Are we finished loading yet?” “I hope so...” part 3

“More corpse-boxes,” murmured Sarah. “I do not see any of these that look to be opened. Do you?”

“No, as no chanting witch would wish one of these,” I murmured. Keeping my voice down seemed to minimize distortion, I now understood. “Now let's see just what is in here.”

I brought one of the surprisingly heavy boxes down, and felt around its edges meticulously before flipping its five latches. That was a switch; the usual box of this length had but two, unlike this example; and when I opened the box, I nearly fainted in shock.

“That's n-not like those we found earlier,” muttered Sarah, whose voice betrayed either fear, loathing, or an emotion I could not name. “It has no handle to carry it with, and...”

“No, it doesn't,” I said. “It has...this thing, here, and this other thing that I think is a 'scope of some kind...”

“What is it?” asked Sarah. “A telescope? You're not dim-eyed, so why would you need...”

“Long shots,” I muttered. “Now this here looks to be a real manual, as it's... What?”

This last was a screech, indicating the cover of the cloth-bound 'book': someone – who, I did not know – had somehow 'pasted' a ragged one-hole grouping of at least three shots, with the distance listed as being 'four hundred and forty meters', and 'fired offhand, with a firing sling to support the weapon'. It made me wonder how well I would do.

There was no title, for some reason; and I wondered more: was one needed?

“The same,” said the soft voice. “Those were no small secret then, and are nearly as much of a secret now where you are going.” A pause, then, “now, open that manual, and look in the folder just inside the front cover to find the targets used to test-fire that weapon.”

I did so, and here, I was shocked once more: every target listed, from one hundred to one thousand meters, showed a similar grouping, even if the last one – 'one thousand meters' – showed a somewhat greater dispersion of the still-touching holes. I put the targets away, and now shook soundlessly in fear: for the number of shots, this listed for each target, had been 'ten rounds, each one selected at random from commonplace ammunition'.

“Who made those targets?” asked Sarah softly.

“Someone marked,” said the soft voice. “You could do as well, most likely, especially with one of these sized to fit you.”

“How?” asked Sarah. “I see the usual length...” Sarah paused, then asked, “what gives with this strange thing here?”

“Twist it, dear,” said the soft voice. “Both fingers, very slowly, and watch how that rear stock changes in length.”

Sarah did so, and to her astonishment – and mine – the stock varied nearly an inch and a half in each direction with a series of faint clicking noises.

“So this one is a flat-topped version,” I thought. “I never thought I'd see one – here or where I came from.” A pause. “Now is there something other than just that 'scope'?”

“That would be this here,” said Sarah, as she pointed to something that was unmistakable in its nature. Mine was a trifle neater in execution, possibly, but this example was rugged-looking in the extreme; and a finished example, blackened with faintly white markings so as to not show its 'colors'.

“Sealed, also, so it doesn't need routine careful dismantling and cleaning so as to retain its accuracy,” said the soft voice. “That's the battle-sight, in case that scope becomes damaged.”

“I have never seen you clean yours, so why is...” Sarah was confused, if I went by her voice.

“You've never seen him do so,” said the soft voice. “That's mostly because of where and when he does that, not 'because he does not do so'.”

“Usually in this one area up on the second floor just prior to the fourth shift in the house proper, with everyone working on that floor in that area eating in the refectory except Andreas, my things spread out on a ground-cloth, and some vegetable-fiber or ear-corks in my ears,” I murmured. “That building must have a skylight, as then there's usually decent light then for both intensity and nature.”

“It does,” said Sarah, “though how it shows that much light is a mystery.”

“Mostly because there's but one brief period each day where that gridwork of light shows light visible from the ground floor,” said the soft voice. “Where he usually sits, though – he's got enough light, and long-enough light, so as to take his time dismantling, cleaning, lubricating, and then adjusting that rear sight to its former 'zero'.” A pause, then, “these won't need that kind of attention.”

As if to prove matters, I first 'slid on' the battle sight, then shouldered the weapon. Its stock was too short for me, which meant 'adjusting' it a click at a time, mounting the weapon each time as if it were a shotgun and I was dealing with just-flushing quolls; then when it felt 'right' – I knew I would need to actually test the weapon by firing it – I pressed the button on the 'clip' portion of the battle sight, drew it off, and then slipped on the scope. The moment I looked into that I began muttering as I adjusted where it sat on the rail for best 'eye relief', that being roughly an inch or so.

