Elf Boy's Friends - VII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 9

Game Changers

At Eike's workshop the next morning, the young tinkerer, as he liked to call himself, showed off his latest inventions: an entirely new design for bicycles, a shoulder fired repeating air gun, and a flying machine he called an auto-gyro.

The new bicycle featured two wheels the same size, a horizontal frame, and a drive train which drove the rear wheel rather than the front. A synchronous toothed belt engaged both the drive sprocket under the down tube and and the hub of the rear wheel. Thus the crank arms of the pedals delivered rotary power to the rear wheel in a manner which reversed the logic of the experimental chain drives that others were working on where toothed wheels engaged the links in a chain.

The upright posture with the pedals below the saddle allowed the rider to put his weight on them to climb slopes and hills, which was much more efficient than with the pedals powering the front wheel. Also it was easier to keep the feet on pedals which stayed in one place compared to pedals on a front wheel that turned left and right to steer the bicycle. The design also simplified maintenance and repairs.

For the sake of security the Navy had insisted that Eike work only on Navy premises though allowing him to retain all rights to his bicycle design. Eike's business agent, the wily dwarf Lennart, had licensed that design to the same manufactories that were already turning out the wire wheels now universally used in bicycles. The deal would bring Eike big money from both the civilian and military markets, though the latter would get priority at first due to the ongoing war with the trolls.

"I owe the idea and the name of this next invention to Karel. You will all remember how during our defense of the mountain resort against the orcs Karel suggested we join two sections of wooden pipe intended for a storm drain to create what he called an air gun. Though the principle was sound the implementation left a lot to be desired. No offense, Karel."

"None taken. Only desperation at the threat of the orcs made it worth trying. The contraptions were so make-shift that I was surprised they worked at all."

"True, but whatever their limitations they did demonstrate the principle of propelling pieces of metal with compressed air. With my new air guns, I had the advantages of time, shaping, and a fully equipped machine shop to get things right. Hence the weapon you see before you."

The air gun had a stock like a crossbow and a barrel like a small diameter pipe almost four feet long. Air pressure from a pressure vessel inside the hollow stock propelled spherical lead bullets somewhat smaller than those used by slingers down the tube to a range greater than a crossbow though short of the range of a long bow. As he explained:

"The pressure of the air rushing down the barrel accelerates the bullet the length of the barrel and out the muzzle. Now the bullets shot from an air gun travel faster than a slung bullet or a bolt from a cross bow and deliver a correspondingly harder wallop. The gun can be aimed by aligning the front and back sights, though at long range you also have to allow for crosswinds and the drop of the bullet. I am working on improved sights now. At close range, you don't bother sighting; you just point and shoot."

"How do you charge the air reservoir?" Karel asked."

"You used the long lever under the barrel to pump and compress the air in the reservoir. At full charge it supplies enough impetus for fourteen shots, though the final two are considerably weaker than the first dozen. When disengaged from the pump, the lever works the action to move the next ball from the tube magazine into the breech and cocks the trigger."

"Tactically you might deploy your infantry in two lines with one shooting while the other charges their reservoirs. Or you could use your men as skirmishers who would take cover rather than line up in plain view where they are vulnerable to enemy missiles."

"Almost as important is that an air gun is as easy to master as a crossbow. An archer trains his whole life with the long bow. A soldier can become effective at volley fire with an air gun with a week of training and practice. In volley fire individual accuracy is not important. Now to become a true marksman, that takes both talent and practice."

"Wow! This is a real game changer! Our infantry will mow the trolls down like a farmer with a scythe."

"Exactly. And I am working on a shorter version for the cavalry which I call a carbine from an old word I came across in the library as I researched the concept of guns. Since the barrel is shorter its range and punch are less."

"Now follow me out back so I can show you my new flying machine, which I call an autogyro because it was my gyro toy which inspired it, and it turns by itself. The single bladed rotor turns spins in the wind created by the forward motion of the aircraft. In turn the spin of the rotor generates lift. Even weak fetchers can propel an autogyro without straining themselves and take to the sky. All it takes is to give the contraption a push; the rotor does all the lifting. This thing climbs like you wouldn't believe."

