Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 38

Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 38

“I can see where that would be true,” Rock Point said slowly. “But with part of the threads cut away, it would be impossible to seal the breach, wouldn’t it? Especially with the sort of pressures a large caliber piece generates.”

“I agree entirely, My Lord, but the idea intrigued me, so I discussed it with Captain Saigyl and with Admiral Seamount. We were throwing the idea back and forth last month, when Captain Saigyl pointed out the way in which Commander Mahndrayn used the felt bases of his cartridges to seal the breach of his rifle. Obviously, the pressures are much lower in a rifle, but Captain Saigyl wondered what would happen if we substituted a ring — a washer, if you will — of something else.”

Rahzwail looked expectantly at Rock Point, who nodded thoughtfully. Safeholdian plumbing had developed sealing washers and gaskets made out of several materials, including rubber, many of which were suitable for working with remarkably heavy pressures, so it was scarcely surprising that the concept should have suggested itself to Saigyl. Or scarcely surprising in Charis, at any rate.

“And just what sort of material did Captain Saigyl have in mind for his ‘washer?'” Rock Point asked after a moment.

“Stone wool, My Lord.”

“I see.”

Rock Point glanced down the length of the table to meet Merlin’s eyes. Stone wool was the Safeholdian term for asbestos, whose insulating properties and resistance to heat had been known since the Creation. Its use had been ringed around with warnings in the Book of Bédard and the Book of Pasquale, but it hadn’t been outright prohibited. Pasquale had declared an anathema against any form of asbestos other than chrysotile, hence the term “stone wool” from the whiteness of the material. Merlin wasn’t certain why he hadn’t banned it, as well. Admittedly, chrysotile was far less dangerous than the others, especially with the handling restrictions Pasquale had imposed, but long-term exposure to its fibers could were scarcely beneficial to one’s health. Probably, he’d decided, it was because the “archangels” had managed to convince themselves the Proscriptions of Jwo-jeng had permanently eliminated the possibility of industrialization on Safehold. The material was undeniably useful — it had been used for thousands of years, long before Old Earth’s industrial revolution — and Langhorne and his followers had apparently consoled themselves with the thought that the quantities a pre-industrial society would use would be relatively benign.

Unfortunately for what they might have thought eight or nine centuries ago, however, Safehold in general and Charis in particular had been using more and more of it over the last century or so . . . and especially in the last decade. There simply was no choice. Industrial works like Ehdwyrd Howsmyn’s needed a material with asbestos’ properties and didn’t have the capacity to produce any of the synthetics which had eventually replaced it on Old Earth. As a result, “stone wool” output was climbing by leaps and bounds, and despite all Howsmyn, the Crown, and the Church of Charis could do to enforce Pasquale’s handling restrictions, exposure to it was climbing as well. It wasn’t the only health hazard Charis’ innovators had been forced to embrace — the mercury being used in percussion primers was a case in point, as was the shafting and exposed drive belts involved in applying waterpower directly to machinery — but somehow asbestos bothered Merlin more than many of the others.

Which didn’t mean Rahzwail and Saigyl weren’t on to something. After all, “stone wool” was exactly the same material Charles de Bange, the father of practical breech-loading artillery designs on Old Earth, had used in his “obturator pad.”

“Have you conducted any actual trials yet, Captain?” Rock Point inquired.

“Only with a modified Mahndrayn rifle, My Lord. So far, it appears a greased stone wool washer or pad should do the job, assuming enough pressure on the screw threads. I’ve asked Doctor Mahklyn and Doctor Vyrnyr to help us determine a way to calculate how long a breech plug would be required and how much of the threads we could safely cut away. Doctor Mahklyn’s of the opinion that he and Doctor Vyrnyr should be able to give us some rough working formulas within the next several five-days. In the meantime, Captain Saigyl’s consulting with Master Howsmyn about the feasibility of fabricating breech blocks to the necessary tolerances. We won’t know for certain whether or not it’s practical even to consider the approach until he’s had a chance to discuss it with Master Howsmyn’s artificers.”