That was not the matter which caused my muttering, however.

“How does it make this place look as if it's almost as bright as daylight?” I muttered. “This thing acts like it's got an image intensifier built into it, and it's n-not showing all this weird greenish color, but it's in real colors.”

“That's an earlier version of that one designer's life's work,” said the soft voice. “Now, put one of your fingers atop one of those knobs, and desire that it show 'everything' as clear as possible.”

I did so, and the sharpness that suddenly showed was astonishing. I felt as if I could pick off a young rat at a hundred yards easily in this light, and call nose or tail.

“Try more like 'right eye, left eye, or no eyes,” said the soft voice. “By the way, were you to shoot a rat with that weapon, there would be no rat left.”

“A p-pink mist,” I muttered. “Heads...”

“The same would happen with people's heads,” said the soft voice, “and that when you use all-purpose bullets.” A pause, then, “now, if you look on the next pallet, you'll find some ammunition that's especially suited to those weapons.”

“I think I want one of these, then,” said Sarah. “Part of the pain of firing a heavy-loaded gun is a poor-fitting stock, and these adjust to fit.”

“Yes, and can you pick one of them up?” I asked. “These are not one pound heavier, but several compared to those others.”

“Do they weigh as much as what you usually shoot?” asked Sarah. “If they do, then I can not merely pick them up, but aim them – and I can hold steady, also.”

“If you're setting it on a... Duh, I get it now, dear,” I murmured. “You picked up a roer and then fired it, so that means you could pick up one of these.”

“Yes, and they will not toss me like a roer, also,” said Sarah. “That gun fit badly, and whoever loaded it did not load it lightly, but loaded it as if he were going after a large elk when it was in the mood.”

“Mine was said to drop a large elk,” I said deadpan. “Now do elk get really big?”

“Supposedly they do, but if this elk is the first one you shot, then that would be one like I was thinking of for size, if not otherwise,” said Sarah. “I wanted to try what you shoot, but that roer cured me of such thoughts.”

“I think these will work well, then,” I murmured. “Now let's see what else is in this box here.”

A moment later, as I located the first of several pouches and tins, these having the special tools used for these weapons and a small assortment of spare parts: “the person who shot these targets must be marked, as I can barely read their writing, and only yours is worse.” A pause, then, “here it has the date, that being in 'old style dating'...”

Old style dating?” I asked. I wanted to ask, “what is the new style?”

“That means this was dated from before that war,” said Sarah, “and the new way of doing it must have been done by a witch, as it looks too much like one of those smelly Calenders we found for me to like it much.”

“Most likely because Cardosso was involved in those things you saw before today,” said the soft voice. “That's the chief reason why none of them have been available to those who weren't ranking witches for a very long time, and those that have turned up in a few places either perpetuate the old way of dating, or were badly-done witch-made copies.”

“Hence the use of pegs and boards, and why farmers go by the phases of the moons and seasons...” I almost spat 'Duh' again, it was so irritating. “Don't have nothing better, so how else are they going to know when to plant?”

“That isn't terribly hard, actually,” said Sarah. “There are certain groupings of stars visible at given times of the year, and when one sees the right groupings straight overhead when it is just fully night, then it is time to plant.” A pause, then, “the ground is usually firm enough to support one's beasts then, it's still soft enough to turn readily when plowing, and there is little danger of frost when planting, which is what most farmers in this area go by.”

“And your relatives use the positions of groups of stars,” I murmured.

“They, and few others that I know of,” said Sarah. “Much further south than the potato country, one merely waits for a day that's long enough, as frost is a seldom thing; and in the fourth kingdom, they use the stars also, though in that place, it's always fit to grow something, so if you do what most do, and do it as they do it, you'll do passably at the least.”

“If you put water enough to your crops, that is,” I murmured. “Probably need large watering cans down there, and deep wells with plenty of water and a good pump with a large bore.”

“They make a great many of them,” said Sarah, who indicated with her hands something that vaguely resembled an old-time coffee pot for shape and size for watering cans. “Now this is a strap here, and it looks to adjust.” She then looked further in the 'book', and spat, “such strange ways of using a strap, almost as if they wished to choke... their... arms...” Sarah looked at me, then said, “they got this picture from elsewhere.”

“Y-yes?” I asked. “What does it show – this long roofed-over structure, with a bunch of people lined up under it and shooting at targets some considerable distance away?”