"You mean it's already been flown?" Drew asked. "Why didn't you ask Liam and me to take her up for the test flights? After all, we are both Pioneers of Flight."

"There is no need for that frown, Drew. I always knew you two could make it fly thanks to your strong telekinetic powers. Either of you could just Lift the autogyro straight up with no forward motion and no spin to the rotor, hence no aerodynamic lift. We needed to test this rig with fetchers who couldn't Lift it up bodily but could push it forward enough to generate lift with the rotor."

"Makes sense." Liam conceded, mollified by Eike's explanation.

Eike's autogyro was a two seater with a bamboo frame, stubby wings for extra lift, supported by a tripod landing gear of three wire wheels smaller than those of a bicycle. The tail assembly included a rudder to control yaw and elevators to control pitch. The wooden rotor turned on a metal shaft about three feet above the heads of the flyers. A lightweight cockpit formed from stiffened fabric cut down on aerodynamic drag. Cables connected pedals in the cockpit to the rudder while the elevators were managed by a vertical handle called the stick.

"I see the autogyro has two seats," Liam said. "I take it that one seat is for the pilot and the other for a passenger."

"Exactly. A fetcher who might not be strong enough to lift himself into the air via a yoke or to stay up for very long can still push the autogyro hard enough to take off with two aboard. So the autogyro quadruples the number of fetchers capable of flight and lets them stay aloft longer. Now a flyer in an autogyro won't have the dwell time of a naval aviator flying one of Nathan's rigid wings, but he has greater endurance than anyone flying with a yoke."

"Now, it takes a very short run to build up enough forward speed to generate sufficient lift. Remarkably when the thing lands it rolls barely more than its own length before slowing to a halt. And an observer can circle or orbit overhead and relay signals to forces below with a signal mirror, infrasound, or even notes dropped to the ground with streamers attached to make them easy to spot."

"After tomorrow's trials the Navy will deploy a couple to one of the new air carriers to test the concept of autogyros at sea. I understand they will have air wizards generate a jet of air to serve as a headwind to get them aloft with hardly any takeoff roll at all."

"You know Eike, autogyros are not just for the Navy. They will make the Army Air Corps even more effective against the trolls." Liam said, explaining:

"Oh, I'll grant that flyers with yokes have been pretty effective dropping incendiaries and caltrops. But such attacks are episodic and come in discrete waves, since the flyers have to return to base to reload once they expend their munitions."

"If the Air Corps took war mages up as passengers they could orbit at length high above an enemy formation, raining destruction on them with their powers. Masters of magnetism, lightning throwers, firecasters, air wizards and so on could attack continuously, or as long as their magical strength allowed. It would be a devastating addition to our military capabilities."

"That's right, Liam. I'll mention it to the Admiral and to our Army liaison officer." Eike replied, adding:

"Besides all the military applications we have been talking about, My autogyros have civilians uses too. Ranchers could fly over their range to survey and herd cattle. the Post Office could fly the mail to distribution points around the Commonwealth, transporting letters at a speed between that of heliograph and mail coaches. Also Healers and rescue workers could get to where they are needed that much faster. Just think, Drew, how handy an autogyro would be the next time you were called up to help with recovery from a flood or earthquake."

"And more good news, you my friends. The same bicycle companies which you have all invested in will will construct my autogyros as well as the new style bicycles. Imagine the returns you will earn now when sales of both take off!"

"As if we needed the money." Jemsen observed.

Indeed all of Eike's friends had become wealthy even before investing in bicycle manufactories. Their comfortable but modest life styles meant that most of their income could be plowed into long term investments, especially in new industries like iron roads, street cars, refrigeration, aviation, bicycles, though not the toy company of which Eike was the sole proprietor.

"So when do we get to try out all this cool kit?" Drew asked.

"This afternoon. I'll show you all the basics of the operation and maintenance of the air gun. Then we will go out to the target range so you can get a feel for the new weapon. Drew, I'll check out you and Liam on the autogyro. And everyone gets to ride a new bicycle. It'll be a lot of fun, that I can promise."