Rock Point nodded again. High-pressure dynamics was an entirely new branch of study here on Safehold, but it was making considerable strides. Dahnel Vyrnyr at the Royal College had begun formulating the rules of pressure and gasses, but it was one of Ehdwyrd Howsmyn’s artificers who’d really started the process of examining pressure levels in artillery a year and a half ago when he proposed what had been called a “crush gauge” back on Old Earth. Essentially, it was a hollow based device, consisting of a tube which contained a small, very strong piston and an open frame which contained a small cylinder of pure copper. The bottom of the gauge was threaded, and a hole was bored through the wall of a gun tube and tapped with matching threads. The gauge was then screwed into the hole to form an airtight seal, and when the gun was fired, the pressure entering the gauge through a tiny port in its hollow stem drove the piston upward. A strong steel screw at the top of the gauge prevented the copper cylinder from moving, which caused the piston to deform — “crush” — the hapless cylinder. By removing the cylinder and measuring it very precisely, then comparing the measurements to those of similar cylinders which had been deformed by known pressures, the pressure inside the gun tube could be determined within very close tolerances.

No one outside the Charisian Empire had ever even heard of the technique, and Howsmyn had cheated slightly. The numbers from the cubes which had been crushed to establish the original base index were derived from cubes Owl had crushed under far more precise and uniform pressures than Howsmyn’s own machinery was yet capable of producing. Not even his own artificers knew that, since Owl’s remotes had sneaked in and replaced the ones they’d crushed when no one was looking.

And it had been Urvyn Mahndrayn who’d invented the ballistic pendulum, the high admiral reminded himself sadly, suppressing a fresh stab of grief. He’d sketched out the basic concept for it on the back of an envelope one afternoon while waiting for a meeting at the Royal College, and Mahklyn and the rest of the faculty had been working out the details — and the math — to make it work by the next morning. Between the crush gauge’s ability to accurately measure bore pressures and the ballistic pendulum’s ability to accurately and consistently measure projectile velocities, the science of ballistics was off to a rousing, brawling start, he told himself with a deep, warm sense of satisfaction, and he suspected Mahndrayan would have been just as fiercely pleased by the knowledge as he was.

“In the meantime, however,” Seamount put in, “Ahldahs has come up with a fallback position in case it turns out Master Howsmyn can’t promise us the necessary precision in manufacturing the screw blocks. It’s not as satisfactory a breach closure in a lot of ways, but it should work. Essentially, it’s a completely separate breech plug fitted with a copper washer lapped over a compressible layer of stone wool. An external screw clamps it in place with enough force to give a seal which has proven gas-tight in all of our small arms tests. I don’t like it as much as I do this ‘interrupted screw’ approach, mostly because it will impose a much slower rate of fire, but also because I suspect it would be more fragile, more subject to external damage and breakage. Between the two, however, I think I can feel confident in proposing the adoption of breech-loading for our new generation of rifled artillery.”

“I see,” Rock Point repeated, and glanced at Merlin again. The seijin looked back steadily, then nodded ever so imperceptibly. “All right, Ahlfryd,” the high admiral said then. “It sounds to me like you and your pet geniuses are onto something yet again. And I’m sure that between you and Master Howsmyn, you will be able to make it work.”


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63 Responses to Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 38

  1. Matthew says:

    So, this settles a number of questions, they are almost certainly going to go with the interrupted screw design and even if they don’t, they have a fall back option. It also at least gives a nod to the people worried about the formation of the scientific method.

    Overall though it’s not as interesting to me as the last snippet, lol, I already want more…

  2. Allan G says:

    I’m a little surprised that someone hasn’t been playing with rock wool. If you can make cast iron you can make rock wool – you just feed a blast furnace with basalt instead of iron ore and pour the result through a spinnerette. Much safer than asbestos.
    Making graphite filled copper (or later nickel) gaskets would be a wise move too.

  3. Frank says:

    First breech loaders then on to jacketed shells. Let’s go out and blow stuff up already. What is going on in glacier heart?

    • Doubting Thomas says:

      It will be awhile (next book maybe?). Jacketed shells need smokeless powder and HE. They are working on both, but don’t have it yet.

  4. Malcolm says:

    what do OWL’s remotes look like?? very dexterious robots of some description, obviously able to throw rocks through windows and remove crushed cylinders and replace them, among other things….