“Y-yes,” said Sarah, “and many of them are using rifles like this.”

“I once had one, dear,” I said.

Sarah then pointed out to me one particular individual, this one 'tall', somewhat 'plump', dressed warmly, and with obvious dark hair – and he was shooting a weapon remarkably like what I had just found. “Is that you, or someone else?” she asked.

“Probably someone else,” I murmured.

“Not quite,” said the soft voice. “That picture got no small stir over there when it was intercepted, as more than a few people recognized both the type of picture and you. You'll wish to put to put that Heinrich magnifier on that particular picture, as well as a number of others in that manual, as that one shows you during one of your matches.”

“My score stank,” I muttered. “I was just learning then.”

“It was better than you did with that other thing you tried,” said Sarah. “Now since when did you enjoy firing weapons that kicked nearly as bad as half-charged roers?”

“It wasn't that bad – I think,” I said, “even if after the second or third clip I was hoping the rest of that ammunition was defective, as that thing was pounding my shoulder like it was a pestle and my shoulder the stuff that goes into the mortar.”

“That sounds too much like a larger musket or a half-charged roer for me to like it,” said Sarah. “Now how did they get that picture, seeing as how there was no artist there to take it down?”

“There most likely was someone using a video camera then,” I murmured. “A lot of people were going to those things, and had I one of those cameras then, and someone to take pictures of me while shooting, I'd have them do it so as to learn what I was doing wrong and get better scores when I did the next time.”

“Two such cameras at that match,” said the soft voices. “Recall that one woman about three inches taller than Sarah who shot one of the best scores, and what she was using?”

“I hope we don't have any of those things here,” I muttered.

“No, but you do have something significantly better than what you had there,” said the soft voice. “Get three of those, as Sepp will wish one as well as one of the others, and then load them and three boxes of ammunition for them on the cart.”

“Do these take s-special ammunition?” asked Sarah.

“They might not demand it, but they do like it,” said the soft voice. “More, none of that stuff is all-purpose bullets, but is of three different types, all of which work especially well for soft targets.”

“S-soft targets?” asked Sarah. “Does that mean it is worthless against hard-witches?”

“No, precisely the opposite,” said the soft voice. “Center a witch's chest with any of that stuff and he'll drop right then, no matter how strong he is in truth or how much he chants.”

Sarah wasted no time; she fetched not merely three such cans, but six, all the while muttering about hard-witches and vast numbers of blue-suited thugs that hid so well one needed to shoot long in bad light to 'get to them' readily. Meanwhile, I fetched down four of the 'corpse-boxes' after closing the one I marked with a 'D' using a small stick of pink chalk. For some reason, though, I wished my chalk to be a light green color, and when I waved my hand over the crude-looking marking, I got the resulting figure:

“Now that is a fit marking, and in a color that shows well,” said Sarah. The color had become an eerily phosphorescent yellow, though I somehow knew it would actually show 'green' in sufficiently bright light. “I'd cut a stamp for yourself with that figure there, and use it for inking your documents to indicate that they come from you.”

“My bad handwriting?” I asked. That matter would change shortly. I knew that would happen; more, I could easily put suitable designs on those documents that would be very difficult to duplicate precisely, even given such equipment as I would then have access to. Without using that equipment, there would be no chance at all.

“More than that,” said Sarah. “I've wanted a stamp for inking, and most people who work at the house wish one, and Hendrik has one that my cousin most likely made for him, and I know Anna wants one – especially her, as her handwriting is not getting better.”

“It's not?” I asked.

“The more she practices, the worse it seems to get,” said Sarah. “Now perhaps eating grass will...” Sarah looked at me in horror, then squeaked, “I hope mine does not get worse! I can barely read what I write as it is now!”

“Well, I once made one for a friend, dear,” I said, “so I could most likely make some more if the time allows my doing so.” Pause. “Now once we get this cart back, then we'll need to hurry ourselves yet more, as I can really feel the need to get moving now.”

“We do not have much time, you mean,” said Sarah. “We want to be headed home ere night's-fall.”

“Actually a little after full-dark would be best,” said the soft voice. “With this much plunder, you do not wish to let anyone to get a good look at it until you have a chance to explain things well to the right people, that being first where you live, and then at the house proper.” A pause, then, “you've got about an hour before you need to start passing supplies up that shaft while trying to not get too dizzy. Make the most of it.”

