinist with a much more respectful nod than he might once have bestowed upon him.

The young man waiting with Davis was an entirely different proposition. Eddie Cantrell was still a few months shy of his twentieth birthday, and he might have been intentionally designed as Davis' physical antithesis.

The older man was stocky and moved the same way he talked, with a sort of thought-out precision which seemed to preclude any possibility of spontaneity. That ponderous appearance, Simpson had discovered, could be as deceiving as the way he chose his words, but there was nothing at all deceptive about the sureness with which Davis moved from one objective to another.

Spontaneity, on the other hand, might have been Eddie Cantrell's middle name. He was red-haired and wiry, with that unfinished look of hands and feet that were still too large for the rest of him, and the entire concept of discipline was alien to his very nature. Worse, he bubbled. No, he didn't just "bubble." He boiled. He frothed. He radiated enthusiasm and that absolute sense of assurance of which only inexperienced youth was capable. He had, in fact, in John Simpson's considered opinion, been intended as Mike Stearns' carefully devised revenge, assigned to the dockyard with malice aforethought. The fact that the entire project had originated with one of Eddie's bursts of unbridled enthusiasm had simply provided the President with the justification he required to inflict the youngster on him.

All of which made it even more surprising to Simpson that he'd actually come to like the insufferable young gadfly.

Not that he had any intention of telling him so.

"Good morning, gentlemen," he greeted them as he continued across the cramped office confines to his desk. He settled himself into his chair and tipped it back slightly, the better to regard them down the length of his nose. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Davis and Cantrell looked at one another for a moment. Then Davis shrugged, smiled faintly, and made a tiny waving motion with one hand.

"I guess I should go first . . . sir," the younger man said. The hesitation before the "sir" wasn't the deliberate pause it once might have been. Simpson was relatively confident of that. It was just one more indication of how foreign to Eddie's nature the ingrained habits of military courtesy truly were.

"Then I suggest you do so . . . Lieutenant." Simpson's pause was deliberate, and he noted Eddie's slight flush with satisfaction. He estimated that it would require no more than another three or four years of reminders for the young man to finally acquire the appropriate habits.

"Yes, sir." Eddie gave himself a little shake. "Matthias just reported in. He says that Freiherr von Bleckede is being, um, stubborn."

"I see." Simpson tipped his chair back a bit farther and frowned. Matthias Schaubach was one of the handful of Magdeburg's original burghers to have survived the massacre of the city's inhabitants by Tilly's mercenaries. Prior to that traumatic event, he'd been deeply involved in the salt trade up and down the Elbe from Hamburg, which had made him the Americans' logical point man on matters pertaining to transport along the river.

The Elbe, for all its size and importance to northern Germany, was little more than a third as long as the Mississippi. By the time it reached Magdeburg, over a hundred and sixty air-miles from Hamburg, whether or not it could truly be called "navigable" was a debatable point. Barge traffic was possible, but the barges in question averaged no more than forty feet in length, which was much smaller than anything the Americans would need to get downriver. Some improvements to navigation had been required even to get the barges through, and it was obvious to everyone that even more was going to be necessary shortly.

For the past several weeks, Schaubach had been traveling up and down the Elbe discussing that "even more" with the locals. The existing network of "wehrluecken" provided a starting point, but very little more than that. The wehrluecken were basically permanent dams built across the river with a central gap or spillway wider than the maximum beam of a barge. The dam raised the water level to a depth sufficient to float a barge, and the spillway allowed barges passage through the barrier of the dam. Unfortunately, none of the existing wehrluecken were going to suffice for Simpson's needs, and modifying them was going to be a herculean task. It was also going to severely hamper normal barge traffic while the work was in progress, and the owners of the current wehrluecken weren't particularly happy about that prospect. Nor, for that matter, was Gustavus Adolphus, for whose new empire in central Europe the Elbe River provided the critical spinal cord.