    • KenJ says:

      I suspect they are primarily the SNARKs. It would make sense that these stealthed platforms, in addition to the pin-head parasites would also have basic manipulative abilities, probably via tractor/pressers. There may, however, be additional units that are specifically intended for manual manipulation via claws, etc al la the mars rovers.

      • JimHacker says:

        I think you’re right but also think we’ll never be told. If weber tells us, he’s nailed the colours to the mast. He won’t be able to decide what they can and can’t do in future. And people will start complaining, ‘we know that the remotes have the ability to do this so why didn’t OWL’s remotes do X?’ Or, ‘by the discription they shouldn’t have been able to do Y but they did in this book’. Ambiguity is useful to an author in maintaining continuity. Which is why i’m surprised we get so many info dumps.

  5. Alice Collins says:

    Am I missing something? “with the handling restrictions Pasquale had imposed, but long-term exposure to its fibers could were scarcely beneficial to one’s health” Is the word “could” unnecessary or was something omitted?

  6. George Phillies says:

    On the bright side, asbestos is overwhelmingly a hazard primarily to cigarette smokers.

    • Bewildered says:

      What does asbestos have to do with smoking?!? My understanding is that most ailments stemming from it, at least these days, are through the demolition of buildings with asbestos lined walls, ceiling etc.

      As an aside, does anyone on Safehold smoke or is tobacco one of those products Pasquale ruled out as hazardous to human health? Need to reread the series sometime.

      • JimHacker says:

        The things done to the lungs as a result of smoking make a person significantly more vulnerable to the negative effects of asbestos. Smoking is bad for you, asbestos is bad for you but combining the two doesn’t just add the effects, it makes them exponentialy worse.

  7. morgulknight says:

    Here’s a nasty thought I just had: Is there a Safeholdian Charles Babbage we haven’t met yet? As they start figuring out ballistics, something like the Dreyer Fire Control Table becomes a real possibility–purely mechanical computers don’t come anywhere close to the Proscriptions, building the necessary gears and cams is within Safeholdian metalworking technology (see also the Antikythera Mechanism for an example of a mechanical computer that was literally hand-built), and it would vastly increase their artillery’s accuracy.
    Also, is anyone playing around with compressed air and screw propellers, now that they are on the verge of having guncotton? If so, they’ve got all the seperate components to build the Whitehead torpedo, and wouldn’t that come as a nasty shock to Thirsk or his replacement?

    • jfenton says:

      Houseman is planning to use compressed air to run the tools in his assembly lines, and they have screw propellers on their steam boats, so it is possible. But it would take someone realising that they need a new type of naval weapon and putting those two things together. So I think that it is unlikely for a while yet.

      • George Phillies says:

        Mindful of the weapons Charis is facing, there is IMHO no point in developing torpedoes, submarines, or the like. Rifled solid shot is likely plenty for the next step. As an alternative, contemplate the Maxim gun at modest range, say 400 yards, clearing the rear elevated deck of officers and the yards of people trying to change sails. Also, because the Maxim range is fairly healthy, with two lines of ships facing each other weapons at bow and stern have near-raking shots at ships a distance fore and after.

        • morgulknight says:

          Submarines I’ll grant you, but a halfway decent–or even functional–torpedo can sink any ship on Safehold’s seas in one hit, and it’s not as though the church can duplicate it quickly or easily. Where would they even start? As outnumbered and outresourced as the Charisians are likely to remian for the forseeable future, playing for every advantage they can get makes sense.
          As for the Maxim, I’d go for something more like an M2HB, perhaps water-cooled, to not only sweep decks but also wreck spars and rigging, something a .303 Vickers or 8mm Maxim may or may not be fully up to. I do agree that skipping the Gatling/mitrailleuse generation of design makes sense.

          • JimHacker says:

            Introducing torpedos make sense – in a while. Torpedos are somewhat overkill on wooden hulls. For now, they have other weapons deployed/in development which already give them an overwhelming advantage. Wy deploy something as devastating as a torpedo earlier than necessary? Sooner or later, the other side would work out how its done. In fact torpedos might give them less difficulty than breach-loading rifled guns firing exploding shot. You need relatively few torpedos compared to how many guns and shells you would need to arm a fleet. CoGA has access to lots of skilled (albeit unimaginative) artificers. What they have problems with is mass production.