Yet still, that manual I had lent Sarah and now once more had in an over-the-shoulder-slung small satchel was gnawing at me, and as I walked with one hand on the cart's handle behind Sarah as she hung lights to each side of her path, I looked at it quickly. I first noted the actual title of the document, that being on the inside: 'Match-Grade Heavy-Barrel Type 1116 military rifle, with hand-fitted close-tolerance parts'. That portion about 'hand-fitting' intrigued me, as supposedly that wasn't done there; and I therefore wondered when and especially how they'd managed that.

“There were some few individuals that had either come there from Vrijlaand, or a fair number who had spent some of their schooling there, and hence Vrijlaand's methods were known of in some substantial detail,” said the soft voice. A brief pause, then, “there weren't enough of those people present so as to do many of these weapons you just found, which is why that pallet has about three percent of those of that type that were made prior to the war – and, with few exceptions, the only people shooting these weapons and those like them on the battlefield were marked.”

“And once we drop off this cart and pick up another, then what?” asked Sarah.

“Best fetch Karl when you do that,” said the soft voice. “All three of those men are taking that stuff closer to the door in stages, with Katje directing them, but you'll wish two carts for what you fetch next, and more, you will want Karl to be one of the people towing a cart.”

“Why?” asked Sarah.

“Because of what you are about to receive,” said the soft voice. “Karl's really become enamored of them, which is why you will wish to bring two guns and a small store of spare parts for them, as well as their proper manuals and a full set of armorer's tools.”

“He's become enamored of them,” I muttered. “I knew it, I knew he'd take to machine guns.”

“He's had some further thought on the matter, yes,” said the soft voice. “The other one is not merely a spare, but one so you can use it.”

“Wh-why me?” I asked. I'd found what I wanted, and I'd drill every thug I'd see with the thing. I knew that much – no thug in open country within half a mile was safe, unless it was so dark I could not see him.

“Because when swarms of those functionaries show, you'll wish to clear them away quickly,” said the soft voice, “and nothing – I mean nothing – will do that faster than you shooting one of those things with a spool sized fit for Karl.”

“And leave casings all over,” I muttered, “and need lengthy rubbing with that chemical weapon that comes in a jug called Komaet.” A pause, then, “maybe not death in a jug, but you could fool me.”

“Yes, but when you see that many functionaries coming for you, I think you'll agree that those troubles are a cheap price to pay to achieve that degree of terror among those people.”

“T-terror?” I asked.

“They will speak of you as 'the tall dark-haired fiend', when they do not speak of things worse yet.”

“Good,” spat Sarah. “That will give those people that they beat on time to arm themselves such that those thugs do not crush them again.” Then, in softer voice, “what did I just say?”

“The truth, I think,” I said. “Now someone has put more pot-battery tent lanterns up, and... What is that noise?”

“I think that to be one of those generators,” said Sarah. “I hope someone put oil to it, as to run it without oil will ruin it.”

Not only had that been done – the devices needed constant wiping, as their seals were cracking due to age and 'motor-oil' seemed to have a slight tendency to 'escape' – but the whirring noise was both somewhat shrill and indicative of fast charging, as the individual pot-batteries apparently just needed a few minutes of such rapid cranking to indicate 'full charge'. Sepp spoke of the matter, and how he learned of it.

“You what?” I asked.

“I tried cranking it, and it felt like someone had put sand to it, so I dosed it with that oil,” said Sepp. “It frees up fast enough to make me wonder, but when I start cranking it much, it starts tossing bits out of these things here” – here, he pointed to several locations, all of them having disintegrating oil-seals – “and then I have to wipe it all the time, and put more oil to it each time I wipe it down.”

“That is bad grease coming out,” said Sarah. “That, and these cork-like things they use to keep dirt out of its gears.” A pause, then, “at least they do not use bad string mingled with blacking for such seals, as those are terrible for working, and they need attention nearly every time you use something that uses them.”

“Yes, if you do such seals wrongly,” said the soft voice. “Done right, that type of seal not only works fairly well, but is easy to both renew and clean out, and it does exclude dirt well if kept damp with a thicker species of oil.”

“It also supplies bearing lubricant, as that seal usually has a plug for adding more,” I said.