Most of the wehrluecken owners had decided to see reason when Schaubach approached them properly. Greed helped, after Schaubach finished describing the amount of traffic which would be moving up and down the river once the infrastructure had been improved and the Americans' river steamboats were in full production. Where that failed, a discreetly non-specific reference to the Swedish Army, coupled with the observation that Gustavus Adolphus would really appreciate their cooperation, tended to do the trick.

Some of them, however, were more stubborn than others. Like the petty baron Freiherr von Bleckede. A part of Simpson actually sympathized with the man, not that it made him any happier about Eddie's news.

"I take it Mr. Schaubach wouldn't have reported it if he thought he was going to be able to change Bleckede's mind?" he said after a moment.

"It doesn't sound like he's going to be able to," Eddie agreed. He made a face. "Sounds to me like von Bleckede doesn't much care for us. Or the Swedes, either."

"I'm not surprised," Simpson observed. "Hard to blame him, really." He smiled blandly as an expression of outrage flickered across Eddie's face. He considered enlarging upon his theme. It wouldn't do a bit of harm to remind Eddie that the pre-Ring of Fire establishment had a huge number of reasons to resent and fear the upheavals in the process of tearing the status quo apart. Except, of course, that whenever Eddie cared to think about it, he already understood that perfectly. He just didn't care. Or, more precisely, he was too concerned with blasting obstructions out of the way to worry about what motivated them. And if Simpson brought them up, it would only reinforce the young hothead's view of Simpson's own "reactionary" opinions.

"Well," Cantrell said more than a little impatiently, as if to prove Simpson's point for him, "whether we blame him for it or not, we still need to get clearance for the crews to go to work on his wehrlueck. That stretch isn't going to float one of the ironclads even if we completely empty the trim tanks."

"No, it isn't," Simpson agreed. He was careful not to let it show, but privately he felt a small flicker of pleasure at Eddie's reference to the trim tanks. The entire ironclad project had originated with Eddie's war-gaming hobby interest. He was the one who'd piled his reference books up on the corner of Mike Stearns' desk and sold him on the notion of armed river steamboats to police their communications along the rivers. Of course, his original wildly enthusiastic notions had required the input of a more adult perspective, but the initial concept when authorization of the project was first discussed had reflected his ideas of how best to update a design from the American Civil War. By Simpson's most conservative estimate, there hadn't been more than two or three dozen things wrong with it . . . which was only to be expected when a hobby enthusiast set out to transform his war-gaming information into reality.

Eddie's design, once Simpson and Greg Ferrara finished their displacement calculations, would have drawn at least twelve feet at minimum load. That draft would have been too deep even for the Mississippi, much less the Elbe. It also would have been armored to resist 19th-century artillery, like the Civil War's fifteen-inch smoothbores, rather than the much more anemic guns of the 17th century. Worse than that, Eddie had called for a single-screw design. His otherwise praiseworthy objective had been to save the huge bulk of a paddle wheel housing, which would not only have cut down on places to mount armament but required an even bigger investment in armor. Given that they'd had to fight people like Quentin Underwood tooth and nail for every salvaged railroad rail dedicated to the project, that hadn't been an insignificant consideration.

Unfortunately, marine screw propellers were much more difficult to design properly than Eddie had imagined. Simpson knew that; his last assignment before the Pentagon had been as a member of the design group working on the propulsion systems for the Seawolf-class submarine. Moreover, an exposed prop and shaft would have been extremely vulnerable to damage in the event that one of the ships grounded, which was virtually certain to happen eventually to any heavy, clumsy armored vessel operating on inland rivers. And the provision of a single shaft would have meant that any damage to a propeller would leave one of the precious ironclads unable to move or maneuver in any way.

Which was why Simpson had bullied Stearns into letting him have the diesel power plants out of four of the huge coal trucks which had originally been used as armored personnel carriers. Fuel for the APC engines, though scarce, was still available, and once Underwood got the kinks out of his oil-field production, scarcity wouldn't be a problem. Not with the priority Stearns had agreed to assign to the Navy, at any rate.