          • Spktyr says:

            Except that it’s going to be a while before you get to the point where you can even feed a Maxim or M2HB on Safehold. Those *require* smokeless powder and brass cartridges to function properly – the short-recoil system of the M2 in particular will foul and jam quickly with black powder. Gatlings work just fine on paper cartridges and black powder.

            In fact, Gatlings work just fine with NO cartridges and black powder. The initial design of the Gatling gun used cap-and-ball technology; to quote Wikipedia:

            The initial Gatling gun design used self-contained, reloadable steel cylinders with a chamber holding a ball and black-powder charge, and a percussion cap on one end. As the barrels rotated, these steel cylinders dropped into place, were fired, and were then ejected from the gun.

            They don’t have to develop the metallic cartridge or even further develop the paper cartridge to get massive firepower increases. The Gatling is good to go *now* at Charis’ current level of technology. And you can easily upgrade older models to the ‘newer’ tech as it progresses.

            • morgulknight says:

              This is what I get for getting in a hurry to reply; I totally forgot about the black powder/smokeless powder thing. Bring on the Gatlings!

        • stephen y says:

          Given the reaction to Merlin’s revolvers in HFaF a Maxim would be proof of the intervention of Shan-wei.
          A Carronade might be a better option. Given the smaller charge it uses it would be an easier fit for the new breach loaders.

      • msj says:

        Heh. Next MWW will be re-inventing Steampunk.

    • stephen y says:

      Until ships start using gun turrets or ranges increase there does not seem to be much point. Naval warfare at this point seems to be a matter of going along side and firing as quickly as possible. About the only place it would seem to help would be with the angle guns on Volcano and her sisters. GIGO is a very real problem.

    • Doug Lampert says:

      You don’t use a mechanical digital computer for Fire Control.
      You use a mechanical analog computer.

      In our world mechanical analog computers were used to assist with fire control from prior to WWI to the invention of integrated circutry. Easier to build and at least as good for the purpose as digital, probably better than any practical mechanical digital.

      • Doubting Thomas says:

        When I was in the Navy in the 70s, they were still using analog computers for fire control of topedoes on submarines.

    • RichardK says:

      I expect an intermediate step. Put a small steam engine on a longboat or small ship, stuff it with gun cotton or gunpowder, and send into port. Don’t forget to light the fuse.
      Note that with no sails up it would confuse and terrorize the common sailor.

      • JeffM says:

        Not the kind of warfare that Charis uses, killing indiscriminately.

      • Spktyr says:

        Given the resource and time cost to build just one steam engine, that’s a remarkably superexpensive way to do not a lot of damage.

        Not to mention what would happen if the fuse doesn’t work – you just handed the CoGA a demonstrably working steam engine!

        • RichardK says:

          You use the “old” technology of last years steam engine, and you booby trap the charges. The fuse is an attempt to get optimal results.

          Aim them at military facilities (and nudge them with SNARCs).

  8. George Phillies says:

    In order for this stuff to matter, the book will need to cover several years.

    • Nimitz13 says:

      The R&D types are up to Terra’s 1877 level artillery tech with the de Bange obdurator pad and the interrupted screw breech loader. The recoil system is at mid 1880s level, but was used for decades after that. The Mahndrayn (breech loading rifle) is 1850s-1860s as several types were used in the American Civil War.

      In Terran terms the CoGA’s best rifles are sort of 1840s level tech once they copied the minnie ball, if we ignore that they’re using flintlocks instead of percussion caps. Without the minne ball they’d be stuck at Revolutionary War era flintlock smoothbores and bayonets, since rifles were slow to load and their barrels were quickly fouled before its introduction.

      The CoGA has a massive advantage in numbers, most of whom will still be armed with pikes and smoothbore matchlocks, (1600s tech and earlier.) Siddarmark isn’t much better, but is about to get tens of thousands of “obsolete” EoC flintlock rifles as the ICA is issued its Mahndrayns. (Probably LOTS more than that!) Bwaa Ha Ha Ha Ha!