“True, they usually do, as done by most places that use such seals,” said the soft voice. “The Veldters use that type of packing with some frequency, as it works especially well to keep dust out of their equipment, and its need for frequent maintenance is readily endured.”

“Frequent as in..?”

“First, adding more oil regularly,” said the soft voice. “Their packings that way tend to be both dirt-excluders and lubricant-reservoirs, and hence they dose them regularly with a thicker species of 'oil' that's usually partly synthetic – and sometimes, that lubricant is entirely so. Then, they wipe off the outside of the seal and the shaft running through it when they add oil, and every so often, they both drain the accumulated oil in the machine, remove the trash-screens inside the device itself for cleaning in their Benzina-washers, clean out the device itself thoroughly with 'safety-solvent', and then refill it with the correct species of oil and renew those packings with fresh linen twine rubbed well with blacking.”

“And now Sepp must dose that thing about every five minutes,” I murmured. “No spare seals, either.”

“Look in the stuff that came with it,” said Sarah. “I'll ride money on suitable parts being present.”

Sarah not merely proved to be right – there were spare plastic-cased seals in appropriately-marked tins, as well as the needed wrenches and other tools needed to replace all of them – but also, within a matter of minutes, I had not merely put an entire batch of new seals in the thing, I had also used one of the lampstand-tubes to get a sample of that Vrijlaand lubricant. With that poured into the dry-as-a-bone generator, the whining noises stopped within less than a minute; and within another minute, Sepp reported the generator 'freeing up' noticeably.

“It ought to,” I muttered, as I did the same work to the other. It had badly cracked seals, and dosing the parts and bearings that showed with 'motor oil' and then turning the thing's cranks all but sprayed bits of junk out of the now-destroyed seals.

“Best do this one up entirely,” I murmured.

“No time for it,” said the soft voice. “Do as you did with the other one, run both of them for a bit, then drain that lubricant and pass it through three layers of soft close-woven cloth to catch what dirt and mess it has in it, then refill it and top it up with more of that particular oil gotten the same way. It will then work well enough until you can get those things 'gone through' overseas.”

“Gone through?” I asked.

“Closer tolerance gears of better materials, much-improved bearings, and a number of other improvements they came up with since those were originally made.” A pause, then, “once you have done that other generator, then I'd get three carts and have Sarah carry as many tent-lanterns as she can, while the others continue bringing the bags and other things you've looted closer to that doorway.”

“Three carts?” I asked. “Must mean we'll get a lot.”

“Yes, I think so,” said Katje, as she led off behind Sarah. Sarah had left a string behind us as we moved back to the 'loot-dump', so finding the general region where what we were after was easy. Sepp was still charging batteries, as was Maarten – though both were doing so when they needed a break from unloading carts and moving bags.

They needed their share of breaks, as charging batteries with a decent dose of lubricant in those generators wasn't particularly difficult, unlike carrying bags closer to the door.

“What is it we are going after?” asked Karl. “Is it something I will need to be careful with?”

“Everything in here is that way, Karl,” said Sarah. “Now since you shot up a witch in a dream, I think it about time you did so for real, so that is what we are after.” A pause, then, “I think that will mean much business for that lathe at home, now that I think about it.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“You will not wish to have your gun eat entire belts before I can count to two,” said Sarah, “which means you will need to make your own set of spools for such a gun.”

“Why didn't they..?” I was thinking of a type of adjustable orifice that required no such 'tinkering'.

“Firstly, those tended to foul badly here, unlike the type used on these weapons,” said the soft voice, “and then with modest practice, it was simple and easy to replace 'spools', as the usual was to simply remove the plug and insert another such plug, complete with a fresh just-cleaned spool.”

“Which is fast and foolproof when the enemy is coming in a big swarm and you want more firepower,” I said. “Also easier to clean.”

“Very much so,” said the soft voice. “Now that gun has seen some significant development across the sea, even if complete ones are very rare at this time.”

“Lots of parts, though,” I murmured. “Those are almost everywhere.”

“True, they are,” said the soft voice, “as are unloaded belts, parts to linking and loading machines, and much else that will be needed to keep these in operation.”

“They eat parts, don't they?” I asked.

“No more than any other automatic weapon,” said the soft voice. “Those you'll design, however, will be known for not merely being especially durable, but also being far more capable in general.”

“Capable?” I asked. “How so?”