With the engines figuratively speaking in hand, Simpson had created a highly modified version of Eddie's original concept—one which used powerful diesel-driven pumps scavenged from the Grantville coal mine to provide hydro-jet propulsion. The pumps were powerful enough to chew up most small debris without damage, and screens across the intakes protected them from anything larger. Using the diesels would increase the gunboats' logistic dependency on the Grantville industrial base, since it wouldn't be possible to fuel them with coal or wood in an emergency, as would have been possible with a steam-powered engineering plant. On the other hand, the diesel bunkers could be safely located below the water line, and at least if a freak hit managed somehow to penetrate to one of the ironclads' interiors, there would be no handy boiler full of live steam to boil a crew alive.

The other two things he'd done to Eddie's original design were to cut the armor thickness in half and add the trim tanks. Reducing the armor had let him squeeze an additional ship out of the rails allocated to the project, as well as saving displacement, but the tanks were at least as important. The original Monitor had been designed with minimum freeboard to reduce target area, but that wasn't going to be possible with this design. Since there was no practical way to design a proper turret at this point, they had no choice but to use a more or less traditional broadside scheme for their armament, which meant something that would look a lot more like the Merrimack . . . or, as Eddie was prone to correct in tones of exasperation, the Virginia. That explained the slabsided, ungainly appearance of the basic design. It also required a deeper draft than the "cheese box on a raft" Monitor's design. Simpson had managed to minimize that to some extent by designing the ships to "flood down" for combat by filling the trim tanks built into them. That had allowed him to design a roughly five-hundred-ton vessel which drew less than four feet of water with the tanks pumped out and almost ten feet with the tanks filled. Which also, just incidentally, let him save about five feet worth of armored freeboard which would be protected by water when they flooded down.

At first, Eddie had been inclined to sulk when Simpson modified his basic design. To his credit, he'd recognized that the alterations were genuine improvements, and that was the reason Simpson (although he doubted that the young man was aware of it) had specifically requested that he be assigned to the Navy. Stearns had already sent him to Magdeburg to help oversee the project, after all, which meant Simpson couldn't have gotten rid of him, anyway. And the Navy was going to need officers who could actually think. Those were rarer than one might have thought, and from his own experience, Simpson recognized the mental flexibility involved in acknowledging that someone else had actually made one of your own brainchildren better. So he'd decided to make a virtue out of necessity . . . which was how both Eddie and his friend Larry Wild had abruptly become junior-grade lieutenants in John Simpson's Navy.

And if it had also let Simpson get the last laugh on Mike Stearns, so much the better.

"Fortunately," he went on after a moment, "convincing the freiherr to go along with our plans isn't really our concern. If Mr. Schaubach feels that he's unlikely to be able to get von Bleckede to see reason, refer him to Mr. Piazza." He smiled again, more blandly than ever, as Eddie frowned. Ed Piazza, the secretary of state, had been Stearns' choice to serve as his personal representative to all the various minor local potentates not worthy of the personal attention of the head of state.

"That will take time," Eddie began, "and—"

"That may be true," Simpson interrupted. "But it's the secretary of state's job to deal with things like this. Or let Gustav's chancellor Oxenstierna deal with it. We've got more to worry about than convincing one minor nobleman to see things our way. Besides, whether we like it or not, we've got time before we'll actually need to get that far down-river, now don't we?"

Eddie looked rebellious, but Simpson was accustomed to that. What mattered more to him was the fact that the youngster actually thought his way through it, then subsided with nothing more than one last grimace.

"Now," Simpson went on, "was there anything else you needed, Lieutenant?"

"No, I guess not . . . sir."

"Good." Simpson turned to Davis. "And what can I do for you, Mr. Davis?" he asked.

"Actually," Davis replied, "I just wanted to let you know that Ollie says he should have the first half dozen gun tubes ready to ship to us by the end of the week."