      Sure the CoGA is also producing thousands of flintlock rifles, so encounters with church troops armed with them won’t be a cakewalk, but the majority of the AoG and Harchongese are at the “pike and muskets” stage. Only the Temple Lands, Dohlar, and Desnair are likely to have flintlock rifles in large numbers, so the battles in southern Siddarmark will be much more costly.

      We should see the tech being discussed in this scene by next year on both ships and land. So we’ll probably have to wait until the next book I’m afraid. MAYBE the new recoil systems will see action in MTaT.

      The ICA’s artillery is already much more accurate and longer ranged than that which Magwair has the church forces building, and we haven’t seen the wire-wrapped artillery that was being produced and “put aside for later” in HFaF in use yet, which we will. That means Thirsk is completely outranged and is unlikely to win any naval battles despite having explosive shells unless he can close within the range of his own guns. Since the vagaries of wind and current make that possible, the ICN hasn’t won yet. Bring on the steamship!

      I expect we’ve seen the ICN build its last purely wooden ships, as future ships will likely be wooden with steel bracing, then steel with steam engines and sails for backup, and eventually when a Safehold-wide network of coaling stations is set up, steam engines only. The twice annual trip of the Emperor and Empress to/from Charis/Chisholm will take 10 days instead of two months fairly soon.

      Since oil is already being investigated as a source of fuel, we may see diesel engines replacing steam engines in ships, and a decade from now the ICN should have steel battle cruisers that would rival their early 1900s Terran counterparts in both engines and armament. (Diesels don’t need electricity to start or run.)

      Which leads to tanks, automobiles, railroads, etc. and fifty years from now (depending on the result of the archangels return and/or whatever is sleeping under the temple does when it wakes up) Safehold will be unrecognizable even without electricity.

      At some point the CoGA will simply be so far behind the curve technologically, and their manufacturing so far behind what is needed to duplicate EoC tech that any war will merely be a slaughter, and questions like “How can God and the archangels allow the heretics to win all the time?” will raise doubts of the validity of the CoGA. So let’s pray Clyntahn lives a long and miserable life so the Proscriptions will erode into nonexistence!

      For now, as we saw a preview of at Brahdwyn’s Folly, the majority of church troops that face the ICA and the newly armed RSA are going to die quickly. The outlook for cavalry is especially Bleek!

    • Nimitz13 says:

      OOPS! Didn’t mean to make my previous message a reply. Bleek!

      I expect we’ll see limited use of the recoil system in MTaT on any cutting-edge ships that the ICN builds. The breech-loading artillery are a book away.

      What’s really going to be interesting is how quickly they manage to produce metal cartridges for bullets and artillery, smokeless powder, dynamite, and TNT – and how many chemists get blown to Langhorne in the process!

  9. Adam says:

    I wonder if it is known that hot air rises in this universe. With liquid fuel it just became a whole lot easier to heat a contained pocket of space. I see the hot air balloon being towed by scouting ships be a great boon to naval warfare and defense on land.

    Plus it gets Safehold used to flight with all of those possibilities there :)

    • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

      IIRC “flight” of any type was the sole province of the Angels and Arkangels. Their use of the high-tech skimmers was Merlin’s loophole for his own high-tech usages.

      And LTA is extremely weather vulnerable. With the ingrained “whitelist” CoGA mindset of: “not specifically allowed; then (probably (added only by/for the most open minded)) not allowable”; movements toward flight (with the inherant easily negative results) probably aren’t IMO really in the mix.

    • Matthew says:

      I think it entirely depends on what’s in the proscriptions, my guess is that the “archangels” wouldn’t have even wanted people to get the idea that they could fly, so they probably would not have added that to them… but maybe someone can find a bit of text that refers to this???

      • JimHacker says:

        You are probably right. On the other hand, it’s possible the ability was listed as one of the forbidden angelic abilities Shan-wei tempted her followers with. We just don’t know.

      • DKCWong says:

        Do any of the books mention anyone flying a kite? If “flying” or “floating” or any means of moving about in the air is forbidden then I would think that it would it apply to something as simple as this.