“Firstly, their effective range will be limited by the ammunition,” said the soft voice, “which means you can use them for sniping, if you need to – and that at substantial ranges.” A pause, then, “then, the gun itself, while needing frequent cleaning due to close-tolerance parts, will be very quick and easy to clean.”

“Very easy?” I asked. “Quick?”

“Wipe off the bolt group with a rag damp with cleaning solvent, exchange the barrel, and she's clean enough to eat several more belts – and remember, you're limited to how much ammunition you can readily carry, so 'several belts' is about as much as you will reasonably shoot between cleaning sessions.”

“More like two shorter belts, if they clean that quickly – or is that the case?”

For some reason, I had a picture, one that moved in slow motion as the three members of a gun-team 'changed out' their weapon. While the third member made ready to feed a fresh belt from a 'spool', the assistant gunner withdrew the hot barrel by its handle, while the gunner lifted up the feed-tray cover, unlatched the feed tray, shook it as he laid it down on a ground-cloth, then took out the bolt and bolt carrier. He wiped these parts off with a rag, then 'dropped' them back into the gun, wiped down the feed tray mechanism before 'dropping' it in the gun, number three put in the belt, the gunner slapped down the feed tray cover, pulled back the charging handle, and began spraying short bursts mingled with single shots.

The strangest thing, however, was seeing the 'massive' bolt work, for when he pressed the automatic portion of the trigger – it was shaped 'strangely', much as if I'd used some ideas from a well-known historical weapon where I came from – the gun fired from an open bolt; while when he pressed the single-shot portion of the trigger, the bolt went home as he aimed for a particular thug some distance downrange.

He usually hit such thugs, and a single hit dropped them in their tracks if he hit them 'solid'; while his bursts were saved for oncoming mobs of thugs.

Those tended either to fall in place, or turn tail and run while groups of thugs dropped out quickly as their wounds told upon them; and running usually meant two or more added bursts that invariably downed every single thug in a sizable group.

“At those ranges?” I gasped. “What kind of gun is that?”

“A most-effective one, one useful here and elsewhere,” said the soft voice. “Remember: you will seldom be fighting pitched battles where the ability to fire belt after belt without a chance to clean your weapon is an important issue.”

“Usually won't have that much ammunition,” I muttered. “Most of the time, if we cannot settle a group's hash with two or three belts, we need something with more punch – like a mortar or 'cannon'.”

“Precisely, and then, you must do your best to make each bullet find its 'final resting place',” said the soft voice. This language didn't have a word corresponding to 'billet', as far as I knew, hence one could not say 'every bullet has its billet'. One could easily say what I had just heard, however. “That's why you need a weapon that has minimal dispersion when fired at ranges exceeding half a mile – as many of your gun-battles will be well beyond the ranges that are possible with your enemies' weapons.”

During this time, we had made progress along the path indicated by Sarah's rope; and when it ended at the spool, she moved it out of the way so that we could follow after her.

Here, I had to guide her, for I could feel the weapons in question; and when I came to a pallet that had seen obvious looting, I sighed.

At least until I cleared the empty gun-cases off and learned we had nine full-kitted machine guns remaining. I then went to the pallet next to it – a pallet which had seen little looting – and there, I found what was really needed.

“Bins of spare parts, spare barrels by the dozen, 'grease' – stuff has probably gone bad by now...”

“It has,” said the soft voice. “Use rags dampened with that blue oil, wipe the parts off as you were shown every chance you get, and you'll have no trouble with these guns.”

“And here, we have the linking and loading machines,” I murmured – until I attempted to pick one up. The weight of the thing was astounding.

“That one is stuck to the pallet,” said Sarah. “Now if you let me use a pry-bar, then I think you can lift it.”

Sarah was indeed right, though when the belt-loader was on the cart, I noted that still weighed a fair amount – and looking in its 'chambers' spoke of why.

“This thing is ready to go!” I spat. “It must have a thousand cartridges in it, and a bunch of belts, and...”

“And dry lubricant reservoirs,” said the soft voice. “These machines use rope-packings, so just put some gun-oil in their fillers every time you use them, and they'll crank out belts fast enough to keep all of those guns spitting hot lead.”

“And now, for an armorer's manual,” I thought, as I began to look among the supplies that the other three were removing as if crazed. I could feel the manual in question, and when I found a fiberglass tub of substantial heft, I levered up its handles, and therein, I found three plump – and hefty with promise – camouflage-patterned satchels.