"Good!"

Simpson was unaware of the way in which his genuine enthusiasm transfigured his own expression. The change was brief, but Davis recognized it. It was a pity, he often thought, that Simpson had such a completely tone deaf "ear" where minor things like interpersonal relations were concerned. Personally, Davis still thought the man was a prick, especially as far as politics went, and he didn't much care for the "admiral's" obsession with matters of rank—social, as well as military—and the perquisites which went with it. But he'd come to recognize that however unpleasant Simpson's personality might be, the man undeniably had a brain. Quite a good one, as a matter of fact, when it could be pried away from things like his political disagreements with Mike Stearns.

However much Davis hated to admit it (and, as it happened, he hated it quite a bit), Simpson's experience as an officer in the up-time United States Navy really did show in the organization he was building here in Magdeburg. The up-timers under his command might carp and complain about "Mickey Mouse bullshit" and mutter balefully about "front office management pricks," but Davis had come to realize that there genuinely was a method to his madness. Of course, sometimes the machinist wondered how much of that method was due to the fact that Simpson had a clearer appreciation of what was needed than his fellow up-timers did and how much resulted from his own innate propensity for empire building. But whatever his reasoning, Simpson's Navy was much better disciplined and shaping up as a considerably more professional organization than Frank Jackson's Army.

Too many of Jackson's senior officers were still up-timers themselves, with a casual attitude toward him and toward each other which remained essentially civilian. That was fine as far as they themselves were concerned. They knew one another, and their relationships, however casual, worked. But the core of the Army had been the United Mine Workers of America. Davis wasn't certain how well the example of that attitude would serve as those from outside the original UMWA membership began attaining senior rank. And whatever might have been the case for the Army, Simpson didn't have that existing structure to build upon. He was creating the Navy out of whole cloth. Almost a hundred percent of its personnel were 17th-century Germans and Swedes, leavened with just enough up-timers to provide the technical skills the newly made Americans had not yet acquired. And that was another kettle of fish entirely.

It didn't make Davis like Simpson any more, but it had permitted him to at least appreciate that the man did have some worthwhile qualities. Which was why he thought it was such a pity that Simpson was so persistently unwilling—or unable—to demonstrate the enthusiasm Davis had come to realize he felt for his present task. Instead, Simpson was prone to giving the impression that he had taken on the "chore" as a matter of noblesse oblige, to save the uncouth Appalachian yokels from the results of their own ignorance. That, more than any real policy differences, explained the antagonism that Simpson had a positive genius for stirring up among the people in the U.S. government he dealt with.

Thank God we're in Magdeburg, Nat thought to himself wryly. If we'd been based in Grantville, Simpson would be getting challenged to a duel every other Tuesday—the law be damned.

"Are we going to use the wire-built design or bronze casting?" Cantrell asked. Simpson gave him a sharp glance for interrupting, but said nothing. Simpson, Davis had noticed, was prepared to cut the youngster a much greater degree of slack than he did for anyone else. He wondered if Eddie realized that?

"Wire-built, for the first half dozen, at least," Nat replied. "The power plant has more than enough Schedule 160 twelve-inch pipe for the liners for all sixteen of the rifled guns, and we've unlaid enough steel cable to provide plenty of wire."

Simpson and Eddie both nodded. Twelve-inch Schedule 160 pipe had an inside diameter of just over ten inches and a wall thickness of about one and a quarter inches. That was ample to provide the liner for a ten-inch artillery piece, and Grantville's machining capability was more than adequate for the task of providing it with rifling grooves. But that left the task of reinforcing it. The original Grantville power plant had run to relatively high steam pressures, but there was a world of difference between that and the pressures which would be exerted in the bore of a black-powder cannon!