That brought grins to their faces. And indeed that afternoon a fun time was had by all. Eike's friends were pleasantly surprised at how easy the new inventions were to use. On the new bicycle, a rider's posture was different but the experience was really the same: work the pedals and away you went. Or if you were a fetcher you pushed yourself along effortlessly. The airgun was enough like a crossbow as to present no difficulty getting used to.

"Much as I admire your airgun, Eike," Jemsen said. "I think Karel and I will stick to the long bow for our distance weapon. We twins act as scouts and trackers and ambushers. We pick our targets. We never stand lined up with the infantry and engage in volley fire. Besides, in our hands and with our doubled strength the long bow has greater range. And we can often retrieve our arrows and reuse them. Plus our sustained rate of fire is faster since we never need to stop to recharge the air reservoir. And after all, we can always call on our powers as earth and air wizards."

"That is fine for you guys," Axel said, "but I am sold on the airgun. I'm going to add the carbine version to my regular gear. Compared to the lowly sling, which is my current distance weapon, the airgun is a real game changer. Nor do I have strong magical powers to call upon in a fight. True I can englobe the head of a foe, but only one at a time. My rate of fire by englobing, if I can call it that, is a lot slower than it would be with one of these nifty airguns. Eike, I love you!"

"Now that's more like it: a satisfied customer!" Eike grinned.

"I'll get one too." Corwin said. "Sure I can wield ball lightning, but for stealth I'll want one of these airguns. They are silent killers, just right for an ambush or for taking our sentries."

"With my fetching powers, I don't need a weapon to propel bullets at the enemy," Liam said, "but I'll bet the Navy orders thousands of them to replace the sling which sailors use as their individual weapon."

"I'm with Liam," Drew added, "in not needing an air gun, but I am sure he is right about the Navy. What do you think, Nathan?"

"Oh, definitely. I am pretty sure that once we get these things aboard the Petrel, the captain will task me with training our whole crew in their use. So I will master the use of the airgun if only for that reason."

"In combat though, I won't use an airgun myself. A naval officer is like a war wizard or mage in being a force multiplier, whether by training, organization, or leadership or by marshaling and directing his men in a fight. Looking along the barrel of an airgun narrows your field of view. Better I stick with my cutlass for personal defense while flinging electrum sparks at the enemy to help my men."

Nathan's electrum sparks were tiny balls of static electricity. Though they could not kill directly, the burns and jolts they delivered were impossible to ignore, making the distracted foes easy prey for Nathan's sailors during hand to hand combat when the enemy boarded a ship or vice versa.

"Admiral Van Zant will practically salivate once he sees these babies in action." Nathan assured the others.

"Just like the generals in the Army, I hope." Eike replied.

"They'd be fools not to, and they are definitely not fools." Liam assured him.

None of the boys had to be sold on the new bicycles which promised to be a whole lot of fun as well as giving them greater mobility along the Commonwealth's excellent network of roads.

And everyone loved going up in an autogyro whether as pilots or passengers. Liam and Drew were cautioned not to push really hard that the rotor spun so fast that centrifugal force tore it apart. They should listen for a characteristic swoosh that indicated an optimum rate of rotation. A thrumming sound would indicate undesirable harmonics from over-rotation.

The boys extended to Eike their heartiest congratulations. Eike's inventions would not only help fight the war against the trolls, they would also contribute importantly to the economy at large.

The trials the next morning at the proving grounds were the first public exposure of the new devices. There was lots of brass and gold braid including General Urqaart, Admiral Van Zant, and a a colonel representing General-at-Sea Duane Chard, Commandant of the naval infantry, who was away at the fighting front.

Lord Zaldor presided in one of his last public functions as a serving member of the Commonwealth Council. All council members stepped down after a period of years to allow the group to bring in new blood. It was time for Zaldor to retire to private life and to take on the status of a councilman emeritus or elder statesman. That meant he might continue to advise on public affairs but would no longer make laws or state policy.

Also present were the war wizards recently returned from Amazonia including Sir Willet and Sir Rikkard looking much more relaxed than they had for months.

Sir Willet had opened a portal to Elysion to transport Count Klarendes and his spouse the shapeshifter cum forest ranger Aodh. His two sons were already in the capital. Eborn worked in the capital managing the family's local investments. The older son Artor was attending a conference of the Dread Hands of the Commonwealth, which has also drawn Finn Ragnarson all the way from New Varangia.