Opening one showed not just one manual, but three: one was the armorer's manual – it was easily an inch thick; another, the user's manual; and the third... That one, while having no designated title, could best be described as 'how to kill the enemy in droves with machine-guns while remaining alive to do so again the next day'. The balance of the weight, however, was in a full armorer's kit of tools, these color-coded with thumb-sized dots of paint and otherwise a mottled gray-black color.

“Belts, Karl,” said Sarah. “Also, those bags they go in that hang on the guns. We'll want a lot of both of those things.” A pause, then, “Katje! What is that thing you just found?”

“I think it to be an oil can, though why it has a chain attaching its cap to its spout is a mystery.”

“So the cap doesn't get lost,” I murmured, as I recalled having one that slightly resembled it some years ago. “They were probably assuming the use of oil with poor lubricating and heat-resistant qualities, hence they would need to use a lot of it.” A pause, then, “were there any paintbrushes near there?”

“Yes, three bags of them, and large bags, also,” said Katje. “Why would they wish to paint a gun with... They did not paint them with paint, did they?”

“No, with something else so as to cool them off,” I said. “I've heard of that being done, and I think I might have had an oil can like that one you found, too. It went to weapons like these.” A pause, then, “what else?”

“First, we take these back,” said Sarah – who then hitched, and screeched, “what are all of those things?”

“I think that to be ammunition for those larger guns,” said Katje. “We may wish to take a few of those things, but you will not want one of those guns for the trip, as they are far too large and heavy.”

“I know that,” said Sarah dryly, “but why do we wish to take some of their ammunition?”

“So you can get more of it, if it is possible,” said Katje. “I have a feeling about those people from Norden – something about them training a great many of those pigs, and those will wish such guns giving them trouble.”

“Where is that ammunition?” asked Sarah. “Is there any of it loose?”

“Yes, this stuff here, I think,” said Karl. I was still very much looking for surprises, so much so that when I came by where Karl was, I opened the steel container to find it packed with loose rounds.

“A smaller sample bag,” I murmured, upon seeing these odd-looking – and sizable – rimmed cartridges. They looked decidedly deadly, and their size was far larger than I had thought they might be, even with the description I had been given of them. “Now here's the 'brochure'. I'll try to read that while you put those things in that bag you have there.”

While much of the ammunition present in this caliber was in 'spool' format, there was enough 'loose' ammunition to fill each 'spool' and its belts twice over; and upon reading about it, I recalled its description as 'armor-piercing incendiary'.

The stuff we'd found was all I'd heard of and then some, as the brochure – this one five-folded, and laminated with plastic like 'usual' – showed the effects of this ammunition upon a number of common 'military-looking' vehicles. In one series of pictures, a single round had torn up so much of a smaller jeep-like vehicle that the vehicle was stated as being 'inoperable'; and the flames that then erupted in the next picture spoke most-loudly of the fire-initiating aspect of these 'monstrous' rounds. I then thought to examine one for myself, and picked one out out of the part-empty box as Karl made ready to tie-off his sample bag.

“So it has this copper-nickel-tin alloy jacket,” I thought as I read the 'brochure' with one hand and held the round in the other, “so why is it coated with this odd sea-green coating save for the tip and the driving bands?” I was thinking, “that sounds like a decent bearing alloy, one well-suited for high speeds.”

“Touch that coating,” said the soft voice. “Notice how slick it feels?” Pause while I did so, then, “it doesn't just feel slick, it is slick – and that coating is not merely especially hard, but it's porous enough to hold an extreme-pressure lubricant distantly related to molybdenum disulfide combined with a species of plastic similar to Teflon, and the whole carefully coated with a hard wax to keep the lubricant 'good'.”

“Yes, but what is that coating?” I asked. I wanted to ask, “is it common overseas?”

“Recall that odd yellowish coating you saw on many cutting tools where you came from?” asked the soft voice. “This coating has a similar function and better performance, and it's both very slippery and very wear-resistant. More, in thicker coatings, it works nearly as well as 'hard chrome' – hard chrome done here, not that miserable stuff as was commonly done where you came from.”

As we finished with this pile, I thought to ask, “do we want more ammunition of other kinds? This seems to be 'Ammunition Row', if I go by what I see here.” I marked that label on the map of the place, in fact.

“It is that,” said Katje. “We'll wish to get as much of that stuff as we can carry, and if we cannot carry it all home at this time, we'll hide it in that long hallway and pick it up at a latter date.”