Two competing solutions had been proposed. One was to reinforce the tubes by winding them in thick cocoons of steel wire, which just happened to be available in significant quantities once the spools of steel cable had been discovered at the coal mine. Unlaying the cables by hand to separate them into individual strands of steel wire had been a laborious and manpower-intensive task, but once the decision to support the ironclad project had been taken, the manpower had been made available.

The second solution had been to cast bronze reinforcements around the tubes. In some ways, that was a simpler approach. It would result in somewhat heavier guns, but the technology to accomplish it was already available to the 17th-century's metalworking industry. The finished guns would be somewhat heavier, and the tubes themselves might warp slightly in the casting process, but Davis doubted very much that the warping would present any insoluble difficulties. They were planning to do a final bore in all the gun tubes anyway, in order to bring them to a uniform size.

"The theory is that until we've got the on-site ability to do the casting here, they're going to have to ship the finished guns to us overland. The casting teams are pretty heavily committed to the field artillery and carronade projects right now, so coupled with the lighter weight for shipping considerations they decided to go with wire."

"As long as they make the delivery schedule, I don't really care which approach we use," Simpson observed.

"Yeah," Eddie agreed, but his expression was pouting. "I still say we could have produced a breech-loading design, though. Our rate of fire is going to suck."

"That decision has been made, Lieutenant," Simpson observed a bit coolly. Then he relented just a touch. "I'd obviously prefer breechloaders, myself," he said. "But the Allocations Committee was right. We don't have the resources to do everything we need to do, and muzzleloaders will do the job for us. Especially with the hydraulic recoil systems."

He shrugged, and while no one could have called Eddie's nod cheerful, there was no real disagreement in it.

"At least they'll recoil inboard so they can be reloaded under armor," he sighed.

"Especially in light of your suggestion to operate the port shutters with the same recoil system," Simpson agreed. Nat was aware that Eddie still considered himself an unabashed partisan of the Stearns administration and so, by definition, a natural enemy where John Chandler Simpson was concerned. Despite that, he noted a flicker of pleasure in the redhead's gray eyes at Simpson's acknowledgment of the youngster's contribution. One of his many contributions, to be sure—but Nat was still somewhat surprised that Simpson himself could recognize it, much less be willing to acknowledge it openly.

As he had sometimes before, Nat found himself wondering if the elder Simpson had found the personal rupture with his son Tom far more painful than he ever indicated in public. If so, it might be that in some odd way John Simpson was finding in brash young Eddie Cantrell—as well as his friend Larry Wild—something in the way of surrogate sons.

It was hard to know. Whatever John Simpson's other talents, "personal sensitivity" was very far down the list. Nat shook his head slightly and returned his concentration to the matter at hand.

The gun mount design Davis and Ollie Reardon had finally come up with was a far cry from anything the 21st century would have accepted, but it ought to be sufficient for their present purposes. It would permit the guns to recoil completely, then lock them there, with the muzzles well inboard while they were sponged out and reloaded, until the release lever was tripped and the hydraulic cylinders ran them back to battery. By adopting Eddie's suggestion and using top-opening armored shutters for the gun ports and an articulated rod between each shutter and the carriage of the gun it served, the same hydraulics would open and close the gun ports automatically as the weapon was served.

"What about the carronades for the wing mounts and the timberclads?" Simpson asked.

"They're coming along on schedule," Davis assured him. "And the team at Luebeck says that they'll be ready to begin casting Gustav's carronades on-site within another four to five weeks. We just got a radio message from them yesterday."

"As long as they don't distract resources from our project," Simpson grumbled sourly. "That monster Gustav demanded has already eaten up enough effort."

"I don't guess we should've been surprised," Eddie observed with a grin. "I did some research on seventeenth and eighteenth century navies for a war game a couple of years before the Ring of Fire, and it was only a few years ago Gustav built this really big galleon. Supposed to be the biggest and baddest warship in the entire Baltic. Named it for the Vasa dynasty."

"Really?" Davis looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "Should I assume from your expression that it was a less than completely successful design?"