        • JimHacker says:

          Why would flying a kite be an answer to whether flying people about or not is allowed? Things are obvi usly allowed to fly – messages afixed to wyverns for example. And I do seem to recall a kite at some point. But flying humans around the place is much more unnatural.

    • JeffM says:

      Of COURSE they know that hot air rises! Clyntahn made Grand Inquisitor, didn’t he??? How much higher than that does it get?

  10. DKCWong says:

    The treads on torpedoes is interesting and a few of you have made some good points for and against them. There is one class of weapon I think Merlin should not ever encourage the development and deployment of….Mines. I can think of how much more useful they would be to the armies and navies of the CoGA even if they develop ones that are far inferior to any the Charisians might design. Last thing Merlin would want is to give the CoGA a defensive weapon that could cause the tempo of the war to slow down. If deployed correctly mines could seriously impede the Imperial Army’s movement on land and restrict passage through strategic bodies of water thus allowing the CoGA to protect major harbors from naval raids or even amphibious landings (i.e. impede flanking maneuvers). Mines aren’t infallible, but just knowing they are out there will make one act more cautiously.

  11. George Phillies says:

    Owl needs to find these people a copy of the short story Supremacy. (I think that was the title.) Cranking up production scale is for Charis far more important than gadgets.

    Perhaps the chemists could come up with a really effective shell filling for long range inaccurate fire. Binary nerve gas is probably too hard to pull off, but having your clerks on the battlefield invoking Langhorne and calling on him to smite your foes with all the power of heaven would explain all effects.

    • Allan G says:

      Simple liquid Chlorine would be bad enough.

      • Matthew says:

        Yeah… but we’re a ways away from that kind of tech even being vaguely necessary and I don’t think hat’s the kind of thing Charis would reach for first anyway.

        More something the church would do if they knew about it.

    • JimHacker says:

      So in their quest to destroy the CoGA and belief in the proscriptions they should provide false evidence of god smiting their enemies – which would be easily found out.

  12. Kari says:

    In spite of everything we’ve heard about chemical warefare, it’s not really that easy to use and isn’t that effective. 1. too subsceptible to weather – either it can disspate too quickly or blow back on your own troops. 2. Handling it and deploying it. 3. making it.
    Note when police are using pepper spray or tear gas they are really close and they are using it mostly against un-armed folks, unless you call hand thown debris as ‘arms’. Not to mention they are using it on closed in city streets and not out in the open.

    So, I doubt that Merlin will direct R&D in that direction not to mention Nimue’s knowlege of history and how it’s .

    • JimHacker says:

      I agree with you on poins 1 and 2 – especially about the difficulties of storing and transporting. And crude chemical warfare is readily neutralized or turned back on its users by the wrong weather. However, making crude chemical weapons even on a large scale isn’t so difficult so long as you have industrialized chemistry – which Charis is on its way to doing.

    • nov_284 says:

      When I was in Afghanistan a ch-53d was in an lz with a wall around it. Children climbed the wall and threw a lot of rocks at them, damaging every main and fail rotor blade save 1. They were required to log it as “battle damage.” for the next 2 months every brief included the “effective small arms fire” in that LZ. It was good for endless fun.

      • JimHacker says:

        and a cobblestone to the head can be just as fatal as a ‘proper’ weapon.

        • JeffM says:

          “Can be”? Pop someone with a .22 and they might survive. Brain someone with a two lb cobblestone thrown with velocity from thirty feet away, and that’s not likely.

          I got nailed once with a simple piece of gravel, no longer than my thumb, that my cousin lobbed at me from forty feet away, not realizing I wasn’t looking. Put me down on impact–and cobblestones are a lot bigger!

          • JimHacker says:

            I said ‘can be’ because I was thinking about the possibility of body armour. Body armour and helmets dramatically reduce the lethality of throwndebris and other improvised weaponry – more so than they do against bullets, shrapnel and shockwaves.

  13. Drak Bibliophile says:

    JeffM, you’re slightly mistaken about “hot-air balloons” being used used for artillery observation in the Civil War.

    They weren’t Hot-Air ballons. [Wink]

    The Balloons used for artillery observation in the Civil War used “coal gas” at first but later used hydrogen gas.

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