The three druids living in Elysion came along too: the elf-boy Dahl and his partners and lovers the druids Owain and Merry. They had taken up residence several years earlier in the little-used east wing of the Klarendes' townhouse so as to be able to watch over the newly awakened New Forest. Dahl and Aodh had been lovers before the shape shift had met Klarendes. Their occasional trysts were not a concern for the count who was secure in the affections of his spouse.

It was Dahl who had devised the technique by which druids and Healers could enhance the constitutions of persons deemed worthy by the Council of the Commonwealth, which included Eike and all of his friends who did not have an admixture of elven blood to extend their youth and lives.

The trials and demonstrations went off without a hitch, not surprisingly given the four dress rehearsals. A platoon of soldiers demonstrated the devastating destructive power of volleys of repeating air guns, peppering the targets down range. Autogyros swooped over head and dropped sacks of flour to simulate a bombing run, then set down with a short roll little more than their own length.

A company of mounted infantry on the new bicycles circled the field to show how quickly they could move. Then they dismounted, formed up, and shot at targets shaped like trolls and covered with white paper the better to show the holes. It was clear that any enemy formation would have been cut to pieces by the volume of lead hurled at them. The air guns were so accurate, that soldiers could aim at the legs or any other body part not covered by a wooden shield.

Talk about game changers!

Lord Zaldor later pointed out that it wasn't just the fighters at the front who were prosecuting the war. Behind them stood those who built the ships and manufactured the arms and produced and transported materiel and supplies. He assured them that when the history of the war with the trolls was written, the name of Karl-Eike Thyssen would be celebrated as one of the architects of victory.

"Celebrated all right, in the Capital Intelligencer and in my books, that you can be sure of, Eike." Drew said warmly.

Eike would never be a fighter himself. He lacked the temperament for close combat, was unimpressive physically, and lacked a magical gift useful in a fight. Besides the government would never risk the life of the Commonwealth's most prolific inventor.

Instead the government intended to recognize Eike's outstanding contributions by naming him a Stalwart of the Commonwealth, the highest civil honor the state could bestow. The state was also formalizing two informal titles widely used in print and in conversation, namely Peacemaker and Pioneer of Flight.

"Those to be formally recognized as Peacemakers include the four of you acclaimed as the Young Peacemakers Four: Finn Ragnarson, the twins, and Drew Altair, plus the Old Peacemakers, the four statesmen who built that peace in the Far West: Twm Gln Dwr and Colonel Ifans of the Despotate plus Urqaart and myself."

"Also named as Peacemakers are those who helped forge key alliances: Count Taitos Klarendes for his part in the original negotiations with the Frost Giants, his son Artor for the alliance he forged with the Medkari in the Hot Lands and more recently with the orcs seconded by Sir Willet. Not to be overlooked is Axel Wilde for inspiring our alliances with both the orcs and the brontotheres of Southern Varangia."

"The Pioneers of Flight include the twins, Drew Altair, Axel Wilde, Sir Willet Hanford, Liam, Nathan Lathrop, and Eike Thyssen. I hope I have not left anyone out. Drew, you can pick up a handout after the proceedings to write this all up for the Capital Intelligencer. Sorry, Drew, but it won't be a scoop. We will be releasing the news to all news-papers at the same time. It might soften the blow to know that the state will finally confer a knighthood on you. It was long past time in my opinion."

"At last!" Drew exclaimed. "Sir Drew Altair. I like the sound of that. Uh, and while they are at it, do you think the powers that be might promote from the rank of reserve ensign that I have held for many years. How about a promotion to lieutenant or maybe to captain like the twins."

"I think that can be arranged, and in time for the awards ceremony to be held next week."

"Anyway whenever you boys engage in another of those occasional duels of impressive titles, you will be well provided with sonorous appellations. How does that sound, my young friends?"

"I think I am speaking for all of us when I tell you that it sounds just fine." Drew affirmed to nods from the others.

"This calls for celebration," Axel enthused, "but where?"

"At my townhouse, of course! My staff is setting things up even as we speak." Count Klarendes told him, which brought from Finn his standard affirmative response.

"Sounds like a plan."

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