"You could say that," Eddie chuckled. "Sucker sank right there in harbor. Seems they hadn't gotten the stability calculations just right."

"Wonderful," Simpson snorted. "Not exactly the best recommendation for his latest project, is it?"

"Oh, I expect they'll get it closer to right this time . . . sir." Eddie grinned again. "The king's naval architects just about ate my copies of Chapelle's books on American sailing ship designs. They don't show any ironclads, but the sloop of war design they settled on should carry the armor no sweat. Especially with the reduction in the weight of guns."

"I don't really doubt that the design is workable, Lieutenant," Simpson said. "Practical, now . . . That's something else again. It's a sailing ship. That means they're still going to have to have men on deck to trim the sails, which seems to me to leave a teeny-tiny chink in their protection."

"Guess so, at that," Eddie allowed. "Of course, the armored bulwarks oughta help some, even there."

"Some," Simpson acknowledged. "In the meantime, though, we're diverting the effort to build a real rolling mill at Luebeck."

"Maybe so," Davis said, "but it's going to be turning out iron, not steel. And the individual plates aren't going to be all that much bigger than ours, anyway." He grinned at Simpson. "Frankly, I'm just as happy to let him play with his own design while we get on with building ours."

"You may have a point," Simpson replied. He let his chair rock back and forth a few times while he considered what Eddie and Davis had reported. At least it didn't sound as if there'd been any more slippage in the construction schedule. He considered—again—suggesting that the timberclads be given a somewhat higher priority. True, they were going to be much smaller, armed only with relatively short-ranged carronades and protected only by extra thick, heavy timber "armor." In addition, they were going to be powered by paddle wheels between their catamaran hulls, and their power plants would be steam-driven. In every way that counted, they were going to be cruder, less capable designs. But they were also going to be available in greater numbers, and they were going to be shallower draft than the ironclads, even with the bigger ships' trim tanks.

He had a nagging suspicion that he ought to be pressing for their more rapid completion. After all, all they really needed was to be just good enough to do the job, not the best design that could possibly be produced. Surely he'd seen enough unhappy demonstrations during his original navy days of what happened when the service insisted on building in every possible bell and whistle!

He told his suspicion—again—to shut up. No doubt there was something to it, but there was also something to be said for building at least a few really capable units for the timberclads to back up. And if there was an element of the empire building Stearns was so contemptuous of (even while he was busy building his own little political empire), then so be it.

"I think that will probably be all, gentlemen," he told them. "Mr. Davis, I would appreciate it if you would make it your business to check in with the local ironworkers. It looks to me like our next possible bottleneck is going to be bolt production. It won't do us any good to manufacture the armor if we can't attach it to the hulls! Please see what you can do to expedite that for us."

Davis nodded, and Simpson turned to Eddie.

"As for you, Lieutenant. According to Dietrich, there's a problem with the port gun mounts in Number Three. He's not certain what it is. I'd like you to check with the crew foreman and see what you can find out. If you can deal with it yourself, do so. If you need some additional assistance, I'm sure Mr. Davis would be happy to help out."

"Yes, sir," Eddie said. "I'll get right on it."

"Good. In that case, gentlemen, dismissed."

Davis nodded, and Eddie came to attention—or, at least, Simpson decided, closer to it than usual—and the two of them turned and headed for the door.

"Just a moment." His voice stopped them just before they left the office, and they turned back to look at him as he smiled slightly at Eddie. "I almost forgot. I thought you'd like to know, Lieutenant, that the President and Congress have accepted your recommendation for names for the ironclads."

"They have, sir? That's great!" Eddie grinned broadly.

"Indeed they have. Number One will be Constitution. Number Two will be United States. Number Three will be President, and Number Four will be Monitor. I trust this meets with your approval?"

"Oh, yeah!" Eddie said exuberantly. Then he shook himself. "I mean, it certainly does, sir."

"I am delighted to hear it," Simpson said dryly. "Dismissed, gentlemen."


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