“Like tomorrow, perhaps,” said Sarah. “We'll need to visit Willem then, and perhaps more people as well, so we can put some in the buggy heading back...”

“When Hans isn't coming up this way on his usual business, and when those two men aren't making hay deliveries,” said the soft voice. “Before you really begin cleaning the place out, though, you will need to have a place prepared to receive the bulk of it at the house proper.”

“And where we live is the best place to put it until then,” said Sarah. “The parlor will be such that we can scarce move inside the place, and the same for most of the other rooms.”

As we went along 'Ammunition Row', I could feel the others grabbing all they could without overloading the carts, then one by one, those towing them – save for my cart; it had room yet – began to tow them back. I was making notes on the map, noting pallets head-high with ammunition cans, and yet, I could feel and discern some signs of looting. I was more than a little surprised to see Sepp show with another cart.

“There is but a small bit of meat gone from a large pot of stew,” he said regarding what had been so exercising my mind, “and this stuff here looks likely. How much do we want?”

“As much as you're inclined to carry,” said Sarah. “I think I might have a better idea as to where we might put this stuff, if we will collect it up quickly.”

“Where?” asked Sepp.

“Next to those steps as they go out,” said Sarah. “If it is possible, we can put a ground-cloth over it all, and...”

“And I can ask that it not be seen,” I murmured. “Then, we can bring it back as we are able. Correct?”

“I think that to be the best idea yet,” said Sepp. “Now there is some more ammunition for rifles, and this type has those all-purpose bullets. We want that, don't we?”

“Yes, several boxes at the least,” said Sarah – who then turned and let out a howl. “Those pistols that make the hands go numb!”

I turned, and to my utter and complete surprise, no less than two pallets of these monstrous weapons, all of them in shorter 'corpse-boxes' – 'ones fit for a small child' was Sarah's speech on the matter – showed themselves. I began looking for an armorer's manual for these things, as it would be needed to maintain the ones we already had; though as I looked for it and several kits of cleaning gear, I noted Sarah and Sepp both 'removing' several pistols from this pair of pallets. Sarah got an entire box of the things, which was easily eight to ten of them; while Sepp contented himself with 'just' three, which he put in a smaller satchel along with what looked like a pamphlet and some 'tools'.

“Wh-why are you...”

“They may make your hands go numb, but they do stop large rats readily,” said Sarah, “and I know I shall use mine at least a few times between now and the time we go across the sea.” Sarah then had a question:

“Why did the witches stay clear of these things like they did?” she asked. “I think they might have taken a handful of them at the most.”

“They did not merely give those who made them trouble,” said the soft voice, “but they also gave many of the witches here trouble as well – and not just with cleaning them and keeping them working.”

“Still, then, one might think they'd wish these things,” I murmured. “Why did they have them in the first place?”

“Firstly, this type of weapon is an older design,” said the soft voice, “and as it was originally intended for hunting use as a backup weapon for 'dangerous game', it was sold abroad in some numbers during the twenty-odd years prior to the start of the war.” A pause, then, “here, that was a matter of that one witch, who bought them at the going rate from their manufacturer, then sold them at vastly-inflated prices on 'The Black Market'.”

“That wasn't all of them, was it?” I asked. “There were other sources beyond that stinker, weren't there?”

“No, it wasn't, and yes, there were other sources,” said the soft voice. “Some students studying abroad learned sufficient guile to sneak some of these things past their border crossings when they returned, and then some few successful smugglers brought them into the green area, where they had ready sale at 'good' prices – good as thought by both parties.” A pause, then, “that meant that most of the witches that had them inside here brought them inside with their other belongings, and hence, few witches wished to buy them in here, unlike those you-all called Tossers and those smaller-yet pistols.”

“I think we should take what we have,” I said. “There's more, though – but it's not here, at least not right now.”

“Where, then?” asked Sarah. “That one place we have not gone yet?”

“I think s-so,” I said cautiously. “There are manuals there, including several annotated by that one witch, and now we can learn his secrets readily.”

“Not his curses, I hope,” said Sarah.

“No, not those things,” I muttered. I had no desire to learn those. “His other secrets, those he used to stay alive in a perpetual war-zone.”

“He'd have given his eyeteeth so as to learn yours,” said the soft voice. “What you did makes anything done here since the drowning look easy.”